26 February 2007

Whataweekend

It was anything but a typical weekend spent with the kid. I sit here, barely able to function for being really sick right now. More on that later.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY
To start off, Friday night I made a detour to the Best Buy in Macon (since I wouldn't have made the one in Columbus before closing) to get some memory for Mom's computer, which had been eager to break free from the restraints of its 256 MB of RAM. But what kind did her circa-2003 Compaq take? SDRAM or DDR?

Madcap fun ensued when I had to call Mom and get the model number for her 'puter -- it had to have been a Chinese fire drill in that room as both Mom and Tiger were on the floor, my telling them where they would find that number. Bottom of the tower, not too tough to find, right? You don't know my mother and son! "Hey, I found it -- it's model number 48x-20x-48x."
"Ummmm no, kid, that's the speed of the CD BURNER!"

Eventually I had them hone it down, and I got the right memory for it and I was on my way. That weekend was spent mostly in front of Mom's PC, doing a much-needed "nuke-n-restore" procedure.

My brother and his family came up from Enterprise to have supper with us on Saturday. My two nieces (ages 5 and 3-1/2) were sweet as could be. My youngest came into the "computer room" where I was waiting (patiently .... patiently ..... patiently?) for Service Pack 2 to install, and said just three words: "I love you."

My nieces would melt even the coldest heart, I'm here to tell you.

"DO I SOUND MORE LOUDER TO YOU NOW?"
The reinstall was smooth, too smooth in fact. Something had to happen, and it did. I was putting the Charter "Security Suite" (F-Secure) into Mom's PC and suddenly the internet was choked off. Any and all tweaks with the firewall were of no success. I had to do a 'restore' to roll back the computer to before I installed it. Internet came back.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Tried reinstalling the software, and the same thing happened. By now it was pushing 11 PM on Saturday night and I was getting a bit antsy to for my work to be finished. I called Charter's support number and got a tech on the line.

You guessed it, said tech was in New Delhi and sounded like he could've easily been behind the counter of your neighborhood convenience store. I could hardly understand him both for the low volume and his broken English. I asked him to speak up, and he said "Do I sound more louder to you now?" @#$%!!!

He was of no help; good gawd on a Marx Big Wheel, my MOTHER knew more about computers than this Patel guy did!!

I ended up having to leave Mom with the trial Norton A/V program in there, and the basic Windoze firewall. Better than nothing, but Mom told me Sunday night she dealt with somebody at Charter who had a grasp of the Queen's English. Problem was rectified, as it hinged upon a very hidden piece of software that was colliding with the firewall.

I'm not going to go into what I think the "F" stands for in "F-secure." And once more, I told Mom that she really needs to switch to Troy Cable. You see, one of the few good things about that place is that it's served by two (2) competing cable systems. One doesn't see too many Dish Network or DirecTV homes in Pike County, that's for sure. Mom & Dad pay less for digital cable with every pay channel than we did for bare-bones no-premium channel digital with Comcast!!

One thing's for sure, I'll bet TROY CABLE doesn't hire moonlighting tech support crews from the local Comfort Inn!! I had them when I lived there and couldn't have been more satisfied with their service.

CONNECTED, AT LAST!!
File under "snowflakes in hell": Josiebelle had internet installed at their house Friday. Tiger was greeted with what had to have been the most beautiful sight he'd seen in months: a cable modem beside his PC. My son now has internet. Now let's hope the grades don't suffer.

MY SON, THE DRIVER
Last Wednesday, Tiger - who turned 15 at the end of December - took the written test and got his learner's permit. And yesterday while on the way to taking him back to Eclectic, I pulled over just north of Wetumpka, with about 11 miles to go, turned toward my son and said, "I'm not feeling too well. Do you think you could get us into Eclectic?" It took a second for it to register with the kid, and when it did you should've seen the ear-to-ear grin on his face!

This was a moment I'd been dreading and fearing for years. Now was the time: my son was now learning to drive! What I was most nervous about was how I would be. Would I be like my mother during my "learning" period? She used to scream and yell if I so much as got within 5 feet of a parked car.

Well, I wasn't very tightly-wound. He's pretty good, I have to say. A bit nervous, as he hasn't done a whole lot of driving to date. I could feel his hands shaking on the steering wheel! But nervous is good, I say. Complacency and overconfidence are far more dangerous for a budding driver. The only thing was that he didn't know which street was his in downtown Eclectic!

So there you are - a rite of passage, and it was a good memory (I suspect he'll always remember the element of surprise). When he comes over here Spring Break, we'll get out on some of the rural roads in Effingham County and give him some more practice.

Also, I'm gonna teach that boy how to read a ROAD MAP! Goodness knows he'll need that skill, 'cuz he sure doesn't get it from his mother.

EMPHASIS ON "-CATCH"
I think my saying "I don't feel too well" to Tiger was a self-fulfilling prophesy. On the way up, we stopped at Whataburger in Montgomery to get lunch. He had - surprise, surprise - a Whatachicken. I had a burger and a Whatacatch, their fish sandwich.

I began feeling the effects of said Pisces along about the rest area outside Auburn on I-85. I almost passed out in the bathroom stall ... finding myself in "hugging" position on the gritty, nasty floor of your typical Alabama rest area bathroom. Nothing happened. After I more or less came to, I continued along my merry way. Stopped in Columbus for some Pepto. That helped ... for awhile. Then I couldn't hold it any longer. On the side of the road I proceeded to ralph up a storm.

Yep, it was the fish.

And I was still throwing up as of early this morning after I got home from what in 6-1/2 years was the longest trip back from Alabanana I've ever had. What didn't help was after I got home, Seraphim was watching Family Guy. Now, that didn't bother me; hell, it's one of my favorite shows. But the commercials ... aye carumba. Checkers and KFC were both running multiple commercials on our local FOX affiliate touting .... that's right ... their FISH SANDWICHES. Well, @#$%! I've always liked them, but I imagine it's gonna be awhile before I'll wanna go near another one. And certainly NEVER one from Whataburger!

Today I'm better. Barely. I don't think this is over yet.

Whataburger couldn't have given its fish sammich a more appropriate name: Whatacatch. Because I sure as hell caught something from it.

Phew.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Would Sal Minella please leave the room!" Gleck

21 February 2007

We're getting a divorce

You're looking at such a pretty sight. Our two DVR boxes, remotes and (needlessly) rented cable modem, in a state of disconnection and standing by for their return trip to the Comcast office in Savannah.

This afternoon marked a change in the Gleck family's method of receiving both internet and television. Tomorrow we are filing for divorce from our cable provider.

It all started early in December, when we began experiencing frequent interruptions in our broadband service. An "appointment" followed, where the Comcast tech said the problem was our cable modem, which we bought when we signed up for broadband back in 2001. Facing two options -- shelling out $100 for another modem, or renting one for $3.00 -- we went with the most logical choice.

But the problems kept coming, and beginning in late January the interruptions became more frequent. Comcast continued to say the problem was in my house. "Take out the splitter", "Maybe it's your router", or -- my favorite -- "Coaxial cable can degrade over time, and I show that the cable feeding the modem is going bad" and that another visit would be required, this one costing almost $40.00, since "inside wiring isn't covered by our visits." That's right, a Comcast tech actually said that the cable feeding my music room was going bad.

That's funny, I didn't know it had such a short lifespan, as the house was built in 2003!!

The last straw came on January 31, when another outage caused me to be late in uploading a monthly update to a website I maintain on the side. Make that a straw with a bendy thing toward the top, because the Comcast agent I talked with had no notes about the two previous calls that week.

After that eruption of supreme incompetence, I began making phone calls inquiring about DSL service. I found out that we could have 3 Mbps DSL installed along with a bare-bones landline (read: only $10 a month, plus 15 cents a minute outgoing calls) for the same price as Comcast charges for broadband service -- a pleasant surprise after thinking that we'd have to endure $30+ for DSL and another $30 for a full landline = more than 60 smackers.

But it didn't stop there. I asked about the bundled Dish Network service (for the record, BellSouth-cum-"AT&T Death Star Ma Bell Redux" is NOT our provider out here in Effingham County; we're served by Windstream, a spinoff of Alltel's landline business). I had some misconceptions about satellite over the years, largely centering on my assumption that Dish Network and DirecTV were more economical than cable ... provided you had only one TV. It was the extra boxes that ate you alive.

We know what happens when we "assume", right?

Well, I did the math. Seraphim and I could have Dish Network, with two DVRS - as we had with Comcast, the "America's Top 250" package - more than we had with Comcast's digital tier, and Sirius music channels - instead of the dry and boring "Music Choice" offerings on digital cable.

The price we'd been paying Comcast: $145.
About what we'll be paying for the dish/DSL combo: $125.
Net savings = $20.00!

I talked it over with my sweet bride, and, after her assurances that she'd continue to be able to get her Hallmark Channel fix, we decided to slaughter "the cable pig" once and for all. Last Tuesday, 02/13, I made phone calls and got the wheels a-turning.

And this afternoon, the guy came out and installed our Dish Network service. And our DSL service was activated this afternoon, too.

Tomorrow (Thursday), I have the pleasure of telling Comcast where they can stick their service.

However, my typical and trademark snarky self will be tempered. I can't help but think that Comcast didn't used to be this terrible. We signed up for Comcast broadband in September of 2001, and for a long time we had what I'd call very reliable service. Even when we left our apartment in the now-slum of southside Savannah in early 2004 when we bought our house here in Rincon, Comcast didn't drop the ball and the transition was seamless. I was very impressed, truth be told.

The trouble of late has been the customer service angle. It's gotten worse. Comcast used to have some sharp minds at the phones, but of late it's been nothing but total dee-d'DEEs!

One tech who came out and checked the drop to our house last week admitted that the node serving our neighborhood was going bad. What's more, Comcast finally put this matter on Defcon-5 and it became high priority.

Ahhh, but what timing. The trouble sirens were activated the day after I'd gotten the wheels rolling on the DSL, phone and satellite installations. Hell, I almost thought Comcast had wiretapped our cellphones and monitored our internet traffic (If George W. Bush can do it, I guess so can a big monolithic cable company, eh?).

I'll give thanks tomorrow for the attention given this matter. Two Savannah-based techs I talked to recently were very professional and knowledgeable in their manner. That's good for the other homes on that node, because I'm sure others have been pissed off -- just perhaps not the 'squeaky wheel' I became.

And whaddaya know -- until this afternoon we had not had a single Comcast outage since the day after we got the ball rolling on the new services.

My issue is with trust. I lost trust in Comcast not just for this, but for several other related reasons. Broadband was good again, however I asked myself what if it goes down again. Would I have to go through all this again? Sorry, no sale.

DSL is a tad slower than cable-delivered broadband. Yet I haven't known the difference through the DSL service we have at work. Pages load just as quickly, the only thing being a few seconds longer to download a piece of video or other large file. A few seconds longer. Ooooooh, terrible........

A Corvette is faster than a Camry. But what good is a Corvette when it's in the shop half the time?? Trustworthiness and reliability over speed, that's what I say.

Comcast has the benefit of being a franchise-protected monopoly. Fortunately, we do have other options. And we've exercised them.

Goodbye, Comcast. Here's your ring back.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Communications Divorcee" Gleck

20 February 2007

And behind door number 3.......

I'm working on a small video trade right now, and am in the middle of several vintage episodes of Let's Make a Deal from the late '60s. I've always been mixed on this show's real place in TV history -- is it a fun game show, with people dressing up like complete morons just to try and win either a bedroom suite .... or a giant rocking chair and/or baby llamas? Or is it a greed test for America, a forerunner of less-savory cowdung which emanates from all our televisions today?

Does anybody remember LIKE? It was a soft drink marketed in that time frame, positioning itself as -- I kid you not -- "the drink for girls." (I have a parody of one of their commercials, where a brute man takes a blind taste test of LIKE, and after several tastes goes first to a meek, wimpy male and then to a sultry female voice)

So what does this have to do with the classic Monty Hall game show? Not much, except a six-pack of LIKE was one of the items Jay Stewart brought out as bait for a contestant. Another one just plugged is "Lindy's Pitted Olives" (I wonder if they contain any cherry pits.....) Boy, that sure looks ..... appetizing?

Jay Stewart just brought out an Ampex radio/cassette player (Yes, cassettes in 1969! Did you know the mighty cassette actually PREDATED the 8-track??). There was money hidden inside the tape compartment, too.

I've noticed a constant theme with LMAD: every time a refrigerator was given away (nearly always a side-by-side model), the freezer always contained a buttload of "Eskimo Pie." And whenever Carol Merrill swung "the box" stage left to reveal a washer-dryer, you know her next task was to reach inside the washer's tub and pull out a box of "Borateem" detergent.

You know the game. You know how it worked. But in case you don't, it's simple. Monty picks out people in the audience to "make deals" with. The wild, outlandish costumes started about a year into the show's run, when some folks started dressing up to get Monty's attention. And like the sheep most humans are, everyone else started doing it, and the rest is history (watch the original 1963 pilot of LMAD and you'll see something totally surreal: contestants around the trading floor dressed normally!)

Monty'll present a small prize, and then he'll tempt them by asking if they want to trade the small item for an unknown prize behind a curtain or giant box. Sometimes the prize will be a big-ticket item. Or a "zonk" (dud prize). More often than you think, the seemingly "small" prize contained a little booty of $$$$ hidden somewhere.

There was always a cool feel to LMAD. I think Ivan Ditmars' live (!) music added to that. Monty Hall, to his credit, kept a live ensemble long after most game shows gave that up. He also made household names out of Jay Stewart - who, sadly, took his own life in 1990 - and Carol Merrill, the game show model's game show model.

More after this (1969) commercial:
"HARRIET!!! The AJAX cleanser turned blue!!!!!!" (boneheaded male stereotypes existed in commercials back then, too)
"Well, dear, it could've been worse -- Junior got all upset this morning because his B.M. was blue. It turned out he was eating a blue popsicle."
"Harriet, you're right. And there's no white tornado this time. Our Allstate agent threatened us with cancellation of our homeowners' policy if we used that stuff again -- they're tired of paying to fix our home after we mop the kitchen floor. They suggested we use a more sedate cleanser, such as Mr. Clean."

The Big Deal of the day on April 15, 1969 was a whopping $1,620! Wow!!

*********

I haven't forgotten about the final installment of my unwieldy dating tome. That's coming up. However, Let's Make a Deal was a definite metaphor for my life in 1988.

"You've got "Christine" -- now do you want to trade her for what's behind the box where Carol Merrill is standing?"
* POUNCE! * "I'll take the box, Monty."
"Aaaaand "Christine" goes to the curb and here's what Carol has for you --- TWO CRAZY YEARS OF DENA, FOLLOWED BY SEVEN EXCRUCIATING YEARS OF JOSIEBELLE!!!!"

Moral: No amount of "Borateem" could get out the stains of my dating years.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Ohhh Monty, Monty, MONTY! What were the doors again??" Gleck