Misc

Consumer Alert: These Scammers Don’t Work for Comcast

scam_shield_iconI received a call last week that was just too nasty not to share (listen to the recorded call below).  A man named Dean claimed to be calling from Comcast, and he wanted to offer me a special deal on an upgrade to my broadband internet service.  When he explained the particulars of the deal, it became instantly apparent that the deal was entirely too good to be true.  First of all, I was being offered a major increase in both my downstream (50Mb/s) and upstream (19.3Mb/s) bandwidth.  And this would cost only $25 per month for the next two years.  The only requirement from me was that I pay the first year of service in advance: 12 months@$25=$300.  If I did that, I would be guaranteed the $25 per month price for the next 2 years, and they would even give me a free Kindle Fire HD as part of the promotion.  Comcast had partnered with Amazon for the promotion, I was told.

Sound too good to be true?  You better believe it!  So when good old Dean told me about this amazing offer, I explained that I was in the middle of a meeting and asked him to call me back the following day.  It gave me time to get some recording software installed on my phone.  I wanted to properly document this “special offer.”  Dean dropped the ball and didn’t call me back the next day, but he did call me the day after.  And I recorded all of the details in their fraudulent glory.
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The Best Way to Blanket a Home in Wi-Fi

wireless_iconA recent Facebook post started me thinking that this was a subject worth covering.  Here’s the original question:

JR: Computer people, what is the absolute, most amazing and powerful wi-fi extender I can get? My current extender is slow and totally unreliable, needing to be reset frequently. I’ve read reviews online, but can’t seem to come up with an obvious choice.

It’s a great question with a few possible answers.  First, let’s make some assumptions about the environment.  Like most folks in this situation, I’m betting that this is a larger house with the router located at one end and that the wi-fi reception on the opposite end is the real problem.  Upstairs and downstairs variations are likely not the issue.  There could be obstructions in the middle of the house the interfere with the signal.  These are typically kitchen related.  The refrigerator and stove can really tank a wi-fi signal.

So what’s the best way to extend the range of the wi-fi router?  There are extenders, but as the question suggests, your mileage may vary.  What are the alternatives?

Option 1: Replace the Router
Replacing the main wireless router with an 802.11n or an 802.11ac version could be the ticket.  If the original router was 802.11a, 802.11b, or 802.11g, then these newer versions offer greater ranger in most situations.  But there’s a catch.  To take full advantage of that greater range, the wireless adapter that’s part of your computer should also be 802.11n or 802.11ac.  If it’s not, you’re not going to get the full range extension.  And upgrading the hardware at the computer could be impractical (adding a card of some kind) or impossible (some laptops, and all tablets).  At some point, the price becomes an issue and option 1 might not be the best route if you’re dealing with legacy hardware.

Also keep in mind that 802.11n and 802.11ac routers drop in performance to match the requirements of the oldest connecting device.  This means that, if you have an old device (only 802.11b 22Mb), your super fast 100+Mb wi-fi will down-step the performance of the entire network to accommodate that old device.  Some of the latest hardware circumvents this issue by putting the older hardware on a different frequency, but in far too many cases, having an old device on a modern network will cause the entire network to slow down.  Worse yet, depending on the router, it might also limit the range of your wi-fi network as it works to accommodate those older specifications.  Few people see that coming.  It’s difficult to anticipate and even more difficult to diagnose, so be aware.
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Amazon is Great, But is it Leading Us Toward an Economic Collapse?

Photo courtesy of fastcodesign.com

Photo courtesy of fastcodesign.com

Fastcodesign.com has a great post that takes a very interesting look inside an Amazon fulfillment center in the U.K.  The story includes a vivid pictorial showing the inside of an Amazon warehouse while the story goes on to describe working conditions and what Amazon brought to the defunct mining community.  The photos are fascinating.  The scope of Amazon’s operation is breathtaking.  But the questions I have concerning the future of Amazon have been mounting in recent years and they becoming alarming.

Take a look at fastcodesign.com’s look inside Amazon’s massive fulfillment center in the English Midlands.  Then consider this…

I’m strangely conflicted after reading Fastcodesign.com’s article.  The sterile, organized, refined nature of the facility and operation appeals to me on one level.  The dehumanizing quality troubles me at the same time.  Plus, Amazon operates on a shockingly small profit margin.  Especially for an entity its size.  With that in mind, on some level it still feels like a house of cards being built ever higher without a solid, maintainable business model to support it once the prevailing wind changes.  Certainly Amazon has done great things in the area of cloud computing with its web infrastructure development and, maybe even more amazing things for traditional publishing when it comes to proliferation of ebooks.  A solid case could be made to credit Amazon for bring ebooks to the main stream.  That’s no small feat.
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The Problem with Star Rating Scales on Book Review Sites

Are star ratings arbitrary?

I think they are.  I have a feeling that many folks have their own idea of what the star rating scale represents when they assign a score to a book.  I think they do this regardless of the metric values of the review service they’re using and I think it’s because of two things.  First, the review services don’t agree on the rating scale.  Second, those services/sites don’t make the values of that star rating scale immediately obvious.

For example, here’s the scale from Amazon.com:
1 star: I hate it
2 stars: I don’t like it
3 stars: It’s OK
4 stars: I like it
5 stars: I love it

But here’s the scale from GoodReads.com:
1 star: didn’t like it
2 stars: it was OK
3 stars: liked it
4 stars: really liked it
5 stars: it was amazing

These are vastly different scoring systems!

What do I do when I score a book? I don’t even pay attention to each sites established scale because it requires more consideration than I want to give. Plus, I believe that a significant portion of the people scoring the books are doing it without regard for the sites supposedly accepted and established scale. I think it’s arbitrary.
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Network— Your Digital Footprint Is NOT Out To Get You

The info surfaced in this 3 minute video is fascinating. It details the sort of information that can be surfaced by evaluating an individuals aggregate digital footprint.

But in the video’s final moments it takes a wrong turn and tries to explain that all of this information is somehow malignant. I disagree. I think that summation is unfair. Yes, the data is out there. No, it is not inherently destructive or damaging. In the end, all of this information is a part of what we commonly refer to as the internet and that is a resource that has benefitted mankind in ways far greater than the sum of its detriment.

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How Pinger Failed. Is This a Problem with Free Apps in General?

pinger_iconI had a bad experience with an iPhone app recently that I wanted to share.  Partially to warn others to keep an eye on their Pinger app, and partially because it’s a problem that could apply to other “free” apps.  We all need to keep in mind that free apps are free for a reason.  Nothing can remain free unless it can become self supporting in some way.  And when you look at the service or feature that an app provides, often there is infrastructure behind it with associated cost.  It could be a web server with a database, or in the case of Pinger, infrastructure relating to phone number allocation and VoIP gear.

Pinger is a free app for the iOS that provides users with a phone number that will ring through on an iOS device.  Phone calls can be made via VoIP.  But the feature I used was limited to SMS and MMS messaging.  This was all provided free to users.  Pinger makes money, in part, by up-selling its service when users make phone calls to non-Pinger number in select circumstances.

Understandably, Pinger expires a users personal phone number after 30 days of non-use.  30 days seems like a rather limited window of opportunity but that’s their policy and their decision to make.  My problem was that my number was taken away at the end of 30 days without so much as a warning.  In the past, I had received a message warning me that I was nearing the end of 30 days and would lose my number if I didn’t use the Pinger app.  So I would use the app and all was well for the foreseeable future.  I was confident that the number that many of my friends used the contact me was relatively reliable.
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What Did We Learn in 2012?

Looking at the site logs this morning I found a spike in traffic from last night.  Digging into the logs I found that The Guardian, a popular online publication in the UK did a story titled “Lessons the tech world learned in 2012.”  The story covers some of the big ouch moments that made headlines in 2012.  But it was lesson #8 that brought the spike in traffic to Maclive.net.

Lesson #8 was titled “If you want privacy keep off the net. Or at least encrypt your stuff.”  Needless to say, the finger was pointed at former CIA Director David Petraeus.  There was a lesson to be learned there.  But when the Guardian made note of the complexities of encrypting ones email, they linked to our post.  That’s where the surge originated.
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Click and Drag: One of the Coolest Web Comics Ever!

I’m not entirely sure what to call this, but lets go with “web comic.”  I know this site, xkcd.com has a devoted following, but today was the first that it came to my attention.  I heard it mentioned on an episode of Tech News Today.  This comic lets you click and drag, essentially panning around on a tremendously large image.  The image seems to go on forever.  It is simple black and white imagery and pure brilliance.  It is virtually endless fun to look at.  Hats off the artist.  This is genius.

Here’s a sample of the artwork.  But you need to hit this link to see the full wonder that is titled simply, Click and Drag.

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Steve Jobs: The Biography (42 weeks and counting)

The Steve Jobs biography has been on the New York Times best seller list since its release.  As of today, that’s 22 weeks and counting!  Though it has recently dropped to number 5 on the list, this is an amazing achievement.  The book was authored by Walter Isaacson, and by his own admission (and detailed early on in the book), he was very reluctant to write the biography and put off Jobs requests for some time.

There have been numerous reviews of the book.  Some calling it an amazing look behind the scenes of Silicon Valley.  Others claim that the story would have been better told by a writer more technically savvy.  But despite the criticism and the praise no one can debate that the timing of the biographies release was nothing short of Steve’s standard for exemplary showmanship.  Plus the book is packed with drama detailing the turmoil of Jobs very private life.

All of that aside, 22 weeks on the best seller list and still counting?  Outstanding!

Update: 5/14/12 @ 10:02am
As of today, the Steve Jobs book remains on the best seller list at #14.  This 28 consecutive weeks and counting.

Update: 7/27/12 @ 4:45pm
As of today, the book has remained on the list for 39 consecutive weeks and has also climbed back #3 on the combined print & e-book nonfiction list.  It has moved to #6 on the stardard hardcover nonfiction list. This book has amazing staying power!!!

Update: 8/28/12 @ 9:15am
Talk about staying power.  The book has yet to leave the list.  We are at 42 consecutive weeks and counting.  Current position: #9.

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Redeeming Visa Gift/Check Cards Without the Pain

I have a small stack of Visa check cards that have been collecting on my desk over the last year an a half.  I buy a fair amount of tech gear online throughout the year.  I get hardware when I find a good deal, and in many cases that involves a rebate from the manufacturer.  But recent trends have the rebates coming back in the form of Visa check cards.  No more rebate checks.  Everyone issues the rebate on a check/debit card.  I’m not sure of the upside for the company issuing the rebate, but when you want to redeem the gift card it can be a pain in the ass.

For example, say you want to use the gift card to pay for a meal.  If its a $20 gift card, you can’t actually spent the $20 on the meal.  15% or more is held back from the available limit to allow room for gratuity on the purchase.  On top of that, the total for the bill will never equal that of the check card, so you either split the payment between the check card and a credit card, or you make up the difference in cash.  And not knowing if the gratuity hold back is 15%, 20% or 25%, its impossible to spend the balance of the card without a lot of screwing around and hassling the already overworked waiter/waitress.  Using a gift card for payment at a restaurant is a fail.
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