Pandora Had Me Until Disco was Mixed with Seventies Rock

This afternoon I was turned on to Pandora an old(even though many people haven't heard of it before) internet radio station company that reinvents itself on a regular basis.

I've read about them dozens of times in magazines like Wired, but never gave them a try. Today I was doing a few things in FaceBook when I was given the quick ability to give them a try.

I was hooked.

I was rapidly finding some music that I liked and that was virally pointing me to some new music I hadn't heard of before.

Then Pandora's Box must have come completely off its hinges. Before I knew it I had Journey getting mixed into play on channels that were supposed to play disco, Peter Gabriel was following hard rock on the Nine Inch Nails Channel and for dozens of songs in a row I was stuck listening to garbage!

image

I was in Internet Radio Hell!

Pandora is supposed to look at your musical tastes, compare those tastes to other people and with the music selections that the music experts at Pandora use, make music suggestions to you that should help you keep your groove on.

But when it goes wrong and sends you a series of songs that you don't like, you can skip through two or three until you get a message stating that their license does not allow them to let you skip through more music until you listen to some more (crap).

From a Facebook perspective I rapidly ran into some problems as well. I was able to subscribe to some of my favorite groups and singers. However, I rapidly learned that many or most of them only had their most current albums listed in Pandora. So I could not really get in there and share or list my favorite songs by my favorite singers and groups.

The most annoying thing about the service though seems to be the fact that once it gets off track, you can't redirect it. Its like having a friend come over to your house, jump in to your music collection and suddenly pull out a bunch of really bad music that you received for christmas from a distant aunt that has no clue what music you like and then having that person play that music over and over again.

You can't hit stop, you can't hit skip, you can't tell them to turn that crap off or play something in a different genre.

That last word is the key here. There appears to be no genre of music on Pandora to help get the service guided back on track. So if your resident Pandoran expert chooses unwisely (for you), you are stuck with their suggestions and can't say, "Hey you fool, that's not rock n roll, that's not funky dance music, that's techno dance music, that's not acid house that's house, that's not rap that's R & B, that's not hip hop, that pop. You can tell it song after song that you don't like the song, but that doesn't seem to register quick enough to improve the next song in the play list.

Maybe even more important, if you want to hear 'more' from an artist, you just can't. This is (internet) radio and they don't really play requests like that. You can buy music anytime you like, knock yourself out. But if you suddenly get the notion or reminder to listen to this great song by an artist you're just hosed.

For those of us that have lived for decades now in the instant gratification world of MP3 files, digital cameras and mobile email, this is a real bummer. The introduction to new music is nice, but be prepared to take a deep breath before diving through the chaff.

The service has some interesting potential, but it just doesn't seem intelligent or responsive enough yet to really live up to its true potential.

Comcast Executive Care?

Last week I blogged about a Comcast outage. A Comcast representative commented on my post and ask me to contact them. You can see it here: http://aaronburcell.typepad.com/…ng-me.html



In a follow-up email, I asked the commenter if there were some alert system that provided an eta on outage recovery -- a system like Pacific Gas and Electricity's phone tree. I didn't get an immediate response.



This morning I took a call from Comcast Executive Care. The contact apologized for the inconvenience, asked for multiple bits of contact info. He then indicated that someone from his group in the Bay Area would be calling me. So far, I'm not all that impressed, but I'm curious to see what transpires next.

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Comcast Executive Care Part II

AaronB at Utterz kicked off an interesting discussion about cable providers and their response times and possible processes when their services go down. Now if you are like me you would rather volunteer for human trials to have teeth extracted by an elephant or eat at McDonalds for 90 days straight in order to develop a nice case of acne for the sole purpose of then testing suppository treatments for acne before you ever would want to call a cable providers 800 number and get put through the ringer asking for help.

That said, this discussion could prove enlightening and save you the time and trouble of dealing with them, as the conversation will partially confirm what you, I and the rest of the US already suspect, the phone call is a waste of time! :)



I spoke with Sandy (sp?!) at Comcast executive care tonight. To recap, I suffered a significant outage, Comcast owned up the issue through a comment on my blog, and have been trying to explain themselves ever since.

After returning Sandy's call, she was a bit confused as to why I called, and eventually found her files before addressing my basic questions about why Comcast could not communicate information about their outages before, during or after outages.

Here is a recap of the convo with Sandy today:

* Sandy believes that the IVR is supposed to read the phone number via caller ID, and give me regional outage information. Unfortunately, if you're a triple-play customer, you can't use your home phone to call in. Fortunately, my wife's mobile phone is the number associated with the account -- we called from that number, and only received information that there was an outage "in the area" and were provided no estimate on service restoration. Nothing. In reviewing my case history, Sandy recognized these facts.

* On that last point, when I pressed, Sandy advised that Comcast always encourages customers to talk to a live person about outages. I asked where they provide this advisement -- in the IVR, their site, the online billing site? Sandy said, she was providing the advisement in the call I was participating in, and that's generally where they advise customers... customers without voice or cable services. Yeah, I laughed too.

* After this line of conversation, Sandy contradicted herself and stated that she believes the IVR can't be prompted to give me an update on outages. So, the phone number a customer is provided on the site and via the EPG on the set-top box is useless. That's something everyone should know.

* Sandy says the call center system provides support folks with an outage board and give notes indicating what the issue is if they're available, and Comcast general does not update the IVR regarding regional outages. Sandy explained that most of the time, the outages aren't provided updates from the field. And, again, Comcast is advising that customers call support, talk to a person, who is rarely informed from the field, and not provided updates on specifics of the issue impacting your service. Yeah, I laughed again.

So, at this point, I confirmed with Sandy that she is not provided updates from the field, and the IVR can't be updated with outage info, but that I should call the 800 number and ignore the outage info prompts in the IVR and speak to a support person who is probably not going to have field reports on an outage. Sandy had a cute voice. She giggled in response to my question.

I pressed on, focusing on the subject of planned outages. Sandy shared more nuggets of confusion and humor:

* When there is a planned outage, there is a message provided to customers via the set-top box in the EPG menu under the message tab (WTF?!), and a red light appears on the front of the box to let you know that a new message has arrived. I didn't think to ask, but I wonder if this is the same red light that indicates one of my two tuners is recording a program. Yeah, that message-related red light couldn't be confusing or misinterpreted at all.

* Sand says that a customer is also notifed of planned outages in "most cases" via direct mail to customers, sent as a separate snail mail, aka a letter other than your bill. Sandy was a bit confused about whether or not this was an insert in your bill or a seperate mailing -- she described both instances, but eventually settled on a seperate mailing as the standard. Sorta like the IVR issue, Sandy was a bit confused, and just sorta picked a direction and went with it. I love Sandy.

* So, for everyone that ignores their statement and pays online -- you're not going to know about planned outages, unless you check your messages on your set top box. I asked this question. Sandy confirmed that it is probably that you'll not see the mailings regarding planned outages.

So, to review to this point, as a Triple Play customer, Comcast has your phone number, your email address, and a portal from which to communicate planned outages, or apologize and explain unplanned outages. None of these channels are utilized, according to Sandy in "executive care escalation". Instead, you might get a letter in the mail.

So, I pressed on regarding un-planned outage 00 the descriptor for the outage I experienced. After asking a series of additional qeustions, Sandy began to break down and make a series of revealing confessions. Here they are:

* Even after aknowledging my assertion that someone in NOC probably knows which houses are impacted by an outage, Sandy says that Comcast does not automatically credit customers for an unplanned outage. Instead, they only credit customers after the customer complains.

* Comcast does not snail mail or provide any follow-up with on un-planned outages. Sandy noted that most customers don't even notice that there is an ouage, especially in my case, where the outage was primarily during business hours. Interesting logic.



Ultimately, Sandy gave me a one-week credit ($42.10) at my current Triple Play rate. For her honesty and the credit, I'm eternally grateful.

Early in my career, I worked on WebTV, which was effectively an ISP for a TV-adjacent computer. We sweated outages and product issues, and we answered phone numbers and tried to over-estimate outages so that we didn't take on the additional costs of call-backs. We made light of MSOs (multiple service operators) and their lack of service commitments. As bad as cable was, we always felt that the phone companies were worse than cable companies.

But, tonight, I'm starting to wonder if "Big Old Expensive Phone Company" is better than Comcast. I might just decide to find out.

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Comcast Executive Care Part II

To echo Michael's sentiment, I opt for several layers of redundancy at home these days. I keep a home office and being disconnected isn't really an option.

I have a landline through At&t, whom I despise and would almost rather chop off any body appendage on the left side of my body rather than do business with them, but redundancy is important.

I have DSL on the At&t line as well. This is my first level of redundant backup. Its too slow and quirky when it comes to a number of applications (like email). But its better than nothing.

TimeWarner's Roadrunner is my cable connection. It is pretty fast most of the time and only goes down for a few hours every couple weeks.

I get cable through DirectTv. Just maintaining momentum here. Don't like nor dislike them.

Then I have an air card through Verizon Wireless which can power my 3g Wireless Router and create a WiFi network at the house or anywhere when DSL and Cable internet are both down. So far that has only happened once this year since I set up the additional layers of redundancy.

I am none to happy with Verizon Wireless as they just ripped me off for $500 last month. They sold me a lemon of a phone, replaced it 3 times under the warranty I was paying for and none of the replacements worked. They would not take the phone back, give me my money back or give me a different model of phone (presumably one that worked).

Their only advice to me over the phone was to sell my lemon of a phone on ebay to some poor sucker out there. (They did not use the word sucker directly. But when I asked them if they admitted that I had a lemon of a phone, they agreed. When I asked if it was right to sell a lemon of a phone to someone, they agreed that this would be bad. When I asked what I should do with the phone? They said (again) many of our customers sell their (lemon) phones on ebay, you could sell yours on ebay. But it is a lemon of a phone that doesn't work. How can that be right? I ask.

They agreed and said that would be wrong, but that's what Verizon customers do.

I said, I did not want to harm someone else with a lemon, not to mention harm my own name, or even cost Verizon more money for the tech support calls they would receive from the poor sap that would purchase my phone. Verizon thanked me for that.

So I asked again what I could do with my lemon of a phone. They said, You could sell it on ebay. (I'm not kidding or exaggerating. They told me 4 times to sell my phone on ebay during the same conversation with the same rep, who agreed with me that it would be just wrong to sell the phone on ebay knowing that it was a lemon myself and with Verizon having documented the fact that it was a lemon in their own system.)

I hung up with the feeling that there was a supervisor standing behind her telling her to repeat the company line "Sell your lemon Verizon Wireless phone on Ebay" "No Refunds"

I learned my lesson with Verizon Wireless. Their warranty, $6 a month, is garbage. They just replace lemons with lemons. They might as well offer customers t shirts stating, "I paid $500 for a garbage phone with a service plan that cost $325 a month and all I received was 45 hours on the phone with tech support and a paper weight shaped treo 700P".

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Comcast Executive Care Part II

So, now you understand why I've decided that Comcast gives me my internet connection, and Verizon gives me dial tone. I can miss a TV show once in while, but I don't want to be without dial tone. Whether you like them or not, no matter what the weather, time of day, etc., in power outages or storms, Verizon gives us dial tone. Comcast is more likely to be a blue screen or some sort of error message. Can't even count the number of errors before or during PPV movies, HD service is cranky and sometimes just stops for no reason, etc.

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Another Wireless Mouse is Junk

I am increasingly beginning to think that no manufacturer can create a decent wireless mouse.  This week I have witnessed the demise of yet another wireless mouse. A laser optical mouse that I paid $50 for just 4 months ago.

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This mouse sucked down close to 12 AAA batteries a month and truly was not worth the total cost (after batteries about $100).  If I can find one, I am from now on going to utilize a wired mouse, both to save money on batteries and to save landfills from more batteries.

More importantly I will make the switch to save myself the hassle of utilizing equipment that fails to work when I need it.  It may make my work while traveling or staying in Mykonos villa rentals or in a Howard Johnson or even a Holiday Inn Express.  Lugging a wired device seems a bit like packing up too much of the desktop to go on the road, but when you count many of the devices that plugin via USB to communicate with the actual mouse, traveling with a wireless mouse can be even more bulky than a wired device.

The trick is likely to find a mouse that has a cord that is manageable and does not make a mess of all the other packed devices and cords in your bag, backpack or briefcase.

Google and Viacom - The Fight That Had to Happen stays as Civil as Possible

Google and Viacom have agreed to keep the identities of all those people that Viacom would argue illegally shared their content on Google's YouTube video sharing network.

Google said it had now agreed to provide plaintiffs' attorneys for Viacom and a class-action group led by the Football Association of England a version of a massive viewership database that blanks out YouTube username and Internet address data that could be used to identify individual video watchers.

"We have reached agreement with Viacom and the class-action group," Google spokesman Ricardo Reyes said. "They have agreed to let us anonymize YouTube user data," he said.

Reuters

But Viacom does not necessarily want to upset its consumers any more than they already have by not enabling their content to be uploaded on to YouTube, especially shows, such as The Daily Show.

So after taking Google to task for buying YouTube, a company with a serious content ownership flaw in the business plan, they are now delving through the class action lawsuit with kids gloves, hoping to protect their content rights while keeping their viewers (and advertisers.)  With this level of civility, you would almost expect lawyers from opposing sides to send each other personalized gifts along with evidence and data.

Improving Technology Series - Hot Tub Covers with Ambience

This weekend as I took a short time to relax, I found an interesting new product that makes an improvement on the technology of hot tub covers.  This improvement did not come in the way the covers work, or what they are made out of, but how they look when your hot tub is - uncovered.

spascenes-hot-tub-cover-screen-prints2

I've owned several hot tubs over the years and most hot tub covers are not terribly sexy nor relaxing, especially their under bellies.  In fact, underbelly is exactly how most hot tub covers look on the under side.  They look like the belly of a giant slimy cat fish and when you are trying to relax in a hot tub, staring at a glaring white behemoth, well its just not terribly relaxing nor peaceful.

Well, this company called SpaScenes.com has come up with an easy to install screen that attaches easily to hot tub covers with a special adhesive resistant to hot tub environments and chemicals.  It can add a great looking scene that will definitely be more peaceful and relaxing than the giant white underbelly ambience that comes standard with hot tubs today.

spascenes-hot-tub-cover-screen-prints

The price on these massive hot tub cover murals goes for a little over $200.  Your average hot tub cover itself can cost anywhere from $350 - $600 plus accessories like lift arms, so adding an accessory to deck your hot tub out like you are in a resort or spa could definitely be worth the investment.  Plus, if you look at these for what they are, a massive water proof/ chemical proof mural the price is likely a great deal cheaper than a mural would be if you tried to install it on an ordinary wall.

imageNow, personally, I prefer to keep my hot tub outside.  I enjoy relaxing under the stars and the trees.  The beauty of these hot tub covers is that it can help to quiet down the light that would normally reflect off your hot tub cover and help you to focus on your environment and nature instead of staring at what looks almost like a big bright screen.  After looking at it, I can't hardly imagine going back to my old hot tub cover where I'll probably always think of a blank Microsoft Word Document from now on until I upgrade my cover.

$70 per Year for Microsoft Office?

You might have missed this deal announced by Microsoft and Circuit City just before the holidays.  They are going to sell Microsoft office and Circuit City stores for $69 a year through a subscription plan.  This is part of Microsoft's effort to try and keep up with Google who has offered Google documents as an online application to compete with Microsoft office which is notoriously been rather expensive over the years.

 

At about $70 year, Microsoft office would not really seem all that expensive to many people especially those people they're buying a new computer in looking at a teaser 30 or 60 day trial offer of Microsoft office.  Paying $70 to get another year of Microsoft Office versus paying a few hundred dollars is a whole lot easier.

 

That said I don't think Microsoft is going to be terribly competitive with Google based on this one item.  It will definitely help sales but it doesn't assume to make product any better or any more competitive with Google documents.  People that use Google documents justify the use with the price but they tend to make the choice based on lifestyle and culture.  Necessity does come into play at times, but it doesn't seem to be the overriding concern of many buyers.

 

Regardless of seems like pretty good idea for a soft, it's a solid baby step in the right direction to stay competitive and keep their army of software engineers gainfully employed and out of the unemployment lines looking for IT jobs.

The strange thing about this product offering is the choice of channel.  Offering this deal exclusively to Circuit City is a little peculiar.  Most people that run in that situation where they need to buy Microsoft office, for example when they're 30 or 60 day trial has just expired, need the software right away.  It would seem that this model would work a whole lot better if Microsoft sold it directly from their own website as a download as opposed to making people jump into their car and pay $10 to drive a car across town to pick up some software and Circuit City.

I can deftly understand why Circuit City jumped at this deal, but Microsoft seems to have made a misstep in their choice of partner.

Powering WiFi Router with Air Card


Last week when I went to the drive in. As I'm a bit of an uber geek with technology, I took my 3G Cellular router that created a WiFi network around my car at the drive in and then did a few fun things posting Utterz up to utterz.com.

I was mostly trying to just test or prove a concept that this was possible. There were people waiting for darkness to settle over the drive in so that the movies could begin (Wall-E and Indiana Jones IV playing that night). While they were waiting, some people were tossing around footballs while other people played dominoes and the people in front of us ran their car on idle with the air condition running, which seemed so 2001 when gas prices were reasonable enough to waste gas.

Anyway, I had been looking for something to cap off my review of the NexAira 3G cellular routers that I received from PowerfulSignal back in May. I have tried the mobile router on the lake, and on the road, but I wanted something to kind of cap off my adventure. The drive in actually worked fairly well, especially as there is a massive cell tower behind the drive in, which kind of helped to illustrate the point of how the whole thing works (and probably helps the drive in owner collect some rent money from Verizon).

Now, I never really doubted that this would work. Honestly, the thing always seems to work. I like to find the things that devices are unable to do, possibly even break them (not physically, but put them in situations where they crash or something). I like to know what extreme a device can work up to.

Unfortunately, I was never really able to find a situation where the device did not work. :)

Jeremy from Utterz, has mentioned in some of his reviews of the product that when you are in the middle of the mountains or driving down the interstate that it helps to have a cellular range extender working in conjunction with this device. I haven't tried that yet myself, but I do see the logic in it and suspect that I will likely need to pick one of those up before long.

In fact, I've been planning to get out West some year and attend Burning Man in the desert. I have no idea if you can get a cellular connection in the middle of the desert, but I think it would be pretty cool if I could get an extender capable of hitting a tower somewhere closer to well somewhere so that I could do some mobile blogging from burning man in a live capacity.

Anyway, in summary this is a great little tool. If you have to be connected for your job, or have to have a connection anywhere and everywhere at a moments notice this is probably a device that is in your future.

Double that need if you commute in a carpool!

I had a fun putting the Nexaira mobile router through its paces, and wanted to thank the folks at PowerfulSignal for giving me a chance to try it out and give my opinion. I think they have a winner of device on their hands.

Its late Friday night as I write this, and I'm heading into the weekend. While I think about the connectivity potential of this device, I can't help but think about the concepts of a 'Gargoyle' as depicted in the book Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. In the book, a Gargoyle is someone that basically walks around always connected to the internet.

This device won't make a Gargoyle out of you, but will give you all the connectivity you really need. Maybe 4G will take us the rest of the way . . .

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Testing my WiFi Connection at the Drive-In


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Hey everyone, coming to you live from the Drive In in Belmont North Carolina. I suspect that I am the first person to ever Utter from this Drive In and possibly the first person to Utter from their laptop while at a drive in at all. :)

The wireless connection set up in about 5 minutes and things went very smoothly. I'm standing about 150 meters away from a cell phone tower so there's no need for a cell phone repeater here.

Going to record some quick Audio in a second, while I upload a quick picture of myself and my technical assistant, Zoe.

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