Cell Phone Companies Suck

Looks like AT&T…hell ALL the cell providers…are going to finally push me from iPhone to Android.

Why?

I’ve been happy with my iPhone 5, but lately the power button’s been on the fritz – damn thing won’t turn off when I want it to half the time.  And the headphone jack’s become corroded and the audio connection spotty.  All those cumulative days of running and biking with the thing over the last almost 3 years are starting to show.

But no one will cell me a freaking iPhone! Not without their stupid nothing down, pay for the freaking phone forever plans. Screw that.

Oh sure, they still let you just buy the damn thing and do the 2-yr commitment like they used to. But then they charge $25-30/month more per line!

So you’re paying more for the phone ($30/month for 24 months is…wait for it…the full price you’d pay just to get the phone without signing up with any company.  And, sorry, much as I like the iPhone I’m not willing to pay $650 for one.) AND still paying just as much for your cell service.

OR you’re paying the same for your phone as you used to with a 2-yr commitment, but now your 2-yr commitment plan costs more….so you’re paying more for the phone and paying just as much for your cell service.

Fuck that, and fuck them.

I’m done.

I’m this close to just getting an iPod for music, audiobooks, and podcasts, and a prepaid flip phone. I’ll just buy that Garmin watch I’d been wanting to get anyway, and that’ll let me record my biking and running. I don’t really NEED all the rest of that shite, and most of the time I don’t use it.

Or I’m going to get a $150 Android phone from Boost mobile and try that.

Either way, I’m done with AT&T.  And Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint can kiss my tush, because they’re not getting my business either with policies like this.

I will NOT be fleeced!

Your Tax Dollars At Work

What the ever-loving fucking FUCK????!!!!????!!!!!???!!!!!

So I try to access my TSP account (Thrift Savings Plan in case you don’t know the acronym – the 401k for government employee types that I have access to because I’m in the Navy). It’s been >7 months, so I don’t remember my password.

So I go into the lost password utility on the TSP website. And get told they’ll mail – FREAKING MAIL – a temporary password to me. I should call if it’s not here in 10 business days.

Today, the new password (FINALLY) arrives.

I go to the TSP website. Enter the temporary password.

It prompts me for a new password.

SERIOUSLY?

So I enter a super-strong password, one that it says meets its criteria.

And then I get a red message saying part of the website is down now, and will I please go back to the login page?

Sure, no problem. So I click the login page button and it takes me back to the password change screen where I need to enter my new, strong, password. I do so. And get the red message again.

I do this three more times, then say screw it, hit the logoff button, and close the TSP tab in my browser.

A few minutes later, I re-open a new tab and go to the TSP website.

NOT ONLY DOES THE NEW PASSWORD I CREATED NOT WORK, BUT THE GODDAMN TEMPORARY PASSWORD THEY SENT IN THE MAIL DOESN’T WORK EITHER!

AND NOW MY ACCOUNT IS LOCKED OUT!!!!!!!!

What the flaming fuck??

Does the TSP have retards in their IT Department or something?

Of course, the answer to that question is obviously yes, because what self-respecting IT professional would willingly take a job for the government unless it was their last possible choice?

*mutter*

*mutter*

*spoken under his breath as he stomps away* I’m going to burn the building down…

Myke and Brad

Every now and then I stick my foot in my mouth.

You’re shocked, I know.

I came across this open letter to Brad Torgersen on Myke Cole’s blog via Larry Correia‘s Facebook feed.  It got me fired up, and I decided to comment on it.  Given I was irked and pressed for time because I had to leave to pick up the kids from school, I was less than eloquent in getting my point across with my comment.  Reading back, I’m munching on a shoe or two over there.  Now, I doubt any of Myke or Brad’s readers will ever see this post, but since I’ve gone and spewed on the Internet, and that can’t be undone, I figure I might as well take the time to really say what I meant to say in that comment.  For peace of mind, if for nothing else.

First, full disclosure.

I don’t know Myke Cole.  Never interacted with him at all.  Never read his stuff.  That said, I’ve heard him speak on several podcast panels and interviews.  He seems like a decent guy.  The only complaint I had about him was the hands-on-hips, face-pointed-into-the-wind-so-it-can-dramatically-fling-his-hair manner in which he always worked “I’m in the military” into the discussions.  Yeah…whatever dude, join the club.  That said, I’ll grant it’s a strong selling point for him, because how many writers know the grip of a rifle from the muzzle?  All power to him if using his military experience helps his career; I shall cast no stones here for that.  (All the same, as a Navy guy I have to ask if anyone knows the reason the Coast Guard has a 5 foot minimum height requirement? …  So if their boats sink, they can walk to shore.  😛 )

I do know Brad.  We’re not intimate by any means, but I’ve interacted with him online for some time and we hung out at last year’s Writers of the Future awards.  Again, not exactly tight as thieves but I’d like to think I’m not out of line to consider him a friendly acquaintance.

I’m not familiar with the statement Brad made which set Myke off here.  I just got back from deployment and I’ve had better things to do than scour the interwebs for the latest kerfuffle – I only came across this screed because I happened to see it linked to Larry on Facebook during a quick scan.  Maybe Myke’s objecting to something Brad said further back.  Dunno.  Don’t care.

Look, I’ve had to set fellow officers straight before because they were messing up.  Mostly those junior to me, occasionally a peer, and once or twice more senior officers, up to and including my CO.  It’s part of the job, and expected: forceful backup is a primary tenet of submarine operations.  So I have no issue with one officer correcting another.

That said, there is a way to do that sort of correction, and I do take issue with the nature, style, and content of Myke’s open letter.

The entire letter is condescending, and lacking in professional courtesy or respect.  Does he honestly think that Brad doesn’t know that, as an officer, he has a duty to all of his men, regardless of their personal situation?  Or does he just think Brad knows but doesn’t care?  Brad’s been doing this for a long time now.  I think he gets it.  And who the hell is Myke to lecture anyway?  He doesn’t work with Brad, doesn’t serve with him.  They’re not in the same chain of command, and neither has authority over the other.  Has he ever observed Brad’s professional behavior?  If not, he’s just speculating not even based on hearsay, and has no standing to judge or cast dispersions.

It’s not just condescending to Brad, but to the soldiers Brad serve with.  Does he really presume that they are so thin-skinned and hyper-sensitive that they’ll go all wobbly at the knees because an officer in their unit might have said something, somewhere, about someone, that could be construed as offensive?

I mean, I know Myke’s been there and done that, but did he actually pay attention to military people when he was serving with them?  The teasing that goes on between military personnel can be brutal.  It’s part of how people relieve stress, and not meant to be hurtful, but it can be intense and covers most any topic.  Soldiers are pretty thick-skinned.  They’re also tough enough to let someone know when they’ve gone too far.  And most of the time once that happens, people take note and that particular line doesn’t get crossed again.

That would be how adults deal with situations.

There’s an old saying that also addresses how adults (and professionals) deal with situations: praise in public, rebuke in private.  If Myke really had a problem with Brad, he should have addressed it to him.  In private.  Not to his blog audience.  Doing it the way Myke did publicly denigrates a fellow officer to no good effect.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Myke’s thesis is correct, and Brad will discriminate against his homosexual soldiers, if any.  Well, there’s a way to handle that, too.  If a soldier has a problem, he addresses it to his Sergeant, who then brings it up the chain to Brad’s attention.  Or he goes to Brad directly.  This sort of complaint happens on occasion, and most of the time it gets resolved there because neither party had malicious intentions.  But let’s say Brad didn’t fix himself.  The soldier could then make a formal complaint that bypasses Brad completely, going to the Command Sergeant Major and CO directly.  They would then investigate and take action as needed.

You know what wouldn’t help, or really do a damn thing about the situation?  A blog post from a Coast Guard Reserve officer who no one has ever heard of outside of the books he’s written.  I’m quite certain Myke knows this.

The entire piece reads as self-aggrandizing, moralistic preening.  The sort of thing that drove me away from John Scalzi‘s blog, that says “look at what a great person I am and how horrible people are who differ from me.”  It stretches plausibility to think that Myke really intended this to help Brad improve himself, or that he wrote it out of genuine concern for Brad’s soldiers.

It is an act of public shaming, nothing more, done for Myke’s own benefit, to put himself on a moral high horse and show how cool he is to his readers and writing peers.  It certainly can’t benefit Brad, or the Army.

Myke should be ashamed of himself.  And frankly, if dueling were still allowed under the UCMJ, Brad would be completely within his rights to demand satisfaction.

The 2015 Hugo Awards and Puppy-Related Sadness

So everyone’s talking about the Hugos.

Ok, not everyone.  To most of the world, the Hugos have pretty much no meaning or significance whatsoever.  But in the SciFi/Fantasy community, the Hugos are kind of a big deal.

Well…I have to amend that. To a portion of the SciFi/Fantasy community, they are.  But speaking as a guy who grew up on Star Trek and Star Wars, who’s read fantasy (and to a lesser extent SciFi) forever, who went to many a (Star Trek) convention before he grew up and entered the Navy, with deployments and the like, and who has maintained a love of scifi/fantasy things throughout his life, I have to say that, while I had heard that a thing called the Hugo Awards existed, before I got into this writing gig I really didn’t know what they were, and nor did I really care.

See, I’m not a fan with a capital F.  As I said, the only conventions I’ve ever been to were Star Trek conventions, and the last of those I attended was in…94?  95?  Something like that.  Shortly after I started this writing gig in 2011, I was on a writing blog and someone mentioned that this guy Neil Gaiman said something about something, and everyone was like, “OOOOO!”  My reaction?  “Who the fuck is Neil Gaiman?”  I’ve been reading and loving the stuff forever, but I’d never heard of him.  Or Niven.  Or Pournelle.  Or Bujold.  Or a lot of the names that are Godlike within community of SF/F capital F fans.  Because, though I loved it, SF/F wasn’t my entire life.  I read other things.  Did other things.  Didn’t really know conventions existed and probably wouldn’t have gone if I’d known because I was busy with other stuff.

But if you’d asked me, I still would have told you I was a fan of scifi and fantasy.  By God, Robert Jordan was my favorite writer ever.  And right behind him were Tolkien, R A Salvatore, Timothy Zahn, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Arthur C Clark, and Carl Sagan.  And Michael Crichton.  And Tom Clancy (not scifi but I loved his stuff).  And others.

So last year, when I came across Larry Correia‘s Sad Puppies 2 campaign, I was like, hell yeah.  Because in the previous couple years I’d started to learn the lay of the land in the more formal SF/F community, and frankly some of the people in there annoyed the hell out of me.  I hate busy-bodies, and sanctimonious douchebags.  That’s why I’m not a leftist.  Well, that and I have studied history, economics, ethics, morality, and philosophy and nowhere in there can I find any coherent possibility of a society founded upon leftist ideals becoming anything other than a totalitarian hellhole.  But I could be wrong.

Anyway, given my natural predilection against holier-than-thou types, and a general enjoyment of poking things in the eyes of people who are poke-able (it’s the submariner in me.  First thing you learn on a submarine is “show no weakness”.  If something bothers you and people on the boat know it, they will do that thing incessantly, just to spin you up.  It’s one of the (few) ways we entertain ourselves while underway.), I watched Larry’s campaign last year with glee.  I even bought a Worldcon supporting membership and cast some votes on the final ballot, after reading the nominees and sorting what I liked and didn’t like.

As an aside, I learned for the first time that people could do this in…2012 I think.  When I was 36 going on 37.  The first movie I ever saw in the theater was Star Wars, as a toddler.  And as I mentioned before, I grew up on this scifi stuff.  But I’d never heard of how the Hugos worked until 35 years later.  And they wonder why Worldcon and Hugo participation is so low – clearly the folks running the show haven’t made a very big effort to put the word out and explain it to the rank and file scifi people out there, or invite them in.  I’m living proof of it.

Getting back to it, I cast some votes for the final ballot last year, so I had the opportunity to nominate this year.

I didn’t, though.

Why not?  Because the only novels I’ve read that were published in 2014 were The Chaplain’s War and Skin Game, and I don’t read that much short fiction.  (I have this thing where I tend not to read books when they first come out.  There are so many older, awesome books that I learn about as I go about my business that I’m always reading things from previous years, unless a book pops up that I REALLY want – like a Wheel of Time or Harry Potter book before the respective series finished.  Or more recently, like a Dresden book)  So I could have voted for the Sad Puppies 3 slate and basically nothing else (since I had read the short fiction Brad Torgersen recommend on the slate).  But I didn’t feel right about that, because I hadn’t looked at anything else that came out last year.  And while I love what SP is doing and really REALLY enjoy poking asshats in the eye, I didn’t want to nominate anyone without having a better idea of what the actual field was, because that would be dishonest – how could I really know those were my favorites for the year if I hadn’t read anything else?

Not sure if that makes any sense.

I intend to vote for this year’s final ballot, though.  Like last year, I’ll read everything on the ballot and make my own determination about it.  At this point, I suspect Skin Game’s getting my novel vote because that was a KICK ASS book.  On the flip side, I couldn’t bring myself to finish Ancillary Justice because it was so obtuse and…annoying.  I’ll give Sword a fair swing, though.  The others….  I’ve heard good things about the goblin book, and Kloos’ work has been proclaimed as awesome for a while though I haven’t read it yet.  But still…Butcher.  He’s freaking great.

Well, we’ll see.

Anyway, not sure where I was going with this except to say I fully endorse and support what the Sad Puppies folks have been doing, even though I didn’t vote for any nominees this year.  Because, as I said, I despise busybodies and holier-than-thou types who seek to rule others’ thoughts and actions.  And because I thought this was supposed to be the biggest award in Scifi, given by all scifi fans, not just by a tiny, insular clique.

My bad.

Copyright Abuse

Once upon a time, I played a lot of computer games.  Well, maybe not a whole lot, but a decent amount.  Then I got busy.  Then I bought a Mac, and while I love my Macs, I truly miss the gaming experience that comes from PC computing.  For a number of years I lamented that decision.

Then came 2008.  In early 2008, the Navy moved us from Maine to DC (back to my home town) for shore duty in the Pentagon (Holy God does Pentagon duty suck…more on that sometime…maybe…when I feel like torturing you.  No, really.  Jesu Cristo, the head-exploding potential is HUGE there).  We moved into a house in Annapolis after a couple months at my Mom’s house in Kensington while we waited for our house in Maine to sell (we ended up having to do a Short Sale on that one…we got one offer in almost a year on the market and took a $50k loss.  Ouch.  Not that I expect pity from anyone – I know plenty of people took a greater loss than I did.  But that’s haunted us to this day – we’re a few months away from finally paying off the last of the note from that deal).  As we moved in, the Admiral looked at me and said, “We should get a new TV as an anniversary gift to ourselves.”  It was coming up on our official first anniversary at that point.

What man in his right mind would refuse a spousal demand like that?  Not I, said the fly.

I hooked up with an old Elementary School buddy who I still keep in touch with, who worked putting together home theater setups for people, and he got us squared away with a pretty decent system for not a whole lot of $.  Included in that system was a PS-3.  Because “it’s the best Blu-Ray player around”.  Made for a great excuse, right?  🙂

It wasn’t long before I was back to buying video games, only on my console, not on my computer.  Now, this was a big departure for me.  I’d always preferred PC gaming, for a number of reasons, mostly deriving from the purity of it, I think.  I grew up on our Apple IIc, and then my dad’s Compaq portable, and then my own 486/33, and spent a whole lot of time playing awesome INFOCOM games like Zork, then EA games like The Bards Tale and Wing Commander, then moving on to innumerable titles that followed.  To me, video games were COMPUTER games – PC games.  The consoles were pissant wannabes.

But with my new PS-3, that changed.  I couldn’t get awesome games on my Mac, so the awesomeness flowed through my PS-3.  Then, once the kids became old enough to work the controls, they came to like the PS-3 games as well (those that we let them play).  Add to that the kick-ass movie experience that comes from a Blu-Ray player and the cool apps that we could get on the console (Netflix, Hulu, MLB TV, etc), and I had a new electronic love.

So I’ve accumulated a new collection of video games – spoken, console games – for our PS-3.  Along the way, I found a couple online video game reviewers that I like.  Chief among them is Angry Joe.  Well, that’s not really accurate.  I love Angry Joe, and he’s the only one I watch with any frequency.

Angry Joe is awesome.  He riffs off one of my all-time favorite cartoon shows (and comic books, and action figure lines) – GI Joe – and makes hilarious but also hard-hitting reviews of newly released games.  He also comments on developments in the gaming community while keeping it all kinds of fun.  He gets hundreds of thousands of hits on his videos and apparently makes his living through his video game reviews and other content that he posts.  I love tuning in to his videos, whether on YouTube or through his website.

Which is why it pains me to see what YouTube and various copyright holders have been doing to him and other reviewers like him.

Watch these for the details:

 

 

I’m admittedly a little behind the times on this, but regardless it pisses me off.  As a Copyright holder myself, I am very sensitive about the rights of the Copyright holders involved here.  But clearly he is using this material for parody and review purposes, which is explicitly protected under US Copyright law.  But despite this, Joe is (was? the last update he posted was two months ago; who knows what’s happened since then.  I only hope it’s good) in danger of losing his business – and thus his livelihood – over this.  IMHO, this is an example of big-money people trying to strong-arm someone with less resources, and YouTube just going along with it blindly.

From what I can tell, YouTube’s policy on these matters is BS.  Joe, and guys like him, gets strikes on his account based on whether someone submits a DMCA takedown notice against him.  Three strikes and his account – his channel, his method of making money for his business – is taken down for good.  And it doesn’t matter if any of the claims were judged invalid later.  Three strikes, no matter their validity in court, and he’s done.  Apparently there’s no appeal.  And worse than that, apparently even if he uses 10 seconds of a property in a 30 minute review, once the notice is put in place the property owner gets 100% of the ad revenue from that video, and never mind  that Joe put hours of effort into making the remaining 29 minutes and 50 seconds of that video, which SHOULD legally be his intellectual property.

On the surface that might sound ok to some.  But a DMCA takedown notice is not a legal finding by a court.  It’s a claim by a copyright holder.  It’s essentially a statement of willingness to sue unless something is done – a demand.

Seems to me a guy like Joe, who is acting in good faith, ought not be paupered over an unsubstantiated threat that has not been borne out by a court finding.  Now, I get that YouTube – Google – does not want to expose itself to unnecessary liability.  But surely a company that boasts the motto “Don’t Be Evil” – and what HELL does that mean?  Talk about a motto for douchebags – and that makes a whole lot of money every quarter can absorb the cost of doing the most minimal investigation to determine which claims have a potential of being valid and which are total BS.  It doesn’t take a lot of effort to differentiate between an honest guy like Joe and a criminal.  Surely Google can do this.

But apparently not.

I really hope Joe’s troubles are resolved satisfactorily.  He’s not the only one to be harassed like this, and IMHO it’s total BS.  If you can afford it, I really hope you’ll go to Joe’s website and show him some support, either via a comment or through a donation.  I don’t know him personally, though I get the impression I’d like to, but he seems like a good guy who doesn’t deserve the BS he’s being subjected to.

Joe, for what it’s forth coming from me, a nobody who owns copyrights that no one cares about at this point in time, I really hope you emerge victorious.  Because this is total BS.

I Am So Sick Of This Shit

I posted this on Facebook earlier, under my real name.  I debated whether or not to post it here under my pen name, because it’s more than a little political.  But you know what?  I don’t give a damn.  If someone reads this and decides they hate me because of what I think, so be it.

Brace yourselves:

 

I’ve watched, over the last few days, while all manner of brain-dead people have bemoaned the Zimmerman verdict, as though somehow a man’s inherent right to self defense, the law of the state, and common sense should not apply if the man in question happens to be less tanned than the man he was defending himself against.

More recently, a number of people are pissed about the fact that Rush Limbaugh used the word “nigger” on the radio recently, and never mind the context in which he used it.

Let me put it to all of you bluntly.

I don’t care.

I really and truly don’t care.

I’m serious. I’m sick and tired of having the “racist” charge held over my head because I happen to have less melanin in my skin than then next guy. Especially when the people who are the most demonstrably racist are the ones who sling the accusation.

Who are those people?

Thanks for asking. The Democrat party and their house-slaves in the “civil rights” movement, that’s who. The self-proclaimed “progressives”, the people who stole the word liberal not so long ago and perverted it for their own use. Because make no mistake. Liberal means one who embraces individual liberty. Freedom. And the Democrat party is entirely against that.

More specifically, the Democrats are historically the party of slavery, and racism, and the KKK, and segregation, and Jim Crow, and opposition to interracial marriage, and opposition to civil rights laws. And of course they pushed through affirmative action and welfare, which have demonstrably done more to destroy the African American community than anything the KKK could have ever dreamed of (and small wonder considering how many of the Democrats who pushed those laws were themselves unapologetic members of the KKK). I have no idea how the Republicans could have possibly been inept enough to let the Democrats claim to somehow be the party that likes the common man and minorities, but they did, despite all historical and modern evidence to the contrary.

Seriously.

Consider this. No matter how good relations become between people of varying tans in this nation, the Democrat party as a whole and organizations like the NAACP and the Rainbow Push will never admit to it. Never. Because they derive money and power – a whole lot of money and power – from their use of racial tension to drive people apart.

Morgan Freeman says it better than I ever could:

 

The truth is that when the modern “liberal” examines Morgan Freeman the only thing that matters to said “liberal” is that he is a black man. To a conservative/libertarian, that is the LEAST important thing. More than that, it is completely irrelevant.

Which is why the outcry against the Zimmerman verdict is so much tripe. It doesn’t matter what his skin pigmentation is, or what Martin’s was. What matters is that Zimmerman was defending himself against deadly force that Martin was using against him. And if their roles were reversed, Martin would have been acquitted as well.

More than that. Martin would never have been brought up on charges, because there would have been no case against him (just as there was no case against Zimmerman). The only reason Zimmerman was charged at all is because Martin had more melanin than he did.

And that’s fucked up.

More than likely, some people are going to read this and get mad. If you are one of them, I have something to say to you. And I mean this truly, from the bottom of my heart:

 

Go fuck yourselves.

 

That is all.

New Wheels -or- The Great Bicycle Theft Incident

Here is another tale of woe.

Rewind the clock a week, to Friday the 17th.  My wife went out that evening for a girl’s night out and I took care of the kids.  She got back a little before midnight; the rest of us were already in bed.  She distinctly remembers closing the garage door and locking up before coming to bed.

The next morning, the 18th, I went out into the garage to check on laundry, since our laundry facilities are in the garage.  The garage door was wide open.

I shouted back over my shoulder, “Hey you left the garage door open last night.”

She replied, “No I didn’t…”

It was at that point that I noticed the two empty bicycle stands in our garage.  A second later, she arrived at my side and saw the same. Someone had stolen both of our bicycles.  The perp also had apparently gone into our minivan, because we noticed some thing out of place within it.

To say that Ericka was upset was to say that the federal deficit over the last five years is a paltry sum, not worth considering.  Tears flowed.  Self-flagelation along the lines of “How could I be so stupid” ensued.  It was a bad morning.

But wait, it gets better.

I called 911.  15 minutes later, I spoke with an actual person, who put me on hold again to transfer me to the Police.  Note: do not ever get into a life or death situation in San Diego.  Or more to the point, while in San Diego make sure you walk around with enough medical supplies and weapons to be able to deal with the life or death situation yourself because the cops ain’t going to.  Not with hold times like that.  A few minutes later, the police picked up and I described what happened.

“Were any weapons stolen?”

“No.”

“Did the stolen items amount to more than $5,000?”

I did a quick estimate in my head.  I figured the two bikes together were worth about $4,500.

“No.”

“Ok, you need to go to our website and file a report online.  Once you do that, we’ll process it in a few days.”

“Wait, aren’t you going to send out an officer to investigate?  I haven’t touched the minivan or the bike stands, so I haven’t disturbed fingerprints or anything.”

“No, they don’t do that.”

“Beg pardon?”

“They don’t take fingerprints, and unless the value was over $5,000 they’re not going to send someone over.”

“Well, there’s probably an officer patrolling nearby.  Can you ask one of them to swing by so they can talk to my wife?  She’s pretty upset.”

“Sorry, they don’t do that.”

It’s good to know the public services here in grand old California are top notch, what with the ludicrous amounts of taxes people who live here are forced to pay.  Oh wait, that money goes to other things.  Never mind…  Oh and did I mention the roads here absolutely suck?  Yeah, I mean they blow hard.  Even Pennsylvania has better roads than some areas I’ve driven through here in California.  That’s how bad they are.  Again, your tax money (not) at work.

Anyway, I gritted my teeth to hold back some unpleasant words and set about finding the serial numbers of our bikes.

So that’s the woe part of the story.  The worst part is my bicycle is my transportation to and from work, so this little episode really put a crimp in our style this week, let me tell you.

But wait, I can hear you saying now.  Kingswood, you told us you ran a Triathlon last weekend.  How’d you do that with your bike stolen?

Glad you asked.  Now comes the good part of the story: Moment Cycle Sports and USAA.

Moment Cycle Sports is the bike/triathlon shop around the corner from my house, the place where Ericka got her triathlon package, if you recall.  They rent bicycles.  They just happened to have a carbon frame road bike in my size available for rental on Saturday.  So they saved my bacon.  They also revealed that a whole lot of people in my area have had their bikes stolen lately.  Apparently there’s this guy who roams the neighborhoods late at night with a universal garage door remote, clicking away.  He just rolls into whichever garages open and helps himself to whatever he likes.

Bastard.

Of course, when Ericka learned about this, she felt a lot better.  This didn’t happen because she was careless, but because of a clever douchebag.

Now, USAA.  I love me some USAA.  Can’t say enough good things about them.  Their rates are awesome, their customer service is awesome, and when it comes to fulfilling claims…  Well, I’ve had to file a number of claims over the years and they have never been anything but fast, courteous, and eager to help.  Top notch company, USAA.

Anyway, it took a couple days to find my bike’s serial number, because I bought it three years ago and I’ve lost the receipt and while I thought I’d registered it with Specialized, I apparently had not.  Fortunately, the bike store I bought it from was able to locate the original sales documents and email them to me.  We submitted the receipts on Tuesday evening.  Thursday morning, USAA called and said everything was good to go and we should have the claim money (just under $3,900 – we have a $500 deductible) deposited into our checking account within 24-48 business hours.  Friday morning, the money was there.

So Friday afternoon, I went by Moment for a bike fit.  Turns out I need a larger frame than I recall from before.  I’m a 56; I could have sworn my Roubaix was a 52, but I could be wrong.  Maybe it was a 54?

Whatever.

Point is, they sized me up and brought forth a selection of recommendations from the bikes they had in stock.  One in particular struck my eye as I was waiting for them to come back, and I was gratified to see it on the list.  My bikes before have all been Specialized, but I decided to open my aperture a bit on this purchase.  I’m glad I did.  Once I set tush on that bike that stood out, I was hooked.  I picked the new wheels up today.  Behold:

IMG_2936 IMG_2937

It’s a Cervelo S2.  Aerodynamic carbon frame. SRAM Rival components (I’ve always rode Shimano 105s before, but the Rival is on the same level quality-wise and it works well, just differently, so I was happy to make the switch), pretty nice wheels, and it rides great.  Plus, it’s last year’s model, so I got it at a discount.  😉  Man, it accelerates quickly, and it feels…I guess the best word is tight.  I like it, and from the reviews I’ve found online it seems all sorts of others agree with me.

We’ll pick up Ericka’s replacement bike at the end of the week.  She’s getting the same bike she had before; she saw no need to change.

So all’s well that ends well, I guess.  But I’m still going to rip the fingernails off the guy who swiped our stuff if ever I find him.

The Scam I Never Knew Existed

I’m going to tell the story of something that happened to my wife this week.  It will piss you off.  I know it pissed me off.  It’s about a type of scam that’s apparently been in play for a little while now, but I’d never heard about it until it happened to her.

A little background, first.

We met in Portsmouth, NH in 2005.  I was up there because my submarine was going through an overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  I lived in a small town called South Berwick, Maine, just across the border from New Hampshire.  Long story short, she moved into my place in 2006 and we got married in 2007.  In early 2008, I transferred to the Pentagon, and the rest, as they say, is history.  When I met her, she had just finished up her Bachelor’s degree and training for a paralegal certificate, and she decided to continue on to grad school, to get an MBA.  She had previously been to college but dropped out, and worked in construction (she was a crane oiler and operator – pretty cool, actually) and in a hotel in Portsmouth before shifting to the paralegal game.  As an aside, she worked for a defense attorney, and holy cow does she have stories.  I won’t go into them except to say that I oppose the entire concept of sex offender registration lists completely and without reservation, mostly because of the stories she told me about guys getting completely fucked by the system and labelled for life over something that amounted to the equivalent of stealing a pack of gum from a 7 Eleven.

But I digress…

Before I knew her, she was not so good with money, and made some bad calls.  Among them, taking out a Payday Loan.  I don’t want to go off on a rant about Payday Loans, but I think we can all agree that they are designed to prey on the most desperate, least educated, and/or least financially savvy members of the population.  No one who knows how to evaluate interest rates would ever even think about signing on to a Payday Loan unless they had no other choice.  Ever.  The interest rates on those things extend well beyond usury into the diabolical.  That said, they are better than the alternatives like the mob, so I will not ever support an initiative to ban them.  They do fill a need in the marketplace, and in their defense they are loaning to the highest of high-risk people, so they stand an excellent chance of never getting their money back.  Which justifies their uber-high interest rates.  To an extent.  Sort of.

I still don’t like them.

Anyway, she had some debts when we hooked up, though she had already cleared up the Payday Loan by that point.  During the summer of 2006, I sold my house in Charleston, SC.  We used part of the proceeds to day off all of her debts, and we entered the marriage feeling good about life.  Until 2008, when I just got crushed by the real estate market and a couple other things.  Long story, but suffice it to say we’re only just now getting dug out from that mess; by April of next year we’ll be debt free again, except for her student loans.  But I don’t really count them as bad debt, since they are, after all, tax deductible.  As I said before, it’s good to stick it to the man.  Also in late 2008, I got transferred back to Charleston and suddenly regretted selling my house, but you can’t predict these things and the money went to good use, as I said.

But again, I digress…

So, fast forward to this week.  Thursday afternoon, to be exact.  The better half sent me an email that someone left a voice message on her cell phone about some sort of allegations against her.  I thought, “Hmm that’s weird,” but didn’t worry about it too much until I got home.  She told me the guy called her back and told her that a check she had written to pay off her Payday Loan had bounced, way back when, so she owed $945 dollars.  Since writing a bad check for >$500 is a felony with a sentence up to a year in jail, this guy’s business was going to forward the claim to the county prosecutor’s office unless she settled up.  In their generosity, they would take only $450 and call the matter settled.  She was supposed to call him first thing the next morning to work out the details of how to git ‘r done.

Needless to say, she was a little rattled.  But she was also suspicious.  I was, too.  A few things stood out:

  1. He never told her the name of his company, which supposedly was hired to handle the delinquent account.
  2. He wouldn’t tell her which bank or business had the claim.
  3. He claimed they had sent written notice to her, but they sent it to our address in Maine, where we haven’t lived in five years.  When she asked him to re-send it, he said “they” – the company with the claim I suppose – had already tried once, and they would not send it out again.
  4. He had her social security number, date of birth, and maiden name, but asked her to confirm them (and she did – boy does she feel stupid).
  5. He claimed to have run her credit report.  Of course, had he run her credit report, he would have had her current address and #3 would not have happened.

This had my suspicious dander up.  So I did a little research online.  Found out some nice facts:

  1. Dude’s phone number turned out to be a cell phone in Athens, GA.  Recall that we lived in Maine during the time in question.  In fact, she lived in New Hampshire when the Payday Loan bit went down.  So why exactly would a business in Georgia be involved?  And why would he be placing business calls from a cell phone while talking as though he was calling from his office?
  2. Turns out the Statute of Limitations for bounced checks ranges between 3-5 years, depending on the State.  Maine’s is 4 years, as is Georgia’s.  I checked.
  3. I ran her credit report (she was due for her free annual check anyway).  The only delinquencies on there were the accounts we already knew about, which were just about set to come off her report as we paid them off in 2006.  No one had inquired as to her credit besides Transunion (one of the credit bureaus) since October of last year.  So when had this dude supposedly checked her credit?

I did some of this research after the better half went to sleep.  When she got up in the morning, I filled her in on what I’d learned and she felt a lot better.  We agreed that if she heard from the guy again she would demand he send her written notice of the delinquency because that’s how things are done.  Otherwise, he could piss off.  I left for work feeling good about things.

I came back a little before noon.  It was an early day because we were having a thing called a Hail and Farewell, where we welcome new officers into the command’s wardroom and say goodbye to the guys and gals who are leaving, at 1300.  I arrived to find the better half completely frantic.  She was just hanging up after talking to the guy and she was almost in tears.  Turns out the guy had again refused to send out written documentation.  He claimed his associate had tried to send an email to her, but she had never received it.  He then proceeded to get that associate on the phone, and she told the lady her email address again.  Twice.  Each time they lost connect, somehow.

After the second lost connect, she was really tearing up.  “What if I missed something, somehow when we were cleaning up my debt?  This is a felony!  I don’t want to go to jail!”

To say I was pissed was to call lava lukewarm.  I needed to take our son to Speech Therapy (he had a half-hour session scheduled before we left for the Hail and Farewell), so I told her not to do anything.  But I wrote down the guy’s phone number.  On the way back from dropping our son off, I called the dude.  Here is how the conversation went:

“This is Christopher Ross.”

“Hi, what’s your company’s name and where is it located?”

“Who is this?”

I told him.

“Oh you’re Ericka’s husband?”

“Yes.  And there are several holes in your story.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you about this without her consent.”

“Actually you can.  It’s called I’m her spouse.  What is your company’s name and where is it located?”

“Etech Systems in Atlanta, Georgia.”  – Remember how his cell phone was from Athens?  Athens is a goodly distance from Atlanta.

“Ok, here’s what you’re going to do.  You’re going to send us, in writing, in the MAIL, on company letterhead, some actual documentation of this supposed claim.  There is a formal, legal method to do this and it doesn’t involve semi-threatening phone calls from anonymous people.”

“Sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I know I work for a legitimate business and I’ve done everything I can to help you solve this out of court.  So I’ll tell you what, I’m going to terminate this call and forward this package on to the County.”

Click.

I called him back.  Got the name of his business again before he hung up on  me.  But I wasn’t done.  So I called him back again.

“This is Christopher Ross.”

“Who is your supervisor.”

“What?”

“Who is your supervisor?  Let me speak with your supervisor.”

“As I said before, I am the pre-litigation lead in the check fraud division.  I don’t have a supervisor except for the director, and he won’t talk to you.  I’ve done everything I can do, and I’m forwarding the package on to the County.”

Click.

By the time I got home, Ericka was less stressed, as she had time to think about it.  I looked up his business.  The only Etech Systems in Atlanta is an electronics company.  Maybe.  But its Manta profile is empty, as is its profile on the local business forums.  Suspicious.  Ericka found a number of forums that warn people about this very scam, but with different names.  We both agreed again that obviously, this was a complete scam.  So we called the FTC and made a report.  I intended to call the local FBI field office to file a report also, but got caught up in Hail an Farewell stuff and didn’t get around to it.  We’ll probably do that today.

So let’s talk about all the things that were wrong with this guy’s claim:

  1. If you are in debt to a business, they will send you documentation of it in writing.  Email is not writing.  They will call you if they have been unsuccessful in reaching you in writing, but they will (and I’m pretty sure they must, legally) always send written documentation on it.
  2. A legal complaint, such as a lawsuit or criminal charges, against you will always be made in writing.
  3. A legit business will not be circumspect about its contact information, and will never refuse your demand to talk to a supervisor.
  4. You are legally required to be shown all evidence against you so that you may defend yourself against accusations.

I could go on, but this has all the hallmarks of being a total scam.  The FTC agreed, and confirmed that they had encountered this before multiple times.

So yahoo!  Scam defeated!

Well, no.  Not really.  Here’s why.

This guy was very slick, spoke well, and sounded, for lack of a better term, bureaucratic, like a worker-bee in an office.  In short, he sounded legit.  He seemed to have Ericka’s vital data, but she can’t recall how much he had and how much he got her to reveal.  By the end of this, he had her SSN, birth date, maiden name, email address, current address, and a former address.  That is everything he needs to steal her identity and do all sorts of nasty things in her name.  We’ve put fraud alerts on all our accounts and with all three credit bureaus.  But still, this is bad.

We knew this was a scam on Thursday night/Friday morning.  Even still, this guy was so slick, and pressed the “You’re going to jail” intimidation so hard that by the time I got home, Ericka was scared almost out of her wits.  She’s smart.  She has legal experience and an MBA.  But this guy was hitting the emotional buttons so hard that all she could think of for a while there was that she was going to jail, she would lose her kids, her life would be ruined.  Not to pat myself on the back or denigrate her, but I halfway think if I hadn’t arrived then and poked a finger back at the execrable Mr. Ross, she may have given in and just sent him money.  Which is exactly how these guys operate.  They cajole and threaten, and the easily intimidated, or the ignorant, or the stupid, or just the senile people of the world will roll over and pay.

A lot of people on those forums that Ericka found did just that.  And then found that they were hounded even more afterwords.

So keep this in mind: you do not owe money to an anonymous voice on the phone.  There must be documentation IN WRITING (not email. writing.) or it is not real.  Worst case, just call the bluff and tell them to sue you, or to press charges.  That might seem scary, but let’s think about this.  Let’s say this was real and Ericka really was liable here.  Worst case, we would get slapped with a summons or an arrest warrant.  But then we at least would have faces, names, and paperwork to deal with, an attorney on our side, and a process to go through.  All the things that separate us from the barbarians.  And that is a whole lot better to deal with than some unknown, threatening voice on the phone.

And let’s face it – you’re not doing time for something like this.  Worst case you’ll pay a fine and restitution.  Seriously.

So that’s my story.  I’m sure Christopher Ross was not this guy’s real name.  But just in case, his phone number was 706-621-7715.  Do not trust anyone who calls from that number.

You have been warned.

(Almost) No Writers Are Famous

Dean linked to a great post that Joe Konrath made yesterday.  In it, Joe talks about how, contrary to what some out there assume, he doesn’t sell a lot because he’s “famous”.

I love reading this from him.  It’s not the first time he’s said it, but it’s great to see him spell it out so blatantly.  Here is what I think is the main takeaway quote from his post:

I’m mentioned a lot in the publishing community, which is small, closed, and uninteresting to anyone who isn’t in it. But because we’re in it, and we care about it, we incorrectly assume that because writers know who I am, readers must as well.

Dean says this same sort of thing a lot.  So does his wife.  Two weeks ago, Kris Rusch talked about a similar phenomenon in her Business Rusch post.  She, and Dean as well, gets really pissed off when someone presumes to say that she sells well because she is well known and famous, and that new writers can’t do the same things she can because they don’t have the name recognition she does.

Not to blow my own horn or anything (ah hell, who am I kidding?  You guys know I love to blow my own horn.) but in my comment on Kris’ post, I said the following after pointing out what she already knew, that she was not famous:

Hell, last February sometime, when I was starting to read writing blogs to learn how things worked (since I started writing my first novel over Christmas and then in January decided that I needed to know how the publishing business worked if I was writing a novel), I read or heard someone mentioning some guy called Neil Gaiman in their blog, or on their podcast, or something. My first thought? “Who the F^&K is Neil Gaiman?” I had never once, in my then 35 years of life, heard of the man or read anything he’d written.  Nor had I heard of Dean. Or you. Or any number of supposedly famous writers. And I read a lot of books….Seriously, writers know who the more successful writers are because they’re writers, and they hang out in writers’ circles and listen to what other writers do. Normal people do not. Normal people know the writers they’ve read before, or that their friends and family have read. Maybe they see a writer’s name on a movie credit and think to pick them up. Or maybe they just find someone at random. But aside from 4 or 5 HUGE writers (King, Patterson, et al), most people have no clue whether a writer is a best-seller or a brand new nobody like Michael Kingswood.

Sounds very similar to what Joe said doesn’t it?  I knew that without having to be told it, because a little more than a year ago, I wasn’t a writer.  I was a reader.  And aside from a few writers who I loved, and a few more who I knew were big (Robert Jordan comes to mind), I didn’t know who was what in the writing world.  But you know what?  Even those big name writers meant nothing to other people I knew.  I mentioned Robert Jordan to most people I knew and they responded, “Who?”.  That’s how it works because writing and publishing is a very small chunk of the larger world.

This is a fact that people in every industry can forget if they’re not careful.  Allow me to use an example from my day job as a submarine officer in the Navy.  How many of you people out there know who Red Ramage is?  Or Gene Fluckey?  How about Howard Gillmore, do you know him?  Those are three of the seven submarine captains in World War II who earned the Medal of Honor.  The other four were Sam Dealey, George Street (it was my honor to meet him once), Dick O’Kane, and John Cromwell.  In the submarine community these names are enshrined like those of Catholic Saints.  Everyone knows who they are.  But if you were to ask Joe or Jane Shmuckitelli on the streets who they are, you’d get a blank stare.

Time for a confession: I had to do a Google search for Medal of Honor winners to recall Dealey and Cromwell.  So even professional submariners don’t always remember the most famous people in their profession.

If the average person does not know the names of people who have won the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for valor, why in the hell do we think that the average person is going to know the name of a writer who happens to have sold a few hundred thousand copies of his/her book?  A few hundred thousand among three hundred million plus in the US alone, let alone among the almost seven billion people in the world.  Sheesh.  Writers really need to get over themselves and get some perspective.

I mean seriously, if any profession is completely insignificant in the sweep of history, it is the writer.  And don’t give me any of that tripe about how writers, by nature of their writing, change the world.  That is total bullshit.  Seriously, name me a fiction writer who, because of a work of fiction he or she wrote, changed anything in the world at all.  I can’t think of any.  I can count one or two non-fiction writers who had an impact on the course of history.  A little.  Thomas Paine comes to mind.  But then, he wasn’t a writer per say, was he? He was a political activist who wrote his political philosophy down and promulgated it in leaflets.  So seriously, what fiction writers changed the world?  None?  Yeah that’s what I thought.

Sorry if that offends any English majors out there who are desperate to think they matter in the grand sweep of things.  But sorry, you don’t.  You want to make a difference in the world?  Raise your kids properly, with a moral compass and a sense of honor.  That will have far more impact than any fiction you write.  Fiction is, after all, a lark.  A fun distraction from real life.  Entertainment.

So given that the average person on the street has no idea who the most successful writers are (not counting a very few who have become household names like Stephen King – they don’t count because they are the outliers of the outliers), why would their supposed fame be a valid reason for their success?  The short answer is it isn’t a valid reason.

That is very encouraging for a brand new nobody like me.  Maybe I do have a chance to do well, and make some good money, in this writing gig, provided I keep working at it and continue to improve my storytelling ability.

Cutting Back

Ok, I put this post under the category “douchebaggery”.  Unfortunately, that douchebaggery applies to me this time.

On Friday evening, I got into a bit of an argument over on the Kindleboards.  The argument centered around whether a successful indie author who’s had publishers coming to her should get an agent or not.  My thesis is no: there’s no need.  The publishers are already coming to her.  She can compute her expected future cash flow if she stays as an indie.  The publishers need to give her at least that much money, or it’s not worth it for her to sign with them.  So what the hell can an agent do that’s of any value?

I don’t consider that thesis to be douchebaggery.  The douchebaggery came in when someone posted that my advice to say “screw the agents”, go to Laura Resnick’s list of good IP lawyers, select one, and use that guy/gal to help negotiate the deal was the worst advice ever.

I was feeling a little punchy from screwy sleep patterns during the week (my 2 year old has taken up the habit of waking up at 2 am screaming, and not going back to sleep until 4-ish.  Ugh.) and from several glasses of wine.  So I responded a bit..aggressively.  And verbosely.

Another poster called me on it.  She started off by explaining why she disagreed with me, but concluded that I must be a sexist because I responded so aggressively to a female poster, and there’s no way I would respond the same way to a man.

Well that REALLY set me off.  If you want to A) Piss me off to no end and B) Prevent me from taking you and your reasoning seriously, the best way to do so would be to accuse someone of sexism or racism when the topic of conversation has nothing to do with either.  Or even if it does.  Because wake up, people.  It ain’t the 1860s any more.  It ain’t even the 1950s any more.  In this day and age, just about no one cares what anyone else’s skin pigmentation is (except to be jealous that some have to worry about sunburn less than others), except for professional racists (Sharpton, Jackson, David Duke, the NAACP, the KKK, and others of the same ilk).  And the only interest most people have in what gender another person happens to belong to is if they’d like to get a date from said person.  So really, that whole racism/sexism thing: totally over, unless you’re someone who’s trying to profit from it.  Get with the modern world.

So I fired back.  Swiftly and meanly.  Then I wrote a (very lengthy) blog post about what happened.

Then I left to do family stuff for a bit, and to cool down.  But I returned later to find the second poster correctly calling me out for not even bothering to address the substance of her comments.  I apologized and did so, and she graciously accepted the apology.  I think we departed as friends, or as close to friends as two people who have never met before and only interacted once with on the internet can be.

But I didn’t stay up to see if there was any other fallout from my comments.  Truth to tell, I haven’t been back to the Kindleboards since.  Yesterday (Saturday), I woke up at 3:30 am, partly from expectation of hearing my son screaming and partly from angst over what had just happened.  He didn’t wake up (wonder of wonders), but I was still unable to get back to sleep until about 4 or 4:15, from replaying the whole incident in my head.

I was bloody tired all day Saturday.  But beyond that, I was cranky.  I was cranky because I was stewing over what happened, and how I’d been a total ass.  I re-read the blog post and took it down, realizing that post wasn’t going to do anyone any good for anything.

Now I normally don’t dwell on things very much.  I’m not mister emo-man.  But it’s important to me that I act professionally, and I don’t think I did on Friday night.

So I think I’m going to post an apology to all on the kindleboards and then cool it there for a bit.  In all honesty, I’ve spent more time on there lately than I should be.  It’s eaten a lot of time that I should be using to write.

So I think I’m going to cut back.  Not just there, but on the web and blogs in general, with a few specific exceptions.  I’m just going to write, edit, publish, then repeat for a while.  In other words, I’m going to concentrate on the important parts of this writing gig, and leave the trivial for later.