The Political Divide Explained

| by Ken | in Politics, Soapbox No Comments »

Time for some blunt talk about politics.  Some are certain to be offended but I’m just really frustrated about how people keep talking about how polarized the country is and how it is a matter of some people feeling one way while others feel another.  The typical discussion about the polarized country describes the situation without reaching any conclusions as to why it is like that.

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I’ve been using the same cordless phone system for probably 15 years.  It is a Panasonic KX-TG2720 base with lots of handsets.  An important feature for me is that it has 2 lines.  We still have a landline for the “house” and I have a work line.  I use the speakerphone.  We have Comcast voicemail on both lines and the handsets are setup to show when there is new mail and you just push a button to listen to your messages.  The handsets also include speakerphone capabilities.  The range is fantastic and covers our whole house including basement and all of our yard which isn’t saying too much, but the point is it is exactly what we need.

A month ago I re-jiggered our home network and replaced one of the older routers with a new one.  Since then we’ve been having interference between our handsets and the WiFi.  Frankly, it’s surprising we haven’t had a problem before since the old phone system is a 2.4 Ghz system and of course, that’s the band that WiFi has been operating in for years.  (And while I’d love to disable the 2.4 Ghz antenna from the routers, I have too many devices that don’t work with the 5 Ghz band.)  The new router has been a problem, though, making the phone sound really warbly when anywhere on the first floor – i.e. close the new router.

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Have you been to Disney World in the past 10 years?  Have you stayed within the park and therefore traveled on the “Disney Transportation” system?  For a few of you, that would mean riding the Monorail only but for most, it involves spending time on a bus.  And it probably involved a fair bit of waiting for buses to come, waiting to board buses, sitting on buses, and walking from buses.  Overall, while the bus system does successfully move a massive quantity of people around the World, it does not do it efficiently.

How about the Monorail, you ask?  I remember riding the Monorail when I was a kid (in the 70s) and it was awesome.  Futuristic and smooth and just plain cool.  It is 40 years later and it hasn’t changed since.  The world (and the World) has gotten better around it.  These days, the best that can be said about the Monorail is it elicits nostalgia.  But for most people, they will see a worn coach that takes forever to load and unload and isn’t going where you want to go.

How about a personal car?  Well, you can definitely get to and from parking lots quickly but then you have to pay for parking and everybody knows how far away you have to park – so far from the entrance that you need a special parking shuttle to get around the parking lot.

The upshot is, getting around Disney World is a complete pain in the ass.  And when you are on vacation, you don’t want to spend time sitting around in a bus, a museum Monorail, or a traffic jam in a parking lot.  Especially at Disney World where you have to book what time you are going to do a ride months in advance (that’s another post!), burning up precious time just trying to get to the theme park of the day is downright stupid.

So if you are like me (and I hope for the sake of your fellow vacation travelers that you are not), then you spend much of that time on the bus thinking about how it should be done better.  And then when you get home, you kill a day studying maps and working out transit routes.

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Back in 2008, Mrs. Katharsys and I bought a high end mattress.  With my back pain, it seemed worth the $1847 for the queen-size Nature’s Rest “Conservation” foam mattress.  (No box spring because of the platform bed frame.) We also got a “Protect A Bed” mattress cover that supposedly would keep the mattress like new regardless of how much we sweat while sleeping.

We realized we had a problem very soon, however.  “Body impressions” were forming.  Looking at the instructions, it said that that was normal.  But we also realized that we had less springy-ness in those body impressions.  In September of 2009, we called the store and they had a manufacturer’s rep come out and measure the impressions.  Kevin was really nice but the news wasn’t good for us.  The way the warranty measuring goes is from top of the bed to the bottom, not side to side.  And top to bottom, our mattress’s impressions were only 1/4″ down when the threshold for determining a problem is 1-1/4″.  There is also no measurement for resiliency.  So in a business where they tell you not to worry about body impressions, they only test for body impressions.  And in a business that is all about the firmness and resiliency of a mattress, that’s not something they test for.  Well, I figured, it’s only been a year.  The warranty is for 20 years.  I’m sure I’ll hit the threshold soon, I thought.

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ASUS Product Repair Experience

| by Ken | in Soapbox, Technology 2 Comments »

Earlier this year, I bought an external monitor for my laptop.  When I travel, I can still have two monitor’s worth of space.  Well, the travel monitors are smaller than the home monitors, but it is still better than a single laptop display for times when I am doing more than checking e-mail.  Fortunately, I am not on the road all the time but I still managed to justify the expense!  I got an ASUS MB168B which received mixed reviews due to a bit of a learning curve with how to work the stand/case.  Once you understand how to do it, though, it’s ingenious because there are only 3 parts – the monitor, the case, and the cable – where the case turns into a stand without additional parts and therefore keeps the travel weight down.  The only thing I would have liked was to get a higher resolution on the monitor.  The MB168B has 1366X768 while my internal laptop display is 1600X900.  Not too long after I bought my monitor, ASUS released (or it became available where I couldn’t find it before) the MB168B+ which has a resolution of 1920×1080, seemingly in the same case.

One day the monitor just didn’t work.  Plugged it in, Windows 7 did the little “pa-dunk” noise as usual, and…  nothing.  I had a white LED on the monitor indicating that it was on, I could drag windows to it, Windows 7 Control Panel showed it active but I didn’t see anything on the screen.  As though it wasn’t getting power.  But obviously, the panel was getting power to the whole unit so it was clearly an internal issue. Continue reading »

While Market Basket was experiencing some turmoil, I had a chance to check out some of the stores I wouldn’t usually frequent.  I planned a 6-store comparison report that compared Market Basket, Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Hannaford, Whole Foods, and the new arrival to the market, Wegmans.  I did manage to compare the first 4 but things fell apart when I got to Whole Foods and Wegmans.  For Whole Foods, there were just too few things to compare to a “regular” grocery store.  Like trying to use a Phillips screwdriver to drive in a slotted screw – wrong tool for the job.  Sure, some people manage to rework their life around what Whole Foods has.  That’s not me.

But the Wegmans issue was much more surprising.  I’d read about Wegmans on foodie blogs and the store seemed perfect.  There was the promise of good prices with abundant produce on top of amazing selection and with gourmet bakery and prepared foods to boot.  It sounded like Whole Foods for the masses and on a massive scale.  I have checked the Wegmans web site every 6 months or so waiting to see if there would be one coming near me.  So when the Market Basket shutdown went into effect and the first area Wegmans opened, it was time to make the drive (a half hour seems silly for grocery shopping when are so many grocery stores between me and Wegmans, but considering that previously the closest Wegmans was an hour away and before that was 6 hours away, a half hour didn’t seem so bad).

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The Great Grocery Store Comparison

| by Ken | in Soapbox 2 Comments »

I have been doing the majority of my grocery shopping at Market Basket for years now.  The grocery store closest to me, Johnnie’s Foodmaster, was never that great and it had been going downhill for years before it was sold to Whole Foods.  So I haven’t minded a few extra minutes and driving by 2 other grocery stores on my way to Market Basket.  But this summer, the Market Basket ersatz shutdown forced me to change my grocery shopping habits temporarily.  I’m now back to Market Basket full time but I used the Market Basket downtime to shop different grocery stores and do some comparisons.

I kept track of my purchases at the 3 major competitors and when Market Basket came back online (so to speak), I checked their prices on the same items.  I ended up with a pretty full spreadsheet but it still had a number of holes.  So this morning, I ran around to the 4 stores to plug as many of those holes as I could.  The following is a compilation of the comparative data I collected.  Yep, this is the kind of thing that only an engineer would apply to grocery shopping.

I’m going to jump to the price results because most people reading this would be interested in that first and foremost.  I have totaled a list of 34 grocery items of various types that were fairly easy to compare across the various stores.  Market Basket had all 34 items and I had prices for all of them.  Stop & Shop, Hannaford, and Shaw’s all were missing a few of the items or I goofed on getting prices for things so in those cases, I substituted an average price from the other 3 stores.  In the case of Stop & Shop, they still do a loyalty card for savings which effectively means 2 different result sets from one shopping trip so I treated those results as different (more on that below).  And for Shaw’s, there were a number of sale items that changed things considerably so I’ve treated those results as different too (again, more on that below.)  Here are the results:

Market Basket: $88.11

Hannaford: $96.16

Shaw’s normal prices: $108.91

Shaw’s with sale prices: $103.21

Stop & Shop without card: $114.75

Stop & Shop with card: $105.01

And here’s the full detail about how I got to those total prices:  grocery2014.numbers

Market Basket is the clear winner and Stop & Shop without a card is the easy loser coming in $26.64 higher.  That’s 30% higher than Market Basket!  And to put that in perspective, if you were to switch from Stop & Shop without a card to Market Basket and buy these same items for 52 weeks straight, you’d save $1385.28 in the course of a year.  Even Stop & Shop with a card is 19% higher than Market Basket with a 52 week difference of $878.80.  The prices tell a lot of the story, but there’s a lot more to consider when grocery shopping and those things may vary for different people.

 

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I got an e-mail from Delta with the text “In response to your feedback and as part of our ongoing efforts to improve your travel experience on Delta” … As I’m reading I’m thinking “that’s BS so whatever comes next is going to be bad”. And it was. Now instead of being rewarded for miles you travel, you earn “miles” by spending money. Obviously, that rewards those who travel on the full-fare, book last minute, and are reimbursed by well-monied companies. It does not reward the travelers who plan in advance, get non-refundable fares, and are the bulk of the passengers. In other words, Delta is no longer rewarding you for the discomfort endured by sitting in the too-small seat. Instead it will reward those who don’t actually need the free travel because they can clearly pay as much as they want already. At least Delta isn’t pretending that there will be any trickle-down benefits for the flying middle class.  If Delta really wanted to listen to the general public’s feedback, they’d remove a few rows of seats, increase the seat pitch, and include checked bags in the cost of the airfare.

To add insult to injury, when I was traveling a few weeks ago on Delta, the connection had me in Detroit for 3 hours.  Oh well, I figured, what are you going to do.  But when I landed, I found that there was an earlier flight that was going to leave in 40 minutes.  I hoofed it all the way across that huge yardstick of an airport and nicely asked the gate agent if there was room on the earlier flight.  There was.  But since I wasn’t a “medallion” member, it would mean a $50 change fee.  That’s just about exactly the amount that was too much for me.  (I could have saved 2 hours but I would have been in a middle seat on a nearly full plane and wouldn’t have the time to go get the food I was looking forward to.)  And all I could think was “no, I’m not a medallion member and unlikely I am going to be given the new program and Delta’s general dislike of *people*!”.

Another unwelcome change is Amazon increasing Prime from $79 to $99.  Do I want to pay $100 for free 2-day shipping?  I don’t know.  I feel pretty good that the $79 has been worth it.  Especially with the volume of stuff we’ve been getting for the house projects.  But I’m not sure that we’ll have the same volume of stuff as the house projects dwindle down and $20 more may be too much even if the volume was the same.  The only good thing for me here is that my Prime membership expires in January so I have 10 months for Amazon to change their mind.  (Though Amazon doesn’t seem like the kind of company that would pull a Netflix by announcing a change of plans and then change their mind.)

Fly The Friendly Skies

| by Ken | in Soapbox 1 Comment »

United Airlines sent an e-mail saying this:

“Friendly” now means more than it ever did. It means being user-friendly. In other words, flyer-friendly℠. We’re giving you an unmatched global network with more onboard product features, better technology and, of course, great customer service.

Also, this great quote:

From take off to landing, putting you first.

I know their marketing department didn’t mean it this way, but here’s how I translate their message:

Once you are in your seat, you’ll be able to pay to access more things than you could before.  And we’re going to send a memo out to all flight attendants reminding them to smile, regardless of whether United is treating them well or if they are people that belong in a service industry.

The seats themselves will only be friendly if you pay for them to be.  If you choose regular Economy (or your company chooses it for you), those seats will remain unfriendly to your knees, back, and derriere unless you are a child.

As for getting in your seat, that’s still going to be a full-on crap-fest.  We are going to charge you for anything that you might find to be helpful to your flight.  We are going to continue charging for checked bags so that we make you carry the maximum amount of luggage through the airport which also makes things slower at security.  And it also makes it worse for people who get on the plane last and discover that their bag still needs to be checked.  We will continue to board by groups of rows so that we can get all of the congestion into the same part of the plane as quickly as possible giving us the greatest opportunity to be late pushing back from the gate and wasting as much of your time as we can.

In other words, the same as most other airlines. The only thing to differentiate United from the others is their new look which is only superficial – perhaps therefore truly representative of the level of change they are enacting.

Gun Control is part of the solution

| by Ken | in Soapbox 1 Comment »

I was listening to the news yesterday. I haven’t done that much recently between work, house, and vacation, but I had a minute in the car. The news reports went something like the following: “People are still trying to figure out why somebody killed 6 people at a Mosque yesterday”… “the man who shot up a theater full of people in Aurora Colorado is being held”… “the man who shot congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and supporters is likely to plea guilty”… I knew about all of these events but to hear them one after the other as headline #1, #2, and #3 was truly sobering.  And frankly it’s getting to me – the sadness of the tragedies of the past and the wariness of protecting my family in public places.

Perhaps in a post 9/11 world, crazy people are more inclined to violence.  Maybe violence in movies and videogames has desensitized the nation somewhat and crazy people feel more emboldened.  Maybe crazy people want to act out more now because of the spectacle that they can create through today’s media.

But there’s no denying the fact that in all of these cases, crazy people had inappropriate access to firearms.  What the actual fuck is wrong with this country that we can’t prioritize the safety of the general population over the rights to bear arms?  If there were federal laws about gun ownership and registration that included psych evaluations, waiting periods, etc., the people who like guns could still own guns and most of the crazies would be prevented from having firearms.  Gun control needs to be managed at the federal level because if somebody can get a gun easily in one state by just driving around the country, then the whole country is as exposed as the state with the weakest laws.

Regardless the specifics about certain rights afforded by the Constitution and it’s Amendments, one thing is constant throughout: those rights are provided so long as they do not interfere with other people’s rights.  And I have to say that the right for me to draw breath definitely trumps anyone’s right to get a gun without first being checked to see if they are crazy.  If you disagree with this statement, then, well, you are crazy.

I understand that no check is going to be foolproof.  A check for crazy people isn’t going to catch 100% of crazy people.  I also understand that crazy people might shift to fertilizer bombs instead of firearms.  Increased gun control will not prevent public shootings from happening ever again.  But considering the three most recent cases and the three that topped the news yesterday morning, all 3 of those would have been prevented by keeping crazy people from having guns.

You could even roll the shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin in here too.  No question Zimmerman is not in a sound state of mind.  And a screening to check to see if he was all there before he could buy a gun would have been a good thing.

As for some more prominent opinions in the news, there was former Arizona state senator Russell Pearce who doubled down on gun ownership by saying the problem was not that the shooter had a gun but that the rest of the audience didn’t.  Well, it’s true that if everyone else was armed, the shooter probably would have gotten fewer shots off and the body count would have been lower.  But I’m solidly in the camp that dialing the violence down to zero is better than turning the theater into battlefield.  You can also look at the Martin/Zimmerman case and realize that if the theater was armed and if a kid stood up in the middle of a theater with a batman toy gun, he could be mistaken for a copycat and somebody who is armed could think that they are doing what former senator Pearce suggested and “defend” the rest of the theater by killing a kid who got overcome with his imagination.

I prefer the opinion of Scott Ian who wrote the following on Twitter:  “To those asking, I am a gun enthusiast that has a big problem with how easy it is for people that have no business owning a gun to get one. The old argument of ‘if guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns’ means nothing. The ‘outlaws’ get their guns illegally and use them to perpetrate crimes that get them paid, they don’t go shooting innocent people in movie theaters.”  In other words, yes, people would still get their guns illegally but the people that are the most worrisome to the general population today?  They wouldn’t have the same access they do today.  And that’s gotta be a good thing.

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