RFID Tags and their implications

I was just talking to my wife about RFID tags (yes, I know scintillating conversation for a Sunday morning) and we were discussing some of the both cool and scary uses to which the technology can be put.

On the one hand checkout at the supermarket can be as simple as just rolling your cart out the door (assuming you can bag your items in the cart while you shop). It’s just a matter of time until your credit and debit cards will also have little RFID tags as well. So, in addition to scanning your purchases the store also knows the means you have available to pay for them. All you’d need to do is to select from a list of cards that the scanner had detected on your person and the slowest part of the transaction would be having the receipt printed.

Now picture shopping with a friend. It might be fun if they walked through the shopping scanner with you. You could just select one of their credit accounts! πŸ™‚ I know there will be some validation but the idea tickled me.

But one of the best (ab)uses of RFID technology will be when this generation of tech savvy kids come into the living room on a blustery late-December morning and find grandma proudly placing carefully wrapped Christmas packages around the base of the tree. She’ll look up at them and see the eagerness in their eyes and admonish cheerily, “Now these gifts are to stay right where they are until Christmas morning.”. The children nod happily and pull out their gameboy (or whatever the current handheld gaming/PDA/Cellular Phone toy is called by then) and wave it over the base of the tree.

While turning to leave to go play with their friends outside they call back over their shoulder, “Thanks for the sweater Grandma, the size is a little small for me but I can exchange it for a larger one if you leave the gift receipt with mom and dad. And I can’t wait to play with that new Fast’n’Furious XXII!”

Good car repair experience

I took my venerable Honda Odyssey EX (1997) in for a combo 95K and 105K servicing – this was a biggie – timing belt, radiator flushing and pretty much everything else that you do to your car. I’ve got only 104,000 miles on her and those were the original brakes that were finally replaced. They weren’t even squeaking yet!

The last time I had my car serviced, primarily to reduce the “ticking” that comes from too much space between the camshaft and the valves, I didn’t notice any real change at all and was quite disappointed.

This time, however the engine purrs and a weird noise I used to get when the engine was shifting are now a thing of the past (turns out it was a broken engine mount rather than a transaxle issue I’d been fearing).

The only issue remaining is that now my front brake *does* squeal. I’ve got to bring the car back in for that πŸ™ . But beside that I was very happy with Ed Voyles Honda here in Marietta.

No Comcast Internet connection

On Tuesday (July 19) I got home from work and found that my garage door wouldn’t open for me. There have been a lot of storms around here lately – fallout from the recent hurricane and just some really odd, pedantic weather systems. So I wasn’t too surprised when I found that the circuit breaker for my garage door opener had tripped.
However a little later I found that my Comcast internet connection also wasn’t working and my satellite receiver was complaining that it couldn’t receive signals on the second tuner.
To make a long story short, it turns out that we must have had quite a power spike if not a minor lightning strike against our place that not only tripped the fuse but also fried the single satellite tuner.
I have surge protection and UPSs on nearly everything of value in the house, but I only had the surge protection for one of my two Satellite tuner’s incoming coax cables. I guess this proves that the surge protection works as it is supposed to. Believe me, I’ll be getting a second protector when I decide to replace the tuner unit!

My gripe right now is with Comcast. The cable has been out for portions of several cities ever since Tuesday, meaning that I’m well into day two of no internet access. Since I’m also depending on my cable connection for my phone connection, well… Let’s just say I’m glad we have cell phones.

I’m really shocked and dismayed that Comcast doesn’t seem to regard themselves as anything more than a recreation company rather than a utility. I was on the phone with them yesterday and the only solution they could offer me was to contact the billing department so I could be reimbursed for the days of loss of service (probably amounts to about $4). I told them that that wasn’t the point, folks who use their internet service often depend upon it for business purposes as I do when I’m working from home or responding to work emergencies.

They had no answer for that. It seems Comcast simply isn’t ready to play with the big boys yet. I’m just happy that I use satellite for my TV viewing – I would otherwise be missing Lance’s road to victory in the Tour de France!

In the (how many now?) years that I’ve used DSL I’ve never had an outage of this magnitude. Especially since they corrected the intermittent line drop problem – an admirable effort on their part. I moved away from BellSouth because I did not like having my phone services bundled with my internet services and they would not separate the two. I may have to go back to them, warts and all, and just subscribe to a basic phone service in order to ensure a slightly slower, but more dependable service.

Anybody else have any experiences with BellSouth DSL or Comcast High Speed Internet service?

Bizrate.com and some funny e-tailers

I was attempting to purchase a camera over the Internet. There seems to be a stock issue with this so some of the major e-tailers have already sold out. So I decided to take a look at some of the other offerings out there. In the past, I have encountered bizrate.com after I have made a purchase and thought this would be a reasonably reliable way to determine if some e-companies were trustworthy. I was a little disconcerted when I tried to find a source for this camera:

Working from the Bizrate.com search results :

I then checked out www.dbuys.com. This was a little shakier since I found nothing on them with the bbb and I found some conflicting reports about them in the newsgroups. I eventually decided to go ahead with them but they didn’t do SSL. This doesn’t bode well for an Internet storefront – it means they either couldn’t get a certificate from verisign – a bad sign that – or they are too cheap/naïve to get a certificate which means they don’t have any concern about my data. Sending my credit card info through in the clear just isn’t a good idea. Further checking their site I can see that they have a “VeriSign Secured” logo. This shows that their SSL certificate is supposed to be valid from Nov/03 through Nov/05. But try to access their site via https and you’ll find the connection is refused.

Then I decided to check out . I immediately noticed that, while the site is laid out slightly differently (graphics are modified), the actual deal for the camera was identical, right down to the confusing accessory kit offerings (though the price was different by $1). A quick “WhoIs” check shows that both IbuyDigital.com and dbuys.com are owned by the same company. Further, even though IbuyDigital.com also displays the “Verisign Secured” logo, it is also incapable of accepting https connections.

Next, www.digitalMegastore.com, surprise! same deal again as the previous two, no https ability (even though it also purports to have a valid verisign certificate. This time the WhoIs search yielded a different owner name (though with the same city / zip code) and the price was once again slightly different but the product offerings (the packages and the accessories) were all similar again to the previous two. The difference being that the price now ended in 77 cents.

Then came www.ibuyplasma.com which I didn’t even bother to check using WhoIs since that was listed in the administrative contact information section for the www.dbuys.com site. At least this site didn’t claim to be “Verisign Certified” as the previous ones did.

Checked out www.realdealshop.com. At least in WhoIs it purports to have a slightly different owner (still in Brooklyn, NY with a zip of 11223 instead of 11231), but the offerings on that page still look eerily similar to all of those above. No “Verisign Secured” logo here either and SSL connections were refused. For smiles’n’giggles I went as far into the checkout process here as to create my account and saw that the form is IDENTICAL to the one on dbuys.com.

Checked out www.bestpriceaudiovideo.com and though they had more notes indicating that “Store Pickup Available” as well as being “In Stock” well… they were out of stock..

Finally, with www.pcnation.com I was able to find a seller with both stock and SSL support. But a quick scan of the newsgroups and checking www.resellerratings.com and megapixel.bizrate.com curbed my enthusiasm for this retailer.

As an aside this has greatly reduced my opinion of bizrate.com. Having so many storefronts for a single retailer represented in their results greatly reduced my confidence in using them as a search vehicle for products.

Speaker Phone advice?

Say, does anybody out there know of a decent speaker phone?

I’m looking for something that has a cordless handset and has a base station that can operate as a really good quality speaker phone. I’m using Vonage now and I cannot tell if my old Panasonic KX-TCC912 is just becoming cantankerous or if there is some interaction between the two technologies.

Anyway any suggestions and personal experience that you’ve had with speaker phones would be greatly appreciated!

Is Spartacus diminished because he’s satarized?

Regarding “You Ain’t Spartacus“,

Hi Bertzen, I’m not sure if you read my entire post or not, but all I can add is that my own experience is what I am describing.

I’m not one to sample through libraries of older films. If I see a great scene from a movie (altered though it may be) and it inspires me to seek out that film, then I believe I’ve benefited in that way.

And if today’s kiddies see the bastardized version of the film and never learn any more about it or see it, then I cannot really see where the loss is. They didn’t know about it before and they still don’t care about it now.

I suppose folks who work in the industry may feel strongly about their work being used for other than it’s originally intended purpose. But as an individual who has enjoyed certain songs, plays, films, books and games throughout my life – some passionately – I can still appreciate the new perspectives offered and I don’t feel particularly betrayed or outraged by them. Sometimes they’re good and I agree with them, sometimes they aren’t and/or I don’t.

In our remix culture, planting a stake in the ground and declaring “these items are sacrosanct” is going to be a source of a lot of frustration for those who choose to do so.

Budget Rent-a-Car slime move

*Updated July 29, 2008* I should probably change this item to “Elite Excursions and the Banks team up to relieve you of your money..”. Anyway, Clark Howard – a local consumer advocate – just posted an item that I thought relevant to this whole fiasco:

The Berkeley Center for Law and Technology analyzed corporate America to see which companies have the highest incidence of ID theft. The No. 1 company? Bank of America.

*End Update*

Is anybody else getting tired of these companies picking on our less savvy citizens?

I just received this in the mail from Budget Rent-a-car and find it eminently distasteful that they use this tactic to fool folks into subscribing to their “Elite Excursions Membership”.


The fine print under the cash amount says “Cashing this check activates a membership in the Elite Excursions program.”.

I’ve seen several of these over the years and every time it galls me that they appear to be specifically targeting folks who are either too trusting or too dumb to understand that this is not a check without strings attached.

As with all terrible advertising – this one is headed for my shredder.

This reminds me of the time I received an envelope from Circuit City with “Final Expiration Notice” boldly printed on it. The idea being for me to urgently open the envelope and respond to their Extended Service Policy offer.
I was so incensed that I wrote them a snail-mail letter (this was back in 2000 after all). I told them what I thought of their tactics ending with,

I am certain that I am not alone in my sentiments and wanted to at least let you know that your tactic has led me to shop elsewhere for fear of receiving yet more undeserved “Final Notices”.

I really can’t abide misleading or sensational (shock) advertising and just wanted to rant.

Rant – Traffic Lights in Atlanta, GA

OK I have to ask this. Does anybody out there think that their traffic signaling system is actually worse than that which we have here in Atlanta, Georgia?
I cannot believe that there has been any thought at all given to the timing of these lights unless they are to specifically favor the direction of travel of some city council member.

I recognize that there can only ever be a single direction of signal optimization in any area. But I have not been able to discern any pattern beyond “random” around my area. It is the nature of people to find patterns in even the most chaotic systems (hence the popularity of Numerology and other silly past times) but here we have a system so chaotic, so random that I have never met a soul who claims to discern method in this arena.

I visited San Francisco back in 2000 and it was immediately apparent that somebody had put a lot of thought into the traffic signalling system there. Even if the lights were not optimized in the direction that I was going, it was OK with me as I understood that the traffic was as good as it was going to get. Optimizing the busiest direction will naturally decongest every other direction of traffic anyway by preventing gridlock.

Every time any of our traffic signals are altered here in North Atlanta, it is inevitably to make the phases longer (greater duration) in every direction. And this isn’t just my subjective feeling either. Faced with an incredible number of mis-programmed signals on my daily commute I have plenty of time to take out a stopwatch that I now keep in my car for exactly that purpose, and I time the lights to see how long they actually do take. And, after adjustments, I can tell you that they are always set to greater durations than they were before.

I’m not sure who the wa-hoo is who’s driving this philosophy, but when folks sit around wondering why Atlanta drivers are so discourteous, and why they run the red lights so often here, I can give you a partial answer right now. BECAUSE THERE IS NO REWARD FOR OBEYING THE LIGHTS. If you actually do obey the yellow signal – at the risk of being rear-ended – your reward for this is a very long red light and that’s it. There is no knowledge that you’re participating in an organized traffic system, no assurance that you will now be able to proceed unhindered in a well thought out traffic flow. Only the knowledge that you’ve stopped at one randomly set traffic signal and that, at the next signal you will face yet another random chance at stop or go.

If any planners are listening and you actually do put some thought into how these signals are timed and synchronized, I know that I for one would like to know your rationale (assuming there is one) and I’m sure that communicating it to the general public will make great strides toward making drivers feel like they are participating in an organized system rather than the carelessly evolved mess that it appears to be.

This may seem like a trivial concern with so much of import happening around the globe. But I put it to you that it is truly the littlest things that have the greatest impact on us. Who here has not had a great day at work, maybe even garnered an award or some recognition and then hit EVERY-RED-LIGHT-ON-THE-WAY-HOME? Tell me that this seemingly trivial occurrence did not suck the joy out of an otherwise great day and leave you feeling annoyed and disconcerted.

Poll – Guys (and Gals) office shirts

Continuing the examination of “Affluenza” in North America, a comment in the last poll from Rose-Marie about ladies’ shoes got me thinking about mens’ shirts.

Office Shirts

Office Shirts

I’m curious how many shirts the guys out there have. To narrow it down I’m only talking about shirts that you would wear to work in a business-casual office environment. So, of course, this should exclude t-shirts. But it should include even old and obsolete shirts that you have worn to the office in the past. The rule is, “if it’s not in the trash can right now, it counts”. Feel free to chuck some of those old shirts to skew your shirt count! πŸ™‚

To try to compare apples to apples, for the ladies there are a lot of garments that can be warn in lieu of a shirt (dresses for example). So the challenge would include basically anything that would take the role of a shirt.

To my utter amazement and chagrin, I counted an even 80 (!) shirts in my closet. Considering that I haven’t bought myself a new shirt in well over a decade I can only assume that there is a plot afoot to quietly bury me under a mountain of clothing…

If you had asked me before I counted how many shirts I have I would have said maybe 20 or so.

Ladies’ Shoes – poll

Green Shoe

All you ladies out there. How many pairs of shoes do you have? I’m talking just shoes. You don’t need to count boots. But shoes, sandals, beach shoes, shoes for buying shoes anything that you would class as shoes.

Mich has about 41 pairs of shoes and I’m trying to figure out if this is normal or if I have another Imelda Marcos on my hands.

Please leave a comment and let me know how many shoes you have in your closets and around your home. Any shoe that isn’t actually in the trash can counts! πŸ™‚