Entries Tagged as ''

Discover Discover

Last week I called up Discover Financial Services to get an answer to a question I had about my Discover Card.

I’ve long considered Discover as a tertiary provider of card services; their card is not as widely accepted, and (until recently) their rewards program has been weak in comparison to others.

While all that may still be true, one of the most important qualities to appraise any service by is the quality of their customer service.

The only thing I can say is, I was floored.

The woman who assisted me was possibly the best customer service agent I’ve ever spoken with.  Her voice was soft and even toned and crystal clear.  She certainly made me feel like she was concerned that I be satisfied, and her knowledge and understanding of Discover made it a relatively easy task for her to shine.

This call caused me to reflect back on Discover as a whole, and I realized that I’ve never had a bad experience with Discover customer service.  While I won’t try and tell you that every call to Discover has been at this level, none have ever required that I ask for a supervisor.

I also realized that even the way that Discover has you identify your account is designed to make it easy for a customer (consider the credit card companies that have you key in a sixteen digit number, time out if you take too long, and rarely get the number right on the first [or third] time and then ask you for the number again when you finally end up talking to someone).

A Discover Card might not be the right fit for everyone; but take a look at their financial services, and if they look like a good fit, I encourage you to give them a test drive — you might like the experience; and as Discover grows we can only hope that other financial service companies feel the pressure to provide consumers with reasonable customer service.

Discover

http://www.discovercard.com/

NOTE: Discover Cards are issued by Discover Financial Services, GE Consumer Finance (aka GE Money Bank, ie Walmart and Sam’s Club), HSBC, and Green Dot Corporation (pre-paid) — as with VISA and Master Card the issuing financial institution is responsible for servicing the account, so your customer service experience will likely differ with a non Discover Financial Services issued card.

Originally posted 2010-08-08 02:00:20.

Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell

Repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is inevitable
By Christopher Wolf, CNN
22 September 2010

Senate Republicans successful in blocking the repeal Tuesday of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s discriminatory policy on gays and lesbians in the military, obviously did not read or simply chose to ignore a California federal judge’s ruling several weeks ago that the policy violates fundamental constitutional rights.

Given the opportunity to undo the bigotry that was written into law 17 years ago, the senators chose not to follow the lead of the House of Representatives, which voted in May to repeal the law. Instead the Senate opted to pander to socially conservative voters. For now, at least, the law remains on the books.

But the march to repeal or invalidation must and will resume. The unfairness and wastefulness of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has been demonstrated repeatedly.

Twelve years ago I handled a case that by itself showed the absurdity and mean-spirited nature of the law. In 1998, I represented a highly decorated 17-year veteran of the United States Navy who had served honorably and continuously since he was 19 years old.

Out of the blue, the Navy decided to kick him out of the service because he was gay, and not based on anything he did as a sailor. (I was called into the case the night before the discharge was to take effect.)

At the time of the Navy’s decision to discharge him, he was the senior-most enlisted man aboard the United States nuclear submarine USS Chicago, the sole source of income for his mother and nearing retirement eligibility.

The “offense” triggering the Navy’s witch hunt was an e-mail the sailor had sent from his AOL account seeking donations of toys for the children of his shipmates at Christmas. (His AOL username made the Navy officials suspect the sailor might be gay, but nothing in the contents of the e-mail or anything else in the sailor’s behavior in the service justified what the Navy did.)

The Navy decided to go on a “search and destroy” mission against the service member (those are the words of the judge hearing the case), when it asked AOL to get information about the sailor to confirm he was gay.

Then-Judge Stanley Sporkin–formerly general counsel of the SEC and CIA, so no bleeding heart liberal — found that the Navy had violated federal electronic privacy law by demanding information from AOL to make its case against the sailor, and that it had violated the strictures of the “don’t ask” part of the military policy on gay and lesbian service members. He stopped the Navy from throwing out a distinguished service member in light of its illegal activity.

The case made news at the time. The decision was a courageous one and against the conventional wisdom that Congress had accommodated gays and lesbians just fine with “don’t ask, don’t tell” and it was not up to civilians to tell the military how to operate.

Sporkin wrote in his opinion that “It is self-evident that a person’s sexual orientation does not affect that individual’s performance in the workplace. At this point in history, our society should not be deprived of the many accomplishments provided by the people who happen to be gay.”

He said the court “cannot understand why the Navy would seek to discharge an officer who has served his country in a distinguished manner just because he might be gay” and that the case “vividly underscores the folly of a policy that systematically excludes a whole class of persons who have served this country proudly and in the highest tradition of excellence.”

He acknowledged that the case specifically did not reach any of the constitutional issues underscoring the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” policy, but he felt compelled to note that “the defenses mounted against gays in the military have been tried before in our nation’s history — against blacks and women.” Sporkin concluded: “Surely, it is time to move beyond this vestige of discrimination and misconception of gay men and women.”

Twelve years later, a successor of Sporkin’s on the federal bench in California decided just that — that it is time to eliminate discrimination, as a matter of constitutional law. In the meantime, scores of qualified and committed service members have been ousted based solely on a policy whose foundation is unconstitutional bigotry.

They did not have a Sporkin to take up their cause of justice. They will never get their careers back, or purge the trauma of being labeled second-class citizens, and neither will our country be able to recover their valuable lost service.

Although the Senate stopped repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in its tracks yesterday, the California ruling will work its way through the appellate process. In the end, this will turn around and the day will come when gay and lesbian service members and their allies can say we were right all along, and just as in the days of segregation, the country was wrong.

Repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is inevitable on CNN

Originally posted 2010-09-25 02:00:31.

VMware Fusion

Last week I decide to upgrade my copy of VMware Fusion 1.1.3 (Build 94249) to Fusion 2 (it was free, and looked like a pretty compelling upgrade, and I already decided I wasn’t going to spend more money with Parallels).

I downloaded VMware Fusion 2.0.1 (Build 128865) and installed it on my Mac Pro and upgraded my Windows XP machine (following all the instructions).

Then I launched my Windows XP virtual machine, it seemed to run just fine, so I shut down — and my Mac rebooted.

I tried this a few more times; and yep, every time I shut down the virtual machine (that had been working perfectly for a very long time) it reboot my Mac Pro.

So I decided to give it a try on my MacBook Pro.  Well, at least it didn’t reboot my MacBook Pro — but on both the MacBook Pro and on the MacMini I got an error when I shutdown the virtual machine and ended up rebooting before I could run it again.

Four machines, all four of them exhibit problems that ten minutes of QA should have uncovered (of course I probably have run Fusion 2.0.1 on more machines that VMware has).

There is absolutely no excuse for publishing software like this… if I had actually paid for the upgrade I’d be looking for a refund.  Instead I’m just going to remove this crappy software from my Macs and go with a much better overall virtualization solution — VirtualBox.  And if I decide I want a commercial solution, I can always upgrade my copy of Parallels Desktop.

At least when software is FREE you stand a chance of getting what you pay for.

NOTE:

The only reason I was interested in trying Fusion 2.0.1 is that it includes “experimental” support for running OS-X as a guest.  But if it won’t run something that’s supported, I’m not sure I care to even try something “experimental” — glad I waited until it was out of BETA to take a look at it.

Originally posted 2009-02-05 01:00:17.

Free EMail…

Right LOL

Most of you probably think that the free email provider you’re using makes money by showing you those annoying advertisements when you access you email via their web-mail interface.

Have you ever stopped to think about how they could possibly make money when they allow you to use a POP3 or IMAP4 client to read your email?

Well, the bottom line is sure they make some money by showing you those advertisements; but in this day and age almost every single email provider actually uses the content of your inbox to target you and sell demographic information.

While they might not be “reading” your email line-by-line; they are certainly indexing your email’s content — and they’re selling information about what you (aggregated of course) are talking about to anyone who will pay for it… and of course it’s long be rumored that some of them might have agreements with “men in black” to provide them more details about email (and searches) that might be consider a threat to national security.

Read the Terms of Service (TOS) for your “free” email provider very carefully — you’re going to be surprised what you’ve authorized them to do, and how little privacy you really have (remember some of the cable companies and DSL providers actually have you using one of those “big name” email providers as well — so your “for-pay” email account might be suspect as well).

My advice…

If you care about your privacy, pay a little money with an email provider that doesn’t harvest your personal (and confidential) information and sell it off to everyone with a little pocket change.

Originally posted 2009-08-19 01:00:36.

Walgreen’s

Unfortunately it’s a pattern I’ve seen all too often in the past — the tale tale signs of a merchant that clearly care nothing about you as a customer except what they can extract from your wallet.

I was in Walgreen’s, and I was purchasing a few items and I noticed that they had a $5.00 off on your next purchase with a $20.00 purchase — well, it just so happened that I could make immediate use of that so I got together $20.86 in merchandise and went up to the cash register.

The cashier entered all the promotional codes for my purchase… I swiped my credit card (which was authorized for payment), out came my receipt, an no $5.00 off coupon.

She called the manager on duty (a person I’d conversed with on a number of occasions — who I’ve always found quite competent, quite friendly, and quite helpful).  It took her a few minutes to get to the register; she said that she could void the receipt and do it again, but my feeling was that the cashier had done nothing wrong — it just didn’t work.

But wait!

Walgreen’s apparently knew there were cases where this wouldn’t work — they had provided stores with a form that customers could fill out and mail in.  It did take her quite some time to locate the form, in all I stood at the check out about 40 minutes (40 minutes of my life I’ll never get back, nor will I be compensated for in any way).

So, corporate expects customers to spend their time and money (no envelope or stamp was provided by Walgreen’s) to correct their problem.  The advertisement clearly stated that the $5.00 off coupon was instant, not a mail-in rebate; and that it could be used on the next trip to Walgreen’s (like immediately).

I can’t fault any of the store employees — they tried to do what they could; but I do fault the corporate policy.

I came home, I wrote a lengthy message to Walgreen’s customer service telling them what had happened, and what I thought of their policies, and that they’d made me a happy and loyal CVS customer (there’s a 24-hour CVS right across the street from the 24-hour Walgreen’s near my home).  And when I sent it — I immediately deleted the email address I’d provided Walgreen’s for their sales circulars and online shopping (I’ll have no need for those) and directed that they were to remove all my information from their systems.

I have no need to invest my time and my money correcting the failing of a company that doesn’t offer in any way to compensate me for their mistakes, and I encourage everyone to do what I always do — use your wallet to show you just won’t accept this type of behavior.

If a company makes a mistake — the company should fix it without any intervention of the customer that’s effected.  And my personal feeling is there should be a federal law that requires companies to pay individuals for their time and expense they invest in fixing problems that they in no way contributed to (whey are doing work for the company) – after all, the way it stands now, companies have no reason to get it right, since it always seems to be you the consumer that get’s the short end.

I’m just saying “No” to Walgreen’s — just like all the other companies who’ve shown they don’t deserve my business.

Originally posted 2012-05-28 02:00:03.

Linux – Desktop Search

A while ago I published a post on Desktop Search on Linux (specifically Ubuntu).  I was far from happy with my conclusions and I felt I needed to re-evaluate all the options to see which would really perform the most accurate search against my information.

Primarily my information consists of Microsoft Office documents, Open Office documents, pictures (JPEG, as well as Canon RAW and Nikon RAW), web pages, archives, and email (stored as RFC822/RFC2822 compliant files with an eml extension).

My test metrics would be to take a handful of search terms which I new existed in various types of documents, and check the results (I actually used Microsoft Windows Search 4.0 to prepare a complete list of documents that matched the query — since I knew it worked as expected).

The search engines I tested were:

I was able to install, configure, and launch each of the applications.  Actually none of them were really that difficult to install and configure; but all of them required searching through documentation and third party sites — I’d say poor documentation is just something you have to get used to.

Beagle, Google, Tracker, Pinot, and Recoll all failed to find all the documents of interest… none of them properly indexed the email files — most of the failed to handle plain text files; that didn’t leave a very high bar to pick a winner.

Queries on Strigi actually provided every hit that the same query provided on Windows Search… though I have to say Windows Search was easier to setup and use.

I tried the Neopomuk (KDE) interface for Strigi — though it just didn’t seem to work as well as strigiclient did… and certainly strigiclient was pretty much at the top of the list for butt-ugly, user-hostile, un-intuitive applications I’d ever seen.

After all of the time I’ve spent on desktop search for Linux I’ve decided all of the search solutions are jokes.  None of them are well thought out, none of them are well executed, and most of them out right don’t work.

Like most Linux projects, more energy needs to be focused on working out a framework for search than everyone going off half-cocked and creating a new search paradigm.

The right model is…

A single multi-threaded indexer running in the background indexing files according to a system wide policy aggregated with user policies (settable by each user on directories they own) along with the access privileges.

A search API that takes the user/group and query to provide results for items that the user has (read) access to.

The indexer should be designed to use plug-in modules to handle particular file types (mapped both by file extension, and by file content).

The index should also be designed to use plug-in modules for walking a file system and receiving file system change events (that allows the framework to adapt as the Linux kernel changes — and would support remote indexing as well).

Additionally, the index/search should be designed with distributed queries in mind (often you want to search many servers, desktops, and web locations simultaneously).

Then it becomes a simple matter for developers to write new/better indexer plug-ins; and better search interfaces.

I’ve pointed out in a number of recent posts that you can effective use Linux as a server platform in your business; however, it seems that if search is a requirement you might want to consider ponying up the money for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 and enjoy seamless search (that works) between your Windows Vista / Windows 7 Desktops and Windows Server.

REFERENCES:

Ubuntu – Desktop Search

Originally posted 2010-07-16 02:00:19.

Northwest Passage

There have been a number of articles recently on the effect of global climate change on the arctic ice pack, and I guess you could say one of the “good” things that is happening is that a (Summer) shipping route North of the Arctic Circle may be a reality within the next few years.

While the melting of the ice pack might be good news for shipping and oil/gas exploration, it might not be a good thing for the world as a whole.

Remember, a large portion of the world’s population lives in coastal regions, not far above sea level — when the ice pack melts, that water goes somewhere — and, of course, that’s fresh water, so not only does the level of the oceans rise, but the salinity of the oceans goes down.

No one can really predict what these changes will have on the habitability of this planet long term, but along with the receding glaciers we have more evidence of rather dramatic climate change.  Whether these changes are a natural event, a natural even being accelerated by emissions, or purely cause by emissions may still be debatable, but whether or not it’s happening… that’s fairly well documented.

Of course, as I always say — many love to do the back-stroke in de-nile; or as other like to day, de-nile isn’t just a river in Egypt…

Originally posted 2011-08-18 02:00:18.

bootrec.exe

Bootrec.exe, available as part of repair from the command line can resolve a number of start up issues on Windows.  It comes in quite handy for replacing the master boot record (MBR) and boot loader (a good way to remove a multi-boot manager like GRUB).

 Be sure you understand what you’re doing it you choose to use it.

 Use the Bootrec.exe tool in the Windows Recovery Environment to troubleshoot and repair startup issues in Windows

Originally posted 2013-11-13 17:00:09.

Virtualization Picks

Let me preface this by saying that I’m making recommendations for virtualization based on:

  • Cost
  • Robustness
  • Ease of use
  • Performance

You’ll note I put performance as the last item since it generally is not a huge differentiator for most virtualization needs.  However, you individual criteria may vary, and you should make your own decisions.

The “thumb nail” information below should help you in evaluating virtualization solutions; and the links at the bottom will help you locate solutions.

__________

If you need cross platform virtualization, and will move virtual machines from one host to another, the only realistic choice is VirtualBox.  While vmware and Parallels will run on most host operating systems.  While vmware offers some free solutions, I’ve found their new version of Fusion (for the Mac) could have used ten minutes of QA before shipping; on my MacBook Pro, my Mac Pro, and my Mac Minis it crashes when shutting down a virtual machine that used to work just fine under the previous version (yes it was converted), and even worse, it crashes OS-X on my MacPro.  Parallels is just too expensive, not only is the acquisition cost high, but he maintenance cost is high; it’s very nicely done, but simply not worth the investment.

__________

For Windows Server 2008 on both 32-bit and 64-bit the uncontested choice should be Hyper-V, unless you’re running on a processor/motherboard that lacks hardware virtualization (and even then I’d say you should upgrade your hardware).

For Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003, and Windows XP on both 32-bit and 64-bit the uncontested choice should be Virtual Server 2005 R2.  You should always use Virtual Server over Virtual PC.

For OS-X on an Intel machine you should use VirtualBox (if you feel you need to purchase a commercial product, choose Parallels over vmware; it works well, and has good performance and stability).

For Linux on an Intel machine you should use either VirtualBox, or if you’re a more savvy user Xen.

For BSD on an Intel machine you should use either VirtualBox, or if you’re a more savvy user Xen.

__________

There are other virtualization solutions, but they tend to be rather expensive.  And yes there are non-Intel virtualization solutions that allow you to run Intel guests on non-Intel hosts (other than older Macs, that’s probably not a very common requirement, and outside the scope of my recommendations; the only product I’ve ever used on a G4/G5 is Microsoft’s Virtual PC for Mac).

Hyper-V and Xen use a very modern approach to virtualization, and overall have the greatest potential for future growth.  The OpenSource version of Xen; however, needs a fair amount of polish before the average computer user (not to be confused with computer professional / geek) finds it very usable.

Companies like vmware and Parallels might have nice solutions for large deployments, but I see little advantage in smaller deployments; and for single machines why not use something that’s free and works (well).

__________

Originally posted 2009-02-10 01:00:22.

Warner Brothers

On 6 October 1927, just two years before the depression; Harry (Hirsz), Albert (Aaron), Sam (Szmul) and Jack (Itzhak) – the Warner (Eichelbaum) brothers – released The Jazz Singer in New York City, NY, US.

Sam Warner urged his brothers to invest in talking motion pictures (The Jazz Singer cost only $500,000 to produce and made over $3 million); and is regarded as the “father of talking pictures” but sadly was to pass away before his dream was realized.

Warner Brothers produced twelve “talkies” in 1928 and in 1928 the newly formed Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recognized them for “revolutionizing the industry with sound”.

The Warner principle was “to educate, entertain, and enlighten”.

Today Warner Brothers is part of Time-Warner, one of the largest media outlets in the world… but perhaps Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Road Runner, and the Tasmanian Devil are the images people of my generation hold closest to heart.

Originally posted 2010-10-06 02:00:59.