Friday, July 16, 2010

Short Takes

The cap is holding — for now — and for the first time in over 12 weeks, oil is not spilling from the gusher.

It took almost two years, but Congress passed the financial reform bill.

$550 million — That’s how much Goldman Sachs paid in fines to the government.

President Obama visited a western Michigan battery plant.

Not so soft: Federal prosecution of undocumented immigrants is way up under the Obama administration.

State officials in Utah say someone used state employment records to come up with the list of immigrants that is making the rounds.

Dengue fever — The CDC is warning South Florida about the disease after a case is reported in Miami Beach.

R.I.P. Charles Mackerras, conductor.

The Tigers kick off the second half of the season against Cleveland tonight.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Note From the Office

It’s amazing how dependent we’ve become on computers and the internet in my office. At 11:00 a.m. the network crashed. No e-mail, no internet, no access to the servers; nada. And since a lot of the work I do has to be shared, just about all of my work is on the server. So I did what any modern office administrator does when this happens: I stared at the screen like a dog waiting for someone to open the door.

No, not really; I cleaned up my desk, de-fragged the hard drive, and caught up on my filing. But it felt like it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Morning Routine

How times have changed…

Technology has shaken up plenty of life’s routines, but for many people it has completely altered the once predictable rituals at the start of the day.

This is morning in America in the Internet age. After six to eight hours of network deprivation — also known as sleep — people are increasingly waking up and lunging for cellphones and laptops, sometimes even before swinging their legs to the floor and tending to more biologically urgent activities.

“It used to be you woke up, went to the bathroom, maybe brushed your teeth and picked up the newspaper,” said Naomi S. Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, who has written about technology’s push into everyday life. “But what we do first now has changed dramatically. I’ll be the first to admit: the first thing I do is check my e-mail.”

Yeah, me too. Plus checking blogs, reading columns, and finding out what’s going on. It’s not much different than when I used to sit at the table in the kitchen hunched over the newspaper, except I don’t get ink on my hands and drip coffee over the sports section.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Short Takes

Her name was Neda — The video that may become the icon of the Iranian revolution.

Count off — Iran’s Guardian Council admits to discrepancies in vote tallies in 50 cities that amounts to 3 million more votes counted than cast.

The Great Escape — How New York Times reporter David Rohde and his translator escaped their kidnappers.

Budget Pain — California faces some tough choices.

Living alone — Condo towers turn into ghost towns in Miami.

Parents and students are speaking out against teacher layoffs in Broward County.

Tigers beat Milwaukee 3-2, still lead the AL Central.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hey, Comcast…

Apparently Comcast is doing more than just delivering cable TV and internet service.

Brandon Dilbeck, 20, a student at the University of Washington, was complaining recently on his blog, Brandon Notices, about Comcast’s practice of posting ads in its on-screen programming guide.

He assumed he was writing for his own benefit. “It feels like nobody ever really reads my blog,” he said. “Nobody has left a comment in months.”

Shortly afterward, he received an e-mail message from Comcast, thanking him for the feedback and adding that it was working on a new interactive guide that might “illuminate the issues that you are currently experiencing.”

Mr. Dilbeck found it all a bit creepy. “The rest of his e-mail may as well have read, ‘Big Brother is watching you,’ ” he said.

But Frank Eliason, digital care manager at Comcast, says he was just trying to help.

Well, then, if that’s the case, let’s see if that’s true.

I have a complaint about Comcast. Last month when I moved into my new house, Comcast came out and installed the new cable box; the old one that they told me to take from my old place wouldn’t work. The installer showed up on time on moving day and was very polite, and he got the TV’s all hooked up. I was in the middle of telling the movers where to put stuff, so when I signed off on the installation paperwork I didn’t have time to sit down and actually turn on the TV in the living room, the one with the fancy remote and cable box that gives me access to HBO. Later that evening I did, and when I hit the “On” button, the cable box came on, but the TV only came on for a moment, then shut off. I tried again; same thing. I checked to see if the remote had been programmed correctly; it had. After two phone calls to the Comcast customer service line and endless attempts at getting it to work, I found the only way to get the TV and cable box to work together was to turn the TV on and off by the power button on the front of it and leave the cable box on all the time. So I called Comcast customer service yet again, and they made an appointment for a service technician to come out and see what the problem was.

The service technician arrived within the appointed time (between 8 and 10 on a Saturday) and it was the same friendly guy who had originally set up the box on moving day. Within a few minutes he discovered the problem: when he had plugged in the TV, he had plugged it into the AC outlet on the back of the cable box instead of the wall outlet. He apologized, I thanked him, and he went on his way.

But when I got my cable bill two weeks later, there was a $28 charge for the service call. What? It had been Comcast’s fault that the TV didn’t work, not mine. I called the Comcast customer service number and asked them why I should pay for a service call when it wasn’t my fault that there was a problem in the first place? The customer service rep was polite but indifferent, and he said the best he could do was note the dispute on my record, they would review it, and if they decided that the charge was unfair, it would show up as a credit on my next bill. Meanwhile, I needed to pay the full amount of the bill or my account would be flagged as in arrears. “Thank you for calling Comcast and have a good day.” Click.

Well, I haven’t gotten my next bill yet, so let’s see if they actually did give me credit for a charge for a service call that was their fault. And let’s see if Comcast is paying attention to what people are saying about them on the blogs. I’ll let you know if I hear from them. If I don’t, expect another rant if they don’t give me credit on my bill for their mistake.

Stay tuned.

Update: Within a half-hour of putting up this post, I got a comment:

You are correct that you should not have been charged for the service call. I do apologize. If for some reason the credit is not there, let us know.

Frank Eliason

Okay… I will. And enjoy the rest of my blog while you’re here…

Hang Up and Drive

I followed a Land Rover down the Palmetto Expressway the other afternoon. It was going 55 mph in the left lane, its right turn signal on for miles yet giving no indication that it intended to actually move out of the lane, and when it finally dumped off the freeway onto the city street, it crossed several lanes of traffic to the left, the turn signal still steadily blinking for a right turn. I was able to get past it and see the driver and — you guessed it — he had a cellphone stuck in his ear.

Perfect timing for this article from

For years, psychologists who study driving and attention have argued that switching to “hands free” is not a real solution to the hazards caused by yacking on the mobile in the car. “The impairments aren’t because your hands aren’t on the wheel. It’s because your mind isn’t the road,” says David Strayer, professor of psychology at the University of Utah, whose research has found driving while talking on a cellphone to be as dangerous as driving drunk.

Now neuroscience is showing your mind literally isn’t on the road. The overtaxed driver’s poor brain doesn’t distinguish between a conversation that takes place on an iPhone or a Bluetooth headset. In both cases, the chatting driver is distracted, putting herself, her passengers, other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians at risk.

Say there’s an 18-wheeler to your right, an RV to your left, and suddenly a call comes in from that motormouth client in Kansas City. As the client’s voice starts buzzing in your ear, the activity in the parts of your brain keeping your car in your lane declines.

“Forty percent of your attention is drawn away when you’re on the phone,” says Marcel Just, a psychologist who directs Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging. That goes for you too, Mr. Multitasker.

Before you ask; yes, I have driven and talked on my cellphone at the same time. But I haven’t done it since my involuntary involvement in that physics experiment back in March. I don’t initiate the call unless it’s an emergency, and that’s happened only once when I saw a car catch fire on I-25 in Albuquerque. But here in Miami, if you see a car weaving all over the road like a skateboarder on crack, chances are the driver is nattering away on their phone. The county tried to pass a hands-on ban like California, but it was overruled by the state legislature — probably after getting frantic calls from constituents… driving on the Palmetto in their SUV.

But as the article points out, even hands-free cellphone driving is dangerous, and I wonder what they envision the solution for that would be. Frankly, I’ve been driving long enough — forty years this September — to know that there were idiot drivers out there long before cellphones came along, and no amount of legislation, technology, or driver’s education will get rid of the old man in the twenty-year old Corolla trundling down the fast lane of I-95 at 45 mph with his turn signal on and a seat belt dangling out the passenger door, the buckle making sparks.