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2009: The Year Entropy Accelerated

As the ill-fated 2009 starts to wind itself down, it’s making it more clear than ever that it’s not going to let us forget how much pain and suffering it inflicted on us all. Some more than others, obviously, but by-and-large it’s been a pretty depressing year. My family in particular was hit harder by more cataclysmic events at once than at any point in my lifetime, with my dad losing his job due to the slowing economy, the deaths of two family members (just a month apart, no less) and a myriad of other problems besides.

Although Apple and I have fared pretty well in comparison to many other Americans — even other members of our families — we’ve still received a disproportionate amount of negative reinforcement from The Powers That Be. This week, in particular, was like a microcosm of that very idea, presenting us with one out-of-left-field event after another: breakdowns, unforeseen events, ridiculous instances of lightning striking twice. The Second Law of Thermodynamics seems to have conspired against us to accelerate entropy to an almost comical level.

I used to do a lot of bitching on this blog. Not so much anymore. But today is one of those days where I feel like if I don’t get it off my chest here, I’ll take it out on someone who doesn’t deserve it, so away we go with a little old-fashioned rant.

Forfeiting the Comcast Battle (But Not Quite the War)

My seemingly eternal struggle with Comcast over the billing and service for my TiVo HD came to an anti-climactic end early this week. (You can follow the history of the saga here.) After apparently getting a solution from corporate to the two HD service fees I was getting charged — one for each CableCARD in my TiVo — the celebration came to an abrupt halt last weekend when my second tuner lost all HD service. Again.

Sick and tired of it, I bypassed phone support altogether and filed another corporate complaint. This time, however, despite the corporate head office’s agreement with my position, the “corporate liaison officer” at our local Comcast department gave me a call to say there was nothing that can be done. In my area, she explained, the billing system requires that a separate HD service charge be assessed on each single-stream CableCARD. So, if I want HD service on both tuners of my DVR, I have to pay for it twice. And that’s that.

So I asked her, if Comcast would offer me a multi-stream CableCARD to replace my two single-stream cards, would I only pay one HD fee despite getting the exact same service? She said yes. Of course, Comcast still doesn’t have multi-stream CableCARDs here. As a result, I pay twice as much for the same service, because of their lack of equipment. Oh, that’s really nice; I’m so glad I could help. Is that extra money I’m paying you going to finance, say, acquisition of any fucking multi-stream CableCARDs, by any chance? (The woman did say that multi-stream cards were currently being tested and would be offered to us early next year, but I’ll believe that when I can hold one in my hands.)

As a consolation, the Comcast corporate liaison officer told me that they’re already crediting me for the extra $6.95 HD service charge by lowering our second CableCARD fee to $1.50, because it’s normally like 8 bucks. Huh? According to Comcast’s own CableCARD FAQ, the second card fee can be only “up to $2.05.” They’re saving me 55 cents, not $6.95. And if you check that same link, you’ll see that I wouldn’t even be paying a second card fee if I just had a multi-stream card. That’s another $1.50 I wouldn’t be paying if Comcast could offer current equipment.

But by this point I had had it. I’m sorry, I really had. I just can’t do this fucking song and dance anymore. I told the woman to just go ahead and restore service to my second CableCARD, and I’ll pay their extra $6.95 monthly fee. What else am I gonna do? At some point you have to recognize that it’s just seven fucking dollars. I will be hounding them next year to make sure I’m one of the first people to get a multi-stream card — assuming that wasn’t just a line of bull — but until then, I have more important things to deal with.

Speaking of which…I’m just getting started.

Nice To Meet You, Kyoko

We may be consumers, but we’re not consumers of the “mindless” variety. Every few days you’ll find us watching and reviewing our bank and credit card statements, keeping an eye on our online bill-pay setups and making sure everything is running smoothly with our finances in as close to real-time as is reasonable. (I have to thank Apple here, because she really takes the lead on this.) We usually charge less than $300 a month on our personal credit card, go out to eat two or three times a month, and with the exception of a major purchase once in a while — like our new MacBook last weekend — we’re usually not spending a lot of money.

So it was a bit of a shock when my wife got an email from American Eagle’s online store, thanking her for purchasing $300 worth of clothing. Or rather, thanking a woman named Kyoko. You see, somebody in Japan named Kyoko D. actually created an account on using my wife’s email address. She then proceeded to submit an order for the aforementioned $300 worth of merchandise (plus $50 for shipping to Tokyo). We got the welcome email, the order confirmation email, the tracking reports, all of it.

It seemed to be a simple typo. I mean, none of our names, addresses or other personal info was attached to the account, and our credit cards showed no pending purchases from American Eagle, so Kyoko must have paid with a card of her own. Still, I called AE customer support to make them aware of it, and suggested that if Kyoko had entered a phone number on her order — which she was probably required to do — they should probably call her. The gum-chewing young woman on the other end of the call, however, waved this idea off, saying that it was an international number (duh?) and that “she probably doesn’t speak English.”

Whether or not Kyoko is fluent in English, she may know at least a few four-letter Anglo-Saxon words that she might unleash in the direction of AE customer support if anything goes wrong with her order, because she won’t find out about it in a timely fashion, if at all. We will, incidentally. But we can’t contact her, so I’ll leave it to the Fates to sort this one out.

Fraud Department Calling

I swear this event isn’t related to the Kyoko/AE issue described above. But on the very same day, I got a call from our credit card company’s fraud department stating that they had suspended our account due to suspicious activity. They read me a series of transactions that had just taken place that very day, absolutely none of which were ours (we hadn’t even used that credit card, either online or at retail, in over a week). So I had to report that the charges were fraudulent, and our cards were deactivated and new ones issued to us by mail.

The “lightning-strikes-twice” part? It’s almost a year to the day that this exact same credit card account had this exact same thing happen to it.

I belatedly chronicled the events surrounding the original theft of our credit card in this post, but the actual day we discovered the fraud was November 13th, on the night before we were scheduled to get up very early in the morning and fly to Thailand for our big open-ended trip. Naturally, this was about the worst possible time to be told that one of your only two credit cards had just been shut off, and that you’d be leaving the country before you could get your replacement.

This week’s card hijacking, by contrast, is much less of a big deal. We hardly use that card for anything (not even any automatic online bill payments) and we’re not planning any big trans-continental trips. Additionally, our issuing bank put a stop to the fraud much quicker than they did last time (where thousands of dollars in transactions were allowed to accrue before they intervened) — this time, only one transaction was successfully conducted before the account was suspended. Three other transactions were immediately attempted, and all of them denied. Perhaps best of all, the bank actually called me right away. Last year, they didn’t call me at all — I had to call them to find out why my card was getting declined at the friggin’ gas station.

Something interesting: Whereas the fraudulent transactions that happened to us last year were all Internet merchants, this time somebody actually swiped a physical card at a Macy’s store…four times. (Only the first transaction was approved.) If I properly understand the methods of credit card thieves, that means somebody actually cloned our card at some point, probably by running it through a skimmer at a retail business. Since both of our cards were in our hands at the time of the transactions at Macy’s, and since we did not even begin to use these physical credit cards until we got back from Thailand in May, I’m betting that a local establishment — probably a restaurant — right here in town is responsible. Might have even been responsible last year, too.

How’s that for making you think twice about letting the server take your credit card away the next time you go out to eat?

So, next time we want to eat out, it looks like it’ll be ATM cash extractions for us. Either that or I’m going to take my card to the restaurant cashier and pay the bill there without taking my eyes off it. It’s ironic that it would come to this for us, because we watch our finances like hawks and charge a whole lot less than a great many Americans. But that’s what happens when the unthinkable happens twice in less than a year.

Oh: And our credit card company now allows us to fill out all the fraud investigation paperwork over the Internet. Sigh. Where was this feature when we were in Thailand last year, dicking around with faxes and paperwork mailed from home?

Where Is Your Bob Vila Now?

On top of these shenanigans, it’s not been a good week (or month…or year) for household entropy, either.

First, shortly after our return from Thailand, our home’s HVAC air handler went out, requiring a $600-some repair bill to get the air conditioning going again. (Naturally, A/C is a must-have in Florida, especially when you work from home on a three-screened computer that raises the ambient temperature five degrees all by itself.)

Next, the “your roof is dirty” citation came calling from the homeowners’ association — or would have, if we hadn’t pre-emptively paid to clean the roof of our house before they could hit us with the nastygram. The powerwashing guy who we’ve always called since we moved here has disappeared, though, so it took a fair bit of research to find a replacement who wasn’t charging ridiculous money for the work (and who wasn’t booked up into December). We finally got it done, though.

Then, the refrigerator had a total shit attack. The defroster heating element blew, so the freezer compartment started to ice up and the fridge compartment refused to cool. I will say that we found a very nice, low-cost and competent local repair guy to fix it same-day, and having a go-to guy like that is almost valuable enough to make the initial breakdown worth suffering. Unfortunately, I fear it’s only a matter of time before the fridge will require another repair. Listen to what it’s doing now:

I believe that’s the evaporator fan making that macabre howling noise, and if it doesn’t drive poor Apple batshit insane in the interim, it’s probably going to fail eventually. To be honest, it’s been doing this off-and-on for a while, so it’s probably got a fair bit of life left in it before it takes a complete dump. But it just serves as a reminder of how shitty GE refrigerators are. This one’s only three years old, and it’s a replacement for another GE fridge that was so badly designed that the company recalled and replaced it for free. If you’re in the market for a refrigerator, here’s a tip: Get something — anything — else.

And then this week, as if we hadn’t had enough problems with kitchen appliances already, the upper heating element in our toaster oven went out. This normally wouldn’t be such a big deal. I mean, how expensive is a toaster oven, right? We’ve had that toaster oven for over a decade (it was a wedding present, for pity’s sake) and it served us well. The problem is that 99% of the toaster ovens on the market today are junk. They all use an annoying analog dial to both start toasting and set your toast darkness in one go. Ours was the old pushbutton design, where you “set and forget” your darkness via a dial, then push a button to toast. It dings when it’s done. End of story.

Now, though, you have to turn the crank and set your darkness each time you toast. To some, this is a feature. To me, it’s an annoyance because it’s almost impossible to avoid burning your toast. It almost always comes out too dark, even at the lowest possible setting — because on at least some models, the damn timer mechanism won’t “engage” until you turn it beyond the point where I want it set. Then, it has the nerve to make this ridiculous, eggtimer-esque ticking sound until the toast gets done. Does it really need to sound like there’s a bomb about to go off in my kitchen?

If anybody can recommend a good toaster oven for less than $75, I’d be grateful.

Why Don’t I Just Do That Task For You, Then

Remember last year when I had to review that technical documentation written by our development staff, none of whom learned English as their first language? Yep — it’s back. Last night I had a week’s worth of documentation review dropped on me with no warning, right in the middle of the hugest (unrelated) product release we’ve done all year, and the review has to be done by the 15th. This would be painful enough if it weren’t for the 3-day weekend Apple and I are taking next week, which gives me even less time to get this done if I don’t want my vacation ruined.

So, thanks for that.

Mother Nature, Here’s Your Sign

Speaking of ruining my vacation, did you hear? Hurricane season was only bluffing. There’s a storm named Ida out there now that looks like it may start heading in Florida’s direction — you guessed it — right before our road trip next weekend. Right now it’s just a piddling tropical depression, and of course it’s way too early to tell where this thing’s going to end up. Still, it’s one more thing I didn’t really need to be worrying about.

Ironically, our winter tourism season has started early — there are snowbirds everywhere now — and the nonexistent hurricane season, coupled with the unusually crummy weather up north, probably had a hand in this. I hope Ida doesn’t scare them off.

Update: The forecast track for this thing now estimates that it’ll fly right over Orlando during the days we’ll be there next week. Thanks a lot, Mother Nature. You bitch.

Bring On The New Year

Having said all this (and thanks for your apparently preternatural patience, by the way, if you actually read through all that), I couldn’t be more eager to get 2010 underway. Not that I’m expecting great things from this coming calendar year, but as my mother-in-law once said, “Since everything is cyclical, if a lot of bad things have just happened to you, that must mean that some good things are coming.”

You know what? That sounds great. Let’s go with that.

And hey, at least Apple’s new MacBook is performing awesomely. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a drum solo to hammer out on a piece of wood.

3 thoughts to “2009: The Year Entropy Accelerated”

  1. It has been a bitch of a year, hasn’t it? If 2010 isn’t any better, I’m heading for the nearest cliff.

    And what’s up with a tropical storm in November?? Good God. Hopefully the weather forecasting is as abysmally wrong as usual.

  2. That was a powerful piece of filmmaking! Much more entertaining than, say, Species 2.

    I think I’m going to submit “Chicken Entree” for a best supporting actor Oscar. He was simply amazing in his limited role.

  3. I ate that chicken entree for dinner. Let me tell you, the Oscar is much-deserved.

    And with a total production budget of $0, I’d say we did pretty well.

    See you at the after party! If you see Jon Gosselin there, hit him with a bat.

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