Archive for March, 2009

Google Maps Mashups

March 27th, 2009

I’ve always loved maps, and when google maps came out they raised the bar.  After they released their maps API and the mashups began.  The first cool one I remember was a craigslist mashup that listed all apartments for rent on a map – that’s huge when you’re new to a city, and invaluable in renting-competitive cities like NY and SF.  Now there are tons of mashups out there, and here’s a few that I’ve found recently.

Random mashups (coolest ones first)

Build your own map: (sorted by compete monthly usage 2/2008-2/2009 more)

Find more maps (reference)

What’s your favorite map?

AT&T Billing Confusion

March 24th, 2009

In today’s global competitive economy, how can companies stay ahead and make profit?  I’ll tell you how – by constantly changing their billing statements and providing customer support lines that are time consuming and full of untrained people.

Confusing Billing Statements:

My AT&T flickr set has the details of the first 6 bills, focusing on the AT&T – DISH Network (satellite TV) section.  To be fair, AT&T bills me, but DISH Network is the one who comes up with all these crazy line-items. Not one of them is the same.

2008-09-13: Total -$8.51 (credit)
2008-10-13: Total $95.98
2008-11-13: Total $54.99
2008-12-13: Total $89.99
2009-01-13: Total $60.97
2009-02-13: Total $72.99
2009-03-13: Total $36.57

Untrained Customer Support:

Oh, you think there might be an error on your bill?  No problem – Just call our Support line.  Hello, that’s half the problem. As mentioned in my previous post on Chicago Internet, I spent many hours on the phone trying to sort out initial billing confusion.  But I still have had to call several times to sort things out.   Part of the problem is the unusual relationship between DISH and AT&T.  They sometimes like to transfer you to the other.  Also they like to put you on hold for a moment and then after 10 minutes the line hangs up and you must start over.

Direct line to DISH Support- 866-266-1292

Best to start a Billing Chat Session with DISH Customer Support (transcript below)

The first billing confusion was based on the fact that I was told that I get free outgoing calls within 15 miles.  A manager at AT&T Customer Service assures me there is no such thing, and tried to sell me an outgoing call package deal.  No Thank You, Ma’am. Secondly, DISH is all sorts of messed up .. took 3 calls to sort of straighten it out.  See this picture with details on DISH Bill.  Basically they give you lots of credit on first bill to cover first and second bill, and the third bill should look normal. Did you look at that Bill?  what’s so hard about saying “TOP 200?, “Local HD”, “HD Silver” ???  One thing nobody mentioned is that they charge you $5/month if you don’t connect your DISH receiver to phone or wifi – “ADDL RECEIVER ACCESS FEE”.  What?   .

In any case, my most recent bill in march seems to have no errors.  Wow.  We’ll see how long that lasts. And here’s the transcript from my chat session with the DISH billing support.

Please wait while we find a representative to assist you…
You have been connected to (03) Rachel S..
(03) Rachel S.: Thank you for choosing Dish Network the leader in DVR and HD. I will be happy to assist you today. Please give me 2-3 minutes to access your account and review the information you have already provided.
(03) Rachel S.: Your patience is greatly appreciated.
(03) Rachel S.: I see that your Dish Network account is bundled with one of our Alliance partners.
(03) Rachel S.: We are sorry, we don’t have access to bundled accounts. However, we have a specialized department in Dish Network that takes care of bundled accounts.
(03) Rachel S.: Let me go ahead and transfer your chat to that department.
(03) Rachel S. has left the session.
Please wait while we find an agent from the (12) Partner internal department to assist you.
You have been connected to (23-12-3) TJ P..
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Thank you for choosing Dish Network, the leader in HD and DVR services. This is TJ, Operator ID ZAH. I’d be happy to help you with any questions or concerns today. Can I please have the name and zip code on your account?
Chad Norwood: chad norwood 60647
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I see you are inquiring about billing errors. I’m sorry to hear that. I’d be happy to assist you with this today.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: What in particular is the issue?
Chad Norwood: My bill dated Jan 13 is incorrect
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I’m sorry about that sir.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: What is incorrect on it?
Chad Norwood: 2 items, both labeled “2 premium package”, one for $9.02, one for $20
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I do see both of those on there.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I also see credits towards those of $13.53 and $18.04.
Chad Norwood: thats for “3 premium package” and “4 premium package”
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Then I see one more additional charge for $13.53 towards the premium as well.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Yes sir, it’s due to removing movie channels.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Those are the partial charges and credits that applied due to that change.
Chad Norwood: “3 premium package” has a charge and credit, so it cancels itself out
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Yes that is correct.
Chad Norwood: the “4 premium package” credit of $18 goes towards me canceling $40 in december
(23-12-3) TJ P.: You still have the SilverHD and PlatinumHD packages on your account which is the 2 premium package.
Chad Norwood: Ok
Chad Norwood: I did sign up for Top 200 and silver HD in september 2008
(23-12-3) TJ P.: That billing cycle ended on January 12th. Since you removed those channels in the middle of that, it did credit you back for the time you didn’t have the 4 premium package.
Chad Norwood: so i suppose $10 is OK, but not platinum
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I can remove the PlatinumHD right now for you sir.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I see PlatinumHD was signed up for for 3 months free on October 30th.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: There is normally a $5 fee for removing programming, but I will waive that for you today.
Chad Norwood: I never wanted the platinum
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I’m sorry about that sir. I can credit the difference back to your account.
Chad Norwood: I never wanted anything but Top 200 and silver .. so anything that was “free” that has a charge on it, isn’t really free, now is it?
(23-12-3) TJ P.: IT was free for 3 months sir, so yes it was free.
Chad Norwood: I appreciate you taking care of this, tho.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: After the three months, no, it is no longer free.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: You’re welcome sir.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Just a moment to apply that credit.
Chad Norwood: I also have questions about Feb 13 bill
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Sure sir.
Chad Norwood: First – you can take off platinum hd, right?
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Yes sir.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I already have that removed and there is a $20 credit on your account covering two months of that.
Chad Norwood: second, my $49.99 Top 200 turned into $57.99 classic silver 200
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Yes sir, we did have a rearranging of fees and a price increase on February 1st.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: The price increase itself raised your package $3 only.
Chad Norwood: i got a notice saying name change and price to $52.99
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Yes sir, if you notice, you are no longer being charged $5 for the Additional Receiver Access Fee.
Chad Norwood: so price is off by $5
Chad Norwood: $49.99 is on Jan 13 bill
(23-12-3) TJ P.: That is now included in your DVR Advantage pack, bundled with the price, instead of showing separate.
Chad Norwood: what is that additional receiver fee for ?? I only have one reciever
(23-12-3) TJ P.: So your monthly rate did only increase $3. The $5 you were paying before as a separate fee is no longer on the bill and the price of the package rose $5. So those offset each other created no increase there.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Excuse me, that should say: Those offset each other creating no increase.
Chad Norwood: I understand the math
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Alright, sir.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: From removing the Platinum HD, you will see a partial credit on your next bill for that programming as well.
Chad Norwood: But what does that name mean – additional reciever – since i have only one reciever
Chad Norwood: is that right?
(23-12-3) TJ P.: It’s for the second signal running into the receiver.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: It wasn’t aptly named, which is part of the reason the way it came out changed on February 1st.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: You have one receiver with two tuners in it. Two tuners allows you to run a second television if you’d like, but even without one it allows you to record or watch two live things at the same time.
Chad Norwood: Thank you
(23-12-3) TJ P.: You’re welcome sir.
Chad Norwood: I understand
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Is there anything else I could assist you with?
Chad Norwood: After several phone calls to DISH today, including 2 where i was hung up on, I”m glad to finally get a hold of somebody who knows what they are doing.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I’m definitely sorry to hear you had such trouble sir.
Chad Norwood: That is all.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I’m glad I could be of assistance however.
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Thank you for being a Dish Network customer. Have a wonderful day!
Chad Norwood: You too
(23-12-3) TJ P.: Thank you.
Chad Norwood: Keep up the good work !!!
(23-12-3) TJ P.: I appreciate it!
Thank you for visiting Dish Network. You may now close this window.
Your session has ended. You may now close this window.

Iphone OS 3.0 Beta

March 18th, 2009

iPhone 3G

I’m totally excited. Yesterday Apple announced the newest version of the iPhone OS, 3.0, to be available in June 2009 to both iPhones (original and 3G), and iPod Touch (1st and 2nd generation).  For those building iPhone apps, the beta version of 3.0 SDK is available now.  That means developers can actually start playing with 3.0 TODAY.

Here’s my favs from what’s new in 3.0

  • Cut, Copy, and Paste (finally)
  • Send photos, contacts, audio files, and location via MMS (iPhone 3G only)
  • Push Notification Service
  • In App Purchase Support
  • Peer to Peer Support
  • Maps API
  • Audio and Video Enhancements

I’m glad to see cut’n’paste is gonna finally work.  So many times I want to copy a URL from a text or email to Safari, or copy an address to google maps.  However, I’m really pissed that MMS (send a picture message) is only for iPhone 3G.  Back in 2005 I was using my cell phone to send pictures AND VIDEO to my friends phones.  2 years later I bought the iPhone, and now I still can’t do it.  As a phone, iPhone kinda sux.  But as the most awesome portable touchscreen internet customizable high quality audio and video playback device, iPhone rules.

I like the “Push Notification Service” because it allows custom iPhone apps to do receive messages from the internet even if they are not running.  For example, when you get a SMS Text message, an alert pops up on the iPhone with the text message, which you can close or reply, launching the Text Messaging app.  Similarly, the new push service allows an alert to pop up for a custom app.   However, if user hits close the alert goes away and the app is not run.   That means that background processing is still not allowed.  Another way to view it is:  Internet –>  iphone –> Human –> iphone app.  I much prefer this view:  Internet –>  iphone –> iphone app.  Skip that human interactive component and let the app process a notification as it sees fit.   NOTE: originally I thought 3.0 would allow background processing, but 3.0 beta SDK corrected me.

If you want to make money, the “In App Purchase Support” is huge.  You can make an app cost $0.99 in iTunes, offering some basic functionality at a low price point for mass adoption.  Then offer premium services for an additional $1.99 (or whatever) right there in the app – it does not get easier.  Perfect for games (download the next 10 levels for $1.99) or for monthly services ($5.99 for next months premium financial or sports information).

Peer to Peer Support is cool because it makes it easier for iPhones to talk to each other (or other devices that support apple’s bonjour protocol).  Examples include games (just like online multiplayer playstation games), exchanging virtual business cards, or sharing documents.

Maps API has a lot of potential, especially since its closely intergrated with Google Maps API (terms).  Combined with location aware (GPS or cell tower triangulation) phones, this makes it much easier for apps to have custom annotations displayed near the user’s location.  You can also do some of this in safari, skipping the iPhone app and just makeing a website page specific for iPhones (the new safari in 3.0 allows javascript to know users location).

Audio and Video have also been updated.  With iPod Library Access, an app can play any song on the phone. One example would be a game tied to a specific playlist, where each game event (begin, score, foul, goodbye) is mapped to a song, allowing users to customize the audio themselves.  Video Streaming is improved – now you can playback video streamed from a standard HTTP (Web) Server.  Expect more websites to have a feed made for mobile devices. Core Audio and Audio Recording got newer engines under the hood, including support for more codecs and software decoding.

St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago

March 13th, 2009


The last week I’ve noticed lots of green in Chicago – People are getting siked for St. Paddy’s Day.  This year St. Patrick’s day falls on a Tuesday, and the parades are the weekend before.  That’s right, There are 2 parades in Chicago – the “official” one downtown (which moved from the south side in 1960) and the one in the south side (recreated in 1979). Here are the deets

  • March 14, Saturday’s Parade:
    • Where: Downtown, Grant Park, On Columbus from Balbo to Monroe (src).
    • When: 10:45am River turns green, Noon: Parade Begins
  • March 15, Sunday’s Parade
    • Where: South Chicago, on Western from 104th to 115th (src).
    • When: Noon Parade begins.
  • March 17, Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day

Some say the southside one is where the party is at.  That’s good, cuz it will give me time saturday to prepare my leprechaun costume.  I’m still gonna check out the green river and parade saturday, tho.

UPDATE: Southside parade might be canceled due to drinking (54 arrests) (src)

More Info



March 4th, 2009

I just bought my ticket to San Francisco for SnowCamp weekend, flying out Thursday 4/2, returning Monday 4/6. Rejoice. I was on the fence about when to visit SF this spring/summer, and Snowcamp won. You really can’t beat it – the best crew of crazy fun loving trouble makers this side of the mississippi (which side are we talking about?), dressing up (this year’s theme is Fairy Tales) and enjoying delishous tahoe powder (if it doesn’t all melt by april). In addition, carrying on the spirit of Otto, funds will be raised to send girls from Hunter’s Point to summer camp. Deets on FB. Any suggestions as to which Fairy Tales thing I should dress up as?

And 2 weeks later I’m going to Coachella Music Festival, another Thurs-Monday adventure which I’m totally excited for. Check out the amazing lineup and our house for the weekend.