You’ll Thank Me Later

May 26, 2008

Rated R for language and malaise

Having come to the sudden but inevitable realization that not everyone in the world shares my irritating obsession with sublime passion for cell phones and communication in general, I’ve decided to branch out. Extend my range. Broaden my curmudgeontude, if you will.

I struggled with this one. I carefully considered form and subtext and theme, finally settling on a subject that cuts through all the crap and skewers the writhing remains of my perennial discontent firmly onto life’s specimen board, where it can squirm and make pathetic sqeeing noises as people peer at it with a cautious mix of revulsion and curiosity. The truly daring might even poke at it a few times. I call it;

Shit I Hate

Session One — Driving

I used to enjoy driving. The simple act of Going Somewhere, the freedom of four wheels on pavement, a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew on the seat beside me and no particular timetable to be followed, with seemingly endless miles of road unrolling before me as a metaphor for the untapped potential of youth, blah blah blah, whatever. Yeah, hey, you know what? The untapped potential of youth can go fuck itself; gas is how much now? Seventeen bucks a gallon? If you’re not smuggling a Fabergé egg in your Jockeys to help finance that latest sojourn to the mall or the Grand Canyon, you might as well stay home and live vicariously through other people. It’s cheaper and odds are that the bathrooms smell better.

I can’t drive past a bank of gas pumps without the bastards reaching out and grabbing the car like a band of marauding Ents, then violating it roughly with a disconcertingly phallic-shaped nozzle before shaking me down to the tune of $38 for the whole experience. I don’t know whether to be grateful that we’ve still got such a high standard of living or to slink back to my hotel room and cry on the floor of the shower until Nicholas Cage drinks himself to death.

And once I get past the whole “we live in a fairly convincing facsimile of a market economy so let’s all bend over like the petroleum-dependent whores that we are and let them stick it to us a few more times” thing, there’s the persistent notion that no one seems to know how the hell to drive anymore. People who match speeds on a two-lane one-way highway make me want to punch a fuckin’ nun, and should be beaten with a 1995 back-issue of Computer Shopper until public transportation becomes their only alternative.

I was taught that when someone creeps up onto my ass in my rear-view, it’s time to move the hell over and let them pass, because it’s neither my right nor my responsibility to assume the role of Self-Appointed Speed Limit Enforcement Douche while the 15 pissed-off commuters behind me entertain fantasies of my flaming, bullet-riddled demise. You have no idea why someone behind you might be in a hurry, and unless there’s turret lights on your roof and a Mossberg on your dash, your authority to hold me up hovers somewhere between “zero” and “eat a shit sandwich.”

For those of you whose favorite pastime is pulling your 6000-pound Ford Exfoliator into traffic and proceeding to drive at a pace that would send the Dalai Lama into fuck-sputtering fits of incoherence, I humbly submit that you might not require a ¼ scale reproduction of the QM2’s Grand Atrium as your daily driver. If the social pressure to captain your own ocean liner proves too great to resist, at least jog down to the engine room and have Mr. Andrews show you where the gas pedal is. Let’s nudge that bastard up to fourteen knots before the next stoplight, whaddaya say?

And don’t try to park that motherfucker, ever. Just don’t. Let it idle in the street while you row little Beaumont and Austin out to t-ball practice in the dingy.

Ah, parking. Sweet, sweet parking, how do I love thee? Like a ruptured hemorrhoid, you pain-in-the-ass, you. I adore the half-witted cheesebag who parks his Saleen Mustang Shelby Cobra GTS Twin-Turbo Dickmobile diagonally across two spaces so as to demonstrate his sexual inadequacy to the entire packed-to-the-tits mall parking lot on December 23rd. I guess the extra space allows the door to open wider and more easily accommodate the mullet and the leather pants.

I love the sloppy line-straddler, that careless moron who doesn’t quite take up two spaces, but instead makes it impossible to park next to him because he’s strayed into your space with his passenger side tires, and unless you want to start a chain reaction of shitty parking you’re forced to move on, all because Numbnuts couldn’t be bothered to turn the wheel a little sharper. Judging from the look of things he was probably munching a cheeseburger at the time, if the six-hundred-odd fast food bags and empty milkshake containers adorning the interior of his primer-gray Nova offer any reliable indication.

Finally, the dickhead di tutti dickheads, the sharpest, most succinct argument in favor of spontaneous roadside castration. No, not the drunk driver; we’ve heard plenty about him for the last fifty fuckin’ years; I’m talking about the biggest load of ambulatory backwash ever to ooze behind the wheel.

The green-light honker.

Yeah, you know the one. You’re sitting at a red light, maybe making a left turn, maybe not. Doesn’t matter. Your eyes are studiously glued to the traffic signal, because you know. You know the way you know about a bad hot dog; it’s going to happen, and you might not be held responsible for your actions. The cross traffic slows, then stops. The light turns green, you move your foot off the brake, and in the nanosecond before you can touch the gas, THE FUCKER BEHIND YOU HONKS HIS HORN.

To me, this is the automotive equivalent of getting smacked in the nose with a frozen otter. Nothing sees me reevaluating my distaste for incarceration and appraising the market value of my virgin bum quicker than an impatient bag of buffalo spooge who can’t lay off the horn. It’s completely irrational, as the horn is merely a sound; no harm to it at all, when you think about it. It simply says, “hey, asshole, the light is green and just in case you’re such a blind, incompetent jerkoff that you failed to notice, I’ll issue this terse yet blindingly annoying reminder.”

So I conjure every last shred of control in my body, and I sit there. I don’t move an inch until long after I’m damned good and ready (in fact, I was damned good and ready before the light even changed), not until I think the shithead behind me has had enough. Usually I can get him to bounce up and down, redfaced and livid, while I pick my nose or wait for a good Tito Puente track on a classic jazz station.

My long-term goal is to get my ass kicked by just the right person, then launch a line of t-shirts with a single, simple legend;

“I got Nut-Stomped by the Dalai Lama.”

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La Donna T-Mobilé

May 15, 2008

Fewer than six weeks after signing up for a two-year contract plan with AT&T, I learned last night that Verizon has installed a soon-to-be-operational tower less than a mile away. They’re coming to the area with their Broadband PCS B-block holdings in MTA037, Submarket 3, which were acquired in FCC Auction 4 back in nineteen-ninety-friggin’-five. Who knew?

Being the unrepentant mobile geek that I am, for the last two years I’ve been drooling over a particular plot of land less than an eighth of a mile from where they eventually constructed the new PCS antenna, thinking it would make a great spot for a privately owned tower that could be leased to most, if not all, of the major carriers in the area. As previously noted, the closest tower is six miles from here, which in the words of Sister Teresa, my high school guidance counselor, sucks fermented llama balls.

To be certain, this is a sparsely populated region, and the probable ROI of installing equipment to serve fewer than 5000 people offers little appeal, even to me. The low population density coupled with the shorter range of the 1900 MHz frequencies makes me wonder just who Verizon is targeting with their new service, as Alltel is already deeply ensconced in the area as the carrier of choice for those living on the fringe (literally and metaphorically), and none of Verizon’s plans can compete with Alltel’s MyCircle offerings.

My first reaction to the Verizon news ran something along the lines of “hot diggety rhubarb crap,” but after careful scrutiny of their plans and service, my initial ebullience has waned somewhat to a lukewarm “meh,” with light-to-moderate “who-gives-a-shit” forming later in the day.

See, I’ve uncovered a secret.

Well, sure, not a real secret. Anyone can find out about it if they look in the right places, but it might as well be a secret to three out of the four big wireless companies. Rather, two of the three big companies if we don’t count Sprint, and with their recent sun-as-black-as-sackcloth tribulation, I’m not sure we should. All the more reason for those clowns to pay attention.

Wi-fi, baby.

T-Mobile’s HotSpot@Home service allows customers to make calls over wi-fi, using either a specialized T-Mobile-branded router optimized for voice communication, or any off-the-shelf wireless router. Those on select two-year plans can opt to pay a $10 monthly fee for unlimited wi-fi calling from any open hotspot in the country, but anyone with a T-Mobile wi-fi-capable phone can use the service with their existing plan. Even those of us on prepaid.

When I first caught wind of this gig after it launched in the middle of last year, I raised a skeptical eyebrow and scoffed so hard I took out a condor in the Sonomas. We’ve all heard nightmare stories about VOIP quality and reliability, and now they want to charge me extra to connect to their shitty, poorly deployed network using my own router? I provide the connection and T-Mobile charges me to use it. Sure. Thanks, but no. I’ll call you. Or not.

After they changed their prepaid plans to allow unlimited nights and mobile-to-mobile for a dollar a day, I signed up. Not long after that, I tried the Samsung Katalyst on my home router using the pay-per-day plan, and it just works. It works hard. Like Scrubbing Bubbles on Red Bull and crystal meth.

Voice quality is clear, with very little compression noise, and the wi-fi connection is reliable. The phone does lose the network from time to time, but it seems to pick it up again in short order and maintains a minimum of 2 wi-fi signal bars anywhere in my house. Basically it’s like having a tower in the living room.

Are you listening, Sprint? A company with similar infrastructure liabilities (1900 MHz) found a way to overcome its most glaring shortcoming, a lack of adequate coverage, and turn it into what amounts to its most attractive feature. People aren’t fleeing Sprint in panicked droves because of the lack of a lightning-fast data network, but because of poor service. As far as the paying customer goes, “service” means coverage footprint, call quality/reliability, and selection of handsets. Anything else is incidental; if people are satisfied with those three things, you’re golden. With everything else being equal, the handset is of utmost importance, as it’s the end-user’s only daily physical representation of your service. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to evade the damaging association that a bad phone can wreak upon your network, whether fully justified or through simple consumer ignorance. And there’s no shortage of either bad handsets or ignorant consumers, believe me.

The call quality on the Katalyst is top-shelf, whether on PCS or wi-fi. T-Mobile coverage is now supremely adequate, and their MyFaves plans can be trumped only by Alltel’s MyCircle. T-Mobile offers a total of twelve free, no-rebate-required phones on their website. Sprint advertises exactly one free phone, the Sanyo SCP-3200, and their plan structure is confusing, at best. Having their voice plans listed in mutant sibling Nextel’s sandbox o’ poop and razorblades doesn’t help customers figure out what they want, either.

Part of Sprint’s trouble might be identity; when I look at their logo, I don’t know what the hell to think. Are they a phone company? A walkie-talkie company? A wireless company? Are they Sprint or are they Nextel? Why is all their stuff yellow and black? To me, yellow and black says “DANGER! FLEE!” and it might have a similar subconscious effect on others, as well.

With their HotSpot@Home service, T-Mobile has solidified its standing in the wireless industry as a provider that wants your money, sure, but they’re not too picky about how you access their network. Versatility, mission clarity, and perception of value are vital elements of success in any business, and now T-Mobile has each of those things stockpiled like illicit corned beef sandwiches during a national delicatessen emergency.

Certain other providers might want to peek over the fence to see what’s going on, before they’re remembered in the same breath with names like Omnipoint and Powertel, both of which are now part of Deutsche Telekom. And Deutsche Telekom is also the parent company of…

Anyone care to take a guess? Anyone?


Good Morning, America, How Are You?

May 7, 2008

How often do things work out exactly as planned? I originally envisioned this blog as a kind of prepaid cellular service guide, a place where prospective prepaid consumers could handily glean all the pertinent facts and foibles of various pay-as-you-go providers, including comparisons and specific phone reviews, all while being mildly entertained in the process. Kind of like the Branson, Missouri of prepaid sites. Minus the Tom Jones impersonators and Kenny Rogers.

But the truth is that there are already dozens, if not hundreds, of sites with much more comprehensive information than I could ever hope to collect and collate and present in a coherently fantastic fashion. And frankly the thought of collecting and collating and presenting all that data fills me with a kind of greasy, unnameable dread, so much as to pose a dire threat to my sixteen-year sine vomito record. And as far as personal bodily ejecta records go, that’s one I’d like to hold on to, so I’m not taking any chances.

Thus the inevitable gap between imagination and creative reality grows a little wider, but then again I don’t have to sing “What’s New Pussycat” in front of sixteen hundred swooning early-generation Baby Boomers clad in skin-tight, lime green polyester pants suits. All in all, a fair trade-off. Sometimes life is sweet.

But when a particularly good deal warps into our sector and opens hailing frequencies, I’m bound by my original prepaid prime directive to let you know about it. Please read…on. Can’t find…witty…segue. Losing…all…cognitive ability.

T-Mobile To Go’s recent addition of a pay-per-day option offers three distinct benefits; unlimited 7pm-7am night calling, unlimited T-Mobile-to-T-Mobile calling, and a ten-cents-per-minute rate on regular calls, all for $1 per day, charged only on days which the phone is used for voice calls. This instantly catapults T-Mobile To Go past the likes of AT&T’s GoPhone, Verizon’s InPulse, Virgin Mobile, Boost, and Tracfone, issuing to these competitors a hearty, venti-sized, 1900Mhz Deutsche Telekom finger from its perch high atop the prepaid value obelisk.

For some, the per-day plan holds no attraction. Those who’ve attained Gold Rewards status on T-Mobile’s previous lone prepaid option appreciate the one-year, $10 renewal feature, which is understandable. (After adding $100 to their prepaid accounts, T-Mobile’s pay-per-minute customers can extend their service by one year simply by adding a $10 prepaid card, giving them just-to-have-it cell service for about .83 cents per month after the initial $100.)

With the pay-per-day plan, service is good for 90 days, regardless of the refill amount added. This equates to a just-to-have-it yearly cost of about $40, or $3.33 per month, with four 90-day $10 refill cards added over the course of twelve months. Still an awesome deal, even for the low-use customer.

There are, of course, some drawbacks. For the longest time, until about two days ago, I was T-Mobile’s biggest detractor, as their RF coverage is blatantly poor in many places, including where I live. Their prepaid phone selection is ho-hum; the Nokia 2610 that I used to activate my per-day service has been a pleasant surprise thus far, but the rest of the over-the-counter retail lineup is comprised solely of Samsung handsets. We’ve been down the proverbially foreboding Samsung-GSM alley before, so unless you can throw your Samsung GSM phone out the nearest window and bounce it off a tower stanchion, I’d think twice about slipping your SIM into one of those sinister contraptions.

Another drawback is the somewhat expensive texting rates of .10 cents for each message sent, and .05 cents for each received. While not at bad as GoPhone’s extortionate per-use messaging cost of .15 cents for each message sent or received (AT&T offers messaging bundles for much lower rates, which may be purchased every month only by calling customer service and hacking through a thicket of fifteen tedious prompts), I’d like to see a more economical texting option, even if it includes a higher per-day rate for unlimited texts.

Some might bemoan the lack of unlimited weekends, but considering that the $1 per day charge buys unlimited any-number calling fully half the time, from 7pm to 7am, there’s little to complain about here. The closest equivalent plan if used every day on GoPhone Pay-As-You-Go would cost over $50 per month, with $20 for 3000 night and weekend minutes and the $1 per day access charge. Verizon’s InPulse offers a $1 per day plan that features unlimited mobile-to-mobile, .10 cents per message in or out, and .10 cents per minute all the time. Not completely horrible, unless you don’t know anyone else with Verizon.

If you live in a strong coverage area, along with all other factors considered, T-Mobile has made a bold move that demands the heavy-use prepaid consumer’s serious consideration. Along with their recent 3G rollout in New York City, it makes me wonder what else they might have up their sleeves.

Whatever it might be, it’s gotta be better than lime green polyester pants suits.


Something Wrong with the World Today

May 5, 2008

First of all, please forgive the crudity of this illustration. I didn’t have time to build it to scale or to paint it.

One of the very best neato things about living on the edge of forsaken nowhere is that when plagues once again descend upon the nations and bands of flesh-crazed reavers begin terrorizing the countryside, you’re usually the last to go. Usually.

After that the list of benefits begins to diminish somewhat; I can hear my heartbeat in the disquieting nocturnal stillness, and one time I watched a giant water bug fly off with a bunny. Not a Superman-Lois Lane, Can-You-Read-My-Mind kind of fly-off-with, but a fly-off-with of the most unsettling variety.

Having lived cheek-to-bowel with sixty trillion people in the Sphincter of the Universe™, gaining a little elbow room seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, we gained enough elbow room for, hell, I dunno…everyone, and now it’s a ten-mile one-way trek to the nearest McDonald’s. (We never eat there, but it’s a reliable proximity marker of civilization.) For those who require a sports reference to comprehend any distance longer than “over there,” that’s the length of 194 football fields. Or if you’re from Toledo, 924 bowling alleys.

This means that on the metaphorical scale o’ quality, cell reception out here lies somewhere between a mummified squirrel’s rectum and a bucket of cockroach feet. Often I can’t decide which is better.

When we backed the moving truck to the front door and began tossing our crap into the house, we had a contract plan from Cingular–two TDMA Nokia handsets (3360 and 5165) with 300 anytime minutes, unlimited N/W, and .25 cents per message. Cingular worked fine where we came from; hardly a dropped call and reception as clear as the air of Asgard, but here my sturdy little 3360 simply looked confused for a moment, then uttered a plaintive “Mom?” before collapsing to the floor, unresponsive. I still dig it out and fiddle with it from time to time, marveling at the fact that the once-diminutive pre-GSM Nokia weighs about as much as a rump roast.

This is why reception and call quality are of utmost importance in any handset that I buy. Many people who review phones on publicly accessible websites fail to make the distinction between reception quality and call quality; they assume that a loud, clear earpiece means they’ve got good reception, when all it really means is that they’ve got a good earpiece. Good reception coupled with a good earpiece is just about unknown–I’ve had plenty of phones with one or the other, but trying to find both is like trying to find an ethical lawnmower repairman or an intelligent radio talk show caller. Truly good reception quality (not to be confused with “good enough” reception) can’t be credibly discerned by someone living forty yards from a tower.

The phones that I’ve used with the best reception performance are the Motorola C139, the Krzr K1, the Razr V3xx, the Motorola E815, the Motorola V190, and the BlackBerry Curve 8310. This means that the phone will find and keep a radio signal where others might falter and display a “no service” message. However, this doesn’t mean that the phone will have great earpiece quality; the V190 comes to mind in that it will hold on to a signal like a salivating constrictor, but I’d rather communicate using paper airplane notes than talk on it for any length of time–the earpiece not only distorts voices, it’s uncomfortable to hold against your head. The toothy bastard will snag a radio wave, though, and with an earbud or the loudspeaker it’s not bad at all.

The LG Scoop, from Alltel, is an example of a phone that gets mediocre reception, yet offers superior earpiece quality. It’s also free of most of the deal-breaking hidden quirks that drive me insane after a couple of days, like unnecessarily complicated text messaging menus and poor construction quality. The Scoop’s drawbacks are mainly its size and the questionable usefulness of its qwerty keyboard, which is too big for efficient double-thumb typing.

I have very, very few gripes with the Curve 8310, simply because it does everything that I want it to do, even without using it for email or any of the native BlackBerry services. It has great call quality and good reception in an area that, four years ago, was a one-provider rodeo. The screen and back cover are easily smudged, but I’m trying very hard not to be such an obsessive tit about it. To demonstrate how much I’m growing, I didn’t even affix a custom-cut PSP screen protector to my Curve. Fingerprints still hurt, though. A lot.

When it comes to buying a phone, especially on a contract plan, first check out the provider’s exchange policy. If they don’t let you bring that lemon back and exchange it for something else at least once, don’t sign with them. Don’t let anyone push you into overbuying something that you don’t want or need just because he’s low on contract activations that month. Instead, do some research on your own; check out Cnet’s excellent mobile section, along with Phonescoop, and HowardForums for honest advice from people with no personal financial stake in your phone purchase.

And remember, as with any business, it’s not their money until the check clears.


A Muse to Death

May 2, 2008

You might recall a previous entry in which I furiously scribbled my distaste for things that don’t work as advertised. Let me amend this to note that it’s especially maddening if said deficiency is beyond my ability to influence or affect, frustrating me almost past the utilization of coherent and indelible word structure usements.

To prove that the Tiny Gods o’ Technoware have a cock walloping sense of humor, they have bestowed upon me a phone which underscores the suckliciousness of things that don’t work properly. The Samsung U706, or the Muse, as it’s called on a network that shall remain nameless but which still makes me want to slip hot daggers into my eyes, not only underscores this principle but smacks it in the chops and scrawls nasty things about its mother on various bathroom walls.

Buying a phone is a little like buying a car; you never really know if you’re going to like it until you’ve lived with it for a while, as some of the most brain-liquefying tendencies often don’t show up until after several days or weeks together. Occasionally you run into a phone that seems to have all its geese on a leash; solid construction, good sound, impressive features, strong reception, and then you get it home only to discover that hey, it’s the fucking Devil.

Not an imp. Not some peon necromancer with misguided aspirations. Not even a mildly ambitious yet cautiously circumspect Tourette’s-afflicted Balrog.

The fucking Devil. In your phone. Grrr. Argh.

This time I can’t even blame the phone. The Samsung Muse, a CDMA handset, seems like a pretty solid customer; CDMA being where Samsung shines and all. This time the fault likes squarely on the shoulders of BubbaNet, the brain-dead twits who threw an old TV antenna across a chain-link fence and called it a wireless network, and to whom I keep giving money because I’m something of a brain-dead twit myself. Why can’t I quit you, BubbaNet? Man.

See, for whatever reason, my Muse won’t receive off-network text messages. This means that if you use AT&T, or Sprint, or T-Mobile, or Verizon, or Claro, or Orange, or Vodafone, or any network in the world other than BubbaNet, I won’t get your text. You’ll get mine, but I won’t get yours unless you possess the same pissing-on-your-own-forehead consumer judgment that I do. I know this because I spent the better part of an hour on the phone with tech support; the first tech I spoke to was dumber than peas, a guy who wanted to get me off the phone as quickly as possible and who succeeded thanks to his Star Wars: A New Hope Bullshit Re-Release Special Edition Death Star explosion of indifference, complete with shockwave ring. The second, a woman, listened to my problem, understood it, was very polite and personable, and thoroughly investigated the myriad possibilities before uttering those dreaded words:

Trouble ticket.

Insert Charlie Brown’s cry of dismay here at the temerity of those football-yanking weasels. “Trouble ticket” is corporate tech-supportese for “we’re going to ignore your problem until you go away.” It means that they’ve bought my trouble a friggin’ ticket on the next space shuttle, and they’re going to launch that bastard into deep, deep space where no one will ever see it again unless they have a revolving line of credit at Breeb’lak’s House of Anal Probes. Nothing, and by nothing I mean nothing in the history of the world, has ever been resolved once a trouble ticket has been opened.

Tower of Pisa? Trouble ticket. Still open.

Liberty Bell? You guessed it.

Great Sphinx? Probably the first.

It’s not that tech support was uniformly useless; the second person I talked to was very willing, very eager to solve my problem, though she was effectively stymied by BubbaNet’s policy of not actually providing any kind of useful service whatsoever. She didn’t attribute my difficulties to user error, or to the “other networks” (all of which work fine with each other, yet somehow it’s their fault when they can’t communicate with BubbaNet’s System o’ Shittiness). First tech, I’m looking at you, here. Dickface.

So now I wait. I wait for a call that won’t come. I wait like some pathetic, acne-cratered unwashed slob waits for that first fumbling encounter with a girl he didn’t meet at a family get-together, and then I go grumbling back, complete with cartoon cloud overhead, to BubbaNet’s local brick-and-mortar cesspit and try to finagle some sort of resolution to this ass-bending conundrum.

Maybe next time I’ll just pay someone to kick me in the crotch.

Updated on May 2, later; The kind but clueless folks at BubbaNet’s retail store managed to resolve my text messaging issue after I suggested changing the phone number, which was in turn suggested to me last night by Almost Helpful Tech #2. It seems that the problem was in their recent deployment of of new local exchanges that completely befuddled every network but their own. And I, of course, had received one of the new numbers. Not anymore.

Still no callback on the phantom trouble ticket that’s floating around out in the ether. Maybe I’ll hear from them by the time the current technology goes obsolete, but I’m not holding my breath.