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Re-mystifying Technology

As someone who lived through the heady days of the Internet revolution, it's been hugely discouraging to see big corporations gradually stuffing the internet genie back into the bottle. Today's edition is that Google wants to kill the URL.

The early internet was amazing because it was something people could aspire to actually understand. There was a time when many people were interested in learning HTML and, as part of that, learning how URLs worked. Nobody does this anymore. Partly, this is because the technology has become so complicated. But a big part of this complexity is actually unnecessary -- and contributes to empowering corporations to create interfaces that conceal the complexity behind a "consumer" experience.

URLs have become a problem because people don't understand how they work. And because corporations have chosen to make really complicated URLs, it can be hard to tell a "real" URL from a fake one cooked up by identity thieves or malware authors.

As it turns out, however, URLs mostly don't have to be complicated. Google *could* instead undertake an effort to punish sites that use complicated URLs (or "link shorteners") and encourage other technology companies to do the same. Instead, however, we see a continuing effort to conceal the complexity and "re-mystify" the technology. It's rather like the annoying "check engine" idiot-light in your car. There's no reason why they couldn't tell you exactly what the light means. But, instead, auto manufacturers have created a system that requires an expensive, proprietary tool to be connected to the car's computer to read-out the code.

Why? More money for them.

Republic Wireless Return Scam [updated]

Well, I wouldn't have thought my Republic Wireless runaround could get worse, but it did. Although, I thought I followed their documentation pretty carefully to return their phone, they have refused to refund me. In their documentation, they said:

Perform a Factory Reset: This is a very important step. After you've removed all personal info and screen locks from your phone, you should perform a factory reset. Performing a factory reset will erase everything on your phone and put it back to it's original factory state. It will also remove what's called the "Kill Switch," which is a protection feature added by Google. If you send a phone back to us without removing the Kill Switch, we'll be locked out thus rendering the phone useless and you won't receive a refund for your phone.

So I follow the link to perform a factory reset and it says:

Due to the "Kill Switch" regulation that protects consumer's information from lost or stolen phones, if you have a screen lock set up on your phone, you'll need to verify ownership of your phone when performing a factory reset.

I hadn't set a pin on the phone, so I assume it's all good. But no, if you perform a factory reset using the recovery menu, it doesn't remove the "kill switch". It turns out that the following paragraph on the first page says this:

Important Note: When performing a factory reset, you must follow the instructions that take you through the Settings app on your phone (performing a factory reset through the boot menu won't remove the Kill Switch).

But since I had already followed the link to the factory reset directions, I evidently overlooked this point.

So, after days of trying to sort out their confusing and conflicting documentation, Republic Wireless basically scammed me for the full price of the phone. I followed up on the still-open trouble ticket to see if there is anything that can be done to get them to give me my refund and now they won't acknowledge the comments I've posted in the still-open trouble ticket. Just no response whatsoever. (At least not in 48 hours).

[UPDATE] They have reversed this decision and said they are providing a full refund.

Republic Wireless Runaround Continues

The Republic Wireless saga continues. Yesterday, a new customer service rep appeared on the help ticket. But his first statement made it clear he hadn't actually read the thread of previous messages. After I summarized and we went back and forth, to unambiguously state that I was NOT trying to cancel my service and that I DID want to keep my number, he indicated that they would make the switch for me behind the scenes and that, although I might expect a brief interruption of service and have a different number show up for my phone briefly, they could quickly reassociate my number with the phone and get it working again.

Then the first customer service rep jumped back in and, seemed to have not read the intervening messages and reiterated the same thing she'd been saying the previous day. Shortly after noon she said "Thanks for being so patient. In order to better assist you, we will be escalating your ticket for further assistance. Again, we thank you for your continued patient and understanding". That was at 12:40 yesterday afternoon. Since then, crickets.

This morning, nothing appears to have happened, so I followed up in the ticket to say "It appears no action has been taken. Please send me the label to return the phone ASAP."

While I'm waiting for them to sort out the problem, I found Whistleout which has a nice comparison of wireless carriers. I've identified a number of plans that I might consider if Republic Wireless can't sort this issue out promptly. They keep telling me I need to cancel my service: I can do that, if that's what it takes.

Shopping for New Mobile Carriers While Getting Republic Wireless Runaround

I'm still getting the runaround from Republic Wireless that is telling me to cancel my service before they'll let me return the phone I bought. I tweeted at them yesterday and they promptly replied and said they would follow up. But when they did, they just said to follow the same nonsensical directions. They said the customer service rep would follow up with me with more information, but she never did.

When I finally clicked on the link using my phone, it evidently doesn't take you to the page to cancel your service anyway: just a page to create more help tickets. And it warns you not to create another help ticket if you already have one. But I filled one out anyway, since that seemed to be what they were telling me to do. Very frustrating.

This morning, I followed the link on my computer and it takes you to a different page that is where you supposedly cancel your service, but the page doesn't match the directions. There is supposed to be "green check" to confirm that isn't visible on my screen. I've sent them a screenshot.

It's particularly frustrating because it's not like I'm a non-technical person. This shouldn't be this complicated. Furthermore, I understand that a business shouldn't require a customer to do things because their business process is broken. If they needed me to affirm something to the federal government, I could understand that: they aren't able to do that. Or if they needed me to enter some particular piece of information that I have and they don't, that could make sense. But to tell me that I need to click around in their lame web software because they can't make it work any other other way, that's just broken.

While I'm getting the runaround, I'm looking at other carriers. I hate Comcast, but since I'm already a Comcast customer, the Xfinity Mobile service looks like a possibility. Unfortunately, you can't bring your own android device to their service. Still, I am in the market for a new phone… Another possibility is Google Fi. They're selling the Moto X4 for $50 cheaper than Republic Wireless. And my colleague George uses their service.

But maybe Republic Wireless can find some way to make this work without me just canceling my account and switching to another carrier. But I'm starting to lose hope.

Republic Wireless Runaround

We were early adopters of Republic Wireless, a cell carrier that was an innovator in VOIP phones. Their business model was predicated on getting people to use Wifi for most of their connectivity -- an easy proposition for me, as I spent most of my time at home or at work. In fact, I use almost all of my cell data for playing augmented reality games (like Ingress and Pokémon Go). And generally I've been very pleased with the service. Until today.

I recently got a new cell phone, which I purchased through Republic Wireless. But I discovered, when I tried to set it up, that this model of Motorola phone can't do adoptable storage. (Never mind that my cheaper phone a generation older can do it. As can my son's more expensive model.) Republic Wireless has a generous return policy and I've been trying to return the phone.

Rather than activating the new phone with a new sim card, I had simply moved my existing sim card over to the new phone. So I switched it back, turned on my old phone and did a factory wipe of the phone to return.

But now they're telling me I need to "cancel my service" to "deactivate" the "new" phone: "It is the only way we can begin a return process."

I don't want to cancel my service or deactivate my current phone. But if they're making it this complicated, I guess I should be looking for a new carrier as well as a new phone.

What's too far?

David Brooks says the GOP is rotting and he's right. Since the election, we've seen a race to the bottom as the GOP indulges in greater and greater excesses of their abuse of raw power to enrich themselves and punish their enemies—or just anyone they can rob. And traditional limits no longer seem to apply. Each day brings a new series of outrageous statements and behavior that, in the past, nobody would have tolerated. Now there seems to be no limit to what the GOP will tolerate: even embrace. Who knew the evangelicals would accept pedophilia as long as, by doing so, they could pass favorable appointments and legislation. It leads me to wonder what is too far.

When Germany invaded Poland, they had constructed a list, the Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen or Special Prosecution Book that had the names of 61,000 people on it: activists, intelligentsia, scholars, actors, former officers, and prominent others who were identified to be rounded up and shot. There isn't anyone named "Brewer" on the list, but there are two named "Breuer". Are such lists being drawn up by Republicans? If there were, would that be too far?

It may seem like hyperbole, but when political leaders seem willing to tolerate blatant lies and persistent corruption without blinking an eye, you have to wonder whether there is any limit at all.

Obstinate people and their fairy stories

Phil shared an article with me today about two towns in Colorado where there's a cultural conflict: the hardscrabble mining town of Nucla with the wealthy, cosmopolitan Telluride right next door. There's a lot of fascinating history (the town of Nucla was built by socialists), but the central point of the article is the cultural differences that form the flashpoint for conflict.

Residents in Nucla want to re-open a uranium mill which the people in Telluride oppose. A Nucla resident says, “They’re the most wasteful people, yet they tell us that, you know, we can’t have our uranium […]." Which made me think of other ways to complete that sentence “They’re the most wasteful people, yet they tell us that, you know, we can’t have our ebola factory" or “They’re the most wasteful people, yet they tell us that, you know, we can’t have our africanized bee colonies." (Or "sarin gas storage tanks." Or "rabid raccoon breeding facility.")

One woman says, of her grandfather who died of cancer (from smoking and working in a uranium mine) “If you had told my grandpa that he was going to die when he was 70 a horrible, painful death, he would have continued to mine. That’s how he supported his family."

It reminded me of miners in West Virginia during the presidential election. I remember that Hillary told people, pretty frankly, "Look. The coal jobs ain't coming back, so we need to do retraining and get people into other jobs and careers." And they said "Fuck you, bitch!" and voted for Donald Trump. Yet when you ask them today they say, "Yeah, he said he's bringing the coal jobs back, but we know it's not going to happen." Hillary actually understood the problem and had the right answer, but people didn't want to hear an actual solution to their problem: they would rather have someone lie to them and tell them the fairy story they want to hear.

Compromises: better than nothing

At a contentious session of Town Meeting on November 14, opponents of the plan to replace the aging school buildings in town, succeeded in shooting the plan down. This is an ongoing problem in how the system of government is organized in Amherst. Too often, self-appointed and unaccountable people succeed in throwing a wrench into carefully made plans that took thousands of hours to construct.

Compromises like the school plan are difficult because, in the end, they don't give anyone what they really wanted. And people that come in at the end or that look only at one piece of the project can always find reasons to shoot it down. But a complex plan like this can only work if everyone is respectful of the process.

That means that people need to ensure that the process is constructed correctly at the beginning: that it identifies the appropriate stakeholders, selects competent representatives, and that those representatives are empowered to act in the interests of the stakeholders. And then, if at the end, the group can't reach a compromise, then the project shouldn't go forward. But if the group does reach a compromise, its the responsibility of those who empowered the representatives to respect their judgment.

What *shouldn't* happen is for people outside the process to come at the end and reject the compromises that were reached. That just ensures that no-one competent will be willing to do the work going forward. And that will make it impossible to make the process work.

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