Rug Weaving 101

In my quest to buy less stuff, recycle the stuff I have, and rekindle the abilities that seem to have been lost to the generations, I decided (following a small flood) that I was going to try to weave a rug. Sure, I could definitely run out to some store and buy a replacement, or (the old me) would have bought one on Amazon. Instead, I decided to put to use a giant piece of wool that I bought (for no particular reason other than that I liked the colour) in Sweden. I’ve been vaguely using it as a decorative blanket for years, so it was time to give it a new life.

I can say, honestly, that the rug looks a lot better in real life than it does in the images, it’s a little wonky and definitely has a hand-made feel, which I love. It’s super thick and warm and is like having a sweater for the floor.

I started by building a loom out of a 1×3″, which I drilled 2 5/8″ holes into and pounded nails every inch. I inserted two 5′ dowels and pulled old acrylic yarn (yellow) between the nails. Boom, I had a loom. I did a test weave using 1″ strips of wool and the result was more like flower petals than the chunky knit-like weave that I wanted. So after some experimentation, I decided to start again and this time used 1/2″ strips which rolled and worked much better. Much more cushion-ey, and more of what I wanted.

After weaving until I ran out of wool, I removed the entire thing from the loom, tied off the ends, and then used a lighter colour wool to weave the end loops together along the long end and bind off the short end. I used some amazing red yarn that I bought at Labour and Wait in London (and has been taking up space for ages), to blanket stitch the binding at the end (and hide a multitude of yellow yarn.) Overall, not bad for an experiment and one I will definitely re-visit again.

The finished rug, installed.
The finished rug with bound edges.
Weaving underway.
Weaving, just getting started.
I decided to start over, because this one was too flat… don’t worry, I’ll re-use it to make another rug.

Making progress and experimenting with sneaking in some extra fabrics.

Getting started with attempt #1, which (as you can see above) I abandoned and started over.

Cutting strips. I started by cutting 1” strips, which were too unruly.

Un-bullshitting.

Over the past 10 months, I have carefully examined the role of technology and social media in my life. On the balance, I have determined that most social media—Facebook, blogging, commenting on news stories, Snapchat and legions of others—is way too much work and actually denigrates an overall quality of life. I took a long hiatus from writing this blog, because doing so makes me feel vulnerable to crazy and pathetic people that “live” through their existence on the internet, rather than actually existing in “real” life. 

One of many changes.

About a year ago, my father gave me a stack of coupons for Harbor Freight. I had never heard of the store, but apparently, their schtick is giving away merchandise. Each week, the store publishes about a dozen coupons that entice potential customers to come in to the store and grab freebies. Curiously, I took the bait. Standing in a line of about 20 customers, all with the same free merchandise in hand (a multimeter, a small Philips screwdriver set, a package of 2mil drop cloths and a package of zip ties), bored out of my mind, I began to study the fellow standing in line in front of me. He had on a hat from a local school that had his first name embroidered across the side of it.

√ First name 

√ University student or grad, and university name

√ Approximate hight and weight 

He waited patiently, free products in hand, and wallet in the other. His wallet was open, so I could see both his license and Visa debit card.

√ Last name

√ Middle name

√ Home address

√ Bank (and if he had a Visa debit, that meant that his account is likely a checking account at that bank.)

√ Visa card number

√ License Number (and NYS License restriction B, which means that he is a contact lens wearer, because he wasn’t wearing glasses at the time.)

√ Date of Birth

He approached the counter, and the kindly older cashier (who was clearly having some difficulty with the archaic computer) asked him to type his phone number into the keypad on the credit card terminal.

√ Phone Number

That didn’t work, so the cashier asked him his e-mail address.

√ e-mail address

After the cashier entered all of his merchandise, the fellow removed the Visa debit card from his wallet, and swiped it. He chose to pay as debit (as opposed to credit) and I watched him put in his PIN number. I also noticed the work ID card that was in his wallet underneath his Visa debit card.

√ Workplace

√ Occupation

√ PIN for his debit card, and likely the same number used for withdrawing cash at the ATM.

That’s a huge amount of information to garner by a casual observation over the course of about 7 minutes. I didn’t look him up online, but a cursory search online will reveal more information like the names of family members, partners, ex-partners, and neighbors, and their ages. Facebook usernames (which are plainly evident in the web address for each and every Facebook profile), and scads of other data are available through a quick Google search (a company that also captures information about what I’m searching for, how frequently, and draws conclusions about me based on my activity… I’ve switched to Duck Duck Go who pledges not to track you). It’s a scary proposition to know that that information is not only bought and sold by companies like Facebook and other “data aggregators” to compile a comprehensive profile of our consumer behaviors, our propensity to make charitable donations, and our personal habits. I’ve said many times on this blog that we are not the users of social media, we are the commodity product that is used by giant corporations to make more and more money at the expense of our privacy. These same corporations have eviscerated our economy, our communities, and are changing the social fabric of our country and the world. Yes, social media provides a means to stay connected, and that’s a great thing… but at what cost? What good is staying connected if the means of doing so makes us lazy, disassociated consumers of the lives of our family and friends rather than active participants in the vivid tapestry of life that surrounds us. Our reliance on social media is translating into a twisted trope: helicopter parenting our own social lives, insulating ourselves from dissent, debate, and dimension, padding ourselves with simplicity, similarity, and safety. Meanwhile, we’re being stalked and used by corporations collecting data about us as they use our behaviors to manipulate us, destroy the commercial fabric of our cities and towns, and fleece us into believing our lives are “easier” as a result.

After some significant reflection, none of this is something that I want to contribute to.

Life is difficult, disorderly, messy, and complex. Simplicity, convenience, and leisure come at a cost. It’s time for me to stop blindly participating, and start actively engaging.

So, moving forward, you’ll notice a few changes to this blog:

Facebook has been iced. No more commenting through Facebook, no more publishing posts to Facebook. If you’re too lazy to check this blog from time to time, then you probably don’t deserve to read what I write.

Amazon links are no more. As Amazon continues to rot our consumer economy from the inside out, I have taken a 6-month hiatus from Amazon, and I’ve never been happier (look for a separate post about this soon.) 

Privacy is key. Feel free to comment. Remember that what you post in comments is available to the world… all the people that like you, and all the people that you don’t. Moving forward, commenting on this blog requires you to sign up for a WordPress account. I find WordPress and Automattic to be a reasonably responsible company. 

So, if you’re in, you’re in, welcome back. Bookmark this site and check back periodically. You can also subscribe by adding your e-mail address to the little “subscribe” box on the left. We won’t use your e-mail (or even look at it) for anything except to send you a copy of the newest post to this blog. You’ll find some thought-provoking writing, and less bullshit, and if that’s too much work, then it’s been nice having you as a reader.

This is why I’ll never shop at OfficeMax again—even if everything is free

This sounds like:

a. Something I’d write.

b. An experience I would have.

This column is my first step toward recovering from a maddening return experience.

Source: This is why I’ll never shop at OfficeMax again—even if everything is free

BBC – Capital – The new, subtle ways the rich signal their wealth

As luxury goods become more accessible, the educated elite are changing how they mark their social position – not with luxury goods, but with less obvious status symbols

Source: BBC – Capital – The new, subtle ways the rich signal their wealth

Life Outside These United States


I recently ran across a news story about a woman who moved abroad so that her kids would be raised with a greater appreciation for the world and a lesser sense of entitlement. (You can read the entire story here.)

The article is thought provoking and in line with my own observations over the years of my international travel. Life in most other countries is a bit more simple, spaces smaller, less materialistic, slower than in the United States. As a doctor of American Studies, I love the United States—the American love for life and true friendliness is unparalleled in the world. I sometimes wish, though, that we didn’t take it for granted as much as we seem to. Sometimes there is great joy in simple pleasures, and as Americans we’d be wise to stop, consider our bounty and wealth, and be grateful for it. 

Tile. A Disppointing Scam

A few years ago, I became interested in Tile, a little white tracking device that—in theory—helps you to locate and find lost items.

A little over a year ago, I bought four Tile devices through an offer that one of my credit card companies was running — I had wanted to try Tile for a while and was really excited to give it a go. The Tiles showed up in my mailbox, and that’s when the excitement evaporated and the disappointment set in. A year later, I’m more than convinced that Tile is a bit of a scam. Here’s why: The authors of the Tile website are really crafty and the language is parsed VERY carefully. What the descriptions actually say and what they imply are worlds apart. This isn’t a case of things hidden in fine print, indeed all the damning details are spelled out in clear (and large) text. A quick or casual read of the website implies that Tile can: “Never lose anything again.” However, here’s where the whole experiment becomes an exercise in semantics that rivals the intellectual slipperiness of any of my graduate-level classes on Deleuze. Like Deleuzian analysis, reading the Tile website requires excruciating and miserable effort to wade through bullshit and figure out just what it is that is really being said. Let me save you the effort: it’s never what you think it is. 

Let’s do a quick fact check the Tile website.

Front and center the Tile website shows the following graphic:

Now let’s take it step by step.

Never lose anything again.
False. This is a ridiculous and nonsensical claim antithetical to the main purpose of the Tile device. If you will never lose anything again, then why would you need this device. Patently, you will lose things. The implication here is that you will never need to search for things, becasue if you cannot locate them, Tile will help you find them, which incidentally, is also false.

Tile is a tiny Bluetooth tracker and easy-to-use app that helps you find everyday items in seconds.
True and False, but mainly false. Tiny: no. Bluetooth: yes. Tracker: no. Easy-to-Use: no. App: yes. Helps you: no. Find: rarely. Everyday items: no. In Seconds: definitely, positively, not.

Attach to anything. Designed with a convenient hole, easily hook onto keys or stick to anything.
Again, some really slippery wordsmithing here. Could you attach it to anything? Technically, yes. Does it sport a convenient hole? Yes. Could you easily hook it onto keys or stick it to anything? Yes. However, again the problem lies in the implication that by attaching the Tile to something, that you will be able to find it in the aforementioned “seconds.” This claim is patently false.

See it. Ring it. Find it.
See the last place you had it on a map and make it ring when you get close.

Here’s where the BS really gets mixed with mud. The Tile website provides several “use cases.” These include: Keys Finder, Wallet Tracker, Luggage Tracker, Remote Control Finder.

Again, the implication made by the Tile website is that when lost, Tile will help you to locate these items in “seconds.” This is untrue… and here is why:

Though the Tile website implies that you simply open the app and find your missing items, this isn’t at all how Tile works. The app associates a Tile device with a particular object. I put one on my travel backpack, one on my cat’s collar, and one on my keys. The other one remained in the box, unused. Within ridiculous proximity of about 20 feet of any of these Tile devices, I can see in the app that these items are somewhere within 20 feet of me. Where? Tile offers no clues, kind of like the childhood game of Warmer! Colder! … only Tile doesn’t even give you that much information, just a vague “warm…ish.” 

So, for example, let’s say you misplace your keys, Tile device attached, somewhere in your home… looking at the app tells you “yep… last I checked… your keys are at home.” But, the app gives you no clue as to where your keys might be. That’s a pretty major fail. The “Find my iPhone” app that locates my Apple devices is scary accurate and you can judge from the location of the dot, exactly where the item is in your home. This refined level of accuracy is definitely not the case with Tile.

This is where the “ring” comes in. Allegedly, you can “ring” a Tile from the app. I found that this worked about 8% of the time over the course of the past year. Sometimes I would be standing immediately next to the Tile-d device, but it was under a piece of paper or otherwise obstructed from view, but the ringing feature didn’t actually activate any ringing sound on the Tile itself. So, that, as far as I’m concerned is a major fail.

So, let’s say instead, that you lose something away from home… like your backpack or keys. Again, the Tile app will show you where it last remembers you having it. Now, that in and of itself is a significant problem, becasue the Tile app isn’t constantly in contact with your stuff. It kind of checks in from time to time, and let’s you know where it last remembers seeing it. That is only helpful if you never move. It’s the equivalent of looking for a friend in a small town. Someone might say, “yeah, I just saw her at McDonald’s… but that was about 4 hours ago.” Dashing over to McDonalds would likely not help you to locate your friend (unless she really likes McDonalds), becasue she probably moved since the last time she was spotted there. This is a MAJOR fail on part of Tile, and the part that I feel is most misleading. While you may be able to track some movements of a Tile-d item, the information is not real time, not linear, and not even sequential. Which makes the information not only random but utterly useless. 

Devices also need to be in range of a Bluetooth enabled device. That’s not clearly explained on the website, and means that if you are out to dinner and want to double check to see if your Tile-enabled cat is home or not, that you are out of luck… unless your cat has a spare iPhone sitting around that you have “shared” the Tile with. The only problem is that the “share” feature worked exactly 0% of the time for me when shared with family and friends. So, that was a major fail too.

So at this point, if a Tile won’t ring when I’m standing next to it, won’t actually help me to zero in on the location of a missing item, and can’t tell me where my item is unless I am right on top of it…what is the point of this product?

Allegedly, when something is *really* lost, you can mark it “lost” in the Tile app. That reportedly activates a network of other Tile users and borrows Bluetooth bandwidth and battery to scour the earth for your item. Keep in mind that these unsuspecting Tile spies would need to be within 20 or so feet of your item and have their app active (which most people deactivate, becasue it’s such a battery hog) to have any chance of finding your lost item. Then, once it’s found, you get a message indicating that Tile “last saw” your lost item in a specific location. Again, the location is incredibly vague, comes in hours after the spy app actually pings the Tile-d device and the information is all but useless. Without exaggeration, I tested this feature eight times in the past year, as I traveled from North America to Europe or from Europe to North America. Of eight times, I received two notifications that my “lost” item was located. (Hardly scientific, but enough to know that it doesn’t work.) The problem is that (despite my Tile app being active and working, and within 20 feet of my “lost” item), my lost items were reported “last seen” more than 6,500km away. So, needless to say, not very accurate and not very timely, and again a major fail.

To add insult to disappointment, after using Tile for 6 months, I received an e-mail telling me that my Tile devices were getting old and would expire soon. Apparently, the battery life is poor, and Tile de-activates the Tile devices one year after they are activated. This information isn’t prominently displayed anywhere on the website, and while its unrealistic to expect a Tile device to last forever, it seems like a bit of a scam to disable it exactly one year after activation. 

Not to worry, though, because the constant pop up notifications that you will receive on your iPhone (even when notifications are turned off for the app) will never let you forget that your useless Tile devices are about to be killed by Big Brother. 

So, in short, Tile is a great idea that comes up horrifically short on execution and perhaps a bit before its time. What Tile really strives to be is a GPS tracker AND locator and sadly it is neither, but instead a clever idea that grossly under delivers. 

My advice: hold off until the technology is actually in line with your basic expectations. 

Fixing a broken iPhone screen.

This past week, my Dad accidentally dropped my Mom’s iPhone on the ground and smashed the screen. My Mom always has a case on her iPhone, so we were all really surprised that the screen was not only shattered, but also had big white lines running from top to bottom.

I hopped over to the Apple Store and picked up a new phone for my Mom, but I wondered… could I repair this one? I searched around the Apple website and found a quote for $129 to repair the screen. After typing in all my information, the “estimated cost” was $399, not $129. Why that was the case, I’m not really sure, because Apple didn’t ask any other information about the phone except for the serial number and my address. After shelling out $800 for a new phone, I decided that another $400 wasn’t worth it.

As an experiment, I stumbled across this tutorial at iFixit. The process looked straightforward if not annoying and tedious, but I decided to order the screen and tools for $54.95 from iFixit.

The broken iPhone was a Space Grey color, but iFixit was out of the black bezeled screen, so I bought a white one instead. The box arrived today, and I was curious to see the tools. I opened the package, and thought… I’m going to try to do this.

And so, I did.

It’s amazing to see inside the iPhone that you carry around each day. So many tiny little components. It’s truly a feat of amazing engineering.

 

Another shot of the inside of the iPhone with iFixit tools at the side.

The process required a pair of magnifying glasses (+1.00) for me, and a bright light (thank you, left overs from architecture school), but within about an hour, I had disassembled the iPhone, and after taking a look around to satisfy my curiosity, re-assembled the phone. It wasn’t tedious, it wasn’t difficult, and shockingly, the phone works… really well. And, best of all, it’s a one-of-a-kind phone. Space grey back and white front with a black Touch ID! Not many of those floating around!

It works!
Like really works!
A custom space grey iPhone SE with a white bezel and black Touch ID! Works as good as the day it was born!

So, thanks to Sam Lionheart and the iFixit team for their great product, great service, and easy to understand tutorials and step-by-step guide. I didn’t ever feel lost or confused. If you’re handy and in need of an iPhone repair, give them a try!

And if anyone needs a custom iPhone SE, let me know! It’s for sale.

Soap.


Is too clean dangerous? This is a compelling article that makes you consider (or re-consider) the ingredients in your shower gel and bath soap. It’s strange, so many of the ingredients and additives that are banned elsewhere in the world are still very much in our soap and personal care products.
Read the original story about triclosan at Quartz.

<http://qz.com/779681/the-new-fda-rule-on-triclosan-a-banned-chemical-in-anti-bacterial-soap-is-still-in-practically-every-other-american-bath-product/>

If nothing else, this story should give pause about using commercial products and perhaps prompt you to consider making some soap of your own!

My friend makes her own soap (which is fantastic) and the main ingredient is coconut oil. She uses the recipe you can find on Mommypotumus. 

Time for a Breakup

After more than half my life as a Verizon customer, I’m filing for divorce. It’s time to #getoutofthered and switch to T-Mobile!

As you know, I’ve been plagued by problems with the Verizon TravelPass program since leaving the US a few weeks ago. 

In 2015, to great fanfare, Verizon overhauled its international roaming plans to include a $10/day travel pass that would simply deduct minutes and data from the users domestic plan. They quietly (and with no fanfare) axed this program in April 2017, without informing its customers or customer service agents. Instead, Verizon users traveling worldwide found themselves with substantial and substandard data speeds throttled in some cases after using only a few mb of data. To add insult to injury, Verizon erroneously implemented their own policy and changed the plans for customers with pay per gb plans, even though these plans were intended to unaffected by the change. 

Despite my best efforts to work with Verizon, Tiffany—the customer service representative with whom I was speaking—was shockingly cool and unprofessional in her dealings with me. She extinguished the case immediately and told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t like the policy, I could move on to another carrier. 

So after more than two decades and more than half my life as a Verizon customer, I say: goodbye and good riddance to VERIgreeedy’s overpriced plans, constantly shifting rules and ever increasing sneaky fees. I also say: I hope Verizon enjoyed its time as the once-market leader because its days are numbered as long-time customers jump ship in record numbers (more than 100,000 customers each month). It’s the new equivilent to cutting the cord.

Over the past two years, T-Mobile has quintupled its 4G LTE footprint in the US and has recently won a significant chunk of the uncluttered 600mhz spectrum. This ample bandwidth will allow T-Mobile to deploy fewer towers with greater coverage over a longer distance with greater penetration and consistency in rural and less densely populated areas. It’s the system that has been in use for decades elsewhere in the world and works well. It also gives T-Mobile substantial space for growing 5G network immediately. This is spectrum that Verizon, AT&T, and others will need to re-allocate in order to roll out 5G networks, which will put further pressure on the existing 4G LTE networks for Verizon and AT&T which have become so heavily trafficked in the past 6 months (since the re-introduction of unlimited data packages) that recent benchmarks indicate a nearly 20% loss in speed on the Verizon network and a 14% reduction in speeds on the already troubled AT&T network. Oddly, both carriers sat out of the most recent auction, which left T-Mobile a big winner both for the immediate and long-term future.

I know, for year T-Mobile has been the distant third carrier with lousy coverage outside of major metro areas. No longer. The speed reports and coverage data is impressive. T-Mobile has built out its network and has made more improvements over the past two years than the three other carriers combined. It is now a serious contender inside of major metros and in the rural areas in-between.

T-Mobile coverage in 2015
T-Mobile Coverage in 2017… filling in a lot of gaps.

John Legere, the fearless leader and CEO of T-Mobile has forged a new and exciting future for the company that was once a distant third to Verizon and AT&T. Straightforward, simple plans are the hallmark of the reinvigorated T-Mobile. There are no hidden fees, tricks, or other underhanded shady dealings that are the bread and butter of Verizon. So, stay tuned here to see the step by step transition process and how it goes. I’ll begin reporting on the transition process in early July.

#getoutofthered #verizonsucks

Why #VerizonSucks

Ready for this? It’s a long one, so buckle up. It’s also a bumpy one.

A few years ago, I had some difficulty with internet connectivity at my house, at the time provided by Time Warner. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t fix it, and after countless—literally—hours on the phone, I was visited, at my home, by the Senior Vice President of Internet Technology who tried (along with the team of folks he brought) to troubleshoot the problem. After a great deal of experimentation, the team determined that the wires coming into the house, and down the pole, and in fact, all the way to the central switching station were really old. They were designed for transmitting cable television, and weren’t really capable of properly shielding internet signals. In essence, Time Warner was selling a product they couldn’t deliver, and somehow it fell upon my shoulders as a paying customer to point this out to them. Think about it: If you went to McDonalds and ordered a Big Mac but was given only a plain bun minus two all beef patties, minus special sauce, minus lettuce, minus cheese, minus pickles, minus onions, don’t you’d think someone would notice before they wrapped up the plain bun and gave it to you? Don’t you expect as a consumer, at minimum, to receive what is advertised, what you order, and what you pay for?

The Time Warner Vice President replaced my cable modem, graciously credited my bill for one month of service, and offered to pay for a year’s worth of internet for free, and “boost” signal strength. (This idea never made any sense to me, because more signal would seem to just compound the problem… but I digress.)

That was about ten years ago and the problem never got better. In fact, after the year of free internet expired Time Warner started charging an extra $10 for the “boost.” About two years after that, the Internet service had not improved and I did some more searching. Oddly, the “boost” would have provided 4/40 internet speeds, well below the “blazing fast” stated speeds that they were advertising at the time and which the modem that they provided was not capable of receiving. The whole thing sounded like a scam to me. While slow internet speeds are excusable from time to time, it seemed unusual that the speed should—consistently—be slow slow for more than a decade. Meanwhile, the price of the lacklustre service seemed to be the only thing moving at a “blazing fast” speed, it more than quintupled over a ten year period.

Why stay with Time Warner, you ask? It’s a monopoly in our area, and I had one choice for high speed internet: Time Warner or nothing.

Yellow Rotary Telephone, Service provided by New York Telephone, forerunner to Verizon
This is the same type of yellow rotary telephone we had in my kitchen when I was a kid.

When I was a little kid, we had two phones in the house, a yellow one with a very long cord mounted on the wall in the kitchen, and a green desk-type model that sat on the bookshelf next to my parents’ bed. They were hard-wired and, indeed, owned by the New York Telephone company. My childhood friend Kim also had two phones in her house, one slightly smaller white wall model in the kitchen and a powder blue desk model in their family room. Both were amazing to me because our phones at home were rotary (that is, they had a dial), Kim’s were TouchTone (or push button). At that time, telephone subscribers could pay extra ($1.79/month or $6.38 today, or just under $80 per year in today’s dollars) for the TouchTone feature, because it provided quicker dialing and allowed subscribers to use emerging technologies like calling a special number to find out time and temperature, pressing * for time, and # for temperature, once connected. At the time, it was truly amazing.

Without getting in to lengthy details, the regional “local” phone companies (New York Telephone, in my case) were owned by a larger company, American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), which the government deemed in the early 1980s to be a monopoly, and “broke up the bells.” Nevermind that the AT&T system was the most efficient in the world and the envy of every civilized country. So much so, in fact, that AT&T provided services to set up telephone equipment to many countries in the world including Telefonica (in Spain, which at that time was ruled by Franco, a dictator), throughout Central and South America, Japan, Morocco, and scores of other places. Regardless, had—according to the United States government—grown too big to function usefully. [I could, at this point, write a whole separate article about the ramifications of this breakup on international signals intelligence data collection and the advent of the KROY device, but I’ll hold off on that for the moment to stick to my original point.]

Following the breakup, I was shopping at GoldCircle with my mom, and I was simply amazed at the display of telephones now available for purchase in the store! Some even were “cordless” models. Amazing. I pondered this change at the time quite seriously. If the phone company owned our phone before, who owned it now? If you could buy a TouchTone model off the shelf at GoldCircle or K-Mart, how would the phone company know this, and how would they charge you the special fee each month to make it work? I started asking these questions of my parents and specifically of my Grandmother, who walked with me to the library on the corner one Saturday afternoon to search out some answers. We found an article in Time or Newsweek that explained—via a cartoon-like diagram—how the breakup of the bells would work. Perhaps the most disturbing visual, however, was the fractured bell system logo on the cover of the magazine. It made me think of the entire ordeal as a giant step backward. Well, the article answered a lot of the questions I had. The phones and wires inside our house (for which my parents (and everyone else) had paid a monthly “rental” fee) were now owned by us. The local telephone company owned the poles and wires and exchange buildings, and AT&T owned the long distance wires and long-distance exchanges that ran between the exchange buildings. TouchTone was now free to all who had a TouchTone compatible device (which, you could now buy right off the shelf at GoldCircle.) 

1982 Cover of Newsweek that I remember from the library when I was a kid.
So, what about my sister who only had her phone for two months by this point? Hadn’t she paid significantly less to “own” her phone than my parents or grandma who had been paying for years? The answer: yes. 

That inequity and unfairness stuck with me: my sister had paid about $3.87 for her phone, where my parents had paid nearly $788.00 for theirs, and my grandma had paid well over $1500.00 for hers. Also, how could TouchTone have cost the phone company $1.79 to provide last month, but this month, it was magically free to provide and didn’t cost the phone company anything? That didn’t make sense…but a lot of things about the breakup of a monopoly didn’t make much sense.

Despite the fact that during this time, there were very sturdy pay telephones were seemingly everywhere, on every corner and crevice and cost only 10¢ to use and were staffed by a friendly and helpful lady when you dialled “0” radio telephones (like the kind used by Mr. Drummond in the back of his limousine in the opening credits of Diff’rent Strokes) were beginning to emerge. By 1990, I had one. The phone was provided by a very local Buffalo Telephone and was a giant brick made by Sony, and I was a little confused if it charged me whenever it was on, or whenever I used it. The battery lasted about an hour, would get really hot, connectivity was spotty and unreliable and it cost $19.00 a month and 35¢ per minute to use. That was pricey, considering that the newly deregulated long distance market provided long distance calls at 10¢ a minute. Again, the question nagged at me: why, last year, did it cost $1.35/minute to call somewhere 40 miles away and now it was only 10¢? How did the radio telephone work? Why did it cost 35¢ to call my mom in the kitchen when I was only using air and no wires were even involved?

Over time, the radio phone became a cell phone and they became smaller and smaller. Buffalo Telephone was taken over by a company called Cellular One, which was taken over by NYNEX Cellular, which merged with Bell Atlantic, which was taken over by a company called Cellco Partnership LLC, which we know as Verizon Wireless. 

This is how the breakup and re-coagulation of phone companies occurred.

Over the 1990s and early 2000s, the “baby bells” that fractured from AT&T in the 1980s embarked on a pursuit that would merge, takeover, and re-amalgamate the telephone market. Along with AT&T, companies like ITT and GTE got into the telecom game and started buying up baby bell companies like Bell South. One of the earliest mergers was between New York Telephone and New England Telephone which merged to create NYNEX. Thousands of other similar companies merged and emerged. Meanwhile, new companies cropped up to provide long distance services to customers and some to businesses directly. Sprint, MCI, WorldCom, and others cropped up. Sprint pioneered fibre optic transmission and laid the first trans-national fibre optic cable in North America. Call quality improved so much so that, at least according to Sprint, you could hear a pin drop. With the increased quality prices dropped and competition flourished.

And then something odd happened. The little baby companies started to join forces and became bigger and bigger. Then these larger companies, like MCI WorldCom, were plagued by corruption scandals. Verizon, for example, is a beheamoth company that in scale is about 132x the size of the its original forebearer, New York Telephone and provides service to about 300x the number of subscribers than New York Telephone did.

I have been a Verizon Wireless customer for years. So many years in fact, that I have been with he same phone company longer than it has been with me. I began my relationship with Verizon back in 1990 when it was still Buffalo Telephone. I have suffered with Verizon as it has grown along the way. I held out—and was loyal to Verizon—when Verizon didn’t have the iPhone. I have paid more than my fair share. I’ve lived through days of unlimited data and data plans. I have pretty much seen it all.

I do a fair amount of international travel. I live about 5 minutes from the Canadian border, so close in fact that my phone sometimes “roams” to a Canadian provider when I’m out running or riding my bike. I visit Canada about once each month. For the first 24 years with Verizon, the rules for international travel were simple: Verizon uses CDMA, so you can’t use your phone abroad, period. The could “loan” (read: rent) you a phone that would work, but Verizon phones didn’t use the same standard as the rest of the world (which, incidentally used and continues to use GSM). In Canada, I could use my CDMA Verizon phone, to the tune of $2.08/MB for data and 69¢ a minute to talk. Needless to say, I didn’t use my phone in Canada unless it was truly an emergency. A little over a year ago, Verizon announced a $2/day “travel pass” to Canada. A flat rate fee that would allow American customers to use their phones in Canada. I was elated. I don’t think it would be all that useful for folks that live in Texas or Nebraska, but for folks that lived in border communities, it was a godsend. Magically, my phone worked in Canada! Then, about 9 months ago, with little fanfare, Verizon *really* stepped up to the plate. Out was the $2/day travel pass, and boom, your phone *just worked* in Canada and Mexico. The minutes and data would come off your plan, just like you were at home. Amazing. Progress. All of a sudden, Verizon customers were part of a global community that T-Mobile and AT&T customers had been part of for the past decade. It was great. 

Just like the break up of the baby bells three decades earlier, something that used to cost a significant amount of money was now free. Why did it cost $2.08/mb to use my phone in Canada a month ago, but was now pennies, and then free? Amazing? Or Unfair? Again, I had more questions than answers.

Then, things got even better. The world renouned design collaborative, Pentagram, stepped in and gave Verizon a bit of a makeover. They refreshed the pathetic logo that had plagued Verizon for decades and cleaned up the Verizon website (so that it actually worked). This coincided with Verizon’s reaction to pressure from aggressive expansion efforts by T-Mobile executive, John Legere to steal away Verizon customers. Verizon continued to step up to the plate, matching the pressure step for step. Verizon, miraculously, was changing its corporate culture. Verizon introduced a simplification of fees and “tiers” of service, S, M, L, XL. Simple. Easy. It worked. It was GREAT. And nowhere in the press release, promotional collateral, or fine print was there ever a mention of a data cap while roaming abroad.

After more than two decades of being a Verizon hater/basher, I became a Verizon bragger. An evangelist. I told EVERYBODY that would listen about how great Verizon had become. About how they finally got it. About how they had re-trained their customer service agents to be knowledgable and helpful. I was thrilled.

For about nine months. Old habits, it seems, die hard.

This past week, passing through Canada on my way to a month-long trip to Europe, I was stunned to have my data throttled in Canada while using my Verizon phone on the Bell network. The data speed dropped from fast to … well nothing. So, I phoned Verizon and spoke with a customer service representative. She was as perplexed as I was. She couldn’t figure out why this would happen. Then, after about an hour on the phone, she came back to tell me that about a week before, Verizon had very quietly rolled out a restriction to customers traveling in Canada. Data, while “roaming” in Canada, was now capped at 500mb. After 500mb, the speed would be “greatly reduced” … in my case, to zero.

With no warning and no mention of a data cap in its terms, conditions or fine print, Verizon throttles data when using the “unlimited” data plan while in Canada, Mexico and more than 150 other countries. In fact, the text message sent by Verizon mentions the original plan (which has no mention of throttling speeds either.)

So, here’s a company that finally, after two decades had gotten it right. And then, without any forewarning, they blew it. No text message to warn you about impending doom, or a forecoming data throttle. Just boom: no data. Verizon chose to do this without warning customers. There was no press release—as there had been in the pervious year—to triumphantly announce a change in service. Though, this time, Verizon was taking rather than giving, so I suppose they wouldn’t want to announce, “hey, we’re back to screwing our customers and squeezing them for every dime, like we’ve done for decades!” However, that’s exactly what they did. Thanks for your money, customer. Fuck you. Love, Verizon.

Actually, about four months ago, Verizon (again to great fanfare) introduced an “unlimited” plan. I considered changing, but in the fine print, found a stipulation for the unlimited plan that would indeed throttle speeds for the new plan after 500mb of use in Canada. No thanks, I’d continue to pay for my 30gb XXL plan and keep a limitless use in Canada. Somewhere along the way, as Verizon implemented the plan internally, wires got crossed (which, I suppose, is excusable to a certain degree, considering that they are a wireless company) and everyone with a Verizon plan seems to have been throttled when using data in Canada in excess of 500mb. This isn’t what I signed up for. It’s not what I agreed to. It is an unethical breach of contract. 

To spin this, here’s the customer equivalent: I decided this past Wednesday that I only want to pay Verizon $7/year for service. I will pay it, religiously every December 1. That is all. I don’t need to tell Verizon, I’m just going to do it. Do you think Verizon would stand for that? Certainly not. My service would be cut in a month. However, it’s exactly what Verizon has done to its customers. The “rules” for international roaming in Canada, have, in fact changed 4 times in 8 months. The constantly shifting and changing set of rules is unnecessarilly confusing. That’s a lot of change for a busy person to track…and simply is not in line with the simplicity toward which Verizon was so ardently striding about a year ago. What happened? One of three things:

1. Verizon decided that it was too pricey to provide service in Canada and they needed to recoup the loss. I find this one hard to believe because the number of Verizon customers actually using service in Canada has to be quite low.

2. Verizon simply made a mistake rolling out its new provisions for the Unlmited plan with adversely impacted existing customers and accidentally changed the terms of service to which the customers had agreed. 

3. Verizon simply doesn’t give a fuck about anything except making a buck.

My guess is that it’s a combination of 2 and 3. 

Verizon, if you don’t know, has a long history of screwing its customers and regulatory authorities. In fact, the City of New York is suing Verizon right now because they screwed the city on FIOS rollout. FIOS, if you don’t know is a super high speed fibre optic service that promised to bring truly fast internet speeds to every household. To do this, Verizon (and other Telcoms) would have had to invest significantly in a wired infrastructure. When it became clear that wireless speeds (with the introduction of 5G, which will likely be rolled out shortly after 2020) would soon exceed wired speeds, Verizon literally took millions of dollars in incentives from the City of New York (funded by the taxpayers) and ran. They didn’t fulfill their promise, and didn’t provide reasonable access to FIOS service in the City. So, the City is suing. You can read the original complaint here courtesy of The Consumerist. You can read all about it the background at ARSTechnica.

Which brings me back to Time Warner. Despite the fact that my internet service sucked for 14 years monopolies have a unique attribute. They are accountable to government regulators, and the regulators are often frustrated by their lack of enforcement power in the face of what seems to them one tiny injustice after another. I complained about my internet to the New York State attorney general. He listened. After a year-long investigation, the AG announced a class action suit against Time Warner for duplicitous and deceiving advertising related to its internet offerings. A week later, Time Warner was sold to Spectrum. Oddly, about a month after the Spectrum takeover, my internet speeds more than tripled despite the fact that nothing else changed: no new modem, no new cables or wires had been laid. 

Within this climate of abuse from Verizon, Time Warner, and others, we—as consumers and taxpayers—wind up paying exorbitant fees for services that are not properly provided. This bait and switch and breach of goodwill must end. Despite my best efforts to interface with Verizon customer service representatives to remedy the erroneously imposed data caps while roaming abroad, I have received no resolution as of the publication of this post. Therefore, as of this writing, I have sent a letter under separate cover to ask the Attorney General in the State of New York, to investigate this issue at Verizon. The situation is substantially similar to that of Time Warner in that the customer is being shafted at the mercy of a giant company with a monopoly or near monopoly on the Telecom market. Rules can change and policies can be updated, but it should be done so transparently and to benefit the customer. In this case, it was not. And clearly, I’m not the only one that feels this way. Fellow blogger Edward Pizzarello has a great running comment stream and his own perspective about this latest Verizon-sham on his blog, Pizza in Motion.

The moral of the story: big companies often turn a profit, dollar by dollar on the back of the consumer and taxpayer. Until someone complains, most consumers will accept the abuse and chalk it up to the power of the monopoly. We as customers are not powerless. The time has come for consumers to complain and for the government to break up all telecom monopolies they are not too big to fail, but too big to function in a competitive environment. 

What is your experience with Verizon? Add your comments to the stream below. 

I will keep you up to date as this story develops.