Those Medicare Ads

Sounds great, right? So you click the ad, and they want your age, your birthdate, your name, your zip code, and your phone number, which you happily provide.

But before being able to submit your information, you have to agree to their terms. Which are these:

By clicking ‘View My Results’, I expressly consent by electronic signature to receive marketing communication, including via calls using an automatic telephone dialing system and artificial or pre-recorded messages, emails, and text messages (SMS), from insurance companies or their agents, the owner of this website and its agents, representatives and affiliates, and partner companies to the phone number provided (including any wireless numbers). I understand that my consent to receive communications in this manner is not required as a condition of purchasing any goods or services, my telephone company may impose charges for these contacts, and I can revoke my consent at any time. If you are Medicare-eligible a representative may call you about a Medicare Advantage plan, Medicare Prescription Drug plan, Medicare Supplement plan or other Medicare plans. Not affiliated with the United States Government or the federal Medicare program.

By clicking ‘View My Results’, I further agree to receive SMS notifications from Assurance short code 71953. Message and data rates may apply. Message frequency varies. You may receive alerts until you choose to opt out of this service by texting “Stop” to 71953 or replying “Stop” to any of our messages. Text “Help” to 71953 for assistance. Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy and Do Not Sell My Personal Information

And those “partner companies” mentioned above? Here’s the list:

  • 1st Century
  • Accuquote
  • Adsparkx Digital
  • Advocator Group
  • Agentra Healthcare
  • AIG Direct
  • AIS
  • Aliera Healthcare
  • All Web Leads
  • Alliance
  • Allied Insurance Partners
  • Allstate
  • Alphatech Resource Holdings s.r.o
  • Alpine Digital Group, Inc.
  • American Adventure Insurance
  • American Income Life Insurance Company Family
  • American Insurance Company
  • American Insurance Organization, LLC
  • Americare
  • Ameriquote
  • AmeriSave
  • Angelic Marketing Group
  • Answer Financial
  • Apollo Interactive
  • Art Institute
  • Auto Insurance Guide
  • Avendia
  • Avenge Digital
  • Bantam Connect
  • Bayside
  • BE Marketing Solutions Inc.
  • Benefit Advisors
  • Black Optek
  • Blue Nile
  • Blue Summit
  • Bright Home Energy
  • BRXTN Digital Media
  • Caliber Home Loans
  • Capital Health Advisors Inc.
  • Cege Media
  • Choice Direct
  • Citizens Disability
  • Clean Energy Concepts
  • ClearLink
  • Click 2 Call Network
  • Commercial Insurance Center
  • CompareInsuranceQuotes
  • Connect Insurance Brands
  • Connect Plus
  • Contactability
  • Coverage One
  • CS Marketing
  • Debt.com
  • Digital Market Media, Inc.
  • Direct General
  • Disability Advisor
  • Discount Insurance Quotes
  • EasyMedicare.com, an affiliate of e-TeleQuote Insurance, Inc
  • easyMedicare.com, an affiliate of e-TeleQuote Insurance, Inc.
  • Efinancial
  • EPIQ
  • Esurance
  • EverQuote, Inc.
  • Excel Impact
  • Exclusive Digital Media
  • Finalexpenseassistant.com
  • First Family Life
  • FirstQuoteHealth.com
  • Florida Blue
  • Florida Plan Advisors
  • Fortegra
  • Freeway Insurance Services
  • Get Seen Media
  • Globe Life
  • Globe Life Insurance Company of New York
  • GoHealthInsurance
  • Goji
  • goMedigap
  • Green Home Advantage
  • Guidestar Marketing Group LLC
  • Guidetoinsure
  • Hannigan Insurance
  • Health Benefit Center
  • Health Benefits One
  • Health Center Marketing
  • Health Choice One
  • Health Insurance Innovations
  • Health Insurance Services
  • Health IQ
  • Health Plans of America
  • Health Solutions One
  • HealthCare, Inc.
  • Healthcareassistant.com
  • HealtheDeals
  • HealthMarkets
  • HealthPlanOne
  • HealthPlanOne, LLC
  • Heard and Smith
  • Heritage Life Insurance Company
  • Home Insurance King
  • Ideal Concepts
  • Inboxed LLC.
  • Independent Insurance Consultants
  • Innovate Financial Group
  • Innovation Direct Group
  • Inside Response
  • InsuraMatch
  • Insurance Care Direct
  • Insurance Quotes Now
  • Insurance Services
  • Insurance Solutions LLC
  • IPA Direct
  • iWebQuotes
  • Kanopy Insurance
  • Kelly Klee
  • Leadnomics
  • Legacy Insurance Solutions
  • Legends United Insurance Agency, Inc
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Liberty National Life Insurance Company
  • Lighthouse
  • Loan Depot
  • Mercury
  • Mercury Insurance
  • Momentum Solar
  • Morty Inc.
  • Moss
  • Mutual of Omaha
  • MVX Sales
  • My Health Advisors
  • National Disability
  • National General
  • National Income Life Insurance Company
  • National Plan Advisors
  • Nationwide
  • NetQuote
  • New Age Health
  • New American Funding
  • NextGen Leads, LLC
  • Nexus Enterprise Solutions
  • Open Market Quotes
  • Outlook Advisors
  • Palisades Media Group
  • Pay Per Call Market
  • Pay Per Call Transfers
  • PEMCO
  • PFP
  • Ping Leads
  • Platform Advertising
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Policy Scout
  • PolicyScout
  • Precursor Media
  • Premier Disability
  • Presidio Interactive
  • Priority Insurance
  • Progressive
  • Prudential
  • Purple Dog Marketing LLC
  • Q3MInsuranceSolutions
  • Quantum3media
  • Quicken Loans
  • Quote Engine
  • Quote Manager LLC
  • Quote Velocity
  • Quotehound
  • QuoteManage LLC
  • QuoteWizard
  • Rank Media Agency
  • Rayosun LLC
  • RCPT2
  • RevPoint
  • S.B. Fintech Ltd
  • Sales Data Pro
  • Selective Healthcare
  • SelectMyPolicy.com
  • SelectQuote
  • Senior Life
  • Senior Market Quotes
  • Smart Energy Direct
  • Smart Health Options, LLC
  • Smart Match Insurance Solutions
  • SolidQuote, LLC
  • Spring Health Plans
  • Spring Insurance Solutions
  • State Farm
  • ‘Stone Tapert
  • Stone Tapert Insurance Services
  • STRINGBIT inc.
  • Support First
  • Synergy Insurance Marketing
  • The Insurance Center
  • The Lead Company
  • The Zebra
  • Themedicareassistant.com
  • The-Solar-Project.com.
  • Tiburon Insurance
  • Tranzact
  • Travelers
  • TrueChoice Insurance Services
  • TrustedConsumer
  • Underground Elephant
  • United American Insurance Company
  • United Insurance Group Agency, Inc.
  • United Medicare Advisors
  • Velapoint
  • Vital One Health
  • ZQ Auto Insurance

In other words, you provide critical personal information to “updatedmedicareplans.com,” and they sell that information to over 208 other companies which may or may not have anything to do with Medicare coverage, and many of whom will sell that data onward to other marketing firms… and you agree to allow these companies to spam you with phone calls or text messages.

This is essentially the same business model used by “Lower My Bills,” and from where I sit it’s a bad deal. If you’re looking for improved Medicare Advantage plans, I suggest you call a reputable local insurance agent with whom you can deal in person, instead of opening yourself to a deluge of marketing calls, many of which will be spurious in nature.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The truth about “ugly produce.”

This post is taken from a series of tweets by Dr. Sarah Taber (@SarahTaber_bww). I’ve collected the tweets, edited them for clarity and brevity (sometime abbreviations help you meet Twitter’s length limit), and bowdlerized them just a bit for a family-friendly audience. If you don’t mind a bit of language, you can, of course, view the original thread here.


Most “ugly” produce gets turned into soups, sauces, salsa, jam, ice cream, etc. You think that stuff gets made from the pretty fruit and veggies?! Jeebus, think about it for a minute.

The amount of produce wasted because of labor problems (can’t get a crew to harvest) and bad weather (melons that rot in the field because it’s too hot and wet, etc) WAY outstrips produce thrown out because it’s “ugly.”

Because again… we eat a LOT ugly produce. You just wouldn’t know it because it’s salsa.

As someone who works in produce, this whole “ugly fruit” movement is actually kind of enraging because it’s completely disconnected from what really happens in the supply chain. It’s a big honkin’ wad of fraud that self-promoting foodies get away with because nobody knows better.

After it leaves the farm, most produce goes to a packinghouse. This is where they cool, wash, sort, and package it. In other words, it’s where the ugly fruit people think all this “waste” is happening.

he only time packinghouses throw out fruit is when IT’S ACTUALLY INEDIBLE. Like it’s either rotten or (in the case of one watermelon field that one time) it had rained so hard that the melons filled up with water and were completely tasteless. Also about to explode.

Produce gets graded by size, prettiness, and (sometimes) flavor/eating quality.

Know what happens to most of the produce that’s edible, has enough shape to survive in transit, but looks funny?

IT GOES TO THE GROCERY STORES THAT POOR PEOPLE SHOP AT.

In the broke times of my life I did not shop at farmers’ markets, because they’re at bizarre times when working class people are usually working or sleeping (late service sector nights = no 7 AM Saturday farmer’s market for you). Farmer’s Markets are built around the “9 to 5” white-collar schedule.

Most of your real poor people, when buying produce, get it from shops white collar people don’t go to.

Those shops stock ugly produce.

[The shops] that white collar people don’t go to. Then conclude, looking at their nice stores stocked with pretty No. 1 produce, that nobody’s eating the ugly stuff.

So there’s one beef. The “eat ugly fruit!” movement is as classist as it comes. You’ve got to have a debilitating level of ignorance to assume that if Whole Paycheck Market doesn’t stock ugly fruit, it must be getting “wasted.”

Upside-Down Face on Microsoft

Back to the packinghouse. When produce is EXTREMELY UGLY, it goes into cull bins.

My fave cull bins to date:

  • Sweet potatoes. Did you know that they make a *lot* of giant, freaky-shaped spuds? Like a rat king of sweet potatoes, somewhere between football and basketball sized. What happens to these ugly, unloved sweet potatoes? OH WAIT THEY GET LOVED, THAT’S WHERE EVER-LOVIN’ SWEET POTATO FRIES COME FROM!
  • Apples. We love to say we don’t mind “spots on our apples,” but actual sales data tells us we really, really do. And honestly, we should. Even “cosmetic” lesions can make micro-breaks in the apple’s skin, allowing fungus to enter. One rotten apple, barrel, etc. Fugly apples ARE WHERE APPLE JUICE AND APPLE SAUCE AND APPLE CIDER AND APPLE BUTTER AND APPLE JELLY AND APPLE PIE COME FROM! “Wasted” my eye.

    “But some apple variety are better for fresh eating, not processing!” D’ya think Hy-Vee brand apple juice from concentrate really cares at all that today’s shipment of cheap juicing-grade apples are not The Optimal For Juicing?

    NO THEY’RE GONNA JUICE THAT STUFF!

    Did you know: Honeycrisp apples are extra prone to a mostly-cosmetic skin defect called bitter pit?

    Ergo, most Honeycrisp apples become apple juice. That’s why whole, fresh, pretty Honeycrisp apples cost so fricken’ much.

    Because most of them become cheap bulk juicers.

Yes, every once in a while you’ll run into a variety of produce that only really works for fresh and doesn’t lend well to processing. This mostly happens with leafy greens (we don’t make … lettuce sauce), which is such a minuscule amount of the produce tonnage grown per year.

When produce is too far gone to sell and there’s no processing market (say, melons), it often gets fed to livestock.

That’s… actually a lot of the point of livestock, historically. They eat stuff we can’t and turn it into meat, milk, and eggs that we can.

Feeding crop and food waste to livestock also means we’re not having to use as much livestock-only cropland. Just assume that most years a certain percentage of human food crops will get messed up and become livestock feed, and that’s less pasture/grain land needed for livestock.

That Listeria outbreak in cantaloupe back in 2011? As best we can tell it happened because they fed ugly melons to cattle.

Which, in itself, is fine.

The problem is they kept driving the truck back into the cantaloupe shed AFTER getting its tires caked in cow poop during deliveries.

This whole “ugly fruit! uwu”¹ thing is bewildering because in order to believe that retail consumers can change the world by buying ugly fruit, you have to believe that the entire supply chain is made of numpties² who make a regular habit of leaving money on the table.

The food system is a hot mess but using ugly produce is one thing it’s actually really good at. Using every single part of what’s grown, if there’s any possible way to sell it.³

The one big source of food waste that I do worry about is crops that are perfectly good, and rot in the field because the farm can’t get anybody to harvest them. (Orrrrr they don’t want to pay enough for people to come harvest them.)

These labor shortages come down to 2 things:

  1. Bad immigration policy
  2. Farm business models that can’t survive a competitive labor market

(which kinda tends to feed back into that first one)

We SHOULD be worried about THAT. And “buy ugly fruit!” does virtually nothing to address it.

But those aren’t fun problems to fix, because they’re not the kinds of problems that the everyman consumer can fix by just making a simple yes/no choice in the supermarket.

They’re like … systemic or something.

Anyway, that’s my semiweekly grinching about shallow attempts to reform the food system that completely miss the point and at this point the ugly fruit thing is such an accepted belief that. like. you can’t even blame people for believing it, it’s absolutely everywhere.


I originally saw this posted on Facebook. What follows are some comments from a friend of mine who spent his entire career as an agricultural consultant and extension agent for a large midwestern university. I thought these contributed to the discussion.

Story 1: In college, I spent a couple of years in Cooperative Education working as a USDA fruit and vegetable inspector. My job was to examine a shipment of produce, pass or fail it on both cosmetic issues as well as actual decay. After the receiving company got his money back from the shipper (thanks to my report), he’d then sell the produce for top dollar. And I watched how the ugly produce would be separated and sold to organic food coops (because “that’s what organic produce looks like”…mind you, this was back in 1980, when organics were not regulated).
I remember one case where we went to a pickle factory outside of Boston. The load of cucumbers came in with over 50% rotted. Have you ever seen a rotted cucumber? It’s basically a green water balloon…touch it and it explodes. After we finished the inspection, we sat in the receiver’s office while he negotiated with the shipper. After he got almost all of his money back, he hits the intercom and says “OK, run them!”. About 10 tons of rotted, slimy, water-balloon cucumbers were dumped into the pickle juice. It was nearly 10 years before I could eat pickles again.

Ewg!

Story 2: Early in my career with Extension, I had a farmer in southern Indiana who wanted to start an organic apple orchard. He was extremely well-educated, knew a heck of a lot more about apples and apple pests than I did. He fought this for 7 years before giving up. Because in the humid Ohio River Valley, you MUST use fungicides to prevent fungus diseases, or every fruit will develop unsellable spots. His entire crop, year after year, was only good for cider. And you cannot make a living growing cider grade apples. You MUST have a high percentage of US Number 1 apples that the fresh-eating public buys. And despite what all of my organic-gardener friends tell me…if you put out two bins of apples: 1 bin with perfect-looking fruits that are labelled “sprayed every week all season long” and 1 bin with spotted apples labelled “organic,” the sprayed bin will always be bought out quickly. Always.

Story 3: When younger, I took my kids to my local strawberry farmer for U-Pick berry picking. And I watched as the general public would only pick the biggest and most perfect berries. They would leave unpicked the smaller berries (which actually are sweeter than the big ones); they would leave the misshapen ones. And that’s if they were being generous…because the farmer could always pay his workers to go back over the field and pick the skipped-over fruit. But no…the public would pick the less-than-perfect fruit, and toss it or smash it because it wasn’t good enough for them. And that is waste.


Footnotes:

¹ “UwU” is an alphabetic emoji representing a cute or smug face. You might see it as this:

² British for “morons.”

³ Just recently I saw this ad show up on my Facebook wall:

Some executive somewhere: “Hey, I’ve got a great idea how we can make money from getting people to buy the garbage we used to throw away!”

Please do not patronize these knockoff companies.

I followed a link from Facebook to a CNN article about Roger Stone on my phone yesterday. Almost invariably when I follow links, despite the fact that I own a Pixel phone I’ll choose the option that says “Open in Samsung Internet” because that app includes an ad-blocker that makes my mobile browsing experience infinitely less annoying (no, I’m not a paid shill.) But this time I didn’t for some odd reason, and this is what I saw:

These shirts and many like them are advertised heavily on Facebook and other places. This particular article repeated the same advertisement four times – with the headers “Star Wars,” “Star Wars 2,” “Star Wars 3,” and “Star Wars 9.”

It seems that the way targeted advertising campaigns work is that the page owners – in this case, CNN – either have no control over or don’t care what ads get served up on their site, as long as they get paid for eyeballs and clicks. So whatever algorithm was being used here, it has been heavily skewed in favor of this one company.

Aside from being annoying in general, these web ads for teeshirts have a darker downside: almost all of them use stolen and unauthorized intellectual property. While I can’t say for certain, my bookie assures me it’s a sure bet that these are Chinese companies who change their store names on a daily basis, saturate the internet with ads for shirts of dubious quality using pirated IP, sell a mess of teeshirts and then vanish before they can be tracked down, only to appear the next day under a different name.

And of course, concerns like Facebook are happy to rake in their advertising dollars without a care in the world.

There are many legitimate shirt companies out there. They purchase artwork or license it from its creators. Woot! is one that my wife and I are shamefacedly addicted to, but there are any number to choose from. ¹

Don’t give these pirates your money. Stick with legitimate companies, preferably ones that manufacture their goods here in America.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ Nope, not getting paid for this recommendation either.

When disingenuous websites become funny… and a bit of Italian history.


Disclaimer: I do my best to keep this blog family-friendly, but this post delves into a couple of things that might be not suitable for young kids.

There are websites out there that will do anything for clicks. When you find one of these out there, the content is generally worth less than the electrons used to display them.

(Unless, of course, your electricity provider is Central Maine Power, and then you might be talking about some real money, but that’s a different conversation.)

Every now and then, though, that drive for clicks and eyeballs on ads results in a bit of humor. And in this case the journey was interesting as well. So bear with me.

At the Carnevale di Viareggio in Tuscany, one of the 1st-Class floats featured 45 as the God Emperor from Warhammer 40K. My first clue to this gem showed up at reddit:

If you want the entire video this screen cap came from, you can view it here.

And I wanted to post this elsewhere, with a simple heading, because I was so delighted with this exquisite rendering of The Thermonuclear Bowel Evacuation Currently Disgracing the Oval Office:

Having lived in Naples for a good amount of time, one sees things like this frequently – the “W” is short for “viva,” or “long live” or “hooray for” or some similar sentiment. There is a corresponding symbol for “Down with,” which looks like this:

Down with Galateo

But as I was working to find suitable examples, I began to wonder about the origin of these two symbols, and it turns out they arose during the time of Giuseppe Verdi. And if you’ve ever lived in Italy, you know that everything is political. From Wikipedia:

The growth of the “identification of Verdi’s music with Italian nationalist politics” perhaps began in the 1840s… It was not until 1859 in Naples, and only then spreading throughout Italy, that the slogan “Viva Verdi” was used as an acronym for Viva Vittorio Emanuele RDItalia (Viva Victor Emmanuel King of Italy)… After Italy was unified in 1861, many of Verdi’s early operas were increasingly re-interpreted as Risorgimento works with hidden Revolutionary messages that perhaps had not been originally intended by either the composer or his librettists.

So that “double V” for “Viva Verdi” came to symbolize “Viva” or “Up with,” and by analogy, an inverted VV, or M, became “Down with.”

Now that we know that, I can take you on the detour. It took me a while to get to that explanation, but while I was looking, I stumbled across this image:

W la Figa

I had never encountered this, but I had a sneaking suspicion I knew more or less what it meant. And I was right. You can see WLF all over photos and uniforms and stickers and hats relating to race car driver Valentino Rossi, and it stands for “Long Live Pussy.” Hey, I didn’t write it. La Figa, by the way, derives from a very ancient sign, “The fig,” which was common in Rome and other places:

Manu Fica –
It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see this as representing female body parts.

So while I was researching that, I got a hit on Google from a page called “Names.org” that purports to provide origins for names. And while it may do that to a certain extent for legitimate names, such as my own, it does it mostly by randomly scraping content from the Internet, resulting in an unreliable hodgepodge of unedited information. For your gratuitous enjoyment, the meaning of the name “Wlafiga:”

I highly doubt they’ll publish the origins and meaning that I suggested.

Now, just to make absolutely certain that in some language somewhere “Wlafiga” was not a real name, I asked Names.org for the origin of “Bjørkmœð,” a nonsense string of phonemes that I created out of whole cloth. Here’s what I got:

Robotically-generated nonsense.

So if you want a laugh, go over to Names.org and search out your own, or make something up and see what you get. But the takeaway here is, never rely on a single website to provide you with accurate information – dig deep, and then dig deeper.

W the Internet!

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Auto Repair: Don’t believe everything they tell you

It pays to shop around, and to do your research. There are a lot good, honest repair shops out there, and probably even a few dealerships – but it always pays to take what you’re told by a mechanic with a grain of salt until you’ve done your homework.

Here are a few examples taken from personal experience.

AAMCO Transmissions, California – 1987

Hopping on the freeway in San Diego after a lovely vacation to Disneyland and Sea World with our little family of 5 in our Buick Skylark, whZZZzzzz, the transmission goes out. On the strength of a robust advertising campaign, we had our car towed to a local “Double A – beep beep! – M C O” dealer, where we were told that the entire transmission needed to be replaced: $2400.00, please. In 1987, that was not chump change by any means. Oh, and since they had already pulled the transmission, they wanted $750.00 to put it back in if we didn’t like their estimate.

Results of research: After a bit of digging in the local Yellow Pages – alas, the Internet didn’t exist back then – we found Interstate Transmissions who came and towed our car, plus the transmission and appurtenant bits and pieces in a box – and put us back on the road for $1,200 with a lifetime warranty as well. A couple of years later the transmission failed again, and an equivalent shop in Utah honored the warranty, repairing the transmission at no cost. I also learned why AAMCO stands for “All Automatics Must Come Out,” and never gave them the time of day again. Savings: $1,200 or $2,400, depending on how you look at it.

The following examples are all based on my 2007 Prius, which has been a good and faithful workhorse but which is now coming to the end of her economically viable life. At 240,000 miles, I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Good Molly.¹

Big O Tires, Utah – around 2015

Took the car in for a snow-tire changeover. Technician takes me over to the car and does “Grampa’s bounce test” on the back bumper. “Struts are shot, you should replace them. The parts aren’t cheap, it will be about $1,200.00 for each side.”

The price alone would have been enough to make me go do some research, even if my “BS-Meter” hadn’t already redlined.

Results of research: Average 2019 prices for strut replacement on both sides runs about $700.00, including alignment. I never had the work done. At 235,000 miles in 2019, the suspension is still just fine. According to a good article at MarketWatch, “At some service places, staffers (service writers, techs, even managers) are paid partly on commission,” so that could explain the stratospheric and unnecessary quote. In the interest of fairness, on other occasions that I went there I got quick work at a fair price. Savings: $2,400.00

Toyota dealership, Maine – 2018

My hybrid battery finally gave up the ghost after 11 years. Toyota quoted me $3500.00 for a new hybrid battery.

Results of Research: Most local shops wouldn’t touch it. Found a rebuilt battery for around $900.00 at Hometown Hybrids in Texas, free shipping both ways (returning the core) and some great YouTube videos showing step-by-step on replacing the battery. Took me about 4 hours, in and out. Runs like new. Savings: $2,500.00

VIP Tires and Service, Maine, 2018

I developed an exhaust leak and thought my manifold gasket had gone bad. Technician at VIP told me I had a bad manifold gasket and a crack in the exhaust system near the heat shield. “Need to replace the whole muffler, we can do both jobs for $649.00.”

Results of research: Muffler was just fine, thank you, and there was no crack in the pipe. Savings: $649.00

Meineke, Maine, 2018

Meineke replaced the manifold gasket for me without charging me for parts because I had had it done last year there as well. That was good. Replacing the gasket didn’t solve the problem, though, and I was still getting a lot of noise and exhaust from up front. After some more analysis, technician says “Here’s where we start,” and shows me an estimate to replace my catalytic converter for $810.82.

Results of Research:  Just out of curiosity, I checked with the dealership. I had been throwing a P0420 code (“catalytic converter operating below threshold”)² for a long time:

At this point, I figured that it was probably time to have it replaced, especially if I was considering selling the car. Toyota dealership quoted me around $2,600 for the job. Found a direct-fit converter online for $104.00, and a local mechanic installed it for me for $176.00. Savings: $2,320 or $530, depending.

Toyota Dealership, Maine, 2019

My rear wiper motor gave up the ghost; the local Toyota dealership at first declined to quote me a price for repair, saying – as they always do – “You’ll need to bring it in for a diagnostic.” Now, there’s a certain level at which this makes sense; you can’t really diagnose problems over the phone, especially when granny has a problem and the solution might be one of a dozen things. But in this case I knew what I wanted – a price to replace the motor. So they quoted me around $500.00, with the caveat that this would just be for the motor replacement ($146.00 for the part, $250.00 for labor), but if the problem was in the wiring or the switch, it could be a lot more, which I understand. Kinda.

Results of Research: Found a motor at a junkyard for $30.00. Watched a YouTube video showing how to replace it. Took me half an hour – most of that time was spent looking for tools in various places in the house. So Toyota wanted to charge me two hours of labor for what would have been a 15-minute job. Savings: $470.00


The takeaway from these experiences is always get a second opinion, and if you don’t like that one, get a third. Research parts and labor costs online, do what you can by yourself, and keep poking away at the issue for as much time as you have until you’re satisfied you’re getting an honest solution.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

————————————

¹ Although, for the sake of reddit karma, I was really hoping I could get her to 280085.

² Some free advertising for the FIXD OBD-II Active Car Health Monitor: This little plug-in device monitors your car’s health continually and transmits information to an app on your phone. You can clear any codes with the tap of a button, and keep track of what may actually be wrong in your engine or exhaust system, saving you a lot of money for diagnostic charges (although a lot of auto parts stores will check your codes for free as well.) Best $60.00 I ever spent.

The Microsoft “no help” forums

Back in the early days of desktop computing, when WordPerfect was still the king of the hill in word processing, they had a Customer Support number. You’d call up, get in queue, and listen to a real-live “hold jockey” spin tunes, provide information about the software, tell you where you were in line, about how long it would take for your turn to come up, and then connect you to a helpful, qualified, American technician who would help you solve your problem. It was almost like being able to say “shibboleet.”

But ever since the early days of Microsoft, and I’ve been there since the beginning, getting any real help from them has been an exercise in futility. There’s an old, old joke about Microsoft’s technical support, and it goes like this:

A helicopter was flying around above Seattle when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communications qquipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter’s position and course to fly to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter’s window. The pilot’s sign said “WHERE AM I?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign and held it in a building window. Their sign read: “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at her map, determined the course to steer to SEATAC airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded “I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, like their technical support, online help and product documentation, the response they gave me was technically correct, but completely useless.”

Sadly, things have gone downhill from there. These days, responses are not even technically correct. Some time ago we “upgraded” to Windows 10 – and those scare quotes are there for a reason – and my wife lost her old suite of games that used to come standard with the operating system, like Solitaire.

Here’s an example taken from a real live Microsoft Community page; I came across this issue today when I had the same question and was looking for help. Of course, it should be noted in passing that to ask questions or provide responses on any of these fora you need a Microsoft account.

The question posted was:

SOLITAIRE ON WIN10 – HOW TO GET RID OF XBOX SIGN-IN

I’ve downloaded Microsoft Solitaire Collection for Windows 10.

When I want to play a game, it presents me with a sign-in screen for xbox live.

I don’t want to sign in to xbox Live and have to go through several steps to get rid of the login screen and play as a guest every time I select Solitaire. How can I get it to stop asking me to sign in?


And here is the “featured response” from Microsoft Representative 
Syed Abdul Jabbar:

Hi [Name],

Thank you for posting the query on Microsoft Community. I am sorry to know that you are facing issues with Windows 10. Do not worry, will assist you with the issue.

If you’re looking for help with audiovideo and hardware driver issues while playing a game on Windows 10, you’re in the right place. 

For anything gaming or Xbox related, head over to the Xbox Forums& they’ll take care of you.

In future, if you have any issues related to Windows, do get back to us. We will be happy to assist you.

By the desiccated skull of Mogg’s grandfather, it’s like the responder (who supposedly represents Microsoft):

a) didn’t even bother to read the question, or
b) doesn’t speak English, or
c) is a bot, or
d) all of the above.

Many of the frustrated follow-up comments point out just how useless this response is, and my experience of Microsoft Community answers is almost uniformly like this. Either the answer is painfully useless, or the solution offered is so complex as to be incomprehensible by the average computer user. If I were the CEO of Microsoft I would be mortified to my very bones if I allowed this to be my customers’ experience. There is only one possible explanation:

Microsoft doesn’t care.

And they haven’t cared since day 1. They’re the biggest shark in the pond, and even though Windows’ market share has declined over the last 5 years from roughly 91% to 88%, they pretty much have the world by the short hairs and they know it, so there’s no sense in expending any resources on helping their customers have a useful, satisfactory experience with their product.

That’s not to say that there isn’t help on the internet – you’re just much less likely to find the answer you’re looking for on a Microsoft forum than in other places. As it turns out, in this case there’s no way to use the Microsoft Solitare Game Pack without an XBox Live gamertag, and the only solution is to head for the app store and find a free app that does the trick. Sadly, most free applications include ads, but at least I can avoid the ones that push you to make in-app purchases.

I think Microsoft made a bad move when they stopped including Solitaire, Minesweeper, and other games as integral parts of the operating system. As we’ve all seen, that’s hardly the only bad move they’ve made – think Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows Vista, and others – but I can’t ever envision a time when they ever start paying the price for their insouciance.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Maine’s Implied Warranty Law

Implied-Warranty-1-e1519143773204

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. For legal advice, consult your legal professional.

In light of merchants and sellers practicing deceptive douchebaggery (an Apple dealer, for instance, quoting $1,200.00 to repair a MacBook Pro that was one year out of warranty), it’s a good idea for consumers to check their state statutes.

The state of Maine has a very rigorous implied warranty law.

“It stipulates that regardless of manufacturer warranty, any item purchased new in this state must function normally for the normal expected lifespan of the item under normal usage, and the onus is on the manufacturer or reseller to prove abuse. For computers that is typically 3-5 years. It’s taken seriously enough here that there is a form on the attorney general’s website you can fill out to trigger an automatic complaint. This complaint is actually followed up on, and the consequence for outright refusal is loss of the right to operate in the state.” (With thanks to redditor /u/ijustwanttobejess).

If you download the actual statute, it’s very enlightening. The official summary:

A. Maine’s implied warranty law applies to all new or used consumer goods that are sold by merchants, except for used cars.
B. Used car dealers are allowed to disclaim implied warranty rights and typically do so on the car’s Used Car Information window sticker.
C. The Maine implied warranty law offers the following protection: if you have been sold a seriously defective product or component, even if the product has exceeded its express warranty period, then both the seller and the manufacturer can be required to repair it for you free of charge. In order to prove a breach of implied warranty you must be able to prove within the first four years from date of sale, that:
(1) The item has a serious manufacturer’s defect;
(2) You have not abused the item; and
(3) The product (or defective component of the product) is still within its useful life
(useful life will normally extend at the most four years from the time of sale).
D. It is an unfair trade practice for a merchant (except a used car dealer) to attempt to disclaim verbally or in writing your implied warranty rights and to thereby limit your rights to an express warranty.
E. Implied warranty rights and express warranty rights are often automatically transferred to second buyers.
F. If an item is defective, you should take it back to the dealer and let the dealer arrange the repairs. You should not have to be responsible for returning it to the manufacturer.

What’s more, the question of “useful life” is treated in detail (there’s more in the full document, this is just an extract)

Appliance              Low       High      Average
Dishwasher             5         14        10
Dryer, electric        12        16        14
Freezer, standard      10        22        16
Furnace, warm-air, oil 7.5       40        20
Microwave oven         5         14        11
Range, electric        10        30        17
Refrigerator           10        20        17
Washer                 12        14        13
Water heater, electric 10        18        14

 

To cite a personal example, if I toddle down to the local home-improvement store and buy a fridge, by law there’s no real reason for me to buy that extended warranty that they offer – the store, not the manufacturer, is responsible for making sure that fridge works right for at least the low end of its expected life, which is 10 years.

As they say, the devil is in the details, and lodging a complaint with the Attorney General for failure to honor implied warranty is, to me, the “thermonuclear option” – it’s there to protect consumers from gross negligence or insouciance. As a result, for the last two referigerators we bought I did get that extended warranty, because most repairmen I have spoken with have been united on the fact that ice-makers are mostly crap, and are prone to break down regularly. Both times that warranty paid for itself multiple times over in saved repair costs. It’s faster than going the legal route, saves endless hassle, and is worth the small extra expense. But that’s the only appliance I’ve ever used one for.

I chuckled to read that used-car dealers are exempt from voiding implied warranty, but there’s a certain amount of sense in that. Even the honest ones (there may be one or two) have no way of knowing what might let go next week on that sweet deal they just sold you.

bad-used-cars-lot-1-1024x579

But the takeaway here is that depending on your state, you may not be without recourse when a dealer thinks they have you by the short hairs. Check your state statutes, because forewarned is forearmed.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Marketing by Deception Threedux

I’ve written about the auto dealer “You’ve Won a Prize” scam before. Today I happened to be driving past Rockland Ford in Thomaston, Maine with one of their flyers in my hand, and since a $5.00 WalMart gift card is better than a sharp stick in the eye if I’m in the area anyway, I dropped in.

ford

(Click image for a larger view)

The flyer states pretty plainly that I’ve won a “car, hotel and gas card.” But as usual, the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away:

The number  that you matched does not give you a choice, but an opportunity to win a prize.

If you’re not sure, this means “the number you scratched off means nothing at all.” The only number that means anything is the one after “official registered #”, which in my case is 129,280. Odds of winning the WalMart gift card are 499,994:499,999, meaning that’s what you’ll get. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the $500.00 one. It isn’t.

The salesman I spoke to insisted that the advert wasn’t deceptive at all, and I should just read the fine print. Well, I’ve lived long enough to know that bait-and-switch is a scummy tactic, and is usually covered up with the most barely-legal douchebaggery the attorneys can dig up.

Yes, as long as the “final deal” is spelled out somewhere, they can claim that customers had access to all aspects of the promotion and it’s legal. But I ask you: how many people walk away from the encounter disappointed and with a sour taste in their mouth about the dealership? How likely are they to want to buy a car from a dealer that uses such tactics to get people in the door? People who run these enterprises ought to give that a thought.

But they won’t.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Working “for the exposure” – an Open Letter to Elon Musk.

Dear Mr. Musk:

Make no mistake about it – I’m a fan. You have done and continue to do amazing things with technology, which will benefit humanity in incalculable ways as things only continue to improve.

I’m putting “Unicorngate” down to a simple lack of awareness of what happens on the ground to virtually countless artists, writers, web designers, composers, photographers, playwrights, and so many others who depend on their sweat and blood and tears and creativity to make a living. Tom Edwards is one such, and intriguingly enough from all I’ve read, he remains a fan of your efforts.

Ask any creative soul – they’ve probably been asked to work for free. One of the best essays on the subject I’ve seen includes illustrations by Emmie Tsumura, who imagines the faces of people who want you to work “for exposure.” I recommend the piece.

tsumura1

Illustration by Emmie Tsumura

These people probably fall into one of two categories: Cheap bastards, and the totally unaware. Mr. Musk, I don’t know you from Adam’s off-ox, but you don’t strike me as falling into the first category. I suspect that what happened is that somewhere in your organization, someone who wasn’t even thinking about copyright violations thought Tom Edwards’ work would make a good bit of marketing fluff, and before you or anyone else at the top was aware, it had been incorporated at multiple levels.

The right thing to do would have been to compensate Mr. Edwards fairly for the privilege of continuing to use his work, or to apologize for the error, pull the illustration from your materials, compensate him fairly anyway, and move on.

Telling him that suing would be kind of lame, and intimating that the exposure was good for his business, is essentially being this guy:
tsumura2

Illustration by Emmie Tsumura

Don’t be that guy. Your company can afford to pay people fairly for their work. The optics of doubling down on an issue where you’re clearly taking the wrong position are terrible, and the world needs Tesla to look good.

That’s all.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Drug Pricing Maze

I’m grateful to have health insurance. Many, many people don’t, and that’s an ongoing debate in our society right now. That said, I absolutely don’t understand what’s going on with drug prices.

I get my long-term scripts filled by Magellan, a mail-order pharmacy. When my last batch of prescriptions was delivered, the printed circulars that came with them had some interesting information that got me thinking.

These are all very common drugs, not rare ones. Actual drug names have been replaced with ℞ A, ℞ B, and ℞ C.


℞ A: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ A is around $4.00, 90% off the average retail price of $43.29 (30-day supply)

OTC versions, for comparison:

Amazon: $27.96
Walmart: $8.00
Kroger: $17.06
Costco: $19.26

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $187.20
With Insurance: $10.00
Cash discount: $10.00
Net price: 0

So I ended up getting this one for free.


℞ B: (GoodRx) The cost for ℞ B is around $13 for a supply of 90 capsules, depending on the pharmacy you visit. Prices are for cash paying customers only and are not valid with insurance plans.

This drug is not available over the counter.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $397.22
With Insurance: $10.00


℞ C: The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of ℞ C is around $10.54, 92% off the average retail price of $134.99 (30-day supply)

Not available OTC.

Magellan states that the ℞ price for a 90-day supply is $450.00
With Insurance: $10.00


So I’ve paid $20.00 for scripts that should have cost me $1034.42

These numbers from Magellan just don’t add up. Are these “self-pay” prices, or just randomly inflated numbers to make me think I’m getting a killer deal? What is the “average retail price” anyway, if nobody pays that?

I found this article at Lifehacker, and it addresses the issue that I mention here – but even after reading the article, to me it is still a mass of confusion. And I realize that in terms of the complexity of the entire situation, what I’ve outlined is just the frost on the surface of the Antarctic ice sheet.

The situation is untenable, and I can clearly not choose the drugs in front of me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.