Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Dickie's Quickies

Bloglines, an RSS and ATOM news aggregator, now allows tracking of packages from Fedex, UPS, and USPS from their site. Pretty damn cool. No more running to the various sites for those who are anal about tracking such things.

Ever hear, "That's comparing apples and oranges"? Well, here's a comparison and, well, they compare pretty well. Take it to your next meeting.

Houston cop pulls over suspect, confiscates her mobile phone (what the f*** for?), finds and downloades explicit pictures of her to his PDA, shares them with people, and then his partner calls her to ask her out for a date. It gets worse: he's not likely to be charged with anything.

Anonymous sperm via the internet in England.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The bully as a friend

I've spent some time away from the blog for a couple of days. Shawn and I had company over yesterday, played a new board game, watched the movie Mystic River on DVD (enjoyed it!), read, and cooked. We also had a few long discussions on the above subject and I've been meditating on it since. To begin the discussion, I think it's useful to define it.

According to “bullying” means:

“To treat in an overbearing or intimidating manner.”

Looking up the word “intimidate” on the same site, I found this definition:

“To bully is to intimidate through blustering, domineering, or threatening behavior.”

Wikipedia offers this definition of bully:

“A bully is an individual who tends to torment others, either through verbal harassment or physical assaults, or through more subtle methods of coercion.”

This topic has been on my mind in one form or another for several months. During the past week at work, where my manager clumsily attempted to try a bullying technique and then got it deflected with reasoned, but forceful argument, it came forcefully to the front of my thoughts. This incident was reinforced when over the weekend, I encountered 2 discussions – one about a family member and one about a friend during which we discussed bullying tactics employed by another family member and another friend. Also during the weekend, I ran into a situation with a friend, whom I’ve known to try to bully his way through many situations in the past, as he attempted to do the same with me and, when it failed and I tried to reason with him, he continued on in his attack via email.

Finally, while reading the local section of the newspaper, I came across a story on a person who teaches Asian face reading. This practice alleges that one can determine distinct personality characteristics based on the make up of the face, the shape of the nose, and the size of the forehead and so on. To my mind, it’s akin to reading bumps on a person’s head, but I figure even charlatans can get lucky once in a while and the instructor had this line in the article: “Once we can stop blaming ourselves for being who we are, we can stop blaming others for being who they are.” I’m still meditating on whether this line is applicable in my thoughts on bullies, but for the moment it appears as if it may have some resonance, at least in some cases.

One of the things that strike me about our perception of bullies is that it almost always refers, stereotypically, to brutish children or adults who result to physical means to produce the results they demand. My encounters this past weekend were of a different nature in that they involved a family and friends who used more subtle means of coercion. In particular, guilt was used a great deal in all of the cases and in two of them, threats – overt or otherwise – of ending or permanently damaging the relationships were used. The first word that came to mind when confronted with this behavior was “bully”. However, having carried around the same stereotypes other people share; I actually had to look the word up in order to prove to myself that I was indeed using the correct word.

At this time, I don’t really want to go into complete details of each situation. I’m happy to do so if someone wants to email me and I probably will post about some of them later. Each situation would take up a great deal of space here to explain and be fair about. I will note that in each situation either myself or the person involved had decided to stand firm in the face of the tactics employed and walked away from the encounter, albeit they were drained, frustrated, and angry. I’ve discussed this directly with a couple of other people. One person said to me, “Friends can be such a pain in the ass, sometimes.” Heh, the same could be said for virtually any relationship, but ones in which we tolerate bullying behavior are particularly difficult.

So, I want to continue the discussion and open it up. Please, feel free to share your thoughts here or through a private email. I promise not to expose names or details that would expose individuals if that is the writer’s wish. I will pay special attention to this if I know both individuals involved. I’m not here to pass judgment, but rather to try and understand the process and our role in it.

Some of the thoughts that I’ve come up with are:

Tell me about a time when you’ve been bullied by a friend or family member. How long did it last? Has it resolved itself and, if so, how?

Have you ever been the bully? How did you come to this realization? What did you do to change it? Were relationships irreparably changed because of it? What tactics did you use?

When does advocacy become bullying? Is it something that happens all of a sudden or does it happen over time? Does the view of whether or not such behavior is “advocacy” or “bullying” really depend upon how the person on the receiving end perceives it? Are there rules for determining bullying then, or is it subjective?

What techniques to your mind constitute bullying? Guilt is a BIG one with adults. What other methods have you experienced?

Why do we put up with friends who are bullies? Do we really need bullies in our lives? How do we constructively communicate with them? Is such a thing possible? How do we separate ourselves from them and how do we deal with the almost inevitable backlash when we try to deal with them rationally? Does the victim participate in reinforcing to the friend that their bullying techniques are successful? (Note: I don’t mean to insinuate that the victim is at fault in any way, but rather that, as friends, we may choose to overlook some bullying behavior for years before we realize what is happening and decide not to deal with it. In a case from my history, I find that I tend to focus upon the good things that happen and overlook the bad things, and by not confronting my feelings about the bad things, I never let the bully know the behavior was unacceptable and therefore reinforced that the strategy was successful even though each time I was hurt, angry, and frustrated).

If you are brought up in a household where parents bully, does this mean you are more apt to accept that behavior from friends as an adult? Why are we willing to put up with bullying from one person where we wouldn’t tolerate it from another? (For instance, I put up with it from a friend whereas I would never put up with it from Shawn – my closest friend – or vice versa).

What are your thoughts? Please, use my starting points and/or expand my horizons by providing other insights. I look forward to reading the replies

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Dickie's Quickies

After my post yesterday about the FCC ruling against states requiring naked DSL service, they went ahead and did it anyway. As I stated, it makes sense to have a national policy on this issue as long as that policy requires naked DSL sales and does more to promote market competition. Om Malik comments on the same issues. I particularly like the point quoted from another blog about cable versus DSL. As I pointed out yesterday, if I bought a VoIP service via cable, I spend about $66/month on the service. If I buy that same service through Verizon without naked DSL, then I spend $81/month (using SunRocket as the VoIP example whereas yesterday I used Verizon's own VoIP as the example in the numbers). While cable begins in comparison to be more expensive ($50/month versus $33/month for a DSL connection), when the DSL requires bundling with the phone line, it becomes more expensive and provides slower speeds. Hey, Verizon, ARE YOU GETTING THIS?!!? The other great comment on Om's site regarding this:

Voice is the application, not connectivity. We’ll never have real competition if the incumbents get paid even when customers want to switch to a competitor.

Alas, A Blog explores the possibility that the Terri Schiavo case has garnered such media attention because she entered a persistent vegetative state as a young woman. It's an interesting point and to that I would add, a white middle class young woman. Rox Populi takes a different route and reprints a portion of a posting on Craigslist where someone offers to remain in a PVS if the people fighting for their life would commit to doing one or more of several good deeds such as opening an emergency room in an inner city.

Boing Boing suggests a tangential call to action as regards to the Congressional action taken in the Schiavo case. Take photos of your ailments and send them to Senate Majority Leader, Doctor Bill Frist. After all, if he can tell Schiavo is not in a PVS just by looking at a video tape of her for a few minutes, then surely he can accurately diagnose your illness and offer a suggestion to remedy it. The faith healer as national health plan - love it!

One of the Bush Administration's favorite think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute, has just published a short book entitled, An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy. The conclusions that are drawn are surprising, coming from AEI because they are so sane. Among them:

  • Domestic enforcement should be directed toward reducing drug-related problems, such as violence around drug markets, rather than locking up large numbers of low-level dealers.
  • Eradication of drug crops in source countries should not necessarily be a routine aspect of international programs, especially where it may conflict with other foreign policy objectives. In fact, evidence shows that such control is very unlikely to reduce America’s drug problem.
  • Criminal punishment of marijuana use does not appear to be justified.
  • Treatment services for heavy users, particularly methadone and other opiate maintenance therapies, need more money and fewer regulations.
  • Programs that coerce convicted drug addicts to enter treatment and maintain abstinence as a condition of continued freedom should be augmented.

Friday, March 25, 2005


After much deliberation and discussion, we've decided to change long distance services. Our local phone provider is Verizon. They are also our DSL provider and have been our long distance provider. I've heard people complain about them, but frankly, I have no complaints about their service. So, why the change?

It came down to a matter of cost. The way we've bundled our plans together, we get a very small discount for DSL if we take their local phone service and their long distance service. At the time we signed up, we were using cell phones (since discontinued because we didn't use them often enough) and did most of our long distance calls from the cells. The Verizon long distance plan we had was one where you could make calls 24/7 365 for 10 cents/minute. Since we didn't use it often, we never saw much of a charge, if any, and it got us our modest DSL discount (this option was actually suggested by the Verizon rep for users of cell phones and it was a helpful suggestion).

Since dropping our cell phones, we've been using the land line for long distance. We monitor our usage carefully and friends and family have generally taken to calling us rather than vice versa. Shawn, in particular, has been hit by this because she'd prefer to call her grandmothers and parents more regularly than she has been doing. She also has to make calls for school in order to work on projects. The result being that we've been spending about $15/month for the past 3 or 4 months while still having limited calling lengths. In other words, it's frustrating.

I began looking at our options over 3 months ago. VoIP seemed like a good option as you get unlimited calling to anywhere in North America plus you can receive your voice mail from over the Internet and there are a LOT of configuration options. Wanting to try and stick with Verizon, I looked at their service, but it runs $30/month and I've seen other carriers who charge much less than that.

Eventually, I came across SunRocket. They have some financial backing from Nokia and have ties to some of the marketing folks behind MCI's old "Friends and Family" plan (a great marketing idea!). In the old days, MCI was well known for their service. I gave SunRocket a call and a person answered the phone promptly and answered my questions clearly and quickly. That was a good sign. I also checked Broadband Reports to read up on any complaints. There were a few, but overall the reports have been positive. Finally, I did some research in online journals for any reference to SunRocket - positive or negative - and came up with nary a thing (it's good to have a librarian in the house).

On top of all of this was SunRocket's main draw: VoIP for 1 year for $199. That works out to just under $17/month - a little over what we were spending anyhow and we got unlimited calls. Wow! Plus, if I'm unhappy with the service, I can return it within 30 days for a full refund or after 30 days, I'll receive a pro-rated refund based on unused months. In other words, it's basically low-risk. Shawn agreed that it sounded like a good deal, but left it up to me to manage.

After canceling cable television, I decided to wait at least a month before making the switch. Heck, that month of recouped cost is over a third of SunRocket's yearly cost. As the month progressed, reports began popping up that Vonage's signals were being interfered with. I held my breath, but the FCC - to their credit - promptly fined the ISP that was blocking Vonage's signals. Coolio. Vonage is still having some issues and they continue to work with authorities to resolve them.

This week, the FCC announced that they might not let state rules go forward that require local phone companies to drop their land line requirements for DSL subscribers. In other words, currently, if you subscribe to DSL, then you must get a land line from the local phone provider. Some states wanted to change that. The FCC, seeing a possibility of different regulations for different regions and different companies, decided to thwart the state's efforts to regulate that area. This wouldn't disturb me if the FCC ruled that the land line is to be divorced from DSL (as the states want), but there was no guarantee that would happen. So, for the first time in years - maybe ever - I sat down and wrote an email to a Federal government agency. I wrote the email and sent it to each of the FCC commissioners and copied it to Rick Larsen - my local representative. I have yet to receive a reply.

Basically, I'd love to go with the VoIP solution, keep my DSL, and drop the land line altogether. Verizon has said in the past that they want to allow this to happen, which makes sense because requiring a land line on DSL seriously cramps their ability to market a VoIP service (the cost becomes at least $30 for the VoIP plus a monthly $40 or so for the land line plus $33 for DSL charges whereas with cable as your ISP, the cost is just $35 plus the cable modem charge of around $45). However, unless there's government pressure to do this, it may end up being a bit like allowing multiple companies to compete for your local phone carrier business in that everyone says they are for it, but it never happens. Qwest, for instance, already allows people to subscribe to their DSL and not have a local line (only 8,000 people have reportedly gone for this option, which I think is what worries the local companies - losing revenues - but think of the opportunity to gain revenues from people who are dropping land lines in favor of cell phones and cable modems and, as Qwest has proven, so few customers will want to drop the land line for now.) However, even though the 1996 Communications Act says that I should be able to hire Qwest as my formal local carrier, in reality this is not the case. Not that I would necessarily do that (I'm not fond of Qwest's customer service), but if Verizon were to drag on making the changes then I'd certainly consider that option if it were offered to me.

To my mind, paying for local phone service while getting unlimited local and long distance calling through VoIP is being double charged for phone service. The other option would be to switch to a cable modem, but that means switching ISPs and leaving a company whose customer service I like for another company that I've heard plenty of horror stories about (Comcast Cable). I'd rather stay with Verizon as a DSL provider and drop the land line, however, in the future I will certainly reconsider that option if Verizon doesn't act soon or the FCC decides to back off what appears to me to clearly be the consumer friendly, opening the market to further competition choice.

In any case, I didn't want to wait until that choice was made. So, I ordered SunRocket this week. Shawn will be able to talk to her heart's content for a flat rate and I will be able to do the same as well. According to their website, I should receive the equipment from SunRocket in 5-7 days and then be able to receive incoming calls immediately. Outgoing calls will take another 10 days or so to activate. This also means we're going to have a new phone number. Friends and family should call us or we'll call you for the new number. Hm, if I'm so willing to change my phone number, then why should I be so reluctant to change ISPs? If anyone from Verizon is reading this, maybe that question should spur you on to divorcing DSL and land lines. After all, if Qwest doesn't think it's so difficult, then why should it be difficult for you?

Oh, and one other nice thing about SunRocket: on the bottom of the receipt page that indicates my order and new telephone number, there was a link to the Do Not Call Registry that allowed me a quick way (and a quick reminder!) to register my new number before it is even activated. Again, that's good customer service. It doesn't cost them a thing to put the link on their page, but it makes life easier for the customer and initiates good will from the beginning. Smart business.

More reports on our experiences will be forthcoming once the equipment has arrived and everything else is in place.