18 April 2011

Legally, I Must Waste Gas and Risk My Well-Being

I have a vintage 1960s Mustang that gets 14 miles per gallon and consumes a quart of oil about every 1,000 miles. We also have a 2004 Volvo wagon that gets 20 MPG and enjoys regular oil change intervals. (I use a Google spreadsheet to track mileage and maintenance statistics for all our vehicles.) The Volvo passed emissions testing in its most recent smog test, but failed the inspection because of a trouble code saved in the computer.
Lesson one: never buy a Lemon Law vehicle, even if the seller says it has been fixed. If a car was marked as a lemon, it will be indicated with a red box on the title -- you can't miss it. We bought the Volvo for thousands less than the going market rate due to its lemon law status. But now, we can't get it to pass smog, because three different Volvo repair shops have been unable to fix the problem (at least, within a reasonable cost envelope, which I consider to be under a thousand dollars) that keeps causing the computer to throw a trouble code for one of the sensors.
"No problem," I say. "I'll just pay the registration fees, and drive with an incomplete registration until I have the time to focus on fixing it." My very first car (Ford Taurus) was in the same boat when it got totaled in a rear-end collision with a hit-and-run driver. At the time, the Whittier police indicated driving with an incomplete registration was not something they cared about (which makes sense to me -- it's insurance that is really important to keep up to date).
Well, as luck would have it, I was recently pulled over on the 405 north while traveling up to meet family for dinner. I was in the exit lane, cruising along at about 60, going slightly slower than mainstream traffic. I noticed the highway patrol in the pull-out but thought nothing of it, until I saw him following me in my rear view mirror -- and indeed, he pulled me over at the first opportunity after the freeway exit. Apparently he noticed my 2010 registration sticker. When he had me stopped in a gas station he asked me to roll down my rear passenger window. All the windows on the wagon are legally tinted with very dark tint, so I realize he was probably hoping for a drugs / illegals smuggling stop. In the end, he issued me a non-monetary infraction ticket, also known as a "fix-it" ticket, and explained that my registration was so out of date he could actually impound the car.
Long story short, I'm back to driving the Mustang. Thanks to the California smog exemption laws it doesn't need to pass smog. So now I'm polluting more, burning more gas, and driving a far less safe vehicle, not just for myself but for other drivers around me (the Mustang's dynamic stability is a complete joke -- my wife once suffered a rear tire blowout, and it executed a 360 spin as a result).
The reason a car fails the smog inspection due to trouble codes -- also known as the "check engine light" being on -- is because it is assumed there is some correctable problem with the engine that could negatively affect emissions. But in my case, the emissions are fine. In fact, the emissions from the car that has to pass smog and can't are unquestionably far better than those of the car for which smog testing is not even required. So in order to follow the explicit "letter of the law," I am in fact forced to go against the spirit of the law itself.
I would say this is just one example of when it is better to just follow your own judgment rather than blindly follow the law. But eventually, as evidenced in my own example, the executor of the law just might catch up to you; even when you are least expecting it.

23 February 2011

2 Strikes -- U-verse Technical Support

For the second time in a few months I spent greater than two hours with AT&T's U-verse technical support. I was forwarded to at least eight agents in my third and final phone call. My first two phone calls were dropped thanks to AT&T's wireless network; yes, ironic that AT&T's own network dropped me while I'm on the phone with their own technical support systems. Then I wised up and used the home phone (also AT&T).
Needless to say, I visited U-verse tier 1 technical support, tier 2 technical support, tier 2 static IP group technical support, ConnecTech sales rep, ConnecTech tech rep, AT&T DSL tech, AT&T DSL tech #2 (I think this was a screwed up forward), U-verse tier 1 support, U-verse tier 2 static IP group tech. And that was all in my third and final call.
Let me start by professing my utter incredulity with how disorganized and disconnected AT&T's phone support systems are. Disconnected because U-verse reps know nothing about my account information for my home phone, even though it is all one company: AT&T. AT&T maintains U-verse, home phone, and wireless as three separate divisions within their company, as best as I can tell. This makes it sheer agony when dealing with reps from across these divisions. Disorganized, because with each rep that I talked to I had to provide my details again: name, account number, etc. With the ConnecTech reps this was particularly grievous as they insisted on asking me questions that were totally unrelated to my problem, like how many computers I had and what operating systems were on them! I could feel myself getting more indignant with each ridiculous question, and expressed as much; to which the rep simply apologized that this script must be fulfilled before any further action could be made. AT&T truly reduces their phone reps to simple drones. It is frustrating on the part of the customer, and I'm sure on the part of the phone drone as well.
I never should have been connected to ConnecTech in the first place. That I ever arrived there was an error on the first U-verse tier 2 static IP group rep's part, and in fact, another rep later confirmed my suspicion. Because ultimately, I ended up right where I knew I should have been in the first place: U-verse tier 2 static IP group. At long last (over 2 hours later), I ended up with a rep that I could barely hear (I think he had his mic way too far away from his mouth; I kept asking him to repeat what he had just said and more than once wasn't even sure if he was talking to me or not -- when in fact he was), but finally someone took down the two pieces of information I had waited over 2 hours to provide: the one static IP address and the domain name for the reverse mapping. Then he promptly informed me that it would take up to 48 hours to take effect (note: he was just filling in a form, after all), and that if I called back again for a similar request they would charge me. Great. Thanks AT&T. You're going to charge me, after I wasted two hours talking to your powerless reps armed with the worst customer support systems ever, in order to convey two pieces of information to a rep who just typed them into a form that took less than two minutes, for the pleasure of enduring the same pain again. Is there a definition of injustice in this world? Yes.

Hopefully This One Won't be Deleted

My last blogger.com blog was deleted when it was incorrectly marked as spam. I didn't get around to re-enabling it for some months since I wasn't actively updating it. When I finally did try to re-enable it, turns out the content had been deleted. I guess that's my fault for not attending to it sooner. But it's never fun to lose months upon months of blog posts.
Hopefully this blog won't get deleted.