I spent half an hour on the “service chat” with AT&T and eliminated $20 worth of overpriced services I wasn’t using. Here’s the script…

AT&T sales representatives are happy to assist you with your questions. AT&T sales representatives will not have access to your personal account. This service is provided to you under AT&Ts Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. 

You are now chatting with Lorena, an AT&T sales representative.

Lorena: Welcome to AT&T online Feature Sales. How may I assist you with your features today?
Tony: I’m only using about 10% of my data plan. How can I choose a cheaper plan?
Lorena: I’d be happy to help you with our features today, Tony. Which data plan do you have now?
Tony: Or, if it’s possible, how can I add data and device tethering so that I can drop my home internet and just tether to my phone?
Tony: It looks like I’ve got Data Pro 2GB LTE
Tony: for iPhone
Lorena: The tethering/hotspot data plan is the 5GB for $50 if you wanted to do that. If you want to lower your data plan, we do have the 300MB for $20 that you can switch to. You wouldn’t be able to tether/hotspot with your phone unless you have the 5GB.
Tony: hm. No, I guess that’s not a better option. I get unlimited data via my cable provider for $47.
Tony: so it’s $25 for 2gb and $20 for 300mb?
Lorena: That’s correct. The 2GB data plan is no longer available though so once you switch from it, you won’t be bale to get it back.
Tony: what is available now?
Tony: The only option I see is the one I currently have.
Lorena: The 300MB for $20 and the 3GB for $30.
Tony: huh. that’s crappy.
Tony: Is there any way for you to look at my plan and usage and suggest something that could save me money?
Lorena: We actually do not have access to the accounts through chat since we are guides. We are available to assist you with managing your account online and changing features online through the self-service system. Which other plans and features do you have?
Tony: What’s the cheapest iPhone plan available?
Lorena: Do you like to text?
Tony: I’ve probably got a year left on my current contract.
Tony: Well, yeah, but text plans are more expensive than they’re worth. If it saves me money I can start using Facebook messaging.
Tony: Can you tell me what the cheapest iPhone plan is?
Lorena: Well, if you did the 450 Nation Talk Plan with the 300MB data plan, you’re looking at $59.99 a month before taxes without any messaging. Unlimited Messaging is $20 if you wanted to add it.
Lorena: Do you have just one line on your account?
Tony: Yes
Lorena: Thank you. Do you know which voice plan you have?
Tony: So, I have $25 data, $5 text. My current charges before taxes and fees is $80./
Tony: If I drop the data to 300mb and ditch the text plan, that would still only bring me down to $70.
Lorena: Do you know which voice plan you have?
Tony: Do you know where on the website I can find that?
Lorena: Do you see the myAT&T tab at the top? Please mouse over the word “Wireless” below it. You’ll see a drop box appear and you can select “Change Rate Plan” from there.
Tony: Oh, I have Family Talk Nation 550 with Rollover.
Lorena: Thank you. That’s odd. We can certainly switch you to an individual plan if you have just the 1 line on your account.
Tony: That appears t be the cheapest.
Tony: Can you do that right now or is it something I need to do on the website?
Lorena: Our Care chat is available now to do the switch for you since I do not have access to the accounts through this chat.
Tony: I don’t know what that means.
Lorena: The 450 Nation Talk Plan would be the smallest voice plan for individuals and is $20 less than the 550. Would you like to change your data plan before I transfer you over?
Tony: Oh man. That would be great! I didn’t realize I was paying $20 more than I need to. I almost never talk on the phone.
Lorena: Ok! I can certainly transfer you over so our Customer Care team can change your plan for you. Would you like to change your data plan before I transfer you over?
Tony: No, if I can save $20 by changing my voice plan I don’t need the $5 extra to have a crappy data plan.
Lorena: Alrighty. Give me just a moment to transfer you over.
Tony: Thank you!

Please wait while I transfer you to an operator at AT&T Wireless Customer Care.
Welcome! You are now chatting with ‘Chara Cooper’.

Chara Cooper: Hello Tony
Tony: Hi Chara.
Chara Cooper: thank you for chatting in with me today
Chara Cooper: how can i help you?
Tony: You’re welcome.
Chara Cooper: so How can i do you tonight my dear.
Tony: So Lorena was helping come up with a way to minimize the total cost of my plan based on my usage. She said that there’s a cheaper voice plan than what I’ve got and I’m paying $20 more than I need to since I rarely actually use my phone as a phone.
Tony: She suggested the 450 Nation Talk plan.
Chara Cooper: what kind of phone do you have Tony?
Tony: Is that the cheapest voice plan?
Chara Cooper: okay, what kind of phone do you have?
Tony: It’s an iPhone 5.
Chara Cooper: okay so you can get a regular nation plan, but because you have a smartpone you are required to have a data plan with that.
Chara Cooper: yes because it is a smart phone
Tony: Well, yeah. If I could have data only that’s what I’d go with. My phone is rarely at my ear. Is there a plan that drops voice service?
Chara Cooper: LOL:) no honey.
Chara Cooper: that would be nice though.
Tony: If not, I just want to know what is the cheapest voice plan I have to agree to.
Tony: My bill starts out at $80 a month right now. When I got my first iPhone that was $60. But I can’t find a way to get it back down to $60 on the website.
Chara Cooper: tony pleas give me your cell number area code first
Tony: ###-##4-5666
Tony: ###-##-GLOOM, if that helps.
Tony: I gotta hurry through this. My kids are exploiting my distraction to stay up past their bed time.
Chara Cooper: :))) thats funny and cute
Tony: 🙂
Chara Cooper: whats the last four digits of your social please?
Tony: ####
Chara Cooper: thank you Tony.
Tony: Is it against the rules for you to just tell me which is the cheapest voice plan? Because that’s all I really need to know. I just want to switch to the government mandated minimum plan since I hate talking on the phone and only put up with people calling me because having the internet in my pocket makes me all powerful.
Chara Cooper: okay Tony Im looking at your account
Chara Cooper: and i do see that you are on the 550 plan
Tony: yes.
Chara Cooper: you can move to the 450
Chara Cooper: and keep the data pro
Tony: and save $20?
Chara Cooper: is that absolutely.
Chara Cooper: i meant
Chara Cooper: absolutely!!!
Tony: hahaha…
Tony: ok. do it.
Chara Cooper: okay sure.
Tony: Also, block calls from my ex girlfriend.
Chara Cooper: :)))) too bad for her.
Tony: hehe
Chara Cooper: lol!!
Chara Cooper: you men are funny
Tony: Just kidding. All of my exes love me.
Tony: Well there’s this one who still hates me.
Chara Cooper: are you an aries
Chara Cooper: or a sagittarius
Tony: If I give you her name can you block her?
Tony: No. The opposite. Virgo.
Tony: Ok, I gotta get out of here. The kids are taking over the asylum.
Tony: You got me taken care of?
Tony: Or is there something else I need to do?
Chara Cooper: illl text you the information
Chara Cooper: good night
Tony: cool. Thanks, Chara!
Tony: Have a good night.
Chara Cooper: your welcome
Chara Cooper: I will send a trext to confirm that the plan has been changed for you to nation 450
Tony: great. thanks for your help and your sense of humor 😉
Chara Cooper: 🙂 your welcome.

Apple TV’s 32nd Anniversary Announcement

You Know What You WantQuietly this weekend, Apple, Inc., released a minor update to its so-far disappointing Apple TV software. The update, delivered around 3 o’clock Saturday morning, was quietly announced in a press release on ReutersYE (Youth Education). The computer maker and self-described New Media Darling has struggled to make the Apple TV, once known as the iTV prior to its launch, relevant in an age of Tivo, BitTorrent, Netflix, and XBox Live saturation of the passive entertainment, family-room market.

The previous update, “Take Two”, was meant to herald a new era for Apple’s only foray into the set-top box fray. No previous attempt by any technology company has managed the ubiquity of DVD players, VHS, or even the relatively small console gaming platforms.

This update, however, has responded to the market’s response to their first and second attempts at relevance. Among the user friendly improvements are the following items:

1. The ability to download podcasts from your Apple TV and have them saved to the Mac or PC to which it is synced.

2. Dynamic “genres” list for movies. Any genre you add your personally backed-up movies to will be listed in Apple TV’s movies/genres menu.

3. Better shading of menu items to produce a more “live action” appearance while waiting for the click of the IR remote control signal to register.

4. A reflection has been added to certain interface elements.

5. An “Add to Queue” option has been added to the previous “Play” and “Download” option in the “Podcasts” section.

6. Further enhancing the previous feature, a sort of “Playlist” feature has been incorporated so that you don’t have to return to a menu every time a one or two minute clip ends so that you can choose another one.

7. “Smart” playlists, enabling the pre-scheduling of up to 6 hours or non-stop, successive podcasts, music videos, movies, and television shows, have been added to the iTunes software. These playlists, which can be synced to and played on your Apple TV in an attempt to mimic the standard environment in which consumers of entertainment appreciate their widescreen, surround sound, darkened room home-theater setup from their couch, seem to be an attempt by Apple to “catch up” with the immature, yet persistent, crowd of home theater early arrivals who have offered these features for years.

8. Support has been added for a new remote that looks remarkably similar to the first gen iPod Nano. A small screen for quick menu selection, a circular “click wheel” (a technology pioneered by apple but seemingly abandoned with its recent “touch” products), and the diminutive form factor with a 6 button interface that has served hand held tech from Apple for so long.

9. A revamp of the “search” keyboard for online services. Instead of a square, highly unusable letter grid, Apple has adopted a common typing interface across all of its Apple TV interfaces. Coupled with the new scroll-wheel remote, entering text into search fields has remarkably improved usability, once a hallmark of Apple products, which cannot be matched by any other.

10. Removal of the distinction between the computer to which an Apple TV is synced and the content shared on the network. All content is available by selecting its source, similar to the way it was made available in the previous version of the Apple TV software.

These are the ten most interesting updates. The revision also includes a number of bug fixes from improving the response of the unit to clicks of the remote to close to real-time syncing between the Apple TV and its coupled iTunes installation. In a previous version these features were sorely missing or incalculably buggy.

In the first part of the new millennium, Apple Inc revolutionized the personal, portable entertainment industry. Today Apple Inc is a leader in portable entertainment technology with market leading positions in wireless communications, the iPhone, pocketable media libraries, iPod (Touch)™, and the yet unannounced iWiiPod portable theater system and gaming device.

Well, it is a free country…

I came home from work yesterday, exhausted from the stress of a few incidents at work. In a bit of a daze, I opened a can of cat food and fed the kitties. The fat one, Screech, who, at feeding time, acts more like a meowing dog than a cat, was still desperately hungry and simply would not leave me alone. So I pulled out the kitty treats, gave him a few, and retired to the couch.

This morning, before work, Kris was prepping the day’s lunch and snack pack when she noticed a bag of kitty treats on the top floor of the refrigerator. Puzzled, she pulls them out and turns to me.

“Hey, do you know why the kitty treats are in the fridge?” she asks.

Stunned, aware of the fact that I actually remember finding a spot for them in there after feeding Screech yesterday, I try to come up with an explanation. “Oh, I must have done that unintentionally after feeding them yesterday in my zombie-like state” didn’t cover the honest stupidity involved in the thoughts bouncing around my head, so I paused in what probably looked like a deer in headlights moment.

About 5 seconds went by.

“It’s a free country!” I shouted, indignantly.

lol cats

Somehow some people don’t know what lol cats are. I tried explaining, but I got all caught up in the the evolution from the first lol cat I ever saw, Invisible Bike, to the most recent one to actually make me laugh, It Are My Birthday.

Now, not only is there the requisite stupid cat photo, but also the font and, most perplexing, the grammar. I tried to explain it as something like “You know, if a cat could talk in an attempt to explain the odd position/situation it has been caught in by a camera, wouldn’t its grammar be a little weird? I mean, not every cat gets photographed and then ridiculed for looking so damned silly. So their vocabulary will likely be limited.”

Like this one:

On icanhascheezburger.com.

Remember the golden, good ol’ days?

A time of innocence, strong moral values. The times when our grandparents were growing up, so naive and good natured, unlike modern times. You know, it’s because they didn’t have violent video games, sexy music videos with suggestive lyrics, and a culture that idolizes criminal subcultures.

Right? Snicker…anyway, I found a great cache of free music files from the fist half of the 20th century. Country and folk songs recorded by musicians you’ve never heard of. Each song is accompanied by lyrics and occasionally by sheet music and a midi file. So you can search on content for “murder” and find a long list of great ballads about killing your true love and watching her die.

Here are a few examples.

The Waxweed Girl

VERSE 15
Come all you young people
Warning take from me
Don’t murder your true lover
Fer no cruelty

VERSE 16
For if you do they’ll bother you
Until th day you die
And finally, they’ll hang you
Upon a gallows high

Adaptation. Performed in 1958.

Pretty Polly

VERSE 4
She threw ‘er arms around ‘im, she cried into tears
She threw ‘er arms around ‘im, she cried into tears
How can I be a poor girl
An’ love you so dear

VERSE 5
He stabbed her thru her heart an’ th blood it did flow
Stabbed her thru her heart an’ th blood it did flow
While down in that big grave
Her body did go

Adaptation. Performed in 1969.

If you’re at all interested in old American country and folk songs, this site has hundreds of them in AIFF, Real, and midi formats.

Arm Control Nerve

I found an article on Digg this morning about this parasitoid wasp. This subject fascinates me. The page they linked was inaccessible, but Wikipedia has a great article about it.

Ampulex compressa (Emerald Cockroach Wasp) delivers an initial sting to a thoracic ganglion of a cockroach to mildly paralyze the front legs of the insect. This facilitates the second sting at a carefully chosen spot in the cockroach’s head ganglia (brain), in the section that controls the escape reflex. As a result of this sting, the cockroach will now fail to produce normal escape responses.

The wasp, which is too small to carry the cockroach, then drives the victim to the wasp’s den, by pulling one of the cockroach’s antennae in a manner similar to a leash. Once they reach the den, the wasp lays an egg on the cockroach’s abdomen and proceeds to fill in the den’s entrance with pebbles, more to keep other predators out than to keep the cockroach in.

A fascinating parasitic fungus which also alters the behavior of its host is Cordyceps Lloydii. I couldn’t find a Wikipedia article about it, but there’s an amusing web page the purpose of which I can’t reckon.

This fungus has evolved the ability to control the minds of the ants it infects. The process begins when the ant unwittingly ingests a spore of Cordyceps Lloydii as its walking along the forest floor. The spore makes its way through the ants body, eventually reaching the brain. Once in the brain, the spore begins to control the behavior of the ant who suddenly finds himself searching for the stalk of tall plant and climbing skyward. Fully under the control of the fungus in his brain, the ant impulsively climbs to the highest leaf where he grasps the leaf with all of his strength, his claws hardening with an uncontrollable expenditure of energy. At this moment, Cordyceps Lloydii enjoys the fruits of its labor.

A grotesque mushroom sprouts from the fungal mush that was once the ant’s brain. Bursting from underneath the smooth surface of the ant’s head, the long stalk extends skyward. Now, taking advantage of the healthy breeze available at such high altitudes, the stalk releases its fresh spores into the wind. Having served its purpose by helping the spore to this favorable altitude, the ant dies, adorned with the freakish funerary ornaments of its murderer. Carried by the wind, the spores drift to the forest floor where they will infect more ants.

And in another case of a parasite taking control of an ant’s arm control nerve, Dicrocelium dendriticum starts life as an egg in the intestines of cows. Cow dung is fed upon by snails who become infected and serve as a breeding ground for the fluke, who then uses the snail’s slime as a handy slip and slide escape route. Then…

Ants happen upon the slime and consume it as a source of moisture thus taking the new flukes into their system. Once inside, the parasite shows an interesting tactic. By controlling nerve centers of the ant they are able to control its behaviour. When the sun sets and temperatures drop the ant is compelled to attach itself to a tall blade of grass by its mandibles. Here it waits to be ingested by some grazing animal. If the ant survives the night the sun prompts it to return to the colony and live its life normally, until the next night. Eventually the ant is eaten by some grazing animal.

And then there’s my current nemesis, Toxoplasmosa gondii.

In a series of experiments, [scientists] demonstrated that healthy rats will prudently avoid areas that have been doused with cat urine. In fact, when scientists test anti-anxiety drugs on rats, they use a whiff of cat urine to induce neurochemical panic. However, it turns out that Toxoplasma-ridden rats show no such reaction. In fact, some of the infected rats actually seek out the cat urine-marked areas again and again. The parasite alters the mind (and thus the behavior) of the rat for its own benefit.

By some estimates, almost half the human population of earth is infected with this parasite. Recent research shows that it also has an effect on human minds, making us stupid and slutty! So if you’re feeling 10 to 15 IQ points below your norm or find yourself sleeping with someone simply because they seem to enjoy your uninhibited manner, check to see if it’s not just the booze, then seek treatment. Medications to treat the infection include those used with most other protozoal infections, like pyrimethamine, sulfonamide drugs, folinic acid, clindamycin, and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.

Yes, Wikipedia sort of sucked me in for a few minutes this morning.

How Playing GTA Saved My Life

This past weekend, my wife, Kris, and I and a couple of friends, Chris and Julie, spent the weekend snowboarding at Whistler, 2 hours north of Vancouver, BC. We had a great time, some great food, and a little booze and snowboarded our butts off, heading out for Seattle at around 4:30 Sunday afternoon.

We stopped at the Whistler Blackcomb outlet store in Squamish, then Canadian Tire to pick up some LED Christmas lights. The drive was mostly uneventful, but the roads were wet and the rain was falling heavily.

I was a little unnerved driving down the Sea to Sky Highway in the dark with so many other cars and all this rain, so I was driving cautiously and slowly, letting cars pass me every time we encountered a passing lane, finally settling in behind a small truck that was pacing itself similarly.

About 10 minutes north of Vancouver Kris yelled “Oh Jesus!” I quickly refocused my wandering attention on the truck in front of me and the oncoming car, in our lane, directly in front of the truck. *SMASH!!!* I spied a double shot of good luck for us in the form of a gap between oncoming cars and a paved shoulder on the other side of the oncoming lane. Looked back at the crash coming up fast to see flying debris and the truck on its side up against the concrete barriers on the right and the front and driver’s side of the car completely smashed in.

Taking the opportunity to avoid becoming part of the carnage I shot across the oncoming lane and onto the shoulder. A driver coming in the opposite direction had the exact same idea and was heading directly for me on the shoulder. I mentally pleaded with the other driver to have the sense to let me have the shoulder as he had his own, unobstructed lane to stay in.

Yes, seeing a scary head on collision makes you want to pull onto the first shoulder you see, but first you have to get out of harms way. He got my point and darted back into his lane and continued past us without a scratch to either car.

We stopped and Chris made a quick call to 911 (thankfully Canada uses the same emergency phone number we do), and got out of the car to get more details for the operator.

Within about 5 minutes an ambulance was there and shortly several firetrucks. They used the Jaws of Life to extract the driver of the car, who was in pretty bad shape and he was medevaced to Vancouver General after being rushed down to nearest hospital by ambulance. The driver of the truck seemed ok, but was wheeled away on a stretcher in a neck-brace and ambulanced to the nearest hospital.

After I don’t know how long we were asked to come back to the station to give our witness’ statements. We were questioned by a very nice Canada cop until about 9:30 last night, then made it home at about 12:30.

Pictures of the immense, quick response

***UPDATE***

Amazon Honor System

To donate to Matt and his family via Amazon Honor System, click here. All donation will go directly to his wife.

SFGate columnist loves his “brand new lick-ready smooth-as-love Apple MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo Super Orgasm Deluxe Ultrahard Modern Computing Device Designed by God Herself Somewhere in the Deep Moist Vulva of Cupertino Yes Yes Don’t Stop Oh My God Yes.”

This article made me laugh.

Interview with John Hodgman

John Hodgman, the PC in the new Mac commercials, was interviewed this week by Engadget. He’s a really funny guy and somehow, even though he’s not the product being advertised, has become the star of those ads. Makes me wonder if there are any people out there thinking, “If I like the PC better in the Mac commercials, will I like a PC better in real life?” or is he just the likable, bumbling fool who you’d have a beer with but never trust with your data?

Here’s an excerpt:

Seth Stevenson over at Slate thinks that the ads have backfired because your, “humor and likability are evident,” and that he’d “much sooner associate with Hodgman than with Long [the guy who plays the ‘Mac’].” Are you becoming an icon for diehard PC users?

The villain of any story is often the most compelling character. Justin, who is brilliantly funny, of course must play the hero, and the Luke Skywalkers of the world always catch a certain amount of flack. It’s unfair, but inevitable, and I don’t think it has caused people to buy more PCs anymore than it caused people to root for the empire over the Jedi. The Jedi still are the best. And they don’t get viruses.

How did you maneuver me into a Star Wars discussion? Damn internet.

That is all.

The whole interview is here, and the Slate article is over here.

He’s also got a recurring role on The Daily Show, which is always hilarious.