Category Archives: Tech

I Forgot My Yahoo Password! You can’t imagine what happened next.


Verizon now owns Yahoo, and all of a sudden when I went to log in today, because I signed up for newsletter, my password at Yahoo didn’t work. This is exactly what used to happen at the Verizon website when I had my phone and internet accounts there. The passwords never worked.

So, I went to reset the Yahoo password today, thinking that maybe I changed the password after last summer’s revelation that a billion Yahoo accounts has been compromised, and then didn’t write down the new one. That would explain the problem.

I told Yahoo to reset my password and was taken to a Verizon screen, which asked for my user name and zip code. I entered it, clicked and went to this page:

Yes, Verizon is going to mail me a temporary password by US Mail. That’s so 20th Century.

What else can you do? I’m supposed to be confirming my email address for a newsletter. I click the button and am taken to this page:

They’re acting as if I’m a Fios customer. I’m not. I’m a Yahoo customer, who will be getting his password reset by US Mail! (That’s where the exclamation mark went.)


The Spectacular Awfulness of Verizon Customer Service

I wrote this in January, but didn’t post it then because I was too angry and wanted to let it sit. Then I got distracted by other things, and it sat waiting for attention. Reading it today reminds just how screwy our world can be. So, I hope this provides a laugh. Plus, I got a bill from Verizon the other day. It said I owed .75 cents plus 8 cents tax for a Three Way Call between 1/13 and 2/12, though our service was disconnected on December 20th. I struggled to find a phone number and I struggled to get through the voice-activated phone tree, but eventually spoke with a charming woman in Finance (I had been misdirected). She said (before transferring me to customer service), “Don’t tell anyone I said this, but just tell them that this is too small an amount to write and mail a check, and they’ll take it off. Just don’t tell them I said so, she laughed wonderfully. And I did, and so did they.”

goodbye-verizon-featuredI’m on hold right now, having finally found a way to contact a person at Verizon. The issue today? I cancelled my Verizon phone service on December 20th, but today they pulled money from my bank account automatically for December 13 to January 12. I want a refund for the days after I cancelled service.

Here is what happens when you go to the Verizon website:

It takes you to a page with no login link.

You click the Phone link and it takes you to the home page. There is a login link in the upper right corner of the screen, where it should be.

You log in, but it doesn’t recognize your password. I know it didn’t recognize my password last time and the time before that. I figure this has to be my fault, I must be entering the wrong password, but I can’t think of another website where I have to so methodically reset the password every time I visit. I have an entry in my password list for Verizon, could it be outdated? No way to know what the matter is, but this happens every time at this website.

It asks me a security question. Where did I meet my wife? I know the city name, the restaurant name, the security answer I usually enter to answer security questions, the answer which has nothing to do with the truth. All are wrong.

It offers to reset my password. I enter my username and zip code. It prompts me to text or email a temporary password. I say Text.

I’m texted a temporary password.

I enter my username and temp password. I am then prompted to enter my a new password and confirm it. I enter the old password twice, meeting the requirements of capital letter, lower case letter and at least one number. At least eight characters overall. Now my password list is right, I think. I press enter and am prompted to choose a security question.

I do so, choose a new one not involving my spouse, and am prompted to log in. I type my username, click sign in, and am prompted for my password.

I enter my password and am told that the user name/password combo doesn’t exist. I want to scream, then notice that autofill is adding a y to the beginning of my username. Maybe this is on me, my browser, some past typo. I don’t know. I have to click the x on the autofill tab to advance to the password page.

I type in the password, click sign in, and am taken to the security question page, which I answer flawlessly. I’m finally in!

I click Billing. I’m given the choices to View Bill, Pay Bill, Payment History, Auto Pay, Paper Free Billing.

I click View Bill and am told my account has been disconnected, and I will remain in Auto Pay for my final bill(s). My final bill should have covered 12/13 to 12/20, but instead covered 12/13-1/12, so I need to arrange a refund.

I can’t find a telephone number to call, there isn’t a telephone number to call, so I contact the automated Virtual Chat. I type “I need to arrange for refund for overcharge on bill.”

Nothing happens. I realize this might be an issue with Chrome, with a security setting that suppresses popups, so I move over to Safari. I am able to log in directly. I ask the virtual chat the question and am given a link to the View Bill page. Grrrr. I was there already.

I find a menu item at the bottom of the page for Billing Disputes.

The link takes me to a page called

Billing Disputes.

It tells me I need the date of my bill, the amount of the charge, the label of the charge, the page number from the bill, and the reason for my dispute.

There is a link to contact Verizon. Clicking it takes me to a page that shows this (click to enlarge):


I click Billing & Account, which brings me to this:


I click Billing Questions, which brings me to this:


Grrr! No phone number. No link to Billing Disputes after many links starting with the prompt Billing Disputes.

I’ve already been given the runaround by the virtual helper. Forums won’t help. Chat is busy! Hmm. More contact options. I click that.

Click that and the button changes to this:


I click that and am given this:


But I don’t think the one I saw said Call Me in 29 Minutes. What I know is that I entered my phone number, but made a typo in the area code box, and it would not let me delete it. Not by back spacing, not by using delete, not by highlighting and typing. Nothing.

So I X’ed out, reopened the form and made sure to type my phone number correctly. I clicked the Call Me button and my phone rang immediately.

Wow, that was fast. But it wasn’t a person. It was a voice recognition system which asked me if I was calling about the number I was calling from.

No, I said.

What is the number you’re calling about?

I give the number. There is a whirring sound, like a robot thinking, and then I’m told that the account has been found and I’m prompted for the four number PIN attached to the account.

I don’t know the PIN. This happens every time I contact Verizon, no one ever tells me what the PIN is, they can’t tell me what the PIN is, but after a really frustrating time we always proceed. In this case, the voice prompts for the PIN. I give the PIN I often use for low-security accounts (not banks etc), and am told that’s not right.

Will I give another PIN?

No, I say.

Okay, the voice says. We’ll proceed without a PIN, but you may be prompted to answer some security questions later.

I’m given a list of menu items that seems familiar: Hear billing amount due, pay bill, recent transactions, anything else.

Anything else doesn’t help. I say Customer Service.

Would you like to speak to a customer service representative?


I’m then prompted for the three digit number that appears on my bill next to the phone number. I start to say One and the voice interrupts me. I stop, listen to the prompt, then say One Seven Six.

The voice says back: DId you say One One Seven Six?


Please read the three digit number that appears on your bill next to your phone number.

One Seven Six.

I’m transferred to Ashley, who answers the phone, Verizon Financial Services.

Ashley listens to my problem, says she’ll take care of it and puts me on hold. I’m on hold a long time, listening to terrible music, but she jumps back in a few times to apologize for the delay. It is okay.

After about 10 minutes she tells me that Autopay has been turned off. I ask if my card will be charged back for the balance I shouldn’t have been charged for and she says it will.

She’s very nice and helpful. Just as the man was who turned off my service two weeks ago, the man who said I would be billed for the useage in a final bill and I didn’t need to do anything else, was.

So, we’ll see.

Verizon is a giant company offering services to vast numbers of consumers. In my experience, over many years as a phone, wireless and internet customer, the website has always been a user interface disaster. The thing you need is always hidden, the pages take you to endless loops of not the information you want. The account page is sparse and not helpful.

On my page, a view of past bills, shows no past bills.

The messaging system deletes messages after 15 days, so you have no record of  your interactions.

The chat system, when it’s working, doesn’t allow you to easily save the chat.

This utter disregard for the customer experience has to be designed into their service intentionally. It must be working for Verizon, in some cynical bottom-line way, but it is lousy and I’m glad to have finally moved on.

Spectrum, the new combined Charter-Time Warner service, is paying attention to customers now.






LINK: A Modern Library

Screenshot 2015-02-01 09.33.29 The Internet Archive is one of the most spellbinding places online. To visit is to get lost in the world wide web’s past, or to revisit a concert one was at 30 years ago, or more recently (for me) to play Lemmings again for the first time since the early 90s. You might call that a waste of time, or you might call it a reminder that we march on, leaving our past behind. Which isn’t always to the good.

Playing games is the cookie that lures you into IA’s new operating system in a browser emulator, but Andy Baio explains in this article that the main dish (pardon the metaphor) is the ability to access and utilize all that data that have been lost as these old operating systems became outmoded. If you can get the files off the floppy disks.

The Oatmeal on Net Neutrality

The basic idea is that massive megaliths like Comcast and Time Warner and, wait, are they merging? And every other cable company that has a monopoly because of community franchising, have some community responsibility.

That responsibility is called Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality means different things to every communication company trying to stick citizens with higher bills for their cable and internet service.

To all of them it means lower revenue.

But to the people who pay absurd cable and internet bills each month, net neutrality means that no matter what any company offers over the internet pipes, the price is the same.

Competing services, like Red Box, Amazon and Netflix, might have different business strategies, might have different owners, but each should pay the same amount to transfer their data through the internet to your house.

That’s net neutrality.

The same should be true if you’re selling Marxism, Leninism or Maoism. The price is for bandwidth, not ideology.

Comcast and Time Warner and your cable company would like you to think that this is unfair.  They’re wrong. They’ve tried to sell you on paying extra for faster pipes, and better video speeds. They may have made money doing this.

But the basic principle of the internet is equality, and that breaks down quickly when those who own the pipes are able to discriminate between different data streams passing through.

Which is why this cartoon from the Oatmeal resonates:

LINK: Keith Gessen in Vanity Fair about Amazon

This is a fantastic history of the ebook publishing industry, and the dispute between the old school book publishers and Amazon about ebook pricing.

Except, it never says what spooks the old line publishers (and Andrew Wylie) explicitly.

But it alludes.

Here’s the deal: Print books make more money for publishers than ebooks. And if the price of ebooks falls too much, print books won’t be competitively priced and won’t sell.

For the time being, a print window might work (the same way Taylor Swift created a CD window last week by pulling her music off Spotify), but it doesn’t seem likely to work forever.

At the same time, traditional publishers are fighting to retain the large margin they get from print books. It’s hard to say they shouldn’t try while they can, but they won’t be able to do that or long.

Krugman on Amazon: Wrong.

Paul Krugman argues that Amazon has too much power and is abusing it, and that abuse hurts America and Americans. He’s referring to Amazon’s battle with Hachette, which has been written about almost everywhere since it came to light last summer.

Amazon is not working hard to sell most of Hachette’s physical books because it wants Hachette to change the terms by which it sells its ebooks to Amazon. Krugman argues that Amazon is a monopsonist, a player with enough market power to drive prices down, and that this is a bad thing.

Book authors, my wife included, have protested that Amazon is using their well being as a negotiating tool against Hachette, undermining the business model that pays the writers who create the books.

Consumers can’t buy books that aren’t available, and books that aren’t available at Amazon are harder to buy, but it seems to me hard to argue that Amazon is hurting consumers by making it harder to buy books that are available elsewhere. And while their fight may be hurting writers in the short run, Amazon certainly isn’t arguing for a future without authors and books.

Krugman says Amazon has too much power, but he can’t say lower prices hurt consumers, so he makes an odder argument: “Book sales depend crucially on buzz and word of mouth (which is why authors are often sent on grueling book tours); you buy a book because you’ve heard about it, because other people are reading it, because it’s a topic of conversation, because it’s made the best-seller list. And what Amazon possesses is the power to kill the buzz. It’s definitely possible, with some extra effort, to buy a book you’ve heard about even if Amazon doesn’t carry it — but if Amazon doesn’t carry that book, you’re much less likely to hear about it in the first place.”

Is that true? Certainly the Today show or any other media outlet isn’t going to not book an author with an interesting book out because of the Amazon Hachette dispute. And the reason publishers send authors on those grueling tours is to promote sales in actual book stores, where the authors read and sign their books. Amazon doesn’t have that relationship with readers.

What it does have is enormous market power, lower prices, and an ability to do an end run around the interests of publishers. And that’s what this dispute is about. Amazon would like to crush the publishers, who to its mind add little value to a process that could be made much more efficient. And it would like to do that now, while it has a dominant position in book sales, since Amazon knows that competition from Apple, Google and Microsoft (with Barnes and Noble) is going to inevitably lead to a collapse in digital book prices.

By getting there first, Amazon will keep those big wolves away from its chicken coop.

Krugman seems to think that the publishers need protection from Amazon, as if they weren’t themselves each part of giant conglomerates, each with its own massive power center. Oddly, he doesn’t really say what he thinks should happen.

What should happen is nothing. If Amazon wants to mess with its relationships with its customers, by not selling them the books they want, so be it. Customers will go elsewhere. 

In the meantime, Amazon is arguing that ebooks should cost much less than printed books because the incremental costs of each copy is much lower for the ebook. Hachette is arguing that if the cost of an ebook goes much lower sales of printed books will decline. This is important because Hachette knows that once ebooks dominate sales, its role in the book production chain will be undermined.

The move to ebooks would seem to be inevitable, eventually, and so Hachette is trying to slow its own march to oblivion. While Amazon knows that once ebooks dominate sales, the ecosystem of readers and online sales will be the one thing that differentiates it from the competition.

Which is why the knives are out. Let them play.

UPDATE: I found this Matthew Yglesias story from Vox after I wrote the above. He more elegantly makes many of the same points, and others that are also important. His points about the ability of publishers to promote books and the nature of the book advance are dead on.



A View of the Spreadsheet From the Early Days

I started using a spreadsheet to calculate my fantasy league standings, maybe in 1988. The program was called VP-Planner, and the front end of it was a clone of Lotus 1-2-3, which cost $500 at the time. VP-Planner cost $35, which for a regular guy was plenty.

But the real power and appeal of VP-Planner was it’s ability to access databases, and import specific data into the spreadsheet without a lot of tedious cutting and pasting.

Each week I would download the baseball stats from a sports gambler service in Las Vegas, massage the format to get it set, and click RECALC (F9) on my keyboard. My IBM XT would whirr and purr, and I would go to lunch.

Sometimes, the calculations were complete when I came back, sometimes not.

spreadsheetMy friend Steven Levy reprinted a story he wrote about spreadsheets for Harpers magazine this week at his new online mag, called Backchannel. It’s a fascinating look from a distant perch at the effect of the democratization of data and our ability to model systems quickly and fairly easily.

In the middle of the piece he writes: “The computer spreadsheet, like the transcontinental railroad, is more than a means to an end. The spreadsheet embodies, embraces, that end, and ultimately serves to reinforce it. As Marshall McLuhan observed, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” The spreadsheet is a tool, and it is also a world view — reality by the numbers. If the perceptions of those who play a large part in shaping our world are shaped by spreadsheets, it is important that all of us understand what this tool can and cannot do.”

I suspect data journalists like Nate Silver and Ezra Klein could not agree more.