Economic cost of the virus

Those wacky virus people have done it again. The virus (W32.Sobig.A@mm) has mutated into the virus (W32.Sobig.B@mm).

Ariella and I were chatting about this over lunch. She suggested that if the government simply bought the rights to distribute Norton Antivirus and legislated that it be installed on all computers, we could do the economy some good. Congress would probably be a little reluctant to write a check for $8 billion (back-of-the envelope calculation: ~200 million Windows PCs times $40 a copy), but it would probably pay off over the long term. The Slammer virus alone apparently cost $1.2 billion in lost productivity. And that was just in the first 5 days alone!

Think about it. The US Postal Service checks our snail mail for Anthrax. Why shouldn’t the government check our e-mail for viruses?

In the meantime, perhaps we should invest in some SYMC.

TiVo upgrade

Hinsdale How-to TiVo upgrade After 3.5 years of using TiVo, I’ve finally decided to crack open the case and increase the recording capacity.

I purchased my Philips 14hr HDR112 TiVo (the first model ever manufactured) from Fry’s Electronics in Sunnyvale on October 22nd, 1999. Today, Ariella and I schlepped out to Fry’s in Woodland Hills to purchase a Maxtor 120GB hard disk for the upgrade.

I’m three hours into the process and am finishing step 8 out of 11. I hope to finish before midnight.

Update (11:47pm): Whoo-hoo! I’m done! Just gotta put the cover back on and bring it back into the family room…

My TiVo, post-uprade

163 hours, baby. Nice.

Dump the Junk Day

Yahoo! Mail Dump the Junk Day Today is Yahoo! Mail Dump the Junk Day in the United Kingdom.

If you’ve got a friend or colleague who bombards you with joke emails and “wacky” attachments, nominate them for the The Dump the Junk Award.

Apparently, you’ve gotta be a Brit to enter the contest.

The Caffeine Disadvantage?

My favorite drug: 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine JR Conlin: “Caffeine has become the new nicotine.”

Over the past 10 years I’ve kicked my caffeine habit twice but fell off the wagon both times. A few years ago we got an espresso maker as a wedding present, and I’ve been drinking a shot or two every morning. It turns out that a shot of espresso has about as much caffeine as a 6-oz cup of coffee, so it’s not like I’m a complete junkie. Some folks drink 6-8 cups of regular (drip) coffee a day!

Of course, I’ve been known to have a Diet Coke or two during the day as well, so my total daily intake is probably close to half a gram.

I’ve always loved the way caffeine has made me feel. I’m so alert and awake, and it lifts me out of the occasional blues. We stumbled across Weinberg & Bealer’s book in a bookstore last year and I’d love to find the time to sit down and read it.

T-mobile customer service finally comes through

masthead_tmobile.gif After a few weeks of pleading with my cell phone carrier, they have finally resolved a billing error. This is a good thing for both of us. Good for me, because I generally like my calling plan and would hate to give it up, and good for them, because they will continue to get my business.

Back in March, we traveled to Italy, Hungary, and Israel for a couple of weeks. Since I have a GSM phone, I called T-mobile from the airport to find out if I could use it overseas.

The customer service rep told me that yes, in fact I could use the phone in Europe and Israel. When I asked about rates, she said that it was basically 29 cents a minute. I asked several follow-up questions — 29 cents a minute from Europe to the US? Yes. How about from Europe to Europe or from Europe to Israel? Yes, same 29 cents a minute rate applies. From Israel to US? Also 29 cents. Same per-minute rate for incoming and outgoing calls? Yes. Any service charge or monthly fee? Nope.

This seemed like a pretty good deal. So sure enough, we used the phone quite a bit to make hotel reservations, reconfirm our flights, and call our friends and family. In total, we made 166 minutes of calls while we were overseas.

When we got back to the US, I got the bill. Instead of the $48 in roaming charges I was expecting, somehow we managed to rack up a total of $313. Simply put, the rates were totally different from what the rep quoted me. I was billed 99 cents a minute for calls made within Italy and Hungary, and $2.99 a minute for calls made within Israel.

So I called T-mobile customer service and explained the situation calmly and patiently to the rep who answered. Laura seemed very friendly and sympathetic, but ultimately was unable to help me. She explained that the other rep must’ve been confused, since the 29 cent rate is for the opposite calling direction.

Laura even put in a request for a $265 credit, but she said wasn’t sure it was going to go through. The fact that the original rep never mentioned the 29 cent rate explicitly in my file meant that the billing folks would likely reject my credit request. I explained that I would be happy to talk to her supervisor or anyone in billing if they wanted more details.

A couple of weeks passed and no contact from T-mobile. The auto-pay thing kicked in and my credit card was charged for the $313 amount. I guess they rejected the $265 credit request.

I called back today and got a hold of another rep. I explained the whole situation to John, and he put me on hold so he could read up on all of the notes in my file to see what happened. When John came back from hold, he apologized for the overbilling problem, but explain that the billing department rejected the claim because there was no evidence in the file that the rep in March said anything about the 29 cent rate.

I told John, “I’m really frustrated because I think T-mobile should honor the rate that I was quoted back in March.” I even explained that I understand now that the actual rates are $0.99 and $2.99 and that the original rep was wrong to quote me 29 cents back in March, but that I feel that I shouldn’t be penalized for her error. He apologized and empathized, but admitted that he was powerless to help me. He offered to put in another credit request for $265, but was pretty sure it would just get rejected again.

I told him that I guess I’m going to need to cancel my account if they can’t honor the rate that they quoted me.

Those must have been the magic words, because John said, “Well, before we go down that road, let me see if I can find someone in a different department to help you.” He put me on hold for a while longer, and Susan got on the phone. She had already read my file, but asked me to explain what happened in my own words. We talked for a while, and she said she needed to talk to her supervisor, so could I please hold.

Susan finally came back from hold with the greeting, “Good news. We’re going to honor the rate you were quoted, so we’re going to credit your account for $265.”

Apparently I found the right person to talk to. Thanks, Susan. You’ve restored my faith in T-mobile.

Ask Yahoo! RSS release

ask1.gif Ask Yahoo!, a daily column that features Q&A with Yahoo!’s expert team of Surfers, is officially syndicating its content via RSS.

As reported here back in April, RSS support for Ask Yahoo! had previously been available as a Beta release only.

This week, Ask Yahoo! marks five wonderful, question-filled years. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we’ve given the site a fresh look and some cool new features. So click around, read up, and ask away!

The Most Popular Questions page is my favorite of the new features.

To subscribe to Ask Yahoo!, click the green XML Sub button: Subscribe to "Ask Yahoo!" with your favorite aggregator.

Ploni ben Ploni

John Doe.

Joe Schmoe.

Ploni ben Ploni.

When the Gemara needs a placeholder name but doesn’t want to use a real one, apparently it uses the name פלוני (transliterated here as Ploni). Ploni can be used both as a person’s name as well as a name of a place.

In mock contracts, sometimes the formula פלוני בן פלוני במקומ פלוני (Ploni ben Ploni b’Makom Ploni) is used. This translates rougly as “Ploni, son of Ploni, from the city of Ploni.”

Delightful. I remember finding it equally amusing a few years ago when I learned that French programmers don’t name temporary variables foo or bar, but rather toto and tata.