Category Archives: Consumer outrage

Citi AAdvantage card offers are a consumer ripoff

Don't count on Citi to explain why they dump you
Want some pain? Bank here.

Update January 15, 2014, The final chapter: Citi called today and the best explanation I could get was, “We had an identity theft concern.” They didn’t exactly apologize — but they did offer that someone didn’t follow their internal procedures. But they did reinstate the account — meaning I can top up my purchases to get the original mileage offer. It’s a good, if not entirely satisfying outcome.

Update January 14, 2014: Citi was all apologies, concerned and “wanting to make it right” yesterday after I posed this blog entry. Here’s their reply on Twitter:

Does Citi want to help you? (click to enlarge)





Well, I DM’ed them as requested…and whadda think? That they called? Dream on.

Original post, January 13, 2014: I’ve known for a long time that Citicorp isn’t among the most consumer-friendly companies in the country. (Nearly five years ago, in one of the better epithets I’ve coined on this blog, I called it the “Bank of Kafka.”)

The bank was too big to fail during the Great Recession, receiving $476.2 billion — with a “B” — from TARP. Now, they’ve paid it all back, are healthy and can get right back to treating customers like dirt.

I have recently been reminded of how good they are at throwing sand in customers’ faces. Here’s my New Year’s Eve encounter with Citi.

We have a tradition: Chinese food while we watch the ball drop. There’s something about juxtaposing the stupidity of the ball drop with overly-salty, fatty Chinese food that always makes for a good time. (Interesting fact: Tricia and I have been in Times Sq. twice for the ball drop. And not in the post-“Friends” Disneyland version of NYC you see today. We were there in early 1980s, when NYC was more filthy, more dangerous and much more real. And oh so much more fun!)

We called in our order as usual and when we went to pick it up, my Citi AAdvantage MasterCard was declined. No problem. I just paid with another card.

On the way home, I called to find out why it was declined. I was told it wasn’t just declined — it had been cancelled at the bank’s discretion. I was told an explanation would be forthcoming. It’s now almost two weeks later and, surprise!, not a word from Citi.

Well, I have an explanation. See, we’re good credit risks. We pay on time — and in full. A couple of months ago, Citi mailed me a come-on for an AAdvantage MasterCard: spend a certain amount in 90 days and get a boatload of miles. And the first year of the card is free. Well, they must have known my plan: spend the amount needed, get the miles and then cancel the card before the renewal.

IOW, they knew they wouldn’t make any money from me. I don’t pay usurious credit card rates. (Citi’s are among the highest and their method of computing interest is the most expensive the law allows.) And they probably could predict that we wouldn’t renew a credit card that costs, I think, $95/year when so many other cards are free. In short, they didn’t want to make good on their offer — and, no, no, no!, they’ll never admit that. But if the shoe was on the other foot, would Citi let me let me walk away from a commitment without an explanation? I don’t think so. In fact, even with an explanation they’d sue my toochis off.

How far away were were from cashing in on the offer? About $57. It’s just too coincidental to be an accident.

You’d have a hard time convincing me that their offer was anything other than a come-on from the beginning– the kind of come-on you get from robo-callers offering to reduce your credit card rates. The difference is, Citi gets to do it with taxpayer money (Yes, yes, they paid it all back. But would they even be here if they hadn’t been rescued?)

I wonder if American Airlines, whose brand is damaged by Citi’s actions, is wise to the trick. AA gets paid by Citi for those miles — and I presume they wouldn’t like it if they knew what Citi was doing.

Well, it’s just another life lesson: Citi is too big to fail — and too big to do right by its customers. I hope readers of this post will keep that in mind the next time they get a credit card offer from Citi.

Verizon FiOS support to customers: plug it in, dummy


I was looking at a FAQ today on Verizon FiOS’s website on 3D TV (which is, apparently, prematurely dead) when I ran across this ditty in the sidebar.

Yes, thank you, I did know that plugging the STB, router and DVRs into a power source could fix the problem of them being unplugged in less than five minutes. But I wasn’t quite sure that I’d ever had the helpful hint to make sure that power is available elsewhere in my home before calling you about the FiOS devices that won’t power up when I finally figure out how to plug them in.

I’ve blasted Verizon here before for a number of things. As long ago as 2007, I took FiOS to task for the kludge of technology inside the home, in contrast to the elegant fiber network just on the other side of the ONT. It’s as if their engineers exhausted themselves designing the network to the home and left it to the doofs to design the in-home technology.

I’ve whined about their stealing bandwidth from the Internet to deliver HD streams to coax devices. And, in 2011, I called FiOS websites and apps among the worst ever foisted onto customers. (Believe it or not, they’ve actually made things worse. While everyone else — even Microsoft is producing lovely apps today — FiOS still promotes an early Soviet-style look and lack of functionality that one day might be quaint.)

But this little snippet from their “support” website sums it up. They’re still the “phone company,” with its impenetrable, plodding ways. What FiOS has managed to do is combine that ethos with the very worst of the cable TV industry’s “support” processes (including, apparently, a healthy disdain for the intelligence of their customers) resulting in a new low of respect for their customers.


Lenovo does the right thing, but gracelessly

I know you have all been waiting with baited breath to see how my attempts to get Lenovo to honor an extended warranty are going.

Well, the story is over. And I remain oddly unfulfilled. Here’s what happened.

The Monday after my post blasting Lenovo for a) refusing to fix a defect under warranty and b) ignoring a legal claim, I got a nice email from the social media dude. I guess this is both good and bad. Good that Lenovo cares about its reputation online and bad because they had failed to respond to “traditional channels” — a legal demand letter. (Could social media end up supplanting consumer protection in the legal system?) The social media guy put me in email contact with a problem resolution person.

If their website had a link to reach the problem resolution people — or some other way to contact them, I might never have had to initiate a small claims case. But that’s water under the bridge.

Tuesday, a box arrived. The return address wasn’t to Flextronics in Memphis, where regular depot repairs go. Instead, the address was to a “SWAT team” at Lenovo’s HQ in NC. I thought, “Whoa! People who really know ThinkPads are going to look at my machine. That’s going to be worth the trouble I’ve been put through.”

The day the machine arrived, I spoke to Lenovo who confirmed that I had not damaged the machine — the source of my dispute with them which they used that as an excuse to not fix the ThinkPad. The problem resolution rep asked for all the documents I had concerning my communication with Lenovo — I had everything, names, dates, unanswered emails to Lenovo executives, printouts of the problem record — and expressed “shock” that it was classified as user damage. He said that his tech was quite clear that this wasn’t a result of user damage.

The next day, I received a message that the repair was delayed due to parts. 48 hours later, on Friday, the ThinkPad was returned to me. I plugged it in and  noticed immediately that the fingerprint indicator light didn’t come on. This indicator tells you you can scan your finger to power on, boot and log into Windows. So I powered it up with the power switch, only to discover that the trackpad and Bluetooth were also dead.

Crestfallen that the SWAT team didn’t know enough about their own machines to realize that in repairing an Ethernet clip they had broken three other things, I emailed the problem res dude, who immediately sent me a FedEx label.

Lenovo got the ThinkPad back on the following Monday, told me parts were backordered but somehow got me a fixed machine by today, Friday.

In addition to the six weeks I couldn’t use the machine due to a flaky Ethernet connector, it took Lenovo two more tries and two more weeks to repair the connector and undo the damage they did to the machine while attempting to repair it.

I have client data on my hard disk, so I sent the ThinkPad in for repair without the disk. I’ve always kept the hard disk when I’ve sent in laptops for repair. Flextronics never once complained about not having a hard disk in all the years I have taken this precaution. But for some reason the SWAT team needed a hard disk. So they put in a 320GB disk and returned the machine to me with the new disk installed. I was told I could keep the disk for my trouble. Gee, thanks.

So, I am writing this post on my T410 — and glad to have it back. But my PC days might just be over. My MacBook Air is such a fantastic Windows machine that I just don’t think I’ll ever go back to a PC. (Even Linus Torvalds is gushing about the MacBook Air.)

On balance, Lenovo did the right thing. But they were graceless.

They were impossible to deal with until I made noise online. They ignored a legal process to the point that, if I had gone to court, I feel certain a judge would have awarded me treble damages to teach them a lesson. They finally fixed the machine, but screwed up the repair and had to do it again.

Contrast this experience (struggle? campaign? death march?)  to my first service experience with Apple. My MacBook Air developed an odd space key behavior about 20 days after I bought it. I took it in to the store — and left 40 minutes later with a brand new machine.

My question is simple: what happens to the people that aren’t persistent like your intrepid blogger? The ones who, when summarily transferred to the billing department for payment on what should be a free warranty repair, just pay up? The ones who don’t use blogs and social media to express their issues?

Bottom line from this experience? I believe Lenovo  has a policy somewhere that gives its service people incentive to “find” more billable repairs. Many people will just pay up, not knowing they have other options. Until you start SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF YOU LUNGS LIKE THIS, Lenovo folks don’t return your calls or emails. Worse, Lenovo seems to specialize in being unreachable. (You can probably tell that of all the things that  happened in this story, what most incensed me was the fact that “managers” were supposed to call me and just plain didn’t, even though they updated the problem record to say they did.) In short, Lenovo — in a garish quest for margin — is playing the percentages.

I’m saddened by all this. When IBM had this PC business, they were bureaucratic and process-bound. But they returned calls. And if IBM got a legal document, they knew what to do with it. Lenovo has clearly joined HP and Dell at the bottom of the PC customer service pile.

Suing Lenovo, chapter 1

Those of you who know me know I’ve been a fan of ThinkPads since the beginning. I was an IBM systems engineer in the early days of ThinkPads and developed an undying loyalty to their tank-like construction and, above all, the keyboards. Like many devotees, I put up with their higher prices and uninspiring specifications.

It’s only recently that I bought my first Mac laptop, which despite some limitations – most notably the keyboard — has turned out to be a great Windows machine. One reason I bought the Mac was I got a nice discount, courtesy of my broker.

The other reason was that Lenovo broke my heart. Or, less dramatically, they have lost their way when it comes to service.

The short version of the story is that one day I noticed that the wired Ethernet cable wouldn’t “click” securely into the female RJ-45 adapter on my workhorse ThinkPad T410 laptop. Loose connections can cause really flaky problems with networking. Having a socket on the laptop that wouldn’t securely mate with a network cable renders the wired connection on the laptop essentially useless.

This T410 is about 18 months old and when I bought it, I purchased the three-year “depot” warranty. I had always recommended the extended warranty to customers as a great value when I was an IBMer. And I was always proud — and amazed — at the service. Both customers and I were impressed with the depot service that used to be provided.

All you needed to do was call an 800 number (or, for ex-IBMers who remember the good old days, enter a problem report in ESC+). After describing the problem, the next morning a packing box arrived and if you rushed it to UPS that afternoon, you’d get your machine back most times about 48 hours later. It was fast, efficient and repairs were always well-done.

Well, enter Chinese ownership in 2005 and cost pressures. Suddenly, machines took longer to be returned. There was nobody to speak to when a machine came back with the original problem. (In 2009, I had to send a T60p out for repair three times for a failed Bluetooth indicator light. Apparently, there’s “no problem” with a failed indicator light when it’s not connected to a Bluetooth device. Get it?) One got the feeling that repair service, which had once been a strength of the ThinkPad line (it was consistently #2 to Apple in Consumer Reports’ ratings), was now being “milked” for its revenue potential (why do you think every $9 cellphone gel case at Best Buy can be had at checkout with a $30 “service agreement?”).

So, still among the Lenovo faithful, I sent off my T410 for a repair to the Ethernet connection in mid-February. Days later, it hadn’t been returned. The online problem report said I’d been called about something. Nobody called. Finally, days after it should have been repaired, I called and was summarily transferred to the billing department. “That’ll be $750, please. It’s not a warranty repair; you damaged it.” Lenovo wouldn’t discuss it — wouldn’t tell me how they’d concluded I’d damaged it — and wouldn’t provide anyone outside the billing department to speak to.

Anyone who has ever plugged a PC into a network cable knows these connectors are little plastic things that can easily fail in normal use. I didn’t damage the laptop; one day the socket just didn’t connect securely. It’s as reasonable to assume the plastic failed as to assert that I damaged it. But Lenovo — without any discussion or proof that I had done anything to the machine — decided that I was responsible because they needed to get off the hook to repair the machine. Why? Because it turns out the entire motherboard has to be replaced to repair the little plastic clips on the Ethernet adapter.

$750 to repair a loose Ethernet adapter on a machine that cost $1100 new? Who can I talk to about this? Apparently nobody. Lenovo didn’t return any of my phone calls, didn’t respond to emails — and didn’t respond to my initial legal moves.

But wait…the story isn’t over. In fact, it’s just beginning.

See, here in Massachusetts we have a strong consumer protection law, Chapter 93. Under Chapter 93, I sent Lenovo a “demand letter” (a copy of the 93A demand letter is attached to this post; if you want to write one yourself, here’s a good source of help.) They had 30 days to respond, which to nobody’s surprise, they didn’t. Now, I am taking the next step.

Next week, I am going to sue Lenovo in small claims court. (A scan of the filing form is below. You cannot file this form online in Massachusetts because it’s an antique: it’s a paper form with carbon copies. Talk about old-school.)

If anyone from Lenovo reads this post and wants to settle, now would be a good time. Because if you don’t, I will file this document next week in Massachusetts district court and we’ll see what a judge has to say about you arbitrarily deciding that I damaged my laptop, resulting in a convenient way for you to avoid delivering the warranty service I paid for — and used to recommend to others.

And even if the judge throws me out on my ear, you’ll have missed a chance to quash me making public the details of our disagreement and every twist of my nascent legal adventure suing the bejesus out of you in small claims court. If you want to go the route of Honda with the Civic Hybrid, so be it. OTOH, if you want to do the right thing, drop me an email.

Oh, and about that Consumer Reports computer service survey…this year I don’t think I can give you the effusive marks you used to get from me.


Welcome to Southborough, MA: third-world city

Another day, another power outage, courtesy of National Grid.

Tonight, we lost power again. While we were out for only about an hour, the astonishingly unreliable National Grid distribution system has me thinking.

First, National Grid should be heavily fined and their management replaced. Tonight, when I called “customer service” to report our outage (it takes real effort to talk to a human — they’d rather not actually speak to customers), I got an earful of how heroic their response has been. Well, that may be the conventional wisdom inside that company. But here, in the real world, the consensus of everyone I talk with is that National Grid should be tarred, feathered and run out of town in one of their bucket trucks. National Grid is patting itself on its collective back while people continue to suffer and their repairs don’t hold. (It’s an interesting marketing problem — but that’s a topic for a different blog post.)

Second, the fury of the people — some 85K of whom are still lights out in the sixth day of this event — has reached our politicians. Governor Patrick has called for an investigation. Senator Brown has written a letter expressing the outrage of the common man. As National Grid owns the DPU (see regulatory capture), the former will accomplish nothing to improve National Grid’s mismanagement. And Senator Brown is burnishing his lunch-bucket, regular dude populist credentials in an effort to get ahead of the real populism of his apparent re-election challenger, Democrat Elizabeth Warren. A pox on all these politicos’ heads for their cynical (and ultimately ineffective) manipulation of these events for their own political objectives.

Third, I am reminded of the first time I went to India on business. It was 1995; I was working at Lotus Development. We were there to deliver a symposium for Notes application developers. I was just beginning the heavy international travel for business that dominated my career in the 1990s. I was naïve. In those early trips, I assumed that the world was like home: you could drink the water wherever you went and nobody ever thought about electricity supplies.

I remember visiting a Notes reseller on my first full day in Delhi, accompanied by our country marketing manager. We sat with the reseller’s managing director at the end of a long hall. Running down the spine of this hall snaked more than a dozen folding tables placed next to each other on their short sides like you might see set up for an event . On each side of the table were employees, working furiously on a variety of terminals — DEC VT101 compatibles, IBM 3270 compatibles and generic TTYs (all antiques today). This was the beginning of out-sourcing. I was told these people were doing contract programming for companies in the US.

All of a sudden, the power stopped. Nobody looked up. The fans stopped, the humming of the terminals stopped. It was silent. The programmers sat with their fingers curled at the ready over the keyboards of their terminals, eyes staring straight ahead at blank, dark terminal screens. Each programmer was in his or her own world, trying to remember where they were in the logic they were programming. They were at the ready, waiting for the power to come up in a few minutes — for just a couple of minutes. It was as if they, too, had been stopped dead by the power outage.

At our table, nobody missed a beat — except for me, the provincial dork. “Why,” I asked, “is everyone staring straight ahead, waiting to pounce on the keyboards? In a US office, when this happens, people push from their desk, laugh, talk sports and gossip until the power comes back on.”

“Not to worry,” I was told. “They are mentally paused at the last set of programming instructions just before they lost power and saved the items they were working on. They won’t remember as much if they relax and start talking. Plus, this happens several times a day. They’re used to it.”

And so it did happen, twice more in my hour meeting. I left astonished at the adaptation these programmers had to develop to keep their train of thought going during repeated, random power outages. They adapted by putting them minds into pause when power went out as a way of preventing re-work. It was my first taste of what happens to people who have to rely on third-world infrastructure.

Tonight, it’s a metaphor for what National Grid is doing to Southborough: they are pulling us backwards into the third-world, where we will all have to adapt, somehow, to an increasingly unreliable electricity supply. And that adaptation can only mean a step backwards for our living standards.

So, no, Governor Patrick, calling for an investigation won’t help. And, Senator Brown, you can save your franking privileges; it’s not going to do any good and it’s an utterly transparent political maneuver.

Instead, how about making DPU accountable for the third-world condition of our grid? Why not replace management there with new blood, people who have been explicitly charged with making sure National Grid is accountable for its failures? Why not put some teeth into this regulator to make sure that, one day, Southborough can once again rejoin the first world?

National Grid improved nothing after Irene; continues to tell people nothing during crises

Since at least Mark Twain, people have accepted that crappy weather and New England go together. Now, thanks to UK-based National Grid (can you picture “British” and “advanced engineering” together or “UK” and “superior service” on the same bill?), “third-world power distribution grid” and New England have come to be linked in people’s minds.

In case you need a refresher, in August, 2011, Hurricane Irene blew through central Massachusetts and 400,000 plus National Grid customers lost power, some for almost a week. (We were out 37 hours.) In October, 2011, a nor’easter blew though Massachusetts and, surprise!, 400,000 plus National Grid customers lost power.

National Grid can’t control the weather. I understand that. But apparently, they can’t control their grid either. The same areas, in approximately the same proportions, were affected in both storms. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

A post-storm driving tour I took in August matched up perfectly with the tour I took today: cross from Southborough into Framingham and you move from no power to power. Cross from Southborough into Hopkinton, you get power. The difference? Hopkinton and Framingham are not National Grid service areas. How could the weather be so significantly different in those two communities from the weather in Southborough twice in 90 days? Answer: it can’t.

Worse, National Grid is repeating its ham-handed handling of pr with this outage. In August, I tweeted two screenshots from their outage website. One showed that after about 32 hours of outage, National Grid was still “assessing” the situation. Here’s the screenshot from their website for today’s outage:

Click to enlarge

It’s now 22 hours after the start of the outage in Southborough. And nobody at National Grid has assessed the conditions in Southborough yet? I and most of the town were out early today, cleaning up downed tree limbs and assessing our properties. I live off of Route 85 (on which there were no operable traffic signals). Does National Grid expect us to believe they couldn’t get a truck through the the heart of Southborough to determine the problems and use that info to update their website?



In August, 92% of Southborough lost power.

Remarkably, today 91% of Southborough lost power:

Click to enlarge

This speaks volumes to me. National Grid did nothing to improve its distribution network after the major outage resulting from Irene.

In public communications, National Grid continues to prefer bromides (“We’re working as hard as we can”) to actual information. I called the Southborough Police in August and today, asked what they’d heard from National Grid and got the same answer both times: “We have no information from them.”

I think the picture is pretty clear: a broken-down UK utility has bought up US utilities from New York to New England and operates them with minimal investment and maintenance in order to maximize profits. Meanwhile, they rely on the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities to continue to suffer from a classic case of regulatory capture to avoid having to operate and invest in the system in a way that would minimize disruption from severe weather.

It’s shocking that a public utility can away with repeatedly exploiting its customers, manipulating its regulators and avoiding accountability in crisis situations.

Verizon: Who designed your websites and mobile apps?

I’ve just been through a “process” of making my FiOS DVR accessible from Verizon’s website and their mobile apps for Android and iOS. You know what I mean about a “process” and a cable company: thousands of reboots of this thing or that — hours spent restoring my settings on this device or that after being forced to reset everything to factory default settings or “tech support” won’t support me. (It’s as if the tech support people live for finding out that you have changed the background from blue to red: “Ah ha! That’s the problem. Reset it and call us back.” Naturally, you never get the same person a second time.)

Finally — finally — after exhausting me, after calling me and telling me I had other devices on my router network (no kidding; we have computers and mobile devices, just like everyone else), someone deep in the bowels of FiOS checked the check box and enabled access.

Now, I wonder why I bothered. FiOS’s websites and apps have been designed by the same people who think IRS forms are art: “Hey, how about that 2010 revision to the W-9! Let’s use that for the website. And geesh…did you see that new GSA schedule for applying to be a vendor of paper clips? Wow…what a beaut. Let’s use that for our iPad app.”

I kid you not…FiOS websites and apps are the worst designs I have ever seen. itself is an island of organization and consistency compared to this mess.

Love government forms? is for you.

Let’s take a little tour. Click on the “FiOS TV Central” screenshot nearby. Wanna login? Sure, the login link is right where it ought to be. But where are userid and password fields? Halfway down the page. Below the fold (even on a WXGA-res screen) On the left. Verizon is so desperate to upsell you to an on-demand movie that they can’t even wait until you login to stuff the page full of ads for content.




How To Make People Hate The iPad

Now, check out this screenshot from an iPad running “FiOS Mobile.” I’ve titled the screen shot “how to make people hate the iPad because after about three minutes of this thing, that’s what many people will end up feeling. First, it takes forever for the app to connect. Switching away makes you have to re-connect. If all you want to do is use the iPad to control the DVR, you have to first bring up a DVR listing, and then — if you are lucky — you get this truncated picture of a FiOS remote. Punch a button, say pause, so you can grab a snack or make a pit stop, and wait for 30 seconds before you get the action.


The Worst Android UI Ever Designed

But nothing — and I mean nothing — equals the depths of poor design demonstrated by the Android FiOS Mobile app. Take a look at this screenshot. See the similarity between the iOS app and the Android app? No, try closing your left eye, standing on your right foot only and squinting into the sun. There, see it now? Still no? Well, you and I must be the only ones because Verizon thinks it’s the Android equivalent of the iOS app.




You know, it’s one thing to not care about mobility for cable subscribers. But it’s another to be so completely lame — and to be so completely oblivious to it. Back in the day, I was a systems engineer for IBM on the NYNEX account. This was one of the predecessors to Verizon. I was responsible for application and database design using IBM technologies at that time — and I encountered what used to be called “Bell-shaped heads” in their application development. Having a Bell-shaped head meant you did things the phone-company way — you know, “We’re a monopoly and we couldn’t care less about usability.”

You’d think that after all this time, Verizon would have lost that myopic view of applications — but it looks like time has not healed those misshapen heads.

Take THAT, Best Buy

Just yesterday, as my wife and I were going through the Sunday papers, I ran across an ad for HDMI cables from Best Buy. As you can see from the snippet from their weekly ad, they have a house-branded 6ft “high speed” HDMI cable for $60.

I mentioned to my wife that I knew this was a complete rip-off because HDMI is a digital specification. If you plug two compatible components together and you get audio and video, the cable is working. I know how much big-box retailers need to find profitable items to sell, given the small margins on consumer electronics. Because phone cases, batteries, cables and other accessory items are often not included in a purchase of a consumer electronic items, the retailers have a business incentive to gouge people.

Click to englarge

And, boy, does Best Buy cut deep into your wallet for a generic HDMI cable. Take a look at this search from eBay for 6ft HDMI cables. Many cables are available for a tenth of the price of Best Buy’s cables.

Sure, you sometimes have to wait for something to arrive via air mail from Hong Kong and maybe the cable will be defective and you are stuck with a small loss.

Neither of those risks make up for, IMO, the cruelly efficient fleecing of Best Buy customers, cynically executed by their salespeople who are trained to push all sorts of “pack” (useless add-ons) from cables to warranty extensions on unsuspecting non-techie customers.

(I’m still upset with Best Buy over the way they treated us when I bought a Sonos system for my father-in-law. Long story short, the made us sign up for a store credit card with the most usurious terms I have ever seen, they had us wait next to the dumpster to pick up the equipment, then they tried to give me a receipt that contained the wording “This is not a receipt.” If they can’t treat a knowledgeable customer with any respect, what do you think their attitude is when Grandma comes in looking for a cellphone?)

Then today, in an episode of Jungian synchronicity I ran across this post from CNET, which describes in detail the signaling protocol in the HDMI standard, the differences in the standards and what can really go wrong. Suffice it to say, people buying HDMI cables — something you really want to take home with your new HDTV — are getting massively ripped off if you buy it on impulse at Best Buy.

While I do believe in buyer beware and all that, what frustrates me is how entities like Best Buy have convinced themselves it’s OK to do business like this. If I treated my consulting clients like “marks” from whom I needed to extract the maximum revenue, they’d know it in an instant. How does Best Buy get away with its warm and fuzzy image, which clearly covers up for a raging retail exploitation machine?


Was Charles Schwab a simpleton when it came to auction rate securities?

Was Charles Schwab a simpleton when it came to auction rate securities?
Was Charles Schwab a simpleton when it came to auction rate securities?

Tomorrow, July 21, 2011, yet another court appearance will take place in the long-running case People of the State of New York vs. Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (WebCivil Supreme index 453388/2009).

Having convinced its lap-dog regulator FINRA to look the other way, the only thing left between getting away with auction rate securities fraud and having to make good on its misrepresentations to little guys like me is this case brought by the New York state attorney general.

As I have occasionally thundered about on this blog, Schwab has been hiding behind “principle” since the case was filed in late 2009, asserting it was just the victim of other players in the marketplace and that as a “downstream” seller of these toxic assets, it should not be held liable for selling them.

Coupled with its, ahem, principles, it has delayed and delayed and delayed the NY AG’s case. First, by trying to move it to Federal court — a move it lost — and then by slowing a determination on its own motion to dismiss the charges.

The motion to dismiss was filed in March, 2010. Between then and now, the motion was heard once. There have been 11 adjournments. Apparently, a change in judges is at least partly responsible for the delays. But it’s pretty clear that Schwab doesn’t intend to settle and that delay, despite the continuing pain of people with illiquid auction rate securities, works to Schwab’s advantage.

In reviewing the case documents available on eTrack, I ran across the NY AG’s response to the motion to dismiss. Originally filed in May, 2011, its introduction is a must-read for anyone who is interested in this case and its impact. Here is the entire document.

But you only have to read these short excerpts to understand in a New York minute how vapid Schwab’s stand on “principle” is.

…Schwab claims to have had a limited role in the ARS market, and that it somehow was a victim of the practices of the major underwriter broker-dealers whose ARS Schwab distributed to its customers. If Schwab truly was such a simpleton in the marketplace as it suggests, then it was reckless in selling products it did not understand. But the evidence alleged in the Complaint belies any claim by Schwab that it was unaware of the risks in selling ARS.


At base, this motion is another attempt by Schwab to delay adjudicating the case on the merits, and, more importantly, doing something to alleviate the suffering of its customers who continue to experience illiquidity for twenty-eight months and counting since the failure of the ARS market.

On behalf of all of us who’ve been robbed by Charles Schwab, I want to thank the NY Attorney General for making such a logical and crystal-clear argument for the court to consider. I hope tomorrow the judge will agree, rule against Schwab’s ridiculous motion to dismiss and allow the case to proceed.

Do you use the Internet? Then you gotta read this.

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It’s Memorial Day and a little rainy here, so I pulled out the iPad to catch up on tech news. And I stumbled on to a piece of proposed legislation that scared the bejesus out of me. The so-called PROTECT IP act (S.968), now fortunately placed on hold in the US Senate by the same senator who prevented the misbegotten COICA legislation from moving forward, is something every Internet user should know about.

First, you want to know about PROTECT IP in order to call your Congressmen and Congresswomen to tell them you believe this bill is dangerous and ill-advised. Second, you want to know about PROTECT IP because a collection of academics and DNS experts has written the most informative and compelling description of PROTECT IP and the DNS itself I’ve ever read. The document in opposition to PROTECT IP is written for legislators and staff, so it has a primer on DNS technology and makes this crucial — and vulnerable — component of the Internet accessible to even newbies.

If you use the Internet (how’d you get here?), you need to read the Ars Technica story on PROTECT IP and spend an hour with the experts’ whitepaper on DNS describing why PROTECT IP is such a mistake.