Stuff I Own

This is where I will share the good, the bad and the ugly of things I own that are suppose to make life easier.

Open Letter to James R. Chambers head of Weight Watchers – Hire Fitbit to manage your website and apps

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Dear James R Chambers,

It’s January 2015, and the Weight Watchers mobile site at http://mobile.weightwatchers.com says Copyright 2013! No wonder it has been broken for months.
Go to your main site’s mobile tools page: https://www.weightwatchers.com/templates/marketing/marketing_utool_1col.aspx?pageid=1191351
Click the link for the “Mobile Site” near the bottom.

You get this error:

"The requested URL was rejected. Please consult with your administrator.
Your support ID is: 503463347762402832"

Why?  Because months ago you changed the location of the WW mobile website, from http://m.weighwatchers.com to http://mobile.weightwatchers.com. But no one will find it because one of the main links to help people get started with mobile tracking has never been updated on your main site.

Now Try this:
From Windows 8.1 using Internet Explorer go to http://mobile.weightwatchers.com.  Food Tracking is broken, same as on my smart phone.  I searched the web.  It has been broken for months. There are complaints on other sites about this.

Food Tracking is the main behavior you are trying to teach customers, but your web team doesn’t even test to see if it is working for Mobile users. It only works if I use it from full Windows using Google Chrome.  I guess we are supposed to eat in front of large PC? Go to it from Windows Phone 8.1 using IE or even the top alternate browser UC Browser same thing. I have no way to use my e-tools from my smartphone!

It does work from a desktop computer using Google Chrome. Only!!!

What does this tell me? You have people in your IT/Web department that have been some anti-Microsoft war that is more important than serving your customers. OR they have not basic testing process against common devices your customer use.

Fitbit gets it

Guess what? I have a free app with my Fitbit that works nicely on Windows Phone 8.1.  It links to my Fitbit device. It scans barcodes. It even lets me use speech to log my food!! It is a world class app.  Plus Fitbit’s food logging system and database is as good if not better than Weight Watchers’. It is well made. Weight Watchers has NEVER had a tracking app for Windows Phone.  Fitbit has in a few months mastered serving its customers on all mobile platforms.

No effort to serve your customers on Windows Phone.  No testing of website links after changes are made. Etc. What are you paying them to do this level of work?

You already have partnered with Fitbit. Time to just write up a contract for them to write your phone apps and manage your website. Do this before we all just leave you for Fitbit.

I have a recommendation to people who care about losing weight and fitness. If you are paying for Weightwatchers E-Tools… Wake Up! Fitbit has tools that are better and cheaper! Walk away from this out-of-date company who has not quite figured out the web and mobile devices.

Businesses I use Kudos – April 2013

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With the economy the way it is… I can feel the crunch hurting businesses… some cut frills some seem to cut service or staff quality. Given some of the bad choices being made, there are a few businesses I want to recommend.

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance & Virgina Mason

My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer this winter.  We are blogging about it at www.boobsofsteel.com   If you read the blog you will find that Virgina Mason’s parking acted as a distracting nuisance I could blow off steam with and we have some communication issues with the cancer team early on, but looking back and reading what others around the nation have had to go through… I am in awe of the speed we were given access to world class testing and diagnosis and from what I can tell the overall treatment plan is very much what we will be getting at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.  VM has gotten many national awards and I see some very well defined business process applied to their medicine that streamlines visits etc.  but I never saw anything that skimped on the medicine.

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is an interesting beast.  The are very proactive in their marketing and the only complaints I read about them is that they are proactive in billing.  To be honest that is what keeps a business going in this economy.  But I have to say that our cancer care team and our visits there are always just full of compassion, clear communication and respect.  I know there is a pervasive idea that health-care should be free and no one should profit from it.  Frankly when your wife has breast cancer, health care should be excellent and whatever motivates the creation of better care is fine by me.  My wife’s cancer appeared from nowhere.. less than 12 months after her annual mammogram and doctor’s breast exam a baseball-sized tumor was removed.  The typical waits to see doctors and get tests in places like Canada would have killed her.  I  have a real respect for SCCA, its run like a successful tech company, using marketing, partnerships and service to offer great heath-care for one of the best cancer care systems on the planet.  No free or government run clinic could match what they are doing, I thank God for them often.

MXGuarddog

From cancer to SPAM. Working a contract at Microsoft currently and having worked on the Forefront team, I wanted to use the MS service to filter spam on my small home email server, we just moved to Comcast Xfinity service and they block all port 25 traffic.  The Microsoft Exchange Online Protection service is well priced for what we needed, but only works on port 25.. so I had to walk away.  Google has pretty much ended their Postini service forcing you to buy into Google Apps to access the service.  I was almost to the point of moving our family email system to Office 365 and may still someday.. Then I found MXGUARDDOG.

Can a free spam filter for email servers work?  After several weeks I am pleased.  There is not a lot adjustments to the SPAM picking functions to change the filtering level.  But it seems to do well and there are easy to use tools to white-list and black-list senders, domains and IPs.  You can have tagged spam delivered so your email rules can collect it or have it kept on the MXGD server and a report is emailed to each user with easy click-to-deliver the rare false positives.  They replaced my MX back-up service too for the nearly free price.  The have four MX servers, only one showed up on one SPAM blacklist service (probably for bounced messages. some spam black-list services are overly aggressive) The rest of the servers are clean and well run.  So far I have had to tell my server not to block their reports and have had to domain white-list two vendors we subscribe to that use ConstantContact.com.

You can buy credits for a small fee or get credits for placing a link on a web site.  I am more than happy to promote a well run business with a great service on my own website.

Seattle Coffee Gear

Turns out something on my birthday list for my wife, was also something she wanted. S0 we bought as a mutual anniversary gift: a Breville BES840XL Espresso Machine and a Breville grinder.  Seattle Coffee Gear has a top notch website, good use of web and social media and an out of the way but well run local show room near our home. Their video reviews are both fun and very useful in choosing both large ticket gear and accessories.

If you love coffee and want to buy gear from people who test and know what they sell… go to Seattle Coffee Gear.  Sometimes their prices are competitive and sometimes less so.  But they are not chasing the discount customer, they are serving the customer who appreciates passion and expertise in coffee making.  They not only sold me a great machine, when I had problems and I went back.  They moved a floor machine to a place we could test it and practice the right way to use our new machine.  Their 15 minutes of customer service after the sale was the difference between us being frustrated with a new machine and loving it!

Buca di Beppo

Our family has been going to Bucca for years.. and you can watch how the crowds change and how they adapt.  I would say that based on the open seats at dinner last Friday and the light traffic 2-3 days a week when going to work,  we have already entered another bad recession… When things are good Bucca is fun, has good food and is filled.  When things get tight it is a luxury.  I was there for a dad and daughter night.. since my wife is out of town.  The food and service is good.  They have even added the idea of introducing staff by name as we pass.  To save costs and I expect turn tables a bit faster, they went from the fancy ring bound many page menu to a large single fold menu where you can see everything.  You lose the great images of the food, but the menus are clearly lower cost to change and produce and it does make choosing the entire meal easier.  For a company to improve service and reduce costs where few will miss it makes Buca di Beppo one of my smart business stars.

 

Windows 8 Install on my 8440P Elitebook

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DisclaimerI am currently not working at Microsoft.  I do however have a long history of working for them, for partners and as a contract staffer.  What does that mean?  It means I understand that Microsoft is full of hard working people. Its not some giant boogeyman.

NOTE: Updated info at end including how owners of um2000/um2420/um2430 cards can get 100MB a month of Free Broadband!

During my last stint at Microsoft, I was not using the pre-release software.  But as I prepare to go back in the next few weeks I knew I needed to get caught up.  Microsoft is pretty good about putting its staff first on beta software and then the current release.  This provides a large user base that gives them extra insight into any issues that might pop-up.  While many businesses will wait a year or more before moving to the newest version of a Microsoft release.  Microsoft puts large numbers of its people doing important business on pre-release software.  I always respected this about them.

Diving in Early

So this week I picked up a copy of Microsoft Windows 8 Pro.  In the past, I ended up in with Windows Vista early because of software needs, but found the first 6 months to be frustrating until the hardware drivers got better. After that it was clearly better than XP.  I did Windows 7 much sooner and it was good.  I have not used Windows 8 even in pre-release this time.  I had read the mixed reviews, but as I expect to be back at Microsoft by January. I knew I needed to get up to speed. So decided to set up dual boot on my notebook.

I was dismayed that the packaging did not say “upgrade” anywhere in the branding.  Even the fine print about upgrading it uses the word “if”.  So after putting in a spare hard drive and doing a clean install over an old copy of Windows 7, I made the mistake of doing a custom set up and wipping the drive.  Again the box never said upgrade only, nor did the set up warn me that wiping the drive would create problems activating Windows 8.  After installing it and doing updates and putting a couple of hours into the process, I did an activation.  It failed with an error that I could not use my key for a clean install.  Trust me I have discs and keys for several older versions.  But there was no option to validate it this way either.  In the end I did find a trick out on the net that did work.  [not linking this trick, in deference to my ongoing association to Microsoft]

In the end after making some mistakes in playing with driver and software installs I decided to roll all my learning into a new install.  I was able to “update” my Windows 8 to Windows 8.  There is an option there to update and “Save Nothing” It does a pretty clean install.  If you have folders left by companies like Nvidia or HP in the root, they stay.  But all Windows and installed software related folders are moved to a folder C:\Windows.Old.  You can then use disk clean-up tool to delete that folder.  So you can do a clean install, but it has to be to a drive that has Windows on it when you start.

For me as someone who does work in marketing, I see the error as not being clear that Windows 8 Pro is an upgrade only package.  Sure if you know the new product versions you know that it is the System Builder version that is for clean installs.  But to me that’s like saying “Take a turn where the old gas station was before they tore it down.”  If you are not aware that “System Builders” are for clean install, there is no indication that you can’t do it on the Windows 8 Pro Package and no software warning as it lets you wipe a drive during setup up.  Microsoft needs to look at that, and I would be surprised if it doesn’t cost them some support calls and much harsher worded posts over the coming weeks.

About My System

I have an HP Elitebook 8440p that is fully loaded with Blue-tooth, WAN 3G card and finger print reader.  My other dismay was with HP.  I bought this machine in December of 2010 and it is by far the best notebook I have ever owned.  It even came with a three year standard warranty.  Except HP says on its website that is has no plans to update drivers to Windows 8 for machines bought before November 2011.  Really?  I have a three year warranty on a machine that HP is making a “driver orphan” after only 2 years.  The even sadder aspect is that with a few tricks I have all my devices working on this device perfectly.  The core drivers work fine with Windows 8.  Its the HP installers that do other things along with the drivers like installing complex security apps that have a problem.  I should mention that I am running Windows 64bit on all my machines at this time.  While I can see HP not doing a full software update of all the tools they add to the system, every core hardware device they sell with the machine should get a Windows 8 update.  From what I can tell it may just take some simplifying of the installs of the current drive set.

Getting Windows 8 Working on an HP 8440P Elitebook.

The clean install of Windows 8 works pretty well.  While HP is not updating their downloads officially to Windows 8 to make it easy for us.  It’s clear that the Microsoft driver library has nearly a full set of  drivers for this machine’s hardware. Right off the bat within an hour it was clear to me that Windows 8 is much more like Windows 7 in being ready to use unlike Windows Vista was.  There are a few small hiccups I will discuss, but the driver support is there and the release build is solid and stable.

What doesn’t work after Windows 8 is installed

After installing there were  a few “unknown devices” listed in Device Manager.  At some point in the future it would be nice if Microsoft had Windows change this to “unsupported NAME” and there were basic names like “card reader” or “blue tooth” to give us a clue.  Writing this from memory the three unknown devices that come up are:

  • The Ricoh based SD card slot
  • The HP Blue-Tooth adapter, that is based on Broadcom technology
  • The Validity finger print reader

Not listed in Device Manager, but not working / installed after initial setup.

  • HP um2420 internal 3G wan card
  • Some of the control buttons and hot keys for screen brightness etc.
  • While the Audio works fine, the mute button stays orange but works (it should only be lite orange when muted)
  • HP 3D drive protection, that parks the drive if it feels the machine start to drop more move too fast

Easy Driver/Software Installs

The first step is to visit the HP Download Site for the 8440P  I have not reinstalled all the software etc for the machine.  This machine ships with a lot of interesting pre-boot tricks etc. After the first few weeks I disabled those and have never installed when doing updates.  It also has some pretty complex security software.  For now I am not installing that, I will explain more later. Below are the devices and tools that install perfectly into Windows 8.

  • The Ricoh Card-reader driver
  • The HP IDT HD Audio Drivers   (This gives more audio processing features and fixes the “mute button always orange problem.”
  • HP 3D DriveGuard
  • HP Quick Launch Buttons
  • HP Wireless Manager OR HP Connection Manager (must use version 4.21 and this is only needed if you have a cellular card installed)
    [If you install the Connection Manager, do it AFTER you deal with the WAN Cellular card driver outlined bellow then come back to it]

Drivers That Take Creative Problem Solving

The Blue-tooth Adapter was a pain, but also was the one that taught me some tricks that I suspect will help with other Windows 8 driver installs.  Windows Update offered a driver for this that failed to install.  The error for one of my installs suggested I go to the maker’s site.  The HP install AND the Broadcom install both fail.  The most common error was “access denied”  The trick is to install the basic drivers and avoid the HP and other installs.  When HP installs an update it creates folders named SPnnnn under C:/Swsetup.  For the blue-tooth on my machine this was labled  sp46063 [Link]. To get the blue-tooth working.  After letting the HP install make the folder and fail. Uninstall the the device from device manager to clear out any fildercarb.  Then for my system I opened up the “Win64” folder under the SP46063 folder.  I ran the set up from that folder. It completed and I have a working blue-tooth adapter which I paired with my PCCARD slot mouse/pointer.

The Finger Print reader is a different issue. The HP driver appears to install fine.  Then you can install the HP ProtectTools and all seems fine.  But at least with the machine tied to my Live.com Microsoft account.  I could not get fingerprint log-on to work.  That is the main thing I do with the reader for now on this machine.  I was able to set up the fingerprint pre-boot security just fine.  But I still had to type my password in to log-on to windows.  This is even though after HP sets up it up it acts like there is a fingerprint log-on option, but it doesn’t work.

To get the fingerprint logon ot work, don’t install the HP version of the drivers.   Go to the Validity site and download the 4.3.100 Windows 7 driver. And install everything, you need the digital persona software to enroll the finger prints.  It is not marked for install by default for some reason.  What you will notice is that this install activates the Windows Control Panel Biometric control.  The HP install suppresses this as you are suppose to use their ProtectTools to manager the reader.   After teh driver is installed.  Turn on the logon function in control panel, enroll your finger prints, reboot and then you will see a small Sign-in option link under the password. here you enable for the account, finger print logo on.

HP um2420 Celluar Modem Card, based on the Qualcom GOBI 2000 chipset was much easier because of what I learned from the bluetooth adapter.  Download the Qualcom drivers from the 8440P drivers page.  Start the install so it creates the SP53068 folder.  I went into the Qualcom folder and tried to run the GobiInstaller file.  I got an error saying it couldn’t access a file.  So I dragged the Qualcom folder to my desktop and ran the GobiInstaller from there and it installed perfectly.  The WAN connection option showed up under the network connections options (you llist from the systray icon).  But I had no settings for how to connect.  So then I install the HP Connection Manager 4.21.  That let me choose a provider and try to register.  [I am not quite ready to pay Verizon $35 to activate since I can tether my phone]  But I was able to get the WAN modem talking to the registration pages over celluar wireless..  So we have success there.

See below for info on free data program from HP.  HOWEVER, I have learned that once you turn off power using Connection Manager 4.21, you may not be able to turn it back on inside the program.  Workaround is to keep HP Wireless Manager installed OR in Connection Manager preferences set it to power on all devices when it starts and then fully exit CM and restart.

Final Tips and Thoughts

For now if you have the version of the 8440P with the Nvidia chipset.  Use the drivers Microsoft provides.  The Nvidia beta drives will not play videos in the App Mode versions of Netflix or XBOX video App. I am seeing problems with the screen shimmering after it sleeps in the Microsoft drivers.  This was an HP issue a driver update in Windows 7 fixed, which is why I tried the beta.  I am hoping Nvidia will get the new Windows 8 drivers ready soon and they deal with the shimmer issue.

Some things I will try later. 

I like the HP Support Assistant.. so may install and test that.  I would like to get the fingerprint reader set up to fill in web passwords.  So I will look to see if the HP ProtectTools will run along with the version of the drivers that allow Windows Logon via fingerprint.  There is not much more of the HP software I really care about.  I have to say that after a couple days playing with Windows 8, I am liking it more on this non-touch machine than I thought I would.  This may well end up being the main OS I keep on this machine as long as I get all my odd Astronomy and Telescop tracking tools to work with it too.

Since Windows Vista stablized with the hardware makers getting the drivers right, my opinion of Windows 8 is the same as I had for Vista and Windows 7.  In general if your machine is working with what you have,  no need to upgrade.  If you are looking at a machine with Windows 8, I think you will like it. However there is about a 1 -2 hour intial period where long-time windows users will question the the UI changes, but its not as bad as some of the rants on the Internet would lead you to believe and I am now finding it is faster for somethings.

I will write more later is week if I have time.  But I felt that sharing my Saturday’s worth of trial and error would help others looking to upgrade to Windows 8 on this HP Notebook and I suspect several other machines.

[I am sure there are typos I will fix later.. Promisde to go to the market today so amposting my first draft here]

UPDATE: 

The Nvidia 306.97 WHQ Driver from the Nvidia site which is release is the best choice.  It works with App based video AND after being installed about a day and having several hours of off time, reduces the hard shimmer coming out of monitor sleep.  There is some but it goes away much faster with this driver.  The Windows 7, posted fix for this talks about powering down the machine and even taking the battery out for a few hours this seems to help with the new driver too.   For some reason the auto-detect on the Nvidia website offers the beta not the release, driver.  Do not install the beta driver.

FREE CDMA 3G/4G Broadband!!

HP um2420 / Gobi 2000 Is working great with Windows 8.  HP it appears heard its customer frustration with the poor support for its internal 3G/4G adapters (um2400/2420/2430).  Providers have silly activation costs, extreme price premiums over tablets etc. for doing the same thing.  So HP has created HP Datapass that is a prepaid system offered over the Sprint Network.  The good thing is that for the first 10,000 that sign up, before end of December 2012 get a year of 100MB per month free, no credit card needed cellaur broadband. 

I can tether my phone in most cases would use my shared Verizon data that way vs pay the silly $20 a month + $35 activation.   But if the battery for my phone is low, or I need to talk to someone while online.  I can use my free data and even add some pre-paid data off the HP Datapass.  If you have played with your Gobi card like I did but never completed a registration, the data may need to be reset.  The HP Datapass support line is excellent and have a tool to reset the line.  If you have this function but never turned it on because of the cost.  Try this new HP data program.

 

Amazon models how good customer service should be

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This is a repost from something I posted on an astronomy board.
http://www.astronomyforum.net/off-topic-forum/115473-amazon-makes-good.html#post1057324175

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So on Sunday.. I decided to use my AMEX points of pay for most of a Celestron 8-24 Zoom.
(Using for projection AP as it has T-threads)

On the same order from Amazon I ordered a couple of smaller items from other sellers on the Amazon system.

As of this evening, 2 items had arrived one item was in transit. The EP which was ordered directly from Amazon, had not shipped!! Continue reading

Netflix.. Is a 50% increase in price a Mistake?

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In our house Netflix streaming has been a game changer in entertainment.  My 7 year old loves it. She has access to hours of her favorite shows. For over a year we have had the one DVD/Blu-ray w/streaming for $11.99.  Last night I got an email saying that prices were “going down”, but the plans were separated to $7.99 for streaming and $9.99 for one Blu-ray at a time by mail.  This is an increase of  50%, spun as price reduction! It is  this kind of double-speak that gives marketing a bad name.

It is my belief that this is a bad move for Netflix and will cost them money and goodwill that is expensive to recreate.  Here are my reasons.

The combined streaming and disc-by-mail Netflix offered had no real competition, especially at the price levels.  When you separate them out, each service has to compete on its own. 

For $2 more a month than Netflix’s new pricing, I can get Blockbuster’s disc-by-mail plan with games and 5 same day swaps at the local store.  Blockbuster also gets new titles sooner than Netflix.   I can get a movie at Redbox the day I want it for $1.   That is 8-10 ten movies a month before it cost me the same as a Netflix system that at most can get me 10 movies a month if I watch them the same day I get them and mail them back that day.  In my opinion Netflix disc-by-mail plan is a poor value compared to both Blockbuster and Redbox.

Netflix for our needs is the best all-you-can-eat streaming for older content.  Problem is some people may want fresh content from Hulu or Amazon.  Amazon Prime has a growing all-you-can-eat plan for about $6.50 a month that also includes free 3 day shipping for the year too.  Amazon Prime at Christmas could make the streaming free!  So I am sure more than a few people will find that with higher prices, another streaming service fits what they want better.

My feeling is that the marketing team that owns this pricing model is going to be under fire inside Netflix very fast.  Yesterday we were happy customers, endlessly paying $12 a month for streaming and one disc at a time service that we hardly used. 

Less Happy and More Expensive Customers

Today I am a disgruntled customer looking at all the new competition Netflix has AND I that just cut my monthly payment to them by $4 a month!!  All of us that were willing to pay $4 more a month so we could get the occasional Blu-ray are going to leave.  Those that they will keep the service at the new rate will be the heavy use more expensive users.  So while at first blush, it looked like a good way to increase net revenue per-account, what will happen is that those who were light usage on the disc-by-mail side are gone and they are now paying less.  So the average revenue per account may stay pretty level between those that pay the new price and those that go to streaming only.  But the cost per account will go up, as the only ones paying more are the ones using it the most.  Netflix disc-by-mail service makes no sense if you have a Blockbuster or Redbox location nearby and it make no sense unless you are using it a lot.  Netflix just learned how to remove all the lower cost accounts and keep the higher cost accounts. 

I will predict that this cynical attempt to raise prices will cost Netflix revenue and will energize it’s closest competitors who’s main weakness was they didn’t include an unlimited streaming program with the disc-by-mail service. 

Most of all, it made a lot of happy customers who raved about the service into mad customers who are now complaining on Facebook and Twitter about the service.  In one day the Netflix blog entry about new pricing maxed out at 5000 comments with most being very negative and that at midnight they had over a 26 minute wait time on the phones. This tells me Netflix was clueless about the damage this will do to their customer mindset. 

In my mind, Netflix went from  a useful innovator to a greedy and not very smart company all in just one email!

Verizon and T-Mobile I Want To Be A Customer But…

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Today I am again writing about business.  This week I wanted to become a customer of T-mobile or expand my Verizon services.  In both cases it is clear to me that these companies are paying large amounts of money to product managers and developers to create molds their customers are expected to fit, molds that may be costing them many customers like myself.

As I wrote last week, I have an HP Elitebook 8440p that I really love.  One aspect I find exceptional about this machine is that even though I bought a well priced pre-configured version without Bluetooth or 3G broadband built in, HP shipped the unit with the cables and antennas installed. This has allowed me to add these later without taking the machine apart.  Kudos to HP for allowing me to expand my machine within my budget and not locking me out because I wanted to spend less to start.

That brings me to last week and my discovery that some large companies are paying product management large amounts of money to lose them customers.  It sounds silly, but it is true.  In my opinion these companies have product management teams that think they are in competition with the customer; that there is a game they can win by making the customer do what they want.  Why not create a system where you win customers to your product by letting them choose the service levels they want.  I am not talking about free products or even discount products, just letting the customer buy and use the product in the quantities that they need it. Continue reading