Month: January 2018

School Picture Thievery

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This school picture thing is a pretty big racket if you ask me, and if you’re a parent you know what I am talking about. If there is any place you know it and can feel yourself being ripped off but can’t do anything about it, it is definitely with school pictures and sports team photos.

I have felt this frustration in the past, but it kind of boiled to a head this year when I went to order my daughter’s school pictures. It usually isn’t a big deal trying to order them, but being the “non-custodial” parent who usually gets the information second-hand sometimes it takes a while to get it done. (Yes, I realize I could just have photographer friend take the photo and avoid all the trouble so I guess I am a glutton for punishment).

Anyway, I logged onto the website with my special code and wanted to just download the image to my computer and then go have them printed in the quantities and styles I desired. So, I selected the outrageously overpriced digital image – $22. Say what? Yeah, you read that right…let’s do some quick math…

If a school has 300 hundred students and the photographer can get 60 students through a line and photographed per hour, then the photographer would work for five hours. The photographer is, most likely, using a digital camera to take said digital images @ $22 each, therefore making $1320/hr, or $6600/day. That is of course presuming that each parent purchases just the digital image, let alone one of the other overpriced packages they offer. Now we know not all parents purchase the pictures, but you get the idea.

So, after choosing the digital image for download I get to the check out page only to see that I am going to be charged a “Shipping and Handling” fee of $7. Uh, wait, what? I am downloading a digital image. Why is there a shipping and handling fee? What’s worse is that I can’t remove the fee either. The radial button is greyed out. I either pay the fee right now, or wait until the next day to call them. So, I opted to call the company the next day since surely the fee for a digital download isn’t $7 bucks…

I called the next day and waded through their automated answering system until I got to a real person to talk to. I explained my situation and asked if there was some kind of error on their website that wouldn’t allow me to remove the shipping and handling fee. The response?

“No, that is a flat fee we charge for all late orders.” 

Late? Yes, it is true I didn’t order when the pictures were taken in the fall, but your website says they can be ordered at any time until following fall AND there is nothing to indicate this is a “late” order on the website. I was a little dumbfounded. I said, “You’re joking right? How does downloading a digital image warrant a $7 late fee or even a shipping and handling fee?”

“Well, we do have to mail you the rights release so you can have the picture printed.”

So what you’re saying is that you are going to charge me $7 to mail me a sheet of paper and an envelope that costs, at best, a stamp or maybe two? I said, “Listen, I understand it costs money to send a piece of paper and envelope out to me but I have ordered digital images from other photographers in the past and they didn’t charge me an extra fee for the rights release, they included it with the digital image download. Surely you have the ability to do that right? So, why would I need a piece of paper mailed to me? It takes less than three minutes to compose a generic email and attach two image files to it.”

“Ok, I suppose I could waive the shipping and handling fee. What email address would you like the images sent to?”

Thank you. Now was that so hard and how about you waive all shipping and handling fees for all digital downloads from here on out? I probably speak for everyone who has encountered this ridiculous fee. There is no reason for it other than you can, and you have families over a barrel. I would venture a guess that many people just pay the fee, which is sad.

Highway robbery, I tell ya, only there was no highway and the bandit holds parents and other family members hostage every dang year around school picture time.

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Logical trade, illogical politics

A week or so ago I wrote about a logical trade when it came to finding a solution to a budget impasse and solving some immigration issues. It seems no one was paying much attention (of course, my readership isn’t that high so that last statement was tongue and cheek).

We wake up today with a government shutdown and while the political spin machines are working over time to spin it this way and that, there is really only one place that blame can be laid here. I say that because when it comes right down to the crux of the issues, there is only one party in this case that is taking an illogical stance and fighting with illogical politics – the Democrats.

The Democrats are where the blame for this shutdown should be squarely placed. This is the bed they made for so many Americans who may find themselves with no job and no paycheck come Monday morning. Or worse yet, those federal employees (like our men and women in uniform serving all over the world) who will have to work and not get paid.

Why do the Democrats take the sole blame for this one? Well, they are standing on a program that protects illegal immigrants, DACA, and they are keeping the government from being able to protect and enforce it’s own borders, which essentially continues to add to the problem of illegal immigration. So, instead of negotiating with a little give and take, they have decided that this is where they will plant their flag and stand.

Just in some quick looking around, this is what we are talking about, by the numbers:

  • 700,000 (+/-) illegal immigrants who are known as “Dreamers” that the DACA program is protecting and allowing to stay in the US because they were brought here as children.

VERSUS

  • 13,000,000 (+/-) federal employees who will be affected by the shutdown, in one way or another.

These numbers come from CNN, who we all know is left-leaning and “fake news” according to the president. The point being, these numbers are from a typically Democratic party friendly source so they may be even higher. There were various estimates all over the net.

All that being said, it shows that one party here is not making a logical stand when it comes to negotiations and is putting even more Americans at risk by taking this stance. The spin machines can spin all they want, but there is not getting around the numbers and what the fight is really over. Remember the old adage, “The greatest good for the greatest number’? It seems one party has forgotten it.

Hopefully, come Monday morning there will be an agreement that involves both sides giving something and the prospect of moving forward isn’t just a hope.

We have a broke(n) government – literally and figuratively.

 

 

A question of quality or quantity?

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I haven’t ever really committed to a “schedule” for publishing my blog. I am not sure I will. However, I am looking to do more with it this year than I have in the past. That being said, the ultimate question comes down to – quality or quantity?

When it comes to growing your blog, which is better? I am sure that quality matters, but does it really matter when it comes to growing your blog?

I have seen other bloggers who say just getting out there and publishing something is better than nothing. Yes, I understand that. I have also seen other bloggers say that putting out something that others want to read is important. Yes, I understand that. So where do the amount of what you publish and the quality of what you publish meet? Is there an intersection of balance or is that a fantasy (especially for someone with a family and a job)?

Perhaps I just think too much about this and go into too much detail by trying to support what I write with facts and details. Perhaps I care to much about what I write and want to make sure it is accurate. Perhaps I should care less, but not be careless.

Does having a schedule really work?

Does having a singular topic or focus area help?

Any insight or advice from the veteran bloggers out there? I know there are lots of places I can probably go to read about this, but I don’t want to comb through pages and pages of info because in the end it is all just opinions anyway, right? So, what do you think?

Seems Like a Logical Trade

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Hey, we need a budget (it would be nice if they could live within their means – but that is for another day) so there seems to be some negotiating going on that supposedly will at least make the unbalanced budget happen…ok, who are we kidding? There isn’t any negotiating going on, just a lot of posturing, finger-pointing, and name calling.

One point of contention is that there are people in our country that shouldn’t be here, 89a8134cd81b7609bec1fc47d6ca-should-illegal-immigrants-be-treated-equallymaking them illegal (why illegal, well because they didn’t follow a legal process – the law – to get here and stay here). This we know for sure and there is no debating it. However, some of those people are here as no fault of their own. They were brought here, illegally, when they were young and, for all intents and purposes, have not known any other home. This too isn’t a point of debate because it is fact.

dacaThose young illegals, were afforded some protection under the DACA policy (seems reasonable given their age and the requirements to stay) and on the surface it would appear to be a rather humane and successful way to deal with the issue. The DACA policy is set to expire in March, however, and some people would really like to keep it. Temporary programs, given that no actual law is created to make it permanent, are meant to end and not go on perpetually. So, a compromise on this point seems achievable.

Another point of contention is that there are lots of people in the US who would like to have a wall on the southern border to keep future illegals from entering the US. This is, after all, the right and privilege of any sovereign nation – to control its borders and limit who can enter the nation (in lots of cases around the world, this is done with a combination of actual, physical barriers and laws). This idea, while completely legit doesUS-MEXICO-RELIGION-BORDER-EASTER-MASS have some drawbacks since there are places where a physical wall is completely impossible. That really isn’t the point though and if there are places there can’t be an actual wall, there can be, in all practicality given technology today, a “virtual wall.” Regardless of how it happens, there does need to be a larger and more daunting barrier to keep people from entering the country illegally (because it is against the law). This too doesn’t sound like a bad idea, regardless of cost, because it is in the nation’s best interest to limit who is capable of arriving at and crossing over our borders. So, again, a compromise seems to be achievable here too.

**Author’s Note: Apparently I am too slow in writing at least part of this, as there now has been some negotiating, and apparently still some name calling – but we just aren’t sure.

Either way, this issue has lots of places there can be bipartisan agreement (or at least there should be) instead of just grand-standing on one political ideology or another. We need a government that works to keep the country safe and a political system that isn’t influenced by money. I know this is a lot to ask, but securing the borders of our country and stopping illegal immigration should be a priority. Again, that isn’t an issue that allows much debate – you either support safety and security or you don’t.

 

 

 

 

Swiss Diplomat Risks All During the Holocaust

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Having been a high school history teacher and also having a particularly strong affinity to things related to the Holocaust, this story highlighted in the link below was of extreme interest to me. I used to use Schindler’s List in class and spend a large amount of time teaching about WWII and the Holocaust in class. Several years ago I found out that I had a familial connection to heroic actions of a distant family member during the Holocaust (a story I hope to tell on here some day), which has heightened my interests in the subject even more.

This story from the BBC is one that many more people should read and know about. I had no previous knowledge of Carl Lutz but his sacrifice and courage while facing his own personal danger is extraordinary.

Please take the time to follow the link and learn about a man who should inspire us all.

The forgotten Swiss diplomat who rescued thousands from the Holocaust

Apple’s Apology Absent of Authenticity

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I know I am not the first to talk or write about this, but I still feel like I need to say something since I have been an iPhone user and supporter since the first iPhone came out. And, while I won’t be giving up my iPhone any time soon (I actually just upgraded to an 8+ just before this all was confirmed), my confidence in Apple has waned a little.

As you all are aware of, I’m sure, by now is that Apple finally admitted to and apologized for slowing down phones supposedly because of battery issues. Unfortunately, it lacked anything that came even close to authenticity, and maybe even the truth, and had me calling a great big loud BS. Apple, you did it, so how about owning it and not making excuses about “software” or “hardware.”

Let’s start with the apology first. To be really blunt, this is really the only paragraph in the whole letter that really matters, the rest is just fluff.

“First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.”

Did you see that? That part about “we have never and would never do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product…making [them] last as long as possible…” Considering the day and age we live in, I think we can all agree that isn’t really the case, or the truth.

We live in a consumer culture that has planned obsolescence built right into it. Nearly every product we buy has an “estimated life” – whether is in the actual hardware (the materials used to build it) or the software (the stuff on the inside that makes it work). Products aren’t built to last longer because that would keep people from buying newer (and perceived better) products. Sales for companies would tank if they actually built something that would last more than several years. So, companies change the models, designs, and features available which contributes to “planned obsolescence” – making the consumer feel as though what they have isn’t good enough, even if technically it still is or could be with minor upgrades.

Unfortunately, you can see it in every product Apple produces – iPhones, iPads, Macbooks, iMacs, etc. It only takes a short look back over the products and how long ago some of those older models were produced to see what is going on. We now know that Apple was slowing down phones on purpose, but how can we trust that they aren’t doing it with their other products as well? The truth is, we can’t.

Products that are only three, maybe four years old are no longer getting software updates and are no longer “supported”. If Apple was truly trying to keep those products going as long as possible, they wouldn’t be left out of software updates. We could have been told to get a battery replacement before doing the next software update and then the phone would run at its optimum capacity without threat of random shutdowns or freezes. But, no, Apple didn’t decide to do that which means Apple knowingly created (or supported) a system that would warrant buying a new phone instead of simply replacing the battery.

I understand that some of the older products may not run the newest features in the software. And, yes, I know that newer software may put a strain on the battery or processor(s). But, shouldn’t that be something we have a choice about rather than being led to believe our product is coming to the end of it’s life? Some have even argued that this doesn’t prove that Apple was using planned obsolescence, but that seems incredibly naive. Think of it this way, just because the tires, or battery, or engine, or muffler on my car are worn out doesn’t mean I need to go buy a new car. But Apple was certainly hoping that you would go buy a new phone.

Let’s be real here in the new year…that apology was more about CYA against class action lawsuits and a damaged reputation, not about being honest and truthful. Oh, and look at that Tim Cook got a huge bonus too – which was built on many our unnecessary upgrades.

If I upgraded at least twice, unnecessarily over the last four years, perhaps I am in for a bonus myself when these class action lawsuits find Apple was intentionally deceptive and harmed consumers. But then, I won’t hold my breath either…