Friday, May 29, 2015

Shady as Fuck

Much like car-repair shops, there are certain car dealerships that foster the stereotype of sleaziness in the car sales and service industry. It's even worse when both the dealership and its service departments are sleazy.

DC seems to have several bad actors in this regard. It's probably because there's a few, large ownership groups that have conspired to own big, non-overlapping areas of the car-buying regions. Because of these ownership patterns, it's easy for the ownership groups to take a view that any one buyer is insignificant. And, even if not insignificant, that most people aren't going to go out of territory just to avoid dealing with certain ownership-groups.

Since moving to the DC area in the early 90s, I've learned not to do business with some ownership-groups. The first group on my "won't buy from" list was the Rosenthal group ...a group so shady that they ended up being investigated by the FBI in the late 90s.

Early in my ownership-history of BMWs, I had to add BMW of Fairfax to that group. At the time, I'd been really surprised that I'd had to do so: the dealership that I'd bought my Z3 from, in Pennsylvania, had given me the impression that BMW was a reputable marque that policed their dealerships for quality. It had been reinforced by the service department I'd gotten from another BMW dealership that was located near my place of work at the time. However, I'd eventually left that job and it no longer made sense to go there for service when BMW of Fairfax was just a couple minutes from my house. It only took two shoddy service-encounters to blacklist them.

Ultimately, when it came time to trade in my Z3 and get my first e46 convertible, it was the service-experience to drive a half hour out of my way to buy my second BMW ...and to get it serviced. I even returned there, six months later, to buy my second e46 convertible after my first was stolen. I took it there for all of my warranty maintenance work.

I've had my e46 since 2002. After the warranty expired in 2005, it was no longer economically sound to get service work done at a dealership. As a rule in this area, the labor rates at dealerships are about 30% higher than marque specialty-shops. So, I'd consulted my local "Bimmer" club to get recommendations for alternatives. The recommendation I got was excellent and I've been getting my car serviced at that same place for the past decade with no reasons for complaints.

My e46 was one of the first eleven million cars effected by the Takata airbag-recall. The only place to get the recall-service is at the dealership. So, I had to find a local dealership to get the work done. With one BMW dealership already on my black-list, and now living in Alexandria, it made sense to have the work done at the dealership six miles from my house. That dealership was BMW of Alexandria. Sadly, they are now on my blacklist, too - and, at this point, I have to question whether BMW is asleep at the wheel when it comes to ensuring a consistently-good ownership experience.

How did BMW of Alexandria end up on my blacklist? Other than the whole taking nearly six months to get the work done - after they canceled four appointments due to a supposed lack of parts - it was what they did during that warranty work. I'd taken my car in to get the airbag done. The service department opted to take it upon themselves to look for other service opportunities on my car. They found that I needed significant suspension work. Now, I already knew that I'd bunged my suspension on a horrendously bad pothole the month prior to the service. In fact, I'd been specifically not driving my car because I knew it needed work, but didn't want to get it done until the local road repair crews had started fixing the roads. But, whatever. A touch creepy but not altogether out of the ordinary for dealerships around here.

Now, what was out of the ordinary was that, during the time my car was with them for warranty work, My car's daytime running-lights and highbeams stopped functioning. Flash-to-pass still worked, but anything that required the highbeams to stay on was no longer functional.

Since the "malfunction' had coincided with my car's time at BMW of Alexandria's service department, I took it back to them to return to functionality. Naturally, they assured me that there was nothing they could or would have done that would have caused the issue. Further, if I wanted them to investigate the issue, it would cost me a minimum of one hour's worth of labor ($180). I asked how something that should be a software issue would require any "investigation" that would warrant a $180 minimum charge. The assured  me that, on my model of car, it had to be a hardware issue, not a software issue.

I took my car to the shop I've been taking my car to for the past decade. They verified that the problem was as I described and took it into the shop for a quick look. They quickly returned my vehicle with the lights fully functional. When I asked what had been wrong, they indicated that "somehow", the highbeams had gotten disabled in software. All they did was reset the switch.

So, now I need to figure out if it's worth contacting BMW of America to file a complaint against the dealership and/or whether it's worth contacting my local Better Business Bureau about it. I guess, at the very least, I'll be posting reviews on any Yelp-like sites.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Forced Migration

So, my bank has been pretty damned good, over the years, about adoption of technologies to make doing business with them easy. They were way early to the web-based banking game, in general. They made it free from the get-go, to boot. The rolled out the ability to do deposits at home with your scanner years before any of the banks that advertise on TV did. Similarly, they pushed out phone-based depositing years ahead of their bigger competitors.

That said, I never really cared for the phone-based deposit capability. To me, it was always more reliable to slap a check on a scanner than to try to line it up and hold it steady in my phone's camera and get adequate lighting.

To be honest, it's a feature I only use once or twice a year ...because, at this point, most  people and businesses have sorted out ways to send me money electronically. Unfortunately, tonight I had to actually deposit a check. I fired up the browser-based utility, and it popped up alerts about out of date Java versions (I'm running the latest version) and out of date browser (I tried Chrome - which is always up to date because it auto-updates itself, Firefox - also up to date - and, finally, IE - up to date at least as of last week). Further, I'd adjusted my various security settings to whitelist my bank.

Still I get the alerts and no joy on being able to deposit. So, much like one RTFMs as a last resort, I finally hit the troubleshooter button. A window pops up informing me I need to meet the following compatibility requirements:

PC users must have:
  • Windows XP®, Windows VistaTM or Windows 7 operating system.
  • Internet Explorer® 7 or 8, Firefox® 3.6 or Chrome® 10 web browser.
  • A TWAIN or WIA and Windows XP® (or later) compatible scanner.
  • The latest version of Java® for Windows.

Seriously??? My shit's out of date???

At that point, I figured, "fuck: the web UI's reached abandonware state". So, I grab my phone, download my bank's app, login and use the app to deposit my check.

Afterwards, I sent hatemail to my bank. To be honest, I'd rather they simply turn the web deposit tool off if they're not going to maintain it and it's not gonna work any more.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dude: Do You Even Merge?

Ok. So, it seems like, when the sun comes out and it's a beautiful day, people lose all concept of what lane goes where. Saturday was a clear, dry, beautiful day and so was today when I left work. Both days, people act like they have no idea how to merge - even when plenty of signage is present.

Leaving my one office to head to my neighborhood, you turn out onto southbound-road that's three-lanes wide. About a 3/4 of a mile from where you turn onto it, it splits into two, two-lane roads. The left lane has signage indicating that it's to be used for both left and right traffic-split; the far left lane is left only and the far right lane is right-only. A few hundred feet after that split, the far right lane becomes a single-lane ramp to another two-lane street. The left lane becomes a ramp onto an interstate highway.

All pretty straight forward. All very well marked by signs and lane-markings.

I'm in the middle lane heading to the highway on-ramp (meaning my split goes immediately to the ramp to the highway giving me the through-lane to the highway). The toolbag in the rightmost lane decides "oh, I don't want to go straight through, I want to merge onto the highway ...oops there's someone there, already". Dood slams his brakes to avoid hitting me as he tries to merge onto the highway ramp from the wrong lane.

Dood also gets all road-ragey. I see him flashing his headlights, honking his horn and gesturing as he runs up on my bumper. As we reach the top of the ramp, he decides to "show me" by going through the stripe-painted apron between the ramp's actual marked lane and the highway so he can try to cut me off.

I figure, "whatever, dude: enjoy driving your BMW through the gravel and construction debris (glass, nails, screws, etc.). With luck, you picked something up."

Funny part? For as much of a hurry as he was in to get by me, he runs up on the bumper of cars in the right lane of the interstate ...and just stays there, tailgating the other car. I'm accelerating to highway speed and, as the traffic in the left lane clears, I merge left. Eventually, I catch up to the ragey tailgater and give him the politest "wave" I can manage.

Guys like the one who nearly clipped me today are why I used to be against the idea of ever owning a BMW. Oh well.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Huh... It's Not Completely Sucktacular

So, I'm not a complete curmudgeon, when it comes to tech. Doing time-math is a lot easier with PowerShell than bash:
$DaysBack = 14
$DateHorizon =  ([DateTime]::Now).AddDays(-$DaysBack)
$SnapId = $SnapStruct.SnapshotId
$SnapStart = $SnapStruct.StartTime
Write-Host -NoNewline "Found snapshot: $SnapId (started @ ${SnapStart})"

if ([DateTime]::Compare($DateHorizon, $SnapStart) -gt 0) {
    Write-Host " - $SnapId is older than defined horizon"
} else {
No having to ass about with having to convert from LOCALE-time to epoch-time to do the math or having to convert the result from epoch-time back to LOCALE-time.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Are You Experienced

Eating "new" foods is a great way to create and "fix" memories. When we go out to a place and have a particular dish I've only had infrequently, it always reminds me of the first time I had it or the different times I've had memorable (good or bad) variants.

One of the reason spending on good food is a good practice is that it's experiential ...yet still cheaper than many other kinds of experiences.

For me, things just don't compare to experiences.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Arms Race (No, You May Not Spam Me)

Here's the deal:

My phones each ring under two numbers: their "real" number and GV. I've got default ringtones that tell me whether its the end-point's "real" number or the GV number that's being rung.

If I hear the "real" number ring, it gets ignored (and then blacklisted and/or reported, since I've registered all my numbers, real or GV, with the do not call registry). If it goes through GV, then it's subject to the layers of rules I have there (screened unless explicitly excepted).
Robo Call
Robo-Call (from Ars)

Technology can be used to harass you, but it can also be used to shield you.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

No Diving

Couple of notes to anyone on the highway that's nearly missed their exit:

GPSes are a boon for helping you know where your exit is so that you can be ready for it, well in advance of needing to exit. If you don't have a GPS and don't have a smart phone, get a GPS. If you don't have a GPS and you have a smart phone, download something like Waze. If you have a GPS and its maps are a year or more out of date, update them: devices without updated maps are more dangerous than not having a GPS.

If you're in any lane other than the one immediately adjacent the exit ramp and you've just discover, "crap: that's my exit right there", drive on to the next exit, then loop back. Slamming your brakes and sutting across multiple lanes of traffic in a vain attempt to make an exit is dangerous. You put your life in danger. You put the lives of the occupants of your vehicle in danger and you put in danger *many* other lanes as you make your dive for an exit.

If I have to stomp on my brakes to avoid you taking off my car's front end as you slide across six-lanes of traffic, I should get one free punch to your head should every person whose properties and lives you've jeopardized.