Fine-Print Crap From Farmers Insurance Group

So, Farmers Insurance Group tells me that by paying my premium I am acknowledging that I “understand and
agree to all the terms and conditions of the Subscription Agreement.”
And here’s how the Agreement, which I must acknowledge understanding, begins. This is all one sentence (I have put a line break at each comma):

For and in consideration of the benefits to be derived therefrom the subscriber covenants and agrees with Farmers Insurance Exchange and other subscribers thereto through their and each of their attorney-in-fact,
the Farmers Underwriters Association,
to exchange with all other subscribers’ policies of insurance or reinsurance containing such terms and conditions therein as may be specified by said attorney-in-fact and approved by the Board of Governors or its Executive Committee for any loss insured against,
and subscriber hereby designates,
constitutes and appoints Farmers Underwriters Association to be attorney-in-fact for subscriber,
granting to it power to substitute another in its place,
and in subscriber’s name,
place and stead to do all things which the subscriber or subscribers might or could do severally or jointly with reference to all policies issued,
including cancellation thereof,
collection and receipt of all monies due the Exchange from whatever source and disbursement of all loss and expense payments,
effect reinsurance and all other acts incidental to the management of the Exchange and the business of interinsurance;
subscriber further agrees that there shall be paid to said Association, as compensation for its becoming and acting as attorney-in-fact,
the membership fees and twenty per centum of the Premium Deposit for the insurance provided and twenty per centum of the premiums required for continuance thereof.

And insurance companies wonder why they have a reputation for obfuscation.


The Canon T2i DSLR Camera Is Not Crap, But It’s Not For Me

Lately, I’ve been thinking about buying a DSLR camera in order to shoot video on a flash-memory camera. I recently borrowed a Canon T2i, which is generally well respected as a prosumer camera, and gave it a spin.

My main issues with the T2i camera is how it fails to significantly improve upon what I can do with my little Canon S95 camera.

For example, the T2i records video at 1920×1080 which looks great and all, but the S95 can do 1280×720 and that’s probably HD enough for my needs. My home computer could barely play the T2i-recorded video without stuttering.

The T2i offers many manual controls, which I used to love, but my eyesight has gotten so bad that I’m better off with an automatic control for focus than I am trusting my own peepers. The T2i and the S95 have virtually the same auto-focus algorithm so this is a tie and the manual controls are superfluous.

The T2i, oddly, does not let you use the eyepiece when shooting video. You HAVE to use the LCD panel, which is a problem in direct sunlight. You can barely see what you’re shooting. The S95 doesn’t even have an eyepiece, true, but its LCD seems to be easier to see in direct sunlight.

The S95 is lacking in the telephoto lens category, since it’s zoom is pretty pitiful and its lens cannot be changed. Score one for the T2i.

But of course, what the S95 lacks in zoom/manual controls it makes up for in portability. And if I need to do extended long-lens shooting, I can go back to my miniDV camcorder.

And so I’ve decided to apply the $1k I’d have spent on a DSLR on a “boutique” high-performance computer! MainGear here I come!

Crappy Subscription Ploy

The New York Times is locking its material behind a paywall. I get that.The free ride was nice, but now it’s over.

What I think is crappy, however, is that this solicitation email does not anywhere mention what the subscription rate is after the introductory period. Oh, the asterisked fineprint tells you that you’ll automatically be charged at the regular, higher rate, but it doesn’t say what it is.

Pretty crappy move, Gray Lady.

NY Times solicitation email —

Dear reader,
As you may know, The Times is now charging for unlimited access to and our NYTimes apps. But as a valued reader, you are invited to enjoy unlimited access at an introductory rate: just 99¢ for your first 4 weeks.*
Unrivaled coverage. Unlimited access.
Visitors to our site get 20 free articles a month, but that’s fewer than 1% of all the published articles on each month. Subscribe now at our introductory rate and enjoy unlimited access to all the breaking news updates, video, audio, multimedia and more. The finest reporters in their field keep you informed 24 hours a day on your computer, smartphone and tablet.
Act now — just 99¢ for your first 4 weeks.
Subscribe today and choose from packages that include unlimited access to, plus our smartphone and tablet apps. And enjoy access to the world’s finest journalism — any way you want.
Please note: At this time, we are unable to process orders for this special offer from smartphone and tablet (iPad™, Galaxy Tab, Xoom) browsers. When you are ready to subscribe, please place your order from a browser on your computer.

*New York Times digital subscriptions are sold separately from e-reader editions, Premium Crosswords and The New York Times Crosswords apps. Mobile apps are not supported on all devices. All subscriptions will automatically renew and the credit card will be charged in advance of each billing period unless canceled. If the subscription is canceled, refunds and termination of access will follow the Terms of Sale policy. Prices are subject to change. Other restrictions and taxes may apply. 

The Crappy Movie Theater Software of The Theatres (sic) at Canal Place

Last Saturday (3/12), while in New Orleans for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, I attempted to attend a screening at The Theatres (sic) at Canal Place — a “first class”, elitist, ostensibly upscale theater that refuses entry to anyone under 18.

When I arrived at the theater, I went to the cashier to buy a ticket and she and the manager were tied up, trying to refund a woman’s tickets and free the seats for them. You see, TTaCP is one of those stupid, crappy theaters that forces you to use reserved seats. What is this? The frakkin’ opera? So, when the woman got a refund — for what transgression by TTaCP I do not know — they had to release the seats she had reserved.

I stood there patiently for 10 minutes while they fumbled with the computer. Eventually, I commented on the wait and the cashier referred me to a ticket-purchasing kiosk. As a final insult, the show I wanted to see was sold out. So, I left, angered by the incompetence of the theater’s staff.

I am irritated by three aspects of this experience:

  1. There is no obvious sign directing patrons to the ticket-purchase kiosk and the cashier did not think to refer me to it before I asked,
  2. TTaCP’s computer system is such crap (or TTaCP’s employees are so poorly trained) that a simple refund transaction can gum up the works and
  3. Reserved-seat systems in movie theaters are an abomination. Why would I want to choose my seat in the lobby? I’d much rather wait until I was inside the theater and could position myself as far away from potential noise/trouble makers. And what if someone beside/behind you takes a phone call? You’re locked into your reserved seat and can’t distance yourself from him/her.
I’ve managed movie theaters in New York and Chicago. I’ve been a professional film viewer/professor since 1980. This is one of the crappiest-run theaters I’ve ever seen.

I Have No Status! Crap!

Y’know how Facebook’s key feature is your ability to update your status? Well sir, I just lost that ability–when using the Chrome browser.
Normally, a “What’s on your mind?” status update box appears at the top of the news feed. Like this:
(Image missing due to crappy behavior by Blogger, which deleted dozens of my images when Crappy Software was hosted there.)
But, starting yesterday, the top of my news feed looks like this:
(Image missing due to crappy behavior by Blogger, which deleted dozens of my images when Crappy Software was hosted there.)
See? And it’s the same on my FB profile page, too.
I have no status! Crap!
Doesn’t Facebook want to know what’s on my mind anymore?
Oh wait! I might have solved the mystery!
I just noticed a little “Status” button that I don’t remember seeing before. Has FB tweaked its user interface without telling me? No, that would NEVER happen.

Crappy Telemarketers: Text Messaging That I Pay For

There’s something particularly galling about getting a telemarketer’s scam via text message. I don’t have a text-message package with my phone so I have to PAY for each of these messages from these crapheads.

This week, I’ve received two such messages. The latest, according to caller ID, came from 7605769989. I don’t know if this is accurate or if they somehow spoof the number.
The text reads:

Homeowners! Would you like to make your house energy efficient and cut your electric bill? Just text back the word “SAVE” to learn more, or STOP to cancel.

Well, I ain’t gonna text anything to a scammer. Any suggestions on how to really get them to stop?

DRM and CoDec Crap

The Librarian of Congress has given media-studies professors like me an exemption to the DMCA so that we may break the copy protection on DVDs in order to create video clips for pedagogical purposes.

Consequently, we’ve put together some tutorials on how to create video clips as well as screen shots over on
One thing we have yet to figure out, however, is how best to capture high-definition video clips. Or, that is to say, we’ve figured out pieces of the process, but not the entire thing. Blocking our success is DRM and CoDec (i.e., video compression / decompression) crap. We can get the clip off a Blu-ray disc (BD), but we can’t convert it into a usable format.
I figure to use this post to chronicle what I’ve done so far and the failures I’ve encountered.
First, the success: Using the following process, I’ve been able to suck a video clip off a Blu-ray disc–using a Windows 7 computer.
  1. I use AnyDVD to remove DRM encrustations so that I can access the video on the BD. This runs in the background and works on any BD or DVD.
  2. After inserting a BD into the drive, I examine it in Windows Explorer, drilling down through its folders: BDMV –> STREAM. In the STREAM folder I find numerous .m2ts files (video files using the following codec: H264 – MPEG-4 AVC).
  3. By sorting the .m2ts I can find the video files — as they’re all several gigabytes big. They’re big files because the resolution is big: 1920 x 1080 pixels (in a 16×9 video).
  4. I right-click a likely file and choose to open it with VLC Media player. Ever since something like version 1.0, VLC will play BD’s!
  5. In VLC, I enable the Advanced Controls in the View menu. This adds a red-dot “Record” button near the controls for playing video.
  6. I start the view playing and then, when I reach the section I want to extract, I click the Record button. When it’s finished playing, I click it again to stop recording.
  7. This dumps a fat .ts file in the _________ folder (I forget where). E.g., a 3 minute clip was over 700 MB.
But here’s the rub. I can’t find anything to convert that .ts file into something more usable.
  • MPEG Streamclip, which I rely on for so much on the Mac, cannot handle the file on Windows. Don’t know if it’s a Windows issue yet. (Haven’t tried it on a Mac.) Gives me a blank image, although it will play the audio.
  • Handbrake is also useless. Just fails when I try to convert the file. No explanation provided.
  • VLC itself promises to do transcoding, but the resulting file has very crummy audio. There might be some setting I’ve got wrong, but I’ve tried two or three and gotten nowhere.
  • HDTV to MPEG2 barfs on the file, saying “Could not find a Channel!”
And that’s where I stand as of 13 September 2010. Defeated!
Another failure. Tried RipBot264 and got the following error from AviSynth (which RipBot runs):
DirectShowSource: couldn’t open file C:UsersJeremyVideosDamages20070814qq00_00_00qq.ts:
Unspecified error (E:tempRipBot264tempjob1getinfo.avs, line 2)
There are several guides out there. This Gizmodo one seemed more helpful than most.
Update, 9/14/2010:
Moderate success!
I followed the Gizmodo guide and managed to create in-sync, miniature versions of the clip I wanted. I had to use AnyDVD HD , RipBot264, .NET Framework 2.0, the avisynth, ffdshow, and Quicktime Pro, and the process took hours, but it does work.
Gizmodo goes into all the bloody details, but, essentially, I ripped an episode from the BD using RipBot264 (which took hours), then I opened it in Quicktime Pro (it’s gotta be the Pro version) and exported small clips. Here’s the files I dealt with:
  • Ripped hour-long episode at 1920 x 1080 pixels: 2.5 gigabytes.
  • Exported for Web (by Quicktime) files:
    • Desktop version: 852 x 480 pixels, 21.9 megabytes
    • iPhone version: 480 x 270 pixels, 14.3 megabytes
    • iPhone cell version: 176 x 99 pixels, 1.3 megabytes
The difference this time around in my use of RipBot264 is that I used it to pull video directly from the BD. Before I was trying to get it to transcode a .ts file that I had captured with VLC media player.

AT&T — No Longer a Monopoly, But Still Crap

At this moment, I’m 31 minutes into a call to AT&T’s support line. Why? Because when AT&T Uverse was installed last month they managed to knock out all of my upstairs phone jacks.

Now, don’t you reckon that they’d want to immediately come over and fix what they broke? Oh, noooooo. They won’t do anything unless I have the $7.50-per-month in-house wiring warranty. That’s right. They broke it, but they won’t fix it unless I pay them either an exorbitant service-call fee or start their warranty.
So, I waited about 20 mins to talk to a repair person about this. She said she couldn’t do anything about the fee and referred me to a “customer service” person. Then the customer service person gave me the crap about starting the warranty service. Or, she said, I could dispute any charges later if I wanted to.
I said to her, “Let me be clear about this. AT&T is going to charge me to come to my house to fix the phone lines that they broke.” Yes, she said, that’s correct. Or I can dispute charges later.
I told her I would accept the warranty, but I asked her to tell her supervisor that I was not happy with how AT&T was handling this.
Then, at the end of the conversation she told me that AT&T might call to check on her and asked if I were “very satisfied” with her (and “not the company’s”) handling of my situation. I told her I thought she had done all she could do. She pressed: “But are you very satisfied with how I handled your situation?” Essentially, she wouldn’t end the call until I said I was.
But of course she couldn’t then schedule a service call for me. Oh no, that would be too easy. She transferred me back to the repair service — where I’ve now been on hold an additional 10 minutes.
41 minutes into this repair call and still no resolution…

Finally resolved after 45 minutes on the line.
Update, 24 July 2010:

AT&T had the gall to send me an email confirming their extortion fee for in-house wiring that contains this hunk of crap:
Your satisfaction is our #1 priority.
Thanks again for choosing AT&T – setting the standard for a new era of integrated communications and entertainment services.
Oh, yeah, they set a “standard” alright. A very low standard.

When Is HD Crap? When It’s Had the Hell Compressed Out Of It

A few weeks ago, Comcast jerked my chain one too many times and I resolved to dump them. Their latest offense is forcing all customers to use a set-top box for every TV in their house. You’re no longer allowed to plug your “cable-ready” TV into a wall socket. AND if you have more than two television sets, they will be charging $2 per set per month for the “privilege” of using these set-top boxes.

Crapcastic, indeed.

Incidentally, the Tuscaloosa News had the gall to run a Comcast PR release as if it were a news story–headlining it “Comcast upgrading Tuscaloosa service”:

No customers/customer support groups were contacted. So much for balanced reporting.

AT&T had run fiber optic cable into my ‘hood last year and I was curious to see if it was rilly fast. So, I signed up for it.

Let me tell you, it is smokin’ fast. I am lovin’ the ‘net access.

However, I am not lovin’ U-verse — the TV service that came bundled with it. I paid a premium to get HD service and to have it run in two rooms — off of one HD DVR, which is pretty sweet in itself. The one fly in the ointment?

AT&T has compressed the hell out of its HD signal. And it’s quite noticeable. I first saw digital artifacts in The Deadliest Catch‘s action scenes. Then I began to see them even in The Daily Show, which doesn’t have a whole lot of action. Were my eyes deceiving me? Could AT&T’s HD really be this bad?

I started Googling around about it and found forum posts on AT&T’s community forums about the poor picture quality. In one thread titled, “Why does U-Verse Suck So Bad??”, I found an explanation by SomeJoe7777, midway down on this page:

Every customer does indeed get the same (crappy, overcompressed) feed. The issue is that there are many factors on the customer’s end that make the compression artifacts either more or less visible than they are to other customers. The customers with large, really good TVs will notice the compression artifacts a lot more than customers with smaller, not-quite-so-good sets. Connection methods make a difference – HDMI can emphasize the artifacts, component can soften them. Bad digital processing can make the artifacts worse, good digital processing can hide them. LCD TVs can emphasize the artifacts, projection TVs can soften them. There’s dozens more factors.

But as far as the compression, the fact is that AT&T is attempting to deliver 1080i feeds in 6 Mbps of H.264 bandwidth. This is about half of what’s required for an artifact-free picture. It’s one-quarter of what is used on a typical Blu-Ray.


I had hoped to winnow my online bills down from Comcast (Internet) and DirecTV (TV) to just U-verse, but now it looks like I’ll need to keep DirecTV and just use U-verse for Internet.

Oh, and another crappy aspect of U-verse: It doesn’t carry American Movie Classics in my market (although it does in others). That means no Mad Men this summer. Just another reason to keep tapped into DirecTV.

Android Incredible May Be More Crappy Than Incredible

Acquired a new Android Incredible phone this week as I wanted to escape the icy, DRMed grip of Apple’s iPhone/iTunes. Unfortunately, it appears the honeymoon may be very short.

Today, the phone spontaneously rebooted three times–each time returning the error message “SD card removed.” But I had not been messing with the SD card. I’d just pressed the icon for mail. The third time it rebooted, it appeared to be locked up. It seemed to be stuck at the “loading” stage. I started Googling around for solutions and before I could find out how to do a hard reset, it came back to life.

Sad to say, there are already posts on the Android forums about this issue. One in particular caught my eye. goatspanka (!) reports:

I live on the border between Mississippi and Alabama and I get random reboots when at home, but when I am at work, I don’t get issues at all. I have the 8gb card from my storm in it, so I don’t think that’s a problem.

I do live in a “fringe” coverage area so my phone is constantly looking for service. The tower switching problem sounds valid, but I have heard of reboot while using wifi only, so it may be a software problem. It seems all we can do is wait.

To which another Alabamian, kur1j, responded:

Damn didn’t want to see this…

I am in Alabama and have had the phone reboot 3 times today. I am in area where I don’t get great coverage.

I didn’t notice it before the OTA update. 1 day after the update and its done it 3 times. And this was posted today.

Guess I’ll just have to keep an eye on this. If the Droid Incredible becomes the Droid Crappy, I might trade it in for a regular Droid. I was intrigued by its sliding keyboard anyway…

Update 5/9/10: Verizon doesn’t exactly make it easy for you to find the user guide for the Droid Incredible. I finally tracked it down here after much Googling:

But that URL doesn’t look very permanent. You can get there by following links from

Update 6/10/10: A month later… and I’m happy to say that the rebooting issue resolved itself within a week or so. Since then I’ve only experienced the “incredible” side of the Droid Incredible.

That is to say, I’m lovin’ it!

The iPhone did play a bit of catch-up this week with version 4, which contains some of the features of the DI — like multitasking. But still I have no buyer’s remorse. It feels good to be free of Apple and AT&T Wireless.