Whatever comes to mind, and then the interesting directions that thought will take you on the web.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Voice Mail Purgatory

My iPhone 4 power switch broke recently. Apple very generously replaced the iPhone even when it was a few days out of warranty.

The restore from backup worked great. I hadn't encrypted the backup, so I had to re-enter passwords - a minor inconvenience.

Unfortunately, I was continually alerted to needing to enter my voicemail password. I tried the usual suspects for the password, but none of them worked.

I accessed the self-service for so-called Premier business customer, and there was a very useful looking menu item: "Reset Voicemail Password"

Unfortunately, there was the not-so-useful message to call a number.

Being the long weekend, I had to endure this extremely annoying popup for 3 days before I could call.

So, I called the number, and the voice system gave me the following options:
  1. Activate Wireless Service
  2. Assistance with an Existing Order
  3. Assistance with using Premier Website
  4. Billing Questions
  5. Financial Liability Transfer
  6. Repeat these options - press or say 9
Nothing about Voice Mail, and I couldn't even hit zero to speak to a person

So I took my chances and pressed "2", gave my phone number, and spoke to somebody who said that was "Business Support" or something, said to call 800-331-0500, and transferred me to that number.

After a few minute, spoke to somebody. Gave my phone number, name, employer, last 4 of IMEI number. Then miraculously, I could go to the Voice Mail tab in the Phone App on the iPhone, and choose a password. Heaven - no more alerts popping up.

Then the support person said "Do you want me to send you information on how to use the Self Service website?"

"But I know how to use the self service website" I replied - It tells you to call the (wrong) number"

Hence followed a circular discussion - I couldn't make her understand that the self service web site was deficient, and that was why I was calling the number - not that I didn't understand how to use the Self Service Website.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I've been a long time user of kayak to do flight comparisons.

However, I recently started using hipmunk. I remember hearing about it on This Week in Startups and Founders Stories.

It works great. There is something about the UI/User Experience that is beautiful and calming.

The concept of scoring based on agony (combination of price, duration and number of stops) is awesome, as is the automatic hiding of "worse" flights.

It's close to the experience of asking a personal assistant to book a flight, and having them make smart decisions on your behalf.

I remember thinking about how business travel should work:
Tell the system where you need to be and when (eg actual meeting locations), and have the system optimize flights, taxis, trains, hotels, buses, rental cars, visas
This should be the next step for Hipmunk

Thursday, April 07, 2011


I've written about Prosper.com previously.

I'm really excited that after nearly 3 and a half years of using Prosper, I am near to making a positive return! That's right, I am now only $100 down, but I am trending to positive returns! There are so many charge-offs, that so far, all the interest I've made - $1,024.89 has been reversed by the charge-offs $1,125.76. If Prosper ever holds another debt sale, I might be positive sooner than I think.

It got me thinking - it's tough to make money lending to consumers. No wonder credit cards have to charge exorbitant fees and charges.

One strategy that I've been following is to monitor loans that become overdue. Then, immediately that they become Current, list in the Notes Trading section, with a tempting 1% discount.

Luckily (and purposefully??), Prosper allows you to see what happened to the Notes that you sold:
43714-89.20%A700-719 Current3629$32.33$32.008.99%1.0% discFixed PriceSold
39019-20211.00%AA800-819 Late (61-90d)
In collections
3622$16.40$16.2011.17%1.2% discFixed PriceSold
44162-2758.25%AA740-759 Late (31-60d)
In collections
3633$37.30$36.907.98%1.1% discFixed PriceSold
40755-2712.04%A740-759 Late (61-90d)
In collections
3627$20.17$19.9012.15%1.3% discFixed PriceSold
40755-5512.04%A740-759 Late (61-90d)
In collections
3627$20.17$19.9511.91%1.1% discFixed PriceSold

So, from this evidence, being late once is a good indicator of being late again! It would be good to test this with more data.

Anyway, the process of trying to do this is a drag. It means logging in to Prosper regularly, bookmarking new delinquent loans, and checking on the status of previously bookmarked delinquent loans.

I was beginning to think about scripting in Selenium, then I suddenly thought to myself - Prosper should have an API.

I was thinking of the email I would send to the "Contact Us" link, and I was imagining the response "Thank you for your great idea. We'll discuss within the team", or some such platitude.

I went to the Prosper Blog, and noticed an Academics Tab, and lo and behold, a link to the developer tools and data mining resources page. And on the Developer Tools and Data Mining Resource page, a link to the docs for the API's. I felt like crying - they had done the right thing.

Now, to try using them. Maybe I'll still be crying, but for the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


I enjoyed listening to the Jason Calacanis interview with Blair Harrison of Frequency on This Week in Startups.

Frequency is a very good idea and product. For me, the key feature is "Auto Scan", which Frequency describes as:

Auto Scan mode is the same as "Autoscan" on a car stereo.

In this mode, Frequency will play you a 15 second excerpt of each video in the feed you're tuned to before automatically advancing to the next clip. It's the fastest, simplest way to quickly watch a series of videos to find one you want to watch in its entirety, without having to click around endlessly.

However, it was not quite working as I expected.

For example, I searched for my current favorite thing - "khan academy". This is the page I got back:
Unfortunately, the Topics are not related to the Khan Academy. Some of the clips are, and it would be nice to have Auto Scan on the clips in the search results.

Interestingly, when I clicked on the PBS clip about the khan academy, I got this page:

This page does have a khan academy Topic, and I can then do Auto Scan, but it would be good to see the topic directly on the Search Page. (either that, or my mental model of how Frequency works is missing something)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Unreinforced Masonry Buildings in Earthquakes

Looking at pictures from the Christchurch Earthquake, I was struck by the number of brick buildings.

Searching on the internet, I found this interesting article, written after the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake:

Some of New Zealand’s older buildings need to be knocked down before another quake does it for us, says Euan Smith Professor of Geophysics at Victoria University’s Institute of Geophysics - and more so because a bigger jolt could be on the way (keep reading).

Professor Smith said the country needed to learn several lessons from the Saturday’s earthquake in Christchurch.

The first lesson, for local authorities and policy makers, concerns what happened to the unreinforced masonry (URM) structures in this earthquake, Professor Smith told the Science Media Centre.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Omen of things to come

I was checking out Bloomberg's Bonds page.

Check out the 30 Year. A coupon of 4.75% and a price of 92-10/32.

We'll see that soon, but not just yet!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Billion Prices Project

MIT's Billion Prices Project attempts to measure inflation from a basket of prices scraped from the web.

It seems to follow the CPI fairly well.
Clearly, it seems to be predicting a big increase in CPI. Looking forward to seeing how accurate this is when January CPI comes out on February 17th.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Finding things on amazon.com

On amazon.com, the search box searches only for products that amazon sells. Obviously, this is a conscious decision made by amazon for some reason.

However, when it comes time to search amazon for something about the site, rather than a product, things become very tough.

For example, you want to find amazon's return policy. Type return policy into the search box, and you get a list of products. I'm not the only one to try this, as the "Related searches" pulls up things like return policies for amazon, return policy for amazon, return policy for amazon com. Helpfully, in this case, amazon has now added (I think recently) the following: Trying to find the online Returns Center or our returns policy. But type "amazon return policy" into Google, and you get an amazon Sponsored Link that takes you to the wrong place, but the top of the search result list takes you to the correct place.

I remembered seeing a list of the Kindle's Most Highlighted books, type the term "kindle most highlighted books" into amazon.com, and not helpful at all. Type that term into Google, and you are taken to the correct place.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

PG&E Email Notifications

I wrote before on crazy email notifications from PG&E.

I should have pointed out another annoying aspect of the email. Here's another example.

Dear Valued Customer,

A new energy statement for your PG&E account ****** is now available to view online. You can also pay your bill online, or print a copy of your statement.

PG&E energy statement (e-Bills) information
Amount Due:$0.00
Bill Date:January 6, 2011

To view or pay this bill, login to My Account at:

You will need to enter your user name and password.

Click below to view the most recent bill inserts including any legal and mandated notices.

Note the amount due figure of $0.00

I'll hazard a guess that the reason for this is that I have autopay set up. So, as an autopay customer, I am being penalized. I will have to drill into PG&E site to find out what the actual bill amount. If I wasn't on autopay, I guess that I would see the bill amount, and could decide to drill into the details if it seemed abnormal.

Please PG&E - show me the bill amount!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The English Language needs the Polite form of "you"

As a kid in school, learning French and German, that words like "ihr" and "vous" were the polite forms of "you".

Problem was, as a early teenager, I couldn't understand what was impolite about regular "you".

As I've got older, I've come to recognize the failings of English in this regard. Oftentimes, I'm in a situation where it just seems too familiar to call somebody "you".

I was on the train at Denver Airport last week, and an automated voice said something like "Please stand clear of the door, YOU are delaying the departure of this train". That seemed really offensive to me.

After writing this, I found this very detailed Wikipedia article on T-V Forms. Who knew that Thou/Thee were the familiar/singular forms of you in English, and ye/you were the polite/plural?