To Charter Communications: transparent bills get paid faster

Charter Communications, our local co-axial monopoly and recent bankruptee, sent a technician out to our house today, to hook up our new net connection.  As is almost always the case, the tech was friendly, helpful and generally knowledgeable, in stark contrast to just about anybody you can ever get on the phone if you call the company.  The customer service people are like robots.  Sometimes, like robots with buggy firmware.  They are, quite literally, running a program written by someone at Charter, codified in a choose-your-own-adventure style script booklet or web application.  They seem to have no intrinsic knowledge of the business they work for, or the systems they are meant to support.  Honestly, I wish Charter (and other such companies) would just put these resources on the web directly, so I can page through them on my own without having to be on hold first.  They probably won’t do this, at least not in full, because one of the most important jobs this script/program does is to retain as much of their customer’s money as possible, whether or not they’re really supposed to have it, and to direct people into more lucrative service contracts, aggressively if need be.

Continue reading To Charter Communications: transparent bills get paid faster

Letter to Adam Schiff on Open Access Publishing

Dear Congressman Schiff,

I note that you are on the House Judiciary Committee, which is currently considering H.R. 801, sponsored by John Conyers (D, MI), and entitled the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act.  I also notice, courtesy of, that you received $6,000 from the publishing industry in the most recent election cycle, which is actually more than the average received by those representatives who co-sponsored the bill.

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The Beatings Will Continue

Associate Dean Stevenson,

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Geological Sciences, researching two methods for inferring the temporal variability of tidally induced tectonic activity on the icy satellites of the outer solar system. I am petitioning for permission to register for an additional semester beyond the elapsed time limit of 6 years between matriculation and graduation which is imposed by the CU graduate school on PhD students. There are several reasons for my tardiness. Some were within my control, and others outside of it.

Continue reading The Beatings Will Continue

Open Letter to My Credit Union

I’ve been doing all my banking through credit unions since I was an undergrad at Caltech.  I’ve liked using them because they don’t, on balance, spend as much time and effort trying to trick their members into doing stupid things with their money as banks do.  Their fine print isn’t as small, or as prevalent.  Their credit cards have a reasonable rate, clearly stated.  Their checking accounts don’t have hidden fees.  They aren’t out to screw you, which most commercial banks are, as far as I can tell (certainly the ones involved in the liar-loan industry deserve that reputation anyway).

So I’m bothered that I just received several “convenience” checks from the Elevations Credit Union, linked to my Visa card, with a low introductory APR of only 3.99%.  I’m bothered because they’re trying to lure members into spending money on credit, at a time when US households are on average further in debt than ever before. I’m bothered because they’ve sent me something in the mail that could easily have fallen into the wrong hands and created a credit headache for me.  I’m also bothered that they spontaneously increased my credit limit from $1,000 to $2,500 without asking me if that’s what I wanted.  Previously, I had specifically requested they lower my credit limit to $1,000, because that’s about how much money I take home each month, and getting into more than one month’s worth of revolving debt seems like a bad idea (since the grace period is one month long).

Elevations recently re-organized as a state credit union instead of a federal credit union.  I don’t know if that has anything to do with their apparent change in character.  But I hope it doesn’t go much further than this.  Finding a new credit union would be a hassle.

Note to my CA state reps on water conservation

Regarding: AB2175 (2008) (PDF)

Dear Senator Scott and Assemblyman Portantino,

I’ve recently come across AB2175, a bill aimed an improving water conservation in California. I am strongly in favor of the provisions it details, especially with the looming $10 billion water bond measure we face this fall. However, I am disturbed to see that it includes no real improvement of agricultural water use. As I’m sure you know, ~70% of the water used in California is used for agriculture, and it is not used efficiently, because it is sold at far below cost to farmers (and at far below the rates that residential and commercial water customers pay). No serious water conservation effort can leave agricultural water efficiency out as this bill does. Instead of a vague and unspecified target for agricultural users to be established in 2009, we need a hard number now, before we start investing tens of billions of dollars in new water infrastructure for our state. Agribusiness has had a free ride on water for long enough. If we really have a water problem now (and I believe we do) it’s time for them to do their part in the conservation effort, and footing the bill for new infrastructure.