Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2014 summarized in a photo

I have already offered a written summary of my 2014. Here is how I felt many times in 2014, summarized in a photo by a friend of a friend:


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 in review, in brief

2014: the year where nothing went as planned. I know that's pretty much every year, but this year... wow.

It started off with my book being published (and thanks to all of you that bought it).

Early in the year, I found out my ethnic ancestry, which was super fascinating. I also found out I had an ancestor named Henchcliff Higginson, and feel the need to write a novel using that name.

I paid $300 to get not-my-cat Gray Max repaired after a nasty fight with a raccoon- and that's when I knew he was pretty much my cat.

At long last came the third season of Sherlock, the first episode of which I got to watch with the fabulous Lee Family.

A certain religious group decided I was worthy of doing workshops at their annual conferences on Pennsylvania and Canada in the Spring. Yes, a RELIGIOUS group. The highlight of the USA trip was seeing Philadelphia, eating, them puking, a cheesesteak with my friend Ann L. from my theatre days, watching UK in the final four with my book co-author and then the final in the bar of an Italian restaurant in the heart of Amish country (who knew?), and spending a day and evening with Michael S, from my WKU days, and his partner, George, in beautiful Lewes, Delaware. The highlight of the Canada trip was almost being turned away at the border - that's never happened to me before!

And all that is a nice way to start the year!

But then came the sadness. And it just kept coming.

In January, I spent my last day ever with my dear friend Anne Marino, with whom I've been friends with for most of my adult life. She passed away three months later. I think about her so often... I miss her terribly.

In May, I lost my former co-worker and forever friend Michael DeLong, who died suddenly in Seattle. I almost email him once a month.

I mourned the loss of Robin Williams as much as I did my friends. I still can't believe he's gone.

But hardest of all in 2014: the loss of my incredible paternal grandmother, who I've written about again and again, and our heart-breaking last weekend with Albi. Our house is so empty without her.

I thought the highlight of 2014 would be our spectacular two-week June motorcycle trip through Utah and Nevada - 2989 miles / 4810.329 kilometers, even including my first wreck! It was an amazing adventure, one we needed BADLY.

But then, out of the blue, while we celebrated Germany's World Cup victory (oh, that Brazil game!!!) came the offer to work in Ukraine for nine weeks. Still can't believe it. And, of course, how could I be in Ukraine and not go to Chornobyl?

This was followed by a magical trip with Stefan to Dublin, Ireland, a visit in Germany (so great to see Lis, Carrie and Rita!), my first ever trip to Warsaw, Poland, and, at LONG last, a visit to Barcelona! (I've been trying to go there for more than a year and a half!)

Back in the USA in the Fall, my big issue was dealing with the animals left before when my neighbor died. I also worked to prepare Washington, County ballots in the November elections (there was an official video, where you could see me working - but it's gone now...). Sadly, because of the election work, I missed the ceremony for Stefan's promotion to full-fledged volunteer firefighter.

Stefan got to see his first professional theatre production ever: the Broadway tour of The Book of Mormon. He loved it! He also competed in the Oregon state cornhole championship and was featured before the tourney on The Oregonian.

I also finally got to see Gregg Hale - first time since the 1990s.

And as the year ends, I'm debating with myself: keep trying to consult, or try to get a full-time gig doing whatever?

Let's not mention the gas line...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My days with Tracfone are numbered

(note updates at the end)

Yes, I have a Tracfone. No, I do NOT have bad credit. I have fantastic credit. And, no, I'm NOT in debt. I became debt free in 2003 or so, except for my house mortgage, and I intend to stay that way. I realize that's very un-American of me. So be it.

One of the reasons I'm not in debt is because of how little I've spent on phone service since 2009. I hear people complaining about $500 or more smart phones and monthly phone bills in the hundreds of dollars. I want to spend that kind of money on travel, not on my phone!

Until now, there has been only one downside to Tracfone: I cannot send nor receive texts from people outside the USA. And that's been a huge pain in the rear for an international consultant with clients overseas. But I decided it was a downside I would have to live with.

Another downside: if you decide to get a Tracfone, you may not be able to keep your Tracfone phone number if you move or get a new phone. For instance, if you move into a new zip code, even one right next door, you may have to get a new phone number. This is a downside I've only just learned, today. I've been pointing my Google Voice account to my Tracfone - I thought that was a good work around, but even Google Voice may go away. And if Google Voice ever goes away, I'll be using all the money I've saved on phone service on therapy.

Back to my Tracfone horror story:

Earlier this year, I decided a needed a smart phone. I needed to be able to check and post to social media and to check my Google voice account when I don't have my laptop with me, in the USA or abroad, even when I don't have phone service. But I do not want to become one of those people always looking at my phone - even on the bus, I listen to the radio on my old Walkman, and I will not use a phone at a breakfast, lunch or dinner table, smart or otherwise. An iPhone just seems ridiculous to me - I want to spend that money traveling! For at least a year now, Tracfone has offered smart phones running Android. So I decided to get one.

Now, this next paragraph is very important - it's why I'm furious with Tracfone:

I logged into my Tracfone account, and clicked on "Buy Phones and More." Then I came to a screen that said, "Please enter the ZIP Code of the area where you will be using your TRACFONE the most." So I typed in my zip code, and I got a message that said, "The TRACFONE you will be purchasing will be activated and used in the: FOREST GROVE, OR area", and a "yes" and "no" button. And I clicked "yes."

Tracfone, if you are reading, read that previous, highlighted paragraph carefully. Read it out loud to yourself.

After a LOT of research and consideration, I chose the $80 LG Optimus Fuel™.  Yes, that's $80, not $800. It arrived at my home - the address that is on record at Tracfone, in the aforementioned zip code - and I went through the online process of moving the service from my old phone to my new phone. It said it could take up to 48 hours for my phone number and minutes to get transferred. In the meantime, I got the phone configured, downloaded apps, downloaded my contacts to the phone, and on and on. Hours of set up. By the next day, by old phone had been deactivated, and according to my account on the Tracfone web site, my phone number and minutes had been transferred. But after a couple of days, I noticed that I hadn't gotten a call in a while. That's when I figured out I couldn't send or receive phone calls nor texts on my new Tracfone smartphone.

Today, I went on Tracfone's livechat to get some help. And what do I find out? Tracfone still has my zip code from two years ago as the area where any phone of mine has to be activated. So, even though I typed in my current zip code, even though the system said, The TRACFONE you will be purchasing will be activated and used in the: FOREST GROVE, OR area, TracFone set my new phone to be activated from Canby, a city that's two hours away from where I live now. I have two choices: drive all the way Canby to activate the phone, or lose my phone number and have Tracfone give me a new number and then HOPE the phone will work - and if it doesn't, I can't get my phone number back.

So I'm driving to Canby on Friday or Saturday to sit in a parking lot and hope, at long last, my phone will activate. And I'm demanding Tracfone give me a LOT of minutes. I mean a LOT. TONS. Massive numbers of minutes. And an apology.

I've done screen captures of my live chat - I'll upload them if I have to use them as leverage.

You've screwed up, Tracfone. Big time. What are you going to do about it?

Update December 3, 2014

So, a reminder: I cannot make calls or send texts, nor receive calls or texts. I have bars on the phone - but no connection. When I try to make a call, I get connected to a Verizon recorded message that tells me I'm roaming and that I can make a call with my credit card. When I call the number to try to activate my phone, I get a Verizon recorded message that tells me I'm roaming and that I can make a call with my credit card.

Here's all I've done to try to resolve this issue, as directed by TracFone:
  • I have turned my phone off and on. No change.
  • I have taken the batter out of my phone, waited a few minutes, put it back in, and turned my phone on and tried again. No change.
  • I have restored the phone's factory settings, losing ALL of my apps and configurations for those apps, which took me HOURS, and turned my phone on and tried again. No change.
I started tweeting about this issue, and several Tracfone accounts told me send an email to TF.twittersupport@tracfone.com. So I did:

I'm a long-time Tracfone customer. Recently, I decided to upgrade my service and get one of your smart phones.

I logged into my Tracfone account, and clicked on "Buy Phones and More." Then I came to a screen that said, "Please enter the ZIP Code of the area where you will be using your TRACFONE the most." So I typed in my zip code, and I got a message that said, "The TRACFONE you will be purchasing will be activated and used in the: FOREST GROVE, OR area", and a "yes" and "no" button. And I clicked "yes."

After a LOT of research and consideration, I chose the $80 LG Optimus Fuel™. It arrived at my home - the address that is on record at Tracfone, in the aforementioned zip code - and I went through the online process of moving the service from my old phone to my new phone. It said it could take up to 48 hours for my phone number and minutes to get transferred. In the meantime, I got the phone configured, downloaded apps, downloaded my contacts to the phone, and on and on. Hours of set up. By the next day, by old phone had been deactivated, and according to my account on the Tracfone web site, my phone number and minutes had been transferred. But after a couple of days, I noticed that I hadn't gotten a call in a while. That's when I figured out I couldn't send or receive phone calls nor texts on my new Tracfone smartphone.

Today, I went on Tracfone's livechat to get some help. And what do I find out? Tracfone still has my zip code from two years ago as the area where any phone of mine has to be activated. So, even though I typed in my current zip code, even though the system said, "The TRACFONE you will be purchasing will be activated and used in the: FOREST GROVE, OR area", even though you sent my new phone to the address you have on record for me, in the 97116 zip code, TracFone set my new phone to be activated from Canby, a city that's two hours away from where I live now.

I have two choices: drive all the way Canby to activate the phone, or lose my phone number and have Tracfone give me a new number and then HOPE the phone will work - and if it doesn't, I can't get my phone number back.

So I'm driving TWO HOURS to Canby on Friday or Saturday to sit in a parking lot and hope, at long last, my phone will activate. And then driving TWO HOURS back home.

I'm demanding Tracfone give me a LOT of minutes. I mean a LOT. TONS. Massive numbers of minutes. And an apology.

Here's what the Tracfone representative replied with:
    Regarding your issue, there is no need to ask for a ZIP code if we are transferring a phone number from one phone to another as we will automatically use the ZIP code from the old phone. If you have any questions, feelf ree to send us a reply.
and then, in another message:
    Once you transferred a number from one phone to another, you will have to use the original activation ZIP code where the phone was originally activated. The website notified you that the ZIP code you entered is not the same where you first activated your old phone.
So I replied:
    And how was I supposed to know, when your web site asked me for my zip code, and I said 97116, and your system said "This phone will be activated in Forest Grove" and I clicked "Yes", that, in fact, the phone would NOT be activated from Forest Grove but from a two-year old zip code? How was I supposed to know that?
And they replied with the following. Note the complete LIE in the last sentence, which I've made bold here on the blog:
    Once you transferred a number from one phone to another, you will have to use the original activation ZIP code where the phone was originally activated. The website notified you that the ZIP code you entered is not the same where you first activated your old phone.
Tracfone started lying about what happened. I was floored. My reply:
    No, the web site did not. I never, ever received any notification from your web site that the zip code I entered was NOT the same where I first activated my old phone. And when the phone arrived at my house, there was no notice that said the zip code was different for the phone.

    I learned that this happened ONLY after failing to get the phone to work, and spending almost an hour on your live chat - and I have the chat records to prove it.

    Again, I NEVER got notice that this phone would not work where I live now. I NEVER got notice that I would have to either drive to a town where I lived two years ago to activate the phone, OR, that I would have to get a new number. Your web site NEVER notified me that there was ANY issue with my current zip code. Those are the facts - let's stay truthful, please.

    I want the name and contact information of your supervisor - it's time to take this mistake on Tracfone's part higher up, since you are denying the facts. 
No supervisor name. It was after two days of this back and forth that I realized I was never talking to the same person via email - it's always someone new. I'm always starting over whenever I talk to anyone from Tracfone. And they kept giving me the same advice: turn the phone off and on, take the battery out and put it back in, etc.

I wrote yet again. This time, a new person responded. "Shelly." Here are her responses in full. The highlighted stuff is what you should pay attention to in particular:
    We are sorry for the confusion. TracFone supports different phone technologies; we have GSM phones (phone with SIM card) and CDMA phones (digital phone technology). Thus, upon purchasing a new phone online, the system will ask for the ZIP code where the phone will be used the most in order to be able to provide an accurate list of phones that will work in the area. Some customers used different ZIP codes in ordering a phone though to be able to get the phone model that they want but are currently not available in their area.

    During the activation process, the system will ask for the activation ZIP code again. However, this scenario does not apply to phone upgrade/transfer of service from one TracFone to another. In order to transfer the phone number from one TracFone to another we will need to use the original activation ZIP code from the old phone. Otherwise, you will be assigned with a new number.

    Despite of the difference with the activation ZIP code and your current location, the phone should work as long as the phone technology is supported in the area and network coverage is available. As I checked on both ZIP codes, the phone is supported and network coverage is available. Therefore, the phone should work.

    Please try to turn the phone off and back on. Please ensure the phone displays at least three signal bars. Then dial *22890. Wait until the programming is completed and successful. Then make a test call. Let us know if the phone will work.
The first highlighted sentence, in the last paragraph? An implication by Tracfone that this is what I did. I did not. Don't accuse me of fraud, Tracfone - I've got the proof that it's NOT what happened.

Second set of highlighted sentences, in the second paragraph. Tracfone finally admits to their policy, which they never told me during the sign up process. Never.

Third set of highlighted sentences, in the third paragraph, tell ming "the phone should work." Lie. It doesn't work. And, yes, I did everything asked for in the last sentence. No dice. And so I responded. And then I get this response:
    We need to speak with you directly. Please contact one of our customer care representatives at 1-866-667-6470 and enter reference PIN 631667. Please be advised that your reference PIN is valid only for two weeks. For your convenience, our representatives are available Monday-Sunday from 8:00 AM to 11:45 PM EST.
I think, wow, great, I'm finally going to talk to someone that can help me, that will give me clear answers, that will apologize and try to make this right. I'm going to call, and type in that PIN, and the person is going to be able to call up all the information about my case, and he or she will help me! Or apologize and give me thousands of minutes as a way to keep me happy.

Wrong.

December 4, 2014

I called. The person had no idea why I was calling. The person just repeated again and again that I could have a new phone number, or I had to return to the "correct" zip code, and that there is no way that I could have gotten this phone with my current zip code, that was impossible.

So, that's where we are now. Tracfone is now lying about what happened. This is spiraling out of control, Tracfone. Tell the truth, apologize, and make this right.

Oh, and check out my frustration on Twitter - this is the reply I get EVERY time I tweet this blog out:


March 18, 2015

I ended up driving almost two hours away, to Canby, Oregon, where I used to live, and was able to activate the phone from there.

TracFone gave me, like, 30 minutes of free time. Yes, just 30. And that was only after I repeatedly pestered them.

As for the phone, I do really like it. It will be nice that I'll be able to use it outside the country for Internet access, as one CANNOT make calls in other countries on a Tracfone plan. But about 30% of the time, it won't make a phone call - I dial the number, there is a long silence, and then I get a busy signal. That's relatively okay, as I make most of my phone calls via Skype on my computer. But it can be annoying to have to text someone rather than actually call them when I'm out and about.

I'll stick with this phone for at least a year... but, indeed, this may be my last TracFone. I just can't take the horrible customer service anymore.

And I'll tweet out a link to this blog because of this update, I'll tag Tracfone, and I guarantee you thy will tweet back that I need to email them - and the person I email will have NO idea why I'm writing.