I had a mind-bending experience with the Verizon FiOS order system tonight.

I went looking at changing or re-upping my FiOS plan because I realized they raised the price on me in December. I had been paying $104.99 for our Extreme HD TV package and 25mbps/25mbps internet package up until July. (These prices aren’t my total bill, by the way, just the actual package prices before addons and taxes.) At that point, my previous 24-month agreement expired, and I lost the $5/mo contract discount so it then became $109.99. At the time, switching my package wouldn’t have been any cheaper so I hadn’t bothered with signing a new contract. However I noticed that it had gone up to $117.99 in December, so I figured I could find a better deal than that.

Into the depths of the Verizon website I went, with trepidition. I could sign a 24-month agreement on the current $117.99 price, but it seems that you don’t even get the $5/month off if you do that. A new double play package would have the same Extreme HD TV plan we have now, but it would mean going to a 50/25 internet plan instead of the 25/25 we have now. The price for this is essentially $119.99/month, but signing the 24-month agreement would mean I’d get $5 off, making it $114.99/month. $3 cheaper than now, woo. And, hey, it’s faster internet.

Additionally, for some reason there is a second discount for an extra $10 off the first month only, so that would be $104.99 for the first month, then $114.99 for months 2 through 24. I suspect this is just so they can put the first month price in big letters to make it sound cheaper.

I also checked the no contract price out of curiousity, and it looked like it was $109.99. This confused me, because why would it be cheaper than the contract price? After adding it to the cart, though, I realized that the $109.99 was a first month price and every month after was actually $119.99. Yes, I failed to notice that they labeled the $109.99 as a “first month price” but what bugs me is that they did not state what the price would be afterwards, until I’d started the order process. No biggie in the long run, it just added to my general frustration tonight.

So I went back and selected the contract price instead. And there’s where it got really weird…

After I added the contract package to my cart and clicked checkout, I got this pop-up message that I qualified for “bonus offers”. There were three options.

  1. A “$10 24-mo contract acceptance offer”. This apparently means that I get $10 off every month (in addition to the $5 monthly discount I already knew about) instead of just the first month, meaning every month would be $104.99.
  2. A “$5 24-mo contract acceptance offer”, which turns out to mean that it would be $104.99 the first month and $109.99 for months 2 through 24. I think this means you get an additional $5 discount on top of the other $5 discount, but get $10 off the first month instead of the $5.
  3. The third option was basically “I don’t want any special offers”.

I really don’t understand why they felt the need to add this third offer at a different point in the order process. And what’s even more baffling to me is why in the world would anyone choose the second or third option on this bonus offer screen? The first one so clearly seems to be the better deal.

All in all, I’m certainly pleased that I’ll be paying $10 less per month than I thought I would be and $13 less than I currently am, but was it really necessary to give me a headache in the process, Verizon? At this point, I can’t help but feel like they somehow pulled one over on me, even though it seems like a good deal.

This article came across my Twitter stream today1: Will Authors Get Compensated for Used E-Book Sales? Patents may or may not mean an actual viable product, but it does pose some interesting questions. Should the sale of used ebooks be allowed? Would that lead to fewer copies being sold and less money going to the artists?

I don’t think that media companies can carry over the old ways of doing things to the world of digital media. It didn’t work with music, and I really hope that in the long run it doesn’t work with books or movies. I don’t approve of DRM. If I buy a book or a song or a movie, I want to be able to read, listen, or view it on the device of my choosing. I really don’t want to have to buy the same thing multiple times in different formats. I don’t mean different portrayals of the same media: an audio book is not the same content as the same book in written format. There are different costs to produce each. I mean having to buy the same ebook or digital movie multiple times because you wanted to read it on different hardware.

I didn’t buy into digital music too deeply until the DRM was lifted, and I no longer had to worry about whether I could play it on an iPod or a Rio or Winamp or whatever. It took less time before I jumped into ebooks. The convenience was too attractive to ignore any longer, but I think I’d have little trouble de-DRMing ebooks if I needed to, and I’d have little compunction about doing so for my own personal use. However I really hope there’s a day when that is not necessary, like there was for music.

I think you should be able to do what you want with the media you buy for personal use. However I’m not sure that you can apply all of the things we used to do with physical media to the digital world. A physical book has certain inherent properties that provide some limits on the usefulness of a secondhand book. Pages yellow, water drips, people scribble notes in the margin. Even with well-cared for books, you still had to make a choice between drawbacks of new versus used. Do you want a pristine new copy or the ease of picking it up from the bookstore or ordering it from Amazon? Then you pay the new price. Are you content to give up some of those benefits and hunt for a used copy? Then you can get it cheaper.

But a “new” ebook and a “used” ebook are exactly the same. There are no trade-offs to buying a used copy. You just get a cheaper price. It seems like that will have to cause a tilt in the market, and not for the better. As the above article points out through quotes from a few authors, if we want authors to keep producing the books we love, they have to get paid. Even if people “do the right thing”, such as delete their own copy when they sell it, would that result in fewer sales of new books? Also, such a practice would likely lead to a greater entrenchment of DRM.

On the other hand, I can understand that for some people paying full price for books has not been desirable or affordable. Moreover, pricing on ebooks in general has been somewhat of a mess. While an ebook costs less than a new hardcover, it can often cost more than the papeback edition. (Like $20 for a 10-year old book, Penguin?) I don’t know for sure, but it feels like the price declines more slowly than paperbacks as well, nor do you have the bargain hardcovers.

There have been authors who have given away some of their books to increase sales on others. Maybe sharing or reselling ebooks would have the same effect. To buy used ebooks some people would have to be buying them new, so there would still be sales going on.

Lastly, aside from how this would work in a perfect world where people followed the rules, this also rears the ugly specter of piracy. The only way to enforce the transfer, as opposed to copy, of an ebook would be through DRM. Although if people are cracking and pirating ebooks now, I can’t see how this would really change things much.

Selling used ebooks could be the next evolution of the digital media market or a slippery slope to a bookless purgatory. Or something in between. Only time will tell.

  1. via (twitter: joe_hill) via (twitter: neilhimself) 

The Sagrada Familia was one of my most favorite sites on our trip to Spain and France earlier this year. It is gorgeous and awe-inspiring and totally unlike any other religious building I’ve seen. When you think that the architect, Antoni Gaudi, conceived of it in the late 1800s it’s only more incredible. If I am ever back in Barcelona, I would visit it again in a heart beat.

60 Minutes featured Sagrada Familia in a segment called “God’s Architect: Antoni Gaudí’s glorious vision”. If you have any interest in architecture, sculpture, or astounding feats of engineering, I suggest checking it out.

iPads Are Saving Paper Weight, Fuel, And Pilots’ Backs

That quote reminded me of a fascinating New York Times article from the summer that I had clipped to Evernote, that went into much more detail about this.

The Federal Aviation Administration has authorized a handful of commercial and charter carriers to use the tablet computer as a so-called electronic flight bag. Private pilots, too, are now carrying iPads, which support hundreds of general aviation apps that simplify preflight planning and assist with in-flight operations.

“The iPad allows pilots to quickly and nimbly access information,” said Jim Freeman, a pilot and director of flight standards at Alaska Airlines, which has given iPads to all its pilots. “When you need to a make a decision in the cockpit, three to four minutes fumbling with paper is an eternity.”

Call me a clueless air traveller, but I had no idea that pilots had to haul 40 pounds of paper onto each flight. This is the sort of area where tablets can be a hugely disruptive device.

from DocumentSnap

Direct the Patent Office to Cease Issuing Software Patents | The White House

The patent office’s original interpretation of software as language and therefor patentable is much closer to reality and more productive for innovation than it’s current practice of issuing software patents with no understanding of the patents being issued.

Under the patent office’s current activity, patents have been come a way to stifle innovation and prevent competition rather than supporting innovation and competitive markets. They’ve become a tool of antitrust employed by large companies against small ones.

To return sanity to the software industry – one of the few industries still going strong in America – direct the patent office to cease issuing software patents and to void all previously issued software patents.

from wwws.whitehouse.gov via ifttt

Bank of America Wants To Get Out Of The Pizza Business

Bank of America has decided to stop selling pizza. The bank, which operates 1,140 Pizza Hut branches through its NPC International division, has reportedly decided to sell off the business. BofA could get more than $800 million for the Pizza Hut stores.
According to Bloomberg, BofA got the Pizza Hut franchises when it bought Merrill Lynch in 2009:

The bank inherited NPC in its 2009 takeover of Merrill Lynch & Co., which bought the pizza purveyor in May 2006 for $615 million, according to a filing. NPC was founded in 1962 and accounts for about one-fifth of U.S. Pizza Hut restaurants, the firm said in August. Its stores are spread across 28 states, mostly in the Midwest and South, with about 26,000 employees.
The price being negotiated may be a premium to what fast- food franchise operators typically trade for.

BofA is trying to sell off about $50 billion worth of assets. Bloomberg points out that CEO Brian Moynihan is doing that, in part, by “divesting assets deemed less important to customers.”

BofA Said to Seek $800 Million in Deal to Divest Pizza Assets [Bloomberg]

from Consumerist

Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult | Truthout

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

from www.truth-out.org via ifttt