Thanks, Spotify!

One of the big draws of Spotify Premium is that the service allows you to download music for offline listening. So if you’re going somewhere where LTE or Wi-Fi might not be available (camping) or might be expensive or slow (most airports and flights), you can save tunes to your device and listen offline. Hell, even if LTE or Wi-Fi is available, you might want to download a song anyway: if you’re one of those people who plays a track on repeat, it’s better to download a song once over Wi-Fi than use your precious data to download the same bits over and over again.

Spotify Premium allows you to download music to (up to) 3 devices. Like most software with such limits, you can log in to your account and revoke permissions for a device… in case one of your devices is lost, stolen or broken and you order a replacement. But Spotify’s UI isn’t that helpful:

Spotify WTF

I have Spotify installed on an LG G Stylo (phone), Asus ZenPad (tablet) and Amazon Fire (tablet). But I can’t tell which device is which, because Spotify’s programmers can’t be bothered to add a few lines of code to their app.

Thanks, Spotify!

I’m DONE with Target

Lots of people love Target. I don’t.

For one thing, Target seems to never, ever have what I want. No matter how mundane the item – be it a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, a Snickers bar, Irish Spring soap or a simple 4×6″ picture frame… if I need it, Target won’t have it. I often joke that the reason Target has CCTV cameras in the parking lot is so they can see me coming and hide whatever it is I’m there for.

But what’s worse, though, are the employees. I don’t know if Target only hires really stupid people, or if they train them poorly… but every time I ask a Target employee about the item I can’t seem to find, they not only act as if they’ve never heard of the thing before, they act like they can’t imagine why someone would want it:

“Orange… juice, you said? And you said it’s some kind of… beverage?”

Dear…

“Kitty… ‘litter’? Am I saying that correctly? ‘Kitty litter’? And it’s some sort of… pet accessory? For cats?”

God…

“Sandpaper? It’s not in office supplies? That’s where the paper is. Never heard of SANDpaper, though.”

Why?

There are a couple other things I could niggle. For one, Target’s grocery selection really sucks. Say what you will about Walmart, but my local Walmart has a full-blown grocery store inside. It doesn’t really cater to exotic tastes, but a family of four could easily buy all their groceries at Walmart, no problem. My local Target, on the other hand, has hundreds of items, but only one or two of any given item. Walmart has 15 types of canned chili; Target has three. Walmart has 84 different types of bread; Target has, like, six, tops. And the worst part is, unless you’re willing to compromise a lot, you can’t even buy a whole meal’s worth of stuff at Target. You want slow cooker pot roast with veggies? Target will have everything but the actual roast. Or they’ll have the roast, but no potatoes. Or potatoes but no carrots. Or they’ll have all the food, but no slow cooker spices. Or they won’t have slow cooker liners. Or something. It’s always something with Target.

Also, people say Target has “nicer” stuff than Walmart. I’m sure that’s true to an extent. Their crappy bookshelves are more stylish than Walmart’s crappy bookshelves. Target’s wastebaskets do look more like something you’d see at a hip spa or salon than Walmart’s “what old lady’s house did they steal this from?” wastebaskets. And, if you’re under the age of 25, Target’s clothes probably are cooler than Walmart’s. But at the end of the day, I can’t help but get the feeling that Target’s stuff costs 25% more than Walmart’s, but isn’t 25% better. Their crappy $129 bookshelf won’t last any longer or hold more weight than Walmart’s crappy $99 bookshelf, and their $7.50 Hanes t-shirt won’t last longer than Walmart’s $5 Hanes shirt.

*     *     *

Today was the last damn straw, though.

See, thanks to all the online security scares, I’m kind of wary about using a credit card online. So I try to use gift cards when possible. I pay for my mobile phone service with prepaid cards, which is easy to do, because almost any store that sells such cards will carry ones for my provider, and there’s a 99% chance I’ll be going to one such store at least once a month.

Spotify cards are somewhat harder to find, however. Despite Spotify’s site saying they’re available at many large (specific) retailers – Kroger! Target! Best Buy! Walmart! CVS! – they’re actually kind of hard to find.

Last night I was reading the Spotify subreddit, where some post playlists and others ask questions about the service. I saw a question about gift cards… which got me curious enough to look for them at Amazon. No dice. I googled “Spotify gift card” and got a link to this page at Target. Here’s a screencap:

Spotify at Target
(click to embiggen)

As you can see, this is a $30 Spotify card being offered for $21. It’s “only sold in stores”, “not available for free pickup” but is “in stock” at my local Gastonia (North Carolina) Target. It’s also located on aisle F29.

I had to run an errand today that would take me somewhat close to that Target, so I figured I’d buy a couple of cards. Hey, six months of Spotify for $42 instead of $60 isn’t that bad a deal, right? It’s almost like getting two months free!

So I went to the store, and went to aisle F29 (who even knew Target aisles were numbered?) I found the cards, but they were marked at $30, No problem, I figured. I’d just get them to adjust the price at checkout. Just to be sure, however, I looked closely at the rest of the cards on the aisle. No other Spotify cards, just these.

Of course, they can’t price match at the register. That would be too damn easy. After waiting for several minutes at a slow-ass register, the nice but clueless cashier (whose nametag read – I kid you not – “New Target Associate”) directed me to customer service.

The guy at Customer Service first told me that he couldn’t match the price, because the graphics are different. I asked him why the hell that matters. Packaging changes all the time, but the essential bit of a giftcard – the barcode and pin – don’t. He hemmed and hawed for several minutes, then said that he couldn’t price match because the pictured card was for “3 months of service” while the cards in my hand were “gift cards”. I told him that was a distinction without difference. Virgin Mobile used to sell Broadband2Go, PayLo and Beyond Wireless cards… but it didn’t matter which one you used, because it all went into the same Virgin Mobile account. He hemmed and hawed – no really, I think he actually said “heeeeemmm” and “hawwwww” – then said, “yeah, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it”. I asked him to get me someone “higher up the food chain”.

After a few minutes, a Target manager came up and asked me what she could do. I explained the situation, and was literally floored by her “logic”.

See, the cards were on clearance, and that’s why you can’t order them online for pickup. OK, but Google Play cards are also “not available for in-store pickup”, but they’re not on clearance. So what’s the difference?

Well, she said, they don’t have any in stock. OK, so why does the webpage say “in stock at Gastonia”? Because we have them in stock, but not those cards. What the hell does THAT mean? Oh, the cards that are on clearance? You’re out of those? So why does the website say you do have them in stock? Because they do have $30 Spotify cards in stock, but not those $30 Spotify cards.

After a few minutes of her circular logic, I held up the printout and asked: “OK, let’s pretend that you don’t work for Target. You go to Target.com and search for ‘Spotify’. This is one of the results. The webpage clearly says ‘only sold in stores’, that you can’t buy them online for pickup. It also says that they’re available in this very store. What would YOU think?” Apparently she’d “be confused too” but she’d understand because there’s some vital difference between whatever the company posted on their website and what they had in the store (despite all evidence to the contrary).

Finally exasperated, I asked: “So… you say that such cards actually exist somewhere in the realm of Target. How can I buy some of these? What can you do today to sell me these?”

“Well, I guess you can drive to another Target. There’s one at Metropolitan, and….”

Go to hell already. You know what? If I’d talked to the store manager, and if the manager had said “because fuck you, that’s why we’re not price matching”, I’d somehow feel better. I’d feel better than having to listen to someone half my age trying to explain something she clearly doesn’t understand, and clearly making it all up as she went along. I don’t have kids, but I can easily recognize someone making up teen-level bullshit on the fly. And this was weapons-grade bullshit, my friends.

I went ahead and bought a single card… because why the hell not? I’d wasted an hour of my life arguing with a 20 year-old girl at Target… that has to be better than making a special stop of Best Buy just to make a “spite purchase” of a whopping $30.

Still, though… it bugged me. So when I got home I called Target’s customer service number. I spoke to a nice lady in India (I think.. possibly the Philippines). I gave her the 18-digit receipt number and she was able to pull up the transaction in her system. She immediately saw and understood the issue, but couldn’t help much. The best she could do was issue me a refund on the on the difference… $9… in the form of a Target gift card. Dammit. I could use it to buy a mobile phone giftcard… but I bet it’ll say “cannot be used on gift card purchases”.

Bastards. I hate Target.

Hidden Cameras?

In 8th or 9th grade, I had a thing for Nancy Wilson of Heart. My best pal, Rich, had a thing for Ann Wilson (who was still skinny at the time). As best I recall, it was the only time there was a pair of women, and I chose the blonde and my best mate chose the brunette… to this day, it’s almost always the other way ’round.

Ann and Nancy Wilson

Heart was coming to Atlanta to play a show at The Omni. Even at that young age, I’d already developed the habit of looking at the “event tickets” section of the Atlanta Journal’s classifieds. There I spotted an ad for a pair of 10th row seats for only $5-$10 above face value! I wasn’t a huge fan of Heart’s music, but I really wanted to see an arena concert up close; Rich didn’t care for Heart’s then-current music (“What About Love”, “Never”, “These Dreams”), but he did like their earlier stuff, like “Barracuda”. I called the ticket seller, and he seemed legit. So I begged my mom to drive me to a hotel parking lot at Buford Highway and 285. Money and tickets were exchanged, and we were good to go.

I moved away from Atlanta almost 15 years ago, so things might have changed. But back in the 80s, suburban white folks only used the MARTA train to go to things like concerts or sporting events. On any given night, MARTA trains would run nearly empty… but let there be a concert or game, and the cars would be full of metalheads or football fans. So it was pretty safe, which is why Rich’s parents picked me up and drove us to the Doraville MARTA station. We took the train in and had a bangin’ time at the show.

My dad worked close to The Omni, and usually kept late hours. So the plan was for me to call him from a payphone once the concert was over. And that’s exactly what happened: I found a payphone on the concourse and called him, and he said he’d be there as soon as he could.

Rich and I were standing outside the arena, waiting for my dad to show. But then a guy walked up to us. He was a big fella, with long blond hair, broad shoulders and a beer belly. He was probably in his mid 20s.

“Uhhhhh… hey guys!” he said, his body teetering back and forth, the smell of alcohol obvious from five feet away.

“Could you guys help me? I’m from Greenville, South Carolina, and I drove down for the show… and I am drunker than hell. I can’t… I can’t… I don’t… I don’t, uh, remember where I parked my… my… where I parked my car. I have, like, $327 in my wallet, and I’d, like, give you guys some, like, money, if you’d like, help me find… [hiccup] it.”

Rich and I didn’t say a word. But we did exchange a series of glances.

The first glance said “this guy is fucked up, and we could totally lead him to that parking deck over there, push him down the stairs and take his wallet”. Keep in mind that $327 in 1986 is worth $700 in 2014 dollars. $350 each for rolling a drunk guy wasn’t a bad idea. Also, there were only, like, 3-4 steps at the parking deck, so it wasn’t like we were gonna push him down 30 feet of concrete.

The second glance said “we could do that, but my\your dad’s not here. What if the dude fights back? What if the cops see us? We can’t just stand here and wait for my\your dad to be unofficial getaway driver! And just how would we get away, anyway? Traffic is crawling. A one-legged cop could catch us!”

The third glance said “Ya know, this seems awfully suspicious. He seems really nice… too nice. And wasn’t the ‘I have $327 in my wallet’ oddly specific? Dude, this has to be some kind of scam. Either the APD is doing some kind of sting operation, or NBC News is doing some kind of hidden camera show. Or worse, he could be totally sober and just splashed himself with whiskey. He could be trying to lead us to his sketchy van in the parking deck, and we’d end up chained to the wall of his basement!”

Rich and I, at exact the same moment, said something like “nah, man. Wish we could help, but my dad\his old man will be here any second.”

As soon as the guy stumbled off, we chattered excitedly:

“Dude, we totally could have…”

“I know!”

“But wasn’t it weird that…”

“I know!”

“But even if we did…”

“I know!”

To this day, I sometimes wonder what was up with all that. Was he legit, just a harmless drunk guy from South Carolina? Or was he an undercover Atlanta cop itching to bust some 8th graders from the suburbs? Or was he some John Wayne Gacy type, waiting to bury us in his crawlspace? Did he ever find his car, or did someone else roll him that night? Did he pass out in his car, or did he actually try to drive to Greenville that night? If so, did he make it home OK?

Life’s little mysteries!

Amazon Tip

Amazon has a whole class of stuff called “add-on items”. These are usually small things that aren’t cost-effective to ship on their own, like a little packet of screws or washers. But sometimes Amazon’s definition of what makes an “add-on item” is a bit janky. Why is this widget an add-on item, but that similar widget is not?

The problem with add-on items is that they require $25 in other purchases. You simply cannot buy an add-on item by itself, even if you were willing to pay extra for shipping. And sometimes that little packet of washers is all you need.

You can get around the minimum purchase requirement, though. Just order the add-on item and pre-order a video game (or DVD set, or CD box set… or anything over $25 that won’t be released for a couple months). Amazon won’t wait until the pre-order item is released to ship your add-on, so you can cancel the pre-order as soon as your add-on ships!

PREVIOUS TIP: How to buy things with multiple credit cards at Amazon

The Best (or Worst?) Party Ever

It was the 80s. We were the punks, skaters, goths and New Wavers of our high school, which was dominated by rednecks and jocks. There was something of an “us vs. them” mentality which meant that we often hung out as a group, even if we otherwise didn’t get along. And so it was that I went to this skater kid’s 17th birthday party. This guy was the very definition of “tosser” or “spaz”, and I couldn’t stand him. But because he was “one of us”, I felt obliged to go.

Since the party was hosted by his mom, most of us politely either snuck flasks in or left six packs in our cars so we could come back and chug one (or two) in the darkened street. But not Birthday Boy. He’d only done acid once before, and for some reason he decided to take 4-5 hits that night.

His recently divorced mom had just started a new job, and her new boss lived fairly close by, so he decided to stop by and wish Skater Kid a happy birthday. But Skater Kid was tripping way too hard to deal with that shit just then, so he took off running. Through the house. Around the house. Some of us were sitting on or around a sofa in the basement rec room and ZOOM! Skater Kid would run through, hauling ass to the back door. Mom and Boss would follow a few seconds later, with Skater Kid’s mom begging him to “come back here” and asking “what is wrong with you??”. They’d follow Skater Kid out the back door, and we’d go back to our conversation… until Skater Kid would come hauling ass through the room again a few minutes later.

This went on for – no joke – a half hour or so. Then Skater Kid got the brilliant idea of taking off through the woods. By then, everyone at the party knew what was going on, so as soon as some of the smokers outside said that he’d gone into the woods, the entire party went out to the driveway to view the spectacle. Skater Kid’s mom and her boss found flashlights and started following him through the woods.

Most of the 40 or 50 of us could barely contain our giggles as Mom and Boss would be certain Skater Kid was over “here”, but we’d see tree branches move or catch a glimpse of Skater Kid over “there”. We were all dumb kids having a laugh, but eventually the crowd turned on Skater Kid. Skater Kid went from “Hero of the Year” to “Dumbass of the Year” in less than sixty seconds. We started helping Mom and Boss track him down. Eventually Skater Kid emerged from the woods, and instead of getting support from his friends, a couple dudes tackled him and held him down until Mom and Boss came over. Mom announced that the party was over, and I’ll never forget the look on poor Skater Kid’s face – pinned to the ground, eyes as big as saucers – when he finally figured out that the party was indeed over.

Taco Bell’s Wi-Fi Sucks

My local Taco Bell is in a Sprint “dead zone”. I get voice, and can sometimes get 3G, but never LTE. So I often try Taco Bell’s free wi-fi… which sucks.

I discovered this several months ago. We’d decided on Taco Bell for dinner, and I was tasked with picking it up. Since nearly everything at Taco Bell looks exactly the same in the wrapper, I’ve gotten in the habit of doing two separate orders. This way my GF’s mostly-vegetarian stuff doesn’t get mixed in with my steak and chicken stuff… ‘cos it’s always hilarious when someone thinks she’s biting in to a bean burrito and gets a mouthful of ground beef instead.

Anyway, since I have two orders, it’s easier to go inside than deal with the drive-thru. And it was Saturday night, so the place was busy as hell. I’d been watching a college football game at home. I don’t remember what game it was, but it wasn’t important enough to delay going to Taco Bell, but was important enough for me to want to know the score once I was there. So I whipped out my phone, got on Taco Bell’s free Wi-Fi… and I saw this:

Screenshot_2015-05-09-19-38-34

Yes, Taco Bell uses FortiGuard, a web filtering service often used at companies you wouldn’t work for. So I tried CBSSports.com. Big surprise:

Screenshot_2015-05-09-19-39-15

OK, so sports of any kind are out. Well, how about seeing what’s up on Instagram, then?

Screenshot_2015-05-09-19-35-53

Sweet! Just for kicks, let’s see if Google works:

Screenshot_2015-05-09-19-39-55

Oh nice. As you probably know, Google defaults to HTTPS now, so my browser wanted a certificate. But FortiGuard uses shitty self-signed certificates. I wouldn’t dream of using Taco Bell’s wi-fi to do some online banking in any case, but this just screams “man in the middle” attack, no?

So… Taco Bell, please fix your crappy wi-fi that blocks every site a consumer on the go might actually want to visit, and seems designed for malware and hack attacks. It’s awfully strange that Taco Bell – who built an empire on the backs of drunks and stoners – blocks popular websites, but the the wi-fi at Chick-Fil-A – with their reputation as gay-hating holy rollers – doesn’t seem to block anything.

[Note: although the story is set several months ago, the screen caps were taken last week. They’re also out of order relative to the story – see the clock in the corner of the pics – because I didn’t actually start taking the screen caps until I became frustrated with the service and “retraced” my steps via screen cap.]

Unbundled Cable Will Never Work

A la carte cable – where you pay only for the channels you want – sounds like a great idea. But, as I’ve been saying for years, it’ll never happen, because that’s not how cable TV works.

Right now, anything from 2¢ to $6 of your cable bill goes to each channel per month. Syfy, for instance, costs 27¢ per subscriber per month. But if people could drop Syfy, how many people would, and how much would Syfy need to charge remaining subscribers? Example: under the current system, if Time Warner Cable has 20m subscribers and Syfy’s carriage fee is 27¢/month, TWC pays Syfy $5,400,000 per month. But if TWC went a la carte and 90% of TWC households dropped Syfy, Syfy would only get $540,000/month at the current rate. Syfy would have to charge their remaining subscribers $2.70/month just to get the same amount of revenue from TWC as before. But every increase they make will surely drop the total number of overall viewers: how many people out there love Syfy so much that they’d pay $5.99/month for it? $8.99/month? $10.99/month? $15.99/month? So Syfy gets caught in a death spiral of needing more money per subscriber, but being unable to raise their subscription fee because they’ll lose subscribers. And while going from 27¢ to $2.70/month doesn’t sound like a big increase, keep in mind that it’s going to happen to EVERY CHANNEL ON YOUR CABLE LINEUP. This might not be a big deal for single people, or couples with very narrow interests. But for a family of four – where Dad wants ESPN and NBC Sports, Mom wants HGTV and Food Network, Teenage Daughter wants E! and MTV, and Junior wants Nick and Disney – it quickly adds up. 

So you, the consumer, will get screwed over in the end, ‘cos you’ll end up paying almost as much for a la carte as you do now, only now you’d get 17 channels instead of 200+ channels. Don’t believe me? CNBC ran the numbers; and found that a 17 channel bundle of cable networks could cost anywhere from $16 to $248 per month. And that’s not including broadcast networks, which are a double-whammy for cable providers: providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable are required by law to carry local networks, but since 1992’s  Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act, networks can require payment to rebroadcast that programming. In most a la carte scenarios I’ve seen, cable customers would have to buy a basic “network package” for $25 to $35 a month, then pay anywhere from $2 to $25 per month for each additional cable channel. So a package with just your local broadcast networks and ESPN could cost around $60/month. That’s about the base fee most people pay for their cable now (not including taxes, fees, and equipment charges). And that’s just ESPN – it doesn’t include all of its related networks like ESPN 2 or ESPN U or ESPN Classic. If you included all those, your cable bill would be $112.52/month… just in channel fees. Of course, none of this includes taxes, fees, equipment rental fees, program guide fees, Internet service or home phone service.

And that, my friends, is why a la carte cable simply won’t work.