Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Datsun, Really?

Been trying a few different commute options lately because the road work for the MA-2/MA-2A "Crosby's Corner" project has been causing the road to change between the morning and evening.  Seems like the risk for an accident is a little higher right now, plus it gets all clogged up as construction equipment and stupid people try to push their way through the mess.

Years ago I used to commute north via I-93 out of Somerville then all the way up to I-495 and then south to Westford.  Westford is inconvenient to all desirable places people want to live, which is an accomplishment for a town.  Now living in Medford, I've decided to give that route a try again.  The evening commute is much improved and I attribute the entirety of that to being able to completely avoid Arlington.  The morning commute is still a little jammed up because the Market Basket trucks and merges for Boston-bound traffic (see, we have these highway interchanges that cause all directions of travel to feed through the same choke point....yay?).

Yesterday as the car made its way north on I-93, I heard a car approaching.  I could tell it was moving faster than traffic speed and it had a distinct sound to it.  Then it passed me on the left before then merging all the way over to the right to take the next exit.

It was a Datsun 280ZX.

This car in particular is baffling to me.  I have seen them my entire life in this same manner.  Every now and then one zooms past you on the road.  It was sold in the United States between 1979 and 1983.  The oldest ones are my age.

Yet these things are still going!  And the one I saw yesterday looked well maintained.  You would not expect it to be that age except the body styling clearly gives it away.

By this point they have to have really high odometer readings.  And I'm not sure if these cars had 5 or 6 digit odometers.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Paperless Billing Is Annoying

I'm a computer guy.  My career involves computers and software and a lot of sitting.  I've always been doing something with computers.  I adopt new technology quickly.  I used FTP before HTTP.  I like smartphones.  I like technology.

But I hate paperless billing.  At least right now.

Paper billing costs a lot of money.  Both for those sending bills and those sending payments.  But as paperless billing exists now, I don't find it convenient or time-saving.  Why?

For all of the billers I have had and currently have, paperless billing means discontinuing the paper bill and sending me an email telling my bill is ready to view.  There is nothing actually useful in that email.  Like maybe the amount due or the due date.  Nope, just a bunch of boilerplate text and a ridiculous URL that takes me to the biller's web site where I can log in and view my bill.  OK, so I've done this before and here's how it usually goes:
  • Link in the email doesn't work or there's a browser incompatibility.
  • I hit the main page and log in from there.
  • Forgot my password or find my password has been reset for "security reasons" because the last time I logged in was 30 days ago to view the previous bill.
  • Reset my password and log in again.
  • Poke around the site looking for my bill because the site looks different than 30 days ago.  They've had a month to redesign it.
  • Continually dodge the "would you like to take a survey" popups.
  • Finally find the bill, but it won't load.  It's a redirect from a CGI script or something server-side that is generating or otherwise making available a PDF file in the datastream and the browser can't deal with this.  Stumble around trying to figure out how to save this using curl(1) or some browser trickery.
  • Open the bill using a local PDF viewer.
Now once I have it opened, I have to pay it.  I use my bank's online bill pay for that.  So log in to another site and type in the amount I'm going to pay and click pay.

All of the above could have been eliminated by receiving a paper bill in the mail.  Which is what I do.  I get paper bills and then pay them online.  By receiving a paper bill, I don't have to juggle the clumsy logins of all of my biller's web sites.

Paperless billing to me would be useful if the actual bill came to my email inbox.  I want nothing to do with the biller's web site.  I don't want an account there.  I don't want to customize it.  I don't want to have anything to do with it.

I have mentioned this to billers before and they tell me they understand but that sending the complete useful bill via email would be risky for security reasons.  I mean, my email could be hacked.  Or I could have typed in an incorrect email address.  Or any of a number of other reasons.  If only we had a mechanism to secure email without disrupting what makes email so useful.  Hmmm, does anything like that exist?  Note that it's perfectly ok for a paper bill to be delivered by an unverified carrier to an unattended unlocked box at your house.

Oh well, maybe we'll get there one day.  Until then I'll keep opening paper bills and paying them online using my bank's service.

(Oh, and my bank does offer e-Bill services for certain billers.  So you can receive your bill electronically and view it through the bank's interface.  It's clumsy and not really reliable the few times I've tried it.  Maybe that will get better.)