Carl Hutzler's Blog

Photography, Technology Musings, and other Completely Random Thoughts. Hey, it's free.

The 5 Minute Dentist – 6 months later

Some of my readers may remember the post about the 5 minute dentist from 6 months ago where my “little brother” scout of mine went to a dentist and experienced a total of 5 minutes on the chair.

Well today we went to another dentist, 6 months later. We had to wait as insurance will not cover more than one routine check-up in a 6 month period, of course. This time we saw a dentist a few miles closer to my house in Reston. This dentist took Paul back and spent about 25 minutes with him before he was finished. And the result? Five cavities!

Yup. Unless Paul developed all five cavities in the last 6 months, we know what that last dentist was up to.

Live and Learn I guess.

And as you may recall, I did report this to the Smiles4Children insurance company’s fraud line. But I have not heard back from them yet. So for fun I decided to call the dentist and see if they still were in operation. I called the number (703-689-3420) just now and get a recording that the number is no longer in service! I had a moment of joy but then decided to look at the insurance company website and found that he is still listed as a provider. Ughhh.

So I Googled Dr. Anwar Ahmad of Herndon VA and found Dr. Ahmad’s Google Local Page. Evidently he now operates out of Alexandria, VA or maybe he always has:

1707 Osage Street #402, Alexandria, VA 22302 (703) 578-1700‎

So I called the office in Alexandria and a lady answered…sounded like the same assistant I met in Herndon. She said he does still operate the Herndon office and he is there on Tuesdays and Thursdays only. When I told her that the Herndon line has a “disconnected” message on it, she was surprised. I asked her for the number to be sure I had dialed correctly and sure enough, I had. It is a message saying “not in service” from the phone company. Maybe he forgot to pay his bill?

But even better is that his Google Local page has some wonderful comments on it. I added my own.

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iTunes 9.x and storing media on a NAS server

I have written before about the trials and tribulations of using a media server (Network Attached Storage) with iTunes. The benefits are of course having your data centralized so any machine can get to it, along with the ability to have your music/video data stored on RAID drives and hopefully backed-up to another network machine (on or off-site via rsync). Those are the pluses.

1. The negatives are that each machine in the house has a link to the music and if the links get messed up or iTunes decides to store data using the default iTunes location (~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media) then you start to have music all over the place or links get broken and music will no longer play.

2. Plus if people buy music (or rip) on different machine in the house, then even though the music files (mp3 files) themselves are stored on the server, each iTunes library can get out of sync in terms of what music it “knows” about. This is because the library file on each machine only knows about what was added to that machine.

3. And lastly, each ipod/iphone in the house has this pain in the ass issue where it has to always be sync’d to the same machine. Otherwise it will dump all the music and other DRM based content (music, video, tv) and totally resync the ipod! What a pain when you are traveling and your daughter just wants to update her ipod with a few new songs she just bought on the iTunes library running on your laptop!

But I have found solutions to all of these. Yes, yes it is true. And I will now share them with you free of charge. :-)

Solution #1: iTunes 9.x will accept a new location for storing your music under ADVANCED PREFERENCES. Once set, this is the new location for all new music, video, tv, audio books, etc. Below is my location which is a network volume/share called “music” which containes the iTunes folder and “iTunes Media” folder. This is all you have to do.

But one issue in the past has been that iTunes will forget this location IF you ever open iTunes without the volume/share being mounted. In this situation, iTunes defaults back to the normal location ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media. And you would not even realize it and then all the new music you buy would be stored locally. And then you have this big pain of re-syncing everything. Well not a huge pain but a pain.

Well iTunes 9.x seems to have adjusted that behavior a bit. If you open iTunes 9.x without the share mounted it will still default back ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media and all new music you buy will be stored there. But the next time you open iTunes and that share is present, iTunes will point back to it as it originally did. So it has the best of both worlds – it will work if you run it on a laptop and the share is not there. But as soon as it finds the share again on the next launch, it will go back to the way you want it.

Solution #2: Syncopation

Syncopation is a $25 piece of software that will allow you to truly synchronize up to 5 machine’s iTunes libraries. So if you buy music on one machine it can sync it to the other machines in the house. Now I am not talking about the MP3 file as all machines in the house store the files on the server (NAS). What I am talking about is the library that contains a pointer to these files. If you buy on one machine, that link is only in the itunes libary on that machine – not the others. Syncopation will add the link (music) to the other machine’s iTunes Libraries for you. And if you configure the right preferences syncopation will not bother copying the music file either (it knows people store the music on a server in many cases!). Syncopation will also sync music playlists, ratings and other stuff. And it really works! Cheap and effective.

Solution #3: iPod/iPhone Syncing

iPods and iPhones sync music to a specific iTunes Library file to prevent (well at least make it not easy) people from steeling music. The key thing that I did not know before was that it is the iTunes Library file which is the thing it sync’s to…NOT THE COMPUTER! So if you create your iTunes library file on one machine and get it all happy the way you want, then copy that file to the other machines in the house, every machine will have the same iTunes Library file ## that each iPod looks for when it syncs. As long as that ## is the same (internal to each library file), you can sync your iPod to any library in the house without the dreaded “This iPod is sync’d to another library” message.

Kind of nice!

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I Feel Comcastic!

Today I cut the cable cord. No more TV. Done. Just Internet for us from now on. Netflix online, Boxee, Hulu, iTunes Movie Rentals, etc.

I wonder how many movies I could rent for the $500 a year I will save ;-)

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Same Reason AOL Failed

Andreesen is right

Burn the Boats

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AT&T Doing Better?

I saw this article about AT&T’s plans for the upcoming South by Southwest (SXSW) event and how they are planning to have ample capacity this year to avoid the embarrassment of last year. In AT&T’s defense, this event (music, film and internet people) concentrates a lot of the iphone toting people into a small area. Without an active plan to address that AT&T (and any carrier) would fail 100% of the time. But since AT&T has also had and continues to have major issues in big cities across the county on their 3G network, the event last year was more of a lightning rod for existing issues rather than anything new.

But it got me to thinking about my AT&T service in the last couple of months and while it may be a little earlier and a little unscientific, I believe that my service has gotten much better. I no longer am seeing a lot of dropped calls. Nor am I seeing a lot of situations where I can not make a call. That does not mean that I never have an issue, but it seems to have gotten better.

Plus I have not had the need to switch my phone to EDGE to avoid the 3G network being congested recently for my data apps either.

I know AT&T put up three towers in the area recently. So maybe that has helped? Or maybe AT&T has done some other tuning things to help with the local issues at the Reston Town Center? But for whatever reason, I think things are better.

I will have to check the call drop logs to see for sure. But maybe they are finally turning a corner.

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Verizon FIOS – Great Internet, Terrible Customer Service

In yet another long list of this company just doesn’t get it, here we have Exhibit A: Verizon FIOS Customer Service.

I am currently a FIOS customer and have been for about a year now. I pay $69.99 a month for 20Mbps/20Mbps here in Reston, VA. It has been a great service. Fast and very reliable. Much better than my previous ISP, Comcast. Not that Comcast was terrible, but FIOS is better.

I was a happy customer until January 1st this year. I got a message from FIOS stating that my rate would go up from $69.99 to $79.99 a month. I was not thrilled about it but I was very happy with my service and to be honest, I have no other choice in ISP if I want a high bandwidth upload speed. Comcast offers 2Mbps here in Reston but only FIOS has 20Mbps.

So I started paying $79.99 a month beginning two months ago.

Today I was talking with a client of mine who said they just upgraded their FIOS and saved a bunch of money (some sort of bundle deal). But the thing that got my attention was when he mentioned he is now on a 25Mbps/25Mbps plan. Huh? Faster than me? Well that deserved some investigation.

So I looked through the Verizon website. What a confusing bunch of crap they have. If you are logged into your verizon account they tell you to click here to see if you can get a faster plan but that dumps you into the public portal as if you were not logged in.  From there you can fill in your street address to check availability but then it fails and asks you to login!

So I open another browser and act as if I am not a customer. Enter my street address and viola! they do have a 25/25 plan now. But wait, it gets better. The faster plan is $10 cheaper a month! WTF?

I click another button and other FIOS plans drop down. Evidently I was looking at the “agreement plans” which means you have to agree to be a customer for a year. Now I just exited my 1 year agreement from my initial installation and I am now a month-to-month customer. But the fun thing is that if I want to stay month to month and upgrade to the 25/25 plan, I would have to pay even more…$84.99 a month. If I ante up for a year I can pay just $69.99 a month but I have an ETF of $165 if I cancel. No, I am not getting any new installations or new modem or router or anything. Just an ETF.

The ETF does decrease by $15 a month each month that I remain a customer. I find this is funny considering that is the exact price difference between being a monthly customer vs a 1 year contract customer.

The thing that really fried me was that I signed up for a 1 year agreement when I had my original install. And I understood that this was because they spent a lot of time/money installing the service inside my house with a modem/router/and the optical thing on the outside of the house. So they wanted to ensure I stuck with them for a year. Makes sense.

But why convert me to month-to-month at the end AND RAISE THE PRICE? Makes no sense. Verizon Wireless does not even screw with you that way. At the end of your 2 year contract, you own the phone and you just continue as a month-to-month subscriber on your current plan at your current rate. No increases.

On top of this I have to say that Verizon FIOS customer service really sucks. After typing in my home address, I called the 888-591-6076 that was on the screen listed as the “call us to order” number. I waited for a few minutes, gave all my security info to the guy and then he said he did not service Virginia accounts. He gave me another number (800-837-4966) and transferred me to people. I again waited and had to do the security thing again and this time the lady said she did not do FIOS Internet, just phone service. So again they transferred me to someone else who actually could help me. But I still had to spend 22 mins on the phone answering questions about what version of Windows I use (I use a Mac) and why I had not downloaded the antivirus package (I use a Mac), etc.

I hate customer service script weenies. Stupid.

Anyway, in the end, after verbally agreeing to another year, I increased my service speed by 25% in each direction and am saving $10 a month. Couldn’t that have been simpler?

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When the roof leaks…

…you shovel off the snow (ice damming). That’s exactly what I did with a couple of contractors yesterday up in Baltimore at my parent’s house. Where does all that snow go? Not very far it turns out. I am guessing it will be gone by mid April!!


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The Big DC Snow and a Trip to the Hudson River Valley

This past week I traveled with a photographer assisting him in some work up in the Albany, NY area. As our work wound down, the first big storm his back home. I stayed away traveling to NYC for the weekend before returning home on Sunday to shovel out. Today even more snow piled on top. Just amazing how much material is sitting on the ground right now. I hope it melts very slowly!

Enjoy the pix.

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Not appropriate for use as a sledding device

Shovel Sled

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School Snow Day Forecast

Forecast looks good for no school the rest of this week.

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