It's an ill flight delay which blows no good

I’m on one of my all-too-regular trips to Westchester County for yet another IBM meeting. As usual, I booked my outbound trip on AA 288, leaving SJC at 11:30am, arriving JFK 8ish, getting me to my hotel 9:30ish — later than I want, but less of a hassle than getting up in time to catch the 8:30am flight.

This morning, my taxi driver called me at 8, and I told him that he could pick me up early since I was ready. So I was at the airport before 9, and a quick glance at the flight monitor told me that the 8:30am flight hadn’t left yet. I dashed up to the Admirals’ Club and found that there were plenty> of seats available, so I grabbed one.

We took off around 10:15 and landed at 6:25pm. I was in my car before 7 (the AirTrain at JFK is a huge improvement over the old Hertz buses), enjoying my first Ralph’s Italian Ice of the summer at their Valley Stream location by 7:15 (well, I had to do something with my extra time), and at the hotel around 8pm, well before my original flight was scheduled to land (and even more before it actually landed; it, too, was delayed).

Tomorrow comes early, of course, but I have a better chance of getting some sleep this way. Maybe I should reconsider and start taking the early flight?

UMTS — nice where it works

I’ve been looking for a good answer to connectivity while travelling for quite a while. Most of the time, I find myself paying $10/day for high-speed connectivity at my hotel and at T-Mobile hotspots — it’s great, but it’s not available everywhere. And I haven’t quite talked myself into signing up for the $30/month T-Mobile plan because I do want to be able to use wireless at places other than airports and Starbucks (I can’t afford to drink that much coffee!).

So when AT&T Wireless announced their UMTS service last week, I was very interested. 300kb down, 50kb up — not bad. And IBM is willing to pay for the equipment and service, so I gave it a shot.

I got the Novatel Merlin U520 UMTS modem, since I was looking for a strictly-data service. I took it home, installed the software, and was on the air in minutes. And it worked at the advertised speed. It even worked in my office. I was happy (though the software is somewhat goofy!).

Last night, I decided to try an experiment — I set up my laptop on the passenger seat and had it connect to the service as I drove. I intended to start an audio stream and look for dropouts.

But I didn’t get that far. The modem showed “no signal” in the parking lot. That didn’t bother me, because my phone often shows “no signal” there. But I expected the modem to connect as soon as I got into the flats.

It didn’t. I didn’t keep a constant eye on the modem, but I glanced at it from time to time, and the first time I saw connectivity was only a mile or two from my house.

This morning, I used the modem at home, and again, I was happy — especially when we had a brief power outage, and my connection stayed up even though the house router went down (hmmm, maybe I should get a UPS!).

Then I drove to IBM’s Silicon Valley Lab for a meeting. My cellphone had full signal, but the modem showed no signal. So I came up on the building wireless LAN and did some investigation. It turns out that the Merlin U520 is UMTS-only; it doesn’t fall back to GPRS/EDGE, and so it’s useless in a non-UMTS area, which is most of the country. And so it won’t solve my problem of needing connectivity while travelling.

AT&T Wireless offers two UMTS data-capable cellphones which do claim to fall back to EDGE/GPRS data rates. They’re awfully large, but it’s probably worth trying one as an experiment on an upcoming trip. Otherwise, it’s back to Starbucks.

Bite the Wax Motor!

A few years ago, we bought a Maytag Neptune washer because it was a front-loader and probably more water- and energy-efficient than a conventional washer. We had also heard that it did a good job of washing clothes. And, of course, Maytag had quite a good reputation for dependability.

Well, we were right on some counts.

  • The washer is a front-loader.
  • It does seem to be water- and energy-efficient.
  • Clothes come out reasonably clean (we have a teenage son, so our expectations here are moderate :-))

Dependability, on the other hand….

Early on, we had mold and mildew problems. A friend told us about the secret recall, and so we got the PHA Kit for free.

This week, suddenly the washer wouldn’t spin. I called Maytag’s “Priority One” service line, who referred me to the local Maytag dealer (once your warranty expires, you are no longer Priority One with Maytag). Today, the service guy came out to deal with the problem.

There’s a $25 “wax motor” on the washer which operates the door lock. It died, so the door wouldn’t lock, and the safety features on the washer wouldn’t let it go into the spin cycle. These things happen, and if that was all that had happened, I wouldn’t be too unhappy.

Unfortunately, when the motor died, it caused a resistor on the $190 control board to burn up (bad design — haven’t they ever heard of a fuse?). And the board can’t be serviced (at least not by a factory-authorized servicer); instead, it has to be replaced.

And of course, there’s labor, travel time, and tax.

So in the end, I’m out nearly $350 on a four-and-a-half-year-old washing machine. I decided it was worth it — this time.

The servicer left me the old control board, and I may just follow the instructions on this page to repair it so I’ll be ready in the event of a rerun.

I even have my choice of class-action lawsuits to join:

And there are probably others. But I really wouldn’t want to wind up with a coupon good for a discount on a new Maytag, unless it’s a 100% discount. With an extended warranty.