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we wonder

good guys

Bad Guys
31 Dec 2010
National Grid is our electricity monopoly. They threaten to shut off service when the account is less than 3 weeks overdue, and have robocallers to demand payment even before the bills arrive.

15 Oct 2010,
scam alert
We were asked by a neighbor a number of times over the years to have his company repair our driveway. Finally, this August, I said yes to a patch job, because it's getting to be a problem. This was going to be an under-the-table side job, with materials "left over" from a commercial job. He "just needed some cash to quickly cover a family situation." In a few days this escalated to a cheap full job, with more cash up front. Six weeks later, nothing has been done.
I should have checked before giving him anything, of course - turns out the company has a bad reputation, and paving contractors are exempt from Mass. consumer protection laws! My calls have been answered with excuses and promises of "in a couple of days."

Bill Pusateri
BKJ Paving  BBB report
cell 774-242-5155 ["temporarily out of service" since August at least]
A&M Asphalt
home 508-963-5688
2 Ashburnham rd, Worcester, MA 01605

Further details on the Pusateri scam page.
Pusateri was arrested for assault and theft on 15 Dec 2010.

Jul-Nov 2010
We were looking to refinance our house, with rates being low. Drew Mortgage, Shrewsbury, was recommended. But Wayne Rawan jerked us around, forgot about us for many weeks, and finally sent paperwork for a ridiculously high rate. That rate was not communicated to us in person, just buried in the paper, apparently hoping we were desperate or stupid enough to sign it.


Tommy Mack is an incompetent sleaze

Incompetent and/or dishonest businesses we've dealt with:

We had major renovations done to our house, after a fire that began in the tenant apartment, in 1994. We have no complaints about our independent insurance adjuster, Kevin Ball. He got much more money for us than the sleazes at the insurance company offered. However, his neighbor and buddy, Thomas Mack, of Clinton MA, is the general contractor we chose to do the work. Now, whenever we see badly and slowly done work, we say, "Looks like Tommy Mack has been here too". All of his subcontractors too, except the Vietnamese floor refinishers (picked by Kevin Ball), were slow, argumentative, and did sloppy work. Poor work was done on at least part of the job by the framers, plasterers (the worst of the lot), painters, electricians (DMH Electric, the slowest and most argumentative), vinyl flooring installers, and plumber. Mack himself chose many things without consultation or despite consultation, despite his effusive claims before we signed a contract, and most often used inferior products (doors, windows, trim lumber) and apparent inventory close-outs (kitchen cabinets). He should have known that connecting the gas line to the house would cost $1200, but put in a gas hot-water heater that was never connected or used. He put in the doors and windows himself - the doors never fit, and he did not insulate around the replacement windows at all. He didn't finish anywhere near on time, and got pissy when we objected to the badly done parts at the end. We should have complained to the state, or taken him to court, but we decided then that good riddance was a better idea. We've spent lots of time and money repairing and finishing the crap job he and his crew started.

We just had some more work done, plastering 3 rooms, and we've been looking even more closely at the previous work. Mack incompetently screwed up by mismeasuring several (most?) replacement windows: one in the living room has been sagging on one side - it is an inch too small and so he glued it in place, and even his glue isn't holding. The new plasterers were good, and they're listed below, in the Good Guy section. (Oct 2002)

Another example of Mack's incompetence: the pipes froze and burst this winter, in the space between the first-floor ceiling  and second-floor. When the plumber opened up the ceiling, to make extensive repairs, he noted that the outside wall had not been insulated. The ceiling was insulated, instead of the bottom of the floor above, making the pipe space nearly as cold as outside!  And I discovered what happened to the antique matchboard molding I'd salvaged: they used it as strapping in the ceiling. (winter 2004)

Our more recent example of incompetent and overly expensive work is that done by Floyd "Pick" Pickard, of Wellfleet MA. He gave a verbal quote of $700 for what we understood was buying and installing a window and a skylight, plus installing another window, with a deadline in June 1999. The window, skylight and supplies were purchased for just over $700. He installed the 2 windows, but not the skylight, by the deadline. I'd have been embarrassed in junior high by the sloppy interior framing of the bedroom window, had I done it. He billed us for another $700, for the work done. He billed us a late fee for not paying immediately! We have to learn to get the details in writing. We'll put in the skylight ourselves. (Aug 1999)
    Apparently long-running sleazy business practices run in the family, according to the Cape Cod Times reports in 2002/2003.

HiVal makes or sells computer hardware. It does not honor its rebate offers promptly, but instead it ignores its customers, then makes excuses. Its manuals are also badly written, and tech support mediocre. Reliability is a problem, too. The CD burner died after a few months of light use - tech support by email was excruciatingly slow (weeks to some replies), and finally it's been sent back for replacement or repair (Sept 1999, Feb 2000, Apr 2000)

The replacement didn't work for long, either.

Best Buy, Worcester - phone message says they open at 10 weekdays, yet you get the "store closed" message until 1030, (several days, several attempts each) - then no one answers the dept. line in at least 10 min (twice)! Their corporate Email complaint form is annoying to find and then won't let itself be submitted! Service at the store was poor too: I found a helpful software salesman, but finally walked out without buying from the computer counter after being studiously ignored for 20-30 min. I bought a VCR from Circuit City and a computer hard drive online instead. (Feb 2000) Advertised specials are sold out by the time I can read the ads and get there. -- Sales staff in the computer section deliberately ignore you unless they can sell you a whole computer system (10/2004.)

Staples - Weekly fliers have attractive prices, but in my experience, the computer-related items are not actually available. Phone calls to the store in Shrewsbury result in being on hold for 10-15 min (until I hang up, 3 times). The number for the Auburn store is out of service! Then there's their ridiculous temp-hiring practice. (Feb 2000)
Despite the large sign in the store, Staples does not actually sell lap-top batteries. (Sept 2002) Ebay does.

Framingham Dodge - lying, sleazy lowlife salesmen (not a surprise, but still). (Jan 1998)

Galaxy Internet Services - our former ISP. It's cheap, and you don't get more than you pay for. It crashed and wiped out most of our web page, and has never notified us. We had to read about it in the Globe. Annoying to us, and devastating to some businesses. (Apr 2000)

Packard Bell made our PC - we bought it partly because Packard Bell had a very good reputation for service. But it quickly went out of the PC business, and the poor suckers are being badly helped by Alorica. Upgrade RAM for our particular PC can only be had from Alorica, and it's very expensive, and does NOT work. The RAM chips are extremely slow to arrive, too, but maybe that's good when they don't work. (Jul 2000)

It took months, but they finally sent a RAM chip that worked.

Sigma Scientific - the standard source for reagents. But their web ordering system does not work, the web catalog is aggravating to use, and I'm ordering stuff from the competitors until they fix things. (May, Jul 2000) Despite my Purchasing Dept., Sigma still takes my phone orders competently and quickly.

PCs for everyone, Cambridge MA. (pcsforeveryone.com) Sold me the wrong RAM chips (for the Packard Bell PC), assuring me that they would work, then wouldn't refund the full price when the chips actually didn't work.

Harr Ford, Worcester MA. Aggressive and dishonest salesmen. Slow and expensive service. (1990, 1992, 2002)

ATT Wireless - provides my daughter's cell phone service. They jacked the prices way, way up without visible notice (it was in the fine print) and won't discuss it, so I'm stuck with months of multi-hundred $ bills. I'll be working with the Mass. Attorney General about this. -- Inertia rules, my starter complaints went nowhere, but at least we're through with ATT (9/2004.)

Highland Power Equipment, Brooks St, Worcester MA - Incompetent and completely dishonest, fixing lawnmowers and snowblowers. They stole my snow-blower! The Better Business Bureau tried unsuccessfully to get it back, and gave up (with the comment that Highland's record isn't much worse than usual!).

Verizon. Our ISP for some years, as well as phone service provider. Connections come and go - is it  Verizon's fault? Who knows, and they won't help.
I could not log into my email when abroad, and Support was just vague when I complained.
    Libraries can send results of catalog searches - this works well if the recipient is my non-Verizon work email, but the messages never come through if they must go through Verizon. Verizon finally acknowleged the problem after multiple complaints, but hasn't fixed it. (March 2005)  I was online with a technician for half an hour unsuccessfully trying to fix the Verizon Start page, then on hold for half an hour before getting a snotty tech who wanted me to fill out some form again (Nov 2005.)
    For several months in 2005 the volume of "Nigerian scam" letters had dropped way off, and I had hopes that Verizon's filters were working, but now (Sept 2005) I'm getting several per day. And spam with Asian characters (Oct 2005).

22 jun 2010 advertising scam: betterlinkadvertising

I hate dropdown lists.
I hate web site dropdown country lists that start with "Albania." That's just incompetent design. First of all, the site should know what country you are connecting from. Even if not, it should offer the most likely countries first.  Example: Familysearch.org, the Mormon genealogy site.
I especially hate US dropdown lists for states. Yes, the "M" states are confusing, but the zip code is completely sufficient, and always needs to be included as well. And if the lists must exist, let them fully open.
When Honey Farms and Cumberland Farms has "2 for $x" items, they really do enforce the single price when I want just one bag, bottle, etc. I don't think that's true at the supermarkets, but could check. That's obnoxious.

Once again, I note that the compact fluorescent "bulbs" last a small fraction of their alleged lifetime. Expensive, supposedly dimmable bulbs lasted less than a year, infrequently used, rarely dimmed. I look forward to LED lights taking over the market, or some newer, safe technology. So far LEDs are expensive, but the prices are dropping and the uses expanding.

Why do computer monitors burn out quickly? Our regular TVs are more than 25 years old, and one is watched several hours per day. But several monitors have died in under 5 years, including a Dell flatscreen in about 1 year.
CD drives in computers and boom-boxes also die quickly, usually with very, very light use  — we have lost several.

We wonder:

Tek Roofing
, Worcester and Oxford, MA. They did our roof, and seem to have done a good job, but it was supposed to take 1-2 weeks and it was more than 2 months. The claim of thorough and daily cleanup was a sick joke. I found hundreds of nails in the yard, and had 2 flat tires. The weather was not cooperative: we twice had 2 major leaks with substantial water damage during the long job, and the roofers came immediately when we called. Eric Johnson tried to get out of it cheaply by having his own roofers repair the interior damage, but as painters etc they stunk. He gave us some credit to apply to our own repairs, and it was the incentive to have the plasterers come to redo new and old damaged ceilings.

Opera, the web browser and email application, at Opera.com. I've used several generations of this small and fast browser. The free version has a small ad in the upper tool bar, which you can pay $25-39 to get rid of, but you can easily live with it. It is much faster than Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla and even Firefox in my extensive experience. The integration of mail and browser works very well, I like using "mouse gestures," and there seem to be real people eventually answering questions (but not very well.) I've been testing Firefox on my Mac at work - despite the extensive hype, it isn't fast, and it lacks standard features such as a Print button. Opera lacks a composing sub-application, so I still have to use Mozilla Composer to write my web pages. Tech support is about as useless as usual, as well as being really defensive about Opera's defects. (Feb 2005)no Opera 9
Opera 9 has such annoying features that I've moved it from the Good Guy file to We Wonder file.  An error note pops up on top of everything else, every few minutes, and it crashes whenever I try to open the simple but interesting educational link site, teachthechildrenwell.com. (July 2006)

 Four years later, I'm still using Opera as my preferred browser, now ver. 10.63. I'm used to it, and it integrates the mail, and uses mouse motions to navigate. It still fails to work with several secure sites (eg my bank) and some low-tech government and archive sites (eg Boston Public Library).
OCR applications: my observations.

My wireless Logitech mouse died, and apparently they don't make similar ones now. It ate batteries, but a wonderful feature was tha built-in volume control. Nothing similar is available at Bestbuy.

Boston Public Library (BPL.org) supposedly has huge digital resources online, but I find the system awkward to use, buggy, with unhelpful staff, and often no usable results. Today, it doesn't matter what I want, the answer is:
This document is not available due to either:
     - the document is outside of your library's subscription, or
     - the document is very recent and is currently being loaded - please try again later.
[I'm logged in directly, and looking for Boston and New York info from 1896-1953.]
(Jul 2010, and other times) [Unsatisfactory answer: BPL is arguing with ProQuest about paying for service.]

Good guys:
I regret this list is short. It's not because there are few good ones, it's because I'm lazy, and good service doesn't overcome my inertia often enough. Actually I've been impressed with many young clerks at local stores, even at Target, and relatively annoyed with seldom finding any help at the big-box stores (particularly Lowes and Home Depot.)

US Census - sent a CD for mapping data. It came the day after I phoned!! (1999)
E-mail requests for information and clarification were responded to within hours, if not minutes! (9/2002)

Spag's Supply, Shrewsbury - cheaper stuff that the so-called discount stores, with much better service. Spag's has been wonderful, but it may be in trouble, since there are now 4 WalMarts within 30 min from us, selling heavily advertised crap, with minimal help. But Bradlee's, Ames and Caldor have gone under, with their completely useless employees.

Spags's is being sold to Building 19, a crappy chain of close-out merchandisers. How much will change at Spag's? (Oct 2002) Answer: it's going down, down, down. (2004) Way down - they're not even pretending it's different now. But it's still a familiar place with many good prices. (Feb 2005) Now it's just another Building 19, and I don't bother. (2007)

***Mike the mechanic. @ Roland's Radiator Repair, Summer Street, Worcester MA. (508-752-6118 or 508-752-5303) Fast but busy, honest, reasonably priced. (many visits)  ***

RTN FCU, our bank. A credit union formed from mergers, and I don't know what RTN stands for. Real people, lowish fees. On the other hand, there's something to be said for a branch  you can actually visit. And forget actually getting a loan from them.

Morningside Ford used cars, Holden MA. (508-829-4333 or 800-649-4333) helpful and not pushy. (summer, 2002)

Allstar Plastering Co., Worcester MA. (508-799-0204) We were impressed with them for doing one small room, 5 years ago, enough to look them up again for 3 more rooms. They're great - they come when they say they will, work quickly and cleanly and at a reasonable price. (Oct 2002)
Well, they come, and the work is reasonably good and reasonably priced, but they dumped their leftover plaster crap in our yard twice!

Majestic Cleaning Services, Worcester MA (508-853-4310) Fast, friendly and economical rug cleaning. (twice in 2002, 2005)

shed installation, 2003
 We bought a big pre-fab shed through Home Depot. I put in Sonotube footings, filled them with concrete, and bought PT 4x4s to span them. Two guys came with the shed parts on a truck, and put it together in under an hour, in an impressive display of coordination. They do several per day, all loaded on the same truck, carefully organized.

Coleman, the outdoor recreation company. I emailed, asking for part numbers to fix an old camping stove. Coleman replied promptly, and sent the sealing rings for free! Perhaps they were just covering their butts over a safety matter, but it works for me. (Aug 2005)

Elwood Adams Hardware, in Worcester (508-752-1919), the oldest hardware store in the country. This is a small store, compared to big-box Lowes and Home Depot, with a full-service staff and quality merchandise. Prices are not cheap, but how much is your time worth, and how much is doing the project right worth? And they'll order spare parts and accessories. (several visits)

LL Bean, the famous clothing and outdoors equipment company. I complained about a tent, that its canopy was just disintegrating, apparently from sunlight. It was at least 15 years old, but had actually been used for less than a month. Bean sent a new tent, for free, without fussing about it (that I still haven't used.) (2007)
Nice tent, with glow-in-the-dark zipper tags!

"Savers" is a new chain of used clothing (and random stuff) stores. I'm impressed. And there are the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores, as well. But the electronic goods are sold without any guaranty they will work at all, with no returns.

Bob Crowell is a building contractor in Brewster, Mass. He gave us a good price on a large outdoor stairway, and finished months ahead of schedule!

We just discovered Horseneck Beach in Westport, Mass. It seem to be the closest ocean beach to us, about 90 min. Parking is $7, the bathhouses are new, the beach is long and wide and clean, the waves are fairly big. You can't use boogy boards in the lifeguarded area, but can walk beyond that. And Handy Hill Creamery is on the way, on Rt 88, with good ice cream, fast and friendly service.

Stewart's is a NY chain of gas stations/convenience stores. We are quite impressed, compared to the Mass. chains. They are clean, spacious, with good prices, light food service and ice cream, booths to eat and read at, toilets.

Walgreens has fairly cheap photo developing, but its web site does not give prices for film processing, or even indicate thay can do it, only having prices for digital printing and related services. A moron at the phone help desk couldn't understand the situation. The actual store employees are always helpful. (July 2010)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Clark Color Labs still exists, and has very good prices, and will develop my obsolete 110 film.
We still have a couple of dozen rolls of print film, and several disposable 35mm cameras, a fairly good 35 mm SLR, a cheap 35mm panoramic camera, reloadable very cheap 35mm cameras that originally were intended for underwater use, and a 40-year-old 110 camera with one film cassette left. And a disc camera for which there is no film, and several defunct 35mm cameras, and defunct digital cameras, ...
We have have had a number of digital cameras with very short lives - a bit of dust jams them fatally (as does major shock.) Digital is enormously convenient when it works, except for the shutter lag time, and the inability to see the screen in bright light. But they are fragile, and eat batterys.

I needed a few feet of fine fishing line for a craft project, and was resigned to buying a small reel with a life-time supply. But the clerk at Dick's Sporting Goods asked what I actually wanted, and offered me several thicknesses, and cut off a long piece for free. Nice!

Media Monkey works much better than iTunes to organize and play our music files. The free version is sufficient for me.

eMusic.com is a source of relatively cheap mp3s, but it hijacks FireFox with its own unauthorized toolbar. And it lacks much of  the music I would like to have.

AVG is good, free anti-virus software, but it also inserts an extra, annoying toolbar into FireFox, apparently without permission.

We have a new HP OfficeJet 6500 all-in-one printer/scanner. It calls for its installation CD after every reboot of the PC. That's crappy software design. The software is crappy, crappy, crappy. It crashes for no obvious reason, requiring hours' worth of time and aggravation to fix. Apparently it conflicts with other standard apps, like Adobe. All I'm trying to do is scan a line drawing.  It sux, sux, sux.
Latest annoyance: it is printing things a day after it was supposed to, and printed out a form with word salad!
March - had to uninstall and reinstall again to get it to do anything. This takes at least an hour, with reboots to finish both uninstalling and installing, after going through the hours of mess of trying to figure out where the problem is. And the uninstall froze too.
October - It printed several pages 24 hours after the Print order, as well as several other pages (overlapping sets!) only 8 hours late.

I had some hundreds or even thousands of image, music, doc and pdf files that were frozen - they could not be opened, moved, renamed or deleted. After trying several products, and asking advice of friends and online for years, I finally found Unlocker Assistant, freeware that works. Image and music files just need to be renamed or moved within a hard drive, usually. Pdf files were more of a problem, but I finally discovered that what works is to move them to another drive. The only problem is that Unlocker Assistant does not remember which locations to move things to. The early version would only move one file at a time, but the latest can move many files at once, and sometimes whole folders. (Jan 2010)

Drew Mortgage jerked us around (see above), but Superior Mortgage did a good job when we refinanced. We dealt with the Milton, Ma office. (Dec 2010)

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