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I was in Chicago for a business trip and had a 5:30 PM flight back. It was snowing in Chicago that day, so I decided to catch a taxi cab to the airport really early, at 2:00 PM. I didn’t want to get stuck in bad traffic and watch my plane take off from a cab.

Traffic was a breeze though, and I got to the airport too early. Additionally my flight was delayed 45 minutes to an hour. I headed over to the gate, and noticed that there was another flight to Seattle about to board, so I asked if there was any room left, and was put on standby.

It was a long shot, since there were lots of people in front of me, but I eventually made it on, saving me quite a few hours. The catch, though, was that if I had checked any luggage already, I wouldn’t have had that option.

It pays to travel light sometimes.

We’ve had our Polaris high efficiency hot water heater active for about 10 months now. Yesterday morning I heard a loud popping sound from the basement, and a few hours later Shanna was complaining about not having any hot water.

I went downstairs and the unit was flashing once, indicating that there was a problem with the pressure switch. This was on Sunday, and of course their support line is not open on Sunday, so we were without hot water and heat (the Polaris powers our only source of heat, radiant tubing) for the day.

I called this morning, was on hold for about twenty minutes, and then got a woman who took down my information, and told me that the Commercial department would handle this, and that they would call me back. I had called the commercial number, but for some reason got transferred to the residential line.

Anyway, I waited for a couple hours, never got a call from commercial dept, so I called back the commercial line, and got a nice gentleman (I believe his name was Tom). I told him again the symptoms, that the blower was constantly on, and that the indicator light was flashing once.

He told me to open the right control panel, grab a screwdriver, take the blunt end of it, and tap the upper left corner of the ignition control board. I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. To solve the issue, he actually wanted me to bang this control board with a screwdriver, which would shut off the blower.

It worked. Strange. Apparently their original control board wasn’t big enough to support an adequate sized electrical component, so if the voltage dropped a little bit, it made the pressure switch go wonky.

They are now overnighting me a new board that fixes this issue, and the guy threw in a new igniter as well, which he told me tends to fail after 3-5 years.  Of course I had to pay for the overnight shipping charges, around $30.

It sucked that I couldn’t get that information on Sunday though.

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Shanna and I spent all day Sunday shopping for a new TempurPedic mattress. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all – shopping for a mattress is like shopping for a used car, dealing with sales people, warranties, upsells, competition between businesses, etc.

Sure enough, I was right. Man, what an experience, 6 hours long.

First off, if you are looking for a TempurPedic bed, you should know that TempurPedic has very rigid policies regarding the pricing of their beds. There is a fixed minimum price for each bed that no merchant is allowed to go under, and there are also policies prohibiting any discounts, promotional deals (like free pillows or mattress covers), tax adjustments, or any other competitive practices. Failure to follow these policies is grounds for termination of the merchant’s service agreement with TempurPedic.

That said, people are still trying to make a buck, and be competitive to get your business. I’ll tell the story, but I won’t mention the store names so as not to get them in trouble with TempurPedic (you could easily figure it out).

We started off at a major mattress store (I’ll simply abbreviate it as SC), and got the typical mattress salesperson, asking us a lot of questions, demonstrating all the different features and mattress options, and generally trying to sell us on his establishment. He was a really nice guy, but I always get suspicious of sales people, because I know they read books on techniques for effective selling, and I always feel like they are stretching things for you.

For example, he mentioned that they had a 45 day return policy, but that he could "push that to 90 days for us". When I hear that kind of thing, I immediately think that the policy is probably 90 days to begin with, and he’s just wording it to make it seem like he’s doing us a favor and "extending it".

At one point, the sales person asked what our son’s name was, and when we told him, he said "No kidding, that’s my son’s name too." I thought to myself, "yeah right, another sales trick".

He priced everything out for us, threw in two TempurPedic pillows, free delivery, told us it would be delivered in a couple days, and asked "So, how would you like to pay for this?". Of course we told him we just started looking, and wanted to try out a few other models at other stores in the area. He seemed upset, asked if there were questions we had that he didn’t answer, or something we didn’t like. We told him no. He then told us that they would beat anyone else’s price by 5%.

So we then went to a modern furniture store that also sells TempurPedic (I’ll abbreviate this one SK). We got a no-nonsense, no-pressure sales rep who basically just handed us a price sheet. They also threw in two pillows as well, free delivery, and were about two hundred dollars cheaper. The only downside was that delivery was about two weeks out.

After that, we had one other store to go to, (I’ll abbreviate this one RTB), so we drove there and started talking with the rep. It complicated things a bit because they didn’t have the model we were looking for, the "Deluxe", instead they had the "Solution Bed", which was closest to the Deluxe bed but with some tweaks, and was made specially for RTB. It was kind of like shopping around for home appliances, where you can’t really compare apples to apples because Maytag makes a model for Sears, and a different model for Home Depot, and another one for Lowes, each with slightly different features and prices.

His quote was a couple hundred dollars more than SC, and when we showed him our other quotes, he got real defensive and pointed us to a printout of a memo sent by TempurPedic, outlining their firm pricing policies and guidelines. You could tell he was trying to abide by the agreement, but he still wanted our business, so he was going to throw in one free pillow and get rid of the delivery charge.

Of course that didn’t compare, so we ended up back at SC, and they honored their agreement. We got the two free pillows, the 5% price beat, and scheduled free delivery. As we were paying for the mattress, the salesperson pulled out his cell phone, and showed us a picture of his son with the same name as ours, so I felt pretty bad for thinking he wasn’t being straight with us.

So, I guess I got two things out of the weekend, 1) shopping around saved us some money, and 2) sometimes a nice sales person is just that, a nice sales person.

I noticed that the RSS feed for this blog had a screwed up blog title because of the apostrophe in it. It seems that community server is htmlencoding the blog title, and that is getting passed through to the RSS feed as “& # 3 9 ;”. This was supposed to be fixed in a service pack, but doesn’t seem to have made it in yet on this particular blog.
In the meantime, I found a workaround. Open your Windows Character Map, and choose the following character:

Select it, copy it, and paste it into the text box for your blog title. It’s a good substitute, and doesn’t get encoded. I’m not sure if the same problem exists for post titles, so this workaround may be applicable to those as well.

UPDATE: I’ve now moved on and am using a WordPress blog.

I recently switched jobs, and cell phone providers as well. At my previous job, they provided me with a Q phone, which I really liked a lot.

When I switched jobs, I had to get a new phone and my own plan, and since my family is all on AT&T’s network, I decided to go with them and with a smartphone similar to the Q, the Samsung Blackjack.

I read lots of reviews comparing the two online, but they mainly focused on the performance of Verizon’s network vs AT&T’s, and also on the mutlimedia features such as VCast vs the Cingular video and audio services (which I’ve never used).

From a practical user perspective, I thought I would write down some pros and cons on the Blackjack vs Q after using it for a few weeks.

Blackjack Pros:

  • Locking the phone – When you lock the phone on the Q, you have to press the Home + Space keys (had to look that up in the manual), and for some reason, it never ever works the first time you do it. You always have to press it twice. On the Blackjack, you press and hold the red end-call button (there is a nice icon for it on the button) – much simpler.After locking the Q, pressing any button on the phone will cause the lights to go on and display the Unlock softkey prompt. This sucks if you leave your phone in your pocket like I do, because those keys are constantly being pressed and causing the lights to go on, draining the battery quickly. With the Blackjack, when you lock the phone, a few seconds later the screen goes blank and the keys are unresponsive, and in order to unlock it again, you have to hit the power key on top to make the keys work again. This is a lot better.
  • Specialty keys – The blackjack has some nice specialty keys, such as a Mail key to go to your inbox, and a Vibrate key to toggle between vibrate and ring profiles.
  • MicroSD – I don’t know if this is a pro or con really. The Q uses a miniSD card, but more and more devices seem to be jumping to microSD cards now. You can by microSD cards with adaptor packs that fit into mini and regular size SD slots.

Blackjack Cons:

  • Proprietary plug ins – There is only one plugin port, and it is a proprietary jack. This means you can’t use a mini usb-type cable to charge your phone (I have lots of those around, from my digital camera, usb hard drive, etc). There is also no headphone hack, which means you can’t charge your phone and plug in a headset at the same time.
  • Screen seems smaller – On the Q, I didn’t have to scroll down as far to see the items towards the bottom of my home screen. I used to be able to see two/three appts, but now I only have room for one appt before I have to scroll.
  • Main toggle key is difficult – The main up-down-left-right toggle key is hard to use. I keep hitting the soft key or OK button next to it.
  • Number pad spacing – The Q has all the numbers on the left-most keys, making it real easy to dial without looking. The blackjack has the number keys in the middle of the keypad, and also not right next to each other, but spaces one key column apart. I’m getting used to it, but it still is not as good a design as the Q.
  • Opening the battery cover – What a friggin pain. You have to squeeze these two narrow areas on each side of the device to be able to pull off the battery cover. It is hard to do. The Q has a nice little spring latch you press to release the cover.

All-in-all I like the BlackJack. But it does have a few usability issues that are unfortunate. Now if it actually gets a Windows Mobile 6.0 upgrade like the company executives mentioned would happen, I’d be even happier.