Sunday, February 16, 2014


I recognize thousands of companies and people use this outfit with good results, but let me tell you a little bit about my 30 day experience.

For those of you who don;t know, allows the user to purchase and print postage from their homes, or offices without direct interaction with the Post Office.  They send you a CD with the applicable software; you load it up; and in theory you start printing your own stamps and postage (yes you have to pay for the value of the stamps and postage - though there is an on-line discount).

I mail a lot of records which means I spend a lot of time at the Post Office, so when I got the free started kit which included a free electronic scale and some free postage, I figured why not give it a try.

The software loads on a PC with no problems.   As an aside, adding it to a Mac can be done, but is far more frustrating.  Unfortunately, at that point the problems started to pile up.

Because the software prints out labels that include a bar code/scanning code, it turns out you can't use regular paper to print.  You need to buy paper that has a smoother surface - almost like the stuff you print photos on.  Again, not a show stopper, but an added cost.   It tok me two printing tries to figure this one out.  The potentially good news is that will refund your money for mis-prints.   Remember the word "potentially" (I'll get to that in a little bit.)

This is a gross oversimplification, but the way the system works is that once you've loaded the software and hooked up the electronic scale, you load postage (which you can buy in discrete dollar values); select the mode of delivery; weigh the item on you scale, and hit print.  Seems pretty simple and I'll admit that in about 75% of the cases it worked,   The other 25% of the time proved agonizing.

Once you loaded the right kind of paper, the system worked well for media mail, which was the bulk of my purchases.

At the other end of the spectrum, the system was a nightmare for international packages.  In addition to the above steps, the system requires you to fill out an online customs form which was amazingly hard to complete.  The other problem is that the system repeatedly calculated the wrong postage rates for international packages.  Even with the discounts, I'm pretty sure that what normally cost $18 to get to France, wasn't going to go for $6.75 via   After running into that experience a couple of times , I just stopped trying to do international packages.

After about two weeks printing became an issue.  The system started to kick out error message that the friendly 1-800 helpdesk didn't know how to fix.   The helpdesk made some recommendations which I followed, but the printer kept getting frozen forcing me to shut down the software and start over again.  The problem with that is the system deducted the postage costs but left me without the printed postage.  At $2.80 a pop that quickly became an expensive exercise.

When I hit the $50 in lost postage threshold I decided to simply give up.   I called and the friendly customer service rep eventually closed my account, bit not after ten minutes of badgering me to stay with at least a minimum program in place.  Interestingly, when I mentioned my frustration with the lost postage and the hassles of requesting refunds, not mention was made of the impact of closing your account if you're due a refund.

Before I get to that, let me mention the refund process.   If you have a misprint, you can get a refund for  the funds.  You have to sign a form that says you're not cheating the Post Office.   In some instances you can submit electronically.  In other cases you have to submit a hardcopy form.   As mentioned, I ended up with over a dozen refund requests.  Two were electronic submissions; the rest required manual paperwork.   And yes, you have to pay for the postage to submit the hardcopy refund forms.  The other thing they want is copies of the misprinted postage.  No explanation of what you do if there was no mis-print; e.g. software glitches "swallowed" your postage.

And the final kicker - once you've closed your account will not refund your money.  Apparently such refunds are banned by some obscure Post Office regulation.   According to the helpful customer service rep, I can't reopen my original account, but they can open a new account and credit back the refunds (once I submit them and assuming they'll process them since I don't have physical misprints for most of the refund requests).  Since they won't refund cash, rather will only credit the money back to my account, I'd essentially be right back where I started - using a system that doesn't work.

I politely declined the offer and about all I can say is I'd suggest anyone else thinking about think long and hard about it as well.

My local post office employees were thrilled to see me coming back with arms full of packages.   The two I related my tales of woe to were totally unsurprised by the experiences I had.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Yes, it took me a while to load this one up and I'll admit that it is long and makes me look like a grumpy old guy (which I guess I am).
As a 50-something year old male I realize I'm in the demographic and marketing wasteland.  No advertiser outside of AARP, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, or assisted care vendors would try to reach me with a ten foot pole.  I'm not young.  I'm not cool.  I'm not trendy.  And while I have disposable income, it's more likely to go to pay off my mortgage early rather than buying the latest fashion accessory or music by a band I've never heard of before ...  Seriously, who names their band Pissed Jeans ?   I don't stack up much better when it comes to  popular music.  I only have one top-40 station on my car presets and seldom listen to it.  My ten year old regularly complains about the old people music I
play (what is now termed classic rock).  I don't subscribe to Pandora, Spotify, or any of the other music delivery services that are out there.  I can't tell you when I last bought something off of iTunes (even though I own Apple stock).  When I looked at Pitchfork's list  of the best 2013 albums, I was the proud owner of one of the releases on that list, though I will take credit for a second one that I bought and gave to someone as a Christmas gift.  When I looked at Rolling Stones top 50 list for the year I did a little bit better owning two LPs on the list, though I'd argue one of them really didn't belong on the list.   I am a musical wasteland.

So against that backdrop I let my wife and kid convince me to watch last night's Grammies.  To be honest, while I love music, the last clear vision of a Grammy program I have is probably 1980 when The Doobie Brothers won for "What A Fool Believes" - not a song I particularly liked.

Not to sound like a curmudgeon, but wow, was I ever disappointed by the state of
current music.   In fact, I was so disappointed,  a couple of times I was tempted to switch over to the meaningless Pro Bowl on NBC.

Since my parents taught me to always try to highlight the positive, let me start out with that.

Pink was astounding.  I can't say I liked the song ('Try'), but the fact she was able to sing at all while doing those gymnastic moves was stunning.   Her performance was probably the show's highlight for me.

So Chicago's Robert Lamm must be in his 70s now, but the guy looked great and he
simply trashed Robin Thicke when the two were paired together.

While wasn't sure if the intent of the opening 'Drunk On Love' was to promote the song, or simply show off Beyonce's post-baby body, I'll readily agree she looked great.   I guess I can understand why Jamie Fox appeared tongue-tied when he trotted out to present some award.

Before presenting the award for Song of the Year Carole King did a nice duet with Sara Bareilles on 'Beautiful'.  Again, I', not a big fan of that song, but the two were energetic and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to play together.

Oh, Kacey Musgraves looked cute in her light-up boots.

It was nice to see Paul and RIngo enjoying one another's company and Barbara Bach looked pretty good given her age.

And from there on it was far less impressive.  In fact I kept wondering how many of these superstars would have made it through the American Idol audition process - I'm guessing not all of them.   Here are some of what I thought were the lowlights. 

Lorde - seriously she won lots of awards, but judging by the live performance of 'Royals' I was left wondering what the excitement was about.   Her live performance was atonal and dull.   The grandfather clock in our basement is easily just as entertaining.  Her acceptance speeches were ... well they were short.

I'm not a big country fan so Kacey Musgraves was at a disadvantage from the start, but her performance was flat and nobody should ever try to do a song that has a whistling solo.  

I'll give Ringo Starr the benefit of the doubt.  He's like that loveable, but slight goofy uncle in your family tree.  I hadn't see him perform live in a couple of years and in spite of having a massive backing band, he came off as very uncomfortable, exhibiting about as much stage presence as melting butter.   And what was with the song choice ?   How many folks in the room were old enough to remember 'Telephone" ?   I barely remember it.   I'll also admit it was nice to see Ozzy, Tommi, and Geezer I dressed up to introduce Ringo, though the three of them seemed totally out of it (I know that will be hard for people to believe).  

Give credit to McCartney for at least presenting a new song - 'Queenie Eye'.  It was also nice to have Ringo bashing away at the drums during the performance.  Unfortunately the song wasn't very good and running the crappy promotional video in the background (yes, he has a lot of high powered friends), didn't really improve the song's enjoyment factor.

Another country act I know nothing about, but wow, Hunter Hayes was simply painful to watch.   If he'd turned in that out of tune and painful rendition of 'I Want Crazy' on American Idol, he would have been cut.  Horrible.

So I know Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons are hot, but teaming them together was like watching someone having a feverish dream.   Yeah, their mash-up of 'Radioactive' and whatever Lamar was rapping was energetic, but other than the pyrotechnics and paint explosions it wasn't particularly enjoyable.  

John Legend - classy, but sleep inducing.  I almost flipped to football at this point.

I like Katy Perry - in fact the last download I paid for was probably 'California Girls'.  Unfortunately 'Dark Horse' was a disappointment.  Her performance was fine and I laughed at the lighted costume top, but the song itself was dark, dreary, and forgettable.   No, it won't make it onto my iPod playlist.

Earlier I said Pink's solo performance was one of the highlights for me.   Not so much her duet with Fun's Nate Ruess on the hyper-sensitive and annoying 'Just Give Me a Reason'.   As I mentioned to my wife, Pink all but beat Ruess senseless in the vocal department (and that was after her gymnastics).  it would have been more entertaining to watch Reuss try to mimic some of Pink's gymnastic moves.

Wonder what Robin Thicke thought about when 70 year old Robert Lamm and the rest
of Chicago kicked his ass ?    By the way, he should have brought Pharrell Williams onstage to salvage the 'Blurred Lines' performance.

So what to make of Daft Punk ?   Well they're French and seem to value their privacy so I'm okay with the robot helmets.  Also, 'Get Lucky' is just insanely catchy.   Yes it was one of the few CDs I bought this year.  The live rendition was certainly a mixed blessing.   Trying to mash-up 'Get Lucky' with a Chic tune and a Stevie Wonder number probably looked better on paper than the actual performance.   Still Williams and Rogers both sounded good.  Wonder who is usually fantastic in a live setting; not so much this time around.

Even my ten year old and wife were appalled by the "country" segment that showcased Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, and Blake Shelton.  I guess you have to admire the three veterans for still being willing to give it a try, but the fact of the matter is time hasn't been kind to their musical abilities.  I know all of them have had some medical issues, but that medley was simply painful to endure.   There comes a time when you need to say enough and I'm going to take up golf.

And I'll admit it, there were segments I skipped - Taylor Swift, Metallica and Lang Lang.  I'll also admit I  quit watching before it was over.  I'll somehow survive not seeing Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Billy Joe Armstrong, Miranda Lambert, Madonna, etc.    Between the disappointing performances and the uniformly horrendous presenters (many of them apparently appearing for no other reason that they were  on the CBS television payroll), the overall feel was of a bunch of under-talented folks who simply think way too
much of themselves.   Are the Grammys going to save music ?   I don't think so.   You certainly won't find me rushing out to buy anything I heard or saw last night.   If anything, it underscored my disdain for much of what I hear on popular music stations.