Monday, December 22, 2014

Good Bye Republic, Hello Cricket

Lisa has been using Republic Wireless for about six months now and, truth be told, it just hasn't been working out for her.  We love the idea of Republic Wireless and we certainly loved the price but in our area it just couldn't deliver a decent experience while Lisa roamed around for work.

Prior to switching to Republic we had been using AT&T but it was costing us a small fortune each month.  Going to Republic cut our bill by more than half!  However, AT&T had a far better coverage area near us than Republic (who uses the Spring network).  Verizon also has pretty poor coverage in most of the places Lisa has to travel for work so AT&T seemed to be the only choice for Lisa when we decided to quit Republic.

Then I heard about Cricket.  Cricket is a cheaper way of using the AT&T network.  Basically, for unlimited text, voice, and 10GB of data it is about $60 and that includes all the taxes and fees.  It's a pretty good option considering the same deal through AT&T was going to be well over $100/month.

So I convinced Lisa to switch from Republic to Cricket.  However, there was one requirement - she had to be able to port her number.  AT&T wouldn't release her number when she switched to Republic and the process of switching numbers was a huge pain in the ass.

Republic registers your phone numbers as a land-line because they use a Voice Over IP (VOIP) system to provide their unique service.  It turns out Crickets automated number transfer system can't handle land-line to cellular.  Thus, you need to work take an intermediary step in order to get your number to cricket.

I bought Lisa the new 2014 Moto X which works on the AT&T network to start with.  Next I needed to port her number to a different carrier that could support land-line to cellular but I couldn't get locked into some contractual thing.  The trick was going to AT&T and buying their Go Phone Starter Pack ($25).  They were then able to port my number to from Republic to AT&T.  It takes a few days because it isn't cellular to cellular but, once it finished processing, I could then go to Cricket.

Not so fast!

Cricket has a webform you have to fill out in order to switch your number and one of the required fields is last four digits of your social security number.  They use this number, along with a bunch of other fields such as your AT&T account number and PIN, to authorize the number port.  However, AT&T doesn't collect a social security number when setting up a Go Phone service.  Thus, when Cricket tries to match all the numbers the website fails and reports that your PIN is invalid - even when it isn't - the problem is the last four of your social security number.

Calling AT&T won't help and calling Cricket won't help either.  Instead you have to enter 0000 as your last four numbers.  Neither Cricket nor AT&T seems to know this.  I got lucky and found it as a possible suggestion on a forum.

Once I figured this out the port took a few seconds to a minute at the most and the MotoX was on the Cricket network and her phone rang when I dialed her ported number.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Trouble With My Title

I bought my motorcycle in July from a guy up near Columbus Ohio.  When I bought it we met at his bank and a lady at the bank notarized the transaction by signing the title.  She also filled out a couple of the fields on the title such as the mileage on the bike.  The problem is neither the guy who sold it or I noticed that she wrote the mileage wrong.

We both told her 9,600 miles.

The space for putting down the mileage has a box for each digit.  She started in one box too far to the left so when she got to the end and needed to finish she just put in an extra zero.  96000 miles.  That's 96,000 - oops!

In her defense I have the same problem with getting those boxes aligned whenever I deposit a check at the bank. The deposit slip doesn't have a good indication of where each digit aligns and I often start off one box misaligned and have to get a new deposit slip shortly after.

The difficulty here is I didn't notice the problem right away so I can't just get a new title from the guy in Ohio with the right mileage on it.  Instead, I have to take a special form back up to the Columbus area, meet the guy at the bank again, go in and have the notary notarize this new form with the correct mileage.  Of course, since I bought the bike I don't just have 9,600 miles on it - I have over 10,800.

I doubt I really need to ride the bike back up there; the guy I bought it from would believe me that there are 10,800 and happily sign the form for the notary to validate.  But I have to go up there anyway; maybe stop off at Iron Pony and buy a new helmet while I'm there.

Until I get up there and get this new form filled out, signed, and notarized I can't register the bike in WV. Because I can't get it registered I can't get it inspected.  Because I can't get either of those two done I can't ride it much longer.  The license plate and sticker on it currently expire this month.  Let this be a lesson to you - pay close attention when you do a transaction like this - even a single misplaced zero can cause you grief.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Motoring Across West Virginia

This past Friday I took a day off work so I could go on a motorcycle ride with my friend Jeff.  Jeff has had a bike, a big Kawasaki 1500 cruiser, for a long time and he occasionally likes to meet up with his brother, Chuck, who rides into the state from Washington DC on his BMW R 1100.  After a brief discussion on meeting in Elkins, WV the two brothers decided, instead, on going getting together in Helvetia, WV.

The road to Helvetia is not exactly straight, wide open, or well travelled.  We basically followed the highway system from Huntington to Sutton before jumping on some smaller back roads.  These roads were full of tight twisting turns including some snaking hairpins that were so tight and dippy that you couldn't really take them at a speed above 10mph.  The roads were generously sprinkled with gravel and scree so the going was a bit dangerous but plenty interesting.  Fortunately, we didn't see more than a handful of cars once we hit the hidden roads and one of those was an ATV.

Once we reached Hacker Valley we turned East just south of Holly River State Park on Hacker Valley Road.  We thought this road would be similar to the rest of the small roads we'd already traveled but, it turns out, it was a bit more rustic. The first half mile or so was okay though the road was a broken here and there.  However, the breaks quickly escalated in intensity until the hardtop no longer existed and the road was nothing more than a heavy gravel fire access road.  Fortunately, it was only about 12 miles long - but that 12 miles took us about 40 minutes to navigate.  It was wonderfully peaceful.  Amazingly we did encounter two pedestrians on this track as well as a parked truck with some people hanging out in it.  On the most desolate part of our Journey we saw the most people.

After escaping the shaded gravel road we were just a few miles from Helvetia and it was at this point that I made my first of three technical mistakes on the trip.  We had been travelling so slowly for so long that once we were on a more substantial road and we had to speed up I didn't compensate properly going into the first turn.  I was going too fast and briefly crossed the double-yellow in the curve.  While the traffic was non-existent that is a scary feeling.  I did it once more much later in the day but after that I was given some tips by Chuck and my skills in the curves improved dramatically.

A small creek running through Helvetia

Helvetia is a tiny little town that is the remains of a Swiss settlement founded in 1869.  I don't think the village has grown much in the ensuing 150 years.  It's a quaint little place with a shop/post office, a honey shop, a wood shop, and a cheese haus.  There is also a restaurant/inn, The Hütte, with a couple rooms that can be rented.  According to the sign outside The Hütte "you've arrived" just be warned that you've also just about left as soon as you get there.  Don't let the small size of the place fool you though - it's worth stopping in and having some lunch and  a brief walk.

You've Arrived in Helvetia
The Hütte has a limited but tasty menu.  It's all food that fits with the central European heritage of the town.  I started the meal with a small cup of Helvetia Cheese Soup - the Cheese Haus makes a pretty tasty swiss and the soup is made from that cheese.  Chuck, who showed up in town almost at the same moment we did, had a cup of split pea soup that he thought was quite good.  For my entree I had a cold roast beef sandwich on fresh home made bread.  The bread was tasty!  They put a dollop of spicy mustard on the sandwich by request.  The mustard should come by default and more liberally.  Finally, for desert I had a bit of peach cobbler with fresh cream.  The cobbler was just okay but the creme was delicious - I could have just had a bowl of that.

The inside of the Hütte  is pretty neat. It's filled with antique odds and ends.  The main dining room features an interesting stove that provides heat in the winter.  While our one table dining room had a cool old telephone switchboard.  It was a pretty neat place and I wouldn't have minded spending a bit more time looking around.  But, we had a long ride ahead of us still and only so much daylight to work with.

As we were preparing to leave Helvetia another group of riders arrived at the Hütte for a late lunch.  It is obviously a place worth riding to if you are in that region.  

Once we were back in the saddle we headed north; this time with Chuck leading instead of Jeff.  We first rode to Buckhannon, then onto Clarksburg, before heading to New Martinsville.  Our plan, was to go to New Martinsville and then ride a touch northwest on State Route 256 and then riding southwest through the forest along the curving State Route 26 into Marietta OH.  However, by the time we got to New Martinsville it was getting late and dusk was fast approaching.  We changed plans and opted to take the safer State Route 7 along the Ohio River down to Marietta.

Once we arrived in Marietta we stopped off at a gas station and picked up a case of Old Milwaukee.  24 cans for $13.  I don't drink much American Lager and the beer I typically buy costs a premium so it was pretty funny to be paying about $0.50/can for beer.  I can't buy 12 ounces of water that cheaply.  After leaving the gas station we just had a 1 mile ride to the "campground."

As we pulled out of the gas station parking lot we suddenly picked up a forth biker.  In similarly perfect timing to our synchronous arrival in Helvetia Chuck's fried Keith arrived in Marietta at the same time we did.  He was riding a Suzuki Bandit 1200.  The four of us rolled into the campground together where I discovered the campground is really just a huge field in the middle of a neighborhood where you pay $35 to claim whatever chunk of the grass your group wants.   To be fair there are some RV spots and there is a clean bathroom but it isn't a campground I'd really pick if I ws taking my family camping.

Once we got to the campsite it was dark out so I had to setup the tent by the light of my cellphone flash.  I hadn't set this tent up in a few years but it was still pretty easy.  I really like that tent.  While setting up Chuck ordered some pizza to be delivered and then we ate some greasy pepperoni pizza and drank our cheap beer until two more riders arrived; Tim and Dave.  They weren't camping with us but were staying at the red roof inn down the road.  Tim (Honda SL 1300) is an old college roommate of Chucks from grad school and Dave (Yamaha FJR 1300) is a friend of Tim's from Cleveland.

Remains of the night the next morning

We hung out and chatted until about 1am before I decided to get some sleep.  Sadly, I didn't sleep well though - it turns out greasy pizza and cheap beer adds up to heartburn if I try to sleep on my side.  Plus, there was a high chance of rain that night so I kept the tent closed up.  Unfortunately, it was pretty muggy so the inside of the tent was uncomfortable to say the least.  I got up around 6:30 and took a walk up to the gas station for some water, heart burn medicine, and to kill time while the rest of the group slept.
The grey tent on the right is mine.

We broke camp around 9 and cruised around the area for a bit - the five of us, before heading south to Ravenswood WV.  On the way to Ravenswood the differences between a 650 and an 1100+ bike became very evident.  The four guys on the larger sportier bikes decided to open their throttles on a stretch and almost instantly it seemed they were a half mile ahead of Jeff on his cruiser and I.  Even when I accellerated to catch up with Jeff's spot in the line after they all disappeared ahead I made no ground on them at all.  In fact, I probably still lost some and I was going pretty fast. 
All six bikes lined up in Ravenswood

Once in Ravenswood we split up into two groups of three.  Jeff, Chuck, and I rode south along WV Route 2 to Huntington while Tim, Dave, and Keith headed back north to their various destinations. Overall it was a fun two days of riding where I put approximately 450 miles in the saddle.  I learned a lot about myself and the bike and, even more importantly, how to ride it in various conditions and at various speeds.  I'm looking forward to the next trip whenever that is.

I've already put a few things on my motorcycle gear wishlist thanks to this trip.
  1. A new helmet.  My helmet is fine for getting around town but it is really uncomfortable on a long haul.  My forehead was tender for a couple days after the ride.
  2. A taller windscreen - It was noisy noisy noisy.  I bought some ear plugs which help some but it was still really loud on the bike.  The wind noise was insane.  I wasn't being buffetted around by the wind but when I put my head down behind the screen it was incredibly peaceful.
  3. Slighly larger side bags.  I had just enough room to pack for a one night trip. If I wanted to pack for a longer trek I'd need a bit more space.
  4. A real top case.  My toolbox is good for most purposes but a full top case would be nice.  It can store a helmet (2 actually) and is lockable.  I don't like the look of any top cases but I also don't like the look of the toolbox.
I also discovered there a couple other things I should pack for trips like this:
  1. Bug spray.  I got eaten up at the campground even using someone else's spray
  2. Water bottle - I spent too much money buying drinks at various stops.  I should pack my own water.
  3. Snacks - I was hungry all the time and could really have used some food without having to wait for a stop at a gas station.
  4. Flashlight

Friday, May 30, 2014

Polka Dots and Passports

When I was a kid I did a lot of stupid, crazy, and shitty things.  I'm not talking about when I was a teen but rather when I was pretty small; between the ages of 6-10.  A lot of the times I was fully aware of what I was doing and didn't really care about the consequences. Other times I thought I understood what I was doing but I really didn't comprehend the full burden I was putting on my parents.

This story describes an event that falls in the later category.

When I was about seven or eight my best friend (I'm hiding his name intentionally) and I were home alone and we were looking for something fun to do.  We went into my garage and, within, we found some cans of black, blue, and red spray paint.  It didn't take us long to decide these cans would provide us with hours of fun.  We started off spraying a few spots here and there in the garage; on my dad's workbench or on the inner wall.  Shortly afterwards we expanded our canvas to include the exterior wall of the garage.  We had, prior to that day, a white garage with black trim.  Once my friend and I were done we had a far more colorful garage thanks to the many dark splotches of spray paint we left everywhere we could reach.

Neither of us really understood one critical component about spray paint - you don't want to have the nozzle too close to the surface.  We held the cans close and push the buttons hard which resulted in thick pools of paint forming on the wall each pool trailing a tail to the ground as the pain and gravity intermingled.

After briefly admiring our handiwork on the garage we moseyed into the driveway where my dad had two blue pickup trucks.  At least one had a camper top on it.  In short order they had matching paint schemes with the garage.  Just as quickly we turned around and gave the same treatment to the side of my house.  It was as if we had moved into a world where everything would pass for a skittles wrapper.  There were blue, red, and black dots everywhere we could reach.

Amazingly we still had paint left and my friend lived right next door.  His house was a red brick that was just begging for a little sprucing up.  We ran over to his house and repeated the process.  Dot dot dot dot dot dot dot.. Everywhere we could.  We probably laughed about it until we ran out of paint.

Then we tossed out the paint cans and went about our merry way thinking nothing of the destruction we had left behind.

I'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall the night after the painting; listening to my parents discuss what they were going to do with me.  Hopefully the absurdity of it brought them a few laughs.

Every once in  while this story pops into conversation with one of my parents and we chuckle looking back on it.  I know it caused them both a lot of inconvenience - they did have to repaint the entire house and garage.  I'm not sure what my dad did about the trucks.

Today I found a story about another kid causing his parents a lot of pain and it reminded me of the painting day. In this story a four year old used his fathers passport as a coloring book which has left the boy and his father stuck in South Korea.  I think my polka dots were better art - but I did have about four years of extra practice.