These numbers aren’t right

I was close to releasing the code – and that’s when I looked at the numbers. And that proceeded to change my whole sunday morning.

In early 2000, I bought my first home – through a mortgage broker, who promptly sold the loan to Wells Fargo. And somewhere along the way there was an error. When Wells Fargo sent my first statement, the interest was normal, the principal was normal, the PMI was normal, but the property tax escrow was close to 10 times what was needed. My tax bill was supposed to be about $1,500 (Wake County + Garner tax rates were a little over %1 at the time)- and instead of taking the ~$125, they were billing me $1,300.

I called Wells Fargo, got the front-line support, and the first representative told “Well, we collect your property tax for escrow and it’s based on your local tax rates”

Yes, I know that. But it’s a 10 times more than it’s supposed to be. That’s when I got the killer response – that I remember verbatim to this day:

“Well, this is what it says on my screen. We’ll have to put in a research request, that will take up to 6 weeks.”

It says this on my screen

I asked for supervisor escalation, and get a very polite supervisor that is saying the same thing. “it’s based on your tax rate… we’ll have to research it”. And I’m like “Ma’am – There is NO place in the entire United States with a Property Tax rate that high. It’s kinda of interesting that it’s approximately 10 times more. Do you think that the decimal place is off? “Well, so it does seem to be. Let me check on that and be back with you shortly”

And without a research request, without up to six weeks, when the brain finally engaged – I got the issue corrected.

See that’s what happens. Somehow all the brains get turned off with what the “computer says” – and then suddenly when the faith in the almighty computer is shaken, it affects the whole system – because no one gets the technology. It’s magic somehow (and the IT staffs are well to blame for this, because we think the magic helps keep a segment of our ranks employed).

Two weeks ago, I was merging some code that I had been writing for reports and number summaries back into the code base for our directory/workstreaming application, and was looking at the published item and edit counts for our applications (summarized out of the activity streams). And the numbers were good, great, through the roof.

And not right.

Not that we won’t have those numbers, but it just didn’t make sense. And it turned out that I had logic errors in the code that forgot about passing object variables around in Ruby and just because it wasn’t in the object didn’t mean it wasn’t being passed by reference. And a few hours later that Sunday morning, I had the problems fixed – before the numbers got out there, and before others started trusting was on their screens.

My lesson – and the ongoing lesson for all us in systems administration, programming – finance and anyone using tools we put together.

You have to have a feel for the numbers and whether the numbers are right. You have to question how they got there – especially when the numbers confirm your own opinions.

And when the numbers aren’t right – you have to check the numbers.

And that makes all the difference.

Giving more of my life over to The Google

Not longer after Google bought Grand Central, I signed up before it was closed and I had a Grand Central number – which I used as my published work number (and am starting to use elsewhere) I signed up with the motivation that I needed email-notifications of voicemails – which NC State – at least NC State analog voice – doesn’t have.

In my current job, because of the IM, Email and other connectivity – and the nature of our work team interaction – I don’t have a lot of phone conversations with my immediate colleagues, I’m not very phone oriented to begin with – and most of the calls I received at work were cold-call vendor calls – and then sometimes cold-call support calls – which created enough interrupt problems that it all started me having the cold-calls go straight to voicemail. All of which was problematic because those were infrequent enough that I’d never check voicemail – and it all got worse as I started telecommuting more.

I hate voicemail, it has to be the most incredibly inefficient mechanism for notification ever. So at least getting email notifications improved at least the blind queuing problem – but voicemail is still incredibly bad.

That’s why I was a bit excited about the Grand Central to the Google Voice transition. And they didn’t disappoint.

Here’s what Google Santa brought me with Google Voice (and yes, I know some of you with asterisk or other actually modern voice services/company pbx systems have had this, but I haven’t with any of my services, other than AT&T’s visual voicemail on the iPhone):

MP3 Recording I can click on the link in the email notification and play the voice mail on my iPhone – I can send the mp3 to somebody else easily. I can keep them in an archive if I need to – it’s not tied up some bell-system computer somewhere, it’s not a proprietary format. I no longer have to hold up a computer microphone to the headset to try to get a recording, or figure out the arcane forwarding commands of somebody’s phone mail system.

SMS/Email Notifications that work – holy heck, I can get an email and a SMS when I have voicemail. The SMS was a bit hit-or-miss with Grand Central – but I’ll cut them some slack, they were pretty busy with this transition I imagine.

Transcription WOW. This actually works. I realize this technology has been out there in various places for a while. At least the voice mail hell systems I’ve been caught within know when I start cursing at vendors that stick me in them. But I get this – with my voicemail – and sent in the email and SMS notifications. It’s great – and it’s going to be a laugh riot for a while – case in point:

My Test Voicemail

Here’s the transcript:

hey i’m just trying out my very own blue foley service hopefully you ohh transcribe this email and then i will call soon send me an S M S notification to her anyway have a great day and maybe i can my dog to talk i’m not sure training can you tell anyway bye

To be totally fair – they do indicate the words they have issues with:


Hi-laree-us. I almost want phone calls again.

If I only had a brain…

I could be an App Store moderator too. via John Gruber @ Daring Fireball

You can’t make this stuff up. Apple has rejected the latest version of Tweetie — currently the most popular Twitter client in the App Store — because there’s a swear word in the current list of top Twitter trends. The trends feature isn’t new to this version of Tweetie, nor is Tweetie the only iPhone Twitter client that has the feature. It’s just that there happens to be a dirty word in the trend list now.

I can only figure that this moderator or moderators in the App Store division have some kind of dirt on Steve Jobs. Or maybe they ran Merrill Lynch in a former life.

The search, it is a-changing

So, pagerank is failing me lately.

Like almost everyone else, I start almost all my web browsing typing words, urls, ideas into a search field – all funneled through the mighty Google. It’s worked for years. Enough web surfing has trained my eyeballs to avoid most ads – and for a while I’ve known to avoid most SEO-heavy topics (you won’t find me doing a lot of “[product] reviews” searches, at least without a fair amount of cursing).

But for the last few days, I’ve noticed a couple of searches failing me. I had a mysql problem earlier this week and all my searches turn up results from 2007. Some due to the fact that the problems date back that long – but there’s newer information that I don’t find, because over and over that 2007 information is what’s getting linked to.

And recently, I am looking for information about using a Mac Mini as a home theater PC. Same results, 2007, 2008. Nothing recent. Again, there’s newer discussion and newer information that I want – but I’m not getting it, because all the links are pointing at that old information.

I’m looking for discussion/conversation/real people experiences, and I’m not really patient to dig through ad-flash-heavy forum packages to find what I want.

And then I remembered twitter search. Not quite sure about it yet, but it’s more of what I’m looking for after a page or two of commentary.

Google is in trouble.


Some moments in life require a suspension of all the things that we know to be true,


if only for that moment that we might see things in ways that we ordinarily would not – Jay