Saturday, February 24, 2007

Where's Iggy?

I attended a wonderful concert by Marin Alsop and the BSO at the Music Center at Strathmore on Thursday, February 22, 2007. The event featured an evening of music by Baltimore native son Philip Glass in conjunction with a choreography of projected photos by Frans Lanting. The Washington Post gave a very nice review to the event.

The Post article failed to mention an amusing fact that was revealed by Marin Alsop during a question and answer session at the conclusion of the concert. While discussing the challenge of keeping the orchestra in sync with the slide show, Ms. Alsop mentioned that she had drawn figures of animals on her score to help her locate key sections in the performance. She noted that she particularly used a picture of an iguana in the photos as an anchor point since she once owned an iguana as a child named Iggy.

I continue to believe that attracting and hiring Ms. Alsop as the musical director of the BSO is the most exciting thing to happen to classical music in the metro DC area in decades. She is a very hot property and Baltimore and Strathmore are very lucky indeed to have secured her talents.

Now all we need is for Ms. Alsop to program a concert of that other Baltimore native son - Frank Zappa. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Moduslink Vista Upgrade - Update 1

Today, exactly three months to the day after I first submitted my paperwork, I received a call from the Moduslink Windows Vista Upgrade Redemption center. The pleasant woman on the phone informed me that my COA and POP had been processed and approved. Praise the Gods! She said I should receive the upgrade in March. I certainly hope so.

This has been a lot harder than it should have been but it looks like it has finally been resolved. I remain hopeful the upgrade disc will ship in a timely manner.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Moduslink Windows Vista Express Upgrade Meltdown

I have been publicly silent for nearly three months. Against my better judgement, I even withdrew a previous post to this blog on this topic when it was requested of me. I am now fed up with the run around and will now post information I have obtained regarding the scam that is called the Windows Vista Express Upgrade program.

As background I will now re-post my original blog entry that caused such a stir that I got an urgent plea to remove it. At the time, I felt confident that the alarm bells I rang on this issue had been heard at the highest level and appropriate action would be taken. Not wishing to cause further anguish, I acquiesced and removed my post just four hours after I originally posted it. Based on events that have since transpired, I believe it was a mistake to do so. Here is my original post:

Originally post November 21, 2006

Windows Vista Upgrade Redemption Fiasco

Okay, I am going to try to write this story without assigning blame but I would strongly encourage my former colleagues at Microsoft to take ownership of this problem and address it before it gets out of hand.

A week ago, I decided to order a new computer in anticipation of the release of Windows Vista at the end of January. I have been playing with the beta release up through build 5744 and have gotten interested in upgrading. It's been about three years since I upgraded my computer so I'm ready to take advantage of the new dual core chips from Intel, and all the updated speedier peripherals.

I've been building my PC's from scratch for years so I headed back to my favorite website for technology - I spent a few weeks researching various components and finally pulled the trigger a week ago. I went with a system based around the Asus P5B Deluxe motherboard in an Antec Sonata II Case and a Geforce 7900GT based fanless 256mb Asus PCI-E graphics card. Because the fanless design of the motherboard and the graphics card the system is tombstone quiet when running. Just the way I like it.

Anyway, along with the hardware I ordered an OEM copy of Windows XP MCE 2005. Newegg promoted this version as coming with a free upgrade to Windows Vista Premium as part of the Vista Upgrade Express program. The software came with the required "Windows Vista Upgrade Redemption Form" that includes a serialized number in the upper right hand corner. The form instructs you to sign on to a website at and fill in the upgrade details to secure your Vista upgrade when it is ready to ship.

Well, after inputting the Serialized" number I was given, I was told by the web site that the redemption number was invalid and offered no further explanation except an email address one could try. After a few more attempts I became irritated. This is not the experience that a paying customer should have. So, I used some detective work using Google and very quickly was able to contact by phone a principal at Moduslink. I will preserve this person's anonymity as this person turned out to be extremely helpful and I feel a bit sorry for this person's predicament. After explaining my problem and past employment at Microsoft, this person very kindly walked me through the website using an alternative redemption number that the Moduslink employee provided. The Moduslink employee carefully explained the redemption number had given me was invalid and would never work. The person also mentioned that the redemption number specifications given to Moduslink by Microsoft were causing problems and that Moduslink only had about 8 weeks to get this upgrade site up and running. It was mentioned that another authorized reseller had already issued some 800k invalid redemption numbers. You can imagine the headaches that must have caused. This Moduslink employee was extremely helpful and told me in detail what the numbers meant and how the number was not valid. I thanked this person profusely and I was able to successfully complete my upgrade order. Obviously, this person can not help every individual with this problem. Something needs to be done at a higher level (Microsoft) to ensure this upgrade process goes as smoothly as possible. Based on my experience there could be a significant number of people trying to upgrade to Vista and become very frustrated and fail. I am sure this is not the customer experience that Microsoft is aiming for.

As a public service, I decided to call and inform them of the situation. I talked to a nice CSR who was very interested in my story and promised to "bump it up" to management to make sure it was addressed. He even offered me a $25 Newegg gift certificate for my trouble which was completely unexpected. I have always had a wonderful service from and I hope they take my feedback seriously and attempt to rectify the problem along with Microsoft's and Moduslink's help.

As I mentioned, this post was only on the web for four hours but caused quite a storm (I have my server records) because I received an urgent plea from my contact at Moduslink to remove or change my blog. I believe I reported what I was told accurately but the Moduslink employee claimed there were inaccuracies in my post. In the past 72 hours, I have attempted to talk to my contact at Moduslink by phone and email. My phone call went to another Moduslink's voice mail and my email remains unanswered. It would appear that my Moduslink contact is no longer with the company?

Since my original interaction with Moduslink, I have sat patiently for nearly three months. Periodically, I would check my order at the Moduslink web site. Fifty percent of the time, I would get an error message that an error had occurred and to check back later. Other times I would be able to retrieve my order and it would show no change with only the message "COA validated" but no comments about the confirmation of my POP (Proof of Purchase).

Now I was aware that the Windows Vista Upgrade could not ship before January 30th, 2007 but I would think that in the more than two months leading up to the release Moduslink could have processed my POP?

As the release of Vista came and went, I became concerned about the status of my upgrade. Attempts to contact Moduslink by email were extremely frustrating. In the past ten days, I did finally receive an email from Moduslink that claimed they never received my POP. This is a clear slur at the USPS. Now we are moving into the murky world of rebate redemption centers. I am one hundred percent certain that my mailed COA confirmation and POP was received by Moduslink within one week of my mailing it on November 21, 2006. I have mailed my mortgage payment for twenty years and never had a payment lost. I mail in thirty to fifty rebates a year and they are always received unless I get a dishonest processing center that I then have to exert pressure (Better Business Bureau, etc.) to come clean. For Moduslink to use the excuse that they did not receive my paperwork, is dishonest and not credible.

The email I received suggested that I could resubmit my POP by email for verification. The mail did not suggest a format, so I sent the original PDF files of all my documents that I had carefully preserved before placing them in the mail. The email claimed I would get a response within 5 business days. That deadline has now passed without any response.

This brings me to the general topic of rebate redemption in the computer industry. Several articles have been written about this topic and reveal some very interesting facts. For example, some forty percent of rebates are never submitted by consumers. This is money in the pocket of manufacturers and rebate redemption centers. These articles also talk about the incentives the rebate centers have for not processing rebates which results in kick backs and money in the bank for the rebate center. The rebate centers engage in "breakage" where rebate centers successfully challenge submitted rebates (i.e. did not receive paperwork, wrong barcode, or rebates never submitted). Other techniques are "slippage" where mailed rebate checks are never cashed (because the mailed checks are made to look like junk mail and are thrown out by the consumer).

Based on this knowledge, I now believe that a form of breakage and slippage is taking place at Moduslink. For example, one theory could be that for every COA that is validated on the Moduslink website but the required POP is never validated (i.e. never mailed, never received, deemed invalid by Moduslink) results in a monetary credit to Moduslink from Microsoft. At this point, this is just a theory but it is credible.

I have researched the topic of Moduslink and the Vista Express Upgrade using Google. I have read hundreds of puzzled forum postings about the Moduslink website and the lack of satisfaction with this process. More and more articles are starting to appear in the media. One of the most telling is an interview with head of Marketing at Moduslink - Christine Pothier. At no point does she accept responsibility for the apparent problems with the Vista Express upgrade. She clearly tries to move the blame from her company to the "OEM's". The contention is that the OEM's are holding things up by dragging their feet on checking the compatibility of already sold "Vista Ready" systems for eligibility for the Vista upgrade. This is absurd. Furthermore, in my case I bought a box of parts from After Newegg shipped my box of parts and the Vista Express upgrade form, they are out of the picture. To claim OEM's are the bottleneck is pure obfuscation on Moduslink's part.

Ms. Pothier also makes the statement:

"We are sending out the product; the delivery time frame is 4-8 weeks - that was a timeframe set by the individual OEMs [original equipment manufacturers]. Our customers should receive the product 4-8 weeks after the general date [Vista launch date]."

Okay, let's take her at her word and use the four week timeframe. That would mean I should receive the upgrade by February 27. Considering Newegg is not an OEM that is involved, it should be sooner? Somehow, even though Moduslink has had my POP for three months, I will not be surprised when I do not have my Vista Express Upgrade in my hands on February 27.

To wrap up, I will mention that I decided to purchase a separate OEM copy of Vista Home Premium for a second computer (unrelated to this Moduslink fiasco). I ordered the Vista OEM Home Premium from on January 26, 2007. The kindly UPS man dropped my Vista OEM on my doorstep on January 30, 2007 - the day Vista was released! Now that is customer service.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Followup on 'The Grapes of Math'

I contacted the Washington City Paper about last week's great article on the Travesty known as Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control. My comments were deemed worthy and were printed as a Letter to the Editor:

For years I have railed against the horrible selection of wine at the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control. I knew that the county controlled things with an iron fist. I would read about a great wine in the Wall Street Journal, run down to my local DLC outlet in Kensington, and be met with blank stares when I requested wine I had read about. I knew a private business would jump through hoops to meet my requests.

Now I know the real truth, and it is worse than I could ever imagine. Kudos to you for getting Jeff Black to speak so candidly. I regularly dine at all of his restaurants.

Chris Barker
Kensington, MD.

There was also a great letter from the group Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws:

The Grapes of Math Tim Carman and the Washington City Paper have done us all a public service by exposing the byzantine government-run alcohol distribution system that exists in Montgomery County (“Pain in the Glass,” 2/9). Finally a bright light has been shone on a broken system that results in higher prices and worse selection for wine consumers, lost time and money for small business owners, and less economic development for the county as a whole. While Citronelle’s Mark Slater wonders “why the citizens of the county even let that stuff go on,” the fact is that most citizens don’t have the time or gumption to figure out why wine prices are higher at restaurants in Montgomery County, why there aren’t more wine shops, and why they have to drive across the county to find a county-run liquor store. This, in addition to the fact that they can’t buy beer and wine at the grocery store or order wine online from What many consumers do know is that it’s easier and cheaper to buy beer and wine in Virginia and the District, so they do. There is a consumer movement afoot, however, to change all of this—to bring Maryland’s beer and wine laws into the 21st century. If we have it our way, fine wines in Montgomery County won’t cost any more than they do in the District, wine and beer will be sold a few aisles down from the steak and seafood at the grocery store, and we’ll be able to get fine wines shipped direct to our doorsteps from wineries around the world. To paraphrase Citronelle’s Mark Slater, we citizens aren’t going to let these stupid laws go on any more.

Scott Ehlers
Executive Director
Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws
Hyattsville, MD.

Maybe we can get some traction with this?

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Travesty of the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control

A great article appeared in this week's City Paper about the entity known as the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control. I have complained about the byzantine system of wine distribution in Montgomery Country for years. I knew it was awful from a consumer standpoint. I had no idea how bad it truly was. I was impressed that Jeff Black owner of several quality restaurants in my area was willing to speak bluntly and on the record.

I am not going to mince words. Montgomery Country, by continuing the travesty that is the DLC, is practicing pure unadulterated Communism. From now on, I will refer to the DLC as the Department of Liquor Communists. The head Commissar of the DLC is George Griffin. He took over the DLC "after disgraced director Howard L. Cook Jr. was forced to leave for misusing a county credit card (among other misdeeds)." The DLC has a wonderfully colorful history.

Among arguments Commissar Griffin puts forth as justification for the DLC's existence are "lower rates of underage drinking and fewer alcohol-related traffic fatalities for people under 21." Well, since the US kills about 50,000 people annually in traffic related deaths (drinking and non-drinking related) why don't we just merge the DLC with the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Think of how many lives we can save then!

The real reason the DLC exists is money. Some "$22 million" of it according to the article. The Montgomery County government is addicted to this revenue stream just like local and federal governments are addicted to the cash cow of tobacco settlement income. Socialist government's like this love to practice social engineering on it's proletariat by legislating where and when socially unacceptable behavior like drinking and smoking can be conducted. Remember Montgomery County is the place that tried to ban smoking outdoors (Friendship Heights) and ban Santa Claus (Kensington).

The existence of the DLC should be put to a referendum and let the people decide its fate.