Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

All Star Conferencing? Try AccuConference…

December 15th, 2009 2 comments

I had a recent need for conference calling, and decided to sign up for several services to try them out.  Conference calling is a very hot commodity in today’s market, especially during these economic times.  You can reach out to so many people for such a small cost, it is logical for many businesses, freelancers and even personal calls.

I decided to investigate several options, beginning with the lowest price.  There are several free options available, the most notable being Free Conference.  How can you go wrong with free, right?  If you’re using a service for internal use within your company, a family gathering or some other instance where you don’t mind a stripped down service then go for it.  It’s simple to use, but very basic and you have to pay your own long distance.  If you want toll-free service it’s 10¢/minute per person, and you also gain access to several features such as call recording and playback.

The next option I tried was AccuConference.  I love their product and feature set, it really is a great deal.  They don’t have a free option, but have inexpensive flat rate plans (you pay long distance to connect) or their toll free plan is only 9.9¢/minute per person.  You have access to the same feature set regardless of your plan, which is great.  They also offer free call recording, desktop controls, pre-conference and a ton of other features.

My final option was Star Conferencing.  At 3.9¢/minute per person they were one of the cheapest toll-free option and seemed to still have a nice feature set.  I later found out that they are a marketing site forPremiere Global.  The rate is definitely great, but there is a catch.  You prepay for 500 minutes per month, which amounts to a $19.99 monthly fee whether you use it or not.

I found out about this “catch” when a $ 19.99 fee appeared on my credit card statement.  I emailed Star Conferencing right away about the charge, I was sure I had not signed up for a  plan with a monthly fee.  I received a quick response that my inquiry had been forwarded to their billing company.  This was the first bad sign because being forwarded is similar to being transferred within an IVR: you are the hot potato that no one wants.

After no response for 2 days, I again emailed Star Conferencing and finally heard from their “billing company” the next day.  I was told that they only offered one plan, it is $19.95 per month and I am free to cancel at anytime.  Since I had never used the service, I asked if the fee could be refunded.  The response was “Per our Terms and Conditions, the monthly fee of $19.99, which includes 500 minutes, will be automatically charged to the credit card on file regardless of the number of minutes used. Charges will be applied each month the account is active including the month cancelled.

Well, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  I canceled my account and responded that I had never used the service or cost them anything, and would they please credit this amount.  Their final response was that they made a “one-time exception” and credited ONE of my fees…but the second fee will still be charged because I canceled after my billing date.

At this point I give up.  I’ve wasted enough time and Internet bandwidth, and decided I would rather blog about it then ask for my other $20.  I’ll just keep my AccuConference account and be happy.  They don’t charge me anything if I don’t use the service.

Categories: Personal, Travel Tags: ,

Google Maps Lost My Address!

December 11th, 2009 No comments

wheres_waldoOne of my favorite online utilities is Google Maps.  They were one of the first to implement dynamic scrolling for maps (with the click-and-drag), and very nice piece of DHTML.  I enjoy smooth, feature rich browser interfaces, and theirs is a great one.  Their team created (yet again) a product that leads the market.

Prior to Google Maps, the best option was probably MapQuest.  They were ok, but became too commercialized…always suggesting a hotel, gas station or eatery along your route.  While that information may have been helpful, it cluttered up the screen and was a pain to work with.  Their scrolling consisted of clicking the edge of the screen to move the viewport, which was terribly inconvenient.

We bought a new house in a rural area just over a year ago, so I often map addresses I don’t recognize using Google Maps just to see how far away they are.  Yes, it’s a geeky thing to do, but I think it’s fun.  Because of that, my home address is my default location and always appears when I land on Google Maps.  Much to my surprise, I disappeared in early November!  My address was there in late October, but suddenly Google Maps couldn’t find me!  I searched for a few other streets in my neighborhood, and finally found a couple.  I panned around and found my street, but it was not labeled.  Then I checked Street View (another scary-but-cool feature of Google Maps) and found that data was still current.

So Google had Street View but no GIS data for my location.  A rather odd combination, since the converse seems more logical.  Who to ask in a situation like this?  None other than Google (the search engine, of course!).  After some research, it seems that Google has begun updating their map information to also include parcel data.  I couldn’t find much regarding their data source(s), but I did find an interesting blog post about it.

After panning around my subdivision, I did notice parcel lines but I cannot remember if they were there before.  I don’t think they were, which would make sense, but I just never noticed.  So what do do?  I love Google Maps and don’t want to use another provider, so I poked around and found this Google Maps help article on how to Report a Problem.  I followed the steps hoping for a resolution of some kind.

earthI am happy to report that, as of today, my street is back online!  My exact address isn’t pinpointed, but Google Maps drops a push pin on my street with a note stating that “Placement on map is approximate.”  Hey, I’ll take it!  It has been about 3 weeks since I reported the issue and, given the volume of reports Google is likely dealing with after this update, that’s not bad at all.  I received a confirmation email from them after my submission, but have not heard anything from them since.

Thanks to Google, I can finally find my way around again!

Disney on the brain…

October 3rd, 2009 No comments

disneyWe are about to take a family vacation to Disney World, and I’m not sure whether to be excited or not.  I haven’t been to Disney World in 20 years, so it will be quite an experience since this one will be with 3 kids!  My girls are very excited, especially since we booked a Princess Breakfast for one morning, and my son can’t wait to meet Lightning McQueen.

One of my best friends has made several recent Disney trips, both with and without kids, so I was able to pickup some valuable pointers and resources.  These sites have been great:

The main point to keep in mind is, if you plan to do any activities that require a reservation…make the reservation the earliest possible date.  The PS Calculator site can generate a list of activities, phone numbers and dates to call.  It can mean the difference between breakfast with Cinderella or breakfast at the hotel!

One of my friend’s recent comments was that “there is no wrong way to “do” Disney…but there is no right way, either.”  Simply put, there are an overwhelming number of activities, rides and shows.  Your best bet is to do some research, decide what key activities you (and your kids) want to do and plan around those.

With that in mind, another great resource is Touring Plans (  They are a subscription service, but well worth the price of admission.  You can choose which park, how long you’re there and what type of tour you want (young kids, teens or adults), and they show you a suggested plan.  The plan is complete with a ride schedule, when to grab (and use) a Fast Pass and even meal suggestions.  They help you hit the highlights and popular rides without standing in line for hours.

We’re starting to pack, my TripIt itinerary is updated and we’re looking through touring plans.  I am excited about the trip, any chance to spend time with the family is great.  Traveling always brings surprises (especially with kids), and those are sometimes the best memories.

Categories: Family, Travel Tags: ,


September 27th, 2009 No comments

tripitAbout a year ago, one of my best friends introduced me to an awesome travel web application…TripIt (  The service is free and really amazing.  They provide a single resource for all of your travel information.  Simply forward your confirmation emails to them and they scrape important information and automatically import it to your itinerary.  It’s just awesome.

I used to print my confirmations just before we left, which worked fine until I lost them.  Then I would decided to save all of my emails re-forward them to myself before leaving, so I’d have them on my mobile device.  But sifting through emails while traveling is not a fun task.  Now I simply forward the confirmations as they come in, and TripIt handles the rest.  They make it easy to share information as well, so my wife can see (and modify, of course) our plans.

While TripIt is great at importing your confirmation information, they also provide an easy way to setup your own events.  This allows you to add any activities you want, complete with time, date and location.  They even integrate with Google Maps, so you can find your way without having to rely on someone else’s directions.

One of the best features of their service is the iPhone application.  Like the Trip It service, it’s amazing.  You can access your itineraries at any time, and view all of the information.  Checking into the hotel and need your confirmation number?  It’s right there.  Trying to remember how to get from your hotel to an activity?  Just use the Google Maps integration.  It’s view only, but gives you all of your travel information at your fingertips.  Plus you can use it as a reminder of your upcoming trips!

Don’t just travel, TripIt!

Categories: iPhone, Travel Tags:

What's in a Name?

August 5th, 2009 No comments

Disney World

We are planning our first family pilgrimage to Disney World this October. We are also going next June, so my original thought was to purchase annual passes. The cost/benefit ratio seemed high enough, there were discounts and other perks for annual passholders.  Plus the convenience of not having to mess with tickets every time is worth something.

I was on the Disney World website last Saturday night (8/1), ready to purchase 5 annual passes. I had them in my cart and went to check out, but lo, I need an account. No surprise, this is the marketing engine that is Disney. So I dutifully filled out the form and clicked submit…only to learn that something I entered was considered “filthy”. Hmm, that’s strange, I didn’t enter anything naughty, yet the form is telling me it’s either my first or last name.

Surely it’s not Jeremy, which leaves only Tolsdorf. Well, almost there…the only catch now is my email address. It’s, and apparently it’s filthy, too! When all else fails, reach for the telephone, right? Wrong. It’s Saturday night, do you really think there are Disney ticket agents available?

I was finally able to register with Smith as my last name, and somehow managed to find a form that allowed me to use in my email address, so now I’m set, right? Well, not exactly. Disney traditionally updates their pricing the first Sunday in August…which means those annual passes are about to go up by about 5%. Sure enough, by the time I can get back to them, new pricing has been loaded and the grand total just went up by $94!  This all happened prior to midnight as well, which is when new pricing is supposed to begin.

The entire ordeal necessitated a friendly email to ticket services, which I am sure will be faithfully read and acted upon. My calls to Disney the next morning were useless. All of their ticket agents were told in no uncertain terms that new pricing was in effect, period, and my filthy name wasn’t going to change their mind.

In the end it actually worked out for the best. I’ve revisited our ticket needs, and I don’t think I’ll spend the extra money for those annual passes after all.  I would rather spend the money on activities with the kids while we’re there, a trip to Disney is all about making memories anyway.  I suppose Disney still gets the money, but at least I’ll have more fun this way. As long as I’m allowed in the park with such a filthy name.