If we ran a state, we’d also require schools to show projected loan payments (and more)

I was really happy to see this article in today’s WSJ on the states now requiring schools to provide the detailed information on a student’s loan debt and the projected monthly payment:

This is definitely a step in the right direction. I think back to my college days starting in the late 90s for undergrad and mid 2000s for grad, and neither time did I get a full comprehensive picture of what the loans I was taking out would ultimately turn into once everything was done.

While it is easy to dismiss this problem and say it’s not our problem, some sentences in the last few paragraph are eye opening:

“A 2014 Brookings Institution report found about half of all first-year students in the U.S. “seriously underestimate” how much debt they have and less than one-third can estimate their debt loads within a reasonable margin of error.”

“More than one-quarter of students with federal loans reported having no federal debt and 14% said they didn’t have any student debt at all.”

I’d even say let’s take this a step further and show the projected payments alongside what the average person in the field is making and their expenses. This is the type of info a school has the ability to collect from it’s alumni and I would gladly provide it to help future students.

With both these pieces of info, you’ll have a good idea on whether or not you should take this debt or not.

If we ran GroupMe, we’d do the following

GroupMe has been my favorite and most used app since… since.. Well at least two years. I don’t know for sure but luckily one of my suggestions below would help me know this. Two days ago, GroupMe asked us in the App’s “News” section what suggestions we have. I’m glad they asked because I have quite a few:

1) Allow the deleting of posts and pictures. Really delete the pic too, don’t just kill the post with the link that points to it

2) Allow a better way to browse old posts and news announcements other than scrolling down as far as you can go. Often I liked to visit the conversations that occurred in my groups on the day my daughter was born. But every day it gets harder and harder.

It would be nice to browse through the activity that occurred on any old day. Same with news activity.

3) keep pictures private and protected. A pic should only be viewable by members of a group.

4) In my opinion, the three requests above are fairly ordinary requests. This is “my wildest dreams” one:

I run a wordpress-based website called IM Convo of the Day which I like to keep good IM Convos on. But now I mostly talk on GroupMe so whenever something funny happens, it’s a chore to copy paste and then format that convo.

Could there be a way (other than by taking screenshots) to publish a Groupme convo to a website such as my WordPress site?

Extra credit if I can make edits to the version I publish. I usually like to edit for language and readability. If necessary, I sometimes may need to change the username and profile pic.

Twitter sort of has this feature, but not with the ability to edit.

If We Ran WMATA, We’d Turn Special Announcements Into Conversation Hubs

Today, when I jumped on the metro at Judiciary Sq, I should have known something was up when the doors just remained open and we didn’t move. Finally after a few minutes we started moving and the announcement came on which informed us of the situation at Silver Spring which was causing the delays. I wish we had received more info but that was it.

I then visited WMATA’s site from my phone and got some more details:




While it was nice to finally get the reason, a fire, there were still many more unanswered questions. The first one: What kind of delays was I looking at to get there? The train was stopping for a long time at each station so it definitely didn’t seem I would get there anytime soon.

Th second question was what would happen to my bus? The z29 I normally take home to Burtonsville. That was my ultimate destination.

Rather than put the burden on Metro to answer all these questions, it would have been nice if in the actual announcement, a conversation could be had between everyone.

The best piece of advice I had heard was from someone else on the train who said they should jump on the train going the other way back to Gallery Pl/Chinatown and then take the Green Line up to Fort Totten. If I hadn’t heard that, who knows how much longer I would have stayed on the red line.

With today’s abundance of smart-phones and data plans, it would be very easy for us to start talking right away. Especially since most of us Metro-regulars would already have an all capable of this already installed and signed-into on our phones, ready to be used.

Sadly, there is no App from WMATA at all. I’m sure we will see one someday. When we do, this feature would be nice.

If we ran Pizza Hut, we’d adapt to the 21st century better


Well it took 20 years but I finally had a bad experience with Pizza Hut. And it happened when we tried to venture out our usual method for ordering.

Usually we phone in an order but this time we used the web to take advantage of any promotions they may have on the site. The ordering process was initially easy enough. But the first problem came at checkout when I couldn’t use a credit card. I was having my cousin pick up the pizza from the Pizza Hut by his place ( in Laurel on Route 1 by Whiskey Bottom Rd – no Pizza Hut delivers in my parents’ house’s area) and I wanted to be the one who paid. But it said I couldn’t pay online at checkout.

But alright fine… I’ll get him to pay up and I’ll pay him back. Ruins some of the “It’s on me effect,” but again, alright fine. Simple problem.

And the good news is that you can create an account after you finish where you can store your credit card info. From there, going forward, you’re good to pay. Which would be the case… If I could create the account. Unfortunately my house address wasn’t checking out with their address verifier program. And this house has been around for almost 8 years.

So much for creating the account. And then the error page had no back button and the page locked up so I had to close the window. Oh well.

I called up Pizza Hut to see if I could pay for the order I placed over the phone. And I was informed they had no record of that order. So they asked me to re-place it. Annoying. But fine- I placed the order again. Oh, and I still couldn’t pay for the order over the phone.

Then 10 minutes later my cousin calls and says there are two orders under my name and he needed to know which one to pick. That was double annoying because 1) my online order did go through, making my re-placing of the order pointless, and 2) the Pizza Hut people couldn’t identify that the orders were identical. Anyways, they figured it out and that was that.

Alright, so as far as the scope of this post goes, the events I’ve described so far should adequately make the point of why Pizza Hut needs to adopt to the 21st century. So I should just end the post here.

There’s no reason to get into the other events happening that night including Pizza Hut not sending the entire orders (yeah my cousin should have checked, but still). Or that the pizza was cut after we instructed for it not to have been (religious dietary restrictions). Or the initial offer of the manager to only refund the cost of the items they forgot to give us and nothing for the runaround (luckily they ultimately refunded most of the money – which they were also luckily able to do trouble free since the order was paid for via a credit card. God forbid the order be paid for via cash).

Naa.. No need to get into all that.

If we ran E-ZPass Maryland, we wouldn’t fine $25 per violation

If you pay a credit card late, you could be looking at.. what is it $40 fee? I don’t know if the credit card fees are still ridiculous, but even then, at the least, you would just be dealing with a $40-ish fee one at a time.  E-ZPass seems to think that like a credit card company, they should charge a hefty fee too if you make the mistake of not paying a violation within 30 days.

Fine, let’s say that’s moral.  The problem though is that with E-ZPass, you could have quite a few violations at one time if there’s an issue with the transponder or some other error.  That’s what happened to me in December. I had just gotten my new car and traded in my old one.  I called E-ZPass NY to notify them of the new vehicle and they told me that they can’t add on a temporary tag and have to wait until I get a permanent tag.  Well I didn’t get my permanent tag until late January so between late November and late January, on the few instances that the E-ZPass Maryland toll booth didn’t read my transponder, it couldn’t match my license plate to a transponder and sent me a violation.

All in all, there were 5 violations in question.  And when I didn’t pay within 30 days, a $25 fee was put on FOR EACH violation.  so on a toll which could be as low as $0.55, there was a I-don’t-know-how-many-thousand-percent increase violation.

I thought E-ZPass MD’s customer service might be helpful. Surely talking to humans who make simple human mistakes too would be a cause for understanding.  But alas, best she could do was reduce the fees down to $5 per violation.  A nice drop but still, that’s $25 for something which wasn’t my fault.  Yeah I didn’t pay the violation on time, but that original violation wasn’t my fault – it’s EZ-Pass NY’s policy. I don’t know how they handle it.

This is sort of off-topic but while we’re here, I may as well point out how sucky E-ZPassMD’s customer service is.  After a crazy long hold time (they tell you at the start it’ll be longer than 6 minutes – that’s it, the only detail they give you), I spoke with someone named Marika who first offered the 80% price drop proposal.  I asked to be transferred to a supervisor and after another crazy long wait, she said she found someone and transferred me. But that was of course voicemail.  I left my voicemail message for I don’t know who and then had to call back E-ZPass Maryland, wait a crazy long time again, and finally speak to someone again.

This person was more helpful. Her name was Lydia (ID# 10846). She explained better that the 80% drop was all they could do on their end, but also made me aware of the option to dispute with the MDTA.  She gave me their address (which is P.O. Box 17600, Baltimore, MD 21297 – I’m making you aware of it because when you come to this corrupt state and get a ridiculous fine, you too will need to reach out to them).  Also, she took down my complaint for the previous rep Marika not telling me she was transferring me to the voicemail of a supervisor and gave me a reference for the complaint. That was nice.  While I’m mad Marika didn’t give me enough details nor make me aware that she was transferring me to a voicemail (so I could have stopped her), I am more mad there was no supervisor around for me to talk to during both calls at 4-something PM on a Thursday.

Anyways, I paid the $25 violation fine plus the toll fees (the latter part I of course don’t have a problem with).  I emailed E-ZPass NY to see if they would be willing to help but if they don’t, I can live with $25 down the drain just to pad Maryland Transportation’s wallets.  And if I get a chance I’ll do a dispuate with MDTA.

If We Ran A Health/Dental Insurance Company, We’d Get Our Documentation In Order

Everytime I’m pestered (yes, pestered) by a company to go paper-less, I think to myself, is today the day I will finally start. And the answer is always no. The main reason is that until a proper “push” system is in place instead of the current “pull” (you login to our site and download the documents yourself), I’m sticking with paper.

But today I encountered the other reason not to go paper-less – just annoying website nonsense.  Between the login creation, documents not being accessible, and other issues, it’s just something that frustrates you and makes you think, “forget it, I’ll stick with paper.”

Now I’m going to have a bigger post coming soon where I get into the bigger picture of documentation all around, but for today, let’s talk just about the Health and Dental Insurance companies – specifically MetLife Federal Dental Plan and Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Federal Employee Plan.

I have an FSA who often needs to submit documentation verifying the charge (another annoyance, we’ll deal with them another day).  Often submitting the EOB or the EODB is sufficient.  Today I don’t have the papers with me to scan and send so I thought I would download the paperwork from the sites.

First I went to Metlife and was so happy that I could 1) find where I had to go easily to get my EODBs and 2) create/recover my apparently already existing account without having to know my Member ID number.

But that feeling was gone when after I got in, navigated to the EODB repository and was greeted with this:

“Your Coverage and Claims information  are currently unavailable. Please Try again later.” *sigh

No worries, the way my dental insurance works is that the claim goes to my health insurance first (A confusing process – something else worth analyzing one day) so I figured I could dig up an EOB from my Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Federal Employee Plan to shut my FSA up.

Again, I was happy that I was easily able to find the login page and make my new account (weird, I’ve been with this BlueCross Federal for so long, I really don’t have an account already made?)

Once I was in, I scrolled down to the link to go to the “download the EOB” page:

I’m thinking, “man, this is all going so great…” But, I thought too soon of course and saw this:

That I was leaving fepblue.org and going to a new site that was operated by someone else on behalf of FEP. *Sigh. Why, why can’t this information just be kept all in one place.

I was of course less than surprised when the next page that greeted me was a page in the “MyBlue Customer eService” which wanted me to change my password:

And then of course, the password I just created wasn’t the password they were looking for:

And I was done. Won’t be getting the EOBs tonight. Will have to just go and get the paperwork.  Then scan it, and go from there.. all that nonsense.


If we ran Amazon, we’d make a more useful customer follow up

This morning I called Amazon to complain about my “The Avengers” Blu-ray not arriving yet. I pay extra for Amazon Prime so whenever something doesn’t arrive by the time it’s supposed to, I call and complain.

The guy I spoke with said something about delivery issues and said the would put out a replacement. He also said he would knock a few bucks off the Blu-ray.

I was satisfied with the resolution but didn’t click on Amazon’s “How did we do?” automated customer service email just yet:


… I wanted to wait to see how the resolution played out. Later in the day, when the disc still wasn’t replaced and it seemed I was going to have issues, I did click on the link in the email to let Amazon know that “No, my problem still wasn’t resolved.”

But I was annoyed to notice that clicking on the link was so useless. Look at what the web page shows:


If Amazon’s solution wasn’t helpful they need to make that follow up email more useful.

If We Ran GroupMe, We Would Make the Following Changes to the New Website

GroupMe updated their site today but I wasn’t really happy with it. Luckily, they were responsive on twitter. Here is the conversation that happened.

Shahryar: Trying out the new @groupme website. Please be good… please be good

GroupMe: @Shahryar let us know what you think!

Shahryar: @GroupMe I’m disappointed-1) can’t open diff groups in diff tabs like w/ old groupme? Right-click just does this: http://t.co/YryXSH3Z

GroupMe: @Shahryar You can still open them in separate tabs, just have to create tabs first… looking into fixing the rt-click behavior though. #)

GroupMe: @Shahryar also if you have one group open and receive a message in another, you’ll see an alert pop up in the window. #)

Shahryar: @GroupMe 2) I like that what I say is highlighted yellow – but no avatars anymore? Harder to see who’s talking http://t.co/X9FN21Pb

Shahryar: @GroupMe yeah, but creating the tabs first is a chore though if you have a ton of active groups

Shahryar: @GroupMe again, all my groups are really active so it’s easiest to just be able to jump around within them through multiple tabs…

Shahryar: @GroupMe your old system of the groups name getting an icon next to it and moving up on the list when a new message came was pretty solid

GroupMe: @Shahryar Thanks for the feedback! We’re definitely still working on it, and you have the option to keep using the old site for now. #)

Shahryar: @GroupMe 3) I don’t like the “Auto-jump” to bottom whenever something new is posted

Shahryar: @GroupMe no problem. Thanks for listening. Your app is the most used app on my ios iphone 4s and (as a result) I use your site heavily too

GroupMe: @Shahryar Nice to hear, thanks!

Shahryar: GroupMe: @Shahryar If you’re scrolled up in the chat, it shouldn’t jump for new msgs… only when you’re already scrolled to the bottom of the chat

Shahryar: @GroupMe I’ll try again but I’m pretty sure it was jumping to the bottom even when I was scrolled up

If We Ran Verizon, We’d Make Our Order Verification Message clearer

Last week I called Verizon and we worked out a package as follows:

FIOS TV Prime HD – $74.99
HBO/Showtime – $11.99 + $16.99 – both free for 3 months
HD Set-top Box – $9.99 – free for one year
DVR – $15.99 – free for 3 months

The Activation Fee ($49.99), Installation Fee ($79.99), and cost of router ($139.99) would all be waived.

Ultimately, there would be three different rounds of pricing:

The first 3 months – $74.99
Months 3 to 12 – $110.99
Months 12 onwards – $120.98

Shortly after our phone call, I received an e-mail asking me to verify my order and for the part of verifying, here is how the information was presented:

By adding one new FiOS service (TV or Internet) to complete your double play bundle, you’ll receive an additional $10 per month credit for 6 months.*

Order Summary
Master Order Number: MD00101389386
Order Date: May 12, 2011
Product: Double Flex up to 15/5 Prime HD 24M 2010
Internet Speed: FTTP_15M_5M_TRUE


First Bill Estimate:
The Normal Monthly Charge excludes credits for promotions that last 3 months or less. This customized estimate of your first bill is based on your initial order and installation date. If you made changes after your initial order, those changes are not reflected below.++

Normal Monthly Charges Change in Service and Partial Month Estimated First Bill

Double Flex up to 15/5 Prime HD 24M 2010 $84.99 $14.16 $99.15
Other Current Activity
(Voice, TV, Internet Additional)
$62.97 $271.97 $318.94
Current Activity Total $147.96 $286.13 $418.09
Specials and Promotions -$10.00 -$269.97 -$304.96
Taxes, Fees and Other Charges $16.10 $13.51

Total $154.06 $126.64


Ignoring the fact that the $10 off to make it $74.99 is temporary it seems, I found this order verification screen to be very unhelpful.  What about you? Now I have to call to figure this out.

If We Ran OPM, We Would Improve USAJOBS By Doing the Following:

For (all? many? most?) people looking for a Federal job, they will have to use the site usajobs  The federal hiring process is usually considered to be annoying because of the KSA process but that’s getting better so now it’s easier.  Still there are some annoying things with using USAJOBS which should really be fixed.  Here are some I wanted to point out:

Change the info in the Expand option

Especially when it comes to the IT Specialist position, you really have to go through each one to see what you are or aren’t qualified for.  The “Expand” option should be changed to list out the first so many characters of the Duties and Qualificaitons.  That would immediately weed out what is or isn’t needed.  

Link directly to the Status Candidate position

I have no idea why on the page of a job listing, if there’s another listing (usually? all the time?) for a status candidate position, the announcement number is given like here:

Now you have to go and search for this announcement:


But it’s not that straightforward because this has to be searched in the ALL JOBS category so on the next results screen you will have to redo the search selecting all jobs.  Or sometimes the announcement doesn’t work (guessing the reason for the screen I got right below) so you’ll have to manually search on the job title, agency in the ALL JOBS section and then try to find it.  It’s annoying.

Allow sort by Location

Ok, so I want to see Nationwide jobs for something so I’ll leave the location blank but I should still be able to sort on order of closest to me

Location based e-mail search not working?

And finally, this one’s a little on the personal side- help me figure out why my New York jobs e-mail summary doesn’t actually show New York jobs – yet when I then click on “View all opportunities” link on the e-mail, it properly shows me New York jobs?