tl;dr: If switching to Verizon, keep in mind they charge a $35 Activation Fee per device, even if you are moving a device from an existing account. They keep these fees completely hidden from you in the online order process, and in my case will not even tell it to you when in their stores. They expect you to know this, despite the fact that it’s not listed anywhere until you get your first bill.
So like many others, I decided to end my relationship with AT&T with the release of the iPhone 5. I was sick of AT&T and the promise of a better network on Verizon for the same price was appealing. I decided to try the network out for the first two weeks, the length of their return policy, and use a new number instead of porting my number out right.
I did a good amount of research of prices and comparisons before I even pre-ordered the phone. Never once was any form of “Activation Fee” mentioned for anything related to my new iPhone 5 or my iPad was mentioned or on any line item anywhere. I even did a Google search for “Verizon Activation Fee” before I ordered the iPhone 5 and found nothing but talk of their “Upgrade Fee” which is standard and mention that they had a no Activation Fee according to Best Buy which was the second response. So I never considered it something I had to worry about it, or so I thought. In hind sight I should have researched this further.
After a solid week of good service with my new iPhone 5, I decided to make the switch and port my number. I also had to move my iPad over to the shared data plan which would cost me only $10/month so it was a no brainer. So I was told by a phone rep to go into a store to do this, as it was a complicated process. So I did, and it went mostly smoothly. I had to call back to get the job finished as the store messed up, but it was working in the end. There was no mention of any fees while I was in the store, who were very helpful. So I walked away a happy camper and glad I had finally switched.
The ugly truth of the matter was revealed earlier today when my friend Jonathan Wight tweeted about getting charged $60 to move his iPad onto his Shared Data plan. I then replied that I hadn’t been charged for the same thing, so I found it weird he was being charged.
Just to be sure I re-opened up the three receipts that were emailed to me from that day at the store, and found I HAD in fact been charged $35 for adding that iPad to my main line. This fee was never told to me, as I said before. No requests for me to authorize charges to the line either. In the store I was asked to sign to authorize the porting of my number, but that was it. They basically charged me $35 to move my iPad from one account to the newer account with the shared data plan. It’s not even a new line of activation, it’s a simple move. Below is the receipt in question which includes a prorated two months of $10/mo shared data.
Click to view the full receipt with the personal info redacted.
Then my friend Aaron Douglas spoke up that he too was charged for each of the three iPhone 5 he pre-ordered, without that fee being disclosed up front. That discovery got me wondering, maybe I should check if they gave me an activation fee on my iPhone line as well? So I first checked my iPhone 5 invoice, which showed again no Activation Fee just as I had remembered. I remember being glad when I didn’t see a fee or mention of a fee when ordering. You can take a look at the invoice below, which only has a $34 tax on the full price of the device, but no $35 Activation Fee line item.
Click to view the full invoice with the personal info redacted.
Then I logged onto My Verizon and opened the bill, and low and behold, there is a $35 activation fee. You can see it there below.
Click to view the full receipt with the personal info redacted.
So is Verizon is being very sneaky by not showing this when you order? It was time to find out. I created a new order, went thru as far as I could with fake information, and not ONCE did I see a activation fee line item. The only place it’s mentioned is in the Verizon Customer Agreement, which doesn’t say how much it is but that you can’t get it refunded unless you cancel within three days. Another mention of a $35 fee also doesn’t apply to my situation: “You may have to pay a $35 fee to re–activate Service if your Service is terminated”. Again no mention of a new account activation fee, and what that fee is.
In fact doing this I confirmed what I remembered: the online order process never calls out the activation fee at all. Here’s one of the final screens I captured, which illustrates the total cost of the order. Check out the screenshot below to see for yourself.
Click to view the full order page.
Even Verizon’s own Twitter Support team said it should be “listed in the Total Due field “, which it was not as you see clearly above. This Twitter account is usually super helpful before I signed up, to the level of almost being a spammer, but the second I started having a problem it stopped responding to me. Figures.
@mccarron I see. The activation fee would’ve been listed in the Total Due field when you were placing the order online.^AT— VZW Support (@VZWSupport) October 2, 2012
Also, if the Activation Fee was in the Total Due why would it also then be on my first bill? Makes no sense.
Because neither fee was told to me upfront, I tried to call Verizon today to get these two Activation Fees waived. But I was told the fees are their “policy” and was denied a waiving of the fee. The rep agreed it wasn’t “right” with how I was misled at two different points but couldn’t do anything for me. I objected to this decision and requested an escalation to her supervisor, who was out to lunch, but so far have not heard back. I fail to see how these fees are policy if it was never in writing anywhere that I agreed to.
So Verizon is hiding these fees from potential and existing customers and also won’t waive it if you don’t like the fee once you notice it. I would have no problem paying this if they were just upfront about it, but as a new Verizon customer none of this was made aware to me until I got my first bill. If I didn’t already port my number from AT&T, I would be considering dropping my new Verizon service right now as I’m still within the 14 day window just because of how they have failed to handle this situation.
I think my friend Luke Wallace said it best:
“The worst carrier is the one you’re on.”
Update 10pm CST: Finally got help from a @vzwsupport agent on Twitter, ^LA, who actually went the extra mile and removed my activation fees. She agreed that the iPad plan migration should have never been a fee at all and also that the iPhone 5 purchase online should have shown the activation fee as part of the process but for some reason did not. I hope Verizon either waives all new customer activation fees online, or makes the Activation Fee much clearer than it is today to avoid problems like mine.
Thanks to ^LA from@vzwsupport for going extra mile & fixing my Verizon activation fee. I hope they make the fee less hidden in the future.— Patrick McCarron (@McCarron) October 3, 2012
Update 10/3 5pm CST: I just heard back from a Verizon executive support team member today. It was a follow up to a note with a link to this blog about the hidden activation fees I passed along to Verizon Wireless CEO Daniel Mead’s email. I simply asked him to look into it and clear up the issue. I told him I felt hidden fees was something that is very becoming of any company. The agent wanted to let me know they are looking into the issue and would work to correct it so that online customers are properly notified of the fee during the checkout process. They told me that hiding or not making this fee clear was not their intention.
She also did state to me that moving an iPad from one Verizon Wireless account to another shared data plan should NOT count as a device activation and should not incur a fee. So I say anyone who got socked with this fee should fight it.
So now I guess to wait to see if the fee is actually clearer in the future.
One of the “perks” of being an iPhone application developer has always been an excellent excuse to upgrade to the latest and greatest iPhone. As I write this on Friday I am actually waiting for my iPhone 5 to be delivered. Getting every device is useful and almost a requirement in order to test your applications on it.
But what you do with these devices as time goes on and they become increasingly obsolete? Some people sell them, others hand them down to family, but I typically keep them around for testing as well as nostalgia. They have come in handy over the years for various different things as well, like when I used them for time lapse cameras for the big Chicago snow storm of 2011. But they start to pile up and collect now after five years.
Yes… I may have a problem
Early this year I bought a new CRT monitor for my dedicated Mortal Kombat 2 arcade machine. It needed to be done because of bad burn in, and arcade CRTs are becoming increasingly rarer by the day. The monitor I bought is a Tri-mode monitor that not only supports the standard arcade resolutions (CGA and EGA) but it also supports VGA and comes with a standard VGA connector and adapter for JAMMA pins as well. This got me thinking, maybe I’ll build a MAME machine instead of running all the hardware required to run the five games switchable that I run in it today.
So, when starting to plan the MAME machine my initial plans were to use an older Mac Mini. But when I was putting together what turned out to be a pretty extensive parts list, I got to thinking: “Why can’t I just repurpose an old iOS device for this?”
It turns out, I can and I did…
How did I do it, you may ask? Here’s a breakdown of what I did if you too want to try to do the same with your arcade cabinet.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Here is a list of parts you’ll need and some price estimates.
- Arcade Cabinet
- Arcade monitor that can run VGA+ resolutions - Varies (I went with the 24.5” version of this monitor which is no longer available.)
- An original iCade - Can be found as low as $50+
- iPad VGA Connector - $30
- iOS Device (with an A4 chip or greater) - $200+
- Audio wiring of your choice/need - ~$10
- Security Torx bits - ~$10
Basically if you have an arcade cabinet with a monitor that’ll display VGA+ signals and an old iPhone like I did, then you can likely do this project for as little as $100.
PART 1: VIDEO
I decided the optimal way to connect the video is to use the Apple iPad VGA adapter which works with any device with an A4 or higher processor. So that means I can use an iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, any iPad and the newest iPod Touch models. You can also use the Apple HDMI cable if your monitor has an HDMI input.
Choose Your Destiny
The video is the most important part, because without it you can’t do the rest of it. So before I did anything I built a simple app to test video modes on my arcade monitor. I found it returns that it supports more resolutions beyond VGA, but in fact it doesn’t. But it successfully works at 640x480 as I found in my testing.
It’s Resolution Baby
For my purposes this solution is more than adequate. A proper MAME setup can also get to the lower CGA or EGA resolutions, but for my monitor being analog it’s best to keep it on one resolution so this is not ideal and still looks great to me.
PART 2: CONTROLS
As far as controls go, this was the one I thought about the most. There are a few options, but even less for non jailbroken iOS devices. So I settled on going with the iCade method of making the iOS software think it’s a Bluetooth keyboard. I did this by… using an iCade.
iCade - The key to this project
I owned an iCade from the first day they were available, it makes for a great iPad stand and also a fun way to play some classic games which are making their way to the platform more and more. But I didn’t want to open it up and ruin it. So I searched online to see what the wiring system looked like, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it uses standard arcade control cherry switches. Which meant, transplanting it’s guts into my arcade machine would be fairly easy.
I opted to buy a second iCade to use for this, because I’d like to make it a permanent fixture in my home. I found one used on eBay for $40 shipped and jumped on it. I’ve also seen others go for as low as $20 at times as well.
So once I got it home I began to pull it apart to take what I needed to transplant to make the iCade work with my existing arcade control panel. Below are a few photos, it’s fairly straight forward and took a matter of minutes so I wont waste words explaining how to take it apart. Keep in mind I did find you’d need a security torx bit to get it open, but these are fairly commonly found at hardware stores now.
iCade Inside Out
Standard Quick Disconnects
No Quick Disconnects, Easily Resolved
PCB plus wiring ready to go
One downfall with using an iCade is that it’s a one player only device. So my two player capable arcade machine is not being used optimally, no going head to head in Mortal Kombat and no teaming up together in The Simpsons Arcade Game. I am going to look into building a custom Bluetooth controller using an Arduino, or similar, that would work similarly to the iCade but also support two or more players.
PART 3: AUDIO
At first I wasn’t going to do anything for audio. My iPad 3 which I was initially using in the process was quite loud enough that it was as loud as the arcade machine. But when I moved back to the iPhone 4 which will likely be the sole device I use for this, I found it’s speaker quite limiting.
The arcade cabinet is only mono so only had two connections for one speaker to hook up to the iPhone. So I grabbed a few spare headphone and RCA cables I had around, did some cutting and then hooked on two alligator clips which I use to connect to the speaker. Here’s the finished cable.
Made cable long to reach the cabinet speaker wire in the back
It’s all rather simple, if you can hook up arcade controls you can also hook up a speaker.
PART 4: POWER
Power is one of the things that is really an unique to this setup. An iPhone device has very little drain compared to a desktop computer or even the five arcade PCBs that took two PC power supplies to run that had in there. Also the iCade runs off of two AA batteries as well, or an optional power brick. The way I set it all up today actually has no direct power draw from the wall at all. I ripped out the iCade’s battery compartment to keep things simple for now.
Couldn’t find my Dremel, so I used a drill.
The only major issue I have right now is that the VGA adapter blocks the power connector of the iPhone. So when I’m not playing, I keep the iPhone plugged into power. In my testing, iMAME can run for about 2.5 hours on my iPhone 4 without interruption so this is adequate for my purposes but not ideal.
Carefully chosen case for matching red trim
In the future I’ll be researching a way to keep the iPhone powered without blocking the VGA port. Apple’s own HDMI output solved this issue, so it’s possible, but I need to build or hack the existing cable to solve this problem.
PART 5: SOFTWARE
As I said earlier, no jailbreaking is required for my solution. But for others this may be difficult without jailbreaking. The MAME project, and by extension the iMAME4All projects by Seleuco, are all open source so any developer can build them with little work and without jailbreaking.
iOS developers are best to start with lesbird’s iMAME for Xcode, much easier to get up and running from there. I have notice some performance problems with my builds, and I’m looking into that and readying the project for iOS 6. I will likely be releasing that update on this Github project sometime soon now that iOS 6 has been released.
Also if you are not a developer and happened to download the iMAME that was availble on the AppStore like I did, then you don’t need to jailbreak your device. Otherwise if you are jailbroken, both iMAME4All and newer iMAME4iOS are available on Cydia.
It’s important to note that the MAME4All that iMAME4All is based off of a source fork of MAME that is around 10 years old now. It’s done like this because it runs things much faster on older hardware, but suffers because of a lack of compatibility and accuracy. But for most games, it works perfectly fine. Seleuco also ported a newer source build of MAME into the iMAME4iOS project. It needs much beefier hardware to run the games, but has a much greater compatibility. I’ll likely be moving to this build in the future.
THE END RESULT
TO THE FUTURE
I’m also not 100% happy with how iMAME works with the arcade cabinet and the iCade, and this is something I am looking forward to improving since it is open source. I haven’t had the time yet but I have a few ideas. One idea I had is to make a whole new interface, here is a mockup below:
Besides some software, power and possible control enhancements I’ve been wanting to do, there was another idea that was sprung from this project. What if you were to take a third party console arcade stick, toss in an iCade and an iPhone dock. Then using AirPlay Mirroring or the HDMI adapter, you could then turn that arcade stick into a portable arcade machine that hooks up to any modern TV. Why settle for playing these games on your iPad with an iCade, when you can hook it up to your 55” HDTV in your living room?
Now to find some spare time to make a proof of concept of this idea. Lucky for me this is another project where I have all the parts required to see it through.
If you have any questions you can contact me via email or Tumblr’s “Ask me a question” via the links on the right side of the page. I’ll try to get to them in a timely manner to get you on your way.
This is a story of how yesterday one company completely locked me out of another company’s accounts and services. Now neither company is taking the blame and are both stating “there is nothing we can do” and actually blaming me at times too. It’s a long story, so I have provided a great short TL;DR; version below:
my Flickr account got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute just sit right there
I’ll tell you why my Yahoo! account password is bare
In west Yahoo! born and raised
On the Flickr is where I spent most of my days
Chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool
And all shooting some photos outside of the school
When a couple of companies, they were up to no good
Started making trouble in my user accounts
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared
And said “You’re moving with your friends over at 500px”
Still here? Lets continue shall we?
The story starts 10 years ago when I graduated college I began work at what was then called SBC Ameritech. As part of working with them I signed up for their “SBC Yahoo! DSL” service at my new apartment as we were given a discount, and it was the best internet available where I lived. One feature of the account was that they’ll give you some free Yahoo! premium services along with your DSL service. In order to use this you have to basically “merge” the accounts. This is when, if I had a time machine, I’d tell myself “DO NOT DO IT!” just to avoid what happened yesterday. I merged them and thusly my @ameritech.net account for my DSL line and my at that point my 3-4 year old Yahoo! account shared a password.
Fast forward to 4 years ago. SBC Ameritech is now known as AT&T (name change, company is “the same”) and I no longer work for them after going indie to develop iOS software in 2008. I cancelled my AT&T U-verse service and moved to Comcast for internet service because of their superior DOCSIS 3.0 technology. I was told AT&T would un-merge the Yahoo! and @ameritech.net accounts as part of the cancellation process. But since I now only use my Yahoo! account for nothing other than to access my Flickr Pro account, I never checked into this at all. I also irresponsibly never changed it’s password either. I completely forgot about them being merged at one point, until yesterday…
Well as most of us know, it was revealed yesterday that Yahoo! had a data breach and about 500,000 usernames and passwords were leaked. So despite not being in the leaked password file, I figured it was a good time to change my password anyways. I go to do this, and Yahoo! sends me to ATT.com to change my password for some reason. This is when I realize, my account is STILL LINKED to an account that is no longer valid on AT&T’s system. This is going to be a problem I thought, but I was WAY underestimating how much of a problem it would be.
I did some digging online, and I found a helpful post on the ATT Forums which detailed how to un-merge your accounts. The problem here is for step one I couldn’t actually log into AT&T’s website to do that step because my account is so old it wouldn’t let me in. So I called AT&T.
The rep I spoke to could actually reset my password, she gave me a new temporary password that AT&T’s website actually prompted me to change when I tried to log in. So the first concern of mine was solved, I had a new password that worked on my Yahoo! account. But that was as far as I could get on the AT&T account. It would not let me in so I could un-merge the accounts. She then transferred me to someone who could help me with the unmarking of the two accounts. The transfer failed after 15 minutes of waiting, I now heard a dial tone.
I decided it was enough for the day for now, and I’ll deal with un-merging another day. I then notice immediately that my new password, no longer works at all on Yahoo! as it did minutes earlier. Neither does my old password or the temporary password she had given me (I wrote them all down). So I call AT&T back after their Team Susan Twitter group, who reached out to me first, failed to reply back to me at all on the issue.
This agent not only didn’t know what Ameritech was, or how to spell it for the email address. I should have hung up and got someone else, but I didn’t. I told him I needed to reset the password and unlink it by deleting the account as detailed in the post on the ATT Forums. He told me he could not reset that password as it gave him some error, despite an agent earlier doing it, BUT he could delete the account for me which should un-merge it he told me. He deleted the account and then gave me a phone number to reach Yahoo! to finalize the un-merge. I called this number and was met with a rep who simply asked for my email and my phone number, and that someone would call me back in 15 minutes.
Three hours pass, and I hadn’t heard from Yahoo! I figured they and I were busy but I’d call that number back now that it’s been three hours. I called that number again and I realize that it never said Yahoo! and was just a generic messages and statements. I Googled the number, and found it was some scam “repair” service that is just collecting user info for who knows what purposes. So they now have my phone number and an old email address I can’t get into. GREAT! Thanks AT&T!
So I look up Yahoo!’s real number for the first time, which isn’t easy. I found it via Contact Help’s page on Yahoo!. I think any company that makes it THIS hard to contact support that you have to goto ANOTHER website to find it, should be avoided at all costs.
Yahoo! proved themselves RIGHT AWAY to not give a damn about me. The rep I got flat out right refused to help me because he didn’t “have the tools” to either reset my password or unlink my account and only AT&T did. I told them AT&T deleted my account they couldn’t either, he didn’t care. I asked to speak to his supervisor as someone at the company should be able to figure this issue out since it’s a yahoo.com account, not an AT&T account. He refused, I told him I’m a paying customer for Flickr Pro and I need access to that account. He said take it up with AT&T. I told him I want to cancel my services then, so he transferred me to billing.
The billing department rep was nice at first, she apologized for everything but declined to help me get into my accounts but would process my cancellation instead. Weird. So I told her I wanted a refund of my 2nd year of Flickr Pro which I purchased in August 2011 since I can’t get into my account. She pulled it up, but became extremely difficult when I couldn’t figure out what credit card I used to pay for it. I have an American Express, Discover and a VISA, she said none of those were used. She also added Flickr Pro is non refundable and that no one at Yahoo would process that refund for me, if I was even really me. My reply to this was basically: “That’s Bullshit. If you guys refuse me access to what I pay for I should get a refund. I shouldn’t have to take this up with the CEO to get a refund.” Her reply: “Maybe you should!” and I hung up in anger.
This triggered me to get in touch with AT&T again in a desperate plea to find someone who could help. The first rep actually transferred me to a great high level tech support agent, Sonia, who not only understood the issue wanted to help me. I was happy looked promising, but that promise was short lived. She tried hard, but said because the password was reset again after I called by someone and then deleted, that password is unobtainable and can’t be reset again on their end. I have to log into Yahoo! with whatever password it is, and finalize the un-merge process by hitting a button that should be presented when I log in next. The third step on the post on the ATT Forums. She actually called Yahoo! and came back with really bad news, and this is an exact quote:
“There is nothing we can do anymore and this issue is in limbo. No one can reset this password, not even Yahoo”. She gave me a Yahoo! reference number and a reference number for AT&T as well. She told me to try to convince Yahoo! to do something, but it looks bad.
I called Yahoo! and reached an agent who transferred me immediately to their supervisor. They told me the supervisor would conference us with AT&T and get this resolved. I was again hopeful. The supervisor while helpful and nice compared to other Yahoo! employees so far, didn’t want to call AT&T after all on the line. Instead she forward me off to a AT&T 866 support number after LYING to me telling me it was a direct number to a “High Level” support team that is both Yahoo and AT&T employees. I was upset.
One final call to Yahoo! resulted in another agent similar to the first one. Lots of attitude, didn’t care to help me, and kept repeating to me things I already told him. He refused to let me talk to a supervisor as well and instead said only AT&T could help me get into my Yahoo! account as “no one at Yahoo! can help you with your yahoo.com account”? What? I asked him basically “Isn’t it your job to help people get into their Yahoo! accounts?” He got VERY condescending to me and kept cutting me off trying to re-explain the situation to him. I told him his job is to help people with their Yahoo! accounts and how he was failing to do his job by passing off my issue to someone else, and I wanted to talk to a supervisor or anyone higher. He responded “If you know how to do my job, why don’t you do it yourself!” and hung up on me.
This is the end to my story, I gave up and filed a report against Yahoo! with the Silicon Valley BBB asking for my money back and my Flickr photos on a disc or the more simple resolution: access to my Yahoo! account again. AT&T’s Team Susan Twitter group said they are still trying to help me, but I’m not holding my breath. My Flickr Pro account exists and it appears I can upload photos via Instagram, but I can’t add photos or access my account any other way. So enjoy the photos while they last when my Flickr Pro account expires in August 2013. I am currently looking for a way to extract them automatically without logging in, but I’m not holding my breath. Also a lot of well respected friends of mine are recommending I take a look at 500px instead of Flickr, and I’m starting to see that is a VERY good idea. So here is my new my 500px account, feel free to follow me if you’d like.
Update 7/16 4pm: Thanks to a desperate “help me” email I sent over to Kay Kremerskothen the Lead Community Manager at Flickr, I got back into my Flickr account via a whole new Yahoo! account. Now I can back up it’s contents. He said he has forwarded on my Yahoo! problems to the right department, so we’ll see what comes of that. I also heard back from the BBB who has accepted my complaint and has given Yahoo! two weeks to respond to my issues. I still want to delete the old Yahoo! account for good, to make sure no one somehow gains access to it at some point in the future. Now to wait.