"We took it because we could!" The story of Delta Airlines and the $200 upcharge.

Let me preface this by saying I don't have any problem with flying on Delta. While their planes are usually jammed to capacity, the overall experience is typically a good one.

Now I had to buy a couple of tickets, yes, with cold hard cash, which I am loathe to do. Checking out my Delta account I spied that I had an online coupon to save about $500 or so; which was going to expire in a week. This was a golden opprotunity, a blessing, I tell you. So I get the two tickets into the ol' cart, and utilize the coupon code, or whatever marketing term they used for it.

I complete the purchase, and notice a TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR "Service Charge". $200! For what? "Service?" No, wait, if it was a first-class upgrade, I could then at least say "Well, I got a nicer seat, a good meal, and some comp diet soda refills out of it", right? But in this case, the work needed to process that order is probably not one keystroke or CPU cycle more to process that discount coupon order than a full-faire order. So what's up with the $200? I decided to fire off an email to Customer Service, and here is their reply, unedited, other than redactions for personal identification info, and the "good parts" bolded for emphasis:

Dear Mr. Mccollough,

RE: Case Number 16812985

Thank you for your email to Delta Air Lines inquiring about
Administrative service charge. I am sorry for the delay in responding
your message.

Please note, changes are permitted with the collection of an
administrative service charge (ASC) plus any difference in the new fare
you select. The ASC is collected to offset some of the costs associated
with reduced-rate ticket reissues
. However, the total cost of the
transportation, including the ASC, often represents a substantial
savings over the unrestricted ticket cost

While we would like to offer special consideration in this case, we are
unable to honor the many similar requests from others in equally
deserving situations. We follow a consistent policy, ensuring we are
fair to everyone who travels with us. Accordingly, we must respectfully
decline your request for a refund of the administrative service charge.

If you need further assistance, please contact our Reservation Sales
Department at 800-221-1212, 404-765-5000, or the number on the back of
your SkyMiles card. A representative will be glad to assist you.

Mr. Mccollough, thank you for writing. I appreciate your interest in our
SkyMiles program and look forward to see you on your next Delta flight.


Nick Trent
Online Customer Support Desk

Original Message Follows:
Delta Air Lines Delta.com Booking Form

Title: Mr
First Name: Alan
Middle Name: J
Last Name: Mccollough
Reply-To Email Address: XXXXXXXX
Airline Program: DL
Frequent Flyer Number: XXXXXXXXXX
Address Line 2:
City: Anchorage
State/Province: AK
Postal Code/Zip: 99XXX-XXXX
Country: US
Phone Country Code: US
Phone Number: 907XXXXXXX
Confirmation Number:
Ticket Number:
Cruise ID:
Departure Date: XXXXXXX
Departure Flight Number: DLXXXX
Departure Origin City: ANC
Departure Destination City: SEA
Return Date:
Return Flight Number:
Return Origin City:
Return Destination City:
Number of Travelers:
Reference Code:
Certificate Number:
Response Required: yes
Message: This is for trip # XXXXXX. I noticed I was charged a $200
service charge Service Charges and Fees Service Charge/Fee
#006231450XXXX Fees 200.00 USD TOTAL 200.00 USD Why? That is an
extravagant amount to be charged with no explanation given.

Submitted: Fri Jul 24 2015 13:17:51 UTC-0800

"...The ASC is collected to offset some of the costs associated
with reduced-rate ticket reissues..."

Here, let's try that in a different format:

Happy Birthday, here is $500*! Have a great time, and I love you!

*In order to keep our costs down, we found it necessary to impose a $200 Service Charge on your $500 gift. I still love you, though. Use your remaining $300 wisely."

Doesn't sound as generous, now does it?

Get more work out of your Roomba!

If you own a Roomba, you know it does a pretty decent job of vacuuming floors. But what if I told you that it can help you with stairs, hard-to-reach spots, tables, counters, and many other spots?

Consider your new method of tidying up "Roomba-Assissted Cleaning". You now need to adjust your dusting and cleaning ways to fit one basic principle:

You clean first. Knock small stuff down to the floor, and sweep it to a spot where the Roomba can pick it up for you. Once you have done your bit, let the Roomba finish the job.

That's it.

Consider a hardwood or laminate staircase. You can imagine yourself vacuuming the steps with a hand vac or maybe a long vacuum extension. Forget it! Get a broom, and start at the top step. Sweep the stuff down to the next steps, and don't worry about picking up any of it with a dustpan. Just sweep each step's debris down to the steps below it until all the stuff is on the floor at the bottom. Use the broom to get the stuff away from the very edge of the wall so the Roomba can fully consume it.

Shelves? You probably use a Swiffer duster already on those, right? Continue to do so, but do so in a way where anything you knock off lands on the floor. Let the Roomba do it's thing and eat the dust off of the floor for you.

Counters?  Same idea. Knock the small stuff on the floor. Let the Roomba do the rest.

Now here is something most Roomba owners know already; there are some areas on the floor the Roomba just doesn't do too great at. Inside corners are probably the most common, because the round body of the Roomba cannot reach into an inside corner, even with that neat spinny brush thing on it's underside. Help the Roomba to help you better. Use a broom to sweep the debris in inside corners out to where the Roomba can pick it up.

If you have a pile of computer cords or some other similar bundle of snakes, well, those the Roomba just won't do well. Use a broom to knock the crud off of the wires and sweep it out to a spot where the Roomba can pick it up.

If you churn up a lot of dust as you go about your cleaning, wait a while for the dust to settle to the floor. You want the Roomba to pick up all that dust, so it needs to settle to the floor first.

That's basically it. Until the folks at iRobot invent a Roomba with arms, its up to you to be the arms. Knock all that dust, crumbs, toenail clippings, and cat fur down to the floor, and let your friendly circular robot gobble it all up for you.

Installing SQL Server 2012 on Window 2008 R2 Server Core ends with error -2147467261

I'm chopping away at completing my MSCE certification, and while working on the exercises in Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2102 Databases, I ran into a big problem, while doing Exercise 3 on page 49.

When attempting to do a command-line install of SQL Server 2012 on SQL 2008 R2 Server Core, the installation would fail with error -2147467261.

So here is the situation at hand: Server is virtualized, in a Hyper-V environment. Server is installed as an evaluation version of Microsoft Server 2008 R2 Enterprise, installed as Server Core. I've got the .iso for SQL Server 2012 Enterprise Edition mounted up on Drive D:

On the server, from the command line, I tried running the following script: from D:\

Setup.exe /qs /Action=install /Features=SQLEngine,IS,Conn /InstanceName=MSSQLServer /SYSADMINACCOUNTS="CONTOSO\kim_akers" /IAacceptSQLServerLicense

(Side note: the /SYSADMINACCOUNTS="CONTOSO\kim_akers" bit is used in the training environment exercises; it isn't mandatory.)

And this would run for a few minutes, display some SQL Server GUI bits, then die. The acutal error shown would be listed as SQL Error -2147467261. I tried a variety of suggested fixes online until I found one that worked. Now the part that worked wasn't what was described in the post, but rather, in one of the user comments. The fix works like this:

From the command prompt on the server, run Regedit.exe. This will launch Regedit. Add in the following key:


With this registry key in place, run the command-line SQL Server installation again. I did this, and finally, the installation ran successfully. Apparently that registry key is required by SQL Server 2012 Enterprise, but is not installed as part of Server Core.

Let the studies continue!

Upgrading Compaq CQ56-115DX hard drive to solid state drive

I ended up taking ownership of my wife's Compaq CQ56-115DX laptop recently. The laptop was okay, but needed upgrading. In went Windows 8.1 Pro instead of Windows 7. Also going in was 8 gigabytes of RAM instead of the default, and quite paltry, 2 gigabytes. Still, while performance wasn't bad, there seemed room for improvement.

So, in went a Crucial MX100 Solid State Drive, replacing the default 250 gigabyte Seagate Momentum 5400.6 drive. The new Crucial solid state drive is 256 gigabytes, a good replacement match for the Seagate. I didn't need any more disk capacity, and at barely over a hundred bucks, the 256 gigabyte solid state drive seemed like a pretty good upgrade.

The drive showed up from Amazon in about a week, even in the midst the of Christmas mailing madness. The box contains a slip of paper with a link where you can download a stripped down of Acronis TrueImage (or whatever) to clone the existing hard drive to the solid state drive. I already had a copy of Clonezilla, an excellent free open-source drive cloning utility.

I got the solid state disk installed into a handy portable SATA drive case I had around the house. I highly suggest having one of these, especially since they only cost about thirteen bucks on Amazon.

The actual cloning took about an hour, but I wasn't really paying attention. After the cloning was done, I removed the original drive and installed the solid state drive. I fired up the laptop and got... Disk Not Found. Ugh. I rebooted the laptop, and immediately got the Windows 8.1 login screen. It was like ka-pow! I don't know why the solid state drive wasn't picked up the first time, but it has been no problem since.

Now before I pulled the original drive, I ran ATTO's Disk Benchmark. I remember ATTO being around 20 years ago as a prime supplier of SCSI II controllers for Macs way back when. Anyhow, here are the results:

To get the real performance difference, don't just look at the bars. Look at the index values. They're different. For the largest file transfer, the bottom value, the factory hard drive managed to transfer about 75 megs a second. The solid state disk transfers 256 megs a second. That's a 340% performance improvement. If you look at the chart, you can see the performance is a big improvement regardless of the file size being read or written to disk. For a hundred bucks, getting a 3x disk improvement is pretty impressive. I'm going to make picking up a solid state disk a "must do" for any laptop I own from now on. Well, that and cramming it full of RAM.

Even if you lump in needing to purchase an external SATA case for $13 to temporarily hold the solid state disk during the transfer, the overall process is pretty easy. Took less than two hours, and the laptop is noticeably faster. I'm totally stoked with the outcome of this upgrade. A huge thumbs up.

How to fix dead lights on a fake Christmas tree

Do you have an artificial Christmas tree that is a few years old, and the built-in lights on the tree are almost all dead? We got a tree like this. Got it for 90% off when K-Mart closed up shop for good in Anchorage. That was years ago. Now, the once-brilliant tree now has maybe 20% of the original lights working. A sorry sight indeed.

As most people have learned, trying to find the dead bulb or bulbs in a string of Christmas lights is a lesson in futility. We decided to wrap the tree with additional lights.

Now that we are putting the tree away for the season, I decided it was high time to cut off all those now-dead lights. Our tree being sectional, I started with the top portion, which stands maybe a foot and a half. With the tree safely unplugged, I get out wire cutters and have at it.

Bad idea.

Turns out that the lights which are interwoven into the Christmas tree also have a pretty tough nylon cord along with the wires. This nylon cord is probably there to assist in the manufacturing of the tree, as the lights will be more tolerant to tugging and pulling. Also, those lights are woven in a fashion similar to maybe a spider's web or an umbrella, and they are bound down with probably a thousand of these little green plastic horseshoe-shaped clips. The whole network of wire and clips are arranged to give the tree its shape when it is splayed out. It took probably an hour to strip that small first section of its lights, and for all that effort I have a mountain of cut horseshoe clips, a bunch of accidentially snipped green fake pine needles, and a Charlie Brown tangle of useless tree lights.

My suggestion on how to fix dead lights on a fake Christmas tree? Abandon in place. Do not entertain the notion of cutting those lights off of the tree. Next year we will probably wrap additional lights on the tree and not plug in those original lights at all. I may cut the plug ends off of the original lights just so that they don't get plugged in ever again. But cut the lights off the tree? Forget it!

Brother MFC-8670DN Windows 8 Printer Drivers

If you own a Brother MFC-8670DN printer, and have a typical 64-bit Windows 8 or a Windows 8.1 laptop (or desktop), you may have discovered that the built-in Windows 8 drivers only support the most basic of printing capability. You can't even duplex print. Ugh.

If you searched for print drivers, you probably ended up over at Brother's website, and discovered that they do not have Windows 8 print drivers either, and they say use the built-in drivers. Ugh.

There is hope, though: Use Windows 7 drivers instead. Go to the Brother site for the MFC8670-DN and choose Windows® 7 (64-bit). The driver download is about 40mb size, so it took a couple of minutes. You have to run the download as Administrator, so after the file is downloaded to your PC, locate the file MFC-8670DN-inst-win7-A2, right click it, and pick "Run as Administator". You will eventually get prompted to run the Setup.exe file, and of course, you do so. When all is said and done, you'll have the full printer driver package installed with all the bells and whistles. Duplex printing, manual feed, all that. Enjoy.

The Alan Plan - Days 1 and 2

So, it occurred to me recently that I've put on a fair amount of extra weight since I was following "The Daniel Plan" in earnest. No fault at all to Daniel, after all, in the Bible, nobody really knows what that "Pulse" he ate was anyway. So, anyhow I'd like to be rid of at least 10 pounds.

Some of "The Daniel Plan" sounds like a typical Southern California Prius Driver's fantasy; "Organic" everything, no sugar, no gluten, all the usual stuff. I can go with some of that, other bits, ("no coffee"), well that ain't gonna happen.

So, with no dietitary background other than liking to eat, I've cooked up my own plan, The Alan Plan.

  • Lots of coffee. It's natural, basically water and beans. Just leave out the sugar.
  • Honey is great, have some.
  • No bread. Yeah, it makes you (well, me) fat.
  • Well, no candy and stuff like that.
  • Tofu is great, tempeh is great, too.
  • Chicken is great, but not breaded.
  • Pork is great, just not breaded
  • Beef is great, in a steak.
  • On those meats, do so in moderation. Just a few ounces.
  • Fruits, vegetables, yeah, eat lots of those.

So that's the plan in a nutshell.


Day 1

Don't recall even eating breakfast. Made a latté.

Lunch was some vegetables from a vegetable tray at church.

Dinner was a fine stir fry of tempeh, onion, spinach, carrots, and a giant glob of hot chili oil.

Day 2

Breakfast was a half-container of tofu with Tamari doused over it.

Lunch was a 1/2-pint of teriyaki chicken at New Sagaya.

Dinner was the salad at Costco. I did use only about 2/3 of the salad dressing.

How to reset the security lockout on a Saturn Vue

The Scenario: I have an aftermarket remote start system, along with a totally useless "start your car from your phone" system. (side note: great idea, if only it ever worked...) So, one fine day, I decide to try resetting the "phone start" system by the suggest method of disconnecting the battery and touching the disconnected positive cable to the negative . Yes, this drains the electrical system of any charge.

Now, though, not only does the "phone start" system still fail to function, the remote start fob now fails to work as well. Attempting to start the car with the remote fob causes the doors to lock, the lights to blink, and instead of starting, a "car and padlock" icon is displayed on the dash. Attempting to lift the door handle results in the irritating "beep beep beep" shopping mall car alarm.

So what happened? Something GM calls "Passlock." Like it or not, Saturn vehicles such as the 2007 Saturn Vue, come with an anti-theft system which really doubles as a money-maker for GM dealership service departments. When the battery is drained, apparently, the Passlock system starts out in what I'll call "agressive" mode. The remote start system needs the Passlock set to the least agressive of three possible systems. So how to set it?

Here is how to set the Passlock system to its least agressive of three possible settings, basically disabling it: Get the original factory remote unlock key fob, the one with a red "Panic" button it. Get in the car and turn the ignition key to the "Run" position. Within five seconds, press the "Panic" button on the original key fob four times. Within three seconds after that, press the "Unlock" button once. The car will chime. After that, all should be well.

This informtion about how to reset the Passlock system is in the original Saturn Vue owner's manual, if you happen to have it. I think it's page 104 or so.

So anyhow, after getting the Passlock system tamed, I was able to start the car using my aftermarket remote start. The "phone start", well, that still fails to do anything useful at all, so I guess that'll be another article for another day.

PowerShell command to create Active Directory domain

In my last entry, I used a PowerShell command to remove the "corp.adatum.com" domain from my test domain controller DC1; basically torching the AD environment and returning DC1 to being a lowly workgroup server.

Oh yeah, this all is being done on a virtualized test lab environment, where the server DC1 is a Windows Server 2012 R2 server. I'm going through Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 R2, if you are interested.

So now, I want to create a domain "contoso.com" using PowerShell. I log onto my lowly workgroup server DC1, and fire up a PowerShell session as administrator.

And here is the one-liner to turn my server into a domain controller for the domain contoso.com:

Install-ADDSForest -DomainName contoso.com -InstallDNS

I then supply the local administrator password, and away it goes. After a couple minute's PowerShell work, I get hit with a restart prompt. And once the server restarts, ka-pow, there it is, as the domain controller for the mighty contoso.com domain. I don't know what this Contoso corporation does, but they seem like a nice place to work for.

PowerShell command to remove Active Directory domain

If you're working on an MCSE or working on the labs for course 70-410 "Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 R2", you might come across something about a PowerShell command to uninstall an Active Directory domain. True, there is such a command, but getting it to actuall work is another thing. Fwiw, I'm looking at page 196, Chapter 4, in the official Microsoft training guide.

I've got a virtual lab environment, and the VMs are all checkpointed after a clean install, so I always could go back to the checkpoint, but I really want to see the Uninstall-ADDSDomainController command do its thing.

In my scenario, I've got a single domain controller "DC1" which is the domain controller for the domain "corp.adatum.com". I logged onto DC1 as Administrator, and fired up a PowerShell session as Administrator. After quite a few whacks at the command, I found a sequence which actually worked for me. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Uninstall-ADDSDomainController -Force -IgnoreLastDCInDomainMismatch -IgnoreLastDNSServerForZone -LastDomainControllerInDomain -RemoveApplicationPartitions

After that, I got prompted for the local admin password, and then eventually, the command took off and started doing its thing. It took about 5 minutes in my tiny test lab environment to complete, with that complete being an alert that a reboot was necessary. I allowed the reboot to occur, and after the server came back around, it was now an apparent non-domain-controller. I logged on as Administrator, and the Server Manager fired up, showing a nag flag. The nag flag says "Post-deployment Configruation - Configuration required for Active Directory Domain Services at DC1".

As for the server itself, a look at Computer > Properties shows a Full Computer Name of "DC1.corp.adatum.com" and it is a member of the workgroup "WORKGROUP".

So that did the job. Now to throw a couple of one-liners at it to turn it into a Domain Controller for contoso.com...

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