Archive for the ‘marketplace’ Category

Haiku Duet: Whitefishy, 2

October 26, 2017

“Tiny company – linked to major Trump donor – latches a nipple”

“Whitefish Energy – stinks of fraud and they’re rubbing – our faces in it”

Haiku, Even Dogs Take Xanax

June 12, 2017

“If you’re alive and – you’re not anxious or depressed – there is something wrong”

generate local; grow local; avoid volde-mart

June 9, 2008



Getting Connected
Why sharing electrons, local produce and Radiohead makes for better communities.

By Bill McKibben

Farmers' market

The average visitor to a farmers’ market has 10 times more conversations per visit than the average visitor to a supermarket. That’s important, because a community in which people interact is more likely to offer a better quality of life. Photo courtesy of Vasiliki Varvaki/

A few years ago, when we were installing photovoltaic panels all over our roof, the question was whether to go off-grid or to tie in. We chose the latter, connecting with our nifty SMA Sunny Boy inverter, but not really for technical or economic reasons. We chose it because we like connections — we like networks, we like community, even when it’s a community of electrons. I enjoy looking over at my neighbor’s house and realizing that, at least metaphorically, he is cooling his beer before the Red Sox game with the sunlight that is falling on my shingles. And I think one of the most important arguments to be made for renewable energy is precisely that it can help build community.

No one has ever accused the traditional electric grid of being much good for community. It’s built on a few vast and centralized power stations, whose product we consume at a distance. In that sense, it’s no different from the calorie grid, in which each
bite of food has traveled 1,500 miles on average to reach our lips. Our only interaction with that electric grid is to pay our bills —our role is entirely as consumers. (In some states, you can also attend hearings about electric rates, but this is more punishment than I can imagine taking on.) Can you say “passive”?

But let’s imagine a grid that begins to build out with more and more small nodes along the way: solar rooftops all over the place, backyard- and cul-de-sac-scale windmills. To get there quickly, we need changes in the law — some kind of national feed-in policy, like the ones pioneered in Germany and recently adopted in California, perhaps. But we also need a subtle change in how we view ourselves. We need to become energy providers — tinyscale utilities. Or at least we need to know the utility next door,
our neighbor with the panels. Once we do, much will change.

Start Connecting
Read on:
The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis, Greg Pahl (Chelsea Green Publishing: 2007)
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Economies and the Durable Future, Bill McKibben (Holt Paperbacks: 2008)
Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age, Michael H. Shuman (Routledge: 2000)
Hometown Advantage: How to Defend Your Main Street Against Chain Stores and Why it Matters, Stacy Mitchell (Institute for
Local Self-Reliance: 2000)
Superbia: 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoods, Daniel D. Chiras and David Wann (New Society Publishers: 2003)

Linking Up Over Veggie Stalls
We can see this happening already in the food sector, where local farmers’ markets are the fastest growing part of the food economy — their numbers doubling every few years and sales growing 12 or 15 percent. This is good news environmentally — it makes a lot more sense to buy food from your neighbors than it does to ship it across the continent, which in effect requires marinating your dinner in crude oil. But it also makes good sense in other ways. Consider this fact: The average visitor to a farmers’ market has 10 times more conversations per visit than the average visitor to a supermarket. Ten times! It’s not a different way of acquiring calories, it’s an entirely different social experience, one that’s comparable to the way humans have shopped for food since the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago. No wonder we like it.

And out of those conversations can grow real possibilities for our future. Ask yourself what kind of community is likely to do the work necessary to build a decent mass transit system: one where people are talking, or one where the usual vested interests
(Detroit, highway builders, property developers) still rule?

Here’s one way of saying it. The abundance of cheap fossil fuel that has governed our lives for many decades has had many effects. It’s made us prosperous; it threatens to destroy the climate that sustains us. And it’s made us the first people on earth who have no practical need of our neighbors. Think about your street. If some plague wiped out the people on your block tonight, you might feel sad (and alarmed!), but your daily routine wouldn’t be interrupted much —your food, your energy, your clothes all come from a distance.

This independence sounds great (except for that pesky global warming stuff), but in fact it has carried high costs. One is that Americans are not all that happy anymore — the number of us who say we’re very happy with our lives peaked in 1956 and has gone downhillever since. Which is odd, because in that time our material standard of living has almost trebled. The economy is not working the way it’s supposed to: More stuff no longer yields more satisfaction.

And the reason for that is fascinating. The data are pretty clear that Americans feel a strong sense of disconnection from their communities, which drives that discontent. If you think about it, it’s not so strange: Since the 1950s, we’ve invested most of our economic might in building suburbs. The American dream was a larger house farther apart from your neighbors. That carried significant environmental costs, of course, but it also came with a social price: We ran into each other less and less. The average American eats meals with friends and family half as often as in the 1950s. We have half as many close friends on average. That’s a pretty big change in a pretty short time. We’ve become, if you want a word for it, hyperindividuals. We’ve become too independent.

Staking a Claim in the Local Economy
It doesn’t do much good to preach about community. All we can do is try to create the local economic institutions that draw us back together. Things like farmers’ markets. Or like shared electric grids.

Click on:, a global climate change movement
• Creating Deep Economies,
• Post Carbon Institute,

Our communities aren’t going to become entirely self-sufficient, of course. Much of our wheat — call it our baseload calories— may come from the Midwest for a good long time. Many of our electrons will come from central sources — hopefully the very big wind farms, solar thermal plants in the desert and so on— until we figure out ways to lick the intermittency and variability problems that come with small-scale renewables. But we can move a long way down the road, and we can do it community by community. (And along the way, of course, we can help our neighbors in other ways, like employing them to climb up on our roofs and put in the panels, or open up our walls and stuff them with insulation. One of the pleasures of solar power is you can’t send your house to China to have it installed). You think about power differently when you’re a utility provider, I think — you may use it more carefully, and you may pay more attention to what’s going on with energy in your town. You have a stake.

Here’s one more example, which at first glance seems entirely dissimilar, but which I think is both alike and hopeful. Think about music. It too has come from a distance in recent years — it was made in Nashville, Tenn., or Los Angeles, stuck in a hard to-open plastic box and shipped to us around the country. But that model is starting to fail under the new technological possibility of peer-to-peer networks, not so different from putting solar panels on your roof. People are sharing music; bands are offering it up directly.

And as a result, something interesting is happening. All of a sudden, the fastest growing parts of the music economy are live performances and festivals — people understanding that part of the pleasure they’re looking for in music is the connection with other people. I think it’s a better model than Sony and its compact discs, just like I think rooftop solar is a better model than Peabody coal and its mines. But only if it’s connected.

About the author: Bill McKibben is the author of many books about the environment, most recently an essay collection called, The Bill McKibben Reader. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

To read this article in print, order the May/June issue: Or subscribe today, and don’t miss another issue. To subscribe, click here.

If the Gary Post-Tribune gets it, why don’t the IU Trustees and IU President Michael McRobbie get it? Herman B. Wells (IU President from 1938 to 1962) would not have hesitated to fire a couple of sleazebags like Athletic Director Rick Greenspan and Men’s Basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson.

February 18, 2008
Dan Dakich would restore IU’s credibility

Gary Post-Tribune, February 16, 2008

Until Kelvin Sampson came along, Indiana and Penn State were the only Big Ten programs who remained on squeaky-clean terms with the NCAA over the last four decades.

Give Penn State an asterisk because the Nittany Lions didn’t compete until the 1992-93 season and have been dealing with recent football thuggery.

Thanks to Sampson’s multiple indiscretions with a cell phone, he’s $500,000 poorer and teetering on the edge of unemployment and IU’s reputation is tarnished.

Why should Hoosier partisans be surprised? In Oklahoma, the former president of the National Basketball Coaches Association was charged with the same violations before IU athletic director Rick Greenspan hired him on March 29, 2006.

At the time I expressed reservations, suggesting IU would be better served by Mark Turgeon or Marquette’s Tom Crean, both with impeccable credentials.

Turgeon rescued floundering Wichita State with 128 victories in seven years, including a 2006 trip to the Sweet 16, then bolted to Texas A&M, and is now 20-4 in his first year.

Crean is 182-92 at Marquette, his resume enhanced by a 27-6 record and a Final Four cameo in 2003. He is just three shy of his fifth 20-victory season in the last seven years.

Now, after years under an honest tyrant with integrity, Indiana is stuck with an accused cheater. Don’t even think about replacing Sampson with Bob Knight, who shed too much blood before cowboying to Texas, or pretty-boy Steve Alford, who failed at Iowa.

NCAA timing couldn’t have been worse, Sampson being forced to address its accusations just before Wednesday’s loss to Wisconsin.

Suddenly faltering in the Big Ten race, the Hoosiers must carry Sampson’s baggage when they should be focusing on critical visits from Michigan State (today) and Purdue (Tuesday).

Student-athletes are under enough stress without such added pressure. It will only get worse unless IU’s administration acts now. At the very least, Sampson should be suspended for the rest of the year.

If Greenspan, also on shaky ground, acts promptly, Dan Dakich would be a logical choice as interim coach with an option of making it permanent.

Think about it. Dakich is wrapped in IU roots, having spent 16 years there since graduating from Andrean in 1981.

After twice serving as Knight’s team captain, he joined the General’s staff, contributing to a national title in 1987 and four Big Ten championships before a memorable fallout.

Dakich returned to IU as Director of Operations for the 2007-08 season after coaching Bowling Green to 156 victories, one of only three coaches to win 18-plus games four times in school history.

Untainted by Sampson’s scandalous behavior, Dakich was activated to coaching after Rob Senderoff was fired.

Because the Merrillville native bleeds Cream and Crimson he would provide instant stability. Promoting Dakich would short-circuit a dangerous downward spin.

Such wavering recruits as New Yorker Devin Banks, a standout 6-8 forward, and highly regarded juniors Stephan Van Treese of Lawrence North and Derek Elston of Tipton must be reassured.

Contact John Mutka at

To paraphrase Adam Protextor, auteur of the Resist Evil trilogy, “Resist Gannett”

February 18, 2008
NY Times February 18, 2008
College Paper Vows to Fight a Takeover by Gannett
J. David McSwane, the student editor of The Rocky Mountain Collegian, was looking forward to a quiet spring semester at the Colorado State University after drawing global attention last fall for a four-word editorial criticizing President Bush.What he got instead was another storm.On the first day of classes in January, Mr. McSwane learned that the university president was meeting with representatives from the local daily, The Fort Collins Coloradoan, which is owned by Gannett, to discuss a potential “partnership” with the student newspaper.

The Collegian, now worried about its future as an independent student newspaper, is planning to fight any possible takeover by a media company. And Gannett and The Coloradoan have become targets for harsh criticism from college newsrooms and journalism departments across the country, who portray Gannett as a “dark lord” that wants to rein in student press freedom.

“If The Coloradoan were to take over The Collegian, only Gannett would win,” The Daily Nebraskan, the campus newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in an editorial.

Gannett dismissed any suggestion that it planned to conquer student journalism.

“There is no grand Gannett strategy,” said Tara Connell, a spokeswoman at its headquarters in McLean, Va. “Gannett is not looking to buy college newspapers. We look at all sorts of things.”

Gannett owns two student newspapers in Florida, however — The Tallahassee Democrat owns The FSView & Florida Flambeau at Florida State and Florida Today owns The Central Florida Future at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Both are for-profit newspapers, although the vast majority of student newspapers, including The Collegian, are nonprofit.

Media companies find college newspapers attractive properties for several reasons: operating costs are low because student labor is inexpensive, sometimes even free. Advertising is on the rise. And perhaps most important, the newspapers are read — frequently — by a young audience with relatively deep pockets.

In 2006, MTV acquired Y2M: Youth Media and Marketing Networks, whose subsidiary, College Publisher, is host of Web sites for 450 campus newspapers.

“College communities are fairly healthy economic engines. There’s a constant influx of students coming in with cash,” said Kevin Schwartz, the general manager of The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “The underpinnings of a healthy market are found in a state university town.”

According to Alloy Media and Marketing, which places advertisements in college publications, advertisers spent $30 million on ads in college papers in 2006. Alloy also estimated that advertising in college newspapers increased 15 percent in 2007, from 2006.

And as John Morton, a newspaper industry analyst in Silver Spring, Md., noted, college newspapers have a captive audience. A 2006 survey conducted by College Publisher found that 44 percent of undergraduate students read their campus newspaper twice or more a week — compared with 28 percent who read the local newspaper that often — and 77 percent read it at least once a month.

College print publications are still beating their online counterparts as well — only 24 percent of respondents said they read the college paper online twice or more a week. (Of national publications, USA Today, Gannett’s flagship publication, has the second-highest readership on campuses, behind The New York Times, the survey noted.)

College newsrooms are also relatively immune to the market pressures of the industry. “Our primary focus isn’t bringing money to stockholders, it’s providing opportunities for students,” said Mr. McSwane, The Collegian editor, who is a junior from Arvada, Colo. “We don’t ever have to worry that someone’s going to come down and say, ‘Hey, we have to cut our newsroom budget because someone in Kansas isn’t making enough money.’ “

That independence from the bottom line is what keeps student journalism fresh and irreverent, or so holds the common wisdom in college newsrooms, and journalism professors tend to agree. “If there is free press, it’s probably on the college campuses,” said Donna Rouner, a journalism professor at Colorado State who wrote an op-ed for The Collegian criticizing any deal.

No proposal has yet been submitted, but an advisory committee composed of students, including a representative from The Collegian, and Colorado State faculty members held its first meeting Thursday to decide whether a deal with Gannett or any other media company was worth pursuing.

Blanche Hughes, the vice president for student affairs, who sits on the committee, said its goal was to gauge how the proposal would work for students as well as the university. She said the committee would look for job and education opportunities for students and assurances from any company that made a bid for The Collegian that the quality of the newspaper would be maintained.

Mr. Morton said he doubted that Gannett’s ownership would change a student newspaper. “I’m sure Gannett has absolutely no interest in having anything to do with the editorial product,” he said.

But buying student newspapers, Mr. Morton said, made financial sense. “It’s a way of enlarging your footprint,” he said.

Mr. Schwartz, the general manager of The Daily Tar Heel, said he thought Gannett was going after young readers. But he said campus newspapers, with their easy availability and focus on community-based journalism, helped to instill the newspaper habit in students.

“Let us make them newspaper readers for you,” he said.

Facebook is like quicksand; just try to delete yourself

February 12, 2008
NY Times February 11, 2008
How Sticky is Membership on Facebook? Just Try Breaking Free
Are you a member of You may have a lifetime contract.Some users have discovered that it is nearly impossible to remove themselves entirely from Facebook, setting off a fresh round of concern over the popular social network’s use of personal data.While the Web site offers users the option to deactivate their accounts, Facebook servers keep copies of the information in those accounts indefinitely. Indeed, many users who have contacted Facebook to request that their accounts be deleted have not succeeded in erasing their records from the network.“It’s like the Hotel California,” said Nipon Das, 34, a director at a biotechnology consulting firm in Manhattan, who tried unsuccessfully to delete his account this fall. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”It took Mr. Das about two months and several e-mail exchanges with Facebook’s customer service representatives to erase most of his information from the site, which finally occurred after he sent an e-mail threatening legal action. But even after that, a reporter was able to find Mr. Das’s empty profile on Facebook and successfully sent him an e-mail message through the network.

In response to difficulties faced by ex-Facebook members, a cottage industry of unofficial help pages devoted to escaping Facebook has sprung up online — both outside and inside the network.

“I thought it was kind of strange that they save your information without telling you in a really clear way,” said Magnus Wallin, a 26-year-old patent examiner in Stockholm who founded a Facebook group, “How to permanently delete your facebook account.” The group has almost 4,300 members and is steadily growing.

The technological hurdles set by Facebook have a business rationale: they allow ex-Facebookers who choose to return the ability to resurrect their accounts effortlessly. According to an e-mail message from Amy Sezak, a spokeswoman for Facebook, “Deactivated accounts mean that a user can reactivate at any time and their information will be available again just as they left it.”

But it also means that disenchanted users cannot disappear from the site without leaving footprints. Facebook’s terms of use state that “you may remove your user content from the site at any time,” but also that “you acknowledge that the company may retain archived copies of your user content.”

Its privacy policy says that after someone deactivates an account, “removed information may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time.”

Facebook’s Web site does not inform departing users that they must delete information from their account in order to close it fully — meaning that they may unwittingly leave anything from e-mail addresses to credit card numbers sitting on Facebook servers.

Only people who contact Facebook’s customer service department are informed that they must painstakingly delete, line by line, all of the profile information, “wall” messages and group memberships they may have created within Facebook.

“Users can also have their account completely removed by deleting all of the data associated with their account and then deactivating it,” Ms. Sezak said in her message. “Users can then write to Facebook to request their account be deleted and their e-mail will be completely erased from the database.”

But even users who try to delete every piece of information they have ever written, sent or received via the network have found their efforts to permanently leave stymied. Other social networking sites like MySpace and Friendster, as well as online dating sites like, may require departing users to confirm their wishes several times — but in the end they offer a delete option.

“Most sites, even online dating sites, will give you an option to wipe your slate clean,” Mr. Das said.

Mr. Das, who joined Facebook on a whim after receiving invitations from friends, tried to leave after realizing that most of his co-workers were also on the site. “I work in a small office,” he said. “The last thing I want is people going on there and checking out my private life.”

“I did not want to be on it after junior associates at work whom I have to manage saw my stuff,” he added.

Facebook’s quiet archiving of information from deactivated accounts has increased concerns about the network’s potential abuse of private data, especially in the wake of its fumbled Beacon advertising feature.

That application, which tracks and publishes the items bought by Facebook members on outside Web sites, was introduced in November without a transparent, one-step opt-out feature. After a public backlash, including more than 50,000 Facebook users’ signatures on a protest petition, Facebook executives apologized and allowed such an opt-out option on the program.

Tensions remain between making a profit and alienating Facebook’s users, who the company says total about 64 million worldwide (MySpace has an estimated 110 million monthly active users).

The network is still trying to find a way to monetize its popularity, mostly by allowing marketers access to its wealth of demographic and behavioral information. The retention of old accounts on Facebook’s servers seems like another effort to hold onto — and provide its ad partners with — as much demographic information as possible.

“The thing they offer advertisers is that they can connect to groups of people. I can see why they wouldn’t want to throw away anyone’s information, but there’s a conflict with privacy,” said Alan Burlison, 46, a British software engineer who succeeded in deleting his account only after he complained in the British press, to the country’s Information Commissioner’s Office and to the TRUSTe organization, an online privacy network that has certified Facebook.

Mr. Burlison’s complaint spurred the Information Commissioner’s Office, a privacy watchdog organization, to investigate Facebook’s data-protection practices, the BBC reported last month. In response, Facebook issued a statement saying that its policy was in “full compliance with U.K. data protection law.”

A spokeswoman for TRUSTe, which is based in San Francisco, said its account deletion process was “inconvenient,” but that Facebook was “being responsive to us and they currently meet our requirements.”

“I kept getting the same answer and really felt that I was being given the runaround,” Mr. Burlison said of Facebook’s customer service representatives. “It was quite obvious that no amount of prodding from me on a personal level was going to make a difference.”

Only after he sent a link to the video of his interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News to the customer service representatives — and Facebook executives — was his account finally deleted.

Steven Mansour, 28, a Canadian online community developer, spent two weeks in July trying to fully delete his account from Facebook. He later wrote a blog entry — including e-mail messages, diagrams and many exclamations of frustration — in a post entitled “2504 Steps to closing your Facebook account” (

Mr. Mansour, who said he is “really skeptical of social networking sites,” decided to leave after a few months on Facebook. “I was getting tired of always getting alerts and e-mails,” he said. “I found it very invasive.”

“It’s part of a much bigger picture of social networking sites on the Internet harvesting private data, whether for marketing or for more sinister purposes,” he said. His post, which wound up on the link-aggregator, has been viewed more than 87,000 times, Mr. Mansour said, adding that the traffic was so high it crashed his server.

And his post became the touchstone for Mr. Wallin, who was inspired to create his group, “How to permanently delete your Facebook account,” after joining, leaving and then rejoining Facebook, only to find that all of his information from his first account was still available.

“I wanted the information to be available inside Facebook for all the users who wanted to leave, and quite a few people have found it just by using internal search,” said Mr. Wallin. Facebook has never contacted Mr. Wallin about the group.

Mr. Wallin said he has heard through members that some people have successfully used his steps to leave Facebook. But he is not yet ready to leave himself.

“I don’t want to leave yet; I actually find it really convenient,” he said. “But someday when I want to leave, I want it to be simple.”

Car repairs: all about the dreaded TSB (Technical Service Bulletin)

January 25, 2008

You, Your Vehicle and the Technical Service Bulletin (TSB)
By Erin Riches, Senior Content Editor , Edmunds.comAfter charging over to the dealership with your sick car – perhaps more than once – only to be told that technicians were unable to duplicate the problem, you find yourself heartened by the discovery of’s Maintenance Guide, which allows you to access technical service bulletins – or TSBs – regarding your vehicle. You enter the year, make and model of your car and the component in question, and anxiously await the search results.But your irritation returns when you see that your search has yielded only titles, numbers and a barely intelligible description of the problem. How can you be certain that you’ve matched a TSB correctly to your vehicle’s symptoms? And how will this confusing bit of information ever be good enough to convince your service advisor to make a repair?

“… Does anybody here have access to the actual write-ups on these TSBs? I would like to be able to go to the dealership with the TSB write-ups in hand so they can see exactly what the problem is and fix it. (no more of the ‘we can’t create it, so you must be imagining it’ crap).” – frank12, “Technical Service Bulletins” (Maintenance & Repair Conference, Town Hall), #93 of 200, Feb. 4, 2000

Though an apparent nugget of good hope for consumers, a technical service bulletin is actually an advisory issued by a manufacturer for use by dealership service departments. “Most TSBs are released during the first year that a vehicle is offered or the year following a redesign,” our road test editor, Neil Chirico (a former service advisor for Ford, Lincoln-Mercury and Volvo), observed – in order to address areas that might have been overlooked when designing the car.

These bulletins differ from recalls in that they are not considered safety or emissions issues and they usually apply only when your vehicle is in its warranty period (whereas a recall is “open” until the work has been performed). TSBs frequently (but not always) address a recurring problem and include illustrated instructions for repair, a list of the parts needed, the warranty status and the labor charge.

If a problem addressed in a TSB is particularly widespread, the manufacturer may decide to send out “Owner Notification” letters – in this case, the manufacturer has a good idea of which vehicles (by VIN) will experience the problem. For example, our staff received such a letter in regard to our long-term Honda Insight. The letter listed two potential problems: (1) difficulty starting the Insight in very cold weather (0° F) due to a faulty engine control module; and (2) AM radio static due to an improperly grounded rear wiper motor. We were instructed to make an appointment at a Honda dealership and to allow half a day for the free repairs. Owner notifications have mileage and time restrictions – these may extend beyond the warranty period.

Service bulletin content varies in severity – you’ll find TSBs that cover hard-to-start engines and clunking transmissions alongside those that offer remedies for inoperable cigarette lighters and slight paint imperfections. And some TSBs merely outline updated service procedures and troubleshooting strategies, or offer hints for installing something as simple as a front license plate holder.

And, of course, the best thing about finding a TSB that seems to cover a persistent problem in your vehicle is that dealerships will make the repair for free, provided that

  • Your vehicle is under warranty;
  • Your service advisor and/or technicians are able to confirm that the problem exists.

The second mandate is not to be taken lightly, Chirico warned. Even if your vehicle is within the warranty period, “the dealership is not going to do anything about it, if [technicians] cannot verify the concern…. The manufacturer pays for the repair, not the dealership, and the dealership has to treat the manufacturer like a customer…. The service writer can’t write up an invoice with just the TSB number and expect the manufacturer to pay for the procedure. The manufacturer wants to know that the car is legitimately broken.”

Rather than going into the dealer with the TSB number in hand, it is more effective, according to Chirico, to come to the dealer with a complete description of your vehicle’s particular problem – what are the exact symptoms, and when and where did/do they occur. He offered this example: Suppose you have a cold-running concern with your vehicle. Don’t drive the vehicle into the dealer before work in the morning and expect technicians to be able to duplicate the problem – the vehicle will be warm. Instead, bring the vehicle into the dealer the evening before and let it sit overnight. In short, someone in the service department has to be able to duplicate the problem, and the TSB number and a brief description of the problem won’t always do it. “You don’t want to go in there sounding bull-headed – you won’t get good service,” Chirico said.

If the technicians and your service writer seem to be having trouble resolving a problem with your vehicle and you’ve already given them the most complete description possible, our road test editor continued, then you might say politely, “Someone suggested that this TSB might cover it.” “Did anyone try this TSB?” A customer who makes an effort to sound intelligent (that is, provides a full description of the problem and demonstrates a history of regularly maintaining the vehicle) and to treat service writers (and technicians) with respect is more likely to find resolution for her vehicle’s problems.

A further option, he said, is to arrange a meeting with the service manager and then, calmly discuss the matter (bring applicable service receipts). Usually, service managers will respond favorably to customers who ask, “Could you help me out?”, rather than ranting. The service manager and writers always have a manufacturer’s representative (a field technician) whom they can contact. You might want to suggest that they try this, if they haven’t already.

Forging civil ties with a service department over several years may have its benefits when something goes wrong with your car after it is out of warranty. If you know that a particular problem is covered by a TSB and have a reputation of spending money with the dealership, the service writer might be willing to write off all or part of the repair cost.

“A word of advice on TSBs. I got on the dealer’s good side early by having every single oil change, tune-up, etc., done by them for the first 2 years I owned the car. When I needed to have the top on my convertible replaced (’93 Mercury Capri) after 3 ½ years, I came with a stack of receipts from cash work they’d done, and the service manager okayed the free replacement. Very rare, but building a relationship cinched the deal, I think. Now they have a loyal customer for life, despite higher prices for certain services.” – mjm37, “Technical Service Bulletins” (Finance, Warranty & Insurance Conference, Town Hall), #14 of 27, Aug. 12, 1998

” … I have a ’94 Honda Accord, which began to have a buzzing problem at a certain rpm. I checked the TSBs and found that the exact problem was listed, along with the corrections necessary. My dealer did the work for me for free. Oh, the car has 72,000 miles on it.” – Ed209, “Technical Service Bulletins” (Finance, Warranty & Insurance Conference, Town Hall), #3 of 27, April 30, 1998

If you want the complete TSB

But not everyone fits the model of the faithful customer and not every dealership service advisor is happy to discuss your concerns about your vehicle with you. Maybe, in spite of your best efforts, the service department claims they have been unable to find a problem. Perhaps, your vehicle has long since passed its warranty period, and you use an independent mechanic to save money. Or perhaps, you do all the work on your vehicle.

In these situations, owners might find it helpful to see the full text of the technical service bulletins that cover particular vehicle problems. You see, the search engine associated with the Maintenance Guide provides only titles, numbers and summaries, but dealership service departments have access to each TSB in its entirety, as it is sent to them by the manufacturer(s).

It is possible to get the full text of a TSB but you have to pay for this information. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Web site has a search authorization form, on which you enter the information you gathered from the TSB summaries (as exactly as you can). A NHTSA employee makes copies from their microfiche collection of bulletins and mails them to you. The ALLDATA site offers a more attractive option for those who want continuing access to technical service bulletins – $24.95 buys you one year of access for a single vehicle to the ALLDATA DIYtm database, which in addition to the full text of model-specific TSBs, contains diagnosis and repair procedures with diagrams, maintenance schedules, etc. The ALLDATA service can be renewed yearly for $14.95.

We uncovered another alternative for those seeking TSB bulletins. Three mechanics started Bat Auto Technical in July 2000 – the objective of their site is to “get mechanics and people together,” and thus “combine those who need information and those who have information to give,” site founder Tony Murray said. The Bat Auto site offers several forums, some for vehicle owners and others just for mechanics.

Best of all, if you fill in the site’s online request form with the details of a TSB summary, Murray will gladly send you the full text of the TSB at no charge. Donations are optional. While Bat Auto doesn’t claim to have complete bulletin holdings for every manufacturer, their resources are rather expansive, Murray said, given that 14 mechanics (some independent, some fleet) contribute to the site.

Murray has worked as a field mechanic for the Oregon Department of Transportation since 1980, so the Bat Auto site is a side project, as it is for the other mechanics. Why then, go to the trouble of providing owners with this kind of information?

“The biggest reason is that this information wasn’t available,” he said. “A lot of us are fleet mechanics, and it doesn’t matter to us if someone makes money off a repair or not.”

While people who take their cars to dealerships for service may be able to get by with the information available at the NHTSA, this often does not suffice for the large group of people who use independent shops. “Independent mechanics may not have access to all of this information [the full text of every TSB issued by a manufacturer], if they don’t pay for continual updates,” Murray said.

If you have tried to have a problem repaired numerous times, he continued, you might take the TSB to your mechanic and say, “‘Here’s a service bulletin, read it and explain to me where I should go from here.’ If [consumers] find the TSB, instead of the mechanic spending numerous hours, they will help the mechanic go directly to the problem.”

Further, as many Town Hall participants have noted, many dealerships are guarded with the contents of service bulletins. Murray offered this example: “GM has a special policy for vehicles with the 6.5-liter turbodiesel engine (1994-98). They have a special warranty for the injection pumps (11 years/120,000 miles). But [service advisors] might not tell customers.

“… [They] don’t make any money off of [TSB repairs]. They are reimbursed for only a percentage [of the actual cost] by the manufacturer…. It’s like an HMO…. If a person walks in there and doesn’t know about [a service bulletin], they would just as soon not tell the customer. They’re not making any money, so they would just as soon nobody knows.”

Finally, TSBs often include part numbers, which makes it easy for people to make their own repairs and thus, save money, Murray said. After obtaining the full TSB, owners can visit one of the forums to get advice from one of the mechanics about how to proceed with the repair.

Bat Auto is slowly expanding a trouble code diagnosis section – they currently have information for 15 manufacturers. “We try to take a person step-by-step through trouble code diagnosis,” Murray said, “When the ‘check engine’ light comes on [in a vehicle], the computer stores the trouble code(s). We tried to make it the easiest we could to pull the codes and go down our list to find the description.”

While such a procedure may seem unnecessarily arduous to the owner planning to let someone else repair the vehicle, Murray maintains that retrieving the trouble codes strengthens one’s position with the mechanic or service advisor.

“This information helps [owners] learn about their vehicles…. they will know what the problem is before going to the mechanic. This [knowledge] gives them ammunition. They can say to the mechanic: ‘Here is what my car is doing, and here are the codes.’ … The dealership is not out to protect [unknowledgeable] consumers, it is out to make money. If you have information, you can cover your butt. I see a lot of people go in there without any information other than ‘the “check engine” light is on, and it is running crummy.'” Such a customer, he said, is usually surprised to be handed a $1,500 bill – since she hadn’t imagined that much could be wrong with her car.

And for those who don’t have funds for the repair, much less, money to spend at the dealership, Murray advised: “… So do it yourself. If you’re inclined, we can walk you through it.”

Of course, owners may find other ways of obtaining technical service bulletins and other repair information – we’re sure that we haven’t assembled an exhaustive list of Web sites. One thing to keep in mind, particularly if you’re the owner of a rare vehicle, is that you may be able to find enthusiast sites that attempt to provide all relevant TSBs.

A little help from a manufacturer

If you happen to own a Hyundai, you have one further option when you need repair information – you can visit the service Web site run by the manufacturer. The site is accessible to the public (no login required), and all information is free.

The Hyundai site focuses on shop manuals with troubleshooting guides and diagnostic procedures. From the homepage, users select “Service Information” and then, “Web Tech, ” which is the database for consumers (“Web Tech Pro” is for dealership service technicians and requires a login name and password). You cannot search for specific TSBs, but you can search by the year, model and the area of concern (steering, suspension, etc.) – and yes, the Web site has shop manuals for every Hyundai ever sold in the U.S. For instance, we ran a shop manual search for a 2000 Hyundai Elantra. We selected the “Steering System” section, and then, “General,” and then, selected the “Troubleshooting” heading. We were rewarded with a clean, easy-to-read table with a list of problems, probable causes and remedies. It does take a bit of work to find the information you’re seeking, but we think owners will find this site useful.

Hyundai has targeted this Web site toward all of its owners, whether they visit the service department, use an independent mechanic or do the work themselves. “We [expanded] our definition of a Hyundai customer to include anyone who has an interest in driving or servicing a Hyundai product,” Pete Egus, manager of service technology, Hyundai Motor America, said. “We wanted to assist [our customers] in diagnosing and repairing Hyundai products, whether they’re doing it themselves or [taking it to the dealership]. We wanted to knock down some the obstacles and hurdles of being a smaller franchise.”

Although the availability of this information would seem to increase the likelihood that owners might attempt to make their own repairs, Egus said that Hyundai hopes the Web site will strengthen owners’ relations with service departments. “Whenever you educate the customer … the intelligent owner will realize how sophisticated and complicated cars have become [and decide] that they need to go to a repair station.”

Hyundai has tried to ensure that its service information will be as current as possible: “The nature of the NHTSA site is such that it takes longer to get the information,” he said. “We do nightly uploads.”

Future improvements for the site include an icon-based rating system for repair complexity (i.e., if a certain repair has five wrenches next to the description, the customer will know immediately that this is among the most complex repairs), and a series of brief video tutorials for do-it-yourselfers (these will explain the parts required for a particular repair and then walk viewers through the process). The site requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Perhaps this guide won’t alleviate the ongoing irritation that comes with a stubbornly unreliable vehicle, but at least you might be able to find the full text of a TSB that will guide you and/or your service advisor to a solution for a persistent problem.

Related article:The Secret Warranty: (AKA) After Warranty Assistance (AWA),” by Neil Chirico

Sacre Bleu – those SocGen bank auditors with guaranteed lifetime jobs were definitely asleep at this meltdown

January 24, 2008 Faces In The News
Portrait Of The Fraudster As A Young Man
Lionel Laurent, 01.24.08, 3:45 PM ET LONDON – Not much is known about the alleged rogue trader at French bank Societe Generale, who has apparently left the firm after building up over $7.2 billion in losses over the past year. But if past precedent is anything to go by, his ego and his wallet were the two main factors pushing him to try and beat the market.

Societe Generale offered scant detail on Thursday as to the identity of the futures trader, who could be responsible for one of history’s biggest banking frauds. The bank’s chairman, Daniel Bouton, told the press that the Paris-based trader was “in his 30,” and Societe Generale confirmed that he earned less than 100,000 euros ($147,164) a year and had been with the company since 2000.

The bank declined to comment on press reports that named the trader as 31-year-old banker Jerome Kerviel.

Another revelation from the press conference was that Jean-Pierre Mustier, head of Societe Generale’s investment banking operations, did not think the trader sought personal gain from the fraud.

But according to Axel Pierron, a Paris-based analyst with Celent, the idea that there was no personal gain involved is hard to believe. He told that the promise of a good bonus, rather than simply stealing gains directly from the bank, is what may have driven the trader to take such massive risks.

“This is someone who would have delivered quite good results in 2006,” said Pierron. The combination of a good performance and a strong ego would have completed the picture, with the trader now convinced that he could beat the market and defy the constraints his own firm placed on his activities.

Societe Generale said the trader was responsible for “plain-vanilla” futures hedging on stock market indexes in Europe, and that he was able to conceal “massive” fraudulent positions thanks to inside knowledge of back-office control procedures. The trader’s move from back-office management to front-desk trading harks back to the infamous Nick Leeson, whose position as both general manager and speculative trader for Barings Bank in Singapore helped him hide losses of over £827 million ($1.6 billion).

“It’s Nick Leeson, the story is exactly the same,” said Celent’s Pierron. “We have a trader who trades futures, or derivatives, who hides his losses by using weaknesses in the risk-management system.” He said that as long as traders had knowledge of back-office operations, the risks of abuse would always be there.

A spokesperson for Societe Generale said that there would be thorough reviews of internal controls, but noted that this particular case of fraud was “very, very sophisticated.”

With financial markets on a downward trajectory in 2007, Pierron believed there was no way back for the rogue trader unless he continued to bet against the slide. “The market tumbled, and evidently the situation only got worse,” he said. “He had to make a bigger bet to cover himself, his losses worsened, and at the end we get to 4.9 billion euros ($7.2 billion).”

A London-based fund manager, who did not wish to be named, said that the positions themselves must have been “enormous”– on the order of 40 billion euros ($58.9 billion)–to lead to losses of that magnitude.

The fraud was reportedly uncovered Monday, and Societe Generale confirmed that since then it had unwound all of the trader’s allegedly fraudulent positions. But the scale of the losses involved has surpassed even Nick Leeson’s misadventures.

This is not the first time a French bank has revealed rogue trading in the midst of a market melt-down. In September, Credit Agricole warned that it would take a 250 million-euro ($368.0 million) hit to its bottom line after unnamed individuals took an “unauthorized” position on credit market indices. (See “Credit Agricole Hit By Rogue Trading Woes”)

Given that market turbulence is often responsible for exposing significant cases of fraud, expect more horror stories to emerge in the near-term. Whether banks are able to do anything about the rogue traders in their midst, however, is another matter entirely.