HOOD RIVER BIZ BUZZ

News today, history tomorrow


GTA honors Blackman as Gorge Tech Leader, 4-Tell as Gorge Organization of the Year

The Gorge Technology Alliance (GTA) has honored Jeff Blackman of Hood River Valley High School as the 2013 GTA Technology Leader of the Year and 4-Tell, Inc. of Stevenson, Wash., as the 2013 GTA Technology Organization of the Year.

The GTA’s first such honors program culminated in a ceremony Dec. 12.

“There are many wonderful companies, nonprofits, schools and individuals working to advance the tech industry and STEM education in the Columbia River Gorge,” says Jessica Metta, executive director of the GTA.

“The GTA Board was excited to launch this award program as a way to recognize and thank these amazing people.”

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Blackman, the robotics and electric car teacher at Hood River Valley High School, was honored “for his inspiration and work in starting a robotics and engineering revolution that has affected schools throughout the Gorge,” according to a media release.

Finalists for the Tech Leader of the Year included Rep. Mark Johnson of Hood River for his work in the Oregon Legislature to support STEM education and the tech industry of the Gorge; Ken Levy, CEO and Co-Founder of 4-Tell, Inc., for his leadership and inspiration at the helm of this fast-growing Gorge company; and Andy Mack, president and owner of Zepher, Inc., for his impressive leadership of the Bingen-based company and involvement with GORGE Junior Sailing Program for Kids.

4-Tell Inc. was honored for its “impressive growth and development, their support of startups in the region, their positive representation of the Gorge’s tech industry outside of the region and their community involvement.”

Another finalist for the organization honor was the Klickitat-Skamania Local Technology Planning Team, a collaboration of Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, Community Enrichment for Klickitat County and Washington State University Extension.

Metta said the collaborative has worked for several years to increase access to and use of broadband in unserved and underserved areas of Klickitat and Skamania Counties.

More information about the winners and finalists is available on the GTA website.

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Riding a downward spiral into the heart of the disconnect

Forgive me, readers, for the recent detour that has left this site somewhat anemic, and prevented me from chasing down details about the latest in business musical chairs.

I have an explanation, and it involves the quest for new cellular phone service.

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But you want to know who and what behind the reversion of the Waucoma Club to the River City Saloon, under new management formerly partnered with running the Trillium? And why the RiverTap is closed (someone said). And something, anything about the imminent Dec. 31 grand opening of the tortilla factory up next to the Pine Street Bakery.

Sorry, I’d love to share details, but I’ve been on the phone, trying to get my phone (the other phone, the cell that has replaced my landline) to work.

You have a much different learning experience when you approach a business as a customer, vs. when you approach as a reporter looking to share their spin on the awesomeness of what they are selling to the public.

This is how I tumbled down the rabbit hole of becoming a migratory cell phone customer, in search of a better deal. It all began with the end of a two-year contract with U.S. Cellular, covering two lines — one for me, one for my wife, and our smart phones, acquired at a discount in exchange for monthly extractions of vital organs.

It ran about $150 a month, and that seemed too much for me, and her, too. Neither of us is a data hog. We phone. We text. We occasionally use the phones to access the web.

It all makes sense. We’ve got desktops and laptops to access the big wide world. Who wants to squint, walking across the street in traffic, at a tiny phone screen, trying to figure out how to extract vital info from some site that isn’t really essential to our existence at that very moment, whereas paying attention to traffic IS essential to a long and healthy life?

We recently found ourselves using the mapping feature on these Android beasts, and loved it. But by and large, we have needs best covered by one of those pre-paid plans. There are a bunch. Boost Mobile. Straight Talk. Aio. $35 to $50 a month? Bring it!

After weeks of research, I learned that there are two kinds of phones — ones that work on GSM networks (AT&T, T-Mobile), and ones that work on CDMA (everybody else, including U.S. Cellular, which had sold us phones locked to its network, and non-transferrable to another. Paperweights, actually. Hence the search for both new phones and a new carrier).

After reading through countless scrolls of fine print, I figured that an Oregon-based reseller of AT&T bandwidth called Consumer Cellular would work best for us. It offers customizable usage and pricing plans that would get us closer to what we actually needed, not what the seller needed us to buy.

So I called. And lo and behold, after four rings, a human answered. In Redmond. And she kindly and gently walked me through the signup process. She was great. I was stunned. Real customer service? By people who seemed to share a common language, or at least a common understanding of my needs? Wow.

Consumer Cellular was to automatically move our phone numbers over seven days later. We could extend the “porting” process if our phones had not arrived by then. Consumer Cellular sent us several clear and helpful follow-up e-mails. And they sent us a package with the SIM cards for our phones.

But the phones? I wanted something other than what they offered. I Googled “unlocked GSM phones” and found a couple much-liked models from Nokia, running Windows 8 for mobile. I ordered them. They arrived a day before the porting was to occur. They came in a box marked with the branding of T-Mobile. Nothing in my online search indicated that these phones were locked to T-Mobile. But as my numbers were being moved to Consumer Cellular from U.S. Cellular, I noted in small print on the phone boxes that they would not work on networks other than T-Mobile’s.

Uh-oh moment.

Apparently, working on GSM didn’t mean they would work on GSM that wasn’t T-Mobile GSM, without an unlock code.

So our phone numbers ended up in the hands of a carrier that we couldn’t connect to because I had purchased locked phones.

You can imagine how fun it was to deliver this news to my wife, that her old phone was dead, and her new one wouldn’t work.

And then mine died, too.

And we had to rely on e-mail and the work phone to resolve the problem.

So, what to do?

Send the phones back, and extend the misery while waiting for phones that would work with Consumer Cellular?

Or cancel that service, and go with T-Mobile (which, BTW, would not give us the unlock codes until we have been customers for at least 40 days)?

Figuring all this out involved several calls and transfers to Consumer Cellular and T-Mobile, complicated by my realization that all the information to activate our new  phones had been inadvertently jumbled together when I opened both boxes to get the phones charged. Nobody tells you there are activation codes and SIM codes and a number that identifies your handset. I guess you’re just supposed to intuit this critical fact.

So, I’m first text-chatting with some T-Mobile rep, explaining that I probably f—d up the activation process by entering the wrong #’s. And then he gives me a number to call, and I explain it to a woman who transfers me to another woman who transfers me to another woman, all down the hall from each other in (probably) Bangalore. And the last one connects to Consumer Cellular, and makes sure the numbers are ported over, and voila, all is good.

Except we then get text messages that we haven’t paid our bill. Not surprising. I had tried to pay the bill,  in activating, but each time I encountered an error message, leading me to believe that my last technological refuge — Internet access — had failed me.

So, 48 hours after going dark, after a long night of catering a Christmas party, we went back online with T-Mobile, put money and minutes in our tank, and hot-damn Juanita — our phones worked.

Enough, anyway, to realize that we had a pile of contacts to manually re-enter, because the techie solution via Bluetooth didn’t work. And we had a learning curve with new phones. Not bad phones, from Nokia, BTW. For $80 each.

And (hallelujah moment) we’ve shed the contract.

And we’re saving $50 a month.

And in 40 days, we can save even more — and talk to people in a common language.

Remember when phones worked after you plugged them into the wall? I miss that.

But for people who never lived with that technology, this is the way it is, and nothing compares. So it goes.

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Advertising watchdog groups ask FTC to review claims by Hood River company

After a civil jury ruled in November that Hood River businessman had generated a pile of assets through mail and wire fraud, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus asked Maxam Nutraceuticals to substantiate claims in its advertising.

According to a media release from the NAD, Maxam (Cole’s company) declined the opportunity to take part in the review.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition had raised concerns about the following claims noted in advertising for the company’s products:

  • “PCA is the only product ever specifically developed to naturally help your body safely and effectively remove all toxins, poisons, chemicals or anything that is not part of a healthy living biological system.”
  • “PCA has been used and proven over the last 15 years to be the most effective toxin remover available.”
  • “Through our SMART Selective Micro-Activated Response Technology, the ingredients remain in their natural form, which keeps the liver from repelling them, allowing them to effectively work with your body.”

As a result of the rebuff, the NAD referred the claims to the Federal Trade Commission for further review. The case has also gotten the interest of the nonprofit Truth In Advertising.

In a separate court filing, the government is seeking a permanent injunction to shut down Cole’s operations. Cole is also awaiting trial on a federal indictment alleging violations of federal tax law.

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Aesthetician Lively to join acupuncturist Clark at new May Street location

The Heights exerts ever greater appeal.

Mary Lively, who has based her aesthetician services out of Flow Yoga/Day Spa on Third Street for the last 10 years, is moving south with co-worker Nikol Clark. Clark has purchased a craftsman-style home at 1029 May Street, which will house Lively’s practice and her own. They’ll open shared doors in January, after renovations are complete.

Lively provides complimentary skin care consultations, treatment facials, chemical peels, organic skin care, microdermabrasion, waxing and make up. Clark will offer acupuncture, custom blended Chinese herbal formulas, and fine teas.

Contact Lively by e-mail or calling 541-490-5796.

 

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Pop in to Naked Winery for Green Drinks, news about its sustainability efforts

Gorge Owned hosts the last Green Drinks of 2013 tonight (Dec. 11, Wednesday), at Naked Winery’s tasting room downtown, corner of Second and Cascade.

The event runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Attendees will learn about Naked Winery’s efforts to reduce waste and carbon emissions. Lots of networking oppies, too. This event is open to the public. GO! requests a $5 donation to cover organizing costs. GO! members get in for free!

Green Drinks coincides with the first Holiday Giving event in downtown Hood River. Downtown stores will be open late and encouraging members of the community to come downtown to fill out wish lists at their favorite downtown stores. Participating stores will choose a local charity and offer incentives to customers who donate.

Go here to get more info about Green Drinks and Gorge Owned.

 

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Santa Claus took detour, but he and parade will make it to Hood River Dec. 13

The cold, snowy and slick weather last week drove a spike through the heart of the previously scheduled Christmas parade in downtown Hood River, but it’s back on the calendar for this coming Friday, Dec. 13.

Dean Pivirotto, membership assistant with the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce, says “this year’s Hood River Holidays Kick-off Celebration/Parade/Tree Lighting … is now going to be this coming Friday night, December 13th, from 5 to 8 p.m.”

For full information, just check out the details online. 

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Hood River County housing sales, pricing continue recovery from 2011 lows

Hood River County real estate sales numbers and pricing continues its recovery, according to Joel Knutson of RE/MAX River City in Hood River.

Citing real estate sales numbers for Hood River County through the end of October, Knutson says data from the Regional Multiple Listing Service shows the median price of a single family home is about back to what it was in 2009.

Average home prices (skewed by sales of higher-priced houses) are hovering between the numbers for 2008 and 2009.

Knutson says sales numbers put the county on pace to equal transaction totals for the year 2007, just before the housing bubble burst.

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Snow, cold prompt Chamber to postpone downtown holiday parade to Friday, Dec. 13

This just in — because of weather and slick road conditions, the annual holiday parade in downtown Hood River has been postponed until Friday, Dec. 13.

The parade, organized by the Hood River Chamber of Commerce and downtown business community, typically wraps up at Overlook Park with the lighting of the community Christmas tree.

Stay tuned for updated information at organizers — and the rest of us — wrestle with the cold, snow and changeable conditions.

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