Tuesday, July 28, 2009

AT & T - Apple iPhone service in Montana not allowed

The email below was sent to Tim Cook, acting CEO of Apple, to let him know about my frustations with the iPhone cell and data service in Montana. Basically AT & T has told me that they do not plan on to service this area of the country.

Bob van der Valk

Mr. Cook:

My original email to Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT &T, received great confusion by their customer service personnel when I asked them a very simple question: "When will AT & T cut off my service?" It took three phone call from Justin Krischenmann in the Office of the President for AT & T to finally get the correct answer. I will be cut off 90 days from the date after receiving my first notice of violation of terms my contract.

I am forwarding you the email sent to Mr. Stephenson to let him know how I feel about his company's service.

Bob van der Valk
508 S. Washington Ave.
Terry, MT 59349
(406) 635-4233
(971) 67-2975

Mr. Stephenson:

I have found out more information about the exclusive AT & T arrangement with Apple by posting my original complaint on your web site at:


I work in petroleum marketing and what your company is doing would be called cherry picking in my business. You will not be able to continue promote your brand in the US as you exceed your capacity and the iPhone cell phone concept will sink as a result.

The iTouch and iTouch Tablet will soon take over the main part of the business as Apple continues to promote their many applications which in turn will require more data usage on your system than you are currently unable to service in areas such as Montana. The mobile cell phone business will go to the company with service in the widest service area. Below is the last reply I have posted on your web site.

I look forward to your response.
Bob van der Valk
508 S. Washington Ave.
P.O. Box 711
Terry, MT 59349
(406) 635-4233
(971) 678-2975 cell

"I just received my second text message and email notice from AT &T that I am in violation of our contract. I had asked Justin K. in the Office of the President for AT & T to quit sending notices once a customer has like me reacted. It just infuriates me as I do not like to be threatened.

I now know the consequences of my actions by not reading the fine print in our contract about moving out of one of their prime service areas. Shame of me for my neglect. This thread of postings is being forwarded to Tim Cook, acting CEO for Apple, for his follow up.

On a lighter note I have my daughter Marissa visiting us here in Terry, Montana this week. She is a techi and has now installed WiFi at the place where I work in town in order for me to continue to use my iPhone as an iTouch. She lives in Los Angeles and has Verizon Wireless as her carrier. Of course, in that area cell phone customers have many carriers from which to choose but she thinks Verizon has the best coverage by far not only in LA but also in the hinterlands of the US. Marissa is a Scientist working for Amgen in their Thousand Oaks office and travels all over the US for conferences and meeting people.

This will be last thread from me on this web site as I have given up on AT & T or should I say they have given up on me. When they eventually do cut me off it will be the last time I will do business with them even if I have to start using smoke signals to send messages to my family and friends.

Goodbye AT &T."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

When Goldman Sachs wins – You lose

Dateline: Terry, Montana
July 19. 2009
By: Bob van der Valk

The taxpayers of the US are the losers with Goldman Sachs (GS) employees the winners in this game called “Last Man Standing”. With most of their competitors being either bought out under duress or allowed to go bankrupt they have been left holding the bag. Even a leprechaun could not have been as lucky as to finding a bag so full of gold.

Nomi Prins, a former managing director for Goldman Sachs in New York, was interviewed by Juan Gonzalez for “Democracy Now!” right after the record profits at GS was announced.

Nomi Prins said that GS paid back the $10 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money in order to avoid the type of media scrutiny AIG received after they announced their employee bonus payouts earlier this year. She went on to explain in the interview:

“The bigger amount of money that has gone to Goldman has come through $12.9 billion from the AIG bailout that went straight to Goldman, its biggest counterpart; $28 billion worth of FDIC-backed guaranteed debt, meaning the FDIC put up a program last fall, and it said, “For banks that deal with consumers”—not banks that deal with multibillion-dollar companies or investors, but people—“we will provide guarantees for debt,” which means that those companies can raise debt to help consumers cheaply. Goldman said, “Alright, fine, we’ll take some of that.” And they took $28 billion worth of that, and they have up to $35 billion that they can take under the FDIC program that was never meant for a company like Goldman Sachs.

In addition, there is a ton of money, there are trillions of dollars at the Fed, not all of that went to Goldman, but that has secretly gone to a number of banks in the system, of which Goldman is one, for which the Fed refuses to disclose any information or any detail, which also goes into this. So when Goldman says—has the nerve to say, feels entitled to say—that it’s going to pay its bankers record bonuses after the travesty that it and other banks have created in the markets, it is on the back of federal subsidies that effectively come from our pockets.”

The result of those record profits is that Goldman Sachs (GS) will be paying out record bonuses to their employees this year on the backs of the US taxpayers. Their public relations department has a bunker mentality and has only opened their gun turrets long enough to shoot down any of the arguments being put up by the pundits who are against them paying out those bonuses.

The stock market investment community is also celebrating this turn of events and points to the record profits at GS as a sign that the economy is recovering. It has at least for the employees of GS but the remainder of the country continues to suffer record unemployment and is still looking for answers that will get us out our economic quack mire.

The actual count in dollars the US government is guaranteeing the banking business keeps going up every day. Right now those guarantees are up to almost 14 trillion dollars. As a form of comparison that amount would pay off every single mortgage in this country, healthcare and subsidizing student loans. Do you know of any individual consumer who has actually been able to walk into a GS bank and borrow money for a business or buy a car?

One way to stop this taxpayer bail out mess is for the Federal Election Commission to include a provision in their rules that would prohibit any of the companies receiving TARP money to make contributions to any candidate for federal office under the Federal Campaign Finance Laws. The time limit will be five years from the date the TARP money was paid out and will put an end to this endless cycle of “You rub my back and I’ll rub yours”.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Under Siege - Dark Territory - My AT & T Service Complaint

Dateline: Terry, Montana
July 16, 2009

I received a call from Justin K., Office of the President, yesterday afternoon responding to my complaint in the email I sent earlier that day to Randall Stephenson, the AT & T CEO, which reads:

"Mr. Stephenson:

I am contacting you direct since I have been unable to obtain satisfactory answers to my question about the lack of service in the area to which I recently moved.It seems like my wife and I, both of us own iPhones, have entered Dark Territory insofar AT & T is concerned.

We purchased our cell phone in Issaquah, Washington back in August and September 2008 after receiving satisfactory service from your company in Las Vegas, Portland - OR, and Seattle since November 2006. We especially liked the fact that you offer roll-over minutes on your program.

Verizon, who had been our carrier for twenty years prior, did not respond to my inquiry as to why did not offer a similar rate program for their cell service.My complaint with your company is that your customer service is more interested in telling me chapter and verse according to AT & T policy rather than dealing with me as a valued customer.

Both customer representatives, whom I am copying with this email, kept apologizing profusely for not being able to help me keep AT & T as my carrier in Montana. The policy and the contract I signed was explained to me in every detail, something your sales people at your store neglected to do, and offered to set up an account for us with Verizon Wireless.

I objected to that only because it will make my iPhone useless other than as a mini-laptop with no access to email etc.My real complaint is that your marketing strategy has become very obvious to me. You are only interested in providing service in areas where you are a direct carrier.

The hardware used towards that purpose has become secondary and as your exclusive with Apple is expiring soon will not be your main driving force to obtain profit for your stockholders.

Thanks for listening to me and would appreciate a response (hopefully positive) back from you as soon as possible.

Bob van der Valk"

Justin said that he would look into my complaint and get back with me today. I will post his response to this blog as soon as it received.

Below are the comments I posted on the Seeking Alpha web site article:


Updated, 12:01 p.m.: The expiration date of the exclusive iPhone deal between Apple and AT&T has not been officially released, but in April the Wall Street Journal cited anonymous sources saying AT & T is hoping to extend their deal with Apple into 2011.

Here is my original posting to the AT & T Forum web site:

My personal experience with AT&T has been very bad since moving to Terry, Montana from Seattle, Washington. Upon our arrival I was happy to find out that all of my iPhone applications worked as long as have WiFi is available.

Cell phone service is intermittent in the Eastern Montana area, since we are located near the Badlands, and even the local cell service providers are having problems staying connected.

Lo and behold I received a text message and email from A T & T/Cingular on July 1, 2009 that I was in violation of my contract by being outside of their direct service area. I called the phone number listed in the messages the next morning and was advised that I had 30 days to decide to cancel my contract, without penalty, and find another service provider.

Apparently the contract reads that if I use my cell phone for data and phone use over 40% in areas not directly served by A T & T/Cingular my contract could be voided.

I was surprised but told the person that I understood that they had rules and I had agreed to them. Although I don't remember reading any of the gobble de coop stuff they made me sign when I proudly picked up my iPhone birthday present last September at one of their direct sales stores in Issaquah, Washington.

Here comes the real kicker, the customer service person offered to call Verizon Wireless to change over and set up my account with them. She told me that she would call me back in 20 minutes to confirm it with me.

I told her to be sure that I could keep my iPhone with the new carrier as I am now practically married to it. I bathe, eat, drive and sleep with it. In fact my wife is thinking of becoming one of my applications so I will give her as much attention.

She suggested that I get another phone perhaps a Blackberry since they have similar applications and Verizon is one of their carriers. I declined her offer and am still waiting for a call back from her.

Time is ticking and I have only 17 days left before I am cut off.In case one of the A T & T/Cingular executives happens to read my personal lament, please let me know. I tried AT&T once more this morning (July 14th) and received similar response from their customer service supervisor.

I will be sending emails to her well as her supervisor Rachel. I am also calling the CEO of AT&T later this morning and will post any responses negative or otherwise I receive on this blog. Your comments are invited and you can email them to me at: tridemoil@aol.com

Monday, July 13, 2009

Crude oil – A bridge to our renewable energy future

The real story behind the Bakken Oil Formation

Dateline: Terry, Montana
July 13, 2009 1:00 PM MDT
By: Bob van der Valk

President Obama is being invited to spend some of his time in his own back yard to rub shoulders with the oil workers of Montana and North Dakota to check on their progress for increasing domestic crude oil production.

The President would be able to obtain greater insight on how to solve this country’s energy needs for the immediate future. Brett Smelser, owner of Border Steel and Recycling, who is the mayor of Sidney, Montana as well, would like to have a chance to speak to him directly about the local effort in making our nation energy independent. He is actively involved in his state’s effort about getting the message out on how to best develop the Bakken’s rich mineral deposits

Exploration for crude oil in the Bakken Oil Formation is rapidly being expanded and its output is expected to expand exponentially as long as oil prices remain above $60 a barrel. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) figures it could yield up to 3.65 billion barrels of recoverable oil with additional reserves possible using even more sophisticated and as yet not invented methods. It is the largest oil field in the continental U.S. but it does not come close to the roughly 60 billion barrels of existing proven reserves discovered in the North Slope of Alaska.

The President will learn that oil is the “Life-blood of America” and a national energy policy, not based on politics as usual, is urgently required. What would happen if we had another energy crisis occurs and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decides to cut us off again? Our generation still remembers the days of gasoline allocation, even and odd days buying of gasoline and pulling up to the gas station behind the “last car in line” during two energy crises of the 1970’s.

The following map shows how much of the area the Bakken Oil Formation covers:

In addition to having been the mayor of Sidney since 2002, Mr. Smelser was appointed to the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation by Governor Brian Schweitzer in 2007 and serves in his current term until 2011. He spoke to me about the need for cooperation between the different state and federal governmental entities involved in oil production since the area in which he lives and works, which straddles all the way from Eastern Montana to Western North Dakota.

The catch with President Obama’s current energy plans, to increase energy conservation as well as fuel efficiency gains, is that he has decided to pair that up with government intervention. This will reduce demand by installing a cap-and-trade, fuel tax or carbon tax, thereby any savings from efficiency gains will be taxed away or otherwise removed from further economic circulation and therein lies the rub. Crude oil will be more expensive to explore for and produce in North America, especially when compared to the Canadian oil sands.

We need to build a bridge to a renewable energy future in the U.S. Further exploration for domestic crude oil will be a crucial step in filling that gap. Some alternative energy projects may be as far as twenty years of away of getting on-line. By then we may be able to rely on wind, solar and hydro-power as a way to energy independence.

Mr. Smelser said that the first step should be to expand the capacity of crude oil shipping pipelines as well build at least one new refinery in the area. The local sweet crude oil is now trading at $10 discount from the West Texas Intermediate crude oil posted price, and more investments will be required to take full advantage of this domestic oil production.

The USGS estimates the Bakken possesses 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of yet "undiscovered, technically recoverable" crude oil and 1.85 Trillion Cubic Feet (Tcf) of natural gas. The formation is also estimated to hold 148 million barrels of natural gas liquids.

The current pipeline is overbooked and some oil wells have already been slowed down or shut down pumping completely until the infrastructure catches up to handling the overabundance of crude oil still in the ground.

This is the part of our country where the real work gets done to keep the oil flowing. The slogan “Get ‘R Done” is seen far and wide in what is commonly known as the Bad Lands. But that slogan will become a household word in the country and soon may be called “Persia on the Prairie”. The locals in Williston, North Dakota are more prone to using their own slogan, “Rockin the Bakken”; in showing enthusiasm for their new found buried treasure.

In between very modest homes and farms we are sitting on top of one the largest reserve of crude oil The underground Bakken Oil Formation stretches from Eastern Montana through North Dakota north to Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada and it is just now receiving the national attention it so well deserves.

The heart of the Bakken oil field, which contains three layers of shale, was formed when the area was covered with a relatively deep ocean. It is about two miles down with about two-thirds of the acreage located in western North Dakota. In the year 2000, the Elm Coulee oil field was discovered in the Williston Basin of Richland County, Montana and draws its oil from the Bakken Oil Formation.

This massive rock of shale was initially discovered as an oil source in the mid-1950s, but with extremely low porosity and permeability, it was almost impossible to exploit fully with conventional drilling techniques. At that time crude oil was going for less than $10 a barrel. Other methods were cost prohibitive with more sophisticated but more expensive and not yet invented methods being required.

A joint venture, of Exxon, Unocal and Tosco in Colorado first explored and developed crude oil from shale oil deposits in Colorado during the two energy crises in the 1970’s, quickly dissipated when the Reagan era of hands off policy on government controls on energy took hold.

Their site was located in Parachute, Colorado but was eventually shut down when the U.S. government decided to withdraw the subsidies being paid to the oil companies. The major difference between the Parachute and Bakken operation is the first used a “retort” and the latter “in situ" (meaning in its original form, undisturbed) for their oil shale recovery systems. In situ uses slanted drilling and “fractionation” extraction techniques to bring “Black Gold” up to the surface instead using the standard horizontal drilling.

By itself and without government support the development of oil shale into crude oil was uneconomical especially when the price of a barrel crude oil took another dive in the early 1980’s. But we are now in the affordability range once again with West Texas Intermediate crude oil around $60 a barrel.

The cost of exploring and producing crude oil from shale is still relativity higher compared than that of exploring for conventional crude oil, which can be brought up from underground for about $40 a barrel in even the most far away places in the world.

Perhaps in the year 2109 our future generation of kids will be shaking their heads in disbelief at our futile attempts to stay ahead of running out of energy while watching repeats on television of “Black Gold", "Deadliest Catch" and "Ice Road Truckers”. In their American History classes they will have to listen to lectures about how we used to transport our oil from the Middle East instead of exploring for it in our own backyard.

They will be shocked and awed just as we were when reading about our early pioneers, who actually churned their own butter and had milk delivered to their doors each morning.

Bob van der Valk resides in Terry, Montana and is the Director of US Branded Licensing with 4Refuel Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington and can be contacted at (425) 216-9072 or by email at bvan@4refuel.com and web site: www.4refuel.com.

Bob’s personal web page address is: www.4vqp.com/ourconsultants/thegasguy.html

Any views expressed in this newsletter are those of the writer, except where the writer specifically states them to be the views of the 4Refuel group of companies.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The backwards Robin Hood effect in trading of crude oil

Dateline: Terry, Montana

You have heard of Goldman Sachs but may not know that they are the owners of the biggest casino in the world through its commodities-trading subsidiary J. Aron and Company. No, they do not own an actual casino but are merely the stomping grounds for high dollar bettors in the world of commodities.

There are no slot machines or other gaming devices anywhere around their sumptuous offices at 85 Broad Street in New York before you start planning to make reservations to fly in on your private plane, be met by a private limousine with a chauffer, check into your luxury suite and hitting the tables. Better yet, they are set up and are connected to every major commodities exchange around the world.

For some background on this subject, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission in the U.S. has established speculative position limits on trading contracts. These limits are intended to prevent market imbalances that would result in failures for the ultimate settlement of the futures contracts.

J. Aron & Company is exempt from those limits under the Commodity Exchange Act. The reason behind the CFTC decision was that U.S. investment brokers could otherwise do their trades on other world commodity exchanges without any volume restrictions thereby denying the New York Mercantile Exchange from gaining its rightful share of the action. They are the world's largest physical commodity futures exchange and want to keep it that way.

However, that exemption became a license to rob from the poor and give to the rich with Goldman Sachs becoming the owner the world’s biggest commodities betting parlor taking their share from the top no matter whether the prices of crude oil went up or down. The Goldman Sachs Commodity Index tracks the prices of 25 major commodities and is weighted heavily toward crude oil.

Index speculators, who are mostly “long” bettors, seldom take short positions and thereby are betting on prices to rise but they eventually spiral back down. This instability forces prices for crude oil up at times for no other reason than too many paper barrels are chasing the “wet” physical barrels. The balloon eventually burst when the real value of the crude oil barrel kicks in. That cost is equivalent to the cost of getting crude oil out of the ground and shipping it to the refineries.

To break up this monopoly the CFTC will have to eliminate the exemption from the limits on those trades. We just some recent examples of gross violations happen when PVM Oil Futures, trading on the London Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in Brent crude oil contracts, caused the global crude oil prices to spike to its highest level in eight months last week Tuesday.

PVM, which is the London-based division of the world’s biggest broker of over-the-counter derivatives, eventually lost almost $10 million in those early morning trades on Tuesday.
Steve Perkins, a senior and long-standing trader, apparently unhappy with his first-half year bonus, brokered those contracts and has now been suspended from his post by PVM. They are a privately held company owned by its employees with offices in Vienna, Singapore, New Jersey and Houston.

Mr. Perkins’ trades were hard to explain at the time by other traders on the ICE. He could have done it by intercepting the exchange confirmations thereby hiding the open position or the trades were simply booked as hedges where no corresponding physical position actually existed.

Any disciplinary action by the United Kingdom’s Financial Service Authority regulators, the equivalent to the CFTC in the U.S., will be too little too late. Steve Perkins will eventually be found not “fit and proper” to work in London and banned from trading. But catching him now will be like closing the door after the horse has already escaped out of the barn.

In May 2009 the FSA had taken its third regulatory action against Morgan Stanley this year when it fined Nilesh Shroff, an executive director at the firm, who deliberately disadvantaged clients while conducting their trades. He had traded for the firm’s benefit before making the requested trades from his clients. In addition to a £140,000 fine Mr. Shroff was banned by the regulators from trading. He was the third Morgan Stanley trader to be fined this year with Morgan Stanley having to paying substantial fines for the other two violations.

What may be good for the investors is terrible for the ordinary Joe and Jill trying to fill up their fuel tank at the local gas station while looking for some stability in prices.
Alas, what cannot be cured must be endured.

Any views expressed in this newsletter are those of the writer, except where the writer specifically states them to be the views of the 4Refuel group of companies.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What can be done about diesel fuel prices?

Dateline: Terry, Montana, U.S.
July 4, 2009

The big holiday and vacation season is once again upon us. Canada and the U.S. just celebrated their respective national birthdays and all eyes in our industry are being kept on whether consumer confidence has re-instilled itself.

Diesel fuel is one of the most critical commodities in keeping the Canadian and U.S. economies rolling. In our transportation and construction industries almost all aspects of operations are fueled by diesel engines. Rising diesel fuel prices can translate to increasing costs of products and services. In order to know what can be done to slow down this increase, you as a consumer need to be aware of its causes and find creative ways to save money on your fuel usage.

There are several basic elements that determine the worth of a gallon of diesel. About fifty-five percent of the cost of diesel reflects the price of crude oil, which is raw material for diesel production. Crude oil is brought from the oil fields to the refineries where the ultra-low sulfur diesel, among other petroleum products, is extracted.

Given a barrel of crude is 42 gallons; the average refinery is able to produce about 8 gallons of diesel and jet fuel or 20 % of the total. About half of the barrel is made into gasoline with the remainder in low end bunker fuel oils and other petroleum products. Refining accounts for nearly fifteen percent of diesel fuel cost.

The remaining elements of the cost of diesel fuel are government taxes and the expense of advertising and delivery. A ten percent excise tax is levied onto all fuel products that are refined in Canada. Although foreign fuel can avoid this tax, it is generally cheaper to buy locally refined fuel as import taxes generally are passed along to the consumer. Marketing and distribution make up about five percent of total diesel fuel cost, but this can often be the most volatile factor affecting the value of diesel fuel.

This is where the diesel fuel consumers may have a sure fire way to save money on their cost for operating their diesel trucks and equipment. They can make arrangements with an on-site fueling company like 4Refuel headquartered in Langley BC, Canada. They currently service most of the Canadian market and recently expanded into the U.S. West Coast market by opening an office in Lynnwood, Washington serving the Greater Seattle area.

Saving fuel and lowering consumption is not only good for the environment; it decreases demand, and ultimately your cost. The factors that affect diesel fuel prices seem complex, but an understanding of the basic principles can empower the individual consumer to make the right decisions.

Bob van der Valk resides in Terry, Montana and is the Fuel-pricing Analyst with 4Refuel LLC in Lynnwood, Washington. He can be contacted at (971) 678-2975 or e-mail him at: bvan@4refuel.com

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Good news: Prices are up for crude oil but down for gasoline

Dateline: Terry, Montana
July 1, 2009

The price of crude oil has been hovering around $70 a barrel for the last week meanwhile gasoline pump prices in the U.S. and Canada are down by about a nickel a gallon or 1 cent per litre during that same time. The average price for a gallon of gasoline is $2.63 today per the AAA fuelguage report. Montana’s gasoline prices are averaging $2.71 barely nudging down from a week ago price.

If there seems to be no correlation between the two, it is because U.S. and Canadian refineries are just now running crude oil they purchased earlier this year. The typical shelf time in shipping from the well to the refinery is about six weeks and crude oil in the tank at the refineries is still at around $40 a barrel. So who do we blame? The greedy oil companies, those evil Wall Street speculators or is it just plain simple Gasoline Marketing 101?

Crude oil accounts for 55 percent of the cost of gasoline. The other big chunk is the federal, state and local taxes, which make up 24 percent of the cost. Then we add refining costs and profits of 15 percent to the cost of gasoline. Distribution and marketing costs made up the final 6 percent of the cost.

The Petroleum Marketers Association reports the profit margin at each local gas station of between 3 and 15 cents per gallon of gasoline.

This morning we wait for the release of the weekly Department of Energy's inventory statistics, which will give some direction to the market. Other factors may be at work as well with a myriad of glitches at U.S. refineries spooking the traders into shoring up their deals before the July 4th weekend. With just three trading days left in the week no one would knowingly get caught at the end of a short stick in keeping physical product flowing into their tanks.

Armed conflicts and threats around the world are receiving the usual buzz by the paper traders and one that is having an immediate affect is in Nigeria. That has resulted in almost 1 million barrels per day of crude oil being cut off from being shipped to the U.S.

The Shell Oil platform and shipping terminal in the Niger Delta was blown up by militants last weekend interrupting vitally needed crude oil from being loaded. The Nigerian government has desperately been trying to deal with the situation and has even offered amnesty to the dissidents if they lay down their arms.
Speculators are hard at work trying to make money by betting on any outcome. But the adage that “For every winner, there is a loser” applies to the investment business just like it does in sports.

Bob van der Valk resides in Terry, Montana and is the fuel-pricing analyst with 4Refuel Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington. He can be contacted at (971) 678-2975 or e-mail to: tridemoil@aol.com

His viewpoints and previous articles about the petroleum industry can be found at web site address: http://www.4vqp.com/ourconsultants/thegasguy.html

Any views expressed in this newsletter are those of the writer, except where the writer specifically states them to be the views of the 4Refuel group of companies.