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Monday, December 19, 2011

Jean Brandau's About.com Blog is USELESS

I wouldn't normally attack someone's blog directly, no matter how badly written or how vehemently I disagreed with the content. But, this is not a simple matter of opinion or taste or difference of viewpoints. This is a matter of someone putting out incorrect and apparently unvalidated information.

Jean Brandau writes a blog on About.com which presumes to include a calendar of events for the Huntsville, AL area. To my detriment, I consulted her calendar of events twice this holiday season, once regarding a skating event at the local ice-plex and again (my mistake) to find out when the Messiah Sing-along would take place.

On both counts Jean's calendar was WRONG. Her dates for both events were off by a week.

I was smart enough to call about the skating event before we drove all the way across town to the rink. The kid who answered the phone had no idea what I was talking about at first. After several hints and clues, he realized that I was referring to an event that had taken place a week before I called. And, while Jeans' blog made the event out to be a public skating session with carols being sung by the Huntsville Chorus, the actual event (which had taken place a week earlier) was in fact a figure skating show with the Huntsville Chorus providing musical accompaniment. So, she was not only wrong about the date, she misrepresented the entire nature of the event.

Which sort of makes me the idiot for trusting Jean's website to provide accurate, correct information regarding the premier event on my holiday calendar - the Messiah Sing-Along. According to Jean's bogus blog (a blogus?), tonight was the big night. The night I await for a year at a time. The night I get dressed up for and make the kids dress up for. The night I pull out my complete Messiah score and set out to enjoy one of my very favorite musical compositions of all time.

It was over before we ever left the house. It was 6 nights ago. I figured this out after we drove 18 miles across town - and 18 miles back - wasting an hour of one of our last evenings before Christmas, when we arrived at the designated location to find one guy in a pick-up truck waiting for a buddy to play basketball in the adjacent gym. Not sure why I waited until tonight to check the website at the actual church where the event was to take place. (At least Jean got that part right.) But, that's how I found the correct date. I signed up for that church's e-mail newsletter just to be sure I don't miss out next year. Because I damn sure won't be checking out Jean Brandau's blog for ANY other events. Ever.

Jean Brandau, you suck. Your blog sucks. And, you owe me four round-trip airfares to Washington, D.C. to catch one of the very last Messiah Sing-Alongs scheduled this year - the one at the Kennedy Center. If there's an admission charge, you owe me four of those, too. And, a hotel room.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Involuntary Manslaughter of a Book

I hope you read this one day, son. Because it's really the only way I'll ever be able to let you know just how much what you said hurt.

We were out Christmas shopping a couple of weeks ago when my son pointed out a book that he wanted. It was a newly released title in a series of books that he had been reading for a while. Mental note made, I decided to pick up a copy for his birthday, shortening his wait to Christmas by a couple of weeks.

On a later shopping outing, I had the opportunity to buy a copy of the book without him even suspecting. That's kind of an accomplishment in and of itself. I hid it in our van and got it upstairs to our bedroom where I had another book hidden away for his upcoming birthday.

On his birthday, before I wrapped his gifts I hunted down a good pen - one that wrote nicely - and made an extra effort to neatly write a note on the title page. I put the date in the upper, right-hand corner. Below the title of the book I wrote, "Happy 11th Birthday. Love Dad and Mom." Then I wrapped it in tissue paper and put it in a gift bag with the other book.

If you're reading closely, you may have deduced that my son was only getting two gifts from us on this particular occasion. That's not because his birthday is so close to Christmas. We've always said that should not factor into it. We don't make a big deal out of birthdays at our house, but Christmas is Christmas, and your birthday is your birthday. The relatively modest "take" had nothing to do with that. What it really boiled down to was that my son wanted to take several friends to go play paintball for his birthday party. As usual, however, he didn't express this until it was far too late to make all the necessary arrangements. For starters, the paintball facility required a minimum of one week's notice and a downpayment. For another, the smallest birthday party package they offered cost a little over $200. That's FAR more than we usually spend on birthdays for any member of our family. My son typically changes his mind about what he wants to do on his birthday at least four times, two of which usually occur within a week of the actual date. At any rate, since there was no time and the weather wasn't really all that conducive to outdoor activities, we agreed to set up a paintball outing at a later date. That would be his real present. But, I do like to give my kids something for their birthdays that they can keep and remember. Hence, the books.

I didn't expect him to be overjoyed by the books, but I did figure he'd be somewhat pleased with them. One was a softcover picture book about Navy SEALS, one of my son's latest passions. The other he had flat out told me he'd like to have. And, it was a hardback, first edition. So, I expected him to be somewhat appreciative, which he was at first.

What I wasn't prepared for was his reaction when he opened the hardback book and saw my handwritten note on the title page.

"Why did you write in it? You killed it?" he said.

I don't even know what I said in response. I was stunned. I wrote the note with the intent of adding some personal value to the book, not to ruin it. Perhaps my harping about taking care of his things had gone too far. He's not typically devoid of sentiment. I don't know what I'd say now, given days to think about it. All I know is that those words cut to the bone.

His sister had gotten him a movie, which we watched after he had unwrapped his books. After the movie, I picked up the book, opened it to the title page, and tore it out. Then I wadded up that page and threw it in the trash. What else could I do? I couldn't return the book and he clearly didn't want a book with a handwritten note in it.

I have a letter that my dad wrote me when I was younger than my son. Dad was working in Virginia and we were still living in Indiana. My mom kept it all these years and sent it to me last summer. My dad is still alive. It's not like I'll never hear from him again. But, we don't see each other often. Time and distance simply make it impractical for us to visit in person. The vast majority of our communications are by e-mail; eventually they'll disappear without a trace. So, I'll hold onto that letter from my dad until I'm gone.

I figured I'd give my son something to hold onto in the event that he and I find ourselves separated by time and distance the way my own dad and I have. Maybe he's still too young to get that. Maybe he doesn't even comprehend that there will be a day when I won't see him off to school and I won't tuck him in at night. Or, maybe that just means more to me than it does to him.

RockSmith - XBox - Internet TV Update

This just in: Ubisoft plans to release a PC-based version of RockSmith some time this coming Spring (March 2012)!

This would tie in nicely with my Internet TV plans since I was leaning toward hooking a PC up to my TV for that purpose.

This news does not, however, necessarily rule out the possibility of an XBox finding its way into my house. (In fact, don't tell my kids, but there may already be an XBox hiding somewhere in my bedroom as we speak. Just in case.) XBox-es also serve as wireless Internet TV streamers, so rather than upgrading an old PC for this purpose or purchasing a separate box it may make more sense to just go with an XBox. I'm prepared for that possibility.

I have learned one thing in my research on gaming consoles: PS3s will play Blu-Ray disks. XBoxes will not. Yet. Makes little to no difference to me as I will not be replacing our rather significant collection of DVDs (including complete boxed sets of M*A*S*H, Friends, and I Love Lucy) with Blu-Ray disks. Ever. For one thing, I don't think our TV is really good enough that the difference in quality between a DVD and a Blu-Ray would be noticed. It would be like playing CDs through the amp and speaker on my old portable record player. For another, if I was in the market for a Blu-Ray player, I'd just buy a Blu-Ray player. They can be had for under $100 on sale. The cheapest PS3 I've seen was easily twice that amount plus some change. You don't buy a game console to watch Blu-Rays. You buy a game console to play games.

Anyway, even if I go with the XBox, being able to play RockSmith on a PC could still be a very good thing. You can't run recording software on a game console. Nor composing software. Etc. Many studios have a PC in them but not a game console. Mine, for example. And, it would be much easier to run RockSmith on the computer I already have in there than to move the XBox into the music room every time I feel like playing in there.

I also popped into an Apple Store this past weekend with my family - at my kids' behest. Yes, yes. They're very nice. But, still grossly overpriced. I checked out Garage Band on a Mac desktop system and watched part of a computer-based lesson by Rush guitarist Alex Leifson which showed users how to play the guitar part to Tom Sawyer. While it was sort of cool to get this info straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak, it didn't hold a candle to what you do with RockSmith. And, notably, RockSmith is not scheduled to be released for Macs (although I suppose it might be possible that you could run the software on a Mac).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

PayPal Does Indeed Suck

Start with this latest article about a truly evil, greedy, mismanaged company:

http://digitallife.today.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/06/9252348-paypal-says-our-bad-on-regretsy-charity-scandal


I'm talking about eBay's little puppet online payment site, of course, which I've long referred to as "PayCrook." Stories of how badly PayCrook sucks abound. There's a whole website called "PayPalsucks.com."



My story will follow, after a list of alternative online payment service sites. I welcome additional sites; just put them in the comments and I'll add links here as they come in.

AlertPay.com
dwolla.com
ZashPay.com


Also, I've read that Visa plans to start their own online payment service soon. I'll see what I can find out about that.

There's also a site called payjunction.com that allows merchants to process credit card payments, but that's a little beyond the scope here.


My own experience with PayCrooks was fairly extensive as an eBay seller for several years. It ended suddenly when they ripped me off for approximately $90. My use of eBay also ended soon after that due to eBay's increasing attempts to coerce both buyers and sellers to use the "service." Eventually, as many of you know, eBay bought PayCrooks. Seems almost impossible to believe, but I hear that PayCrooks actually got WORSE after that. But, I digress.

I listed for sale on eBay a used video editing VCR which I had bought a few years before for several thousand dollars. The listing clearly identified the unit as "USED." I was in rather dire straits and needed money, so I provided a Buy It Now option at $500.00. A fraction of what this unit would cost even used from any source. Some zipperhead from Texas bought the VCR using Buy It Now within what seemed like minutes of my listing going live. Great! Money was deposited into my PayCrooks account. I prepared the unit for shipping - in its original factory packaging - and sent it on its way. Everything was wonderful.

A few days later I got an e-mail from Zipperhead saying that there was a superficial scratch on the faceplate of the VCR and he wanted either a substantial refund or a new faceplate. This being Sony equipment, a new faceplate was going to cost about $200. A substantial refund after selling a fully functional, nearly new $3500 VCR for $500? That wasn't going to fly either. Basically I told Zipperhead to go screw himself. But, I was fairly nice about it.

He filed disputes with both eBay and PayCrooks, and, significantly, both disputes were denied. End of story, right? Nope.

Zipperhead filed a dispute with his credit card issuer, which then went to PayCrooks and got a chargeback on the purchase. Fortunately, I had already transferred all but $90 from my PayCrook account to my bank account. PayCrook took the $90, claimed that I owed them another $410, and then locked my account when I declined to pay up. I reminded PayCrook that they had themselves declined the buyer's dispute. Didn't seem to matter. PayCrook bent over for the buyer's credit card company and was a little miffed when I didn't return the favor for them.

I told them they could sue me for the $410 and I looked forward to seeing them in court - in MY county of residence. I also told them they need not bother unlocking my account because I wouldn't use it again even if they gave me back my $90 and apologized for ripping me off.

So, for all I know, I still have a PayCrook account because I cannot close it. Presumably after this many years (it's been at least 5 years) they would have closed my account due to inactivity and the fact that any lawsuit they might launch would be thrown out upon presentation of a SoL defense. Basically, it's too late for them to come after me. Not that I was remotely worried about it. If they ever do try to sue me for it, I've still got all the e-mails from PayCrook and eBay denying the buyer's dispute against me.

I just hope the VCR shorted out and electrocuted the little bastard in Texas who bought it.