Online Banking

My bank is terrible at online banking. I've been trying to make my mortgage payments online, and it has been nothing but a headache. My checking, savings, and mortgage are all through the same bank, so I thought this would be a simple matter. Oh no. I was so wrong. My normal mortgage payment is close to $1100. I normally like to pay $1450 so that I can pay down the principal faster. During the first month of our mortgage, I sent a physical check to my bank for $1450. This worked great. I saw online that my account was credited with a payment for that month, and that the extra was against the principal. Perfect! Later that same month, we received our escrow balance from our previous lender, and decided to apply all of it to the principal of our mortgage. I went online and did the balance transfer: $1800 from checking to mortgage. I thought, "Yeah, our principal is going to go down a lot!" Wrong! Instead of applying $1800 to the principal, $1100 was credited as the following month's payment, and the rest went to the principal. I though, "Well, that is close, and now we can skip a month's payment." I would really have liked to have the principal paid down, but I really wasn't too concerned.
So two months later, we decided to make a large payment so that the principal would get paid down again. We paid $2400 this time, online yet again. A week later I checked our mortgage info. Grrrr!!! They had counted that as TWO payments, and only applied $200 to the principal. I was pretty irate with that, so I called the bank. The operator had no idea why that happened, but suggested that in the future I pay less than two months payments in a single payment, and that it would get creditied properly. This meant making two payments a month, but since it was online, that would be easy enough. He backed out the transaction and gave us our single month's payment, and then $1300 against the principal. Okay, so now we should have our normal monthly principal payments, plus the $2350 of extra principal we had paid for the year.
So now it is December, and we have a January payment coming up. I go online, yet again, and make a payment of $1450. This should be no problem, right? The payment amount is less than two months of payments, and I have not yet made another payment this month. So this should go through just fine. Today I checked our mortgage info. Next payment due: January 1, 2004!!! What!!! That can't be right. So I check the transaction history for the mortgage. All of the $1450 that I paid was put towards principal. What the hell is going on?!?! So I call the bank again. The operator is just as confused as I am. I asked her if there was any way I could specify if I was making a principal payment or a normal payment, and she went to talk to her supervisor. The answer: no. Evidently the transactions are entered online, but then are processed by hand by someone at the bank. That doesn't seem efficient at all! So each person who processes the payment has to make a judgement call on what you wanted to do with your payment. This person saw my payment, and decided that, since I had already paid my December mortgage, that this payment must be principal only. Grr!!! The operator suggested that I wait until the payment due date to make my online payment. My concern there is that 1) I'm going to incur a late fee, and 2) my credit rating is going to get smashed. She eased my mind a bit by telling me that I had a 15 day grace period to make a payment, and if it is done within that time, no mark will be placed on my credit. She also said that credit reporting is not done until the following month, so if there is a problem, I can always call back.
I really wish these folks would get their system in order. They need to clean up the interface so that I can specify how much is principal, if it is a normal payment, and how many payments to spread it across. It is ridiculous that this is not automated. The bank should not be making a best guess each time I make a payment. And I definitely should not have to call the bank every month to straighten out their errors!


Piracy is a very hot topic right now. The music industry is actively pursuing those who illegally download their products. The MPAA is running ads encouraging people not to promot video piracy. Video game companies have developed complicated measures of piracy protection. Most of these methods fail to stop the growing tide of digital piracy. I know that I used to be guilty of the same crime. In college, I didn't think twice about downloading a CD from a file sharing system, or searching for a serial number, password, or crack for a new video game. Sometimes these products would be available in our dorm before they were released to the public. I thought I was really clever to get all of this stuff for free.

My attitude regarding piracy has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. Our office used to run a server that everyone would copy their MP3 collections to. A lot of the songs were from CDs that we owned, but it was difficult to tell. Then I started to read articles about companies that were sued for millions of dollars for keeping just such a system. Ours was promptly dismantled. Then I started to think about the industry that I was in. I was in the business of selling software. We create custom software for our customers. Due to the nature of our product, we generally do not attempt to install any protection measures, as there is very little desire by most to steal what we make. Still, we make software, and if our customers were able to take it from us without paying for it, it would really kill us. After thinking about that for a while, I decided to delete any software from my PC that I did not have a legal right to. This got rid of a lot of games, but I found that open source software provided a lot of the same applications and some of the games that I liked for free. And open source software was legal. I had a legal copy of Windows NT, and a legal copy of Office 97. As much as I despise Microsoft, I felt better about running a copy that I had a right to rather than one that I had stolen. Even if I did not own those, I could always run a version of Linux and Open Office freely and legally.

The next thing I did was to delete all of the music that I had downloaded from file sharing networks. I miss a lot of that music, but I still have a large collection of music that I really enjoy. My stand on downloading music now is that, it is okay to download a song if your intent is to discover new music that you might be interested in. However, downloading entire albums is not okay. Just as you wouldn't walk into a record store and steal the physical album, you should not download the album from the web and think it is okay. Many people are convinced that, because it is easy, and because you never leave your house, then you can't really be stealing. That is wrong. If you are downloading music that you have no right to, and you never intend to purchase the music, you are stealing. Just as you can go to a store and listen to any track, I have no issue with someone downloading a track from a CD to listen to see if they like it. If you do like it, then buy the CD. Or, if you just like the one track, open iTunes and pay 99 cents for it. Lots of companies creating iTunes clones which are making it cheap and easy to download the music you like legally. There is not excuse for downloading libraries of music and feeling as though you have no responsibility to pay for it.

What really disappoints me are the people who are now pirating movies. We had an intern this past year who downloaded The Hulk and Matrix Reloaded before they ever hit the theaters. A couple of people that it was really cool, and watched the movie. Movies are so different from music. Music you can listen to while you drive, work, or exercise. You can mix your favorite tracks into a personal CD, or compile a library and listen to it over and over. Movies are much more intimate. As the recent issue of Wired points out, you wouldn't sit down and create a mix DVD of all of your favorite chase scenes, and play that while you work. Downloading movies takes a long, long time. The files are huge. Not only that, but usually the quality is very poor. You end up with some joker in a theater with a handycam, or else a pre-release version of the movie with editing markers all over the place.

Now that I am taking a course on law, it has become crystal clear for me: downloading copyrighted material that you do not have a right to is wrong. Shoplifting a DVD, a CD, or a video game from BestBuy is the same as downloading those items from the web. It costs $0.99 to download a song from iTunes, or $9.99 for an entire album. Those prices are sure to fall. If you really want the disc itself, checkout eBay or SecondSpinfor a cheap used copy. That is legal, and it gets you the official disc and contents. If you want a movie, go to BlockBuster and pay $4 for a new release, or checkout NetFlix For $20 a month, you can get unlimited movies from NetFlix with no late fee. And those prices are sure to fall as well. In short, if you are holding off on going to see a movie, or buying a CD, because you know that you can get it on the web, you should realize that something is wrong.


PepBoys took care of my car yesterday. Everytime I called to get a quote on the work, I got a different number. I was going to be happy with any repair that was under $1K. Hare had quoted $1250 at the minimum, and originally asked for $1450 for the repair. That's just ridiculous. The average of the quotes from PepBoys was around $400. The final amount I paid was $782. I wish it were lower, but I feel better about that number than the others. The break down goes

Rack & Pinion300.00
Rack & Pinion Labor170.00
High Pressure Hose110.00
High Pressure Hose Labor40.00
Return Hose60.00
Return Hose Labor100.00

I complained a bit that I could have found the Rack & Pinion at Advanced Auto Parts for $220, so they gave me a 10% discount on the entire cost. That was about the same as the difference in the cost of the parts. So my final bill was something like $782. I'm just glad to have it all done with. The car drives a bit more stiffly than it did before. It is sort of hard to describe. Driving the Bravada is very smooth. The power steering in that car makes driving effortless. I have to use quite a bit more effort in my car now. It is not bad, it is just different from the way it was before. I'm sure that I will get used to it within a few weeks of driving. I need this car to hold together for another three or four years before I can start thinking about getting a new car for myself. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

I'm Really Tired

I keep thinking of the new Saturn car commercial where the bad drivers warn you about their driving. The first person says "My husband is going to cut you off when the light turns green." The next one says, "I'm driving with my knees." Finally, the last guy looks over, very haggard, and says, "I'm really tired". I crack up every time I see that last one. Right now, I totally identify with it though. I played volleyball last night, and I didn't get the gym closed until 9:30. The players keep wanting to play later and later. I'm going to have to start kicking them out. Then, I woke up at 4:40am this morning so I could get ready to go to Lafayette for work. We had an end of project meeting on-site scheduled for 7am, and I had to meet the crew at our office to travel together at 5:45. So I'm dragging right now. I've had three cups of coffee, but I think I am beyond the rescuing reach of coffee. I'm just getting the jitters. "I'm really tired"
On the upside, I get to leave work an hour earlier if I want to. Our core hours run until 4pm, so I must stay until at least then. Then I can go home, play with the dog, and pass out on the couch.


Solved PuzzleWooohoooo!!! I have finally put together the evil, horrible, outrageously difficult puzzle that my mom found for me last Christmas!! The picture on the left is of the pyramid, finally solved. I've been struggling with this thing for a long time. When my mom gave it to me, she said it was a very difficult puzzle. She and Jenn had already taken it apart, and it did not have the solution. I played with it for a couple of weeks, and to Jenn's infinite delight, I was not able to solve it. Usually when I get a puzzle, I have it solved in a matter of minutes. This one truly humbled me. My friend Jason is also very good at puzzles. When he stopped by, I let him take a crack at it. It stumped his as well. Double-joy for Jenn! I was so frustrated with this puzzle. Not only was the answer not forthcoming, but just getting partial solutions to hold together was difficult. The pieces are made out of some type of plastic or acrylic. They slide very easily. If the structure is not sound, the whole pyramid comes crashing down, mid-construction. This can be very frustrating when you have been concentrating on a particular formation for a couple of hours. Below is a picture of the puzzle with all of the pieces laid out.

Puzzle Pieces
Midway through this year I decided to give up and just search for the web for the solution. The web has everything right? wrong. After endless googling, all I could find was that the puzzle was made by Kadon, and sold through their website GamePuzzles Worse yet, they no longer sell this puzzle. The best I could find were a couple of old images which had not been removed from the site yet. They still sell the pyramid puzzle with four length side, but not the five length side like mine.

I was starting to make headway on a solution though. I had come up with a couple of simple rules that I knew I had to follow when forming a solution. The 'L' shaped pieces were the key. Due to the 90 degree angle on the piece, they could only fit into the puzzle in a particular way. If you were looking down on the puzzle, and you placed one of these pieces in, the section that sticks up must fall away from the point of the triangle. That probably doesn't make any sense unless you are looking at the puzzle. Also, some pieces have a nice fit. For instance, the piece shaped like a 'C' fits very nicely with the 'L' shaped piece, when placed in a particular way. I took this as a sign. After trying what seemed like countless combinations with the 'L' pieces, I finally found the one that works. Yeah me!

After some further research on the web, the best I could find were two math wizards that also own this puzzle. They each documented their solution, but I don't know if I understand how to read their solution! In any case, I'm releived to have this challenge behind me. Now I get to be the one to enjoy as other people struggle with this puzzle.


MechanicHave you ever noticed how much a mechanic's coveralls look a lot like a prison jump suit? I'm beginning to think that they mean the same thing. After doing some research into my car's problem(s), I've discovered that Hare is making an attempt to seriously gouge me. My car does have a problem. It is bleeding power steering fluid all over my garage. I have to put a quart of fluid in every week to keep it from running dry. When I took my care to Hare, they said that my power steering gear had blown all of the seals, and that I would need a new steering gear and hoses. They quoted me $1430. After recovering from my heart attack, I started looking into this more.

After consulting with my mechanicly inclined coworker, he concluded that I needed a Rack & Pinion. I took a look at Advanced Auto Parts and NAPA, and both had rack & pinion units for under $300 for my car. The parts portion of the Hare quote was $1000, so this was a huge savings. So I called Hare, and they said that they would do the install for me for $550. That's not bad, I'd cut my costs in half.

Then I started wondering if I could get a better deal on the labor. I gave PepBoys a call. They said that they could perform the install for $232, and would charge me a $75 fee to return the core. Awesome! My costs have ben halved yet again. So then I asked what the cost would be to get my part from PepBoys. The rep told me that they did not carry the rack for my car, but they used a local company to refurbish them. The rep said that, if I could afford to lose my car overnight, they could have the rack refurbished for $130, bringing my total cost of repair to $362.

So with a little research, I went from a breath taking, Touretts inducing $1430 repair charge, to a much more manageable $360 repair charge. I'm so glad I didn't just give Hare the nod to fix my car. It is really sad that I have to work this hard to get a fair deal for fixing my car.

Continued Diagnosis

I've done some follow-up diagnosis on my car. It looks like I need a new Rack & Pinion, and maybe some new power steering hoses. I ordered the Hayne's repair guide for my car from Amazon. It had quite a bit of good information in there. The pictures and descriptions helped me to understanding what I was looking at, and what needed replaced. I also consulted with my coworker, who used to work as a mechanic. He agreed with the Hare mechanic that I needed a new rack & pinion, but the price was outrageous. We visited NAPA Online and Parts America to get a better idea of the real cost of the parts. The Hare mechanic told me that the parts were going to run between $800 and $1000 based on if I got the GM part or a third party part. NAPA had the third party part for $300, and Parts America had the same part for $250. Hare was also asking $425 for 5 hours of labor. I'm not sure I can really argue the labor, but a markup of more than 100% on the parts makes me angry. Another thing I learned is the term "core" as it applies to replacement parts. The part from NAPA was $300, with a $160 core fee. The core fee is returned if I send NAPA the rack and pinion that gets replaced. I'm sure that Hare was going to charge me the full price of the part plus core, and not give me the core deposit back when they sent the manufacturer my replaced part. What a bunch of hosers!!!

Pirates of the Caribbean

We picked up a couple of flicks from the Blockbuster next door tonight: Pirates of the Caribbean and 28 Days Later. Tonight we watched Pirates. We both liked it! It reminded me quite a bit of the The Mummy in the way that wry humor was woven into the dialogue. It was very clever. The special effects were very impressive as well. I was very surprised to learn that this is a Disney film. Usually Disney is a little shy about making a movie with this much violence. Johnny Depp was actually watchable in this film as well. After Sleepy Hollow and The Ninth Gate (never, ever, upon pain of death watch The Ninth Gate), I was pretty sure I never wanted to watch another film with Depp in it. This film saved him from that fate. Depp seems to be hit or miss in film. I liked Edward Scissorhands, but he didn't talk much in that film either. What's Eating Gilbert Grape was a fantastic film, although very depressing.

Orlando Bloom also plays a role in the film. For Lord of the Rings fans, you know him better as Legolas. It probably wasn't too much of a stretch to go from playing the elf to playing the Will Turner. Both are somewhat conflicted reluctant heros. Keira Knightley plays the love interest. She has a few good lines, but she spends most of the movie with her lips pouted out like a fish out of water. I'm not sure if they shot her full of collagen before the film, but at times it looks like she is incapable of closing her mouth.

I'm getting side tracked though. In all, I thought the movie was very good. If you haven't seen it yet, I would recommend it.

Kill My Car

This has been a rough week. I had the whole issue with AT&T Wireless concerning my cell phone. Then I had to straighten out a payment with the bank. We made a very large payment, and wanted the overage to go towards the principal. Instead, the bank counted it as two payments, with the excess against principal. So I had to call them to get that straightened out. And now, my car is becoming a pain in the butt again.

Last Friday I took my car in for an oil change. The low coolant alarm had been sounding intermittently. It would come on for a second, then go off. Sometimes right as I started the car, other times while I was driving. I checked the coolant level, and it was fine. So at the oil change, I asked them to inspect the wiring harness. They told me everything was fine with the harness, and that they could replace the sensor for $55. Since it wasn't a real problem, I told them I would just monitor the coolant level. As I drove out of the shop, I saw that the light wasn't coming on. It still hasn't gone off, so I'm suspecting that it was just a loose wiring harness after all.

So Tuesday morning I pull my car into work, and as I turn the wheel as I'm parking, I hear this faint buzzing sound. It sounded sort of like an electric motor revving up. I didn't pay any attention to it though. That night, as I pulled out of the parking lot, the sound was much much worse. Every time I turned the wheel, the whole car groaned. I was pretty sure that it had to be a power steering problem. When I got home I saw that there was a big puddle of red oil in the garage. My car has been leaking power steering fluid like a sieve! I thought it was very suspicious that this would happen right after a visit to the mechanic.

I had Wednesday off of work, so I took the car back to Hare Chevrolet. I explain to the mechanic what was going on, and he takes it back into the garage. Over 45 minutes later he comes back out with a sour look on his face. He explains that the power steering gear has blown out all of its seals. I told him that it was pretty coincidental that this would happen right after an oil change. He said it was just an "unfortunate coincidence". Whatever. He took me back into the garage to have a look at the car. It was up on the lifts, and I could see that power steering fluid was all over the place. He showed me the parts that he was talking about, and explained that the seals could not be repaired, but that the entire power steering gear would need to be replaced. GM had the part for total replacement cost of $1430, or I could get a third party part for $1200. According to Kelley Blue Book, my car is hardly worth more than $5,000. I've already spent over $2,000 on my car this year replacing all of the tires, replacing a power steering valve, and replacing two bent rims. To keep this heap running I've got to pour another $1400 into it!!! No way!

Needless to say, I was not in the best mood for the rest of the day. Rather than having the service performed, I had them top up the steering fluid levels. The car is still going to leak like mad, but I can get a bunch of fluid from a parts shop for fairly cheap. The largest container at Pep Boys was $2.99. I figure that I can just leak oil for cheaper than I can replace the part. I'm going to have another mechanic take a look at this before I have the fix done. I may also try to pull one over on a car dealer by just trading it in. New cars cost just as much as used cars, with all of the discounts we receive. If I can get a dealer to not notice the leak, maybe I can get a good deal. Maybe....

Niece got Game

Nadia is on the web! Our Kate and Travis have put together a site to journal Nadia's development over at She is certainly a coy little girl. We saw her at Thanksgiving, and you could tell that she was happy, but she didn't want to smile and let on that she was happy. What a little flirt! It will be a lot of fun watching her grow. And pretty soon she is going to have a friend at these get togethers!

New Class - The Ethical and Legal Environment of Business

Rod HaywoodI've started my next class at IWU: ADM 518 - The Ethical and Legal Environment of Business. The facilitator for the class is Rod Haywood (big guy in the middle). This class is a little intimidating, but it looks like it is going to be a ton of fun. The reading is pretty tough. Nothing but hundreds of dry pages on the law, with a few verses from the Bible thrown in for good measure. Rod makes the class though. When I first arrived for class, he was standing at the front, almost brooding. But as soon as class started, he lightened the whole room. The entire class was laughing at times. He kept the mood very light, and presented the material in such a way that it was interesting. I thought the case studies were interesting to begin with, but he was even making the defintions and such fun. This is a huge relief. Our last instructor was, how should I say, a bore! He just read the book to us, then read us the book answers. This is going to be much, much better. The first thing Rod did in class was to cancel all of the writing assignments. There were assignments due with each class, and it is a huge relief to have them removed. Now I can just concentrate on the reading, and try to understand it. The faciliator made the tests sound pretty tough, but hopefully I can pick this stuff up quickly. I wouldn't want to damage my 4.0!

AT&T Wireless Sucks

AT&T Wireless LogoI've just about had it with AT&T Wireless. Back in May of this year, I aggravated Jenn to no end as I attempted to find the best wireless plan out there. My work had mandated that we all get cell phones, and was willing to reimburse us for $20 of the expense each month. For those who already had cell phones, this was a boon. For me, however, it was just a boo!!! I didn't have a cell phone, and I didn't want one. We had a great deal on Jenn's phone from Verizon, at just $20 per month for 100 minutes. Unfortunately, they weren't offering that deal any longer. I decided to look around, and settled on the AT&T Wireless National GSM plan which had 300 minutes each month for $29.99. It included free incoming text messages, free voicemail, free call waiting. It seemed like a great deal. I added the mMode internet access for $2.99 a month so I could play with that as well.

And thus began my slow painful torture by AT&T. I received my first months bill, and I only had 200 minutes per month. I scratched my head. I was absolutely positive that the web site advertised 300 minutes per month. So I gave my friends at ATTWS a call. Oh, their mistake. The original plan had 200 minutes, but the web offer provided for 100 more. So the operator not only added the missing minutes, but also gave me an additional 60 minutes for the next month for my trouble. Woohoo, I thought. Way to go customer service.

Then in July, I received my bill and it had a $26 activation fee. What the hell?!?! I had signed up for the 2 year service agreement, which indicated that the activation fee would be waived. Another call to my friends at AT&T. Somehow, they had lost my signature for the two year agreement. The $26 was the activation fee that automatically was given when the two year was not received, and the one year service agreement was enacted instead. The operator offered to send me a new 2 year agreement, and assured me that if I filled it out and sent it in, the $26 fee would be credited to my account. Okay, accidents happen. No biggie.

So I'm on my way back from a client one day in July, and I look at my phone. Instead of the big AT&T Wireless network indicator at the top, it says Cingular. That's odd. Maybe they have an agreement with Cingular that I can call on their network now. Another call to AT&T. The operator tells me that yes, AT&T and Cingular have entered into a roaming agreement to cover areas of Indiana that the current AT&T network does not reach. Awesome! Now I can make calls from more areas right! And I have the national plan with the no roaming, no long distance gurauntee, so no extra charges, right? WRONG! Cingular charges a $0.75 per minute roaming fee while on their network. I just about blew water through my nose (I was taking a sip at the time). Wow! That is an outrageous per minute fee. I guess I'll just have to watch myself to make sure that I'm calling from the AT&T tower, and only use the Cingular tower in an emergency. No problem the operator says, my phone has the ability to choose the tower to talk to, when multiple choices are available. Okay, not a great situation, but still not bad.

I start traveling to Lafayette on a daily basis for a project in August, and I notice that, for the majority of the trip, I'm on the Cingular network. That sucks, because if anyone from work calls, I'm going to get charged roaming. I'll just cross my fingers..... Crap it's ringing!! I had over $7.00 in roaming fees that first month alone. Suckage! But I notice something else on my bill. AT&T Voice Dial service has been added. What the crap!?!? My phone has built in voice recognition, I don't need that service. I saw that the invoice was credited for the same amount as the service fee ($3.99), so I thought, well at least I can remove it and not be hurt by it. Another cheery call to what are becoming my enemies at AT&T. Operator person is more than happy to remove the service, and can't understand why it was added in the first place. In any case, my account has been changed, and the October bill I receive in November should show that.

Ahh, sweet November. Should be a repreive from my monthly wrestling match with AT&T right? No, they got lonely and decided to do something else to get me to call. I receive my bill (again, in excess of $45 on a plan of $29.99), and I not only spy the Voice Dialing charge, but now they have added Text Messaging as well! Grrr...... Speed dial AT&T. "Due to high call volume, there is a long wait to get an operator. The current wait is.....10 minutes". Blood.... pressure.....rising...... Must... control.... rage...... So after 10 minutes of playing on the web waiting for an answer, I get Chevon. Poor Chevon. Immediately after answering the phone, she goes into a coughing, sneezing, hacking fit. Evidently she has a cold. I hope they don't share headsets. Wait a minute, YES I DO! I explain to Chevon the myriad of problems I have had on my account. I tell her that I don't want VoiceDial, which I was charged $0.77 for this month (who knows where that came from). I don't want Text Messaging, I never did! I'm also tired of the mMode internet access, which I never use. A few sniffles and sneezes later, Chevon takes a look at my account, and can't figure out why I've been getting these weird charges. She then laughs and says "Yeah, we have a few thousand account change forms to work through today. This happens all the time." Chevon, let me tell just how reassuring that is, that this service slamming is a known and epidemic problem for AT&T. Grr.... Chevon puts me on hold several times (Her computer is slow today you know) and works through crediting my account and removing the services. When she is done, she has credited my account for $6.55 worth of monthly services I either never asked for, didn't use, or don't want. She assures me that they will not show up again either. Thanks Chevon, go get a tissue.

If you are in the market for a cell phone, do not, I repeat, DO NOT get an AT&T Wireless GSM plan. I spend more time on the Cingular network than I do on the AT&T network. I guess it is a small blessing that the contract was shortened from 2 years to just one. In May of next year, I'll probably be switching my services over to Cingular. I can use the same phone, and they have better coverage in all of the areas that I travel to.

Lottery Scam

Every once in a while, I receive a forward from a relative or someone afraid of a new internet virus, or claiming that if you forward a message that a charity will get a dollar. These are almost always hoaxes. Then there are the more criminal Nigerian E-mail scams, where the sender claims to have some money to move, and needs your help. I usually just discard those as well. But today, I received a lottery hoax. I've copied the message below:

Received: from (EHLO ( by with SMTP; Tue, 02 Dec 2003 10:17:24 -0800
Received: from by (iPlanet Messaging Server 5.2 HotFix 1.14 (built Mar 18 2003)) id <>; Wed, 03 Dec 2003 04:16:41 +1000 (EST)
Received: from ([]) by (iPlanet Messaging Server 5.2 HotFix 1.14 (built Mar 18 2003)) with ESMTP id <>; Wed, 03 Dec 2003 04:16:37 +1000 (EST)
Received: from [] by (mshttpd) ; Tue, 02 Dec 2003 18:16:37 +0000 (GMT)
Date: Tue, 02 Dec 2003 18:16:37 +0000 (GMT)
From: "internationallottouk1" Add to Address Book
MIME-version: 1.0
X-Mailer: iPlanet Messenger Express 5.2 HotFix 1.14 (built Oct 29 2003)
Content-type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-language: en
Content-transfer-encoding: 7BIT
Content-disposition: inline
X-Accept-Language: en
Priority: normal
Content-Length: 1737


REF:EE/EGS/16-DD2751144 AND BATCH NO:53/1014/NBM.


We are pleased to inform you of the announcement today, 2nd of DECEMBER, 2003,
as part of our END of the year bonanza.

You or your company, attached to ticket number 034-1416-4612-750, with serial
number 6521-11 drew the lucky numbers 31-51-22-24-39-43, and consequently won
the lottery in category B.

You have therefore been approved for a lump sum pay out of US$2,500,000 in cash
credited to file REF:EE/EGS/16-DD2751144

This is from total prize money of US$12,500,000.00 shared among 5 winners in
this category. All participants were selected through a computer balloting system
drawn from 96,000 names from Middle East, Asia, Africa, Canada, Europe and
North America and Oceania as part our International Promotions Program, which is
conducted annually.


Your fund is now deposited with EQUITY TRUST ENTERPRISES LIMITED , a security
House insured in your name. Due to the mix up of some numbers and names, we ask
that you keep this award strictly from public notice until your claim has been
processed and your money remitted to your account. This is part of our
security protocol to avoid double claiming or unscrupulous acts by participants of
this program.

We hope with a part of your prize, you will participate in our end of year high
stakes US$1.3 billion International Lottery.

To begin your claim, please contact your claims agent;

SATELLITE PHONE: +8821646685846.

for due processing and remittance of your prize money to a designated account
of your choice.

Remember, you must contact your claims agent not later than 31st of DECEMBER,
2003. After this date, all funds will be returned as unclaimed. All
correspondences to MR.LAWRENCE SMITH, either by fax or email, should have this EMAIL sent
along with it and also, your FULL ADDRESS, YOUR COUNTRY OF RESIDENCE and your
EMAIL ADDRESS to which this email is sent, should be clearly and BOLDLY WRITTEN
IN YOUR RESPONSE with your claims agent.

NOTE: In order to avoid unnecessary delays and complications, please remember
to quote your reference and batch numbers in every one of your correspondences
with your agent. Furthermore, should there be any change of your address, do
inform your claims agent as soon as possible.

Congratulations again from all our staff and thank you for being part of our
promotions program.



N.B. Any breach of confidentiality on the part of the winners will result to
disqualification. Please do not reply to this mail. Contact your claims agent.

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Yeah, that seems pretty authentic. First red flag: I've never entered an international lottery. Ever. But somehow, I've won one!! Yeah me! Second red flag: They never used my name. Somehow, the lottery knows the e-mail address of the lottery winner, but they don't know my name. Hmmm... I'm still ecstatic that I won the lottery, but that's a head scratcher. Third red flag: I'm getting an e-mail about my winnings. Hmmm.... why wouldn't they call me on the phone? Oh well, at least they notified me right! That was downright gracious of the lottery to do that. Uh-oh, red flag number 4: I need to contact a collection agent. I would think that I would need to report to a lottery office. Not an agent. Especially an agent who is using e-mail addresses zWallet and DoraMail. Hmm.... the collection agent has an e-mail address at the Doraemon fan site. Yeah, that makes sense.

Okay people. I'm gonna say this once: You are not lucky!!! Life is unfair! Bad people are out there attempting to prey on naive people. When you receive an e-mail claiming that you have millions coming your way, throw it out. It is a hoax. If you don't believe, take at least two minutes to try to verify ANY information in the e-mail you received. Do a google search on hoaxes with the title of the e-mail. On my first search, the number one hit led to a warning site on internet scams. It specifically discussed this scam. The e-mail I received matches their example almost word for word. For dupes who follow up on this e-mail, the person at the e-mail address then attempts to get you to send your bank account number so they can "wire your winnings to the account". Whoops, they must have accidentally put a minus sign in front of those winnings, because your account is now mysteriously empty!! So even after all of my warnings, if you still think that somehow you are the exception, please, please, create a new and empty bank account before sending out the account number. I would hate to think that you lost your life savings over one of these stupid scams.

So the moral of the story is, don't believe everything you receive in your e-mail.


Woohoo! I found a volleyball league. Or maybe the league found me. Hmm.... Our church just completed a new Family Life Center, which contains a gigantic gymnasium. There were open sign ups for people interested in playing volleyball. I threw my name in. I'm a huge fan of playing the game. I played with the Men's Club Team at Purdue for a couple of years. I was never good enough to travel with the team, but it was a great experience. So I was really psyched when I heard that the church was going to have a league. A couple of weeks ago, a member of the church called to see if I would be interested in leading the open gym. We would meet Tuesday nights from 7 until 9. I was all for it. We had orientation last week, and tonight was our first night of play.

I am completely bushed. It has been so long since i had played a game. We had 16 people show up, so we were able to play 4 on 4 on two courts. We didn't keep score, but played for about an hour. Then we had devotions, and went over the house rules. Once we reconvened, we put everyone on one court and played 6 on 6, with one person rotating in on each side. Two people had left. After three games this way, a couple of people left, so we switched it up to play 6 on 6. After two games of that we played 3 on 3. After a game of that, it was 2 on 2. That was a lot of volleyball! So now I'm sitting here in my sweats after a nice hot shower, trying to let my feet recover. I haven't tried to move like that in a while, so I'm sure that my body will be a little testy with me in the morning. Oh, but it was so worth it!

Fun Toy

On friday, my pop came down to visit with us and delivered my belated birthday gift: Audiovox Sirius Radio! I've been playing with it for the last couple of days, and I'm really happy with it. The receiver unit is tiny, about the size of a recipe notecard. It docks into either a home kit, or a car kit, depending on where you are. Each kit has connections for the satellite antenna and power. That way, when going from one place to the other, you don't have to reconnect all sorts of stuff.

I was really happy when I discovered that I could get excellent reception from office. There is a north-facing window one cube back from mine. I wasn't sure what kind of reception I would get. With XM, the satellites are in geostationary orbit in the south. With Sirius, the satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, and they oscillate north and south. After some experimenting this morning, I'm receiving about 70% signal strength from a north-facing window. In the car, I have excellent reception all the time.

The music is transferred in a stream format. The receive creates a buffer of the music, a little over one second in length. When I drive under an overpass, the receiver plays from the buffer. The stream must have some redundancy. Even when the antenna is covered for a second, there is no noticeable hiccup in signal. The signal did cut out when I drove up to the ATM, but that was to be expected. At our home, I couldn't find a window with a good view to get great reception, but I still had enough to listen. I'm going to keep the docks in my car and at work, though, so it shouldn't matter.

To sum up, I'm very happy with the Sirius Radio. It is a total luxury, as I could be listening to radio over the air for free. I still hear the DJs chime in from time to time, but there are absolutely no commercials. The variety of music, talk, news, and comedy available is great too. Now I can listen to my electronic music as much as I like, wherever I like!

Book of the Moment : Altered Carbon

I enjoy reading, especially Science Fiction books. The last few books that I've read are "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" by Richard Feynman, and "Timeline" by Michael Crichton. For my birthday, Jenn's parents got me "Altered Carbon" by Richard K Morgan. The story revolves around a former military operative who, after leaving the military, became involved in some seedier busines. He grew up as a thug in a gang, and after military service became something of a gun for hire. The story is set far into the future, in a time when humans have colonized several planets, including some outside of our solar system. Also, a technology has been developed for storing the essence of a person. The technology is referred to as a cortical stack, which is an implant at the base of the spine. The stack records all of the essence of the person, including memories and experiences. If a person were to die, the stack could be extracted and inserted into a new body, referred to as a sleeve. New bodies could either be from people sent to jail, and thus removed from their sleeve, clones of the original person, or synthetic bodies that were compatible with the stack. In this way, people could almost live forever by transferring from one sleeve to the next. Travel was made simple by simple transferring the data from a stack to the destination, rather than the entire body.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Mr. Kovacs, the protaganist of the book, has been hired by a very powerful person to investigate his own suicide. Mr. Bancroft evidently killed himself, but he had copies of his stack, and clones of his body, and was easily brought back to life. He is concerned that it was not really a suicide, but instead an elaborate hit on him. It aggravates him, and he has hired Mr. Kovacs to find the truth.

I've really enjoyed the story so far. I'm one chapter from the end, and I think this last chapter is just a wrap up or prologue. The story involves police corruption, power hungry politicians, the rich elite. It also touches on some interesting issues that would arise, should such technology would ever become available. I highly recommend it to anyone that has a penchant for Sci-Fi.

Koby's Eye

A week ago Thursday, Koby had something traumatic happen to his eye. We weren't sure what it was, but that night, he just wouldn't leave it alone. He kept pawing at it and seemed to be in a lot of pain. Jenn had taken Koby on a walk that night with our neighbors, and we thought maybe something flew in his eye, or that the other dog had scratched him. We took him in to the vet on Friday, and he found a scratch on his eye. He gave us some ointments to prevent infection, and told us to bring him back on Monday. By Friday night, his eye was a big, swollen, mucousy mess. He probably couldn't even see out of it. The vet had given us a cream that we were supposed to put directly into his eye. To apply it, we put a bit on our finger, and then rubbed that off on his upper eye lid. Whever we gave it to him, it would cause his eye to hurt again, so we had to be careful to make him leave it alone.

By Monday, Koby was showing great improvement. He was actually using his eye again, although it was still very swollen and red. At the vet, the test showed that the scratch had started to heal. He gave me a different ointment that would not only help it heal, but also act as a pain killer. After the first couple of days, Koby was doing really well, but his eye was still red and puffy. We watched his eye, and it just didn't seem to be getting better, although the eye itself appeared to still be healing. So we continued to use the ointments.

Last night, Jenn noticed that the spot that had been scratched now had a red bump, right on the eyeball! This was really disturbing. It sort of look like, where the eye had healed, a bit of blood had collected like a scab. So today Jenn got in touch with the doc and brought him in. His eye was better, but it was still red and puffy after almost two weeks of treatment. The doc took a look, and couldn't understand why the eye was still agitated. He said that it should have been completely healed within 4 to 7 days. The bump on the eye was fine, a normal part of healing, but the red was being caused by some agitation. He explained to Jenn about the third eyelid that some animals have, and said that he was going to peel it up to look under for some foreign object. He advised Jenn to look away, as eye trauma can be pretty disturbing. Jenn turned away, but immediately the doc noticed something. Jenn turned around and saw that Koby had a large hay seed stuck under his third eyelid! This poor dog has been suffering with this thing for two weeks. He would have had it for a lot longer if we didn't bring him in too. Jenn and I are both amazed at how calm he has been lately considering the amount of pain he must have been in.

So now that this thing is out, hopefully he can heal quickly and get back to 100%. I'm glad Jenn took the initiative here. Just another sign of what a great mom she is going to be!!

[Listening to: Nine Inch Nails - Closer to God - Memorabilia

Review: Matrix Revolutions

Jenn and I went to see the new Matrix : Revolutions. I'll share my thoughts on the movie.

WARNING: I might spoil some of the plot points. So if you haven't seen the films and don't want to know, stop reading now.
Okay, ready for the review? STINK! I didn't hate the film, and it was entertaining. I was just expecting so much more. The first Matrix film provoked all sorts of thought and wondering. "What is the Matrix?" as the trailer put it. Was the Matrix real, or a figment of the imagination? Was Neo going to wipe out the machines?

The second film was action-packed, and had lots of "wow, cool!" moments, but it didn't really answer any questions. We met several characters in the film. We meat the council in Zion. We meet Niobe, a previous flame of Morpheous. Morpheous is shown to be the religious zealot among the military elite. He is at odds with the military commander who is a very tactical fighter. We also learn that Agent Smith is back, and with a vengeance. Not only has he returned, but he can now copy himself at will. In a scene known as the Burly Brawl, Neo takes on several dozen agent smiths. And we start to see a pattern emerging. Evidently, the Wachowski Brothers are very into Eastern Religions, as they are giving us several Yin/Yang characters. Morpheous and the Military Commander. Neo and Agent Smith. We also meet several other characters, including an AI which protects the Oracle. We meet the Maelvingian, who represents the organized crime element within the Matrix and of the machine world. We also meet his wife, of sorts, Penelope. Unfortunately, non of these characters provided much in order to further the plot line. Instead, we get brief glimpses of hollow characters. In the end of the film, Neo is given a choice. He can either save Trinity, and doom Zion to destruction, or destroy the Matrix and with it Trinity, but save Zion.

Given that there is a third film, you can assume that Neo chose to save Trinity. However, after watching the third flick, I wonder why the second one was even necessary. The only plot point to flow through to the third film is the aspect of Agent Smith and his ability to replicate. All other plot points were well established in the first film. Neo has extraordinary power within the matrix. Zion is the last city of the human race. The machines want to destroy Zion. All of these things we learned in the first film. At the end of the second film, we learned that Neo could now control the machines from outside the matrix. This opened up a lot of potential for where the story could go. Were they really out of the Matrix yet? Is Neo human at all?

Given this flicker of opportunity for the story to get interesting again, I was pretty anxious to see this last film to see how it all wrapped up. Big disappointment. While the action and special effects were impressive, I had seen it all before. Neo and Agent Smith using Kung Fu on each other kind of lost its appeal half way through the second film. Now it was just redundant. And the script was terrible. There were times I wanted to bust out laughing at the cheesy one liners and cliche remarks the characters were making. I've never seen a collection of last breath speeches like the ones in this film. Every character, following a mortal wound, receives ten to twenty minutes to make their lost, long, calm, soliloquoy prior to passing. Yeah, that happens. And not only do they not die (and the audience is really wishing that they would by now) but they keep talking, babbling on with their banaled "do it for the gipper" crap.

In the end, I think Jenn and I were both disappointed. The first film was just sooo good. There were so many questions, so many "wow" moments. The third one just feels like coasting. No real answers. The movie is wrapped up, and everything is hunky-dory in matrix land, but back in the real world, we're all a little miffed.


A lot has happened in the last 10 days, and I've been slacking on the blog. Last Wednesday (the fifth) was my birthday. Jenn and I took the day off together. That was awesome! Everyone else was at work and we were out playing. We grabbed some lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, and then wandered over to the theater to watch the latest Matrix film. I had to go into work for about an hour afterwards for a mandatory, all-company meeting. After that, Jenn and I watched Hulk and had a little picnic dinner on the floor of our family room. Jenn is so creative!!! I got home and she had some blankets down and a bunch of pillows for us to lean on. She had prepared a plate full of cut cheeses, dips, sliced meats, and crackers. She also had a bowl of chilled shrimp and cocktail sauce. It was great! I'll have to find a way to have a birthday more often... Hmm....
[Listening to: Daft Punk - Discovery - Fact to Face

Video Game of the Moment

A few weeks ago, I ranted about my disappointment with the video game Dungeon Siege. I finished the game the other day. My contempt for the game became disgust when I saw the ending. You see, with video games, I have two goals. The first is to really enjoy playing through the game. This can happen due to a great story (role playing games), intense action (first person shooters), or the need to use some ingenuity (real time strategy games). Dungeon Siege failed to be extraordinarily enjoyable to play through. I didn't hate it. It was pretty, But there was no story, the action was anything but intense, and there was no need to use any type of strategy. The second goal of playing a video game is to complete the game and be awed by the end-game stuff. In Diablo, there is an amazing computer rendered animation sequence which completes the story for the game. Same with StarCraft, Quake, Half-Life, Command & Conquer, and several other games that I have truly enjoyed. For Dungeon Siege, once I defeated the game, the screen went black. Some text faded in, informing me that I had defeated the evil guy, but that evil remained. Text fades out, credits role. GRRRR! What a cruel ending. Not even a static image of you, the warrior, in the victory pose! Suck Suck Suck! This CD is begging to get microwaved.

Last week I started playing The Simpsons : Hit & Run on the GameCube. I already had the Road Rage, and I enjoyed that one quite a bit. From the reviews that I had read, Hit & Run was to be a lot like the game Grand Theft Auto. I've been pretty jealous that GTA is not available on the Cube, so this was a great deal. I've been playing it all week, and I'm nearly done with it. This is a game I like. There are essentially four basic types of game play: race other vehicles, race against time, destroy vehicles, or collect items. As you drive around the different Springfield locations, you talk to characters who give you the missions. On the side, there are bonus missions to complete, collector cards to find, wasps to destroy, and all sorts of places to explore. The game is slower paced than Road Rage, but I've had a lot of fun playing it. There are 7 levels, and each has at least 7 missions to complete. I'm currently on level five. I am having a lot of trouble finding one wasp in level 1. Other than that, I have 100% completed the other levels. I love this sort of game. If I get bored with the main portion of the game, I can always go looking for the secondary stuff. It keeps the game interesting. The voices are all done by the real Simpsons characters, and the story was by the writers, so at times, the humor is really good. There are also all sorts of references to Simpsons episodes. For instance, in the first level off in the distance, you can see the wold's largest toilet.

So far, I am much happier playing the Simpsons. When I get through with the game, I'll come back and give an update on the ending. I'm pretty sure it is going to beat Dungeon Siege, as I've already seen some cut-scene videos, and the game has a story. More later.

Birthing Class - Part 1

We had our first birthing class today. It was fairly interesting, and we definitely got a lot of good information out of it. I'm afraid that it may have frightened Jenn a bit. She was really not looking forward to the video of childbirth. Fortunately, the first video had a lot of computer animation rather than in-your-face birthing action. The second video, which showed a woman doing a lot of the labor exercises in preparation for a natural child birth, was a bit more... um... "intimate". As encouragement, the mid-wife encouraged the woman on the video to watch in a mirror as the head of the baby started to come through. Next, she was encouraged to put her hand down and feel the baby. Mind you, the child is still not yet born, just crowning. I really had to supress the urge to collapse into a shrieking at that scene. I'm a bit squeamish when it comes to blood and medical shtuff. My roommate Jeff and I used to watch Trauma in the ER on the Discovery channel to freak ourselves out. This is why I operator on computers, and not people. Anyway, the instructor of the class asked if the dads were going to cut the cord. I think I gave myself whiplash shaking my head.

The best part of the class was the part where we went through the breathing and massaging techniques. This was definitely the best part for Jenn, because she was my test subject, but it was also nice for me. Up to that point, a lot of the info wasn't really going to help me out. The massaging and breathing I can help with, though, so I felt like I could finally participate. Every time we talk to our neighbor, she reiterates how useless she thinks I will be in the delivery room. I'm hoping that isn't the case. I'd like to know that Jenn wants me in the room with her, that I'm able to support her and care for her as she delivers our child. I know that there is not a lot that I can do physically, but I want to be there for her in any way I can. To listen to our neighbor, I might as well just wait at home while Jenn takes care of it on her own, possibly with a little help from a doula.

I'm very proud of Jenn. I'm amazed at what her body is going through, and will go through. I'm even more amazed at her attitude. She isn't very worried about the birthing process. Most mothers or mothers-to-be that I've spoken with are absolutely terrified of the pain. Jenn isn't phased by it. She is more worried about being a good parent. I think that speaks volumes to her character. She is already putting the needs of our child ahead of her own. I'm know that she will be a wonderful mother. She's been taking care of a big kid for over five years.


I've found a lot of humor in the news lately. It seems that several people have suffered from a dumbass-attack over the last couple of days.

First, we have John Allen Muhammed, one of the D.C. sniper suspects, firing his lawyers and requesting to represent himself. Yeah, that's an excellent idea. You know, lawyers have had years of schooling, training, studying, and on the job experience. That can't possibly compare to your COMPLETE INSANITY! What is this guy thinking?

Next up, we have Mr. Nathaniel Heatwole, a 20 year old college student who thought it would be a good idea to teach the government a lesson by stashing box cutters and other contraband items on various planes. What kind of mental misfire do you need to be suffering from before you think this is a good idea? Let's see, terrorists decide to crash some planes. In response, we completely obliterated any area that they had a remote chance of possibly living in. The government subsequently bans certain items from flights, including box cutters. Now this mental giant decides that, hey, you aren't trying hard enough, and I'm going to prove it. Great idea. I can just see that interrogation room now.... "Yeah, heheh, see, I got the box cutters on the plane. You guys suck! heheh!" And then the beatings begin. Way to go genius. I'm sure lots of people are now lining up to show you just how much pain your body can endure.

Not to be outdone, we have Kirk Jones, the man who decided it would be fun to float over Niagra Falls. No safety equipment, no announcement, not even a frickin' barrel. How did this guy's day start?
"Whatcha doin' today honey?"
"Well, I think I'll mow the lawn, maybe take out the trash, and, oh, I don't know, float over Niagra Falls."
"That's nice dear."

C'mon. Only one other person has survived that type of stunt, and even then it was completely unintentional. Some poor kid fell out of a boat, and by God's divine grace survived. There's no reason why this latest guy shouldn't be a puddle of guts downstream somewhere.

Lastly, we have poor Eric Alvarez. Evidently inspired by the outrageous antics of Mr. Jones, poor Eric suffered from a brain fart at the worst possible moment. You see, Eric decided it would be fun to 'surf' the top of the train he was riding in. Unfortunately, this brilliant idea came to him just as the train was about to enter a tunnel. Poor Eric's head hit the wall of the tunnel with a terrific smack, pulling him up off the train car and landing him behind the quickly exiting train. Before he was able to regain consciousness, his body was then overrun by the next train to pass through the tunnel, insuring his candidacy for a Darwin Award.

Was there something in the air over the last couple of days? What would inspire these people to such great leaps of lunacy? The world may never know.


I downloaded the new iTunes software for Windows today. It is a system for playing and purchasing music that Apple originally developed for the Mac, but has now ported to the Windows OS. You can search through an enormous library of music, and download any song for 99 cents, or an album for $9.99. It's a great deal compared to buying CDs, which can run as much as $20 depending on where you buy. The system also allows you to preview music before buying it. This is great, as you don't get stuck with an entire CD of crap because you didn't know any better. This could be really dangerous for me. I really like listening to music at work, and I have all of our CDs ripped into MP3 for storage on my hard drive. I play these all day. I think I'm probably getting a satellite radio system for my birthday. If I get sucked into iTunes, I could easily spend $20 or $30 on new music I like before I realize what I've done. I'll try to keep myself under control.

Satellite Radio

I've been eyeing satellite radio service for a while. I make long trips from time to time, and it would also be nice for in the office. My father works for Delco Electronics, a division of Delphi, which manufactures units for both XM and Sirius. He has offered to get a unit for me at a great discount, but I'm not sure which to choose. The user base for both services has matured over the last couple of years, as well as the products available. I need a unit that can go from the car to the office. I've looked at the Delphi SkyFi, the AudioVox SIR, and the Kenwood H2A.

At first, I was looking only at XM. Everything I had read about Sirius said that they were near bankruptcy, and were no where near the customer levels that they needed in order to be profitable. All indicators were that Sirius was going to go belly up, and soon. XM, on the other hand, had great buy-in from several auto manufacturers, and was well on their way to the target market of one million customers. So I looked only at XM. There were two XM receivers that could go from the car to the home / office: the Sony and the Delphi unit. I liked the sony unit, but the screen was a bit small and hard to read. The Delphi unit had an enormous screen. The Delphi unit was also ugly! The brushed steel look is fine, but contrasting with the bright red-on-red display just doesn't do it for me. When I told my pop about all this, he suggested that I take a look at the Delphi Roady. The roady had interchangeable face plates for different colors, and the display could also be modified to use different backgrounds and fore colors. This was a big plus over the SkyFi unit. Unfortunately, the Roady was designed for in car use only. The unit was not made to be detached and moved to the living room or office. The outputs were such that I could just disconnect everything, but it would be a pain to carry all of that equipment in and out.

So today my dad calls and asks if I had considered the Sirius radio service. He mentioned that he got the equipment free if there was a one year subscription. He said that offer was good on both the Audiovox and Kenwood receivers. Both of these receivers can go from the car to the office. The audiovox unit looks a lot like the SkyFi unit, with a big display and nice control layout. A big plus over the SkyFi is that the display is a nice sky blue. Much better than the red. Some other features that I liked were that it had a 10 song memory for recording songs that you like. After reading a few reviews, I found that the Sirius service offers three NPR stations, where XM has none. Also, all of the Sirius channels are commercial free, while XM has commercials on most popular stations.

M nod goes to the Audiovox unit on the Sirius service. It looks better than any of the other units, provides a nice set of features, and can go from my car to the office. The Sirius service also appears to provide some features that I prefer over XM (such as audio streaming to any PC, and commercial free programming). This all comes at a premium price over XM ($12.95 vs. $9.99 per month). I'm really looking forward to getting this unit so I can start playing around and see how good this satellite radio service really is!

Ego Boost

I got a big ego boost on Monday night. My MBA classmates elected me to be their class rep. A couple of the students had some really nice things to say about me, as far as being organized, creative, and getting things done on time, and it was very flattering to hear that from my peers. We have had three people drop out of our course. One girl dropped due to a death in the family, but fortunately she has picked up with another MBA course. Another dropped due to moving to another state. He was the backup class rep. The third dropped due to stress and time. He was our previous class rep. I hope that there is not some sort of curse attached to this class rep status. Being class rep essentially means that I get notifications from the University that need to be passed on to the rest of the students in my class. So if class were cancelled, or if books were late, or there was an especially urgent prayer request, I would receive it and would be responsible for letting the rest of the class know. Not much of a responsibility really, but it was a big boost to my ego for my classmates to speak so highly of me. I really appreciated that.

Dungeon Siege

Last weekend, I really felt like getting a new video game. There are a lot of games that are 6 months old or older that I would like to play, which means that their prices have probably dropped into the $20 range. I picked up Dungeon Siege, which is rated pretty well on all of the regular game sites, and was supposed to be very similar to one of my favorites: Diablo II. I've been playing it for the past week, and it is fun, but at the same time, I'm a little disappointed. The game graphics are incredible. I was hoping that Blizzard would come out with a truly 3-D version of Diablo at some point, and Dungeon Siege is just that. The characters are incredibly detailed, with their appearance changing depending upon what you are using. The environments are well done, with rolling hills, snowfall, dark dungeons and so on.

My disappointment comes in the story. There isn't one. Seriously! Even in the reviews of the game, it seems that the creators set out to create a really incredible game engine, but were not concerned with the plot. This is really taking away from the game. In Diablo, there is a story that goes with the game, and while it does boil down to a lot of furious clicking to kill hordes of enemies, at least your quests seemed to serve some purpose that helped you in the game. In Dungeon Siege, you are given quests, but you are not required to complete them. In addition, if you are given a quest, there is no need to return to the person who gave you the quest for a reward. This really takes away from the "mission" element of the game. The game starts out with your character standing in a burned out field. Evidently you are a farmer, and some local hoodlums have torched your farm. You decide, "Hey, I'm angry. I'm going to go rough up some hoodlums". From there, you follow a path and kill everything in sight. That's all there is to the story. Along the way, you find some books that provide a little bit more background on some of the characters you meet, and the quests you get, but not much more.

Another sore point with me is that the enemies don't respawn. In Diablo, if you quit the game and restart, all of the enemies respawn. This gives you a chance to build up your character levels before you take on a particularly tough enemy. In Dungeon Siege, once the enemy is dead, it stays dead, even if you restart. I'm not even sure that I can play through the campaign again with the same character, if I restart the game. Another big plus of Diablo is that the maps are generated at runtime. So if you play through the campaign and want to do it again, you can play the same character, and the maps will be completely different the next time around. The quests are all the same, but at least the way to get there is different.

One element of the gameplay in Dungeon Siege that still has me confused is the area of character development. As you fight, your character improves based on the weapon type they are using. This can be Melee (swords, axes, knives), Ranged (bows & arrows), Nature Magic (healing, lightning), or Combat Magic (fireballs). So far, I haven't found much point in using anything but Melee. You can have up to eight characters playing at once under your control, and I forced one of them to use nature magic all the time so that he could heal the other party members, but other than that there was no reason to use anything but the best melee weapon. If you try using ranged weapons, the enemies just rush you as soon as they are hit. So it ends up as a melee brawl anyway. Magic, both nature and combat, is way too slow to cast, and much more difficult to build up levels in than the melee and ranged. I'm not even clear on how these levels get achieved. It doesn't have to do with how many enemies you kill, but with how often you use the skill. So I could sit there and use the heal spell for an hour and go up a level. That would be really boring... but it would work. So far, I haven't run into anything that I can't throw my party into melee mode and thwart fairly handily. Occassionally I get caught by surprise and I don't get the healing potions / magic turned on in time, but that is getting increasingly rare.

My final beef with the game has to do with the control, although I've read a couple of things on the web which may help. Ideally, the game could be played with one hand (my left) on the keyboard and the other on the mouse. The mouse could be used for navigation and selecting battles, and the keyboard for changing attack modes, instructing characters to use potions, or to check inventory. Instead, critical commands such as heal (H), mana (M), and inventory (I) are controlled by the right side of the keyboard. The only solution I had was to pause the game with the space bar and then do those keystrokes. This gives the game a sort of stutter as you do something for a while, pause, change stuff, un-pause, and continue playing. Fortunatley, I just read a website that had some tips on how to do some short cuts for changing spells and attack modes.

I'm still going to enjoy playing through the rest of the game, but I'm beginning to feel some apathy. The story isn't motivating me to want to continue playing, and these little nit-picky issues are starting to really aggravate me. I'm enough of a game fanatic that I'll play it through. I haven't played the on-line / multiplayer element yet, so hopefullly that will give it some oomph. However, I think that this little things are going to keep this game from topping Diablo on my favority games list.

Decision Day

I had to make a big decision today. A position had opened up for a Project Manager at an off-site location in Indy. I'm taking courses towards earning my MBA, and I want my career to lead into project management. I thought this would be a great opportunity for me. I brought it up with several people at work, and we sat down a couple of days ago to discuss what the requirements for the position were. The work load didn't seem to be that bad. It was pretty much as I expected. The customer would pay for all of my hours, and would even pay for any training I would need. However, once I took the job, that is where I would stay for several years. The site is a one hour drive from our home too. I would still need to get to my classes every Monday night, and Jenn would still be having a baby in February. I spoke with several people who had been working on the team I would be managing. The general impression was: 50 hour weeks on a slow week, 80 hour weeks when it gets rough, poor office space, and what they do seems to have no impact on the organization. None of this was really selling me on the job. In the end, I decided to stop pursuing the position. It just seemed like the wrong time. Plus, there are a lot of fringe benefits that I had been taking for granted. Such as unlimited and unrestricted internet access, which means I can browse the web on a slow day, do research, and chat with Jenn. Having my own desk is a big plus. A 10 minute drive to work is a big plus. Additionally, I get exposure to several different clients in different industries while working from the main office. If I took the off-site work, it would be the same customer with the same issues for several years. I really enjoy the variety that I am exposed to right now.
Things have really slowed down at our office lately. Our major projects are wrapping up, and we don't have a lot of major projects coming up on the horizon. We seem to get these lulls in business from time to time. The downtime is great to kind of slack off for a while, but it is also a little worrisome as to whether we will have enough work to keep everyone employed. One potential customer we had spent a lot of time courting is not warming up to us as we had hoped. Our existing clients are not quite ready to request the next round of upgrades and changes yet. We have enough projects completed and in place that we should start getting follow up work in the near future. I'm hoping that when those jobs start to role in, there will be enough work for me to assume a managerial position. I still want to do technical work, including coding, designing, installing, implementing and all of that other fun tech stuff. But I can see that our biggest problem right now is proper project management. Our budgets and timelines are always blown. We do not do enough planning in the beginning, and we definitely do not set goals and monitor ourselves like we should to ensure that we get these projects done right, on time, and on budget. I'm hoping that I can do something to help change that. My classes are great. They are opening my eyes to a lot more things to consider once I get that role.
So for now, I'll continue doing purely coding work. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I'll get my shot at leading a team.

Trash Barrels

We use Republic Waste for our trash disposal. Over the weekend, several people on the main road through the subdivision received new barrels from the company with the Republic Waste logo. We didn't receive one, but our friends who live on that road did. The barrel came with a note that indicated that they were to use the new barrels. I guess the trucks are equipped with a special arm for emptying the new barrels. Reactions were mixed. We were pretty excited that we might get one, because we currently don't have any trash barrels. Our neighbors, however, already have barrles, and don't know where they will be able to keep the new ones. Also, the note indicated that only what fits in the barrel will be emptied, so there is a chance that we might be getting less service than before. We still haven't received ours, but then, neither did anyone else on our cul-de-sac. Maybe we'll have one when we get home.

Good Weekend

I had a great weekend! Jenn and I got together after work over at O'Charley's in Carmel for dinner. She needed to pick up some supplies that they were donating for the race on Saturday. We were both in the mood for some hot soup, and they have great potato soup. Potato soup is my all time favorite food. I don't know why. My mom always made really really good potato soup when I was younger. She made it with these giant dumplings and big potatos. Layer some cheese and crackers on there and you have the best stuff on earth! Well, O'Charley's is a good substitute, when I feel like some good chow. However, on this trip, their soup of the day was Clam Chowder. I like clam chowder, and I haven't had any in a while so I chose that instead. To make things even better, not only were Jenn and I having a nice evening together, but the manager gave us a free meal. He was very appreciative of the advertising he was getting in the race for donations, and wanted to say thanks.

Saturday my whole family came down. Travis and Kate were there with baby Nadia, and my parents came down. The brought us some Quiznos' subs for lunch. I had never eaten there before, but the food was really good. My folks also brought down a big pot of chicken and noodles. Mmmmm... It was a good weekend for eating. My mom got bored with the Saturday afternoon sports lineup, so my borther and I took her to Barnes & Noble to do some shopping, and then to Ritters to get some ice cream. To top the night off, Jenn even let me buy a new video game!!!! Yeah! I got Dungeon Siege at a really good price. It's a lot like Diablo, which I love. The biggest difference is that this game is a true 3D game. Diablo is played from an isometric perspective, with some tricks down to make the scrolling look 3D, but it isn't a truly three dimensionally rendered game. Dungeon Siege is. I played from 9pm to midnight. Then I took a two hour break to do my accounting homework. Then it was back to gaming until 4 in the morning. I love video games!

Not to stop the fun there, Sunday I took part in the 2003 Mac Open, which was a charity golf scramble put on by Reynold's John Deere to benefit the United Methodist Men's group at my church. I was playing with my friends Jason and Anthony. We were paired up with a fourth, Paul, who is the father-in-law of the son of a guy we work with. Did you follow that? Lemme break it down: We work with Dave. Dave has a son Jason. Jason is married to Paul's daughter. Paul played golf with us. Okay, glad we got that straight. Anyway, I don't know what happened, but I had a great day on the golf course. We were playing best-ball. There were enough teams in the outing that two foursomes started at each hole. We started first on #18. I was first up to tee off and I had probably the best drive I have ever had on that hole. We were playing at Britton Golf Course. My drive was straight, probably 200 yards, and right in the middle of the fairway. Anthony landed about 10 yards shy of mine, and the other two shanked out of bounds. That was an awesome feeling, and it really got my day started off right. I had a really nice approach shot onto the green. The next few holes, my play was insane. I've never played as well as those first five holes of golf. My game tapered off a bit after that, but I was on a real high from the good start. Then, on #15, a par 3, I had a great tee shot that landed high on the green. Unfortunately, the hole placement was on the slope of the green, and the ball had landed above the hole and to the side, making for a really tricky putt. Somehow, I managed to tap it just right and made an impossible 10 foot putt. I was ready to go home right there. I'm pretty sure I'm going to get hit by a bus or struck by lightning very soon. We finished out the day one over par for our group. I've broken 100 once on my own. I know that we had four chances at every shot, but it was still an ego boost to have such a low score for our team. I'll definitely be playing again next year!

[Listening to: Nine Inch Nails - Down in It - Down in It [Shred]]

Rainy Day

It's raining today. It's gloomy, windy, and cold outside. I feel like going home and curling up in front of the fireplace. Just get all cozy with my family and forget about the rest of the world for a while. Playing a video game might be fun too :-) It's been a pretty strange week. Monday was my last day of class for my accounting prerequisite. I'm glad to be through that, but I know that I have 8 more weeks of Advanced Managerial Accounting to look forward to. The final for the prereq was sort of a joke. It was a 25 question matching exam. There were 25 terms and 25 definitions. Some of the definitions used the term too, which made things even easier.

Tuesday was a big day for us. We went in to the doctor for Jenn's 20 week exam. We had an ultrasound, and we were able to see our baby! It was really amazing. There on the screen was this little person growing inside of Jenn. We were able to see the heart beating, the stomach, the kidneys, the bladd, the face, the hands... everything. It sort of looks like an alien right now, with huge eyes that the head doesn't quite wrap around, and a tiny little mouth. It was kind of cute when we saw that the baby had the hiccups. It was also putting its hands in front of its face, which was neat. Jenn had some orange juice and cookies before we left for the doctor to be sure the kid would be active on the scan. It was really neat. I'll try to remember to bring the picture into work so I can scan them in.

The next two days I spent at CAT in Lafayette. Not much to say there. Some good TV on Thursday night (Survivor, CSI). I really hope that Rupert goes far in the game. He's the only one worth watching right now. So that leads to today. Today is just sort of a blah day. I never really got started on anything at work. I started the day working from home while waiting for an installer from Lowe's to install a new storm door. Unfortunately, when the guy arrived he had the wrong color door. Looks like it will get installed on Monday now. Then I went to the Tire Barn and had my new rim mounted on my car. The old rim was definitely dented, and so hopefully the tire will stop leaking air now. If not, I give up on that car. When I got back to work, it was almost time for lunch, so I didn't really start anything. I grabbed some Chic-Fil-A food and played euchre (yay!). This afternoon, we all just sort of slacked off. We chatted around the office some, and I never really got motivated to do anything. Now Jenn and I are planning on going to eat some potato soup at O'Charley's. I love potato soup! That should start the evening off right. Then we're thinking of going to the new Barne's and Noble in Noblesville to just browse around for a while. I dunno. This is sort of a rambling post without any point. Sort of like today. Nothing much going on. Just hangin out :-) Have a good weekend!

[Listening to: Nine Inch Nails - Down in It - Down in It [Shred]]

High Definition Cable

Last fall, we went on sort of a spending spree and got a bunch of new, fun stuff. We got a gigantic 55" Mitsubishi Medallion high definition widescreen TV. We purchased a really nice surround sound system with Klipsch speakers and a Denon receiver. Finally, we finished out the living room with a wrap-around couch and chair-and-a-half. Then, in the spring, our cable provider (Insight) started offering High Definition cable. They only had four channels at the time: ABC, CBS, HBO, and Showtime. Insight only wanted $2 / month for the additional set top box required to decode the high definition signal, which was a heck of a lot better than the $400 or more that it would cost to get an over the air decoder. So we jumped and got the service. We've been a little disappointed with the quality of the local networks, but the HBO and Showtime channels are incredible. Sometimes the local networks get it right and a show looks good too. Recently, I've noticed channels coming and going. Upon my latest check, here is what we are receiving:

  • 750 - HBO HD
  • 751 - SHOWTIME HD
  • 760 - CBS (WISH)
  • 762 - ABC (WRTV)
  • 764 - PBS (switches between several PBS feeds, currently WHYY)
  • 774 - BRAVO
  • 775 - ESPN (black screen on my receiver)
  • 776 - DISC
  • 777 - HDNT (black screen)
  • 778 - HDMV (black screen)

The Discover HD Theatre channel is absolutely amazing. I watched a nature show and some of the images of the birds and wildlife were just amazing. The level of detail was so much better than a regular TV show. It really is amazing. I'm looking forward to getting the rest of the networks (NBC, FOX, UPN, WB) soon, as I know that they broadcast over the air locally. The cable company has to work out a deal with them first, but it shouldn't be long (i hope). As for ESPN, I'm not really missing it right now. I've heard that ESPN charges cable operators a premium to distribute the High Definition signal. If it means that my bill would go up, I'm not paying it. We already pay an arm and a leg for the stations we do get. Our bill breaks down to $40 for Digital Cable + $10 for HBO (x6) + $10 for Showtime (x7) + $40 for broadband internet + some taxes and equipment = $110 / month. That's an outrageous amount to pay for entertainment each month, but we do use it. I'm more fond of the internet service than the cable, and Jenn is just the opposite. It is nice to receive the digital music channels though. I'm "working" from home today, and I've got it tuned to 536 - Trends. It's a great mix of electronic music: Fatboy Slim, Orbital, Basement Jaxx, Propellerheads, etc. My kind of music. Jenn hates it, so I have to enjoy it while she isn't around :-).

I have a friend in the neighborhood who has nearly the same entertainment setup, but he gets his programming through DirecTV. He is a major football fanatic, and subscribes to the season ticket each year, which lets him watch every game. He also gets his HD service through the satellite. He has been receiving a lot of the content that I am just now getting for quite a while. I read a post on AVS Forum that indicated that there may be a premium charge coming for some of the HD content. When the new cable box was first hooked up, the cable rep said that the new box would eventually completely replace my existing Digital box, but that they were still working on the switch over. It will be nice when that happens. One less black box on top of the TV. Plus, we won't have to do the funky multiple remote channel switching that is require right now to go between high definition content and regular digital cable. I'm sure Jenn will be very happy when the day comes when it takes just one remote to control everything. Someday... someday...

[Listening to: Underworld - Single - Jumbo]

AT&T Wireless

A few months ago, I had to get a cell phone for work. I wasn't really happy about this. I never wanted to have a cell phone. I thought, sure, it would be nice to be able to call from anywhere, but I don't want people calling me anywhere. It was just another expense that I didn't want, and it was a convenience I felt like I could live without. My work, however, felt otherwise. A new policy was issued which required that all employees get cell phones. The company was going to pay $20 a month towards whatever plan we opted for. They encouraged us to get Verizon service, but did not limit us to them.

I looked around at the different service offerings. Jenn had a Verizon phone and was paying $20 a month for the service, and the phone was free with the contract. She only received 100 minutes a month though, and I knew that if I were going to use this both for work and home, I would likely need more than 100 minutes. I looked at Verizon's other offerings. I also looked at other companies, including T-Mobile, Cingular, AT&T Wireless, and Sprint. We were warned not to use Cingular and Sprint due to coverage issues. After looking at the coverage maps, I could see why. T-Mobile was just a little bit more expensive, and didn't quite have the coverage I would need. Verizon had the best coverage by far. AT&T wireless couldn't match Verizon's coverage, but they had coverage in all of the places I thought I might travel for my job. In addition, they had a $30 plan that had 300 minutes per month nationally, which beat the Verizon plan. So I chose to get an AT&T Wireless plan on the national GSM service. I chose a Sony Ericsson t68i phone. Jenn was getting kind of short tempered with me because I was taking so long to make a decision, and she was thrilled that I finally settled on a plan and phone.

After receiving my phone, I played with all of the features. I payed an extra $3 a month to have access to the web on the phone, so I played with getting maps, weather, and traffic. There was a 6 cent per kilobyte charge for that, but I knew that up front. I also played with the text messaging. It was free to receive text messages, 10 cents to send, and $1 or more for the multimedia messages. I played with ring tones, pictures, hands free dialing, and all of the other features that this cool gadget had.

During the second month of service, I was taking a closer look at my billing when I noticed that I was receiving only 200 minutes per month as part of my plan. When I signed up on the web, I was told 300 minutes. So I contacted AT&T support to find otu what happened. After some checking, the operator agreed that I should be getting 300 minutes, so she applied the change to my account, and then granted an additional 60 minutes for the trouble. Two cheers for good customer service!

During that time, I received in the mail a notice that AT&T had not yet received my signed two year agreement. I signed the enclosed agreement and sent it back. Today, I opened the invoice for my phone and find a $26 activation fee has been applied. I contact customer service and they say that they never received the two year agreement. They cut my agreement to one year, and applied the $26 activation fee. The operator said that if I make a copy of my existing agreement and send it in, my account will be credited for the $26.

This leaves me with an interesting dilemma. The reception on my phone is terrible. The sound quality is outstanding, I can hear calls perfectly, and for the most part the person I call can hear me with crystal clarity. Unfortunately, the reception of signal is very spotty, and terrible while traveling. I receive no signal for the entire drive between Noblesville and Warsaw, which is where I travel quite a bit. Driving to Kokomo to visit my parents, I occassionally see one bar of reception. And when I am on a call, if I drive through a strong gust of wind, the call drops. I can't seem to find any reason for it, but there are just dead spots on major interstates, highways, and roads where I lose my call. I look at the phone, and it still reports four bars of reception, but the call drops. It is very frustrating. I'm half tempted to just chuck the phone out the window when this happens. It really frustrates Jenn too when our conversation drops.

So now I am debating whether I should sign the agreement or not. This may be a blessing in disguise. If I pay the $26, and my contract is shortened to one year, this will give me the opportunity to switch providers in a few months. I am very tempted to do this. I know that Verizon is the king of coverage, however, they do not offer GSM service. I really like the clarity of the calls on the GSM network, but the coverage is abysmal. I have recently begun to pick up Cingular GSM service when I am traveling. I'm not sure if I will be charged roaming while on this networks, but it is nice to see that GSM coverage is expanding. Another nice feature is that my battery does not get drained nearly as badly as my friends on the Verizon network experience. Whenever their phones are unable to find a digital signal, they switch to analog service and drain very quickly. SInce GSM is all digital, my battery lasts a week regardless of where I am.

I'm going to do some research again today into what the cell phone companies are offering. If it looks like a good move to ditch AT&T, maybe I'll just let the contract sit and pay the money. $26 isn't much in the long run, if I can get better service soon. I'll miss my t68i phone though. This thing is really cool! Although, this may provide the opportunity to get a newer, even cooler phone! I can almost hear Jenn moaning and rolling her eyes at me right now.....

[Listening to: Pearl Jam - Get Out Of L.A. - Oceans]

Jade Mason