Archive for August, 2005

Blockbuster Lies

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

One month ago, I quoted an e-mail from Blockbuster saying I had to return outstanding discs “by Saturday, October 1, 2005 in order for you to avoid additional charges.”

They lied.

In tonight’s e-mail:

Hello, J,

We have completed your request to cancel your BLOCKBUSTER Onlineâ„¢ 2 month free trial, Unlimited rents membership on Monday, August 1, 2005.

However, our records indicate Osama has not been received, and we have charged your payment card [redacted] $21.19.

If you have already returned the movie, you will be refunded the $21.19 less a $0.00 restocking fee. If you feel you have been billed in error, please contact Customer Care at 1-866-692-2789 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. CST Monday through Friday.

BLOCKBUSTER Online Customer Care

I don’t think it all unreasonable to expect that borrowed discs be returned within 30 days of cancellation. I think that’s rather generous, actually. But don’t go telling your customers they have 60 days and then change your mind. That makes you either unprofessional, incompetent, or both.

(As an aside, the other thing that truly annoys me about this error is that the relationship is entirely electronic. How am I supposed to convince a skeptical customer service rep that their systems are actually in error? An easily forged print-out of the e-mail? I have no hard copy of the message, so it’s just a small step up from my word against theirs…)

What You Lookin’ At?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

In “Visa Seeks New Ways to Keep Data Secret“, the NYT takes a look at the challenges involved with securing data throughout the chain that brings information from the little swipe boxes through to the banks.

The story includes this photo of the Visa data center:
VISA data center, with plenty of monitors

Here’s what I’m wondering: what could possibly be displayed on those monitors? Seems they’ve got plenty of screens, but how do you even begin to monitor a system that entails “some 3,000 credit and debit card transactions swiped … every second”? After all:

On any given day, data about Visa cardholders courses through the computer networks of more than five million merchants, hundreds of data processors and 14,000 banks before it even reaches the machines at the Visa operations center. For online purchases, cardholder information can make additional pit stops at any one of the thousands of processing hubs in between.

According to the article, there are 1,000 servers in that data center, used for 35 billion transactions a year. I’m just wondering how you could even begin to decide what would make it to those monitors. Server statistics (temp, load averages, remaining storage)? Transaction details? Phone center traffic? Exceptions to averages? How do you determine when something’s gone wrong? What makes the cut and what doesn’t?

Basically, I’m just glad I don’t have to baby-sit those boxes.

Banner Ads I Don’t Understand, Pt. 8

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

Here’s a cropped frame from a banner ad in Yahoo’s “Talk to Win” campaign (original here):

From what I understand, you can win trips somewhere by doing something. That’s fine. Here’s what I don’t get:

  1. Why is Des Moines written as “Demoines”?
  2. Why is “Demoines” roughly where MSP is located?
  3. Most importantly, who the hell would want a free trip to Des Moines?

I mean, yay Iowa and stuff, but really.

Getting Defensive

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

The U.S. military continues its effort to streamline operations, with panels evaluating the closing and consolidation of bases and other facilities.

Apparently, there’s plenty to cut. I wouldn’t know. I can’t claim to know too much about military effectiveness, having gleaned most of my knowledge from reading Tom Clancy and Jane’s as a teen.

I do know a little something about English, and that’s what has me worried. Consider this:

Endorsing the Pentagon’s vision of streamlining support services across the armed forces, the commission also signed off on most recommendations to merge several education, medical and training programs. The Defense Department calls this “jointness” — the services combining their strengths, rather than working separately, to save money and promote efficiency.

Jointness? Somebody needs to get these people a copy of the bullfighter’s guide. What exactly is wrong with “merger”, “cooperation”, “coordination”, “consolidation”, “teamwork”, etc. that inspires the creation of new bullshit words? Answer: everybody wants to maintain their branches and fiefdoms. Which is human nature, to a degree. I just hope they all can spend more time fighting real wars, as opposed to turf wars.

Awww, Geek Out!

Monday, August 22nd, 2005

Three months ago, I mentioned that I had begun to clean one of the two rooms in which I spend most of my time:

The other is “the Lab,” which is dominated by computers (presently 5 towers and 2 laptops) and has paper on nearly every surface.

That cleaning isn’t quite complete, but now at last I have a chance to illustrate what I mean by “dominated.” This afternoon I decided to send my dear friend Jesse a picture of my workspace. So I pushed back from the desk and snapped this (click for larger version):

a desk with 6 monitors and a phone

These connect to the towers under the table, which include Debian, Ubuntu, and XP machines. (The Mac mini, my new primary computer, can be seen on the desktop just behind the LCD.) As you might guess, it can get fairly hot in here.

For the record, I don’t usually have 6 monitors, I actually have 2 computers I’m upgrading/transferring here at the moment. On the other hand, this picture doesn’t include the laptops…


Sunday, August 21st, 2005

The past ten days have been quite emotional for me and my extended families: on the one side, we had a wedding; on the other, a death.

Were I a better, more sensitive writer, I might plumb my feelings on these topics and use them as the basis for posts, perhaps on mortality, relationships, or even on being an atheist when everyone around you is praying for happiness and/or peace.

Sadly, (or perhaps fortunately?) I’m not that good, so now that I’m getting back to posting you’ll just have to expect my usual tech-infused bloviating.

Even in times of turmoil, some things never change.

That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

Thursday, August 11th, 2005

Now doesn’t that just suck:

Plasma screen TV manufacturers warn consumers of warranty limitations in the event of “screen burn” — literally, an unfortunate casualty wherein the [television network] logo becomes permamently “burned” into the screen as a consequence of the TV being left on the same station for too long.
Why Bugs Don’t Belong on TV, Design Observer

Ugh, imagine your $7,000 TV with a permanent NBC logo, no matter what you’re actually watching…

Is This the Future of TV?

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

DTV screenshot

(No. But provocative headline, eh?)

You’re looking at a screenshot of the new “DTV” client from the Participatory Culture Foundation. The program is an open, free attempt to make an iTunes for video.

Or, actually, to go beyond that. Rather than just create a new way to browse existing television, the Foundation is looking to encourage “regular” people to get involved in creating and selecting programs for others to enjoy.

It’s very, very early going yet — this beta is only 2 days old — but I’ve downloaded the program and I’ll be keeping an eye on it. I’ve always found the “access to distribution” questions to be one of the most fascinating parts of modern media.

What Happens at 10:43?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

Bought some milk today. Brought it home and noticed the expiration date was unusually specific:

Gallon of milk close-up, with printed expiration Aug 22 1042 AM

The other gallon was similar. That’s the first time I’ve seen an expiration that includes a time as well.

I’m thinking it probably doubles as a way to trace the manufacturing lot backwards. That, or it’s just some really precise milk.

Dick is a Killer

Sunday, August 7th, 2005

Via War Room, can I just say I’m totally enjoying the “Dick is a Killer” remix from The Party Party. It’s amusing the hell out of me to hear W re-arranged.

I also greatly enjoy the “great frequency and vigor” line from Hillary in “My Generation Rx.”

Greatly amusing, as only famous people + swearing can be.

From My Past Life in International Banking

Thursday, August 4th, 2005

I’ve been behind on a lot of things lately: “blogging” (ugh, still hate that word), e-mail, 6FU… Guess what I decided to catch up on?

Yep, that’s right, last night I watched 4 straight hours of “Six Feet Under” — after which I just want to say 3 little words: Ho. Lee. Crap. This is turning out to be a hell of a season.

And I’m not just saying that because they included a shot of Keith reading my book:
'Keith' holding book 'Confessions of an Economic Hit Man' by John Perkins

They’re Due When?

Monday, August 1st, 2005

Blockbuster “End of Late Fees” program is mostly myth — which is why my BbO cancellation confirmation shocked me:

If you do not choose another plan, your membership will be cancelled as of Tuesday, August 2, 2005. We must receive all BLOCKBUSTER Online DVDs by Saturday, October 1, 2005 in order for you to avoid additional charges.

I get two months to return the discs I have now? Must be a bug.