Sunday, January 27, 2008

Knitting for Psychopaths

I have to admit, most of these projects seem rather gruesome. I can only imagine the reaction would get working on one of these on the train.

For some reason, the knit monkey rowing on a giant banana seems out of place.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Paypal's itchy trigger finger

Paypal recently locked my account because I had the audacity to *GASP* make a purchase. They sent the merchant an e-mail claiming I was the one contesting the transaction and I've learned they;ve also locked HER account and are blocking her from retrieving her funds.

Paypal sent me a survey, asking for my feedback on this matter. One of the questions was along the lines of "What can Paypal do better?"

Below is the response I entered for that question.
Send the merchant a letter stating that Paypal is contesting the transaction. Don't hide behind my name, lie and claim I was the one contesting the bill.

Add a button to the site letting me cancel an investigation you morons initiated. The last time my credit card company suspected my card had been stolen, they put a hold on the card and cleared it up after a short phone call. They dind't make me wade through a useless web site for an hour, get sick of the USELESS interface and then use Google to hunt up a customer service number. Even then I had to spend 20 minutes on the phone to resolve Paypal's screw up.

The ONLY reason I didn't just mail the merchant a check was because of the customer service rep I spoke to. That person actually resolved the issue that baffled your web site. I appear to have been lucky and gotten the only competent Paypal employee.

In the future, I won't even use Paypal for ebay transactions. I'm going back to checks, or better yet, switch to an auction site that lets me use Google Checkout.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

1st Financial, the pain continues

Called 1st Financial, and they claimed that my credit card had a, get this, $0.28 balance. For a second I thought they might have left the finance charge on the card, but the finance charge was $0.50

I called their customer service line at 8:31 pm, EST, Jan 22, 2008 and was transferred to "Patrick".

When I described the problem he said "how about I zero that out for you sir?" I thanked him and said I also wanted to close the account. He said the account was already closed and I should get another statement on the 5th of Feb.

I await the next volley with baited breath.

No Power at the office

This is why nothing is getting done today. The power is out at the office and they are not sending us home (yet)

UPDATE: 1:00 pm

The owner decided to send everyone home at 10:00 AM. I was surprised that it took me close to two and a half hours to get hoe, thanks th the buses and trains switching from their rush hour schedules. The trip home was further aggravated when I made a quick stop at the grocery store, and the one bus that was going to arrive that hour decided to blow past me, despite the fact that I was sitting on the bench waiting patiently. When the same driver came by again an hour later I ended up running to the next stop to catch the bus.

His excuse?

"I never stop if someone is just sitting on the bench. People waiting for this bus stand up when I come by."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

First Financial Bank, Experts at Committing Credit Card Fraud

I've been trying to close my First Financial Credit card for three months now. It all started when I got a bill with a positive balance. As their customer service was closed when I opened the bill, and the card had carried a zero balance for a number of months, I reported an unauthorized transaction.

The charge was later revealed to be an "Annual membership fee."

Over the next couple months, despite repeated calls to cancel the account and promises that the charges would be reversed I got another bill for January, 2008.

I opened it on Jan 17, 2008. They claimed I not only owed them $10.00 but now owed a $37.00 late fee and a $0.50 finance charge.

They wanted me to pay $47.50 in charges for a credit card that had carried a zero balance for a prolonged period and which I had been trying to cancel for three months, all the while receiving promises that the charges were being reversed.

I called customer service and reached Joe, Rep ID # 354.

He said the account had been reviewed, had been reinstated and that while the account was closed the balance was still due. He refused to reverse the charges. Apparently one of the reps I spoke to in December when I was trying to cancel the account had decided to reinstate it, thus initiating the $10.00 charge.

Joe considered the matter resolved, and was telling me how I needed to pay the outstanding balance.

I informed him that I was NOT paying the bill, as First Financial was NOT entitled to the money, and that if the charges were not reversed and the account closed I would report credit card fraud to the three main credit reporting agencies.

He still insisted that "The account was already reviewed."

I asked how I escalated this issue. After several minutes on hold he Transferred me to the "After hours Service Department" at 800-733-1732.

I spoke with Patty. When I asked for her rep number she said it was "extension 2321." She said that she had credited the balance and the late fee and that my next bill, which would be cut on Feb 5, would reflect a zero balance.

I asked if there was a confirmation number she could give me, and she said there was none. I asked her when I would could call in to hear the zero balance on the automated phone line. She said she did not know, but said the credits would be processed before my next bill was cut.

I remain, understandably, dubious. I called in at 8:08 pm, about 15 minutes after the customer service calls finished and it still reported my account as "delinquent."

My plan from here on out is simple. I'm going to call their balance hotline, and if I don't hear a "Zero balance" by Monday, then Tuesday, I'm calling their customer service.

If I get another bill, I'm going to do the following:
  • Report the incident as credit card fraud to TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.
  • File a complaint with the BBB.
  • File a small claims case against First Financial.
  • Run a credit report. If this debacle is reflected in my credit score then the Small Claims case will be for the maximum allowable by Small Claims Court for the damage they're doing to my future financial solvency be attacking my credit rating. I'll also contest it on my credit report with TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

I'm sick of this, I'm sick of these liars claiming the charges are being reversed when they aren't. All I wanted to do was cancel a credit card I no longer used or needed, and First Financial Bank seems to have taken umbrage to this notion.

1st Financial Bank USA
PO Box 1050
N Sioux City, SD 57049

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The pending election

The word 'politics' is derived from the word 'poly', meaning 'many', and the word 'ticks', meaning 'blood sucking parasites'.
Larry Hardiman

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992), Salvor Hardin in "Foundation"

We have only two things to worry about: That things will never get
back to normal, and that they already have.
Unknown

An Open Letter to the Christian Entertainment Industry

background

My childhood exposure to Sci-Fi was spotty at best. While I got some of the classics, such as H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, a lot of science fiction was unavailable to me due to the confines of a religious upbringing. Fortunately I was lucky enough to hear Dimension X reruns on the radio, which exposed me to authors such as Ray Bradburry, further feeding my geekery and forging my current interest in Old Time Radio.

Christian Sci-Fi and Fantasy, 90% suck

Aside from those few isolated sources, most of the Sci-Fi I got to read was the sort you find in Christian book stores. Stephen Lawhead was the high water mark for living Christian Science Fiction and fantasy writers. The Christian market was so desperate for decent science fiction that the Dune series, as anti-Messianic and anti-religion as you can get, was sometimes sold at Christian book stores and Becka Book sales as an "Allegory".

Many of the Christian schools and Churches I attended banned things like The Lord of the Rings and even Narnia. LOTR I could understand, as one of the heroes is a wizard, but banning Naria and allowing Dune convinced me that whoever was making these decisions never actually READ any of the books.

Christian Computer Games, 100% Suck

Christian Computer games were as neglected and barren a landscape as Christian Science Fiction. I vividly remember a Nintendo cartridge that featured "Bible Heroes." The people who made these games never took inspiration from things like the epic battles to take and hold Canaan, or the political intrigue around the succession of Kings. No, all the really cool source material was left by the wayside.

The Bible games were not exciting or engaging, but insipid and boring. Yes, you got to play David, son of Jessee, but you didn't play a game where King David is going to war or fighting the rebellion lead by his own son. No, you played a 12 year old David running around collecting lost lambs and putting them in a pen. The game ENDED just before the battle with Goliath, where it really should have been starting.

All of this came flooding back to me courtesy of some podcasts. It seems the sidekick from "Charles in Charge" has gone as far to the right as Kirk Cameron and created the character "Bibleman."

Bibleman, an apparent staple in Christian themed superhero media now has a video game.



Why Christian Computer Games Suck

I want there to be something about this that surprises me. I want to see some progress in the media, but by and large even the GRAPHICS have failed to evolve much since my own high school days. The premise is insipid, the agenda onion-skin thin, the voice over work sub-par even for a video game. The game play looks dull, uninspired and repetitive.

The mentality behind this is all too obvious to me. These abominations are brought about by prejudice and misconception. This is not an attempt to create an engaging and interesting game. Bibleman is an attempt to graft in-your-face, Christian concepts onto a Christian parent's stereotype of a video game. The models for these games are not the ones that actually sell, but the cartoon image middle aged, highly offended, Evangelicals have of video games. They're an attempt to make a preachy game based on a stereotype and the result is sad, campy and pathetic.

I have some respect for the people who tried to counter the violence of Quake with a paint ball game. The implementation may have been poor, but the idea was sound. I have no respect for the people who created the Bibleman video game. If you're going to have a game where kids are running around killing people anyway then go all out and make a GOOD video game based on the Old Testament.

Fixing the Problems with Christian Computer Games

Anyone about to make a Christian Computer game needs to go out and PLAY SOME GAMES. Don't look at screen shots your pastor circulated in his last "Why Rockstar Software is evil" flier. Play some popular games for 5 to 10 hours each and talk to some enthusiastic gamers. Ask them what they like about games and what keeps them interested in a game.

Tone down the Cheese. Having crosses everywhere and the heroes calling out "In the Name of Christ" every 30 seconds gets real old real fast.

Jack Chick is not a role model. I hate to break it to you, but Jack Chick tracts never converted anyone. His over the top stereotypes only serve to annoy and offend the very people the tracts claim to target. All they really accomplish is allowing the Christians who distribute them to pretend they're evangelizing without requiring them to actually interact with human beings, you know, Witness.

Don't resort to stereotypes. Here are some examples from actual Christian media:
  • A main villain named "Wacky Protester" whose goal is to draw souls into Hell.
  • A supercomputer with an annoying voice that's easily recognizable as a bad stereotype of a new Jersey Jewish girl.
  • An "Evil teacher" out to spread "Humanist" values

None of these are credible villains. They won't be taken seriously by someone playing the game. Using them or characters like them just violates the next rule:

Don't use it to preach. The goal of a Christian game should be to create something that kids can play instead of the games you find objectionable. If you use it as a platform to constantly preach and teach moral lessons then the kids will get bored. A moral THEME is just fine. Take a look at the "Light Side / Dark Side" theme of "Knights of the Old Republic" as an example.

Fred Rogers was an ordained minster who went into television production because he hated what was already on the air. He set out to create something he approved of. His morality, humility and integrity permeates every second of the programming he produced and has reverberated through programs like "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" that are base upon what he created. At no point in anything he produced did he start preaching about Jesus on television, even though he started producing childrens' programming during a time period where he could have gotten away with it on PBS. He did not TALK ABOUT his faith, he simple LIVED HIS FAITH and the result has been a source of peace, love and acceptance that will hopefully reverberate for generations. Don't create Christian entertainment the way Jack Chick produces  comic books. Create it the way Fred Rogers produced television.

Use it as Inspiration, but don't force it to be the central theme.

You may think the people behind the Diablo games are trying to corrupt your children in some kind of demonic plot to bring more souls to Satan. It may come as a shock to you that they're not. Game designers are just using spooky and scary cultural source material to get a good adrenalin rush going. Do the same with the Bible. Isiah's actual description of what Angels look like is pretty far removed from the winged little nancy-girls in white we inherited from the Romans. The Old testament has two different descriptions of Angels, handsome messengers often robed in light and three story tall walking nightmares who look like they could use a city bus for a game of catch.

Medieval art gives us the fanciful notion of demons being bat winged freaks with Pan's legs and goat heads. It stands to reason they'd look a lot like their unfallen brethren. Depicting them as such would them a lot more frightening than the current Hollywood and comic book images.

Game ideas

Here are some ideas. If you use them I ask for a credit in the game and a small percentage donated to an animal shelter or rescue group. I'd prefer The House Rabbit Network, but I'm not picky. (Well, aside from ruling out those hypocrites at PETA and their 80% kill rate, but that's a different story)

A resource management game based on the conquest of Canaan.

You have all the elements for Starcraft style game play. You need to gather resources, fight enemies and keep a large civilian population in check. By this point God had stopped feeding the people with manna and Moses wasn't around to extract water from stones. The key is to keep divine intervention to a minimum. God is present in the game, but he's not making it easy for his chosen people. Read the Bible, he made them do most of the dirty work.

A Persistent Multi player Online game based on Judges I and II.

You have rampaging bands of invaders, no centralized government, false prophets and priests of Baal running around and the occasional "Judge" sent by God to clean things up, Samson being just the most famous of many.

If you MUST do the End Times...

Take a good long look at the book of Revelations. You'll notice that the whole "Twinkling of an Eye" event happens AFTER the fall of the Antichrist. The notion of "The Rapture" sparing all the good little Christians from the End Times is a deliberate misinterpretation of scripture. It's a tool for tempting Christians to be prideful and arrogant about their fate, when the reality is we're going to get just as much of a smack down as everyone else.

Suck it up and deal, then use it to make a survival game about Christians living in a dissolving civilization under totalitarian rule. Don't lay it on too thick though. Yes, have a few characters refuse to believe the Antichrist really is the Antichrist because "I would have been Raptured if he were" but if something like that gets referenced more than once every hour of game play you're laying it on too thick.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lenno accidentally breaks strike rules

Jay Lenno wrote his own monologue for the Jan 2, 2007 episode of his program. Blogger Nikki Finke however, is insisting that scabs or strike breaking WGA writers MUST have written it.

Based on what Lenno said, it sounds like he just misunderstood the contract, thinking he could write the monologue himself without violating the contract. The article seems to assume Lenno is incapable of writing his own material, despite the fact that he was an accomplished solo act long before he became the host of his current program. Given the quality of most of the writing on Television, I suspect the WGA should be more concerned that he'll decide he prefers writing his own material again.

I posted a comment to Ms. Finke's blog, but have not seen it on the page. It's possible that she just moderates her blog and the comment won't show up for a few hours / days / whatever. Given the tenor of most of the comments however, I suspect she's just filtering out comments that don't assume Lenno is some sort of union buster out to screw over the writers.

I'm tempted to make a jab at the quality level of most TV and film writers, but a few minutes with the average sitcom or soap opera says all that's really necessary.

Pat Robertson: Master of the Obvious

I grew up watching the 700 Club on a regular basis, my mother was even a paying member. At the time, my favorite part were the stories of people "finding" Christ, particularly because the reenactments of their pre-Salvation lifestyle made up the most interesting things on the program.

As I became more moderate in my religious and political views, I lost interest in Pat Robertson and his activities. He dropped off my radar until he hit the news again hen he advocated the US assassinate Chavez. After that I started paying attention to Pat's shenanigans. Mostly, I'm amazed at just how easy it is to manipulate and fool people using religion.

For example, Pat Robertson has, yet again, made a list of predictions for the new year.

Let's take a look at Pat's predictions for 2008:

A major recession in 2008

In light of the collapse of the home mortgage industry, the plummeting dollar and the rising price of oil you'd have to be pretty dense to not expect an impending recession. 43% of Americans thought we were already in a recession in early 2006. God seems to be asleep at the wheel, having just now noticed what close to half the country could see in December of 2005. The information age must be pretty daunting for the being who created time, if he's running a full 25 months behind the average "liberal" blogger.

Higher Gas Prices as a result of oil hitting $150 a barrel

Well, God seems to have read up on Peak Oil. With Oil at $100 a barrel at the start of 2008 and the prospect of the US invading Iran before the 2008 elections, $150 a barrel oil isn't too far fetched an idea.

US Dollar continuing to lose value

The US Dollar started 2008 by falling against the Euro and the Canadian Dollar. A review of how the Dollar has fared since 1999 gives a bleak picture of continuing decline, a depressing downward trend with no sign of relief on the horizion.

"I also believe the Lord was saying by 2009, maybe 2010, there's going to be a major stock market crash,"

Gee, ya think? What on Earth would lead God to suspect such a think would happen?
  • Multi-Year recession
  • Multiple smaller stock market crashes over the last eight years.
  • Skyrocketing government debt
  • Increased military expenditure, based on borrowed money
  • Rising oil costs
  • A collapsing dollar
  • Decades of US industry being outsourced to other countries.
  • A trade deficit that's still growing, despite all the panic about it in the 1980's
Thats just what I can list off the top of my head. Is God really limited to predicting the blazingly obvious? Has senility taken hold in his old age? Does his omnipotence just not scale to the point of dealing with a world with 6 Billion people? Additionally, "the Lord was saying there's going to be violence and chaos in the world," Robertson said. He cited violence in Kenya and Pakistan, saying "we've just begun to see what's going to happen." Again, God seems to be dealing with the obvious. Pakistan is run by Pervez Musharraf, a military dictator who has been running the country under martial law since November, 2007. He's been implicated in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a popular pro-democracy leader. She was working to overturn his government and it looked like she had a good shot at achieving that goal. The country is vital to the U.S.A. strategy for the "War on Terror" and a governmental collapse will likely result in a US military occupation. I'm hard pressed to find something about that scenario that DOESN'T scream "Increasing Violence." I'd be similarly hard pressed to find anyone even remotely familiar with the situation who doesn't expect more violence and bloodshed. While a peaceful resolution is possible, it's highly unlikely. On Wednesday, Robertson, 77, implied that God informed him who will be elected president in November. He CLAIMS to have inside information on who will win the 2008 Presidential election, yet refuses to reveal who that divinely chosen person is. If I were the sort to doubt the divine nature of Pat's information I'd say he was just setting himself up to dance around and chant "I knew it!" when the election results are in, regardless of who actually wins. I'd like to offer the following challenge to Pat Robertson: 1. Write down what God has told you about the 2008 Presidental election 2. Seal it in an envelope. 3. Mail it to me. If you agree to do this Pat, then I vow to put the envelope in a safe deposit box and keep it there unmolested until December 1, 2008. That should be more than enough time for the votes to be counted and any "irregularities" dealt with. I'll open the envelope and announce to the world who God told you would win the election. I see no reason why Pat should object to this plan. It allows him to prove his prophetic connection to God while avoiding a nasty, scathing commentary from Andy Rooney. Of course, if Pat is a liar and a false prophet, then he'll ignore my offer. "He told me some things about the election, but I'm not going to say, because some old man on "60 Minutes" would make fun of me, so I'm not going to tell you who the winner's going to be," Robertson said, in apparent reference to CBS humorist Andy Rooney, who turns 89 on Jan. 14. Really pat? Being mocked by an old guy on TV is enough to scare you away from sharing the 2008 election results? I seem to recall the Apostles braving stoning, crucification and a host of violent, gory deaths. Most the Old Testament prophets met violent, messy ends as well. If I had a dollar for every time I heard about a Christian Martyr being eaten by lions I could buy a new car, and yet, Pat shrinks from a humorist's harsh words. I guess God has decided to cut some corners and make prophets from substandard materials lately. You'd think out of a population of over 6 Billion, God could fine one or two men and women who had the spine to stand up to a geriatric humorist. I can only imagine the blubbering, pathetic pile Pat would become if confronted by Roman Centurions or Pagan hordes intend upon sacrificing a missionary. Of course Pat could just be hedging his bets. God did to Pat about that 2007 Nuclear attack. Pat claims that it must have been averted because a lot of people prayed, but its still gotta sting, particularly after the misinformation Pat was given in previous years.
PredictionReality
May 2006 a Pacific Northwest Tsunami and "the coasts are going to be lashed by vicious hurricanes this year"No hurricanes and three tropical storms
January 2004: "I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout" re-election for President Bush.If God considers a 51% a "blowout" I'd hate to see a close call.
Of course I have to address this quote as well: Robertson said he received no divine information about the war in Iraq. In past years, he said, "the Lord told me it would be a disaster; well, it has been a disaster." You should have told Janeane Garofalo's critics about that bit of divine intelligence before the invasion. You, God, and most the world outside of the Bush and Blair administrations thought the same thing. Why I remember the following attempt to mock Garofalo for saying a US Invasion of Iraq was a bad idea.
Of course, the way things have gone post invasion shows that it's Bush who should be eating Crow, but that's another story.

Pat is sticking to predictions that are not just safe, but downright no-brainers. He's taking what secular prognosticators are already saying, claiming it's revelation from God, and regurgitating those predictions as his own.

I'll be waiting for that envelope Pat, the one containing God's messages about the 2008 elections.

I'll be waiting, but I won't be holding my breath.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Holiday Sightings

Being in a store over the holidays always results in some interesting sights.

In one store, for example, I encountered a group of young women trying to choose their laundry detergent by the color of the bottle. To quote a fragment of the conversation:

Woman 1: "What about the purple bottle? I have a lot of purple clothes."

Woman 2: "Yellow should be better for whites, right?"

No one was reading the labels, nor was there any indication that they were familiar with these products. I came away with the impression that they were buying laundry detergent for the first time in their lives.