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November 29, 2007

The Evil Ticketmaster

When I was in college, the student paper would always refer to Ticketmaster as The Evil Ticketmaster. They were evil then and are still evil. Ticketmaster, as far as I know, invented the term "convenience charge" which they use to apply to anything. In 1994 one of the most popular bands in the country, Pearl Jam, was preparing to go on tour. They decided to sell tickets for only $18 and said fees could be no more than 10%, keeping the ticket price less than $20. The Evil Tickemaster was hungry and would not allow anyone to tell it how to do business. Besides, how could they do business without charging at least $3.75 per $18 ticket? So they retaliated against Pearl Jam by telling all the concert places in the country that they were not to book anything with Pearl Jam. The venues, with exclusive Ticketmaster contracts, locked Pearl Jam out. Further, Ticketmaster had exclusive deals with promoters, so no one would promote the tour. The tour was cancelled.

Anyway . . .

Susan called me about a free Christmas concert by the Fox Theater's organist and wanted me to get 5 tickets online. One thing great about the Fox is that you can go to their box office at least and avoid Ticketmaster fees. However, to get tickets online you had to go through Ticketmaster. They pointed out that there was a convenience charge of 75 cents per ticket. Also, if you wanted to print the tickets at home, there was a $2.50 charge for that. By the way, the only way to get the tickets is to print them at home. So I go to check out. Seems like the total should be $6.25. But The Evil Ticketmaster wasn't done. Now that there was a total, they tacked on an order processing fee of $3.15.

Merry Christmas from Satan at The Evil Ticketmaster

November 28, 2007


Katie is always very interested in squirrels when we go for walks. But they always run behind trees. Then when Katie runs up to the tree, she looks behind it, like the squirrel might still be there. As if by magic, the squirrel has vanished. But, just like Kahn in Star Trek II, Katie doesn't think in three dimensions and does not realize the squirrel has scampered up the back side of the tree. (Austin, however, is more like Kirk and fully realizes the squirrels are going up where he keeps an eye on them and will bark at them sometimes).

Today on our walk some signs on yellow 8.5x11 paper had been posted along one street saying "DO NOT PARK STREET TO BE PAVED." About halfway up the street, Katie saw a squirrel which ran behind a tree just like always. And Katie pulled me along to the tree so she could look behind it for the squirrel. Only today, there was the squirrel! And she almost got it in her mouth before it jumped off of the tree trunk and across the street. On the back of the tree a yellow piece of paper had foiled the squirrel's plan and it wouldn't try to get past the sign (which blocked most of the back side of the fairly skinny tree). Also, the microprocessor that is a squirrel's brain somehow prevented it from giving away the trade secret by going to the front of the tree to get around the sign. So it was just stuck until Katie came along.

Good day for streets and Katie. Bad day for squirrels.

November 26, 2007

4 GB SDHC Card

When I got my Palm TX last year, one of the features I liked was that it would hold up to a 4 gigabyte (GB) SD card. At the time SD cards of that size were about $60 and Fry's had 2 GB cards for $12. So I wound up buying three 2 GB cards. I put TV shows on one and music on another and would alternate them, listening to music on the way to work while reading the paper and watching TV shows on the way home. I can put 8 30-minute shows on one card and 430 songs on the other (which takes me a couple of months to go through). But if I had one big card I wouldn't have to swap them out. I never really had much use for the third card. My idea was to put a long playlist on one card and a collection of CD's on the other card. But since I listen to CD's in the car, I just listen to the playlist on the Palm. I could put all of this on the nano, I guess, which has 8 GB, but the screen on the nano is much smaller and I would have to change the format of the video files from .avi to .mp4.

This year Fry's had 4 GB SD cards on sale and they wound up being $5 after a $25 mail-in rebate. I went up there Black Friday afternoon and nearly bought it, but the check-out line was too long (300 people at least) and I left. I returned that night and got the card along with a 3-license version of Kaspersky Internet Security that would be free after $60 in mail-in rebates.

When I got home I cut open the hermetically sealed packaging and stuck the 4 GB card in my Palm. Nothing. I tried looking at the card properties app on the Palm and it said no card had been inserted. Maybe it needed to be formatted first. I stuck the card in my card reader. This time it froze Windows Explorer up until I took it out of the reader. I noticed that the card said it was a SDHC card. It also said it was "turbo" and I thought that was as meaningless as the HC (for "High Capacity"). But SDHC is a different type of hardware and it turns out the Palm TX (and two different card readers) can't read it. There is no software fix for the Palm. Looking at Amazon, almost all 4 GB and greater cards are SDHC.

So now I'm stuck with a 4 GB SDHC card. I have a few options:

1. It can probably be used in Mom's new camera

2. I'm sure if I got a newer card reader it that it could be read and I could use for backing up big files like my 2 GB e-mail archive at work.

3. I could return it to Fry's and try to get my money back.

4. I could turn in the rebate and then sell the card on E-Bay, albeit in opened packaging and with no idea of whether it really works.


November 12, 2007

Water Heater

After deciding against an on-demand hot water system, I went out this weekend and bought a General Electric 12-year 40 gallon natural gas water heater. Consumer Reports and others recommend getting longer life water heaters because not only should they last longer, but you are getting other extras like added insulation, a better burner, and faster heat-up times. There is not nearly the selection available for water heaters as there is for refrigerators. The differences in energy consumption are pretty minor. Disappointingly, even though Home Depot calls this a "high-efficiency" water heater, the Energy Guide on the side indicates it will use 254 therms out of a range going from 234 to 258. So "high efficiency" means 4 therms less the least efficient heater in the entire class. This is still more efficient than my old one which was rated for 319 therms per year. Sears has a 12-year model that only uses 238 therms, but GE heaters use a magnesium anode which is supposed to be better than the aluminum ones used by some Sears heaters (I couldn't tell from the Sears website what the 12-year tank's anode is made of). Not that Sears makes theirs (they are made by A.O. Smith). GE doesn't even make theirs (they are made by Rheem). Not many choices and very difficult to shop online. From most efficient to least efficient there is only a 10% difference.

My friend Bill came over to "help" me install the heater. By "help" I mean he did pretty much everything and I stood around and ran errands for him. There were a couple of needed upgrades that made the job a little more complicated. First the supply lines had a 3' stick of old and rusting galvanized pipe in both the cold and hot water pipes which needed to come out. Second I wanted to install an expansion tank since the water meter has a back flow preventer that can cause very high pressure in the lines inside the house. Third, the thermal expansion valve was piped through plastic and, since I put siding on that exterior wall, had drained inside the house instead of outside (though it had never leaked a drop). When I bought the house the home inspector had said the plastic pipe didn't meet code. Lastly, since Bill was doing the job he wanted to make sure I had unions installed in all of the connecting pipes to make it possible to install the next water heater without soldering any pipes, just unscrewing stuff. I counted 26 joints to be soldered and not one of them leaked (Bill has done a lot of this).

While we were at it, we had to move the washing machine out of the way and noticed the shut-off valves for the washer connection are really old and hard to turn. So Bill cut the old valves off and soldered news ones in place (we had to go to Ace to get some additional supplies anyway). It was probably nearly $1000 worth of plumbing that Bill did for one meal at Skip's.

November 11, 2007

Rainfall Gauge

For my birthday, Susan gave me an electronic, wireless rainfall gauge. Not that it will get much use, but it should be pretty neat and beats the bucket on my front porch that I had been using to measure rainfall previously. I've always wanted one, ever since I wrote a paper in my college Hydrology course called "Rainfall Gauges: Our Funnel-Shaped Friends." This one is by Oregon Scientific so it should be compatible with my network of indoor/outdoor thermometers. In fact, it came with another remote thermometer, so now I have a backup (you can only have three).

It is a tipping bucket gauge, so the water never accumulates, but is just emptied. A bucket holds on millimeter of rainfall before registering it and then dumping it out of the bottom (it's actually two buckets on a teeter-totter). The reviews on Amazon were mixed to generally negative. It is a pain to set up. The gauge itself takes two AA batteries and I had to remove no fewer than 10 tiny screws to open up the battery compartment. Also there was something about calibrating the gauge, but I think really you are just levelling it. If you pour in 200 milliliters of water, it should register one inch of rain. When I tried it, it measured 0.9 inches. That may be because I poured the water in a little too fast. Realistically you would probably never get an inch of rain in 30 seconds. Also you want to make sure the teeter-totter inside is balanced. Holding it level I was getting about 20 drops from a leaking faucet on each side before either bucket would tip, which means the buckets are balanced. Using the dripping faucet, I set the gauge up over a bowl so that I could measure the water that was dumped. When the gauge showed 1 inch of rain I poured the contents of the bowl in a measuring cup and it came barely under the 200 ml line on the measuring cup. So I think I got a good one.

Now it just needs to rain.

November 10, 2007

Medieval Times

Some friends of Susan's invited her to go to Medieval Times restaurant. She asked me if I would like her to take me there as a birthday dinner. I had never been and I don't even think I've known people who have gone, but I was game. As I told Susan, it should be like the Renaissance Festival without the porta potties.

We did a little research the night before to see what we were getting into. It's kind of like dinner theater where the show is people dressed as knights fighting and riding around on horses.

The place is located in Discover Mills mall and you even have to go in the mall ("Welcome to Entry Point 5" reads the sign) to get there. They have a bar and gift shop and the people who work there are all dressed as either serving wenches or serfs plus the knights, squires, and royal family who you will pose with you for a picture ($5). We were assigned Yellow table 5 which meant we would be cheering for the Yellow Knight. We got yellow crowns like from Burger King to wear (which, after the 90-minute extravaganza results in "crown head"). The bar wench said we would have time to have a beer before we were admitted because yellow was always called last. I got a Sam Adams Oktoberfest and Susan had a mango margarita. They are served in plastic souvenir cups with 3-D designs. You can pay extra for keepsake glasses and mugs.

Sure enough, we were the last group to be called. We sat down in rows in front of long narrow tables in an elongated stadium. Yellow was at the far end but still not a bad seat. The ground of the stadium is sand, but was shrouded in thick fog as we were seated. Serf Brandon would be waiting on us. Everyone eats the same thing which was vegetable soup, garlic bread, half a baked potato, one spare rib, and half of a roasted chicken. In keeping with medieval manners, you eat with your hands (the soup bowl had a handle so you could sip out of the side). This is remarkably efficient as Brandon would walk along in front of our table ladling soup, handing out potatoes or whatever. In about a minute he could serve an item to all 12 people at a table. They offered Pepsi, water, or sweet tea. Beer and other drinks could only be ordered via wandering bar wenches. We accidentally found out we could have gotten a vegetarian meal when Brandon went plopping chickens on everyone's plates and I said "I had the fish," which I think Brandon might have thought was funny. Susan chimed in "I had the vegetarian meal." He stopped immediately and started apologizing before she said she was just kidding.

The show itself was actually pretty decent. There are a bunch of horses, at least 12 I would think. There must be about 8 knights, each supported by a section of the stadium. We cheered obligingly for our yellow knight. Not only do they have to handle horses and do all the stunts (including falling off the horse during jousting), but they have to have long hair. We got an idea the yellow knight was pretty good when he was able to catch two rings on his lance in one high speed pass under two sets of rings. When the knights joust their lances splinter into pieces. And when they fight with swords, sparks go flying off when the metal hits.

Anyway, what amazes me is that this is a viable business that can fill seats every weekend. The show is as well organized and executed as the food service. And it has to be kind of a neat job to have.

November 9, 2007

Money Machine Is Rusty

I started pointing my Amazon links back to my account since November commissions won't be paid until 2008. I have no idea what sales were like during the blackout period that started July 1. However, I do know that Apple introduced a whole new line of iPods in that time. So during the first 8 days of sales, only one order seems to have been placed. It was for multiple items and generated a couple of dollars in commissions, but this is nowhere close to what was happening in July when I was making sales almost every day. I'm not sure what the deal is, but at least part of it has to be that the new iPods have batteries that last a lot longer. My new nano rarely needs to be plugged in. Even the iPod Classics have much longer battery life than the previous generation.

It's still free money, so I can't complain. It's just not as much.