VIPAttractions.com Jamaica — Fraud

VIP Attractions is evidently an airport service offered to those who arrive in (and depart from) Montgo Bay and Kingston, Jamaica. It is purported to be a ‘rush service’ through customs on arrival, and a bar to sit in while you wait for departure.

All of that may be true, but I wouldn’t know. I paid for the service, but never got to experience it. The company (linked above) absolutely refused to give me a refund.

I requested a refund about a week before my trip. The above-linked company said they could issue a refund if I filled out an ‘authorization to charge’ form for my credit card. I believe they did this under the assumption that I simply wouldn’t fill it out. But I did fill it out. Even down to figuring out how to digitally apply my signature and entering all other information, but approving them to ‘charge’ my credit card “-$160.00.

Less than five minutes later, I got a response from the above-stated company. The response said that they ‘couldn’t issue a refund because I had booked the service through MT vacations”. I have never heard of a company named ‘MT Vacations’, and have certainly never booked a third-party reservation through any company -especially one named ‘MT Vacations’.

I booked this service directly through the above-listed company. A fact I can prove with my credit card statement:

Do you notice how it says ‘VIP Attractions’ and doesn’t say anything about ‘MT Vacations’? I certainly noticed it.

Since VIP Attractions lied about my reservation in every conceivable way, and refused my refund request in every conceivable way, I can only assume the whole site is a fraudulent attempt to steal your credit card information.

Avoid this site AT ALL COSTS!

How long does it take to get a digital download from BestBuy.com?

The wife has been interested in checking out Skyrim for a while now, and I have to admit that I was a little bit too. I intended to purchase her a copy of it yesterday for digital download, thinking that if it looked good and had reasonable controls on the PC ported version of it, I might get it for myself as well. So I started looking for places that had the digital download available. GameFly had it available, but I haven’t ordered anything from them since I used to get the downloads from Direct2Drive, and I was afraid that this fact could delay the download, so I looked elsewhere. Then I saw that BestBuy.com had it available.

Now, I have a BestBuy Rewards mastercard. I haven’t used it in over a year though, because it is issued by Swindler’s Bank and Trust, who have been slapped with so many class action lawsuits over the last few years that, frankly, I just typed “hsbc class action lawsuit” in the search bar and picked a random one for that link -the bank was directly involved in the Madoff scandal, as well as being sued for selling bogus credit protection plans, being sued for harassing phone calls, being sued for intentionally not mailing credit card statements and then charging late fees on them; in short, if Satan ran a credit card company, he would be envious of their business practices. But I did earn some reward points with Best Buy for using it.

That was a whole other issue. When you start your rewards account they have it set to automatically print out reward certificates at some ridiculously low number, and while I don’t remember what that amount is, let’s say it’s $5. So every time you earn $5 in rewards they send you a certificate that is good for a couple of months and expires if you don’t use it. Obviously you aren’t going to plan major purchases around having a $5 off certificate laying around, so mine all expired. I navigated my way through the maze of a website for the rewards card though, and was able to change it so that my rewards would accumulate and only print out when the value of it was $500 (although when I look at it now, it is still set at that, but the only options you can now set it for are 5, 10, or 20 bucks, so maybe it has changed). At any rate, even though I haven’t used the card in over a year, I had $70 in rewards certificates stacked up in there, so I figured why not use them to get not one, but two copies of Skyrim for less than the price of one!

Dumbass.

So I placed the order for two digital copies of Skyrim from BestBuy.com expecting the download to be available instantly. I was basing that on the following information, which is readily available on their website:

For your digital products delivered by Best Buy pc app: You’ll receive another e-mail when your game or software is available in My Downloads in pc app. It usually takes just a few minutes.

Please note: It may take up to 15 minutes for new orders to show up in your account.

So based on the information available on their website it should take no longer than 15 minutes for the digital download to be available… 12 hours later I called customer service to see what was up with the order -fearing that the rewards points I used were going to be disallowed for some reason or another. Here are some direct quotes from the representative with my (paraphrased) questions and responses:

Me: I just ordered some digital software and have been waiting on it for a while, how long should the process take?

Rep: “The credit card verification process can take up to four hours. After that your games will be available.”

Me: Alright, it’s been twelve hours.

Rep: “One moment.” (here she placed me on hold) “I just spoke to my supervisor and he said that since the system upgrades on the weekend, this could take a little longer than normal. Please allow up to 48 hours.”

Me: “Is 48 hours within BestBuy’s definition of the scope of “just a few minutes”? (this one is a direct quote, I had planned to ask that about the 12 hours I had already been waiting, but changed it on the fly. Go improv!)

Rep: “Our website suggests that as a possible time frame, but does not guarantee it.”

Me: Can I have my money back so I can just buy it from a reputable company?

Rep: “We can process a return for you, however the funds will not be returned to you for 2-3 business days.”

I did finally get the downloads and game codes. Ultimately I had to wait roughly 16 hours for them to be available. It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to me though; if I had ordered this from any other company, the download is available the very second you make a payment. One would assume that since BestBuy is such a huge company they could at least match the other 2-bit services out there. One would be wrong. The good news is that now that I have spent all my reward points I have no reason to ever make another purchase from BestBuy, and judging by their impressive 10% rating on customer service scoreboard it’s probably for the best (that stat is horribly skewed since that website is designed specifically to collect complaints… I know that, but I am using it here because this process pissed me off quite a bit. What really pissed me off about it was the customer service rep was not even a bit concerned about the misleading statements on the website, and didn’t seem to give half a rat’s ass whether I ever got my products; she seemed actively annoyed that I had called at all).

As I noted in a comment in one of their forums, “I really believe that if bestbuy were to completely scrap their digital download service it would increase their sales. If every sale you make loses you a customer for life, it’s probably not going to increase profit.” And to answer the question put forth in the title of this post, How long does it take to get a digital download from BestBuy.com? The answer is 16 hours, but 16 particularly annoying hours because the website intentionally misleads you and the customer service reps lie to you. Kudos BestBuy.com!

The Great 2012 PC component adventure

The idea was to do a minor upgrade to the two main pcs in the house. I just wanted to bump up the graphics a little bit. My graphics card is an antiquated (by enthusiast standards) radeon hd 5570, while my wife is sporting the also antiquated (by enthusiast standards) geforce 220. I say antiquated (by enthusiast standards) because they are plenty for what we are doing now, but they won’t be able to play new games at max frame rate, and my computers are the one area of life that I like to indulge (on a budget).

sapphire radeon 6850

Sapphire Radeon 6850 - mmmm.

So I set about to choosing a video card. I turned to Tom’s Hardware’s best video cards for the money to help me pick them out. If you are at all geeky about computers and you don’t know about that site, you certainly should check it out. Nearly any time I am trying to find information on a specific pc component, I am able to find it there. The site doesn’t just have a dude throwing out anecdotal evidence for why he thinks one brand is better than the other; there are pages and pages of benchmarks and extensive testing. The testing even breaks it down by what component is better suited for what task. To use a for instance, in the January edition of best processor for the moneyit breaks down the current hundred dollar processors and mentions that the AMD is better suited for multi-tasking, while the Intel counterpart may pull ahead in single application speed. That is exactly why I go there for the majority of my research. So in the aforementioned best graphics card for the money article, I found the Radeon graphics card they recommended in the ~150 dollar price range to be just what I was looking for; I play my games in 1920×1080 or 1920×1200 depending on the game, while the wife plays them at a lower resolution because she likes the interface to be bigger (she is a clicker, not a hotkey-er). This card should be able to run any game in those resolutions without having to lower settings. I was able to pick up a pair of the Sapphire Radeon 6850 cards for 149.99 a piece.

And that is how it all started.

I set about to scrolling through my email for the invoices for all the crap in our current pcs (I never delete any email. I have copied all incoming and outgoing email from pc to pc ((minus obvious junk mail)) for quite literally more than a decade) to see what I put into the power supplies at the time of purchase. You see, the video cards that are currently in our pcs are in there mostly because I was trying to get the best cards I could find without having to run separate power -that is, they are powered by the PCI-e slot alone.

Rosewill RP600V2-S-SL

Rosewill RP600V2-S-SL

It turns out that I (just like all pc manufacturers nowadays) had totally skimped on the power supplies on our current machines. In both cases they have listed the “surge” power on the PC stats, so realistically they are running at about half the listed power (and how can they get by with that? They don’t do that with a power supply when you buy it, why is it different when it comes already in a case?) While my wife’s rig does have a 600w power supply, that is a no-name, 600w “surge” unit that does not have a 6-pin power connector for the PCI-e. My machine only has a 500w “surge” unit, but it does have a 6-pin connector… which really doesn’t make sense, because at the maybe 250 watts it puts out continuously it won’t be able to realistically push a discrete video card in the first place unless I, you know, remove the cpu. At any rate, when I ordered the video cards, I went ahead and ordered a power supply unit as well. I ordered a Rosewill Rosewill RP600V2-S-SL 600w power supply for $59.99. I did this based on favorable results I have had with Rosewill power supplies in the past, as well as the ratings the power supply has on NewEgg. A lot of enthusiasts throw around the “you don’t want to run a cheap power supply like that because it will fry your whole system” phrase. But, what? In the 501-600 watt category on NewEgg, this particular unit has 73% five star ratings, which is better than the OCZ Fatal1ty and ModXstream, better than the Antec TruePower, better than the SeaSonic Bronze, better than the Corsair Gaming series. In fact the only supply you can find with a better % of 5 star ratings is the Antec BP 550 and then a few that have under 35 reviews, while this one has over 600. So I can’t figure out what they are basing this on. That is actually the reason I am writing this, but I will get to that later.

When the cards arrived, I threw them right into the pc’s. More or less as expected, my machine would fire up and run with it, but when I attempted to actually use the card to play a game the system would simply shut off. The wife’s machine could run it, but barely. It soon became evident that I would need to get a new power supply for her machine as well. So I ordered another of the Rosewill ones pictured above to replace the cheap-ass, flimsy crap that came with the system.

Roswill X3 Gamer Case

Roswill X3 Gear Case

top fan detailHere is the part where I curse NewEgg (where I buy all my parts). When I went online to order her power supply, they had the exact case I had been planning to buy for my next pc build on sale with their shell shocker deal for … $39.99. When I say it was the exact case I had been wanting, I don’t mean that I was looking at this case and a few others too, I mean I had done some research on cases, I narrowed my decision down to a few different ones, then I watched the NewEgg review of it on YouTubeand decided it was definitely the case I wanted. The major selling points for me were: 1)A single USB 3.0 on the front panel; I recently got an external hard drive that uses USB 3.0, and I currently have it running through a 2.0 on my machine. I am storing all my programming crap on the external drive so I don’t have to copy it to a thumb drive anytime I want to use it on a different machine. Having the USB 3.0 on the front panel will make that so much easier. 2) The case has one front, two top, two side, and one rear fan position. I intend to use them all -more air is always better. 3)There are slide-out, washable filters on the PSU intake and front fan intake. I have several dogs that like to strategically place their hair all over the case fans on my PC’s, hopefully this will alleviate some of that. This leads us nicely into 4) The thing that sets this case apart from all others I had been looking at is what you see to the right here: The top fans can be lifted out for cleaning. My current rig has 2 top fans, but to clean them I have to disconnect all the cables and take the pc out, otherwise I have to blow the dust down on top of the MOBO and other components. With this I should be able to quickly snap them out, hit them with compressed air and be right back in business. In theory.

At this point, I had already purchased three out of 8 of the components necessary to build two new ground up pcs, so I started shopping that idea to see if I could come up with a build that was 1) forward compatible. 2) A reasonable upgrade over our existing systems. 3) Cheap. And while I didn’t know it at the time, 4) Just to piss off some smug, know-it-all enthusiasts. Here is the final build -in image form, as the cart came through in email with base64 encryption, which didn’t transfer to the web page. I also made it into a public wish list, which looks like it will stay active for about six months, after which that link will be broken and I will be directly responsible for slopp(ier that usual)y writing.

newegg shopping cart

I’m no computer expert and I don’t pretend to be. I would have been happy to hide in a dark corner somewhere to build this budget box and never tell anyone what components went into it… Had it not been for the wild, unsubstantiated facts that were being spewed to me when I asked for a compatibility check in a popular pc building forum. First up was this one:

…It’s a low quality power supply that could potentially fry other computer components. The Seasonic 520W would output more in reality and definitely safer. Alternatives are the Atnec Earthwatts Green 500W (no power cords included) .

This scared the beejeezeus out of me. Could my choice of this piece of shit power supply cause my entire pc to catch fire, rape my wife, stalk and kill my children? Oh noes! That actually talked me out of the build completely for about a week. That was when I started reading customer reviews for the power supplies (and other components) and tried to find evidence beyond anecdotal of this (or any other for that matter) spontaneously exploding and taking the rest of the machine with it. Sure, there is this video (which is thrown about on every pc building forum):



What you’ll notice about that video is that -like all tests designed for a specific result- they conveniently don’t tell you what they are testing, don’t show you any evidence of what load is on it, don’t perform the same test on units from multiple brands, hell, for all I know this is corsair performing this test on their very own power unit.

Next up is my immense annoyance at what constitutes a low quality computer component. What is this based on? I don’t know of any pc part manufacturers that say like, “Buy Widget Brand motherboards, creating low quality pc components for over 3 days now”. Feel free to take the time to search the internet for any computer parts being advertised as “low quality”, I think you’ll come up with the same thing I did: nada. In fact the only references to ‘low quality’ that I can come up with in any reputable review or benchmark testing is in reference to the video setting on graphics cards during testing. Simply put: low quality computer parts is a subjective term. If you have an old eMachine or Dell system laying around somewhere, go pop the cover off of it and take a look at the stock power supply. All of them that I have laying around (about three) have a power supply that is non-descript, wrapped in some cheap galvanized looking tin, look flimsy, feel flimsy, and weight about 10% of what any hard drive you can buy from NewEgg does. I actually wrote about that when I was replacing the stock power supply in my first CyberPower PC. So to me, and probably any layman out there, I think the definition of a low quality power supply would be these cheap-ass, stock power supplies. To some enthusiasts, however, anything that is not their preferred brand gets that moniker.

Since the power supply that was suggested several times as the best replacement for the Rosewill was the Seasonic 520 Bronze, I started to compare the two as objectively as I could with the information I had at my disposal. They had roughly an equal % of DOA complaints -but I would ignore those anyway as DOA does happen and NewEgg is stellar at their customer service and RMA process. As I mentioned way up in this page, the Rosewill power supply that I bought has 73% 5 star ratings on newegg. The Seasonic 520w Bronze currently has 67% 5 star ratings. Of those reviews, 5% (3) are 1 star ratings that say that this high quality psu failed between six and nine months. A direct comparison to the customer reviews of the Rosewill product is difficult since it has 10 times the customer ratings, but I went through the 100 most recent reviews (35 more reviews than the Seasonic has total), and there are also about 5% (5) 1 star ratings based on longevity, only in the case of the Rosewill there is one instance where the customer review says it lasted only six months, while the other four gave it a one star rating because it lasted between 2.5 and 3.5 years. So the average complaint of failure of the high quality Seasonic is 7 months, the average complaint of failure of the low quality Rosewill is 2.25 years. So the term low quality is subjective indeed.

It was at about that point that I realized that it is all bullshit. This is really no different than someone who really likes Ford saying that Chevy is poorly built, shoddy crap, and any foreign cars are death traps held together by rice paper and spit. Someone uses a particular component (a power supply in this case) and every other one is worthless crap. I did find one little nugget in a forum that proves a point (although I think it is exactly the opposite of what the poster was going for):

A low quality psu can do all kinds of things including frying your entire system…if you try to run it anywhere near the overexaggerated wattage rating

Well that is true of any power supply, isn’t it?

The thing is that in the case of Chevy vs. Ford I know that it is just an opinion. In the case of the power supplies I was under the (mistaken) impression that there was undeniable truth to what the tech guys were saying on the forums. I am thankful that I took the time to look a bit further into this because it really changed my entire view of pc building. Every stat I need to know is right there in the component listing, and rather than taking the advice of someone who says that component x is worthless at face value, I can read reviews of actual customers to see if that opinion has merit. In every case in this budget build, the answer to that question was a resounding no.

With all that in mind, I put the pc back together using my own research instead of listening to what the tech guys in the forums were saying. I went with the Intel BOXDH67CLB3 LGA 1155 Intel H67 motherboard because it had the features I was looking for: USB 3.0, SATA 6gb/s, 4×240 pin DDR3 SDRAM, a much lower sticker price and, you guessed it, better customer reviews than the MSI H67A-G43 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel H67 that was being recommended. The Intel Core i3-2120 Sandy Bridge was a no brainer at that price range. And of course for the RAM I went with the Team Elite 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM because, once again, it had a much lower sticker price than what was being suggested (G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333) and had great customer reviews. And that is what happened with every other component in the build.

To be fair, I haven’t built this thing yet, so it is entirely possible that once I hit the power button it will catch fire, rape my wife, stalk and kill my children. …I’m going to call that unlikely… Since I’m going to assume that’s not going to happen, the bottom line is that I saved myself about 20% off of what the tech guys recommended, and got these two machines built with the components you see listed for about $731 each (after bundle discounts and shipping). I’m not saying that you should outright ignore input on a pc build, but I am saying that you should definitely use that input to augment your own research and make a relatively informed decision; just because TechMan2012 has godlike builder status in the forums doesn’t necessarily mean his opinion is gospel.

eMachines

Much like I will be offended when I am getting screwed by a large corporation, I will also give credit where credit is due.

I have posted a few entries about eMachines, mostly pertaining to why it is that I continue to buy the machines when they are pretty obsolete right out of the box. Since I don’t want to waste the time looking up old posts, I will sum it all up in a quick sentence: Buy a $300 eMachine, put in $300 worth of upgrades (video card, RAM, etc.) and you have a $1500 HP, Compaq or Dell. That is the type of math that I like (also it is much easier to find an eMachine that comes without a monitor, and the monitor alone is generally at least a third of a system price from other companies -on a low end system).

I have also had extremely good luck with eMachines over the years. My first was a 366 (466? I forget which) which I continued to upgrade well past the time when it was a viable system. I was able to get about six or seven years of use out of it, in computer years that puts it past a dinosaur, hell it has already become fossil fuel by that point. My next few computers purchases were all eMachines as well. I have just had really good luck with them.

So it was that in the middle of May I was thinking about upgrading to yet another computer. After pricing them on the major websites, I determined that it would again be far cheaper to buy a base eMachine and throw in some upgrades. I happened to see one for $280 and decided to go ahead and get it. Of course it only had 256mb of RAM, which really should be criminal on a machine that is running Windows XP, the OS alone requires more than that to function correctly. Of course it was only going to have 256mb long enough to fire it up the first time anyway so it wasn’t of any great concern.

I started it up just long enough to get past the “welcome to Windows” crap, as well as downloading the latest Windows updates (and if you don’t have your machine set to automatically update you are just asking for trouble; Windows is about as secure as a bank working on the honor system), and powered it down for some upgrades.

In went a shiny new 512mb ATI graphics card (pci-express) which would be the biggest upgrade from my current system (which is using a 128 mb card through a PCI slot). Threw in a gig of ram and powered the machine back up. I downloaded the latest Catalyst software for the video card, logged in to Guild Wars to download about a year of updates, and waited. Off and running in about a half an hour.

My wife was actually using the machine at the time (although she didn’t know it) when, after about an hour of play, it started to experience some display issues. The minimap was not showing anything on it, while the rest of it appeared to be functioning normally. Until she got to the middle of a major mission when, of course, the PC just shuts down. No BSD, no warning, just all of a sudden the machine is turned off completely. My keen observational skills lead me to believe that something may be wrong with the system.

Now, the eMachine in question uses an onboard nVidia graphics accelerator (which I had disabled in BIOS prior to poweing it up with the ATI card) and PCI bridge. I briefly thought that it may somehow have something to do with it not running with the ATI card, although that didn’t really make any sense. I know that they are rival companies and all, but the ATI card should be able to work in any system regardless of what other hardware happened to be in it.

Since I had not used the machine for any length or time before I installed the RAM and the video card though, I really had no way to know if it was the video card, RAM, or PC itself that was the problem. I started testing it in a kind of backwards way. I uninstalled all of the software associated with the video card, as well as the card itself, then powered it up again. I tried to play the game for a while in this configuration, and eventually got to a random system shutdown. So, not the video card. Next up to take out the new RAM and put back in the old. Do you know how long it takes to boot Windows XP with only 256mb of RAM? Jeebus it took forever (a little too long I suspect). I didn’t even try to play the game with only 256mb of RAM and onboard video because, well, I don’t think it would have even loaded it. So, just while mindlessly surfing the internet, system shutdown. No BSD, no warning, just powered right down.

Being the psychic that I am, I knew that the first thing the customer service representative was going to suggest was reinstalling the OS, so I decided to go ahead and try that prior to calling them. It would not reinstall the OS, but instead came up with an error about a corrupt fill in the Windows/system32 folder, which is never good news. Could I have already downloaded a virus? It took about four attempts to get the OS to actually reinstall, but reinstall it did. So, back to the internet. Back to a random shutdown. I was less than happy.

Now to contact customer support. I decided to use the online chat with a representative feature, for two reasons: 1)It would give me time to read what I was saying before actually saying it, as I was a bit fucking pissed off upset, and 2)The support reps are invariably in a foreign country, and I really can’t usually understand the majority of what they are saying.

There was one thing that I wasn’t planning to tell the rep, though, and that was that I had already removed the cover and upgraded the system (of course they would know it when they got the machine back, I just didn’t want the rep to imply that I had somehow screwed the machine up while sticking a card into a slot). I didn’t log the session with this guy, but I probably should have, because it was about the worst customer service I have had in a long time. I tried to be as precise as I could in the description of the problem; I gave the model number, the part number, the serial number, the problem with the system randomly powering itself down, and a detailed description of the errors that I received while trying to reinstall the OS (there were a total of four such errors, each one different). His first words (well after the “thank you for contacting support” B.S.) were “Why were you trying to reinstall the operating system?”

Since I am supposed to be giving some kudos to eMachines right now, I am not going to go into a lot of detail about this particular support session. It can basically be summed up with the following:

Me: There is something wrong with the system. It is randomly shutting down. I have tried to reinstall the OS and it has had errors during the installation. Once it did reinstall it continued to have problems with random power downs.

Rep: J00 juz need 2 reb007.

Me: It will not boot, in fact, even the system restore cd is failing to load.

Rep: Joo juz need 2 use teh systm re570re cd

Me: I have tried that, it will not work.

Rep: Joo suxor n00b,

It wasn’t really that bad, but that is kind of how I felt about it. He was repeatedly asking me to try what I had already tried, despite the fact that I assured him I had already tried it. At one point he decided that the “solution” to the problem was that the system restore cd was bad, which would explain all of the system power downs how, exactly? Oh yeah, the spelling might be a bit exaggerated as well. Anyway, eventually he agreed to pick the machine up and get it looked at.

So, on their own dime, eMachines sent me a box to put the system into, along with a fedex pickup slip to send it back to them. Which I did a couple of weeks ago. Today I got curious about the status and decided to contact support again, this time, however, the person I was chatting with was quite friendly.

I had thought that the hard drive was most likely corrupt, as that would explain why the system wouldn’t reinstall the OS. It turns out that I was wrong. It was actually the motherboard that was bad. The machine is currently awaiting a replacement.

So this low dollar machine happened to have a problem, and eMachines went ahead and picked it up, paid for the shipping both ways, and it is repairing free of charge, despite the fact that I had already taken the cover off of it. I don’t know if the other companies have since changed their policies, but it used to be that removing the cover voided all warranties.

Besides, a lot of people say that they have had problems with eMachines, but if they are willing to repair it with zero out of pocket cost to you, what could the problem really be? Aside from the problem with the first customer service rep, which was likely due a lot more to my frustration than his actual support; I know that he had to suggest what I had already tried, that is part of what I am sure is a checklist that they have to go through before they have a system picked up.

I have been perfectly happey with every eMachine I have bought so far, and this one, while it was less than perfect out of the box, was fixed without cost to me. kudos to eMachines.

After writing this, it occurred to me that I might have accepted a non-disclosure agreement, but I checked with eMachines to make sure before I posted it. I wonder if they would have said it was fine if I had written a scathing review? Ah well, I spent the time to write it, so here it is.

Free advertising for Citibank

Credit cards are a pretty bad thing in general; If you don’t have the cash to pay for it, you probably shouldn’t be buying it in the first place. That being said, it is near impossible to get by in day to day life without having one of the precious plastic things in your wallet/purse. Just imagine trying to make hotel/car rental reservations without one. Sure the same can be done with a debit card, but you are a far braver soul than I if you are willing to give your personal bank account information to the stranger on the end of a phone line.

True, now that the debit cards are actually subsidized by VISA they are covered by the exact same fraud protection as a normal credit card, but you have to file a claim and wait for a couple of weeks to get reimbursed for the fraudulent purchases. That is a lot of time to have to wait to get the money back in your bank account, especially if the rent is due. If your credit card is used fraudulently all you have to do is cancel it, then take care of the paperwork at your leisure. Much less stressful.

Of course I would be lying if I said that the only reason I use a credit card is to book hotel rooms. I do use them for all sorts of stuff, and I do maintain a balance on one card. It keeps my credit in good standing (funny thing about credit is if you quit using it the companies assume that you are no longer creditworthy), and is far cheaper than doing some highway robbery rent to own type bullshit.

Anyway, I cancelled a credit card in January. They decided to jack the interest rate from 6.9% to 14.9%, and homey don’t play that. So I sent in a final payment, cut the credit card up and that was that. Until today that is.

I sent in a check that was one dollar more than the total balance, thus leaving the account with a 1 dollar credit. It seems that their computer systems are pretty serious about what they consider a “balance”. I guess my contract stated that there was a minimum one dollar finance charge when the card had a “balance”, the fine print must not have stipulated that it be a positive balance, cause they charged me the finance charge on a negative balance. Now, through some sort of weird math that only credit companies can understand, that didn’t take my account balance to $0 (which it should have, -1+1=0, right?), it took my balance to $.03. Yes, three cents. Very fishy math, that.

The last statement that I saw was still showing a credit of one dollar. The next one I got was showing a balance of 15.98, without a purchase being made. The one dollar credit became a 3 cent balance, which they tacked a one dollar finance charge onto, then, then, they had the nerve to tack on a 14.95 late payment fee, even though they hadn’t been sending me statements! Yeah!

So I dialed up India (that is where all the call centers are, isn’t it?) and, after about ten minutes of navigating the maze that is the automated call center, got to speak to Apu himself. I told him I simply wanted to close the account and be done with it. I think he asked me what I was disappointed with, though I could barely understand a word he said so I can’t be sure. I told him that I didn’t appreciate being charged a finance charge and late fee on a negative balance, which he said he understood, and he would gladly close the account if I would remit payment for 15.98. That pissed me off even more. I yelled at him for about five minutes, even though I know it wasn’t his fault, simply because it made me feel better to lash out at someone.

Apu said that he was authorized to waive the late fee one time based on my good history with their company, (I could almost hear him reading it from the form letter, I bet they get this phone call a lot). But this still left me with a balance of 1.03, which I would have to pay in order to close the account. Not only that but there was a 9.95 fee to make the payment by phone. Fuck That! Okay, now the gloves were off.

You know that point where you get so pissed off that you go beyond anger and into a sort of freakily-tranquil, rage-induced calm? Where every word that comes out of your mouth is with a sort of firm staccato? I was there. “Send me a copy of every statement since December please.”

“I can do that Mr. Burgess, can you verify your mailing address for me?” He mispronounced my name, but I didn’t care.

I verified the information for him, then added “I would also like your name and the name of your supervisor…” paused for a moment, then added, “my attorney may need it.”

This was, of course, and idle threat; I would have to be insane to try to take on a credit company as large as Citibank (woops, let the name slip). Then again, it wasn’t the money that was pissing me off, so who knows. Thankfully I won’t have to know, since the moment the word “attorney” left my lips Apu wanted me to talk to someone higher up in the chain of command.

The supervisor had a worse accent than Apu, I really couldn’t understand anything she said. I did most of the talking though. There was generous use of the words “close my account”, “waive all fees”, “or else” and, of course, “attorney”. I probably said each of them a half a dozen times, basically whenever she tried to say anything. In less than five minutes my account was closed, and she had graciously offered to send me the one dollar credit that remained in my account. It was so simple.

I just have to wonder how many people just pay the fees. In my case it was pretty clear that I was being fleeced, but what if someone’s statement never arrived? Do most people simply pay the fee as opposed to going through the hassle of getting the fee removed? Do the credit card companies intentionally not send out statements to force the members to pay the fees? If I had to go through all this with Citibank (being one of the larger credit companies), what would you have to go through with some smaller bank?

Being the cynical person that I am, I believe that the majority of this is intentional. Most credit cards are not issued in the state that you live in, I think it is either Maryland or Massachusetts that most are based in, precisely because of lax regulation. Since you signed the contract in that other state, it would also have to be litigated in that state, which would be a heck of a burden for most people, especially when they could just pay the 9.95 (or whatever) and be done with it. The fact that they so quickly reverse all the charges really bolsters my case: They seem to know what they are doing is wrong, they simply don’t care. The second they are challenged on it they fold. Their actions are criminal, hell, worse than criminal, at least you know what to expect when you get involved with the Mafia.

Truth in advertising

This bitch is pretty specific. Car insurance companies seem to be getting away with the worst false advertising ever, unless you count the “Employee Pricing for Everyone” programs that every car dealer is now using.

I will even get a bit more specific: The company is Allstate. They are running commercial ads that say that you can save ( I forget the exact number ) $300 dollars a year by switching to them. I was intrigued. How can that be true? It took watching the commercial a couple of dozen times before I figured out exactly how they were making that claim; they are flat-out lying.

At the very bottom of the screen, and only when they make the claim of the “average savings”, there comes up a little line (and I mean tiny) that says, “Savings claim based on customers who reported saving when switching to Allstate.” Okay, that sucks. Where are the real numbers? They can actually claim that the “average savings” was whatever when that only counts the people who saved money? Shouldn’t they have to follow that up with another line about how for others they were paying an average of $700 more? At least then you could add up the numbers and do the math yourself.

I am really thinking that their claim might not have been legal. I am thinking that only because the most recent commercial that I saw doesn’t say anything about the “average savings”, instead it says that “for many, they actually saved money by switching to Allstate.” That isn’t much better though, who defines many? One is a person, two is a pair, three is a few, so any group of four or more could be many, right? (that would explain how they could save so much money by switching to the highest priced auto insurance in the country though, just take four people who have recently sent their children away to school, knock off the money for that and the fact that they are middle-aged, Boom, big savings.) The claim is clearly false, but big business has never let that stop them from telling mistruths before and it’s not likely they are going to start now.

Sometimes I really wish that I could be a religious man (I would pray for it but it doesn’t seem to work) just so I could see the lawyers, used car dealers, the majority of the priests, insurance salesmen and about 99.8% of the corporate hierarchy in the U.S. sizzling away in Hell. Of course wishing them harm would be a sin wouldn’t it? That is why I am not religious; I want to see them all burn in hell for their deeds, but I don’t want to burn in hell for wanting them to burn in hell. Damn it! I just figured out how religion works. It is sort of like high school. You don’t have to be the best, or the brightest, or the most attractive, no, you just have to find someone that is worse than you and strive to be better than him/her. Then you really have to believe that since Jimmy just killed a cat down the street, you are one step closer to God. If Father J molests 32 children and God will still have him, and you only molest 31, you are so in!

I think I might have gone a bit off topic there. The point that I was trying to get to, yet never did, is about the legality of the claims car insurance companies make. Whether or not they put enough disclaimers (and if they are “disclaimers”, meaning that they are opposite to what they are claiming to be the facts, why do they print it so small?) in the ad to make it legal, it is still not ethical. No one would ever buy a car from someone that they knew was a rip-off artist, but that is what you get when you buy car insurance from any company.

Is it really not possible to make legal and ethical both mean about the same thing? I don’t mean that in a What would Jesus do kind of way, I am merely speculating that most people don’t like to be ripped off. I guess the whole ethical idea is flawed anyway, since they did mention something pretty similar to that in the bible, it was something about treating others as you would be treated. Hell, honestly now, “treat others as you wish to be treated” could have made up the majority of the U.S. constitution. Many of the amendments are necessary as well since I believe that if you are a human you have the same rights as me, regardless of gender, color, religious affiliation and the such.

Perhaps the constitution could read, simply, “Don’t cheat me and you won’t get shot.” Probably wouldn’t take the High Court long to figure out what that meant.

This post has been on a ‘stream of consciousness (arguably)’ mode for a while now. I remember that I hate car insurance companies so I will end with that. I hate car insurance companies!

Stupid shoe stores

On our way out of Phoenix last Sunday we stopped by a shoe store to buy my birthday gift, my birthday is actually the 12th of July but I just never got around to getting the shoes until then. I had the same problem as I always do, it turns out that the major shoe companies think that everyone has really narrow feet, I do not. Thus most of the shoes just didn’t fit.

The problem I have with finding shoes really doesn’t have much to do with the width though. You can pick up just about any pair of New Balance shoes and they will fit pretty well, if not New Balance seems to sell far more extra wide shoes than any other company. The problem that I have is that the only color I can wear is black, and the shoe needs to be made out of leather (or a faux version of it). I can’t wear suede or just the normal canvas like fabric because the blood that I drip on my shoes soaks through them, and that is really really gross.

I tried just wearing a pair of those solid black work boots some years ago, they fit my criteria perfectly. The only problem with them is that I am not just standing around hacking apart animal carcass all the time, I also have to be able to bend at the ankles when I am trying to stock product in the coolers and the such, those black boots don’t allow for much flexibility at the ankle (well none at all). So sneakers it has to be.

This time we went to a DSW shoe warehouse which had thousands of shoes on display, unfortunately there were only about three of them that met my color and material requirements. Of those three there was only one that had my size in a wide, it is a Reebok low top. It is a fairly comfortable shoe, I don’t have any complaints about the shoe itself, yet I do wonder why I can’t find anything in a mid to high top that meets the stated criteria. The two colors that go with everything are white and black. For some reason you just can’t find a men’s athletic shoe that is solid white or solid black, what the hell is up with that? Did someone just eventually realize that if they sold black athletic shoes men would wear them to formal occasions rather than buy a pair of formal shoes? Seriously, why don’t they just have solid black or white?

I was able to find shoes in my size that met all the criteria so I guess I shouldn’t bitch, but I just have to. The low tops usually slip on the back of my ankles and lead to blisters. I guess that is better than my other option, which was usually to buy shoes about three sizes too big so that my wide ass feet could fit into them. If I was just looking for the cheapest shoe in the store I could understand them not having what I was looking for, but I am talking about looking for any shoe, price be damned. Oddly, as I think about it, I could probably find all sorts of solid black shoes made out of faux leather at Payless Shoe Source, but they would last about a week with the punishment they would be subjected to.

I guess I better quit bitching about shoes, lest you think I have some sort of weird fetish (of course I do have some weird fetishes, none of them involve shoes though; none of them really involve any sort of clothing come to think about it). Stupid shoe stores and their stupid no solid black shoes policy.

Stupid junk mail!

With email taking over the vast majority of delivering useless junk mail, it is always refreshing to find one in the actual post office, printed on real paper, that makes you laugh.

DONNIE BURGESS:

Your property at PO Box 166 may be eligible for special programs from Government Sponsored Institutions. Your census tract is currently being targeted by our Equal Lending Assessment Center for loans from major depository institutions without the usual restrictions on credit history, income or employer status.

If you are the legal owner of the above property, you may benefit from programs created by Federal Agencies. If you are not the legal owner, please forward this notice to them or return to sender.

But seriously, this is obviously a computer generated form, complete with unique offer number, mine happens to be LQY6-0665-524, which I am sure is the same as everyone else’s. The question that I have is don’t they have the ability to screen out po box addresses when they generate this kind of crap?

Also I wonder how important it really is that I forward this to the legal owner of the property PO Box 166, you know the post office. I hope they are aware of this tremendous financial opportunity already, ’cause I think I am just gonna go ahead and toss mine in the trash.

There is a little thing at the very bottom of the page, written in a font size that is significantly smaller than the rest of the letter, it says “This product or service has not been approved or endorsed by any government agency and this offer is not being made by any agency of the government.”

Has it really come full circle so fast? Is it once again more profitable to send out junk mail through the post office since no one reads junk email? If so I sure do hope the trend continues. I know exactly who I am supposed to get real mail from and that is about all I ever open, with the occasional credit card offer (sort of like playing the lotto there, just trying to see if I can beat the best offer for balance transfers. If you take the time to do it, and have relatively good credit, you can transfer balances every year or so and never pay a penny of interest on your credit card debt. While making your credit better. The world is odd indeed). With email I do open some that appear to be from real people, though never if there is an attachment, just because my various web pages over the years have led a lot of strangers to email me. I have pretty serious doubts that anyone would send me an actual letter though, and the computer generated addresses on envelopes are really easy to pick out when there are four occurrences of the letter ‘e’ on it, there is no way to make them all identical if you are writing it by hand and, unless you happen to be a lot more patient than me, you may write the letter on the PC, but the envelope gets made out by hand simply because it is faster than changing your printer setting for envelopes, finding where to put the envelope, printing it out upside down first, before finally getting it right. Only to realize that you missed one digit in the zip code, thus starting the process over. Four envelopes, and twenty minutes later, you have accomplished what could have been done in 5 seconds with a pen. The marvels of technology.

Are people really that fucking darn stupid?

Okay, people are sheep, the bible tells us that. Even if you aren’t into the whole religion thing, just look at the way that we all flocked to buy the latest Harry Potter book. Yes, we are all into following trends, usually without actually taking the time to think about it: Would the latest Harry Potter book have failed to exist if you weren’t there to buy it at midnight on the day it was released? Did you then go home and read the whole book before morning? -mind you that if you did you have a completely different sort of disorder which is equally as bad.- I’m just saying people are sheep; once the herd is pointed in a particular direction, they go that way regardless of obstruction (remember the ‘tickle me Elmo’ doll?).

That was a really horrible parallel to use for the point I am going to try to make, but it was the first thing that came to mind. I am just saying that people follow. Would we have millions of people driving ugly, dangerous, gas-guzzling SUV’s were it not for the for the pack mentality?

The tangent that I am going to spin off on today is in regards to car commercials. Not the insane, often impossible, images that you see on the television, but the ads (promotions) themselves. The new best offer of all time is employee pricing. I have been thinking about this for a couple of months, while listening to the advertising, knowing that it is complete bullshit, but, it keeps going and going. Now every dealership is offering the “employee pricing” to anyone that walks onto the lot.

I have never been in the auto business so all I have to offer is common sense, but sense of any sort is more logical than the latest dealer fad(fraud).

The fad several years ago was to offer you 5,000 dollars for any trade, which seems like a good deal, what they didn’t tell you was that the offer was only on cars that the dealer designated. You ended up paying far more than the MSRP on any other car, even after they took the 5,000 dollars off for your trade in. Good deal? No. Good marketing? Well, it worked. Should it be legal to market so falsely? I don’t think so, yet, they were able to get away with it by marketing a car at one price, then follow that statement with the phrase “exclusive of that offer”.

The current fad/fraud in the auto business is the ’employee pricing’. It started off with Chevy (I think, at least that was the first ad that I heard it on) and it has snowballed since then. Major props to Isuzu, who is still making fun of the employee pricing. Everyone else in the auto business is trying to offer the same ’employee pricing’ deal to every mark on the lot. And people are still falling for it.

I don’t know how much simpler it could be to know that this is outright fraud; look at the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) to the layman, of the auto that you see advertised on the television, go to the dealership to see the same vehicle, then notice how the MSRP seemed to go up by several thousand dollars while you were on your way. I guess the seatbelts must cost a lot of money? No fear though, they can get the auto down to only slightly higher than the MSRP once you have your ’employee discount’. Wow, pay more than normal now that I am an employee? I am on it! Wouldn’t common sense tell you that employees would pay the same, or possibly less, than the general public?

That must be a really humorous exchange down at the GM factory:

GM Exec: “You’re late.”

Employee: “My bicycle had a flat tire.”

GM EXEC: “You’re in luck, you can use our Employee Pricing to buy a new car.”

Employee: “But, I can’t afford to buy a new car.”

GM EXEC: “You should have thought about that before you slept in.”

Employee: “I have a wife and children.”

GM EXEC: “Don’t worry, they will get employee pricing too.”

Employee: “My children are too young to work, and my wife has to watch them during the day.”

GM EXEC: “Why not buy her a car? She could run errands while watching the children.”

Employee: “I can’t afford a car on the wages you pay me! You want more than 10,000 American dollars for a new car, you pay me 1.5 American dollars per day!”

GM EXEC: “I understand your position…You don’t want to spread the good name of the General Motors Company to others”.

Employee: “Kill me, just kill me now. Perhaps my wife and son could then live off of my death benefits.”

GM EXEC: “Sorry, you do not work within the contiguous 48 states, no benefits for you!”

Employee: “will you go ahead and kill me anyway… My son is starving, my wife is pregnant, if I come home without a paycheck I would be better off dead.”

GM EXEC: “You’ve forced my hand, I will offer you employee pricing on your next GM automobile purchase.”

Employee: “You don’t pay me enough to buy an automobile! My son has died of malnutrition, my wife had a miscarriage and died. Thank you, Sir, for destroying my life!”

GM EXEC: “I see that you are upset…”

Employee: (whips out a gun) “Taste hot lead, asshole! Employee pricing my ass! Die you son of a bitch, die!”

GM EXEC’S Supervisor: “I wonder where that assault rifle came from… Calling number 3482, I need a new ambassador…..”

New refrigerator; Hearts

We got a brand new refrigerator this week! I have never actually owned a new refrigerator, and for that matter have never actually paid for one in my entire life. The ones that I have always had have been the type that are either too small or don’t work very well, so people just give them away. As I am sure you can imagine they have not been the most effecient appliances.

We currently have two refrigerators (well, three now) that aren’t up to par. One of which is a “Sears Coldspot Frostless” model. It is a full size unit and it works just fine, for about six weeks at a time, after which you have to unplug it for a couple of days to let all of the ice defrost. It should also be noted that this particular machine (by the looks and style of it) is probably at least twenty years old. I guess that the definition of “frostless” in the ’80’s was vastly different than it is now. Or it was just a gimmick name, either way that fridge is just a huge paperweight most of the time.

The other fridge that we have is an apartment sized one with a really odd name brand. I believe it is like “admiral” or “general” or some such, it always puts me in mind of the military when I read the name. It works fabulously all the time, the problem is that it has only two shelves, and all of the bars on the door that let you put jars there are long gone. Not to mention that the freezer space can be nearly completely filled with a single bag of ice, unless it was recently defrosted, in which case, with enough pounding, you might be able to fit two bags in. This one is porbably only ten years old, but it just doesn’t work for our purposes.

The wife and I had been discussing a new refrigerator for literally a couple of years before making the decision to buy one. After the luck that we have had buying used washing machines (we have two washing machines on the patio that were bought used, both of them crapped out long before they should have), we decided the refrigerator would be a new appliance. After having ogled many refrigerators in the stores over the last couple of years, we weren’t planning to be all that picky about it, we just wanted one that didn’t smell like mold even after you bleach the fuck out of it.

I actually did have two requirements for the new refrigerator, 1) It had to be full size, 2) It needed to have an ice maker. The latter was my justification for the purchase in the first place. My wife uses a lot of ice in her drinks, which she buys at convenience stores for anywhere from $1-$1.50 a bag. The ice is usually chunky little garbage that is hardly suitable for drinks in the first place. Now, if there is an ice maker in the fridge, and particularly since I have a 5 stage, reverse osmosis water filter which the water will run through, there will be good, clean ice on hand all the time without additional purchase. That will save at least $30-$40 dollars a year on ice alone (of course I still do need to buy the parts to hook the ice maker to the water system, hopefully tomorrow).

I have never really liked Sears all that much, mostly since almost everything they sell is horribly overpriced, yet this time that is where the appliance purchase was made…Well, kind of. The purchase was actually made on the computer I am typing on right now, but it was through their website. The refrigerator a Kenmore, 18.2 cubic feet, factory ice maker, and it has free delivery, if they make good on the rebate that is.

This brings me to the point of this whole story. If you have ever shopped for a new refrigerator you will notice that there are a lot of apartment sized fridges, and some even smaller, but when it comes to full size fridges there are ten 17.9 cubic feet ones to every one that is larger. Now I know why. It is all about math!

It seems that the advertised cubic footage of a refrigerator is the usable inside space of the refrigerator. Why is 17.9 so prevalent? Doorways. When I saw that I could get the 18.2 cubic foot fridge, with an ice maker, for about the same as it would cost for a 17.9 without an ice maker, since the former was on sale, I jumped on it. I didn’t even bother to look at the energy guide, since there is no way a new refrigerator can be less efficient than one that is a couple of decades old. I also didn’t look at the dimensions of the machine, that is where I ran into some problems.

If you have ever read this page before, you have likely seen me mention that nothing about my house is standard. The 18 inch thick walls are great for insulation, yet they make it difficult to standardize doorways; you try cutting through 18 inches of mud and stone to make a doorway one inch wider and tell me how it goes. A quick count while walking through the house shows that we have 16 doorways, of course only about half of them have doors on them, else you would have to open four doors to get to the toilet (no kidding). Only two of the doors are the same size, they are both outside doors (the front and side doors) and they are both exactly 32 inches. The rest of the doors vary from 26 inches (on a closet) to 36 inches (entrance to Arizona room). Keep in mind that the measurements are the actual openings, not subtracting for the trim molding.

If you have a standard tape measure around your house you can look to see that the numbers 16 and 32 are in red. 16 is in red since that is how far apart studs have to go when building. 32 is in red since that is the width of a standard doorway. It turns out that that is also why the standard refrigerator is 17.9 cubic feet, any larger than that and you can no longer slide it sideways through a doorway. My old refrigerator was 31 inches wide and 29 inches deep. I was able to turn it sideways to slide it out the door. The new refrigeratorw was 31 inches wide and 33.5 inches deep. My doorway is only 3/16 wider than 31 inches, and that is not counting the inch thick door or the hinges. There was no way to get it into the kitchen without some work. Thankfully, after taking the door off of the hinges and moving it aside, I was able to line the machine up in the doorway, leave through a different exterior door, come back in behind the machine and push it through. If it had been even 1/10th of an inch wider I am not sure if I would have been able to get it into the kitchen, even with a generous amount of vaseline.

Let this be a lesson to me. I should always measure my non-standard doorways prior to new appliance purchase.

• If you are not a fan of the card game Hearts you might as well quit reading now.

I have been playing the game Hearts (link neglected since I couldn’t find a site without a bunch of pop-up crap) for years. There are a lot of variations of the game, but they seem to follow the same guidelines. You want to take zero points. If you take a heart you take a point. If you take the queen of spades you take 13 points. It is possible to lower your score by taking points, however it is difficult since you have to take them all. This quote on the scoring of the game sums it up pretty well:

Winning the Game
When one or more players reach or surpass a score of 100 points, the player with the lowest score wins the game.
Shooting the Moon
Shooting the Moon is a special strategy in which a player tries to take all 13 Hearts and the Queen of Spades. If you manage to Shoot the Moon you can either add 26 points to everyone’s score or subtract 26 from your own.

Shooting the Sun
Shooting the Sun is even more difficult than Shooting the Moon: If you take all 13 tricks – that is, every card in the deck – you can either add 52 points to everyone’s score or subtract 52 from your own.

While my normal strategy in the game is just to not take any points, I have shot the moon a few times. I had never actually shot the sun though, and thought that it would be impossible. Again, if you do not know the game, you may not understand the difficulty. I have probably played tens of thousands of games without shooting the sun. Until today.

The sad part is that I didn’t have any idea that I was doing it as I played. I just wanted to make sure that I kept control of the cards so that I wouldn’t get stuck with the queen of spades and end up adding 13 points to my score. Oh well, I guess we takes ’em when we can get ’em.

Tune in next time to find out such fascinating things as how to treat a wart on your dog (use wart off), how to boil water (a pan and heat), possibly even how to cheat people out of a lot of money (email scams). Damn, I just gave away my next post…