Frustration

Audio Video Cable Prices

Send to Kindle

In this post, I linked to a great cable that solved my PC -> TV problem. That cable was purchased from svideo.com. The link in that article was to the exact cable I purchased, which cost me $24.95, including free parcel post shipping. It works perfectly. Here is another link on their site to a different model number, which otherwise appears to be identical to me, and it’s $2 cheaper at $22.95 (also includes free shipping).

So, why am I writing again? We’re on another of our trips, and I forgot the cable at home (I know, what a dodo). Now that I know what I need/want, and I’m not taking a risk on whether it will work or not, I figured I’d check out the local electronics stores to see what they carried.

While the cable linked above is perfect (in terms of length, that the audio and video is bonded into one cable, value priced, etc.), I figured I could also buy separate (and if necessary shorter) cables to accomplish the same thing for this trip.

I visited the following stores on the same day, in the following order: Walmart, Circuit City, Best Buy, Radio Shack.

Surprise, surprise, the best prices were at Walmart. I could buy a six foot audio only cable, 3.5mm on one end to two RCA jacks on the other, for $3.94. The same cable at Radio Shack was a not-unreasonable $7.95. The same cable, but in a fancier package, from a known consumer electronics company, with touted higher-quality connectors, was between $14.99 and $21.99 at Circuit City and Best Buy, depending on the brand.

Similar disparity for the S-Video cable (both S-Video -> S-Video and S-Video -> RCA). Here, a six foot cable was close to $12 at Walmart (if I recall correctly), and well over $20 at CC and BB.

In the end, I bought nothing, because I didn’t really have an immediate need. But, it made me search the net again when I got back. I was curious to see if I paid up for expedited shipping, would I still be able to save money while getting longer cables (which are much more convenient for my particular needs).

It turns out that svideo.com’s shipping wasn’t that attractive, given that I didn’t really need the cables. Then I found separate cables at mcmcables.com. I bought a 25 foot (yes, four times longer than the Walmart cable!) audio cable for $4.95! In fact, I bought two, just because. Then I bought two 25 foot S-Video -> RCA cables for $8.99 each!

I could have saved $1 each for S-Video -> S-Video, which would work for 95% of the TVs I might connect to, but the RCA jack is a tad more universal, so I went for that instead. Shipping (not expedited) was an additional $7.99.

So, one set of 25 foot cables cost me $14 (I’m rounding up), plus a few bucks for shipping. That’s cheaper than the cable I previously bought from svideo.com, which I have no complaints about either (pricing or quality).

It boggles the mind the markups that these stores have. I realize that they have to stock it on the shelves, but still, even the disparity between Walmart and CC and BB is ridiculous. They make money on this because most people need the cable that day, and have to pay up or wait longer than they want.

This brings me to another outrageous cable pricing issue, and in fact, more than a pricing issue, a change in design.

I’ve reported before that I have both a new generation iPod Nano, and a new iPod Classic (what a horrible name). I also reported here, that I have some video podcasts loaded on them.

So, I thought I’d see whether hooking them up to the TV in the hotel gave a satisfactory viewing experience. Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) loaned me his cable that connects the headphone jack to three RCA composite jacks for precisely this purpose.

I did a quick search and found this article describing how to do the hookup, and recommending that you don’t pay extra for Apple’s branded cable. Rob had a retractable off-brand cable that he paid $5 for. Apple sells branded cables for $49!

Before I left for the hotel, I found an EBay auction that was selling a bundle: Five foot video cable, car charger for iPod and wall socket charger for iPod, all together, for $0.99 (yes, less than a dollar!). Of course, they make it up on the shipping, which was $6.99! So, for $7.98 delivered, I would get the video cable, the car charger, and an extra wall charger (which I don’t really need). I ordered it.

When I got to the hotel, I couldn’t get the Nano or the Classic to display the video. I was able to get the audio to work.

A search this morning yielded an article on Apple’s site, where they claim that the new Nanos and Classics no longer support video out of the headphone jack. What? This is progress? Of course, they’ll sell you a $49 cable to connect the edge connector to either Composite or Component jacks. They’ll also happily sell you a dock for an additional $49.

A quick EBay search shows that you can pick up a knock-off cable for $0.01 plus $4.95 shipping.

The world is full of rip-offs, and bargains. A little careful shopping, coupled with the patience needed to wait for them to arrive, and you can maintain your sanity a little longer.

I can’t fathom (other than wanting to force upgraders to buy new cables!) why Apple would stop supporting video out of the headphone jack on newer models. Oh well…

Finally, for completeness sake, I’ll add my HDMI cable shopping experience here. I mentioned in the past that it’s amusing (to be kind) that when you buy an HDTV, it’s rare to have any cables included, let alone an HDMI one.

I bought mine (I’m up to four at this point) at MyCableMart.com. My more recent purchase was for two HMDI 1.3 cables, six foot in length. $6.62 each, plus shipping. At Walmart, these cables were in the $25-40 range, and at CC and BB they were in the $49-99 range (though to be fair, I think the $99 ones were HDMI 1.4 spec, which was the first I’d heard of the higher version). Still, the differences are crazy.

Buyer beware, caveat emptor, etc. 🙂

January 2008 Poker

Send to Kindle

In my last two poker updates (here and here) I discussed my frustration with the one site I play on. I used to like pretty much everything about the site and the service, and now only the playing is fun, everything else stinks.

As a new example, I mentioned in the recent posts that they now were regularly giving out free entries into the Sunday big tourney to everyone who made the final table in 16 different tournaments on Saturday. I made the idiotic mistake of rhetorically asking whether that change was permanent or not. Of course, this week, it changed to only the top three in each of those tournaments. Do you think they announced that change is some prominent manner? Not that I saw…

Anyway, before I summarize the results, let me state two facts about my poker playing:

  1. I am a horrible player. Seriously, I’m really awful, and I know many (hopefully most) of my flaws, and yet, I can’t seem to consistently avoid them.
  2. I consistently make money!

How do I reconcile the above two facts? Easy! The vast majority of players on most sites (certainly the one I am currently playing on) are much worse than me. The good players (and there are many of them), can make a living on this site (and most others) with their eyes closed, and without risking much money in the process.

OK, that last statement is an exaggeration, only because to not risk much money, you have to play relatively low stakes (which is what I do), and while you can make a reasonable amount of money, ultra-consistently, you can’t really make a living.

I have known how bad I really am for quite a while now. What makes me say it so definitively now? Nothing other than a typically frustrating weekend. On Saturday, I played in a number of tournaments (and one out-right qualifier) all with the notion of winning a seat for Sunday’s big one. In one of them, the top 15 players would win the seat. Where did I finish? 16th, of course. I’ll spare you the stupid (rather than bad) beat stories about how that happened.

In another tournament, I was in third place with 80 people left, top 20 paid, and I melted down and finished 46th. Last night, top twenty paid, I finished 24th. On and on, so close, yet, so far, yet, profitable, ugh…

So, since we’re in VA this week, I am unlikely to play again in January, so I’ll summarize my results for the month now. If something changes materially, I’ll report again, but I doubt it will happen.

This month started out with the frustrating ordeal with my site, causing me to spend the $215 entry fee into the big weekly tourney, putting me in a hole to begin with. I climbed out nicely. I ended up with a profit of $365.08 for the month, nicely eclipsing last month’s loss as well. In fact, I was up over $100 more going into Saturday, when I lost money (spread out over many tourneys) trying to win a seat into the Sunday big one. I mentioned some of those heartbreaks immediately above.

So, a nice start to 2008. My account is near an all-time high (and probably hit or just missed it before Saturday’s losses). I’m still annoyed at my site, but I’m learning to manage my frustration and plan accordingly.

Lois is Always Right

Send to Kindle

OK, the title might be a slight exaggeration. In the 26 years that Lois and I have been together, I am reasonably sure that she’s been wrong at least once, perhaps even twice. 😉

Of course, being a man, I still argue (like a blithering idiot), until (yet again), she ends up being right. 🙁

I could set up a completely separate blog about this topic alone, and write a new story every single day, and never run out of content. Instead, I’ll just cover three very recent examples, and try not to let the length of this one post get too out of hand.

In our apartment, we have had horrendous problems over the years with clanging pipes. Randomly, 24 hours a day, you could hear one or a series of loud bangs, sounding like someone was banging on the pipes with a hammer. In the middle of the night, it wakes us up, and during the day, it makes Lois jump whenever it occurs.

About 18 months ago, after trying everything they could think of, the super tried the one last possible thing. They shut off the water and blew the air out of the pipes. Amazingly, the noise stopped completely!

Nine months ago, it began again, with a vengeance. We immediately told the super that the problem was back, and could be blow the pipes again. I’ll spare you the nine months of excuses, and sheer idiocy of his responses, but, he never did it. Most people would have given up. Lois isn’t most people.

She waged an escalating campaign with the management agent (which also led nowhere for months!), eventually reaching the owner of the management company. Finally, last Friday, they blew the air out of the pipes. Did the noise stop? You betcha. It is simply inconceivable that the same super who successfully solved this problem 18 months ago was so pigheaded this time around.

Second, Insurance. We received our annual homeowners insurance bill two weeks ago. When Lois saw the premium, which was up a small amount (again, as it is every year), she immediately called the company. She pointed out that we’ve had the house insured for 19 years, have never made a claim, and yet were watching our bills ratchet up dramatically.

Our original policy was with Geico, but in 1997 they exited the homeowners business, and automatically transfered us to Travelers, and we’ve been with them ever since. When the policy was transfered, it had risen by 33% in 9 years. In the next 10, under Travelers, it has risen an additional 33% (over the transfered premium!) so that it was now slightly more than double the original premium.

The representative that Lois got was not sympathetic. In fact, she was downright threatening. She told Lois that if she insisted on re-rating the policy, it could easily go up, perhaps way up, and that we’d be better off leaving things alone. She told that to the wrong person. 😉

After asking for a supervisor, and getting the same exact nonsense, Lois tasked me with doing some research. I was not happy about it.

To make a long story short, while I took care of everything, which I wasn’t happy about, Lois was really right. In the end, I signed up with Hartford yesterday, and my new premium is less than half of our Travelers premium, and is less than our original premium when we first insured the house! To add insult to injury, my new deductible is 20% of the one I had with Travelers. I could drop my new premium even further if I was willing to live with the old deductible.

Of course, I fought her along the way. At one point, I made the mistake of telling her that even if we could save money, it would likely be $200, and simply wasn’t worth the trouble. She enjoyed throwing that in my face yesterday, as the savings are not only dramatically more than that, but they are also annual, as in the gift that keeps on giving.

I got five quotes, and the worst one was cheaper than what Travelers was charging us. Just for yucks, Lois called Travelers yesterday (before we signed), to give them one last chance to do the right thing. They didn’t, and they’ve now lost a good customer.

Last one (for the moment). I reported here that we had bad dampers on our heating system. As a follow-up to that, I also reported here that we had bad service associated with replacing the dampers.

When Lois hears a noise, she can usually intuit whether something bad is about to happen or not. Of course, I argue every time that it’s just normal, even though it rarely is…

So, for the past two weeks, she has been complaining to me that every time our heat kicks in, there is a strange whistling noise, and when it shuts off, there is a thud. I heard the thud, but didn’t think it to be unusual.

Over my objections, she called the heating company and scheduled an appointment to check it out. That happened yesterday afternoon. The guy started out as unbelieving as me, and was borderline rude to Lois. Once he (finally) tuned in to her complete frustration with him, and to the fact the she wasn’t going to let him bully her with his attitude, he actually started paying attention to what she was saying.

Once he did that, he agreed to open up the heating ducts to check out the new dampers. Voila, he said they were installed incorrectly! He worked for over two hours, reinstalling them, and (shock, shock), no noises on startup and shutdown.

He told Lois that if it hadn’t been corrected, the motors would have likely burned out much sooner than normal, so it was a good thing that she called.

Even though he was rude to begin with, he took his job seriously, and apparently did it well. Lois tipped him quite generously. Of course, this shocked him, and he tried hard to refuse it. Again, she won. 😉

Is there a lesson here? Sure, Lois is always right! Have I learned that lesson? Of course not! Without a doubt, I’ll be arguing (probably shortly, even today) over whatever the next issue is. 😉

Poker Update

Send to Kindle

Interesting few days of poker… In my last post on poker, I mentioned that I felt ripped off by my site for not allowing me to use my Tournament Dollars (TDs) to register in last Sunday’s big tourney. This was the first time ever that TDs weren’t an option.

I also mentioned that I wasn’t going to log on again until they responded to my two complaints, one of which was the highest severity. They finally responded on Wednesday late afternoon (from two messages sent to them on Sunday!).

Their answer was completely unsatisfactory. Essentially, they changed their policy, and the Sunday tournament is now cash only, no TDs. The annoying part is that I earned the 215 TDs by winning an entry into the Sunday tourney, and then unregistering. That had always worked before. Now it didn’t…

So, it caused me to change my strategy. I had 215 TDs, that could be used in almost every other tourney, just not this one. I played on Thursday, and used the TDs to enter the nightly Omaha Hi-Lo tourney that I like so much.

I ended up third, getting back $257.60. The next day I played in some cheap qualifiers using TDs only (even when I have TDs, I always used cash in the past). I just missed winning a seat, but converted the TDs into $6 more in cash (woo hoo). 😉

Then yesterday, they had the same deal (perhaps it’s permanent now) whereby you can play in any or all of 16 tournaments, and if you make the final table, in addition to any cash prizes that you might earn, you also get a free entry into the Sunday tourney.

I used TDs only, all day. I played in four of the 16 tourneys, and also in a normal qualifier for the nightly Omaha Hi-Lo, which was another of the 16 tourneys. In addition to winning an entry into the Omaha tourney, I cashed in two of the earlier ones, including finishing seventh (out of 515 entrants!) in one. For that, I got back $90.12 in cash, and the free entry into the Sunday tourney.

I then played in the Omaha one. I ended up finishing 13th. That was in the money (only $31.20), but three away from winning another entry in the Sunday one, as I missed the final table. So, I cashed in three of the five tourneys that I played in, including one final table!

So, I haven’t spent any cash since the “event” last week. But, my account has gone up by over $400 in the same period and I still have 71 TDs left. Can’t complain about that, though I can complain about how I handled myself in the big one tonight…

After my disaster in the big one (see, now you don’t have to read the notes below) 😉 I just finished 16th in the Omaha, and added another $28.80 (woo hoo) to the cash hoard. Crazy tournament, with tons of roller coaster ups and downs. I lost some giant hands to complete idiots who got lucky. I’m looking forward to playing with them again. 😉

Here are my notes from that event…

********************************************************

1020 entrants, top 110 paid

I was playing in another tourney when this one began, so I
played extra conservative in this one, until a few minutes
ago, when I won my entry into the Omaha Hi-Lo nightly
tourney.

At one point, I had AA, and someone limped in front of me,
but when I raised, everyone folded.

Then I had a very nice hand, with some nice luck as well. I
had 88 in the small blind. One limper, and I raised, the big
blind called and the limper folded.

Flop came 567, which was (obviously) very nice for me. I bet
the pot and he called. The turn brought the lovely 9 for the
straight, but it put two spades on the board. I bet the pot,
and he called. The river brought a 2 of spades, so the flush
could have killed me. I plowed on bravely, and went all-in
(he had me covered). He hesitated, and called. Turns out he
had 66 and flopped a set, but didn’t raise on the flop.

I’m in good shape now.

866 left, in 69th

Made it to the first break, though I just gave back a
non-trivial number of chips on the last hand before the
break. Oh well…

821 left, in 126th

Man. I raise with AJ. Two callers. Flop comes 7AJ. I bet the
pot, and get called by one. Turn is a 9. I bet the pot,
which puts the other guy all-in. He calls. He had 77 and
flopped a set. Back to the same number of chips I started
with. Oy…

761 left, in 488th

Just pushed with AK. Other guy had KK. I’m out in 736th.

Rethinking Online Poker

Send to Kindle

I started playing online poker in September 2004. It instantly became an obsession. For the first 10 months, I believe that I missed only one single day where I didn’t play.

I still play a ton, but it’s definitely well beyond the obsession stage. In the past year, I have gone two weeks in a row without playing a single game, at least a few times. That would have been unthinkable in the first year.

I enjoy it immensely. It’s great entertainment, distraction, escape, etc. I have come to accept the incredibly bad beats that I regularly experience with a clamness that I could never have predicted earlier, which I’m hoping is a sign of maturity with regard to the nature of the game.

It satisfies my inherent nature to gamble, without really being a gamble. First, I consistently make money (albeit a very tiny amount). But, even if I were to lose, that too would be a tiny amount, certainly less than I pay for our more regular entertainment (concerts, new TV’s, restaurants, etc.).

So, why am I rethinking online poker? For the first three years, the only real glitches that I had were connectivity problems, and on rare occasions, server overload problems. They were certainly frustrating, especially when it happened in the midst of a tournament that was otherwise going well, but they were understandable.

When the US passed the idiotic banking laws to try and thwart online gambling, most of the online poker sites that I had an account with turned away all US citizens. That included the site that I played on 95% of the time. I shifted 100% of my play to one site that was my second favorite anyway. For 14 months, I had virtually zero problems with them.

Now, for the past month, it has been one problem after another, all administrative, not table related. I have reported on a few of them. While they have made it right each and every time, I don’t feel like being ever vigilant about my account, and then chasing them down when I spot a problem, and waiting too patiently to hear back and eventually get it fixed.

There is enough mystery about the online experience, that trust has to be a big part of the proposition. This particular site is quickly losing my trust. In the past, reporting a problem typically yielded some sort of response within a few hours. Now, it can take days. Something is wrong.

As I reported recently, I had a credit (called Tournament Dollars or TDs) for an entry into the big Sunday tournament. Last night, I settled in and was ready to use that credit. At roughly 3:20pm, I tried to register for the 5pm start time, using the credit. The menu only allowed a cash entry fee. I double-checked my account, and indeed, the credit was there, just not available during the registration process. This had never happened before.

At 3:30pm, I used their highest level of customer support, a form which reports live play problems (presumably bringing much quicker help). It is now nearly 19 hours later, and I haven’t heard a peep from them.

I had promised myself that I would not pay the $215 entry to the weekly tourney. But, since I was settled in, and geared up to play, and believed that the site would eventually do the right thing (take away my credit, and put back the cash), I decided to pay the full freight entry fee last night for the first time.

1069 entrants, top 110 paid. I’ll spare you the details of the incredibly bad luck I had on my last hand, but I finished 471. I don’t care about the lost money (though the lost credit would have been nicer). I do care about the problems, and the lack of swift service.

So, what are my choices?

  1. Suck it up, ignore the problems (perhaps, even expect them), and continue on with this site.
  2. Move my money from this site to a new one (there are still a number of top sites that welcome US players).
  3. Take a break for a while (leaving the money in my account, so I can take it up again).
  4. Withdraw my money, and not think about online poker for a while.

I honestly have no idea what I’ll end up doing, but I’m seriously considering all of the above, for the first time in three years of nearly non-stop playing. If you have any insightful suggestions, feel free to leave them as comments here.

Weekend Poker Update

Send to Kindle

We spent the day with our friends in Leesburg yesterday, and had a very nice time.

Got back to the hotel to relax for the evening. After dinner, I decided to enter the nightly Omaha Hi-Lo. I didn’t have a free entry queued up, so I ponied up the $22 to get in.

170 entrants, top 20 paid. Some crazy hands along the way, including having my very nice stack cut in half by someone who got extremely lucky on me after being way behind. But, all’s well that ends well. I finished fourth, and got back $289 for my $22 entry fee. In the last hand, I had such a fantastic draw for scooping the pot, which would have put me in first place, but it didn’t happen, and I was out.

I was already entered into tonight’s big one. Here are my detailed notes. For those who don’t want to read all the way, I missed the money, but just barely. 🙁

*****************************************************

I had an entry already banked, but when I won another entry
on New Year’s Eve, they automatically entered me into this
one, and I didn’t “unregister”, so I am playing tonight, and
still have one entry in the bank for a future tourney.

20 minutes in, and I’m down a drop. Never been above my
original chip count, so it’s a slow start.

A little patience paid off in back-to-back hands against the
same person. In one, I had a read that he was bluffing, and
I called his raise pre-flop, then his bet on the flop and
his bet on the turn (where I paired my K). He checked on the
river and folded to a large bet on my part.

The next hand, I limped with A9s. The flop came A49
rainbow. I checked, he bet, I raised, he re-raised, I
re-raised all-in. He had A7, and he’s out, and I am
breathing a little better now.

1063 entrants, top 110 paid.

980 left, in 41st

Made it to the first break. 🙂

862 left, in 104th
796 left, in 149th
591 left, in 145th

Made it to the second break. 🙂

498 left, in 200th

Lost a number of hands where folding was likely correct, but
who knows. Then I got very lucky. I had 99 and I raised. The
big stack at the table called. Flop came JT8 with two
diamonds. I had the 9 of diamonds, but it’s the straight
that emboldened me to bet with two overs. He called. The
turn was a J. I went all-in, he called. He had KJ, so he was
crushing me. River was a 9, so I caught a full house and
doubled up. Since then, I lost with AQ to AK, and with 77 to
KT when he flopped a straight.

So, while I’m ahead of my double up, I gave back a ton of
chips on those two hands…

393 left, in 208th

After losing the blinds for a few rounds, I had AA on the
button, and the same big stack raised. I went all-in and he
called with TT. AA held up, and I’m back to nearly where I
was when I last doubled up. Whew.

325 left, in 128th

I folded JJ in the small blind to a raise and a large
re-raise, both of him had me covered. One had AK, the other
KQ. JJ would have held up. Oh well, no guts, no glory…

Was getting low on chips. Got AK in the small blind. UTG
raised, everyone folded, I re-raised all-in, and he had
AT. AK held up and I’m in better shape now.

208 left, in 119th

Made it to the third break. 🙂 Crunch time is coming.

184 left, in 125th
168 left, in 144th

Got AA in the big blind, with the same guy raising when I
last doubled up with AK. Everyone folded, I re-raised
all-in, and he called with KQo. AA held up, and I’m now in
much better shape than even before. I can easily make the
money if I “shut down”. So, we’ll see how it goes…

144 left, in 87th
130 left, in 97th
126 left, in 101st

Might be tighter than I thought. Oh well, some things never
change…

Went all-in with AK. Got called by someone with JJ. I
flopped a K, so I was in great shape, he had two outs. The
turn was a J, so I was toast. I finished in 120th, 10 out of
the money. Like I said, I could almost definitely have
folded my way into the money, but I’m a drop tired of doing
that (though the “money” is nice), so I’m not upset with
myself for “going for it”. Also, considering that I was
ahead, I had a real shot to move way up in the standings if
I had more than doubled up there.

So, can’t really complain, even though it didn’t happen this
time…

Poker Account Vigilance

Send to Kindle

December hasn’t been a great month economically, though I’ll do the final tally tomorrow and post as usual. That said, I’ve had more than decent success in the past 10 days in qualifiers.

Last Saturday, I came second in a qualifier that paid only the top two spots, and I won an entry into the weekly big Sunday tournament. I played, didn’t take notes (which is why I didn’t post), and finished in 484th out of 832. Not a good result.

That same Sunday, I won another qualifier, which only paid the winner. I rarely win tournaments, though I often cash, so winning was very gratifying. Since I already had won a seat for that week, I didn’t check my account for the automatic deposit of TDs (Tournament Dollars), which is what I would use to enter a future event without deducting any cash from my account.

In the few years that I have been playing online poker, I have never had a problem with these automatic credits. They are always there, period. So, on Friday, when I checked for my 215 TDs (each TD represents a real dollar, and the entry fee into the Sunday big one is $215), I was absolutely shocked to see no TDs in my account. I instantly wrote to them, and it took over 24 hours (and another frantic communication from me) to get someone to finally put the TDs in my account.

So, they did the right thing, but if I hadn’t checked, I wouldn’t have known until I needed to use them, and it would likely have been too late for that night (though I’m sure they would have made it right for a future event).

Every few months, they do a fantastic promotion. On the Saturday before the big tourney, they run their usual array of tournaments. However, on the special day (yesterday was one of them!) everyone who makes the final table (top 10 finishers) in 16 different tournaments, gets a free entry into the Sunday big one.

What makes it special, is that you also get the normal cash prize you would otherwise have gotten. Normal qualifiers are just the entry, so you pay to get into the qualifier, and if you win, your entry fee into the qualifier is your entry into the big one.

So, I entered a few of the tournaments during the day. I cashed in three of them, and finished in ninth (final table!) in one of them. So, I made money on the day, as well as winning another entry. Again, I saw no TDs, and I wasn’t automatically entered into the tournament (that had never happened before either!).

So, I wrote again last night. Today, we drove to VA to spend New Year’s Eve with our friends. When we got here, I logged on and saw that they entered me into the tournament. Cool. They did the right thing.

But, before we left NY, our friends said we were having dinner in tonight, so I knew I could play. When we got here, they said we were going for dinner to another couple’s house, so now I wouldn’t be able to play, or I would be anti-social. No problem (I thought). I’ll just unregister, and get the 215 TDs. So, I did.

When I checked my account, no new TDs. Oh oh, here we go again. I immediately wrote to support again, in a bit of a panic, because there was only one hour to the tournament starting time. If yesterday’s deal was use it or lose it, I needed to be reinstated, and be anti-social.

When I checked again five minutes later, I saw that I was credited with $215 in cash! Wow, that’s even sweeter than the TDs, not that I intend to withdraw the cash. Again, the site did the right thing.

Still, the point of this post is to say that you have check your poker account regularly, to make sure that everything that you expect to happen to it is actually happening. In my case, alls well that ends well, but only due to my vigilance!

Service, a Dying Art

Send to Kindle

It continually amazes me how poor the service is at most companies. It has become so bad (for quite a while), that even when a company can clearly differentiate itself on service alone, it might not be good enough. Why? Because consumers have become so jaded, that they often will continue to shop for a bargain, knowingly giving up good service, to save some money (often, a trivial amount).

Of course, providing good service can come at a greater cost, but it doesn’t always have to.

In this post, I described the broken dampers on our heating system. When they diagnosed the problem the next day, we asked how quickly they could come back and fix it. We travel a lot, and even when we’re in NY, we split our time between the house and the city, so scheduling can be problematic.

It took two days, and a signed contract on our part, to get them to commit to coming 10 days later (which was yesterday). We had the first appointment of the day, 9am. The day before, mid-afternoon, they called, and I had the misfortune to answer.

The guy explains to me that they have an emergency that has to be taken care of first thing in the morning, and would it be OK if they didn’t show up at our place until noon? In these kinds of matters, I’m a relatively easy touch, for a number of reasons. I said “No problem”, immediately.

A minute later, Lois walks into the room and asks who just called. I explain, and she gives me the look. If you’re not married, let me translate: How could you be so stupid?

There are two reasons why Lois reacts differently than me in these types of situations:

  1. In general, she doesn’t like to be taken advantage of.
  2. Specifically, she knows that things go wrong, and if they have a problem at the emergency, they might miss our appointment.

Given our schedule, and Lois’ general protectiveness of our environment, this request was not as reasonable to her as it was to me.

Lois called them back two minutes later. She couldn’t get the same person who called me on the phone. After vigorously discussing the situation with someone else, they agreed that they would be here by 11am. That said, Lois extracted much more information from them than I did (because I didn’t even try).

At first, Lois was told that there was no heat in the house that needed the emergency visit. Lois is no dummy, so don’t ever tell her something that simply doesn’t make sense. She’ll skewer you, instantly. She asked him why they weren’t over there working on it now, given that there were still a few hours of daylight left, and the people might freeze overnight?

He then admitted to her that the house was empty, and that they were working on the system that morning, and screwed something up. They wanted to finish it up before starting our job. After some more haggling, they reached the 11am compromise discussed above.

At 11:45am yesterday, 45 minutes after they were supposed to show up, Lois called them. When she gave our information, she was told that there was no appointment scheduled for us whatsoever. Not the right thing to say to her. 😉

I got a piece of her mind as well (after the guy promised to look into it), given that somehow, it was my fault for agreeing to this delay to begin with. I assured her (hollowly) that the guy answering the phone had no clue, and that the crew knew to come here after the emergency.

Five minutes later, the doorbell rang, they were here. Whew! I’ll spare you the back-and-forths over how this crew gave us different feedback from the first two people who had been here, giving us real comfort (not!). In the end, they did a very good job, and we have brand new dampers, that have been working well now for 24 hours.

Everything about this job reeked of poor service, and poor customer communications. This is not atypical for this company, even though their work has never disappointed us over the years. Our neighbors stopped using them years ago, after getting tired of fighting with them. We were happy to switch to the company that they did, but we have a York system, and their company won’ touch it. Oh well.

Gotham Comedy Club

Send to Kindle

In this post, I mentioned that we might go see Jamie Lissow (again) at the Gotham Comedy Club.

After enjoying the Vienna Boys Choir at Carnegie Hall in the afternoon, we relaxed in the apartment and watched most of To Catch A Thief by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.

For the second night in a row, which was also only the second time in forever, we took our car out of the garage and drove a whopping 11 blocks to eat at a wonderful vegetarian Indian restaurant called Pongal on 28th and Lexington Avenue. On a typical Sunday night in NYC (especially in the winter), parking should have been a breeze down there.

Unfortunately, NBC was shooting something down there, and the police had signs all over the neighborhood saying “No Parking” after 7pm. 🙁

I dropped the others off, and after circling the neighborhood twice, found a great spot two blocks away, so it ended up being fine.

We had a fantastic meal that all of us enjoyed, but we also all felt stuffed to the gills afterwards. One of the five of us didn’t have an interest in the comedy, so she walked back to the apartment and relaxed there for the evening. The rest of us drove to Gotham Comedy Club, and we got a great spot on the street, directly across from the front door.

It’s a beautiful club, with a spacious layout between the tables (a very welcome change to lots of NY venues where you are packed in like cattle). Unfortunately, the seats are extremely uncomfortable, and need way more padding. In addition to a cover, they have a two drink per person minimum, or a food order. Obviously, we were too stuffed to order food, so two drinks it was going to be.

Again, unfortunately, our waitress was hyper-aggressive about wanting to start the drinks rolling. We were seated at 8:15pm for a 9pm show, so it was disappointing to get that much pressure/attitude that early in the evening. To boot, the gratuity is built in to the check…

We really went to see Jamie Lissow, who was the MC last night. When he came out, he was pretty funny, but 95% was interacting with the crowd (“Where are you from?”, followed by funny ad-libs, etc.). He was definitely good with the crowd. Unfortunately, while he was on stage between every act, he only told two or three jokes, instead just making introductions the rest of the evening.

There were roughly seven other comedians last night. All of them had good stage presence, and each had at least one good joke, a few of them a handful. Unfortunately, all but one of them resorted to ultra-crude humor to try and get laughs. We haven’t been to a comedy club in ages, so perhaps this is the norm. It just happens to not be that clever (in our opinion) and is, in fact, lazy.

The crudeness actually doesn’t bother me at all, but it really bugs Lois, so I cringe when they say something that I know is flat out offensive. Jerry Seinfeld (among many others) has proven that you can have a 100% clean act and still make it. Of course, perhaps it’s much harder to actually think about everyday life, and spin it in a funny way, rather than another sex joke filled with curse words…

The last comic, Kevin Flynn, who was the best of the bunch (not including Jamie) was introduced as having been in a movie with Ben Stiller (The Heartbreak Kid). IMDB doesn’t list him, but oscars.org does, so I am not 100% sure.

After the show was over we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to say hello to Jamie, and let him know that I was the guy whose blog he commented on. Hopefully, he got a kick out of that.

We definitely enjoyed the evening and were glad we went, but on balance, we’d rather see live music than gamble on the quality of comedians we haven’t seen before.

We got back to the apartment a little after 11pm, and watched the end of To Catch A Thief. We didn’t discuss the movie afterwards, as Lois and I went straight to bed. But, just based on body language, I’m guessing that I enjoyed it more than the other four people combined. 😉

Low Tech Often Beats High Tech

Send to Kindle

In this post, I discussed traditional video senders, that wirelessly extend a video source to a remote receiver (TV, VCR, DVR, etc.). The 5.8Ghz model that I bought from Amazon.com is still working perfectly.

In addition to that need at home, we travel a lot for business and therefore spend a lot of time in hotels. While we’re not terribly picky about what’s on TV when we’re tired after a long day’s work, sometimes the pickings are pretty slim, and with the current writers strike dragging on, they will likely get slimmer.

I decided that I wanted to find an effective way to display things from my laptop on the hotel TV. This would allow watching DVDs, Internet videos, and my home DVR via the SlingBox.

I mentioned in the past that once I purchased one thing from X10, I got bombarded daily by a giant email newsletter from them. Just at the time that I was considering the above need, their daily newsletter had a special to purchase a wireless VGA to RCA Video extender. I ordered the following package that day (and I paid a lot less than the current price shown on that page).

The device works, for some definition of works, but I am not happy with it. I don’t know if it’s interference from WiFi devices (of which the hotels have many, and so does our house), or if there is some other problem, but, while I an get the video to show up (so it’s not broken), it’s not a satisfactory experience.

Now a diversion. A few weeks back, we were visiting friends in Richmond, VA. Another friend came over with a DVD of photos from their trip to South Africa. After trying a few ways to display the photos on the TV, I looked at the back of my laptop and noticed (for the first time) that I had an S-Video port. Our host happened to have an S-Video cable, and I was able to connect my S-Video out to his S-Video in, and display the photos.

When I got home, I did a search and found the following site (they ask for links, claiming that they don’t advertise!), and specifically, this low tech cable. I got to use the cable for the first time last night (in the apartment), and it worked pretty well. Extremely low tech, but extremely effective.

That said, my problem isn’t quite solved. It turns out that the hotel that we stay at all the time doesn’t include the ability to select alternate input sources (even though the TV has both RCA inputs and S-Video in). The remote control doesn’t have an input button, and the menu doesn’t contain one either.

A little further search on the Internet suggests bringing your own programmable remote to the room, and searching for their TV model, and hopefully being able to control the TV with your remote, including changing the input source. I’ll give that a try in January, when we are next in the hotel. Even if it doesn’t work, this new cable will find occasional use at home, when I want to watch an Internet video on the TV. A lot cheaper than buying something like Apple TV, etc. 😉