bobquasit: (Default)
I haven't been pleased with Barnes & Noble's Nook Color. The book selection is relatively poor, and the prices are relatively high. Which is why I have been utterly delighted by Baen Books.

Not only do they offer a large selection of classic science fiction books for free, but they have a surprising number of books by classic and modern SF and fantasy authors for very reasonable prices. For example, they have quite a few of the Heinlein juveniles - which, I've been told, have often been out of print in recent years - for $5-$6 each. And they're well-formatted, have nice e-covers, and are available in many useful formats (including epub for the Nook and Kindle format too). What's more, they're not restricted by DRM, so you can download them to multiple devices.

I respect the hell out of a company that doesn't treat their customers as potential thieves. And so I've picked up a bunch of books from them for Sebastian, including most of the Heinlein juveniles as well as James H Schmitz's The Witches of Karres - a classic, and one of my favorites. Plus quite a few others! They can even be read online, on a computer, laptop, or tablet.

Most of their books are in the four to six-dollar range. I wish other ebook publishers had as much sense as Baen! But as it is, Baen has already gotten a lot more of my money than Barnes & Noble has. Or will, for that matter.
bobquasit: (Default)
Skype is in a war of sorts with Google Voice. And today, I discovered that Skype had taken my system hostage as a prisoner in that war.

I used to be able to use my Google Voice account to call any phone in America for free from my Gmail home page; just type in a phone number or the name of a contact and I'd be connected, with a clarity that actually stunned some of the people I spoke to. Apparently Google Voice uses some sort of astonishing new sound-processing algorithm.

And then recently I installed Skype, since several friends had urged me to try it. Today I tried to use Google Voice to call my parents in Massachusetts. I typed "Dad" in the Google Voice box...and instead of his home and mobile numbers appearing, they appeared with Skype icons surrounding them along with a dollar sign. When I hovered over the numbers, I was told I would be making a "low cost call with Skype".

Now, just to be clear: the call should have been free, via Google. Instead Skype blocked my ability to make that free call, and tried to force me to pay them for it. As far as I'm concerned, that's stealing.

I tried to find a way to make the call WITHOUT using Skype. No matter what I did, Skype wouldn't allow me to do that. I shut down Skype; when I went back and tried to call with Google Voice, Skype immediately restarted itself and invited me to pay them if I wanted to make the call.

I began to seriously consider uninstalling Skype. I have a temper, but I don't think anybody would take it well when some company takes over something on your own system and basically holds it hostage. Boiling with rage, I began to research a solution.

It wasn't easy to find, but I found it. The problem was an add-on that had apparently come bundled with Skype. So I had to go to the Windows Control Panel, choose Add/Remove Programs, and then removed the program called "Skype Click to Call". Mind you, I wasn't told that the goddamned thing would be installed when I installed Skype, and I damned well wouldn't have installed it if I'd known that it was replacing my option to make free phone calls with the requirement to pay Skype for those same calls.

But Skype, here's a message for you: I will never spend a penny on any of your services, EVER. I'll use the free stuff because my friends are on it. But otherwise, you can go screw yourselves.
bobquasit: (Default)
Snow's coming down again today - 3-5 inches, they say, but I think it's going to be more like 4-8. Sebastian went out back to play while I did some early shoveling.

I told him that we'd reward him if he wanted to do some shoveling. "How?" he asked.

"Well...with money, I guess!"

"How much?"

"...what do you think would be fair?"

"Fifty dollars!"

"What?!? But I already did most of it!"

"Thirty?"

"That's pretty steep! I don't know..."

"Twenty? I need enough to buy a Hex Bug."

"I'll discuss it with your mother," I said, rapidly retreating.

I'd been thinking more in the $3-5 range. The snow is really light...a couple of inches of dust, so far.

Portal

Apr. 20th, 2011 10:35 pm
bobquasit: (Default)
A couple of days ago the closing song "Still Alive" from Portal popped up on my main Pandora station. I liked it so much that I looked into buying the game. Best Buy didn't carry it, according to their website. Game Stop did, and had it available as an instant digital download - for $20, plus a mandatory $3 surcharge for being able to download it again (if it got erased) for 18 months from the date of purchase.

So I went directly to Valve, the company that makes Portal, and downloaded it for $9.99. Game Stop are crooks!
bobquasit: (Default)
I ended up having to call Nintendo customer support, because their site simply would not work. It was a pleasant call; the Nintendo rep asked me what sort of phone I was using, because she'd never heard such a clear call in her life. I was using Google Voice with my headset, and told her so.

On the down side, we're not qualified for free repairs. We'll have to pay $85 plus tax to have the Wii's lens cleaned. If we do, though, it will have a new warranty for twelve months. Still, that's more money than we'd care to spend at the moment.

I also discussed our DS problems with the rep. We have three DSes and a DSi, and none of them are working properly; they all have big problems playing almost any game. They no longer recognize that a chip has been inserted, most of the time!

Unfortunately, it would be ANOTHER $85 per machine to have them repaired, since they're all off of warranty. That's $425!!!

We could save $40 by shipping all of the DSes with the Wii, and the rep was able to reduce the per-DS cost to $50 under that circumstance. But that's still $285 plus tax.

I think we'll have to have the Wii repaired, since Sebastian's heart would break otherwise. But as for the DSes...I don't know.
bobquasit: (Rorschach)
Inspired by yet another mailing from the Discover card people, I tried to opt out of "pre-screened" mailings from the credit-card industry today. They nearly bankrupted us seven years ago, so that was a no-brainer.

I went through a long, annoying phone call with an irritatingly pleasant robo-voice.

And then they demanded that I give them my full social security number.

"Hell no!" I said, and slammed the phone down.

Credit card industry = 1, Me = 0

Anyone have any suggestions?
bobquasit: (Default)
We got a new bill from Cox on Friday. It's about $65 less than the last one. No one has called us or explained this to us. We're really confused. Is someone at Cox just making up our bill every month?

"This month, let's charge them $200. Then next month $135. After that, in order, $179, $209, and then $196.93 to really confuse them. They'll never question their bill again!"

By coincidence (I presume) we also got a mailing the same day from Verizon. They're offering FIOS service in our area - we think. But it's a bit confusing, because their TV is apparently via DirecTV. They didn't quite spell out if it was FIOS or not (that's the implication I get, though), and there are various tiers of service which don't include a price. I don't like it when an offer isn't clear, and I don't care for low introductory prices that are followed by unspecified increases after the introductory period ends.

Status

Oct. 27th, 2009 12:06 pm
bobquasit: (Default)
Lots to tell about.

My hand still hurts, so I'm taking a regular dose of ibuprofen twice a day. The bruising has faded somewhat.

I still can't put pressure on it in the direction I fell; it hurts too much. I called the urgentcare clinic where I had it x-rayed, and they confirmed that it's not broken. I may call my doctor if it doesn't feel a lot better soon.
Read more... )
bobquasit: (Default)
I give up. The DuPont faucet filter had the same problems that all the other ones did; roughly one out of four filters worked properly, and the rest lasted a week or less.

Our water is NOT hard or particularly bad. So my best guess is that hot water is occasionally feeding into the cold water, and thereby ruining the filters.

So this weekend we bought a Brita dispenser, one of the big ones with a tap in the front, and put it in the refrigerator. We'll see how it works out. I'm going to fill it by filling up a pitcher and then pouring that water into the dispenser; that way if there's a surge of hot water, it will never reach the filter (the heat being moderated by being mixed with all the water in the pitcher first). Also, the filter itself will be cooler because it's in the refrigerator!

Unfortunately the Brita filter apparently doesn't filter anywhere near as much stuff as the DuPont did, but we can't afford to buy new filters every week.
bobquasit: (Default)
We signed up with a new heating oil provider and dumped Petro. Boy did they fight hard to keep us from canceling! By the end, she was pretty mad at me - although I was very polite.

Cell phone

Aug. 13th, 2009 09:08 am
bobquasit: (Default)
Our AT&T cell phone contract expired a while ago, so we can upgrade our phones and make some changes. I recently discovered that as a Blue Cross employee I get a 19% discount on AT&T cell service; we'll have to put our service in my name instead of Teri's, but that's no problem.

Here's the question: Should I get an iPhone? I'd get a Google Android phone if I could, but AT&T doesn't have a Google phone. I got a demo of sorts from a co-worker of the iPhone, and it looked pretty cool (even though I hate Macs). Anyone out there have an iPhone? Or can you recommend a better alternative?
bobquasit: (Default)
I just realized that I'd still have to buy the game, not just an account card. Hmm, the price of WoW just went way up. Plus there's the cost of the supplements...
bobquasit: (Default)
My computer has been getting slower and slower and s l o w e r over the past three or four months. Boot-up took forever, and response time for anything kept increasing.

No wonder. It turns out I had only 1.6 GB free on the hard drive! So yesterday I went to Best Buy and grabbed a 1.5 TB external USB drive. I've already freed up over 60 GB on the system by moving over music and videos that aren't critical to me, and the system is doing much better.

I've backed up all of the family photos and videos that I've actually taken, but I'm not going to take those off the C drive; it would be a disaster if we lost those. But there's a fair amount of other video and music - probably another 60 GB at least, maybe more - that I can move onto the external drive instead. I should have done this a while ago. While I'm at it, I'm going to rip more of my CDs, too.

I used $10 worth of Best Buy coupons that I'd received to buy the drive (which was on sale), and was amused that I got a $10 from Best Buy instantly for buying the drive. It was still more than I should have spent, but it was necessary.
bobquasit: (Default)
One of our shower curtains was getting pretty grungy. It might have been mold, or soap scum...I don't know. It was a translucent gray-black stain that covered four or five square feet.

It was a decent shower curtain, a $3.99 one instead of one of those cheap $0.99 ones from the dollar store, so I decided to see if it was cleanable. To tell you the truth, money wasn't a factor; I just felt like giving it a try, and since the vinyl was on the heavier side, I thought it might survive the experiment.

First try: Formula 409 and paper towels.

I took the curtain down and spread it on the bathroom floor (it was dry, of course). I squirted it with 409, waited 30 seconds, and then went over it vigorously with paper towels. Result: dirty paper towels, and some reduction in the grime, but the curtain still looked pretty dirty.

Second try: dishwashing detergent and scotch-brite.

I put a few drops of dishwashing detergent on the curtain, wet an old piece of scotch-brite, and scrubbed fairly gently with a circular motion. Result: the grime came off like magic, instantly, with no visible damage to the curtain. The whole thing took less than two minutes. I put it up again, rinsed it off in the shower, and it has been fine for days.

I also found that dishwashing detergent works great for cleaning the toilet, the bathroom sink, and the tub. It just takes a few drops, too!

Jeeze. How do I end up making posts like this?
bobquasit: (Default)
A thought just occurred to me.

Should I still be contributing to my 401k?

I mean, every paycheck some chunk of money goes straight to my 401k - and therefore, to the stock market. I have it set for the most conservative option possible, I think, but still it's probably losing money.

Okay, the company is matching my donation. So I may not be actually losing money yet, in some sense. I mean, my losses would have to be 50% to negate the company's contribution, right? But at the rate things are going, I have to wonder if the economy is going to tank completely.

I've been predicting utter disaster as a result of Bushonomics for a long time. Now that it looks like I'm right, I'm not entirely sure what to do.

...
bobquasit: (Default)
I noticed this a while ago. Apparently lots of people have missed it. But some time in the last several months, groceries started shrinking - a lot.

All sorts of groceries. But I guess it's not surprising that I first noticed that ice cream had shrunk. Maybe you remember: when you buy ice cream in the supermarket, the usual sizes are a half gallon or a pint. But when I routinely checked the label of a carton of Bryer's ice cream, I was amazed to see that it was only 1.5 quarts - it had been shrunk by a full 25%! And the price definitely hadn't gone down. I did a little research, and EVERY ice cream manufacturer has magically reduced their ice cream packages from 2 quarts to 1.5!

Incidentally, the package had been re-designed to make it look bigger than it was; it looked a lot like the old version, but the sides were sloping more. I think that difference caught my attention somehow, which is why I looked at the label. I've also noticed that whereas the cartons were almost always full of ice cream in the past, the ice cream is much looser now, if that makes any sense. There's consistently more air around the sides.

Lots of other products have silently started shrinking, too.The Consumerist calls it "the grocery shrink ray".

Apparently one typical tip-off is when the packaging is redesigned. They may claim that the new package is more environmentally friendly and easier to ship - but the odds are that it also contains 10% or so less product. In some cases, the price for the new package is actually higher than the old, more generous one! But usually it's just the same. Chips, juice, toilet paper...anything which isn't sold by a unit of weight or volume is subject to shrinkage. They can't pull this stunt with gallons of milk or with store-packaged meat, since that's sold by the pound. But in some cases, larger packages are being replaced with subtly smaller ones. For example, the Jimmy Dean sausage roll which was normally 16 oz. is now 12 oz.

Obviously manufacturers are counting on the vast majority of consumers being too stupid or apathetic to notice the change. That's a bet they'll probably win. The question is, how far can they push this particular technique before consumers notice and get angry? My guess is that they're studying this issue carefully, and that before they reduce packages to the point that people notice, they'll do a price hike - probably en masse, so they can all claim that it's a necessary response to the economy.

Incidentally, I don't dispute their right to pass on increased production costs to their customers (because I know that at least one person on my flist will make that very point). What I object to is this sleazy, underhanded repackaging scheme. A half-gallon of ice cream has been just that for decades. Tricking people into thinking they're buying a half-gallon when they're not is simply unethical.

Oh, it's also worth pointing out that these changes also screw up recipes. Many recipes call for a certain standard amount of an ingredient, such as a 6-oz. can of tomatoes (or something; I'm just making up the numbers, okay?). And now that no package exists in that size, the cook is faced with either buying TWO packages and wasting part of one, or trying to reduce the rest of the recipe - which can be difficult, since the amount of reduction isn't always easy to translate into other sizes (i.e. it may be 3 out of 14 oz., for example).

I also read over on the Consumerist that milk is often turning out to be sour as soon as it's bought, or very soon thereafter - this is apparently a lot more common than it used to be. That may be because manufacturers are selling milk that they would normally have thrown away. Or perhaps milk-truck drivers are turning off their refrigeration to save gas. Apparently this hasn't been a problem with organic milk, although much of this is anecdotal. I wouldn't have notice that particular problem anyway, since we always buy our milk straight from the nearby Wright's Dairy Farm. Their milk isn't trucked anywhere! :D

In and out

Apr. 13th, 2008 09:58 pm
bobquasit: (Default)
We got our tax refund. A nice chunk of change. I hoped that we would be able to hold on to most of it, to get ahead and stay ahead for once.

But it seemed to be a good idea to take the car in for a check-up. It hadn't had a problem for about three years now, but the power steering had started making an unpleasant groaning noise once in a while. A once-over from Teri's mechanic seemed to be a wise precation.

$1,277.00 later...oh, what's the point? I'm sure you all saw that coming. And in truth, it could have been worse.
bobquasit: (Default)
Teri just got a call from the Blackstone school system. The price for a year's tuition just went up from about $4,800 to nearly $10,000!

We don't have that much money. Teri's crying. I don't know what to do. God damn it!

That would be about $250 more than we're paying now, and we're not making it - we haven't been able to save a penny. The car has 150,000 miles on it; it won't last forever. If we saved every penny we get from taxes and whatever this year, it won't cover our additional expenses.

...I have to think about what to do.
bobquasit: (Default)
I had a wild idea yesterday.

What if we stopped going out to eat?

A meal in a restaurant usually costs about $30 for the three of us, on average. I did some math, and eating at home costs around $9 for the three of us (or less). So each meal out effectively takes $21 out of our budget.

Since we go to a restaurant at least 6-8 times per week (counting breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner on the weekends), that means we're blowing $126 to $168 dollars a week...or over $504 to $672 a month...or $6,552.00 to $8,736.00 per YEAR!

HOLY SHIT!

I'd mis-crunched the numbers, before!

Currently the only reason we're able to eat at all is that we're using up the money I'd set aside for a new computer (yes, once again we're broke). It hurts...it hurts a LOT to see it all go again. The computer wasn't my biggest dream, but I've had to give it up over and over and over.

And I have to worry: if we can't make it on our income now, how will we manage when (if) there are four of us? How can we ever hope to move out of this shithole of a city into a decent school district?

So I suggested to Teri that we try not going out to eat for one month, just to see what would happen. I don't want to pressure her, and neither one of us would want to give up dining out permanently...but the pleasure of dining out is more than overmatched by the pain, fear, and desperation we face for weeks every month when we're out of money.

This has to stop. But I honestly don't know if we can do it. To be honest, I'm pretty damned worried...and scared.
bobquasit: (Default)
Sigh. Hotel reservations are open for Arisia, and I want to make sure we don't end up stuck in the overflow hotel; that would almost make it pointless to attend the con in the first place!

So I went to the Arisia website and tried to make a reservation. Unfortunately, my debit card expires before Arisia takes place, and I can't make the reservation unless my card will be good through the date of the con. I'll get a new card sent to me in November...but by the the odds are good that the hotel will be full.

So I called my credit union to see if I could find out what the new expiration date will be. With that info, I could have booked the room.

But they say they don't have that information, and I'll just have to wait until November.

I'll use Teri's card tonight, of course, but it still sucks. And I haven't forgotten that when Tremont CU took over the old Plan Credit Union, they assured us that they wouldn't close the branch inside our building...and then did close it within six months.

The next nearest branch is far enough away that getting there and back would take more time than we're alloted for lunch.

And we had only one ATM that we could use without getting surcharged to death - a little machine in a secure area of the building. It's frequently either broken or out of cash when I need it most (particularly on Fridays and before holidays). It's usually out of service for days.

So, as I said before, the Tremont Credit Union sucks.

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