Gripes Archives, page 3

Blogging equals complaining, right?

Why I buy online

I want to buy a laptop hard drive for a project. I could easily order the one I want from Newegg for about $75, but I thought it’d be nice to get one sooner, so I called around to see what was available in the area.

First I called CompUSA (which admittedly is going out of business) hoping I could score a good deal, but I never got through to anyone. The phone just rang and rang and rang. I tried twice.

Then I called Circuit City (which is only a few blocks away) and waded through their phone menu system, eventually narrowing down to the fact that I wanted “product availability and pricing” for “computer” “hardware”. I somehow ended up being redirected to a general customer service person with apparently no knowledge of whether they carried internal laptop hard drives or not.

So he attempted to transfer me to their computer department 3 times, and by the third time finally said, “Hold on, let me just walk over and ask someone.” Yeah, why don’t you, I thought.

Then he came back on the line and asked, “Do you mean, memory?”

“No, I mean an internal laptop hard drive.” At this point I didn’t dare specify that I wanted a 7200RPM IDE drive. I heard muffled talking in the background.

“Umm, yeah, he said we do.”

“Well can I get any information about what types—”

“He said they start at $100 and go up depending on the quality [sic] of the drive—”

“Ok, thanks.”

Finally I called Best Buy, and surprisingly the phone just rang and rang and rang. For over 4 minutes. No one answered.

Why oh why isn’t there a Fry’s in San Francisco? They’d make a KILLING.

I might just scoot down to CompUSA and pick through whatever’s left on racks. Verdict: no luck. Only SATA laptop drives. :(

Antisocial Networking

Update: New developments below.

I just got the strangest email. I think I’m going to reproduce it here in full.

Date: Thu, 30 Aug 2007 16:32:05 -0700 (PDT)
From: Julie Winfield <beverlybimbo at yahoo dot com>
Subject: Hi Justin

You don’t know me, but I live by you and I would like to warn you that I am adding you to this site as a bad neighbor. I am tired of putting up with your crap.

Are you ok with that? No? Well then too bad!!


Wow. I. Have. No. Words.

Here’s the funny part: it doesn’t appear that “Rotten Neighbor” currently even covers San Francisco. I entered my zip code and there were 3 listings, none me. A quick Google search for Julie Winfield returns a dermatologist in Mill Valley.

On the other hand, a quick Google search for the first part of her email address, beverlybimbo, confirms that she lives in Los Angeles (based on a Craigslist posting “Looking for a Google Maps API expert”).

Looking for a Google Maps API expert
Reply to: beverlybimbo at yahoo dot com
Date: 2007-08-09, 10:55AM PDT

Looking for a Google Maps API expert to design a functioning map that allows users to contribute markers to the map by searching address, city, state, zip code etc… It needs to be completely automated. The markers/popups will include title, description, and name. I also need the ability to serve the user ads that will most likely be geographically targeted. PHP, MySQL and Javascript will also be required so you need to be skilled in these languages as well.

* Location: Los Angeles

That’s a curious coincidence, considering Rotten Neighbor is essentially a Google Maps app.

Based on the time I got the email (4:32pm) I wonder if the LA listing created at 4:28 is the one intended for my doppelganger:

Vanowen St. between Mason and Desoto. What a horrible place. Many gang members or wannabees The north side of Vanowen is lined with apartment buildings. There is absolutely no parking. Somebody was shot and killed on Kelvin Ave. Cars are stolen. Car windows are broken just for the fun of it. Helicopters hover around at least once a week. It’s filled with people who don’t care about the cleanlines of their surroundings. People walk their dogs and don’t pick after them. Horrible place.

Looking over my referrer log from 4pm today (or for hits to my about page—the most obvious place someone would get my email address) didn’t turn up any smoking guns. I’ll be curious to see how/if she responds to my reply.

Update: This afternoon, I got a snarky reply from “Julie”:

Don’t worry Justin. Soon everybody will know what kind of neighbor you actually are!

What? The? Fuck?

So at this point I started think that she’s working for Rotten Neighbor, in an attempt to bait bloggers into linking to their site (as terrie mentions in the comments). Great it worked. So I’ve removed the hyperlink to Rotten Neighbor above (which I’d already relnofollowed), and I’ve removed any attempt to obfuscate Julie Winfield’s email address. But wait, it gets better…

So whois

Brant Walker brantw2 at cox dot net [Email address not functional]
San Diego, California 92101
United States

And who is this Brant Walker? Apparently a recent graduate of Platt College in San Diego. A quick scan of his web portfolio turns up a parody site called Nicotine Island. Hmm, where have I seen Nicotine Island before? Oh yeah, a post by one beverlybimbo in a Yahoo Groups for Smoking and Tobacco Hobbies.

I think I can reconstruct what happened here. Brant Walker, using the fake identity Julie Winfield, is trying to drive traffic to his Rotten Neighbors site. He checks out the Alexa Movers & Shakers list and discovers my site listed number 4 because I got dugg last week.

Alexa mover and shaker #4

He follows Alexa’s link to my homepage and clicks to my about page, grabs my email address, and sends me the email at the top. How am I doing so far? Let’s take a look back at my referrer log entries from just before 4:30pm yesterday (when I got the email), the ones that I previously thought held no clues.

*************************** 1. row ***************************
        request_id: 2051980
      request_date: 2007-08-30 16:24:52
request_user_agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv: Gecko/20070725 Firefox/
*************************** 2. row ***************************
        request_id: 2051989
      request_date: 2007-08-30 16:27:54
request_user_agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv: Gecko/20070725 Firefox/

Of course that could just be anybody who happened upon the Alexa list and clicked over to my site, right? Well Brant, meet my smoking gun. In the headers of the email you sent me, pretending to be Julie, it listed your IP address:

Received: from [] by via HTTP; Thu, 30 Aug 2007 16:32:05 PDT

How’d I do? Didn’t you even bother to skim Search Engine Marketeers are the new script kiddies? Because I know you visited the page last Friday, August 24th at 8pm. Perhaps I should retitle this post Search Engine Marketeers are the new social engineers.

Update: Brant apologies in the comments.

Why does the interest rate on my savings account suck so hard?

I’ve never really been one to squabble over my bank’s interest rates. Historically I haven’t saved that much, and the interest I’ve earned on what I have saved has always amounted to such a pittance (~$10 or $20 per year), that I decided it wasn’t worth my time to relearn those formulas from Algebra I.

Recently though I sold my car, which netted a healthy chuck of change. Some of which I used to buy our scooters, and the rest I put in a money market savings account I opened at Wells Fargo (my bank). In the month between selling the car and buying the scooters I got the largest interest payment I’d ever seen, something like $16. I was livin’ large. But after that, I’ve been getting like $2 and change a month. So out of curiosity I decided to find out why.

My checking account at Wells Fargo pays no interest. This is pretty much par for the course. My savings account only pays 0.5% interest per year. That means if I have $1000 squirreled away, by the end of the year I’ll have $1005. Considering inflation hovers between 2 and 3%, my savings account is losing me money.

When I had over $10,000 in my Wells Fargo money market account (after selling my car), my interest rate was a whopping 1.54%, hence the “big” payout. But after purchasing the scooters and dropping below 10k, my graduated interest rate dropped too, to a measly 0.75%.

Now somewhere, someplace I got the idea that a good savings account should return between 4 and 5% interest, a long term CD between 5 and 6%, and a diversified stock market portfolio between 7 and 8% (over the long term). So I’m not sure why I’m suffering sub 1% interest rates at Wells Fargo.

Truth be told, the real reason I decided to look into all this was that I was checking on my IRA at Schwab when I saw them advertising an FDIC insured checking account with no minimum balance and an APY of 4.25%!

Schwab investor checking offer

That itself wasn’t what caught my eye, because at the time I didn’t have a clue what sort of interest rates my Wells Fargo accounts had. What did strike me was this: “Zero ATM fees. We’ll automatically reimburse any ATM fees you’re charged.” Which for me would translate to no more hunting around for Wells Fargo ATMs, and no more worrying about stupid $2-3 per withdrawal ATM fees every time I need a twenty. That’s huge.

What’s the catch? You have to open it with a Schwab One Brokerage Account—basically their umbrella investment account for trading stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. My IRAs don’t count—they’re different. But I’d already been toying with the idea that it might be useful at some point to throw some money at the stock market. So this seems like a really good deal. After discovering how much my current savings accounts at Wells Fargo suck, it’s starting to look like an amazing deal.

More info here: Interest in Schwab’s checking

Update: Learning how to save, one year later

Taxes are like…

…taking a test where you’re encouraged to cheat, but in order to do so you have to fill out more forms. Which kind of integrates the punishment with the reward.

Apparently tax programs make it really easy to cheat, but I’m ideologically opposed to paying someone else for that privilege, especially since I’m childless and houseless—making taxes an apparent walk in the park for me. As an aside: shouldn’t software that helps people pay less taxes be free and open source? Oh wait: TaxGeek.

My life should be all 1040EZ, except for those Google Ads you’ll see on my post pages if you come in from outside the site. This year I netted $695 from Google, reported to the government as non-employee compensation (1099-MISC). Last year the amount was less than $400, which I considered not worth my time to even look at Schedule C and SE. Of course last year I had the pleasure of filling out all my tax forms twice (1040, CA, and NC) in order to demonstrate the additional tax burden of a surprise bonus (in the form of moving expenses), but that’s neither here nor there.

So now there’s Schedule C-EZ, where I get to report how much I made minus my expenses. And if the difference (aka PROFIT!) is more than $400, I have the great honor of paying taxes on that amount (roughly 15%). So the game of being in business for yourself comes down to: finding expenses. The reality probably is that I spend a lot more on my blog than I think (e.g. $278 to resurrect the laptop I’m presently using), so much so that I bet could take a loss on this little blogging enterprise of mine, and then deduct that loss from my actual salaried income. But that means filling out more longer forms, and frankly, I’ve got better things to do with my time.

By my rough estimates, web hosting cost me $120/year and cable internet cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $600/year. The part that gets me is that I don’t have to explicitly defend these expenses. I just say my expenses were $695, making my profit from blogging a sad $0. Here’s the good news. Google sent the government $195 on my behalf. Which I can report as part of my federal taxes already withheld, and which bumped me from owing $105 to getting a refund of $61. How you like them apples?

The longest and the hottest

Santa Rosa weather

You already know what I think about this. Northern California is crazy for not having A/C everywhere.

The only difference from the other places I’ve lived is that the low tonight is going to be 58°F, compared with 71 in Austin and 69 in Chapel Hill.