This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
My XBOX 360 is back!
My console shipped out last night at 6PM and arrived at my door this morning at 9:15AM. Upon opening the box, I found a letter explaining that they replaced the console rather than repair it. The new console has a manufacture date of 12/12/2005, so, hopefully, they have resolved the problems that affected the first few batches of consoles.

I've played a couple of the games that caused my old console to flake out consistently (Hexic HD and Geometry Wars) and everything seems to be working fine.

I'm going to try out Madden 06 and Kameo again before giving the "all clear."
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
360 not back yet
I'm still waiting to get information on my XBOX 360. I have the delivery confirmation from DHL and that's about it. MSFT hasn't been able to give me any more information about where it is and when I might have it back. One positive thing is that MSFT's XBOX support line is pretty fast (even though I am surprised that there isn't a web-based way to check status). I've never had to wait for more than a minute or two.
Monday, December 26, 2005
I look 43% like Johnny Depp

I took a photo of myself and ran it through face recognition software at MyHeritage.com (thanks to Twinkie for pointing me to it). It says that I look 43% like Johnny Depp. I think the mustache is all 43%.

Others that it said I looked like include Abraham Lincoln (48%), Stephen Soderberg (45%), Andriy Shevchenko (44%), Alec Baldwin (41%) and Barbara Streisand (41%). What is interesting about that last one is that my mother was always told that she reminded people of Barbara Streisand.

UPDATE: OK, I tried a couple more photos for fun. Here is one with my new haircut. Seems that being bald makes the face recognition software think I look 61% like Shannen Doherty. Hmm.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
XBOX 360 is off for repair
The shipping box for my XBOX 360 was delivered by DHL this morning. Although I was still in bed after a late-night Halo 2 session, I jumped up and got the console packed and shipped out. MSFT pre-paid for overnight shipping, so the console should be returned to them by noon tomorrow.

There is still a chance that I could have the new/repaired console back by Saturday. On the phone, MSFT said that they ship repairs back out the same day they receive them (which is pretty aggressive, if true). So if they do that, I should get it Saturday.

Otherwise, it will be delayed a few days by the holiday. DHL is closed on Monday and I'm sure the MSFT facility is off an extra day, too. So I'm hoping they make the Friday deadline.

I am glad to see them handling repairs this way; however, as I posted on the XBOX forums (and was trashed by the 360 fanboys), I think it points to recognition of a larger number of defects than the 3-5% MSFT is claiming in the press.

Why do I think that? Well, the XBOX 360 has a crumby 90-day warranty. And the terms of that warranty state that the owner of the 360 must provide the box, packing materials and shipping cost to get the console back to MSFT.

The current repair process has MSFT overnighting a box to the customer, paying to have the console overnighted to them and then paying to have the repaired console overnighted back to the customer.

I don't know of many companies (ok, any companies) that would deviate that greatly from their warranty policy for thousands of customers (even if the number of defects is 3-5%) unless there was a bigger issue with the consoles or there was fear of a class action suit.

I'll be satisfied if they can get me a new/working console with a few days left on my vacation. After that, I may actually pay the $50 for the 2-year service plan (which I normally never do).
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
My XBOX 360 was a lemon
XBOX = Lemon

How's this for highs and lows? I finally get an XBOX 360 Monday. Woo hoo! Couldn't be more excited. Now, that same XBOX 360 console is dead (or, at least, dying) and I have to send it in for repairs.

It's too painful (seriously) to talk about, so I will just link to some of the photos I took of the symptoms:

XBOX 360 bug photos

Here is a video of NBA Live 06 freezing with the player on the screen staring at my console.

I planned on playing a ton of games while on my vacation. Now it looks like I'll just be getting my console back by the time my vacation is over.
Vacation begins... now!
Starting right now, I am officially on vacation until January 3rd. To pass the time, I plan on hanging out with the kids and tinkering with all of the gadgets I've picked up (Sirius, iPod and XBOX 360) over the past week. So stay tuned for lots of Christmas-related photos and blog posts about seemingly trivial features and/or bugs.
Monday, December 19, 2005
THE XBOX 360 HAS LANDED!!!
FINALLY!
I think the title says it all. I now have a 360. Look for my next blog post some time in 2006.

BTW, thanks to my mom who did all of the hard work to get the console.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Best Buy achieves maximum suckage
First, there was the 2nd launch thing that Best Buy did this morning. All over the country, people waiting out in the cold all night to fight over a couple dozen consoles.

Then, Best Buy put XBOX 360s on sale on their website at 7:30 AM EST which was 30 minutes before the first schmuck in line in the Eastern time zone got his/her hands on the console that they just lost 3 toes over. If I were one of those suckers who braved the cold all night, I would be super p!ssed to find out that I could have ordered one online.

To make matters worse (I guess they are making it "worser" at this point), Best Buy didn't have the consoles that they sold online in stock! So all of the people who ordered are now on backorder. Best Buy has all of their credit card info, but they don't have the product.

After all of the other bad experiences I've had with Best Buy prior to the 360 launch (bad product info, super-aggressive warranty upsells), I think I will avoid them in the future, especially since places like Circuit City price match and offer a 30-day money back guarantee.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Office game room almost ready
With the TV scheduled to arrive on Monday, I decided to get the office ready for it. Because someone had just vacated that office, there was still a large desk unit in the office. So, I took most of that apart in order to provide space for the TV stand. I plan on removing the rest of it next week, but this first step will get us up and running on Monday.

After we moved the desk pieces to the basement, I went to Best Buy and picked (and assembled) a TV stand, another wireless controller and 2 games (Call of Duty 2 and Perfect Dark Zero). We also pulled up some more comfortable chairs from the basement.

With the TV installed, it looks like we will have room for at least 8 people to sit comfortably. We plan to snag a sofa from the upstairs break room next week to provide the rest of the seating.

Unfortunately, I am only in the office Monday and Tuesday and won't be back in until January 3rd (our office closes the week after Christmas). If I don't get a 360 for myself, I may have to drop by the office over the break to get a fix.

I'll post some photos on Monday once I get the TV installed.
Got my Sirius kit installed
This has been the week for gadgets. I got my iPod on Tuesday and my Sirius kit showed up on Thursday. I was hoping to pull off the trifecta and score an XBOX 360 this week, but that isn't looking likely.

Anyway, I really wasn't sure what I was getting into with Sirius. This was probably the most poorly researched purchase I had made in quite a while. However, with the super deal I got on the equipment and the fact that Sirius doesn't require a contract, I figured I couldn't go wrong.

I've got both the car kit and the boombox up and running. The home kit will have to wait until I purchase an outdoor antenna. The included home antenna's cable is too short for me to string it from my manroom window to the stereo. However, with the boombox, I don't really need it right now.

I have been very impressed with the sound quality of the music and the selection of channels. I have been wearing out Hair Nation, Left of Center, The First Wave and the Big 80's.
Damnit! I like my iPod video
I've had my iPod for several days now; however, I have hesitated posting about it because of all of the crap I will take from people who know my anti-Apple philosophy. Then I remembered that no one reads my blog anyway, so who will find out?

The good:
1. It looks incredible -- When I took it out the box, I was really impressed with how great it looked.

2. The interface is awesome -- There isn't really a manual for how to use the iPod and, after playing with it for about 60 seconds, I figured out why. It is ridiculously easy to use.

3. The screen -- Video, especially video purchased from iTunes, looks really good. I was really skeptical about the quality of the image; however, the episode of "Lost" that I downloaded looked better than standard definition looks on a TV. And some of the video podcasts, like SGTV, look great, too :)

4. Integration with iTunes -- They made the purchasing, organizing and transferring (to the iPod) so simple that I think my kids could even figure it out on their own (Note to self -- don't let the kids anywhere near my iTunes account).

The bad:
1. Extras not included -- With all of its good qualities, the iPod is basically an accessory trap. It comes with earbuds, a USB cable and a very basic pouch to store it in. Want to have a little dock to sit your iPod upright on your desk? That's extra. Want to connect your iPod to your home stereo? That's extra, too. Want to connect your iPod to your car stereo? Extra. Want a case that will actually protect your iPod? Yep. Extra. And to make matters worse, all of these extras are pretty expensive for what you get.

My plan is to get a case and then use my XBOX 360 (whenever I get the damn thing) to integrate the iPod into my home theater.

2. The front scratches way too easily -- This is actually the biggest negative by a wide margin. I have been very, very careful with my iPod since it arrived last week. As soon as I am done using it, I place it back in its pouch. And when I transport it between home and work, I put it in the inside pocket of my jacket (which has nothing else in it).

Even with those safety precautions, my iPod had two noticeable scratches in the first two days. The worse one was actually the smallest (less than an 1/8"). It was horizontal and over the screen area and seemed to jump out at you when you looking at the screen. Based on some feedback online, I used Brasso to polish out the scratches. They are now about 95% gone.

So now, I have stopped using my iPod completely until my case arrives. It is a heavy rubberized case with a screen protector (from Speck Products). Once that arrives, I'll start using my iPod again.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Putting together a game room at work
I have been tasked with turning one of the empty offices at work into a game room. We already have an XBOX 360, which one of our editors took apart for a photo gallery, so all we need to get up and running is a nice display.

Well, this week, I was given the OK to buy a TV. So I ordered a 42" Samsung DLP HDTV from Best Buy. It arrives on Monday, so I should be able to play a little 360 before the holidays (since I can't seem to get my hands on one for myself).

I will post some photos of the set up once I get everything hooked up.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Replaced my XBOX DVD drive
New XBOX DVD driveAfter suffering "dirty disc" errors intermittently over the past few months, I decided to buy a replacement DVD drive for my XBOX. I got mine on ebay for less than $30 shipped and I installed it a few minutes ago.

The whole process, which involved removing 8 screws and disconnecting IDE and power cables, took less than 10 minutes.

The kids are currently playing one of the games that used to crash with the old drive and everything appears to be working great.

Here are photos that document the process.

UPDATE: I created a step-by-step overview of the process over at Instructables.com.
Friday, December 9, 2005
"Customer disappoint" at Best Buy
I went over to Best Buy at lunch with a co-worker and stopped by the game department. One of the employees was straightening the shelves in the Gamecube section. Here is how our conversation went:

Me: "How many 360s are you guys getting for the 18th?"
Him (trying to look puzzled): "Huh?"
Me: "You guys are holding back your 360s for the 18th. How many are you going to have?"
Him (again, trying to look puzzled): "Uh... we are getting more, but they didn't say when."
Me: "Look, I've seen the Best Buy memo online where it outlines the procedure for the sale."

He stood frozen for a couple of seconds before totally turning around and asking some random woman if she was being helped. She looked a bit startled by it. Then, he walked away without ever saying anything else to me. Chalk up one more "customer disappoint" for ol' Best Buy.

According to this post over at GameFAQs, my local Best Buy will be getting 34 systems for the 18th. Find your store's allotment here.
I won an iPod today!
We had a contest at work last month designed to get employees to try CNET.com's new My Products feature.

Being a consumer electronics nut, I was all over it. I updated my profile, uploaded a photo and added a bunch of the products that I own. I was also pretty active on the home audio & video discussion board. I even blogged about how much I liked the features.

Well, today, I found out that my profile won the grand prize. Check out my profile here.
Best Buy holding 360s
According to a copy of Best Buy's The Retail Insider employee newsletter that I have, BB will be holding all of their XBOX 360s until December 18th.

BB claims that this approach is a good idea because it will "alleviate some of the problems encountered at launch" because "many stores sold all units on launch day and didn't have enough to cover the ad." They claim that setting a date will keep customers from getting confused as to when the 360 is available.

Hmm. Interesting theory. But you know what is going to happen? Everyone is going camp out (AGAIN!) and there will be all of the same launch day headaches where you have way more gamers than you have consoles.

A couple of times, in the Insider newsletter, BB warns employees to help eliminate "customer disappoints" and be "Customer Centric." IMHO, holding 360s for a second launch event is going to guarantee lots of "disappoints."

But maybe the "disappoints" talk is just lip service. Elsewhere in the newsletter, employees are shown stats about how successful the first launch day was in term of increasing their "hardware basket." Turns out it was twice the "traditional basket."

So it looks like BB is trying cash in again on the mania they observed at the original launch. In fact, the Insider says, "If there isn't enough inventory of XBOX 360, offer another format." BB claims that 360 and PSP sales will only be 20% of holiday gaming sales, so employees should move other product if (I love that they say "if") 360s run out.

I would rather see retailers get the consoles on the shelves as soon as they have them. The hardcore gamers, who will buy the most games (which is how MSFT will make money), are out pounding the pavement every day trying to find them in stock.

Shouldn't they be rewarded for their efforts by having stock replenished as soon as consoles are available? Apparently not, according to Best Buy. They're more concerned with their "hardware basket" than gaining a "customer for life" (which is something the Insider claims they need).

I wonder what MSFT thinks about their launch partner's approach. Peter Moore, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Global Publishing and Marketing, was on G4TV claiming that "retailers are trying to fulfill demand as fast as they possibly can."
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
CNET acquires Consumating
Reports have started surfacing that we have officially acquired Consumating.com which bills itself as a dating site for "hot nerdy girls and indie rock boys! With glasses!"

It really feels more like a social networking site. There are no specific tools for a dating service (although I don't know what dating services would look like any way). You basically fill out a profile and tag yourself with your interests. Then, other people can find your profile and decide if they'd like to contact you.

For those of us that are married, there are options you can select in your profile that show you are in a relationship or are just interested in making "internet buddies."

So if you're interested in girls who play videogames or guys who like robots, you can find them on Consumating. You can also build more complex tag queries like a dumb blond in their 20s who like videogames and zombies. Where else you gonna find that?

I created a test profile to see what kind of tools they offer. Remember ladies, I'm taken. However, feel free to add the "foxy" tag to my profile.

You can also read more about the acquisition and the founders over at Corante.
UPS wants to be right on time
ups_lost
I was checking on the status of my package from NewEgg and noticed that my package arrived in Louisville yesterday. I thought, "Cool, I should get it Wednesday (which would be 2 days early)."

Well, in an effort to stay on schedule for the original Friday delivery date, UPS shipped my package back out of Louisville last night and it is now 70 miles away in Lexington, KY.
My vision is getting better?
Yeah, those sunglasses *are* hotI had my annual eye exam this morning and, for the third straight exam, my vision is improving. How weird is that? I didn't think it was supposed to do that. At this pace, I should be free of glasses in like 60 years.

The other cool thing about my eye exam is that they gave me some really sweet temporary sunglasses (because they dilated my eyes) that slip behind my regular glasses. I had to wear those things all the way back to work. I got some weird looks, but I think they were just jealous.
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Happy Birthday, Mira!
Today is Mira's 2nd birthday. She's been up since before 7AM. We've already unwrapped her presents and now she is playing with them.

Tonight, we are having a small party at the house. Photos here.
Monday, December 5, 2005
Bought a Sirius package
OK, so it didn't take long for me to make a decision on Sirius. After listening to them over the web, Hair Nation and First Wave (early alternative rock) mostly, I decided to pick up some hardware.

I was able to get a great deal, partly due to a $50 rebate, on a system that includes the radio receiver, a car kit, a home kit AND a boombox. The whole deal cost me $69 after the rebate. Normally, the boombox alone (without the receiver unit) is $79, so I felt like I got a really good deal.

For those interested in getting the same deal, here it is.
Trying out Sirius satellite radio
Part of the reason I canceled Rhapsody was so that I could justify (possibly) subscribing to Sirius satellite radio when Howard Stern's show premieres on January 9th.

After checking out the Sirius site, I think satellite radio may be much cooler than I originally thought. In addition to the programming (they even have a hair metal channel!), subscribers can access programming via the web. So if you don't have a home Sirius system, you can still listen. That is very cool.

Plus, they are offering a $50 rebate for radios, so I can get a system for my car for under $50.

I signed up for a free 3-day trial and I am enjoying Hair Nation as I type. Holy crap! They're playing "Too Fast for Love". Gotta go.
Real Networks cancellation headache
I have been a Rhapsody subscriber since January of 2003. However, over the past couple of months, my usage has really trailed off. Basically, I only use it at work. And I've found myself listening to music that I already own. So this morning, I decide to cancel my subscription.

Unfortunately, Real Networks has decided to make it difficult to cancel by requiring you to call an 800 number. To make matters worse, they send your call to a call center in India. So I spent 10 minutes on the phone with "Kevin" who could barely understand me (and vice versa).

I gave him my account info and guess what? He said that they were having a system problem and couldn't access my account! So I will need to call back later.
NICE!
Saturday, December 3, 2005
Installed the DirecTV H20 last night
I got my new H20 DirecTV HD receiver yesterday. So after getting home from work, I braved the rat's nest of cables behind my equipment rack to remove my Hughes HIRD-E86 HD receiver (which I am retiring) and install the H20.

The top of the H20The H20 has an HDMI port and my TV uses DVI, so I had to pick up an HDMI-to-DVI cable from Buy.com. My last receiver only had component video connections, so I was eager to see if there was a noticeable picture quality improvement.

Although I have only used the H20 for a couple of hours, here are some of my first impressions:

- Default picture is a little too bright and contrasty. I will need to adjust the settings on the TV to correct.
- When you switch from a channel that is using one resolution (like 480i) to a channel using another resolution (like 1080i), the screen and audio blanks out for a couple of seconds while the switch is made. This is already annoying.
- Standard definition content looks better than with the Hughes HIRD-E86.

I'll post more impressions after I've spent more time with it. For those of you who are as dorky about consumer electronics as I am, I have created a set of photos on Flickr.
Friday, December 2, 2005
Followup from John @ MSFT
Here is another reason why I love blogs. In my last post, I questioned why two MSFT bloggers had almost identical comments about the XBOX 360. While I wasn't necessarily questioning the authenticity of the statements, it just seemed odd to me that the message would be so similar (without being MSFT-sanctioned).

Well, I got an e-mail from John P. over and MSFT and he explained that he and Major Nelson work closely together and that one post inpsired the other. No company mandate or anything sinister. Just a couple of employees trying to kill some of the nastier rumors running wild (in blogs... like this one).

So, my apologies to John and the Major. Turns out I was just paranoid after all.
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Are Microsoft bloggers pushing propaganda about the XBOX 360?
Or is it just a coordinated effort to battle internet rumors?

In my continuing quest for an XBOX 360, I have been keeping up with forums and blogs on the subject. A couple that I frequent happen to be from MSFT employees who were part of the XBOX 360 team.

I always felt like these were great sources of info because they helped make the console. And because it is a blog, it felt more credible for some reason than a press release.

For example, Major Nelson's "Who is Major Nelson?" page reads:
"I work at Microsoft under the title of “Xbox Live Director of Programming” in the Xbox Live product group and use this blog as a method to communicate to anyone interested in Xbox and Xbox Live. It’s important to note that what I say on this blog (including any podcasts) is my personal opinion and is not read or approved by anyone before it is posted."

And John Porcaro's blog reads:
"Even though I work in marketing for Microsoft, not everything accurately reflects the views of my employer, my management, my co-workers, or is even true. So, little I say here is 'Microsoft policy'."

Well, today, my confidence was shaken by the striking similarities of two different posts from two different Microsoft employee bloggers. Is MSFT feeding them things to say about XBOX 360 shortages and recalls? Looks like they are cutting and pasting from the same memo and then adding a little color of their own. Even the structure of the blog post is almost identical.

Here are some excerpts that seem too similar to be coincidental:

Excerpt #1
"Replenishment: There are a couple reports of retailers saying they won't have units for weeks or months (or worse.) Generally speaking, this is not true. We are shipping units constantly." -- Major Nelson

"Replenishment Units Are On The Ground: Also, there are reports of some retailers saying they won’t have units for weeks or months. Also not true (in most cases)... We are shipping units constantly (we have chartered 747's regularly flying in with units)." -- John Porcaro

Excerpt #2 (Word-for-word)
"Some retailers have a backorder wait list, and might not have units that will be on shelf for some time, and some retailers might allocate more units to one store over another, but all stores that have placed orders are getting replenishments regularly." -- Major Nelson

"Some retailers have a backorder wait list, and might not have units that will be on shelf for some time, and some retailers might allocate more units to one store over another, but all stores that have placed orders are getting replenishments regularly. " -- John Porcaro

There are several other examples, so take a look at their posts and decide for yourself:

Major Nelson's post

John Porcaro's post

I wouldn't put this tactic past MSFT (and other companies like Macromedia have tried to use blogs to push their agenda); however, considering how far MSFT needs to knock the ball out of the park to catch up to Sony, there is a lot more at stake for jerking people around. I hope that's not the case. And, of course, this information could actually be true; however, when I see the exact same quotes in a personal blog, it tends to make me suspicious of the information. Am I just paranoid?

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.