This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Sunday, April 30, 2006
YouTube = eBay seller's insurance?
OK, after my recent eBay woes, I decided to provide better info about my items, especially electronics, before the sale. The solution? Use YouTube videos of the products working and slap them into the listing. I don't know why I didn't think of that sooner.

For the Koolvac robotic vacuum (which sold for $11 more than the Buy It Now price!) and the Belkin TuneCast II FM transmitter, I shot quick videos with my digital camera and uploaded them to YouTube. YouTube even provides instructions on how to get your videos onto eBay.

I figure now it will be very difficult for a buyer to send the "it doesn't work" e-mail.

Saturday, April 29, 2006
Love-hate relationship with eBay
As I posted last week, I listed 5 items on eBay recently. A couple of them sold very quickly and I was very happy.

Now, this morning, I get the e-mail that reminds me why I rarely sell stuff on eBay. The buyer of my DirecTV HIRD-E86 HDTV receiver sends me the "it doesn't work" e-mail. Of course, I know the unit works because I tested it before packing it up. I also included a photo of the unit powering up in my listing.

The buyer claims that DirecTV has already determined it is defective (not sure how they could considering there is no access card to get programming) and that they will replace it for $20. She wants me to refund her $20 without any information about what exactly "doesn't work."

So I am stuck in kind of a pickle. I know for a fact the receiver worked when I shipped it. I also know that the user got a good deal on the item. I paid $500 for it, she got it for $50. Even with an additional $20, $70 for a brand new HDTV receiver from DirecTV is a pretty good deal.

I am now waiting for the buyer to e-mail with details about what isn't working. Hopefully, it is just user error and I don't have to get into a debate with them. It is times like this that eBay's reputation system really screws sellers. If I don't want to get a negative feedback, then I basically have to concede the item is broken.

The only other negative I have for selling items came several years ago when I sold a hard drive. My IBM Deskstar (aka the Deathstar) crapped out, so I had to send it back to IBM and wait weeks for a replacement. In the meantime, I need a new drive, so I bought one.

When the replacement drive arrived from IBM, I listed it on eBay unused. I explained why I was selling it and that it was a replacement drive, etc. etc. I even listed the item AS IS (because there are lots of ways someone can screw up a hard drive install). I priced the item pretty low and it sold quickly.

Once the seller installed the drive, he claimed that it was DOA. He claimed that I had intentionally deceived him and he sent me very nasty e-mails. I explained that I had never used the drive and that's why I sold it AS IS. I did mention that the drive was under warranty and that he could get a brand new one for the price of shipping it back to IBM. He accepted that solution and then proceeded to leave me negative feedback.

This feels very much like the same situation (except in this case, I know that the item works). Even if the item is defective (which it isn't), the buyer is going to get a brand new item for $20 more. Am I being unreasonable in saying "No?"

UPDATE: After getting tons of feedback from friends and co-workers, I decided to stand my ground. Here is what happened.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Nintendo Wii
wiiNintendo has finally removed the "Revolution" codename from their new console. It is now officially "Wii" (pronounced "we").

I was pretty skeptical when I first heard the name because I really like Revolution. However, after watching the Flash intro on the Nintendo website, it sort of makes sense. The lowercase "i" in the name is supposed to represent the new remote-like controller. The two "i"s together are supposed to represent people coming together to game ("we," get it?).

Check out the full announcement and Flash intro here
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Mega Mushroom anyone?
Mega Mushroom anyone?
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am probably (ok, definitely) going to pick up a Nintendo DS Lite when they are released in the US (hopefully next month). One of the main reasons I have DS Lite fever is the upcoming Super Mario Bros. game that is due on May 17th.

Nintendo has just launched a new site dedicated to the game that will feature a new gameplay video every week until launch. The first installment deals with Power-Ups.

Go to the website (http://mario.nintendo.com/) and click the little screenshot that loads in the upper left side of the screen. Make sure you don't miss the Mega Mushroom at the very beginning.
Leaving Sirius
OK, I'm sure that you are wondering if I recently had a head injury or something. For months, I have blogged about how much I love Sirius and how it was the greatest thing since the last thing I declared the greatest thing.

Well, ever since my Sirius radio died, I have realized that I don't really miss it. I have used my iPod instead.

I've also realized that I have too many subscription services: Gamefly, Netflix and Sirius. So I'm going to cancel Sirius (and Gamefly... and maybe Netflix) at the end of this billing cycle.

So how will I get my fix of 80s hair metal? I'll use my Slingbox. Since DirecTV has a partnership with XM, I can use my Slingbox to stream the XM music channels to my PC at work. Although they haven't said anything, I'm sure my co-workers miss the sound of Britny Fox, Faster Pussycat and L.A. Guns during the day.

Once I get my Sirius radio back, I am going to sell the whole package (radio, home antenna, car kit and boombox) on eBay. I will apply the proceeds toward my next cracktacular gadget -- the Nintendo DS Lite!
Couple of new TV-related apps
A couple of new TV-related apps are making their rounds in the blogosphere today.

Yahoo!, just one week after acquiring Meedio, has launched their Yahoo! Go for TV app. The free app mimics some of Windows Media Center functionality like recording TV, playing music and accessing photos and all within a UI only Prince could love.

I used Meedio for about a year; however, now that I have a Windows MCE box, I don't really have much use for another HTPC front end (even if it is free). I still might install it on a test machine at home and see how it compares.

SageTV also launched SageTV Placeshifter which is a $30 app that is meant to compete with Orb. Because it is an add-on app, you will also need to buy the full version of SageTV 5.0 for $80 (or get take advantage of their $99 introductory special).

I actually used SageTV a couple of years ago (versions 1 & 2) when I built my first HTPC. While the interface was pretty nice, I couldn't see a good reason to give up my TiVo. So I ended up using my HTPC for movies, music and photos and my TiVo for DVR functions.

While it is always cool to see new TV/media center apps, I think I will stick with Windows MCE and Slingbox.
IE7 Beta is just a FF clone
Although I am a diehard Firefox user, I decided to download the latest beta of IE7 to see if there was anything to it. One of my MSFT-lovin' friends keep claiming it's the best. Could he actually be right?

After looking at it for a few minutes, I just didn't really see anything worth switching back for. They've added tabbed browsing and an RSS sidebar -- two things I have been using in Firefox for years.

Because we often need to test our web apps in various browsers, I will keep it installed on my office PC; however, I don't see a need to install it at home.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Pokemonetization
Just read Tom Coates' latest blog post where he describes how he and a colleague (Simon Willison) came to coin the term "pokemonetisation." According to the whiteboard drawing in his post, it is defined this way: "To make money appealling to the stupid human instinct to collect dumb things."

Of course, one reader quickly pointed out that eBay has been on to this idea for years: "You've just summarized eBay's core revenue stream in one word."

Now, I just need to start working this term into meetings...
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Spring cleaning = ebay
My wife thinks that I have too many gadgets (I know, crazy, huh?). After going into the basement this afternoon, I started to agree with her. There was a DirecTV HD receiver that I hadn't used in a year, a Hauppauge Media MVP from the pre-MCE days, the Koolvac robotic vacuum I bought from Woot!, a Xitel HiFi Link that I used once and an Omnifi DMS1 digital music streamer.

So I carried everything upstairs, snapped a dozen or so photos and placed them on ebay. Within about 2 hours, the Hughes HDTV receiver and the Media MVP were sold and paid for. Hopefully the rest will go in a couple of days.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Now I need a smartphone
Now that I have a Slingbox, I want to try out the SlingPlayer Mobile that lets you interact with your Slingbox via a Windows Mobile-powered smartphone. The problem is that I am totally ignorant about smartphones. Part of the reason is that I don't really like carrying a phone with me all the time. I think that being able to use it to watch my DirecTiVo via my Slingbox would change my feelings about my phone.

Here is a list of phones that are currently supported by SlingPlayer Mobile:

- Palm Treo 700w
- Samsung i730
- Siemens SX66
- Sprint PPC-6700
- T-Mobile MDA
- UTStarcom 6700
- Verizon XV-6700
- Cingular 8125

So, does anyone have a recommendation for a good smartphone (that doesn't cost a fortune)? I'm getting ready to change cellphone providers (finally losing the Cingular shackles -- hooray!), so I am hoping to work out some sort of new subscriber discount for the hardware.
I got a Slingbox!
I got a Slingbox!
Ta da!

I've blogged about it longingly from afar for months (here here and here); however, yesterday, I finally got a Slingbox.

Although I have only spent a few hours using it, I can already say that it is an awesome device. Right up there with TiVo in terms of the "Wow!" factor you get when you first use it.

It took me about 10 minutes to set up (most of that involved climbing behind my TV and entertainment rack to run cables through the mess of wiring I have).

Setting up the Slingbox
Yeah, that is a Dreamcast next to the Slingbox. That's just how I roll.

Hardware steup:
I connected the S-video and audio outputs from my R10 DirecTiVo to the Slingbox and ran the s-video out of the Slingbox to my TV (I am using my A/V receiver and a digital audio connection when watching the R10 directly, so there was no need to run an audio cable out from the Slingbox). Then I connected the network cable and IR blaster which allows me to control the R10.

Software setup:
I just installed SlingPlayer (which needed to download an update from the web) on my home PC and ran through the built-in wizard to tweak video quality settings and specify which device I wanted the Slingbox to control.

Upon firing up the software for the first time, I was blown away. The video is so smooth. Plus, having a clickable TiVo remote on the screen to control my R10 is great. Although I knew what the device was capable of doing (in terms of placeshifting), it is still a bit mind-boggling when you actually do it yourself.

Slingplayer running
Slingplayer running on my PC

Mahlon (8) came in and immediately started playing with it. Because it uses the TiVo remote, he had no problem interacting with it (it was on the Disney channel almost instantly).

This morning, I installed the SlingPlayer on my office PC, too (I am currently watching a Ray Lewis interview on Sportscenter). Using my Slingbox login and my Finder ID # (kind of like a MAC address for my Slingbox), I was easily able to get logged in and start using it in just a couple of minutes. As with my home network, the video is surprisingly smooth. And being able to fast forward and rewind with the TiVo remote is great.

Compared to Orb:
I hate to be a fair-weather friend to Orb, but the Slingbox blows it away for placeshifting video and giving the user complete control over the device being placeshifted.

One of my big complaints with Orb has to do with controls. Because Orb uses Windows Media Player to playback video, it is not easy (or precise) to fast forward or rewind.

While I will still use Orb to access music or photos stored on my MCE box at home, I will use Slingbox for video.

Next steps:
I plan to shoot a couple of short videos showing Slingbox and Slingplayer in action. Look for those later tonight or tomorrow. I am also looking into getting a Windows Mobile smartphone to try out SlingPlayer Mobile. Our cellphone contract is up next month, so it is the perfect time to make the switch.

In the meantime, check out my Flickr set for setting up the Slingbox.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
iPod up, Sirius down
Over the past week, I've been forced to use my iPod much more than usual due to the crash of my Sirius radio. Although I got both devices in the same week, Sirius was clearly the device of choice when they were both working.

Now, though, with my Sirius radio in for repair, I'm not missing it nearly as much as I was those first couple of days. I have found myself using my iPod in its place. And, last night, my iPod even made mowing the grass tolerable (something I could never do with Sirius).

So did I just get sucked into the Sirius hype? I mean, I really like Hair Nation and First Wave, don't I? I also wonder if the amount of new music that I've bought lately (about 5 CDs in a couple of months: Prince, Morrisey, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Arctic Monkeys, Eagles of Death Metal) is making the iPod more appealing right now. I generally don't buy that many CDs in a year.

I guess I'll just have to wait until I get my Sirius box back and then decide what I'm going to do.
Lockdown is sector 4?
gmail_lockdown
I got this troubling message when trying to log into my Gmail account from work this morning. The weird thing is that I had logged into my account from home this morning with no problems.

Not sure what's going on; however, I filled out this form to get my account turned back on. Hopefully, it won't be off for long.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
K.D. Lang rips off the Clash?


Today, I got my usual weekly e-mail from iTunes showcasing new music that has been added to the service (Why I get the "New Music Tuesday" mail on Wednesday is beyond me). As I scanned down the right column of the e-mail, I noticed this tiny image of K.D. Lang's upcoming compilation album, "Reintarnation."

Even at 53 pixels by 53 pixels, I instantly recognized the image. It was a knock-off of (IMHO) the greatest album in rock 'n' roll history -- "London Calling" by the Clash.

After scanning the song list and other details on the Amazon product page for her album, I found no cover songs or any mention of the Clash. Is this a tribute to "the only band that matters?" Or just a rip-off?

UPDATE (4/20/2006): Wow, do I feel like a dipsh!t. Until getting the comment (from Mojo) on this post, I never realized that The Clash had copied the cover design of Elvis' first record for "London Calling."

Although I lived in Memphis for several years *and* got married by an Elvis impersonator, I was never a fan of his music. Still, I should have known that one. Doh!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006
My Review: EofDM "Death by Sexy"


On Friday, I turned on the Tonight Show right as Jay Leno was about to introduce the Eagles of Death Metal. After getting my head around the fact that EoDM were on the Tonight Show, I was totally blown away by their new single "I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)."

So Monday, I went to Best Buy and picked up "Death by Sexy" for the unbelievably low price of $7.99. After listening to the CD about 20 times over the past 2 days, I think I may have gotten the deal of the year.

"Death by Sexy" is raunchy, tongue-in-cheek, crotch rock at its best. Highlights include "I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)," "I Got a Feelin' (Just Nineteen)," "Cherry Cola" and "Solid Gold." Actually, as I was making that list of highlights, I had a hard time not including every song.

As I listened to it, I actually found myself comparing it to Urge Overkill (one of my personal favorites). Hopefully UO can pull off an album like this whenever they get around to releasing their new material. Of course, I also heard lots of Queens of the Stone Age in the music, too (not surprising since drummer Josh Homme is also the lead singer of QOTSA).

Guest vocalists on the album include Brodie Dalle from the Distillers and Jack Black. Jack and Dave Grohl are also featured in the video for "I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)."
Using company e-mail to talk sh!t
I was checking out the new food hack site, PimpMySnack.com, when I stumbled upon their forum area. The guys who runs the site (his forum alias is "pimpdaddy") posted some hate mail that he received from Damon Mancini, Inside Sales Manager for CAD Professional Microphones.

How do I know all of this about Damon? Because he sent his anti-PimpMySnack rant using his company e-mail address which attached his company e-mail signature. What a knucklehead.

Here is an excerpt:
"This shit is way out of control and know I get a link sent to pimp my snack. Why dont you pimp a gun out. Put some jewels on it a little fringe and then stick it up your ass and pull the trigger cause this is officially the stupidest shit I have ever had the displeasure of seeing."

See his full message here.

I'm sure CAD Professional Microphones is going to love seeing that post (and this one) show up on Google. Nice work, Damon!
Yahoo! buys Meedio
Just read on Engadget that Meedio has been snatched up by Yahoo! The interesting thing about the announcement is that Yahoo! didn't actually buy their product line. They bought the technology and their IP. In addition, several members of the Meedio staff will join Yahoo!'s Digital Home project.

I used Meedio for quite a while before switching to Windows Media Center (in order to use my XBOX 360 as a media extender). I found it to be a pretty nice product. It had all of the basic MCE functionality plus lots of user-generated plugins for things like Netflix or weather data.

Those still using Meedio are SOL. The Meedio Support Center is closing and the EPG data is only going to be updated until July 1st.

I'm a little surprised to see Yahoo! and Meedio pull the rug out from customers who have recently paid for the application. I'm betting those same customers won't be trying Yahoo!'s upcoming service.

There are more details on Meedio's home page, including this nugget from Pablo, which thanks users for supporting them (although, they just got finished telling them how they were screwed):

I want to give a special thanks to our loyal users and our faithful developer community. You guys have made the last few years an absolute blast and have helped make Meedio an outstanding product. I hope you are as excited as I am about our big news. I am really looking forward to being able to bring you more cool products from Yahoo! This is a beginning, not an end.

Yeah, if I just shelled out $ for Meedio, I would be super excited that the product is dead, the support center is gone and the people that sold it to me just got a big payday.
Monster *does* make a difference
Over the years, I've read countless threads on AVS Forum asking if Monster cables are worth the price. Almost every time I've responded to those threads, I have said, "No." The reason? I have gotten great performance out of Acoustic Research cables that cost a fraction of the price of the Monster equivalent. Well, yesterday, I was able to see the Monster difference for myself.

My wife was browsing the clearance section at our local Meijer (if there were an advanced degree for bargain shopping, my wife would be a PhD) and found a Belkin TuneCast II iPod FM transmitter for $7. Not knowing what it was (but knowing it was marked 80% off), she picked it up.

Unbeknownst to her, at Christmas time, I had picked up a Monster iCarPlay charger/FM transmitter for my iPod from Circuit City for (an outrageous) $70 (hey, I had gift cards to spend).

Being a gadget nerd, I decided to try the Belkin out anyway. It didn't require a cigarette lighter, so I thought it could have some limited application.

After about 2 minutes of using the Belkin, I quickly realized that it has no application whatsoever (except maybe as a paperweight). This thing is terrible. I tried 3 different radios and the Belkin produced noticable static (regardless of which frequency I tuned to) and very low audio levels. Plus, it had to be right next to the radio to get these crumby results.

The Monster one, on the other hand, has excellent sound (everyone who has heard it assumes I am playing a CD) and a great transmitter. I never hear static or have audio dropouts. Plus, it can sit in my passenger seat and still be in range.

So, if you need a great iPod transmitter/charger, I can wholeheartedly recommend Monster.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Now part of the BlogBurst network
After reading several articles about BlogBurst, a new blog syndication network from the people who brought us Pluck, I thought I would submit an application. This afternoon, I got an e-mail welcoming me to the network.

To give you a quick overview, BlogBurst is building a network of approved bloggers that they will syndicate and offer to publishers. Publishers get fresh content from the blogosphere and bloggers get more traffic and recognition for their efforts. So far, Gannett, The Washington Post and several other sites have signed up to syndicate BlogBurst content.

According to BlogBurst's blog (I'll see if I can work the word "blog" in again by the end of this sentence), they will offer bloggers (ding! ding! ding!) reports to analyze their BlogBurst traffic. It will be interesting to see if affiliation with BlogBurst has any significant impact.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Google Calendar is live
Google Calendar
OK, I know there have been rumors about Google Calendar for a while; however, I figured we wouldn't see it any time soon. In fact, I was so sure that I signed up for Kiko just about 3 days ago.

Well, now I guess I can ditch my Kiko calendar (sorry, guys) and start using Google Calendar.

Check it out.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
DirecTiVo supported for 3 more years
Thomas Hawk has a nice overview of the recent agreement between DirecTV and TiVo that will continue support for the DirecTiVo for another 3 years.

This is good news for me because I have been a DirecTiVo customer since 2001 (I've never owned a standalone TiVo). When I upgraded my DirecTiVos in September, I purposely chose the R10 because it still used TiVo (instead of the NDS-powered DVR in the newer R15).

As I've said before, I wouldn't pay the $13+ fee for a standalone TiVo. It just isn't worth it. However, having a DirecTV box that has TiVo built in is worth the $5 I pay now.

Now maybe DirecTV will think about turning on all of the TiVo features that they've neglected over the past few years. I won't hold my breath, though.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Orb rocks
Disclaimer: Although I really hate using the term "rocks" as I did in the title of this post, I couldn't come up with anything that was more fitting... now that I read this, I am thinking that "rocks" is actually pretty cool compared to using a disclaimer to open a blog post. Anyway...

Recently, I reinstalled Orb which basically turns your Media Center PC into a Slingbox. That is an oversimplification because Orb has so many more features (and because Orb is free and Slingbox is $200+), but you get the idea. And just to be fair, Orb is really only free if you have a Media Center PC already.

So I was recording HD versions of shows like "24" and "Lost" and trying to stream them to a remote PC (at my office). The problem was that only about 1/4 of the screen was coming through when viewing HD files from my PC at work.

After checking their support forum, I found that there were others experiencing this issue and it was to be addressed in the next release.

Disclaimer #2: This is where Orb really starts to "rock"

This past weekend, I e-mailed Orb and asked if I could get the beta release of their next version so I could test out whether or not the "upper left quadrant" issue was fixed. To my surprise, they said "yes" and sent me a link to download it.

After the quick install, everything works great. I can now stream HD files to a remote machine and get the full 16:9 image. Sweet! Thanks, Orb.
Monday, April 10, 2006
The day from hell
Wow. What a freakin' day. Where do I begin? Let's see.. maybe I should just list the things that went wrong today:

1. Amy's van -- The ignition key won't turn in Amy's van. Of course, she had the kids all lodaed in the car on the way to various appointments when she figured it out. This meant that I had to race home from the office to pick her up. We then loaded all of the kids into my tiny Jetta and they dropped me back off at work. As for the van, it could either be that the steering wheel lock is engaged (even though I have wrestled the damn thing 5 or 6 times and can't get it to unlock) or a bad ignition cylinder (which costs around $250). Not sure how we're going to resolve it. We tried calling a locksmith to see if they could remove the cylinder, but the first guy we called said he doesn't do that. So, tomorrow, Amy is going to try and track down someone who can fix it (preferably without having to get it towed somewhere).

2. My Sirius radio is dead -- I mentioned this yesterday; however, a call to Sirius confirmed it. Now, I have to uninstall the car and home kit (including the antenna cable that I have neatly snaking through my trunk and car) and ship it back to Sirius to get a replacement. Unfortunately, the unit I have is on backorder, so I will have to wait 2-4 weeks to get it back!

3. Our mortgage company didn't pay our tax bill -- As I mentioned earlier today, our name and address were in the paper because our mortgage company failed to pay $161 in taxes. After a couple of lengthy calls to both our local sheriff's office (they handle the tax) and the mortgage company, it looks like we have it worked out. The mortgage company claims they sent payment on 4/11. Now we just have to keep following up with the sheriff to make sure the payment arrives before they auction off the house.

4. The dog went to the vet -- Faith got an ear infection and had to go to the vet today. She now has medication and we now have $100 less in our checking account.

5. Science fair stuff due tomorrow -- At around 6:30p, after dealing with items 1-4, we realized that Mahlon has part of his science fair project due tomorrow. So I jumped online to download some of the forms that needed to be filled out, but I kept getting 404s when downloading the PDFs. I had to Google around to find the format of the abstract and we faked it from there.

Now it is 9:30p -- exactly 12 hours from when all of this began. Let's hope rest of the night goes more smoothly. I am hoping to catch tonight's episode of 24 before I collapse.
We're famous...
but not in a good way! My mom called my wife who called me (you still with me?) to tell us that our name and address are in the paper for delinquent taxes! Woo hoo!

Turns out that our mortgage company, Countrywide, has yet to pay our 2005 taxes on the lot where we built our house. They have the bill (I've sent it to them twice and my wife has spoken with them on the phone); but, for some reason, they have yet to pay it.

The funniest part, to me, is that the original amount was only $161. A small price to pay for the ridicule and strange looks from your neighbors. Thanks, Countrywide!
Spring means data backup
Recently, I realized (while I was installing another 300 GB HDD in my media center box) that I hadn't backed up my digital photos or my MP3 collection in a couple of years. Part of the reason for not doing it was that I just didn't want to deal with figuring out how to divide up my collection onto a series of DVDs.

However, this would be my first backup using iTunes and Picasa (I did it manually last time). I was able to configure both apps to do my backups in just a couple of minutes (iTunes instructions here, Picasa instructions here). The only time-consuming part was the actual burning of the discs. All I had to do was feed my PC more discs ever 15 minutes or so, though.

Now, I have 2 DVDs worth of digital photos (2003-2005) and 6 DVDs worth of music archived. The question now is what to do with the discs...
Sunday, April 9, 2006
My Sirius radio might be dead
When I am home on the weekends, I have my Sirius boombox running almost all the time. This afternoon, I returned to the kitchen (where I keep the boombox) to find my radio simply beeping. And it wasn't even beeping a song. Just a slow beep every 10 seconds or so. The Sirius logo would pop up as if the unit was trying to boot up, then it would beep and start the whole process over again.

I have e-mailed Sirius customer support (since I bought the radio from their website) to see what I can do. Sanyo, who makes the radio, doesn't have online customer support (not even a damn e-mail address), so I am going to have to wait to see what Sirius suggests. Plus, considering that I could cancel the service if the issue isn't resolved, I think I have a better shot with them.

Now, I guess I'll have to use my iPod which has been collecting dust since I got Sirius. But with no Hair Nation or First Wave, this could get rough.
GameznFlix blows it AGAIN!
OK, this may be the fastest that a company has lost my business ever (it's been about 20 minutes since my last post about their Firefox issues)! After figuring out the IE/Firefox form validation issue, I started trying to fill my Queue on GameznFlix.

Well, GnF makes that hard because THEY LIMIT WHICH MOVIES AND GAMES YOU CAN TRY AS A TRIAL MEMBER, but THEY DON'T PROVIDE A LIST OF WHICH ONES!!! I would repeat that for emphasis, but I don't want to do all caps again. Unbelievable.

So after clicking around on about 20 titles that I wanted (only to see the "Rent" button grayed out), I finally found a new Gamecube game (that I don't really want) to add to the Queue.

As I was trying to click back through the Top Rentals list (i.e. clicking the pagination navigation at the bottom of the page), I found that they never built the actual links into the pagination navigation, so you can't get to page 2 (or any other page past the first one).

Wow! I am blown away at how half-assed this service is. I wonder how Circuit City is going to feel knowing that they partnered with a bunch of half-wits on what could be a really great service.

I was excited about the possibility of renting games and movies from a single place for a lower price than Netflix and GameFly. I guess I'll have to keep waiting for someone to do it right, 'cause GameznFlix sucks.

The cancellation form allows you to tell them why you're canceling. Here is what I told them:

"Wow. I am so disappointed in your service... I am blown away at how many bugs/bad experiences are in your app. Forms that don't validate in Firefox. Pagination that doesn't link to anywhere.

And don't get me started on the limited list of items for trial members. HOW ABOUT A LIST OF WHAT I CAN RENT AS A TRIAL MEMBER? The fact that I have to hunt around for something to try is beyond lame.

I hate to be so harsh on you guys, but if you're going to launch a site and partner with a major retailer like Circuit City, there is an expectation of, at least, a basic level of service. You guys are definitely NOT delivering that right now.

I subscribe to both Netflix and GameFly and, thanks to this experience, I will continue to."

UPDATE: Oh, it just keeps getting worse! The cancellation e-mail I got from GnF has 2 typos. Here is what they told me:

"Dear Shawn ,

We are sorry to see you go. If you stil have any titles in your possesion please return them
within 14 days to avoid being charged for the outstanding titles.

Total: $0"
GameznFlix blows it
GameznFlix, the site that rents both movies and games, has signed a deal with Circuit City to promote their service. So, after being reminded of this little affiliation while reading the Circuit City ad in Sunday's paper, I decided to sign up for a free trial. Their 3-out plan is only $16.99, so I figured I could cancel both Netflix and GameFly if they were any good.

Well, my question about whether they were any good was answered when I attempted to register for the 14-day trial. The sign-up form has an error on it that prevents your credit card type from validating. So, no matter what you enter in the field, you get an error that says "Credit card type is a required field." Nice!

gnf_doh

I wonder how many customers they are losing as I type this e-mail? I'm betting it's a lot.

UPDATE: It looks like it is a Firefox issue. After switching to IE, I was able to register for the free trial.

And, based on this knowledgebase ticket, investors pointed this out to them in NOVEMBER and it still isn't fixed.
Saturday, April 8, 2006
F'ed up my blog template
Man, I feel like a real bonehead right now. I was goofing around with my AdSense codes and accidentally deleted the first half of my Blogger template. Of course, I didn't notice until I had saved the template.

To make matters worse, I hadn't backed up my template since doing a minor redesign of my site a few months ago. So I am still going back and repairing the damage I did.

If you see anything totally out of whack, please leave a comment to this post. Doh!
Friday, April 7, 2006
Rockstar Table Tennis site
Rockstar Games has launched a new site to promote its upcoming Table Tennis game for the XBOX 360. The site features video of some of the players in action as well as a bunch of screenshots. I can't wait to play this game. It looks awesome!

http://rockstargames.com/tabletennis/

The game is released at the end of May for $39.
Prototyping instead of blogging
I have been spending almost all of my free time over the past week or so building a prototype for a new website that some friends and I are putting together. It is a great opportunity for all of us to try some new technologies outside of what we all deal with in our day jobs. Plus, I think the process of building it will be fun.

I don't want to give too much away before actual development begins; however, I did want to blame all of the work I've been putting into that project as the reason I haven't been blogging.

More on the new project soon. And more blogging (hopefully) after that.
Monday, April 3, 2006
Personalization, the wrong way
While I was reading the NYT piece on You Tube, which I wrote about right before this post, I saw this article on Claria, the makers of the much-hated Gator web-tracking software.

Trying to shake off the negative stigma of Gator and all of those damn pop-up ads, Claria is moving toward web personalization. You install some app and they will track all of your activity and serve you related content on a personal start page. Woo Hoo! It's 1999 all over again.

Why is it that companies still don't get what makes content relevant on the web? There are a million personal start page services out there (that don't make you install software) and few (maybe none) of them are compelling.

For me, personalization isn't as important as "interestingness." This is a term that Flickr uses for one of its algorithms, but it is basically the same effect you get from sites like Digg and reddit. I use Digg every day and it is not personalized at all. It emphasizes what their user base finds interesting. Digg items that I consume are often not in topics that I would normally list as an interest.

I would rather see content filtered by people, especially if I could mark some people as more influential than others, rather than have some algorithm trying to figure out what I might like based on what I've done in the past. For example, if I have found someone who consistently diggs stuff that I like, I would like to be able to see all of that person's diggs bundled with blog posts from someone else who I enjoy reading bundled with photos from someone else whose photos I like.

Claria's approach to personalization sounds sort of like TiVo's Suggestions feature which I disabled years ago. It assumes that all activity is relevant and should be factored into the algorithm. It doesn't consider that I might read a sports-related story (maybe the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl), but not be interested in seeing more sports stories. And if I have to tune the algorithm to correct mistakes, then I might as well do the whole thing myself.

As with TV recommendations, I prefer to find web content through people I know, not through an algorithm.
NYT stereotypes YouTube
The NY Times has published a really lazy article on YouTube. The author, Virginia Heffernan, depends on stereotypes and the "most viewed" videos report on YouTube to craft this piece in the site's "Critics Notebook."

"Skinny guys with moppy hair in modest houses have officially staked their claim to the latest medium for short, loud adolescent messages: YouTube."

"It turns out that most of the videos that get millions of looks are humorous posturings by kids who in other places and at other times might be collecting near-mint X-Men comics, or practicing Metallica licks."

The rest of the piece is spent simply describing each of the top videos. There is no mention of how YouTube fits into the larger web landscape (it is now bigger than the NYT website in terms of traffic). It is just a Beavis-and-Butthead-inspired caricature of a segment of YouTube's audience.

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.