This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Friday, June 30, 2006
My car is paid off!
Woo hoo! I just wrote out the last check for my 2001 Volkswagen Jetta. Considering that I've only put 36,000 miles on it in 5 years, it should last me quite a while. Now I just need to resist the temptation to trade it in for something else. I think having the extra money will be incentive enough to keep that from happening, though.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
D-Link's customer support sucks!
OK, my D-Link DI-624 router died about 2 weeks ago. It was locked up and neither a power reset or a full reset would bring it back. In fact, the power, status and WLAN lights didn't even light up any more.

I replaced the DI-624 with a Linksys WRT54G because I couldn't wait for D-Link to send me a replacement.

Well, today, I decided to go ahead and make my warranty claim. So I called the toll-free number and described the problem to the person in the call center (which was obviously overseas). They walked me through the reset process (which I had done dozens of times already). No change.

They then insisted that I connect my modem and PC to the router to continue troubleshooting. When I challenged this request (because it would require me unhooking a bunch of things to make that happen) as technically incapable of fixing the router, the CS rep put me on hold. Upon return, she said that she really needed to go through those steps to confirm that the router is broken. I countered with the claim that there is NO WAY that connecting those things will affect the router. She said it was simply on the list of troubleshooting items to do.

After I got somewhat upset with her, I was placed on hold for a few more minutes. When she returned, she said they *really* needed me to connect the modem and a PC. When I refused, she said that I would need to call back when I was willing to troubleshoot the router.

I was so pissed that I almost bought a plane ticket to India. Then I realized that I hate flying. I really don't see how refusing to try stupid things makes me uncooperative.

I am tempted to just call back and say, "OK, my modem and PC are connected. What next?" I think I should probably calm down first, though. Grrr!
Returning my DS for repair
I'm not having the best luck with game systems lately. My original XBOX 360 died within days of purchase. Now, I am going to send my DS Lite in for repair. It's not a big issue; however, it is something that I tried living with for a couple of weeks.

Basically, I have a big red, dead pixel (OK, it is just 1 pixel, but it seems really big to me) in the middle of the touchscreen. For some games, it isn't very noticeable; however, for others, it is really annoying. Nintendo recommended using the DS for a week or so to see if it is still a problem. And, for me, it is.

So now I will be looking for some Nintendo methadone (or maybe a decent 360 game) while I wait the 5-7 business days that a repair takes to get back to me. The cool thing is that Nintendo is sending me a pre-paid UPS shipping label, so I don't have to shell out any cash. And since the DS Lite works, I can play it until I get the label.

I'll post a follow-up once I get my repaired DS Lite back.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Why HD disc formats have failed
Clint DeBoer over at Audioholics has posted his 10 reasons why high definition DVD formats have already failed.

I think he hits the nail on the head with his list, especially when he compares it to the failure of DVD-Audio and SACD. His analysis of why the PS3 won't help Blu-ray is worth reading, too.

Of all of the items, number 10 (Broadband and IPTV to Compete?) is the main reason I am sitting this so-called format war out. I would much rather wait for an IP-based solution than buy $500-1000 hardware and then replace all of my DVDs with new $30 HD versions. Hell, I would take a standard definition solution (Netflix Player?) that is IP-based over an HD disc-based one.

Check out the full list here.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Running Skype as a Service
ZOverLord over at the Skype forum has posted an excellent guide to setting up Skype and the D-Link USB Phone Adapter utility as Windows services.

Why do they need to be services? Well, by default, if users log on and off of the machine, Skype and the D-Link utility shut off. This means that you won't get any calls to ring to your phone or Skype client until you log back into your Windows user account.

Using ZOverLord's tips, you can configure services for each that start up when the machine boots and persist regardless of logon status. Very, very cool.

To top it off, because the Skype client and D-Link utility are running as services, you can launch a second Skype client under a different username and not affect the first. This is useful for when you want to use one Skype account to ring your phone via the D-Link adapter; however, you want to use another Skype account to chat with someone via your webcam.

Thanks, ZOverLord!
Still loving my DS Lite
I just have to post again about how much I am enjoying the DS Lite. Although I don't always play it for extended periods like I do when I play Halo 2 on the 360, I am playing it everyday (and several times per day).

At work, three of my co-workers have DS Lites and we have been playing Mario Kart DS on our lunch hour. It is such a fun game to play with other people. I have even found myself eating out less because I don't want to miss the opportunity to school (or, um, be schooled) them.

At home, Brain Age has made my nightly workouts much more enjoyable. I ride my exercise bike (stop laughing!) while running through my daily brain training. When using my iPod, I constantly found myself staring at the timer on the bike. Now, I don't even notice how long I've been on the bike.

Brain Age has also attracted Amy to the DS. She and I are having a friendly (OK, it's not that friendly) competition with our daily scores. Just for the record, my brain age is 24 and hers is 34 (with 20 being the best).

And the kids are playing a lot of Nintendogs and Tony Hawk's American Sk8land.

While I don't regret buying an XBOX 360, the DS Lite makes me realize that it isn't nearly as fun as it should be.
Circuit City has lame partners
I posted a couple of months ago about my horrible experience with GameznFlix and how surprised I was that Circuit City had partnered with such a not-ready-for-prime-time service.

Well, today, I get an e-mail from CC touting a new, seemingly ridiculous, service from Get Digital. For $1.50 per CD (or $1.60 if I want a high bitrate), Get Digital will take my CDs and turn them into MP3s... I'm going to give that a couple of seconds to sink in. Get Digital wants you to mail your CDs to them, pay them $1.50 per CD to rip your CDs, and then have them mail you your CDs and new DVDs with MP3s on them.

Oh, and if dealing with DVDs is too tough for you (if you can't rip a CD, how are you going to get the files off a DVD), you can get your MP3s returned to you on a brand new hard drive (which your non-CD-ripping brain would have to figure out how to install). When I put went through the process, it recommended that I buy a 100GB hard drive for $185. Or, if DVDs and hard drives aren't your thing, you can just send them your iPod.

How do businesses like this get funded?! Honestly. Who reads that business plan and says "Oh, hell yeah. This is brilliant!" And, then, how does a company like Circuit City partner with them? I'm sure there is a rev share deal in there; however, come on, Circuit City. Partnerships with GamezNFlix and Get Digital make you look bad (no matter how much $ these partners project that you *could* make).

For my CD collection, I would be looking at around $300 to get the good ones burned with Get Digital (plus $185 if I want them on a hard drive and $31 if you want a color directory printed out). And this is on top of the $300 I paid for a 5G iPod (actually, I won my 5G iPod in a contest at work, but still...). And considering that iPod owns the MP3 player market right now, why wouldn't someone just use iTunes to rip their collection? Sure, you have to keep swapping out CDs; however, is that really worth the trouble and money involved with using GetDigital? I sure wouldn't do it and I'm betting not many others will either.

I prefer Circuit City because they have a price match policy and a 30-day no hassle return policy. I wish they would stick with that and not waste time with things like GamezNFlix and GetDigital.
I like "Stacked"

I recently got a copy of the new poker game "Stacked" for XBOX, so I thought I would share my thoughts.

First, let me say that I am not a big poker player in real-life; however, like most of America, I enjoyed watching the World Series of Poker the past couple of years on ESPN. So I know enough about the game to know what's happening, but not enough about how to play to actually try it out in public.

I think that is why I like Stacked so much. It allows me to try my hand (hand, get it?!) at Texas Hold 'Em without having to get my ass handed (handed, get it?! OK, that was over the line) to me in public.

The game feels very much like a real tournament. Depending on the skill of the players, a single table tournament can last for well over an hour. That may be a turnoff for someone looking to play a quick hand or two; however, for people who player poker in the meat world, this should be a big plus.

And for someone new to the game, there are pro tips available throughout the game to help you out. So someone with limited knowledge of all of the rules of poker (like myself) can still pick it up and understand how to play.

Because of the nature of the gameplay (i.e. you have to look at your cards on the screen), "Stacked" is limited to 1 player per XBOX. However, the game challenges your skills against a group of crafty AI players. And once you fell brave enough, you can venture online and play on XBOX Live.

I actually enjoyed the XBL experience quick a bit. The trash-talking and posturing that takes place in just about every game you play on XBL actually adds a little something to "Stacked." Is the prepubescent kid who keeps saying "I raise, bitch" in his squeaky little voice bluffing?

Another thing to like about "Stacked" is the price. It retails for $29.99. Well worth it for anyone looking to keep their poker skills sharp or looking to learn more about the game.

BTW, if you're looking for an easy target to play against, look me up (Gamertag sMoRTy71) on XBOX Live. Or if you think you're good enough, MTV is hosting a series of "Stacked" tournaments. Check those out here.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
I thought Insight was bad...
Brian Finkelstein (from Snakes on a Blog) has a great video of when a Comcast technician came to his house to fix his faulty modem. It's hard to blame the technician for what happens. After all, I know I've wanted to doze off while waiting on hold with our broadband provider Insight.

Monday, June 19, 2006
I installed my Skype phone adapter
Got my Skype phone adapter today
I picked up a D-Link DPH-50U Skype phone adapter today. Installation was totally painless -- install the driver, hook up a phone cable between the adapter and my regular 5.8 GHZ cordless phone and then hook up the USB port to the PC running Skype.

To dial out with Skype using my cordless phone, I simply have to enter "001" before dialing the number and then hit "*" after I enter the number to initiate the call.

I've made a couple of test calls to people and no one was able to tell I was using Skype (which was cool). My biggest worry is sound quality and, so far, it seems to work great.

On incoming calls, my cordless phone displays the caller ID info just as it did with our landline. I wasn't sure if that would work with Skype, so I was pleasantly surprised that it did.

I opted for a phone adapter instead of a Skype cordless handset because I already have a nice 5.8 GHZ cordless phone set (we have a base station and 1 extra handset) and I was worried that a 2.4 GHZ cordless Skype phone might interfere with my wireless network.

I guess I'll have to wait and see how Skype stacks up to our $40/mo Insight phone service. However, considering that my whole Skype setup cost about the same as 2 months of Insight ($50 for adapter & $38 for a SkypeIn number for 1 year), it will pay for itself by the end of August.
Would you pay $625/mo. for DirecTV?
DirecTV obviously thinks that someone will. On June 28, 2006, they will launch their new Titanium service. According to the promo on their site, Titanium gives you everything they offer.

"Every channel
Every movie
Every PAY PER VIEW
Every sporting event
Every adult program
Every HDTV channel
Up to 10 HD DVR receivers
Concierge service 24/7"

You can get all of this for a mere $7,500 per year (paid in one annual payment). And if the price isn't enough, the promo makes sure you know that you are getting something special -- "Membership is reserved for a select few." I guess that sounds more appealing than "Membership is reserved for suckers with more money than sense."

More info here: http://titanium.directv.com/
Saturday, June 17, 2006
New SkypeIn number
Amy and I have ditched our landline and have switched to Skype for our home phone service. So, if you have our old home phone number, it has been disconnected.

If you're in Louisville and want to call us, use our new SkypeIn number (email me for the new number). Or if you would like to reach us via Skype, use "sMoRTy71" to reach me personally or "ShawnAmyMorton" to reach both of us.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Last word on Sirius
During my last call with Sirius, I discovered that they are (not surprisingly) outsourcing their warranty support. Coincidentally, they are outsourcing it to a company just across the river from Louisville called Service Net. Even more coincidentally, I used to do web consulting for them a few years ago.

What sucks about this whole situation was that it wouldn't have taken much to keep me as a customer. They could have upgraded me to a better radio (as I was promised on one call). They could have also given me a couple of months free. Or better yet, they could have done both.

Instead, they chose to outsource that component of their business to a company that stumbled around for two months before sending me a broken, refurbished radio.

I guess it is time to start using the XM channels provided by DirecTV.
Sirius on my eternal sh!tlist
OK, this is the final straw. Never again will I utter the word "Sirius" (unless it is to share my horrible experiences with other prospective customers).

Why the quick turnaround from my earlier post? Well, because the *refurbished* radio they sent me (the one I waited 2 months for) is a dud. Defective. Dead. No matter where I place the antenna (I even drove around with it installed), the unit reads "Acquiring Signal." According to the CS rep I spoke to, this means the radio (or the antenna) is dead.

I am currently on hold with Sirius now. I am having my account cancelled FOREVER! Of course, it may never get cancelled. I was on hold for 15 minutes and then I got dumped. Hopefully the second time is the charm. I feel sorry in advance for the person who picks up this call...
Back on the Sirius teet... for now
Yesterday, I finally got my replacement Sirius radio back. My initial plan was just place the sucker on eBay and be done with it; however, a couple of things made me reconsider and turn on the service for at least another month.

1. They returned it without the original packing
I didn't get a new retail unit. I got, what appears to be, a refurb dumped into a box filled with packing peanuts. Not exactly eBay-friendly (much less customer-friendly). The chances of getting a decent bid are pretty low.

2. I'm driving to Chicago in a couple of weeks
I am making the 5-6 hour drive up to Chicago to attend the 37 Signals "Getting Real" Workshop. I figure that I will quickly tire of fiddling with my iPod while I drive.

Plus, I am cancelling the $40 phone service that we get through Insight, so we'll be $27 ahead, right (hey, that makes sense in my head)? Right now, they are playing "In and Out of Love" by Bon Jovi on Hair Nation, so all is well.
DS Lite is awesome!
I picked up my Nintendo DS Lite on Sunday morning, so I haven't been able to find time to blog about it (or anything else). So before jumping back into a multiple player game of Mario Bros., let me just say that the Lite is a great device. I had the same reaction to first playing with it that I got first fiddling with my 5G iPod. Great design and the perfect size for a portable. It actually fits into the pocket on a T-shirt (although it sticks out the top).

Yesterday, I brought my Lite to the office to play against a co-worker who had bought one, too. The multiplayer option in the New Super Mario Bros. is the most fun I've had playing a video game in a really long time -- competitive, challenging and very, very fun. Of course, one negative side effect was my uncontrollable urge to blurt out things like "Take that!" and "Come back here, you INSERT EXPLETIVE OF CHOICE HERE!"

So if you've got $129 burning a whole in your wallet and you're as disappointed as I am about the lack of really great games for the 360, then pick up a DS Lite and a copy of the New Super Mario Bros. Considering how well it will be integrated into the Wii experience (serve as a touchscreen controller; download DS demos to the Wii), it is definitely worth it.
Friday, June 9, 2006
Gnarls Barkley does Star Wars
This is so great. From last night's MTV Movie Awards:

Sirius warranty service sucks!
I am generally not a patient person (just ask my wife); however, I feel I have been more than patient with Sirius and their warranty department.

Exactly two months ago today, my Sanyo Sirius radio died. So I shipped the radio back and they received it on April 19th (I used delivery confirmation).

When I called to check on it the first time, I was told it would be 2-4 weeks from the date they received it. So I said, "Two to four weeks from April 19th?" Oh, no no no. It would 2-4 weeks from April 28th. When I questioned that date, I was told that was when they received the radio.

Well, guess what? Almost two months after they received my defective radio, Sirius STILL can't tell me if a replacement has shipped. THEY JUST DON'T KNOW! How can this be? How can they have a computerized warranty tracking system with fancy claim numbers and not be able to tell me the status of my claim?

And to make matters worse, each rep I speak to seems to have no knowledge of what the previous rep claimed would happen. Here is a breakdown of the past 3 calls:

May 31st
Spoke to Kurt who sounded just like Brad Pitt playing Floyd in "True Romance" (which I considered a good thing). He was very understanding and said that I would receive a Sportster Replay and Home Kit instead of the crappier Sanyo that died. He said this was because they had taken so long to get my radio back. I was happy and eagerly awaited my new radio.

June 5th
Spoke to Jesse who questioned everything that Kurt told me. She said they definitely would not be sending me a Sportster Replay and Home Kit. She even questioned whether they would send me a home kit at all (even though I returned mine to them as instructed). When I reminded her that the home kit is included with the Sanyo, she said that that would be what I was getting.

She claimed that she spoke to her supervisor and her supervisor would make sure that my radio went out on June 6th.

June 9th
Called back to get my tracking number and I spoke to Rachel. She seemed to have no information on her "screen" about anything I had discussed with Kurt or Jesse.
So, like Jesse, she put me on hold for a while (although she popped in half a dozen times to tell me she was working on it). When she returned, you wanna guess what she said? First, she said that tracking numbers can take a couple of days to show up in the system (sounds like they think my item shipped, doesn't it?). Then, she said that she spoke to her supervisor and her supervisor would make sure that my radio was shipped out ASAP. Huh? Are we just waiting for a tracking number or waiting for it to ship?

As I am writing this post, I am getting more and more irritated. I am actually going to go call this mysterious supervisor and see what is going on. Stay tuned...

UPDATE:
I called back and spoke to "Tonya" (I don't want to use the real name because I am going to use a quote from her later). She said that my radio had definitely not shipped. She also said that my claimed appeared to have only been open this morning. Nice! When I mentioned that the last two reps had already sent my info to their supervisor, she said "the more times it goes to my supervisor, the better chance you have of getting it shipped... you know what I mean?" I didn't know what to say. I actually wanted to ask for the supervisor's address so I could maybe send over a bottle of wine or some flowers to better my chances of getting noticed.

I am supposed to call back on Tuesday to get my tracking number.

UPDATE #2: June 14, 2006
After months of waiting, I got a replacement radio. Guess what? It was DOA. It worked for about 30 minutes (long enough for me to reactivate my service) and then it died. Also, they didn't send me a new unit. They sent me a refurb unit that was thrown in a box with some packing peanuts. Classy!

After calling CS, I was told that no radios were in stock and I would have to wait until they received more before I could get one.

UPDATE #3: September 23, 2006
Finally got an e-mail from Sirius saying that a replacement radio was available. I'm too fed up with them to even bother shipping the old one back. I'm done with Sirius. They have great programming; however, they treat their customers like crap. Good riddance!
Thursday, June 8, 2006
Eat cheaper
Over the past couple of days, I have seen two websites that are demonstrating ways in which people can spend less money on food. One is a little more practical than the other; however, both are worth a mention.

1. The Hillbilly Housewife has a very thorough menu and instructions on how to feed a family of 4 for $45 per week. Interestingly, the menu isn't *that* terrible if you like beans. Other than the sodium content, it is pretty nutritious considering what it costs. Per person, you're looking at around $11 a week.

2. If $11 per week is just too much, then Adam Scott may have the plan for you. He has been eating nothing but ZuPreem monkey chow for the past 5 days. He is keeping a (hilariously deadpan) video diary on YouTube about the experience. Whether or not the guy is really eating monkey chow for every meal, the idea and the videos are hilarious. His goal is 1 week, so check out his diary over the next couple of days to see if he makes it. Here is the intro video to get you started:

Wednesday, June 7, 2006
My router died -- need suggestions
Last night, my D-Link DI-624 router (yes, I know, everyone told me to avoid D-Link) died after about 3 years of use. I think it is barely under warranty; however, the 3-4 week turnaround time to get a replacement really isn't an option.

So today at lunch, I am going to pick up a new wireless router. However, I haven't bought one in a while, so I need suggestions. Here are my criteria:

1. Cheap
2. Cheap
3. Supports Super G (or equivalent) with 108mbps
4. XBOX Live compatible (or at least not incompatible)
5. Good range (my 624 could get great signal from my basement to the 2nd story)
6. Cheap
7. Available locally with no rebates

There, I think that covers it. Any ideas? BTW, I don't use wireless for most of the computers in the house (only 2 machines are wireless), so I don't want to drop a lot of money on this thing (but my lady needs her e-mail, so I gotta get something quick).
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
NBC still doesn't get viral marketing
According to Lost Remote, NBC and YouTube are close to finalizing an ad deal where NBC would buy ads on YouTube and provide clips of upcoming shows. Sounds like NBC finally gets it, huh? They are embracing the power of the web and sucking up all of the viral marketing goodness, right? Not really. They are only using YouTube to pimp upcoming shows.

"These viral sites are interesting to us in instances before a show becomes an asset and we are trying to expose it to people," says John Miller, NBC's chief marketing officer. "Once something becomes a hit it's a different story."

Do they seriously think that they can control what gets hot and what doesn't? Just putting a commerical on YouTube does nothing for them. The challenge is to create content that real people WANT to upload and watch on YouTube. Why not post the musical performances from SNL on YouTube after the broadcast? Or upload all of the digital shorts? They've already been paid for with ad dollars from the show's sponsors.

It seems like iTunes has got the networks seeing dollar signs on everything they do. Unfortunately, they confuse our desire to consume their content with a desire to pay for it.

In a media landscape that keeps offering more and more things to splinter our attention, I would think that a media company like NBC would take the eyeballs wherever they can find them.
XBOX 360 update available now
The much-anticipated XBOX 360 Dashboard update is now available. I grabbed it this morning and have only seen a couple of the 125 new features that MSFT claims are in there -- download queue, XBOX Live Vision camera settings, new menus for XBOX Live Marketplace.

I think my favorite new feature is the "Startup" option that has been added to the "System\Console Settings" menu. Now, you can select to boot to the game you have in the XBOX 360's DVD drive or boot to the Dashboard. Most times, I want to boot to the Dashboard and used to have to mash a bunch of buttons to do it before the game loaded.


Screenshot courtesy of Major Nelson. See more here.

So, go fire up your 360s. You will be prompted to install the update as soon as you connect to XBL.

Read more about the update from Major Nelson.
Monday, June 5, 2006
Will 9/19 be hump day?
According to Engadget, the new XBOX Live Vision camera will be released on September 19th. Of course, many of us who play Halo 2 together are wondering how (or if) the camera will be used in that game.

I think MSFT and Bungie would be smart to NOT include support for the camera in Halo 2, otherwise all we will see is everyone "teabagging" the camera. BTW, for those uninitiated, teabagging is the act of dipping your character's... um... you know... onto a dead opponent's face (wow, that sounds even worse when you type it out) by repeatedly tapping the button used to make your character crouch. It is not a feature of the game, but a hack players invented to humiliate one another.

Now, imagine that all of these ass-clowns have a webcam to use. Yeah, not a pretty set of pictures.

BTW, thanks to Dan K. for sending me the animation above. Also, I've just downloaded the new dashboard update for XBOX Live and settings for the XBOX Live Vision camera are already showing up in the System blade. Maybe it will be a little sooner than 9/19.
I love PayPal again
Yes, I realize that posting about how pissed I am at a company and then posting that I love that company a few days later makes me look at little crazy; however, a couple of events have turned me around with PayPal.

1. They fixed the issue that I posted last week with my wife's double payment problem by crediting back the transaction fees associated with the refund. And, BTW, the fact that a friend works at PayPal had nothing to do with it.

2. More online retailers accept PayPal. I love shopping online; however, I hate using my credit card because I always end up forgetting to budget in the amount I've spent online (really annoying since I don't like to carry a credit card balance).

Last night, I found a messenger bag that I wanted to pick up (to better carry all of the random gadgets I lug around) for $15 on eBags. I was just about to ditch my session when I realized that they take PayPal (and that the 20% off sale they were having ended at midnight). Instead of leaving, I bought the bag.

I've always preferred NewEgg because they take PayPal. I'm glad to see more online retailers doing the same.
Let the blogging resume
I took last week off from work to get a break (hadn't been off since the holidays) and to burn some of the mounting heap of vacation hours that I have to use by the end of the year. When I'm not strapped to my desk 40+ hours per week, I find that I don't keep up with things online as much.

I'll be returning to the office today and, as soon as I dig out from under the mountatin of e-mail waiting for me, I will find out what happened in the world last week.

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.