This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The IRS and auto repair
I haven't been blogging over the past few days because I am currently getting hit with a double whammy of crappy situations.

First, I took my car to get an oil change at Valvoline last week. In addition to jacking up their price by $10 ($10!!!) for certain models (including Volkswagen), the technician claimed that my car was leaking transmission fluid *and* my main seal *might* be leaking. Sweet! I get screwed on the oil change price *and* have to take my car to the dealer for service to see if my car is actually screwed up or not.

Because my car has a 10-year powertrain warranty, I have no choice but to take it to the dealer to check out Valvoline's claim. If there is a problem, there is a good chance of it being covered under warranty. However, if there is not a problem, I am forced to shell out $88 *per hour* for VW to look my car over. I almost find myself wishing for a problem that is covered by warranty.

I dropped my car off this morning and it will be in the shop for 2 days while they inject dye into the system and see if anything leaks out. Now I have to sit and wait for the potentially expensive news.

In addition to the car drama, on Friday night (the same day we received our Federal tax refund), we received a notice from the IRS that we owed them over $20K in back taxes from 2005. Nice, right?

Of course, after nearly sh!tting ourselves (twice), we determined that there was some mix up with paperwork for stock options that I sold a couple of year ago.

Did I mention that we were going out to celebrate my wife's birthday that same night? Well, as you can imagine, the whole IRS thing weighed on us all weekend until I was able to dig out all of our paperwork and find the issue (which doesn't appear to be our fault).

I gathered the supporting paperwork together and wrote a letter to the IRS stating that we disagree with their claim. Now, we just have to sit and wait for them to respond.

So, in case you were wondering why I haven't been blogging, you're all caught up :)
Friday, February 23, 2007
Almost switched cable
I almost made a big mistake this week. I almost switched to cable-- I know, I know! Calm down... I didn't. Shhh! I didn't. It's OK. It's OK.

See, it all started when I got a rate increase notice from DirecTV. As of March 1st, my bill will go up $3 or $4. While $4 isn't a deal breaker, the notice gave me time to ponder a few things:

1. I could break my DirecTV contract without penalty (I hate contracts)
2. Cable lets me record HD without shelling out hundreds of $$$ for equipment
3. I could feed cable to my 2 Media Center PCs and have 2 more DVRs

Of course, I was also keeping in mind that:
1. I hate our local cable service and their horrendous customer service
2. We love the TiVo service that runs on our DirecTV R10s
3. We love the picture quality of DirecTV and their customer service is great

So I started doing a little research. The first roadblock came when I tried to get pricing from Insight Comunications' website (the intuitively named "insight-com.com"). They don't offer it. Instead you see all these tiers of service and special add-on packages. Not very helpful. So I was forced to call them.

Calling to order something isn't nearly as painful as calling to get help once you're a customer. I was able to find out that I could get 2 Motorola HD-DVRs and a similar programming package for about $80. Considering I will be paying that much for DirecTV without any HD-DVR, I was somewhat interested. However, the big issue I still had was that the second HD-DVR was being leased to me for $16 per month. Damn, that's high!

With my cable rate in hand, I called DirecTV to inquire about my contract (to make sure that the rate change canceled any contract if I canceled before the rate hike) and to see what they had to offer. I've been a DirecTV customer since 1998, so I hoped they would play ball.

The DirecTV rep informed me that I didn't have any contract at all right now, so I could come and go as I please. Cool. She also said that I could get the DirecTV HD-DVR for $199 and that they would send someone out (for free) to upgrade my dish to the 5 LNB model.

"Hmmmm," I thought. Nobody is blowing me away with their offer.

If go with cable, I:

1. Save a little bit of money on programming
2. Pay a sh!tload to lease the equipment
3. Lose TiVo software
4. Lose digital picture quality on the lower 100 channels (they're analog converted to digital and they look like crap)
5. Get to feed the crappy-looking lower 100 channels into my Media Center PCs
6. Most importantly, can record HD (4 shows at the same time)
7. Get some of the worst customer support I've ever encountered.

If I stay with DirecTV (and take them up on their offer), I:
1. Keep TiVo!
2. Pay the same as cable overall
3. Get to record 2 HD shows at the same time
4. Pay less for equipment over time (2 years with the HD-DVR would be $8 per month versus $16 per month FOREVER!)
5. Keep self-service customer service (change programming on their website) and great on-the-phone support
6. Keep the superior picture quality of DirecTV
7. Still can't feed my DirecTV feed into my Media Center PCs

So after thinking it over (and having Amy to tell me that she will kill me if I take away her DirecTiVo), we decided to stick with DirecTV. I'm not sure when/if I'll get the HD-DVR, but I do know that I do NOT want to be stuck with cable.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Bonaroo 07: Great lineup, bad timing
Wow, the one year that Bonnaroo decides to have a great lineup and we're having a baby 2 to 3 weeks earlier :)

The lineup for Bonnaroo 2007 has been announced and it is really, really good. At least seven or eight acts that I would love to see:

The Police (who I saw for my 13th birthday back in 1984), The White Stripes (who I saw back in September of 2005), Franz Ferdinand, Kings of Leon, Wolfmother, Lily Allen, Fountains of Wayne (pre-"Stacy's Mom" era only) and comedian David Cross.

The full lineup is here
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The big 36
Today is my birthday. I'm 36.

UPDATE: Amy had a steak dinner waiting when I got home. Not bad for a vegetarian :) She and the kids also baked me a cake and made me some cards. I also got a new 32" LCD TV (which wasn't *technically* a birthday present, but it was delivered today) and Wii Play.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I've been DMCA'ed by Viacom
I just got a notice from YouTube that Viacom is accusing me of copyright infringement for a video I posted of Prince performing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison at the 2004 Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Induction. It showed about a minute and a half of the song where Prince was doing his guitar solo.

The video has been posted for well over a year, but it became pretty popular after Prince's Super Bowl halftime performance.

YouTube has deleted the video and sent me this warning letter (with typos):

"Dear Member:

This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by Viacom International Inc. claiming that this material is infringing:

Prince at Rock n Roll Hall of Fame 2004: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-qlU46ODlg

Please Note: Repeat incidents of copyright infringement will result in the deletion of your account and all videos uploaded to that account. In order to avoid future strikes against your account, please delete any videos to which you do not own the rights, and refrain from uploading additional videos that infringe on the copyrights of others. For more information about YouTube's copyright policy, please read the Copyright Tips guide.

If you elect to send us a counter notice, to be effective it must be a written communication provided to our designated agent that includes substantially the following (please consult your legal counsel or see 17 U.S.C. Section 512(g)(3) to confirm these requirements):

1. A physical or electronic signature of the subscriber.
2. Identification of the material that has been removed or to which access has been disabled and the location at which the material appeared before it was removed or access to it was disabled.
3. A statement under penalty of perjury that the subscriber has a good faith belief that the material was removed or disabled as a result of mistake or misidentification of the material to be removed or disabled.
4. The subscriber's name, address, and telephone number, and a statement that the subscriber consents to the jurisdiction of Federal District Court for the judicial district in which the address is located, or if the subscriberis address is outside of the United States, for any judicial district in which the service provider may be found, and that the subscriber will accept service of process from the person who provided notification under subsection (c)(1)(C) or an agent of such person.

Such written notice should be sent to our designated agent as follows:

DMCA Complaints
YouTube, Inc.
1000 Cherry Ave.
Second Floor
San Bruno, CA 94066
Email: copyright@youtube.com

Please note that under Section 512(f) of the Copyright Act, any person who knowingly materially misrepresents that material or activity was removed or disabled by mistake or misidentification may be subject to liability.

Sincerely,
YouTube, Inc.
"

It sucks that YouTube has deleted this video considering that Viacom doesn't have it available anywhere else. It was a great clip of one of Prince's best performances.
Interview for Online Community Report
I recently did an interview with Bill Johnston over at Forum One's Online Community Report. The topic was online communities.

I think it turned out pretty well, especially since they indirectly refer to me as an "expert." Don't they know what that will do to my ego?

Check it out here.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Picked up Lily Allen & Bloc Party
It has been a while since I picked up a new CD. In fact, I am hard pressed to recall what my last purchase was (after checking the "Recently Added" view in iTunes, it was TV on the Radio's "Return to Cookie Mountain").

However, after seeing her performances on Saturday Night Live this weekend, I decided to pick up Lily Allen's "Alright, Still." It is definitely much lighter/poppier than what I normally listen to; however, I think I like it. There is a touch of The Specials in there that makes it a little more interesting than most pop music.

As I scanned the aisles for Lily Allen, I stumbled across the new Bloc Party CD as well. I really loved "Silent Alarm," so I didn't hesitate to grab this one, too. I've only had a chance to listen through once while I was at the office, but it sounded good so far.

Of course, the best part of all of this is that I picked up both CDs for under $18 total at Target (Yes, I buy my CDs at Target. Mock me freely in the comments.).
PC Mag editor doesn't know his gear
Jim Louderback of PC Mag posts about how an XBOX 360 and a Vista PC saved his Super Bowl. See, he had to go to NYC for a meeting and was forced to watch the game at the PC Mag offices. Quick-thinking Jim decided to configure a Vista PC to record the OTA HD stream and then feed it to an XBOX 360 attached to the TV. Of course, this meant configuring Vista's networking settings and setting up the Media Extender functionality on the XBOX 360. According to Jim, he finished just in time for kick-off. Whew!

Problem is, he didn't need to do any of that stuff. The TV he was using had a built-in OTA HD tuner! Nice going, McGyver.

A commenter on Digg said it best:

"Should of just plugged the antenna into the damn tv. It has the rf connector for it and the atsc tuner you f***ing retard.

Screen Size: 58 inches
Type: Rear Projection TV, HDTV
Rear Projection Type: DLP
Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Supported EDTV and HDTV Resolutions (HD Ready): 480p, 720p, 1080i, 480i, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Video Inputs: Component, Composite, HDMI, RF, S-Video
PC Interfaces: Analog VGA, HDMI
Built-in TV Tuner: NTSC, ATSC, CableCard
"

Classic!
Monday, February 5, 2007
American Express & Spinal Tap?
I've been a long-time, satisfied customer of AMEX, but this commercial made me like them even more. In fact, I nearly fell off the couch when I figured out the music halfway through the commercial.

It features "Gimme Some Money" by Spinal Tap (although sung by someone else).

You can see the original here.
Best halftime show ever
Saturday, February 3, 2007
Flickr caves
Earlier this week, I mentioned how Flickr had done a pretty poor job of handling upcoming changes to their service and that "old skool" users were really upset.

Now, Flickr has caved to the pressure and made changes to their changes.

Some are praising Flickr for doing the right thing; however, I still say they are just trying to clean up from doing the wrong thing.

If Flickr wanted to get buy-in from their users, they would have asked for their advice *before* making the change. In addition to getting a better solution, they would have made their members feel important which is key in loyalty and retention.

This latest development is just damage control. They changed to stop all of the negative press. And worse for Flickr, it shows members that if you complain loud enough, Flickr will cave on their decisions.

Listening to your members is a must; however, you need to listen to them at the right time. Get your most passionate users involved before you announce or make changes. Even if they don't agree with them, they will be more accepting if they are involved in the decision-making process.

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.