Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Instead of Studying for Finals I Have:

  1. Formatted and reinstalled my entire computer system
  2. Come up with a good class action against the banking industry (Link)
  3. Listened to five Dave Brubeck albums -- but payed attention to only three
  4. Completed two missions in "Call of Duty 2"
  5. Recovered from completing two missions in "Call of Duty 2"
  6. Watched Saving Private Ryan
  7. Caught up on saved episodes of Discovery Channel shows including, but not limited to: "Man v. Wild," "Mythbusters," and "American Chopper"
  8. NFL
  9. Watched History Channel at 3:00am and learned about volcanoes, the KKK, and Coast Guard ships designed to break up ice in the Great Lakes**
  10. Procrastinated by creating a list of 9 things I've done instead of studying for finals.

** These are separate documentaries, though I would be eager to watch a documentary that had all three subject matters.

Electronic Bill Payments: Do I Smell A Class Action?

So maybe someone with more expertise in finance can answer this question for me:

Most banks now offer you the ability to make a "free" online bill payment. This payment is either wired electronically (if your payee has an electronic fund transfer set up) or the payee is sent a paper check in the mail automatically generated by my bank. While this is a great addition to an otherwise backward and stagnant banking industry, I've started to realize that it has some significant--perhaps actionable--drawbacks.

What I've noticed is this: as soon as you "send" the bill payment, that amount is deducted from my account balance immediately--that is, regardless of whether the payee cashes the check or not.

So for example, if I make a bill payment to my brother in NY for $1,200.00 on Jan 1, 2007, my account will be debited $1,200.00 that same day. It might take my bank three or four days to process it and send it out, and another two or three days for the check to get through the mail. On top of that, my brother might not have time to cash the check for a few weeks because he's busy. Let's say my brother cashes the check on Jan 21. This is when my account balance should be debited 1,200.00, not as early as Jan 1.

I'm sure the bank will try to give me certain party lines. They might say that the automatic deduction makes me less likely to bounce a check because it is now "easier" or "more convenient" to keep track of my account balance without having to worry about what checks of mine are floating out there. There are two responses to this: (1) I could always--gasp--write it down and balance my own checkbook like an adult; or (2) if you really wanted to make it more convenient for me, add another column on my account balance, one that shows my actual balance and one that shows my balance adjusted for outstanding bill payments yet to be cashed.

The bottom line is this: what my bank is really doing here is depriving me of interest that my $1,200.00 would earn between Jan 1 and Jan 21. If you add this up for the millions of bill payments, a bank could be saving millions on interest payments that are actually due to account holders.

So if there are any entrepreneurial class action attorneys out there--call me, I'm game.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Milton Friedman on Charlie Rose

An eye-opening interview with a man who is synonymous with modern economics.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Adobe Acrobat 8 Troubleshooting

According to Adobe's technical support website, those of us experiencing application freezes and instability may try this "Advanced Troubleshooting" suggestion:

Reformat the hard disk, and reinstall only Windows and Acrobat.

Are you kidding me?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Password Wars: Operation HSBC

So I've commented before (here and here) on how ridiculous and varied the rules on passwords have become on various internet sites. Well, the popular bank HSBC has introduced a new security feature for its customers that is making it even more difficult to sign in.

In addition to the standard username and password (which have naming restrictions in and of themselves), and your standard PIN number, HSBC now requires you to have a "Security Key" which is an even longer password (with its own naming restrictions).

You also have to answer two "Security Questions" which I guess I will be asked if I ever forget my password. But the majority of the questions are ones that you will never remember the answer to, such as my favorite "childhood cartoon character" or my favorite "tv show." I love Batman from the Animated Series, but was that my childhood? Should I pick Optimus Prime instead? Need I remind you that I will be no doubt having this existential debate with a bank representative on the phone when I'm locked out of my account and need money to pay a bill.

HSBC doesn't even let you input all of your login information on the same screen anymore. The first thing you are asked for when you log in is a screen that asks for your username only:

What takes the cake is the next page, in which you have to type (and remember) your original password and then--I kid you not--use a "Virtual Keyboard" to click in your new "Security Key." So now I have to sit there using my mouse to click on every letter in a password that they recommended should upwards of 20 characters. It will give you an error message if you attempt to type in the password.

So why the limitation on not being able to type in the new "Security Key"? Is the bank worried that I have a keystroke recorder installed on my system? Well, I suppose that is one way to keep your password secure, although I'm not sure what genius thought it was going to be more secure to SHOW EVERYONE NEAR YOU what letters you are clicking on your screen.

Did this same person think it was a good idea to basically quadruple the amount of time it takes to sign in? I figure if HSBC is so dedicated to security, they should give their customers a USB retinal scanner. Of course, a retinal scan won't be enough security in and of itself for HSBC, who will then ask me for my mother's maiden name and what her favorite sitcom of the 1980's was.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Another Lesson in Irony

Keisha Castle Hughes, 16, stars in the newly released movie "The Nativity Story." In real life, Huges is reportedly pregant with her boyfriend's baby and, as a result, did not attend a screening of the movie at the Vatican. Moreover, Pope Benedict XVI refused to attend the screening because Hughes was expecting a child out of wedlock.

In the movie, Hughes plays the role of Mary.

Bill Gates on Charlie Rose

This is a fantastic interview taken at Stanford University. It covers a wide range of issues including increased competition, the videogame market, online search markets, Office 2007, and Windows Vista.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Logitech G15 Gaming Keyboard: Review

Elegant, well-designed, intuitive, fully customizable -- and damn beautiful. This is quite possibly one of the greatest keyboards I've ever used. It's even better than the keyboard that came as a part of Logitech's Cordless MX Duo.

Logitech's G15 Gaming Keyboard is great even for people who don't play videogames. As you can see, it's features backlit blue keys that are very easy to see in low light. Unlike other "backlit" keyboards that are totally useless because they only have a light between the keys, the G15 has illuminated letters so you can easily find the key you're looking for in any lighting. They are not too distracting or too bright (the exposure on the digital picture took in a bit too much light, so it's not that bright in reality).

The top left of the keyboard features three sections of fully customizable buttons. The software is quite malleable, letting you record keystrokes, launch programs or websites, and even record macros. This would be amazing for people who do a lot of repetitive office tasks. The only problem with this section of keys is that it is about a half inch too close to the normal keyboard sections, which means that you can't easily just find the edge of the keyboard when you want to hit "Shift" or "Ctrl." Bummer. Adding these extra buttons also adds to the size of the keyboard, which is quite wide.

On the top center are illuminated multimedia controls. The volume wheel is a bit stiff and not as good as Logitech's predecessors, but the multimedia keys are elegant and work right out of the box on a number of programs. If I launch Winamp, MediaMonkey, iTunes, Windows Media Player, or even my TV tuner, this set of controls works perfectly.

The keyboard has two USB ports, though they are unfortunately not USB 2.0 ports. This is a convenient feature to have, though those of us with sliding keyboard trays won't really make much use of these available ports.

At the top of the keyboard is an illuminated LCD screen that is bright and easy to read (you can adjust the brightness and contrast if it is too bright for you). I have never seen an LCD screen like this and it really makes the keyboard come alive. This LCD screen has a number of downloadable programs, letting you see a whole range of information about your computer. You can see your CPU/RAM statistics, disk space, network upload and download rates, time, number of unread emails. There are even specific programs for videogames that enable you to see vital in-game information like health and various weapons/ammo count. The screen is collapsible, and will fold down if you won't want to use it.

The keys are a bit soft to the touch, but firm enough to be responsive (i.e., you're not guessing whether you pressed a button -- I call that the "public library computer syndrome"). It is a very quiet keyboard. The entire keyboard slopes gently downward (the top half of the keyboard is slightly lower than the bottom half of the keyboard), which makes it much more comfortable to use. It came with its own wrist rest (made of plastic), but I've opted for my existing gel wrist pad instead.

Other than the spacing of the extra function keys on the left side, the only other problems I see are: (1) lack of USB 2.0 support; (2) short-ish USB cable to connect to your computer; (3) better interface for accessing LCD interface. These are fairly minor criticisms, and the fact that the keyboard is on sale for 59.99 at CompUsa.com makes this one a steal.

9 out of 10.

Vytorin is Infuriating

Vytorin is cholesterol medication designed to help block the absorption of cholesterol that comes from food, and reduce the cholesterol your body makes naturally. The product's commercials, however, are designed to make no sense.

Cholesterol, it can come from fettucine alfredo, but also from your Grandpa Alfredo; from barbeque ribs, and from your Grandma Barbie.

What the hell? Who forgot to proofread the copy on this?