Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Death of the Personal Web Site?

So raise your hand if you still have a personal web site.  (My Hand goes up).  I'm not talking about a facebook page, I'm talking about a real honest to gosh domain and some interesting combination of homebrew HTML and/or a content portal such as PHP Nuke.  I KNOW some of my friends have or have had them so I'm not the only one.  The question is, do you still have it?  You see, I received a notice from Host Monster today that my hosting package is up for renewal in 50 days.  I have flip flopped with this before but this time I think I really am going to shut it down.  I have this blog which to be honest is much easier to maintain and has a better editor than my PHP Nuke site and I use facebook and linkedin for pretty much everything else.  The only thing I would be missing would be the photo gallery and I'm almost positive I can find a nice replacement for that.  So, what do you think readers?  Should I can http://www.schoonsplace.com or not? 

The web site has been up for over 8 years now, actually 10 but I reinvented it after two , the first page was really straight HTML.  I went to PHP Nuke and never looked back.  I used Gallery for the photos and even had a few cool modules from time to time.  The sad fact is, I haven't posted there in months and even when I do I usually just say that I'm not dead.  I also have had issues with the gallery where I think I hit a limit or something.  I can't get the Java uploader to work correctly.  To renew, it's $7.95 a month for 2 years so it's around $160 total, couple that with my domain fees and the site costs me just around $200 a year.  I don't want to dump the domain though as Suzi and I both use the schoonsplace.com for our personal email addresses.  I found out that with EasyDNS I can get 10 email boxes for $10 extra per year so we could even keep those and not lose much if anything.

The biggest pain will be downloading the 300gb image of the site as a backup file and then figuring out what to do with it.  I probably have 50% of the pictures stored locally but I'd need to go through them and figure that out, the odds of that happening are pretty slim.  Then there are the comments on each picture, impossible to export and keep them intact with the actual photos, that will suck.  Everything is also dated and organized by year in the gallery.  Ok, so maybe that is a big pain in the butt to take them away.  I just don't know, I have 50 days to decide but I will be sure to let you know whether or not the real schoonsplace.com gets shut down.  Have a nice evening.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Zune Saga Continued...

Today it was Alice's turn to send me an Email and try to ensure my satisfaction as a customer.  However, she disagrees with the original email from Kyle which stated he would be able to get me the refund.  Alice instead thinks that I need to look at my network settings and that it was most likely my Internet Service Provider.  Alice says she wants to help me get to a resolution.  The only resolution that works for me is a refund of my Microsoft points but yet she agrees with the supervisor who said "NO REFUND FOR YOU".  Anyway, here is Alice's email, again, I really, really doubt her REAL name is Alice, more likely Kalpana which is a popular Indian Baby name meaning "A Fantasy" which is what me getting my refund is at this point in time.  For your continued reading enjoyment, I give you, Alice's email...

Hello Bill,

Thank you for contacting Microsoft online support for XBOX. I am Alice and I will be helping you today with this issue.

As I understand, we are having issue with the movie that you rented through Zune. You were advised by our previous Technical Support Representative to call our voice support since they have the tools to issue refunds.  However, you talked with a supervisor and informed you that there is no refund to be provided.

I understand how you feel. I am a customer like you as well, I felt the same way when I bought airtime minutes for my phone but it did not work, let me go head and help you take a solid step towards resolution.

I have read your previous email, and I understand that did not resolve the issue.  Let us try different steps this time Bill.

As a general rule, Xbox Support does not provide refunds for video content. If a customer experiences issues that involve downloading or streaming content, the customer should troubleshoot the issue by following the links below. A refund is granted only if all troubleshooting efforts have failed.

This behavior can be caused by frequent changes to the speed and the quality of your Internet connection based on network conditions that affect both your residence and your Internet service provider (ISP). If you experience reduced video quality or you receive error messages while you watch video, your connection speed has probably slowed.

The email continues with the specific steps I should take to troubleshoot my home network but I won't bore you with those details.  I especially enjoyed the story she used about her phone minutes to make me feel better about my situation. 

Enjoy this lovely weekend!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Continuing Xbox Live Zune Saga

For those of you that haven't read my initial posting on my unsuccessful attempt to receive a refund for a bad streaming movie experience through Zune via Xbox 360 please do so if you want to understand the entire story.  I am adding this information to the story partly because it is amusing and partly because I really can't believe that one hand does not know what the other does, or can do, at Microsoft in these situations.  Everyone says they are empowered to assist the customer but in fact, no one is.  The same night that I spent two plus hours on the phone with support I also fired off an Email via the xbox.com site.  Today I received a response from Kyle at Microsoft Support, here it is in its entirety...

Hi Bill,

Thank you for contacting Xbox Online Support. I'm Kyle and  I am more than happy to assist you today.

I understand how you feel. I just imagine how better it can be your guest entertained using your Xbox and you want a refund for unsatisfied quality of video. I would definitely feel the same way if  this will happen to me too. No worries, rest assured I will do my best to assist you on this.

Generally, we highly recommend you to call us at 1800-4MYXBOX so that we can process your refund. Our higher tier have the tool to reverse and refund your microsoft points for this. Since there are personal and payment or billing information that we need to verify in order for us to keep your account safe / secured at all time.

Though this will be investigated but rest assured your concerns will be covered once you call in.

Thank you so much for your understanding and we appreciate your patience.

For any issues connecting to Xbox Live, you may also use our http://support.xbox.com/en-us/pages/xbox-live/troubleshoot/connection-issues/default.aspx

If you need to reply to this e-mail, please reply 'with history' (include any previous e-mail) or reference to Service Request Number  so we can expedite our service to you.

Thank you for visiting Xbox.com. If you should have future questions on Xbox products or services, please be sure to revisit our Web site as we are continually adding information to enhance our service.

Best Regards,


Microsoft XBOX Support Services

Thanks Kyle, I appreciate your support and more importantly, your excellent grasp of the english language.  Ok, that was a shot, but I am still without my refund.  Maybe Kyle will make something happen here.  A customer can only dream.  

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm through with the Zune Marketplace on Xbox 360

So, tonight we had a guest over and wanted to watch a movie.  Legends of the Guardians was the winner and it was listed on Zune marketplace via our new Xbox 360 console for 320 Points in Standard Definition.  As we started the streaming movie there were a few hiccups and the spinning icon came up in the middle as the picture froze and then restarted.  After a few restarts and sighs of frustration we gave up on watching the movie as it was clearly unwatchable.  We switched over to the Netflix application on the same Xbox 360 and picked out a movie there and enjoyed it through streaming technology.  The easy answer here is that the network was NOT the problem it was the Zune service.

My guest left at around 9:15 pm or so and I picked up the phone to call 1-800-4MyXbox, this was around 9:30 pm eastern time.  At around 10:00 pm a representative picked up the phone and had me give several pieces of identifying information before assisting me.  She had me look at my Zune purchase history to verify the purchase was made and took a few notes about my experience.  She was powerless to refund my Microsoft points so she transferred me to the next department which she assured me could help me.  At around 10:30 pm another representative picked up the phone and asked for my ticket number.  The previous rep had not given me one so this representative asked for my credentials again.  She then asked me if I wanted a refund for my Xbox live subscription of $19.99?!?  What, I asked?  I don't want a refund for my live subscription, I only want my 320 points back for the unplayable movie.  As she listened to my problem she quietly stated that she could not help me, she had no access to the Zune system and could only refund Xbox live subscription costs.  She then pushed a button to transfer me again.

It's 11:07 pm and I'm still on hold, by my calculation in about 8 minutes I'll be on the 2 hour mark for my $3.99 refund.  I can't help but imagine laughter on the other end of the line as they know I'm on hold and extremely frustrated.  At this point it is merely the principal of the thing.  I've been a long time Xbox Live subscriber, actually since the original service was put into place over 7 years ago.  Come to think of it I don't think I've ever asked for a refund for anything on the service and have easily given them hundreds of dollars over the years.

Ok, it's 11:09 pm, someone named Dillon just picked up the phone and says he can help me.  I have given him all my information again and explained my problem and now he has put me on hold yet again to think about what he can do for me.  I suppose he's probably laughing with his co-workers about my situation while he "ponders" whether or not he'll return my precious Xbox Live points.  You would think they would have the ability to simply refund the purchase through the Xbox system itself and not even have to employ a human in this process.  Why should my fate be given to Dillon?  I should simply be able to click something within the interface to tell Microsoft I had playback problem and would like my money back, certainly they can see that I did not watch but the first 3-4 minutes of the movie and then exited out.  I guess they don't have the ability to see the performance of the movie on my end which is understandable.

It's 11:15 now and Dillon has come back on the line to tell me the fate of my 320 points.  So now, I have been informed that there are no refunds for Zune Video purchases.  Now that I know Dillon is laughing at me I ask for an escalation to a supervisor.  I'm now on hold again waiting for the supervisor who almost certainly is at least 2 years older than Dillon (and Dillon is maybe 20).  So what shall I say to the Supervisor? I can plead my case yet again which I will most likely do but I will also tell them how ridiculous this entire process has been.  They have essentially stolen $4 from me at this point.  How can you NOT provide refunds for a service such as this?  I suppose since there is not a problem with playback now I can go back in the living room and watch it but my guests are gone so it's not much fun to watch by myself now is it?  If the Rental were for more than 24 hours then maybe I could save it till my guest comes back but he won't be back till probably next week.  This seems like a pretty good reason for a refund to me.

Ok, 11:19 now, I'm still blogging and still on hold.  Who knows, maybe someone will read this and feel my frustration and not rent from the Zune service for fear of having similar problems.  I'll bet iTunes would have played it perfectly, or even Time Warner Cable for that matter, I should have just gone to Time Warner's On Demand section to see if they had it.  Better yet, for the 2 hours I've now been on the phone and $4 I'm probably going to lose I could have driven to Best Buy and purchased the DVD or Blu-Ray.  Ok Dillon, now I know you're laughing at me over there as I sit on hold, watching the little red light.  Maybe you're waiting for me to be yelling into the phone to the elevator Music, that would probably make you extremely happy now wouldn't it?

11:22 update, Dillon just came back, it's going to be a few more minutes before he can get a supervisor on the phone.  I wonder how much money they've spent on the 1-800 call, probably only pennies.  They're already paying the customer service staff who have spoken to me for the perhaps 10 minutes of the 2 hours I've been on the phone now, so maybe it really is a game to them.  Eventually they figure I'll hang up.  I'm sure well over half the people would have left hours ago.

11:35, ok, Paul, the Supervisor has just picked up the phone.  He listens to my problem then clearly states that there are no refunds on Zune rentals.  He then offers to read me the terms of service that I agreed to when I pushed the A button on my controller.  I ask him to do so, after a few minutes I ask him to clarify a few points in the terms of service then ask him if he is empowered to help the customer, he states yes but cannot refund my points.  I ask him how he is empowered if he can't help me?  He offers a solution of disputing the original points transaction with my bank.  I explain that the points transaction was for a much larger batch of points than the 360 points that this particular rental cost me.  He offers to read me the terms of service again.  I have been polite and have not raised my voice throughout this entire conversation and once again ask if he can provide me a refund, he states he would lose his job if he did so.  He then asks me if he can help me with anything else and instructs me to have a pleasant rest of my evening.  Well, screw you Paul and screw you Microsoft.  I hope you choke on your $3.99.  I also hope all of the other Zune customers out there who have had similar nightmarish customer service experiences speak out like I am.   I will never again use this service for Movie or Video rentals or purchases again, thank you very much.

For the final record I give you the only information this Supervisor would give me, his first name and the case reference number, should I ever need it.  I have sent an email to customer support at Xbox live with a summary of this call but don't expect any resolution there.  I am hoping that as many people as possible read this and realize that when you are renting movies through Zune you have ZERO recourse for a refund should you have technical difficulties with said Rental.  Stick with your cable provider or other reliable service such as Netflix or iTunes for your rentals and good luck out there.

--  Final Call Information
Supervisor - Paul

Reference # - 1149187659

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some of the Best Android Games

You've scoured the Marketplace.  You've installed App Finder.  You've searched for reviews online.  But yet you're still not satisfied with the gaming collection on your Android device.  You might even still be carrying around an iPod touch just waiting for the day when you can ditch it and finally go full on Android.  Myself, I've had the HTC Incredible for about 6 months and even though I still usually carry my Ipod touch with me the gaming scene is starting to shape up on the Android.  So just what is it that I'm playing on the platform?  Well, for starters we've got a few really good ports from the Ipod/Iphone world that have made the jump but there are also a few Android only gems that you should check out.  This post will be about games that I already have on the platform and in the future I'll add new posts to talk about new games.

First let's start with the games that have actually made it onto one of the precious 7 screens that we have in the HTC Sense UI.  I only have games on two of my screens, the farthest left two.  I have plenty of other apps that I use on a regular basis and I figure if I'm gaming then it's not really a big deal to just go to the apps and scroll to what I want.  I find that I install a lot of demo and free games and try to clean them up as often as possible but sometimes they just hang around and take up space.  Luckily I have the 16 gig sd card and use APPS2SD to get stuff over to the SD Card.  I still have the stupid out of space error occasionally on this phone that everyone else seems to have but I have more or less traced it down to the HTC Mail app that I use for work.  As long as I periodically clean it out then I can get the space issue to go away.  Sometimes marketplace apps won't even install when the space issue is rearing its ugly head but that's for another post.  What follows is a list of the games on my desktop and in order of playability (the ones I play the most are on the top) with a brief description of each...

WordFeud (Free) - This is like Scrabble only Free and you can play online.  I usually have 5-7 games going at one time and you get 48 hours to make each move.  Sometimes you can get into almost real-time playing if you have someone who checks it a lot.  I've also made a few friends here that I play regularly with.  Great game and a lot of fun to kill time while in line anywhere.

SlotManiac (Free) - Ok so this one is sort of a vice, I like slot machines.  They are easy mindless entertainment, I play them when I go to Vegas and love them.  This game gives you certain amount of free coin each day and you try to parlay that into a lot of money.  You also level up to play better and better machines.  Game Money can also be purchased with real money but I haven't gone there yet.

Angry Birds (Free) - These games are addicting but they can also get frustrating.  It's cool they are free on the Android platform.  See if you can get three stars on every level by taking out the pigs with your catapulted birds.  If you haven't tried this one yet go get it now.

Doodle Jump ($.99) - This game is a fun quick diversion and can be addicting if you get into the high score tables.  Basically just tilt your device back and forth to make the guy jump from platform to platform.  There are a lot of clones of this game including the popular World Attack on Android but I like this one better.

Reckless Racing ($.99) - A top down racing game that reminds me a lot of the old Iron Man 4x4 racing arcade game.  It can tend to slow down but that hasn't stopped me from playing it a lot.  Very fun if you like arcade fast paced racing games (Think Super Sprint)

Tropical Fish ($2.99) - This one kind of sneaked up on me.  It's the old match 3 type game but with a cute background story about a hot girl that likes to scuba dive.  The levels are challenging and I have probably played 3-4 hours probably only 20% into the total number of levels.

Fruit Ninja ($.99) - Slicing fruit with your finger is fun.  It's even more fun with Open Feint support and a few friends to battle it out with for high score.  Send me a note if you want my Open Feint ID so we can compare.

DynamoKid ($.99) - Another Open Feint game that grabbed my attention.  I love the looks and the music of this really cool side scroller.  The character moves all the time and then you press on the left side of the screen to make him jump and the right side of the screen to touch stars and or build platforms and or kill bad guys.  Kind of hard to explain but its the closest thing to mario I've seen that is done right.

NFS Shift ($.99) - An EA Game that is actually good, I downloaded a bunch of them when they had the $.99 sale including Sims and Tetris but this is by far the best one of the bunch.  Can get tiring and make you look stupid if you play it public but it is still a lot of fun and a great time waster.

. (Dot) (Free) - Another Open Feint game, not sure how they keep the quality up but hope they continue.  In the dot game you hold your phone flat and try to pick up circles while avoiding triangles.  If you hit a triangle your dot gets smaller, hit a circle and the dot gets bigger.  If the dot disappears then your game is over, see how long you can last.

Doodle Dash ($1.99) - Ok, another side scroller but this one has blood and guts in it.  Your guy is constantly moving left to right and you either jump or shoot.  The game graphics are great and the pace is frantic.  See how long you can last, wish you could jump and shoot at the same time but that is part of the challenge.

So there are 11 games worth looking into , they will set you back less than $15 and give you hours of entertainment in my opinion.  Others that have made it to my home screens but not detailed here include Checkers Free, Tic Tac Toe Free, Chess Free, Backgammon Free, Open Sudoku, Solitaire Free, SliceIt, Jewels, Doodle Bowling, Galcon and Robo 3.  Some of these will probably age out soon as they are not being played often enough.  I'll cover some more games soon, I just picked up Rope Cut, Mini Squadron, Jet Car Stunts, Humans Vs. Aliens and Gun Bros Beta.  Till next time...