Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Online Movie Rental

I think online movie rentals is a great idea. I had been considering trying one of the services for a while and finally decided to give it a whirl last month. I kept seeing billboards for and I checked them out. They were cheaper than NetFlix AND offered video game rentals, so it seemed like a no brainer. I wasn't real jazzed about NetFlix anyway after reading about them "throttling" their high volume users.

So I paid my $16.99 and added some movies and a couple of games to my queue. They quickly shipped 2 movies and a game and I had them within two days. As I started trying to add movies to my queue, I realized why they were so cheap. Their selection was very limited. And when you selected the New Releases category, they listed all the movies that were recently released to DVD. Now, I know that makes it a new release, but I shouldn't have to browse through 6 pages of 70's movies to find a new movie. When you go to the video store, they don't put Smokey and the Bandit 2 in the New Release section just because it was just released on DVD.

Their navigation also left a lot to be desired. When you added a movie to your queue, they didn't provide a way for you to return to where you were when you added the movie. So you end up hitting the Back button and as a web developer, that's never a good thing when you are submitting information to a site. I just looked today to get the link and it looks like they have done a redesign, so maybe that is not an issue now.

Their customer service also pissed me off. They don't provide any phone contact, so it's all done through the website and email. They even have a help request for finding out if they carry a particular movie. I submitted a request because they didn't have The Sopranos Season 5. I found Season 4, but not 5. They just closed the ticket, no response, just closed it.

So I started searching for an alternative. I found a guy on the web (I can't find the link now) who compared all the services and rated Intelliflix highly. I check them out and they had either a $16.95 plan for 3 movies at a time or $24.95 if you wanted to be able to checkout games also. $24.95 is a little steep, so I decided the game rental could be done locally because I really don't rent many of them anyway. Plus, I generally only want them on the weekends A & Z are over and one thing I've learned from this online movie adventure is you can't control what you get or when you get it. So I sign up for the $16.95 plan and add about 50 movies to my queue. I was very pleased with their selection and when you click New Releases, you get new releases.

Alas, things were too good to be true. I notice my bank says the charge from Intelliflix was $18.45. No big deal, probably some sign up fee that I overlooked when registering. So I head to the site, go to Help and submit a ticket. They don't let you type more than 500 characters when submitting a ticket. Now, they do have a couple of dropdowns that let you narrow you ticket type down, but 500 characters is still pretty limiting. Still, no big thing. I send them a quick note asking what the extra $1.50 was. Get an immediate "Your ticket was received and is number ######, we'll get back to you shortly." A day passes and I get an email from support saying that it was forwarded to the billing department. Then nothing. No more response from anyone. I head back to the site and look for somewhere I can enter the number they assigned my ticket to see the status. Hmm, there's nowhere to do that. All you can do is submit new tickets. I just let the $1.50 slide and kind of forgot about it.

While this is going on, I've been watching movies. I got my first 3 and sent them back and then received 3 more. I noticed shipping was a little slower than G&F, because G&F seemed to be shipping everything from Kentucky, but Intelliflix was all over the map. What's an extra day though? After a couple of cycles, I noticed they had received all my returns, but hadn't shipped anything. They had been shipping 1-2 days after receiving a return. I waited 2 days and submitted another ticket saying "Hey, you're not sending movies, I've got 50 in the queue, surely something is in." I got back a response saying "We're sorry, we are looking into the problem and we made sure somethign got shipped to you." Sure enough, I get an email saying something was shipping out that night.

Now it comes time for the monthly charge. I have MSFT Money set to automatically enter the $16.95 and it does. I check my bank and surprise! They charge me $18.45. Another ticket, another forwarding to billing, but this time I get a response. It simply says that it is a processing fee. Hey, don't flood me in information here. What kind of processing fee? I'm not going to let them off that easy. I reply and ask what kind and is it an avoidable fee and if it is not, why is it charged separatly and not advertised? No response. Now I'm pissed.

I had gotten another batch of 3 and returned them. They marked one received on the 19th and the other two on the 20th. As of the 21st, they had not shipped anything, so once again I submit a ticket. And included my questions about the processing fee. I hit the 500 character limit (you knew that would come back up, didn't you?) and probably sounded like an idiot. Hey, it's hard to rant in 500 characters or less. And I get the exact same response (about shipping new movies) as before, just from a different person. So one movie ships on 22nd. I replied to the canned response and repeated my complaints about slow service and the processing fee question not being answered. I requested that my ticket be escalated to someone who would give me more than a canned response because they were in danger of losing me as a customer. That was on Monday, today is Wednesday and I have heard nothing from them. I haven't received the movie that shipped on Saturday and they haven't shipped anything else, even though my other 2 movies have been back for almost a week now.

I don't expect to get 100 movies a month for $17, but I do expect them to provide a basic level of service. If it takes 3 days transit both ways, I should be able to expect to have at least one new movie every weekend. My boys and I watched 2 movies 2 weekends ago and I sent one back on that Saturday and one on that Monday and I still haven't gotten a new movie.

Intelliflix has lost me as a customer. I'm going to finish this month since I paid for it, but I'm looking at the two remaining services. Blockbuster and NetFlix. I know people that use both, so I'm torn. I've never really liked Blockbuster and I don't like the idea of NetFlix manipulating customer's queues but I'm sure all of them do it. They are both the same price ($17.99), but Blockbuster adds the feature that you can print a coupon once a week to get a free in-store rental. Maybe that is my option, so if they aren't shipping movies or I don't have anything kid friendly on my kid weekends, I can just run down to the local Blockbuster and pick something up.

Anyone had experience with either of these and have any input?

Mein Gott! This is a long post. I apologize, I just got started and couldn't stop.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Does our government meet this criteria?

"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."

--Thomas Jefferson

IRS, FCC, USDA, ATF, SEC (not that SEC), Departments of Energy, Commerce, Labor, Transportation, Education, DEA, EPA, etc. Hmm, I don't think so.

Speaking of the ATF, "Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms" should be the name of a store, not a government agency. I know I would shop there.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fewer calories, less filling

I'm not much of a grammar policeman, I do love spotting misspellings, but I normally let the grammar mistakes go. Probably because I make so many myself. But if I were writing an advertisement, I would probably pay more attention to it. I noticed a sign on the way home today that has been there for years and I never really paid attention to it. It was at The Mac Authority in Nashville. The sign mentioned that Macs have 97,000 less viruses than PCs. Since you can count the individual viruses, it should be 97,000 fewer viruses.

Now back to your regularly scheduled life.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Eagle Eye Webcam

I had to share this link. It's a webcam viewing an eagle's nest. There are two eagles incubating two eggs.

Eagle Webcam

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Apparently, I have the best profession in America

According to this Money article, Software Engineer is the best job in America. Just a few years ago, the media was predicting nothing but gloom and doom for developers.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Catching up

I think I blogged myself out last week, I haven't had much to say. Things have settled back down since returning to town. I took this weekend and did as little as possible to unwind.

I hope everyone out there weathered the storms okay on Friday. I was worried for my grandparents because they were right in one of the areas hit and I couldn't reach them. I tried to go to their house, but traffic was too backed up and I couldn't get through. They finally called around 8:00 that night and everything was fine except they didn't have power. They didn't get it back until 9:00 Saturday night. And the church that was destroyed (Metro Baptist) was where they went to church.

I met up with a friend Saturday night that I hadn't hung out with in a while. We met up w/ some friends of his from work and listened to karaoke. Suprisingly, about half of it was pretty good. There were actually some people that could sing. I didn't stay too long though, I was really tired. In fact, I slept late both days this weekend. My allergies are acting up, so I've needed my rest.

Z's baseball team made up their Friday night game on Sunday. They won a nail-biter 4-3. I've got a lot of kid activities this week, last night was the only night this week where something wasn't going on.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dev Connections Day 4

I don't have my notes in front of me, so some of the titles may be wrong.

8:00 - 9:15
TDD and SharePoint Web Parts

This was interesting and the presenter did a good job, but it wasn't much new information. In fact, most of it was exactly like a presentation I gave a month ago to other developers at my company.

9:30 - 10:45
Synchronous and Asynchronous Web Services in .Net 2.0

This was a great session. Cody was in this session and he had see the presenter before. He said he was good and knew his stuff. He was right about that. Microsoft just keeps making it easier to write code. Asynchronous Web Service calls are almost as easy as synchronous in 2.0.

10:45 - 11:15
This was a coffee break. About 10 minutes before the next session started, I got a phone call from work. One of our SQL Log files was eating up all the disk space on our test server. I had to go to the car and get my 10 lb laptop and VPN in and fix it. The database got in a weird state because of the lack of disk space, so I just deleted the database. I'm subtle as a sledgehammer.

11:45 - 12:30
Security for the SharePoint Developer

I will give the guy the benefit of the doubt on this one since I came in 30 minutes late. But he was flat and uninteresting and instead of doing demo code, he showed us part of a real application. You would think that would be better, but when there is so much code around the concepts you are trying to teach, it makes it very difficult because you start having to explain way too much. I left and relaxed in the lobby.

12:30 - 1:45

We had a good box lunch. Cody and I practically redesigned the app we just finished with some of the stuff we learned.

1:45 - 3:00
Improving Performance & Scalability for .Net Applications

This was the best session of the week. Steven Smith did a great job of providing tips for improving your app's performance. I had to leave right at the end so we could make it to the airport.

We are sitting at the airport now. We should be boarding in 30 minutes. I'm ready to go home, I'm very tired.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Dev Connections Day 3 Part II

Just got back from the party. Great food! They had casino games set up and Lee, Cody and I played poker for an hour and a half. I wish we had been playing for real money, because I started w/ $30,000 and finished with $108,000 (excluding the last hand where everyone went all in).

I also forgot to say thanks to the guy who returned my wallet today. Apparently, it fell out of my pocket during the second session today. After the 3rd session, someone called me and told me he had found my wallet. I didn't catch his name, but to the tall bald guy, thanks a million. I'm glad you thought to look at my business card and call my cell phone. If you had just turned it in someone, I might never have got it back. Thank you.

It is time for bed. Final day is tomorrow, it's going to be a long day.

Dev Connections Day 3

Well, it's 5:30 on day 3. The day isn't over yet. We are going back at 7:30 for the party. Free steak and chicken. One thing I can say is the food has been excellent here.

I originally planned on blogging the actual information in the sessions, but I just don't have time to get to that, so I'm going with more of a quick summary and review. I have about 5 of the sessions I'm going to go back and write more in depth summaries and will either post them here or at (when I get it up and running).

The sessions were 1 hour long yesterday and we had a keynote in the morning and 4 sessions. Today, the sessions went to 1 hour 15 minutes and we had 5 sessions.

8:00 - 9:15
SOA and SharePoint - Using Web Services to aggregate disparate data sources

It was a mouthful of a title, unfortunately the content didn't live up to the title. Bob Mixon is a low talker. He kept getting off track telling us about how his system is setup or how does this nifty post build event. It reminded me of when you are replacing someone at a job and they are leaving. The last day when they are supposed to be training you, they keep bouncing around saying "oh, yeah, this is neat, wait I have to show you this over here and that over there."

9:30 - 10:45
How the Core ASP.NET Engine Works

This was really a filler session for me. There was nothing else I wanted to go to. But Rick Strahl blew me away. I think he knows more about the internals of ASP.NET than most of the MSFT guys. Excellent speaker and very knowledgeable. As he said at the beginning, there wasn't a lot of practical take-away information, but it's good to know how the "magic" happens.

10:45 - 11:15
Coffee break. Cody, Lee (another co-worker from a different dept) and I compared notes on our sessions. I drank a Mt Dew and a Starbucks Mocha iced coffee and I can feel the caffeine coarsing through my veins.

11:15 - 12:30
Building a Corporate Telephone Directory w/ SharePoint

He could have given us all the useful information in 10 minutes. This plain sucked and I don't want to waste anymore time typing about it.

12:30 - 2:00
Lunch (very good lasagna and meatballs. And some kind of vegetable dish that was heavy on the zucchini. Normally I don't like zucchini but this was awesome)

Cody and I walked around the hotel and tried to teach a parrot to say "asshole." It kept saying "Hello" and "cracker." Stupid bird.

They gave away the Harley. A Russian girl won it. They asked if she likes motorcycles and she said her boyfriend would. I bet he will. If she plays it right, she can trade that motorcycle for a ring.

2:00 - 3:15
Building Web Parts the Smart Way

Great job by Patrick Tisseghem. Great info on the SmartPart which I guess I will be using soon.

3:15 - 3:45

I am taking all of my white shirts and throwing them away. On the flight down here, I was wearing a white polo. I was eating a muffin. I dropped a bit of muffin onto my shirt, where it left a stain! Who but me can get a muffin stain on them? During the break, I was eating a very tasty dessert. It had a plump, juicy raspberry, I poked it with my fork to eat it and it squirted its juice all over my 2nd white polo. Only black shirts for me from now on.

3:45 - 5:00
Advanced Web Part Development

The presenter, Scot Hillier, was very knowledgeable and a great presenter. The content just wasn't very useful because it dealt with building web parts in .Net 1.1 and I work exclusively in 2.0.

I may post more after the party, or I may not. Depends on if anything cool happens.

DevConnections Day 2

Sorry for the delay in posting yesterday.

8:00 - 9:00
We started off at 8:00 with another keynote speech. Prashant Sridharan spoke about MSFT Team System. You know the piece of $10,000 software that you can recreate with Open Source software for free. The session was pretty boring. It's nice spending this much money and having a marketing pitch thrown at you. One thing he mentioned was a new VS ad campaign at . There were a few humorous clips.

9:30 - 10:30
Deep Dive Into ObjectDataSource

I was looking forward to this one. We design our apps to have objects in a middle tier and this seems to be targeted exactly to that. Kashif Alam was the speaker for this session. Basically, he demoed the same databind/paging/sorting crap that they do in all the demos. He just used an ObjectDataSource instead of SqlDataSource. That's fine if he had used a real object, you know like a custom class, but he just used a typed dataset. Also, his presentation leaves a lot to be desired. He is well-spoken, but very lowkey and he jumps around in the code a lot and never completes a thread.

He referenced which look pretty cool.

10:45 - 11:45
Creating Dynamic Web Sites w/ ASP.NET Web Parts

As is becoming the standard, the slides were not in the book. Remember, this is the extra book I paid $100 for. Thanks.

My first boneheaded move of the conference. The way the doors were labeled, we were in D&E and should have been in F (which was in the back of the room). So we sat in the wrong session for 20 minutes. We were wondering when he was going to get to web parts. We found the right room and discovered that the session we wanted had been rescheduled. So we went to the mobile pc lab and checked out tablets and got a hat.

11:45 - 1:30
Lunch and cruising the vendor area for more swag.

1:30 - 2:30
Visual C# Under the Covers

This is covering new stuff in C# 2.0 and upcoming features in 3.0. The presenter was Mads Torgersen and he did a very good job. This has been the best session so far. There is going to be some cool stuff in C# 3.0; Lambda trees, Extension methods and the LINQ stuff are very interesting.

2:45 - 3:45
Overview of Patterns & Practices Library

This was pretty lame. The only Enterprise Library pattern I was even remotely interested in was the Logging. And it doesn't support rolling log files, so log4net is still my choice.

4:15 - 5:15
ASP.NET 2005 Tips and Tricks

I didn't have high hopes for this, except for the fact that it was Scott Guthrie presenting. But it was awesome. Lots of useful stuff. He showed an RSS from MSFT that lets you write a few lines of code and generate an RSS feed for your site. That will be added to very soon.

We came back at 7:00 to the MSFT "Unplugged" event. Free pizza and beer and a Q&A session with all the MSFT guys. Some people had some good questions. I didn't get to ask mine. I wanted to know what they thought the advantages were with Team System over Open Source alternatives. After that, we went and watched the Florida-UCLA game.

Day 3 should be up tonight. It's actually lunchtime on day 3 right now.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Dev Connections Day 2 Postponed

Postponed until tomorrow.

Dev Connections Day 2 Quick Note

Full post on day 2 will be up later tonight. I'm just taking a break before the MSFT Unplugged event tonight, not enough time to type up all my notes.

Just wanted to post a link to another blogger that is at the conference. He helped me name the rocket I mentioned last night...projectile swag. Check his blog for a video of the swag in action.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Dev Connections Day 1

It has been a long day. My flight left this morning at 11:35 and landed in Orlando at 2:00. Between daylight savings time and the flight into the Eastern time zone, I lost 2 hours today. The flight was smooth, but the plane was small and crowded. Cody (my co-worker) and I watched Saw II while waiting to board and then we finished on the plane. It was good, but I liked Saw better.

A couple of U-turns later, we found our hotel and checked in, then headed to check in at the conference. Check was very smooth, they gave us backpacks with all the books and CDs and info. It took less than 2 minutes to check in. We had 2 hours til the keynote started, so we headed to Chevy's Fresh Mex and had way too much food.

The keynote was not bad, but it wasn't much new stuff. Scott Guthrie (ASP.NET team) and Mike Nunn (formerly SQL Server PM, now on Visual Team System) gave keynotes. Scott talked about building Atlas apps, but gave basically the same demo that is on the Atlas page.

Mike Nunn talked about SQL Server and its integration with Visual Studio. He demoed CLR integration w/ SQL Server, which has greatly improved since the beta. Last time I looked at it, you had to jump through hoops to get it to work. Now you create a project, add some code and click Deploy. He also showed some Business Intelligence capabilities, which I will have to check out later. It was way high level and I didn't really get the use of it.

After the keynote, they had a dessert reception. Lots of desserts, a bar and vendors. We had a free drink ticket, thankfully, cause beers were $5. We walked around and collected swag. Score so far: 3 t-shirts and one of those rockets that you pull the string back and fire from your finger (see the image). I know there will be another free tshirt from MSFT tomorrow and they are giving away a Harley, several tablets and other goodies.

I'm done for the day. I'm going to call my A and Z and then hit the bed.

Weekend Update

Friday night was the "season opener" for Z's baseball team. One of the Tennessee Titans, Jacob Bell, threw out the first pitch. It's great to see these guys doing stuff like this in the community. Too often, all you see is people like T.O. on TV making an ass out of themselves. But you never hear about the players going out on a Friday night to a small town baseball game. It made the kids' night. He stuck around for about 30 minutes signing autographs for all the kids at the park.

Ozzie, the Nashville Sounds mascot, also came out. I've had kids playing ball there most of the last 7 years and I've never seen them do stuff like this. Someone there is doing a good job. I took some pictures of Jacob Bell and Ozzie, but since my camera doesn't have a good lens, my far off shots suck. I need to save up $1000 to buy a good camera. Of course, I need to save up $1000 to buy a lot of things.

Z did pretty good Friday night. He walked twice and struck out once. Both times he walked, he got stranded on base, so he never got to score. They won, 6-0. Saturday's game, Z struck out twice. He took a bunch of strikes, I think he was looking for a walk again. But his team still won, 7-6. Z and I practiced some that afternoon, I taught him how to bunt. It's fun when they move up into the age group where kids pitch and they can bunt and steal.

I woke up this morning to very loud thunder. Nothing like being woken up by a thunderstorm the morning you are getting on a plane. I just checked and everything is still on time. I've never flown in one of the smaller jets before. See y'all in Orlando!