Thursday, March 19, 2015

Family Protection Security Calls Me.

I got a robo call from (618) 690-0276. On the other end was an interactive robo named Andy that employed voice recognition technology and then forwarded me to an agent trying to sell me a home security system. These guys try to claim that they work for GE Security, but, they don't. And they might actually offer a security system, but they do so at an incredibly inflated price. I have a particular disdain for these types of callers as they make their living bilking money out of older folks. I had this guy on the phone for nearly 10 minutes, at first messing with him, saying a bunch of goofy things. Some highlights include:

  • I told him I loved technology and had a highly technical Japanese toilet
  • I claimed to be a shut-in who was afraid of being stuck on the toilet
  • I confused "motion sensor" with "emotion sensor" and got excited that the security system would be able to sense my emotions.
  • Me burping several time
  • Upon hearing that a person's home is broken into every 13 seconds, I wondered why that poor person didn't buy a security system and wondered how he'd have anything left taking after being robbed so often.
Once I blew my cover, I lit into the guy on the other end of the phone for earning his money by cheating folks out of theirs. In this guy's attempt to prove he was legit, he gave me another number to call, (310) 362-3060 which ended up to be an invalid number as well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Goat Simulator

I had been hearing about Goat Simulator from by daughter for the better part of the week. She had seen a "Let's Play" on it from one of her favorite Youtubers and wanted to get it. So, once her report card came back clear, I broke down and bought Goat Simulator for her. Of course, I had to try it out myself in order to make sure it was appropriate.

The developers over at Coffee Stain Studios made Goat Simulator as a fun project for Game Jam and didn't intend to release it to the public. Once public outcry motivated them to release it, the put a little polish on it, slapped a $10 price tag on it and released it out into the world. And, for a $10 game, it's a lot of fun. You're a goat. And you run around head-butting things which leads to horrific screams and Michael Bey-esque explosions. It's basically a "pewdiepie" game. What I mean by that is that it's a game made for the express purpose of filming yourself doing things like blowing up a propane tank and then laughing or screaming your head off, then you run over to the next thing you can interact with and repeat the process so that you get enough footage for a small Youtube clip.

That being said, I haven't had this much fun just mucking about in an open-world game in a long time. Goat Simulator is a fun game to just turn your brain off and explore in. There's a lot of hidden unlockables around the game world and there are a number of zany achievements to try to get. And I haven't even explored any mods yet.

Basically, Goat Simulator is the stupid popular game of the month. It's funny, amusing and worth a bit of cash, but soon enough, we'll all move on, but we've had fun with it, and that's all that matters. I'd say kiddo and I both got $10 worth of entertainment out of it.

These PETA Protestors Won't Appreciate The Irony....

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Brain Storm Elite Calls Me....Twice

There's a supplement out there called Brain Storm Elite that supposedly helps you with focus, memory and other cognitive functions. They called looking for Clovis early the other morning and Clovis expressed concern about explosive-diarrhea as a side effect. The call got cut off. About an hour later, another rep from Brain Storm called and, by then, Clovis figured that he wanted a supplement that would make him forget things rather than help him remember. That particular rep doled out some life-coaching advice for him and then hung up when Clovis claimed to have "A PhD in Awesome!"

As nice as these two reps were, I have no qualms about messing with them, given the rampant reports of Brain Storm engaging in billing fraud. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Google Shuts Down SoftCard

In a move that should upset about four people, Google has acquired and destroyed SoftCard, the NFC-based (tap-n-pay) mobile payment system developed by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Originally known as ISIS Wallet when it was launched in 2010, SoftCard had to change its name in 2014 in order to avoid confusion between it and the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which was also known under the abbreviation "ISIS". In order to drive users to Softcard, carriers intentionally blocked competing NFC payment systems such as Google Wallet, so, the brain trust behind Softcard are reaping what they've sown here.

My own experience was that, while Softcard had a better UI than Google Wallet, Softcard's ability to actually work was very hit and miss, so I hardly ever used it. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Bosley Hair Restoration Doesn't Handle Merkins

I got another call from Bosley Hair Restoration recently. The rep was really polite, so I was able to keep her on the phone for nearly ten minutes. During the course of the call, I pretended to think that Bosley wanted to help me with hearing loss and wondered if I could get super hearing out of it. The poor rep even sat through me musing about potential super hero names and even listened to my super hero theme song. Further into the call, I tried several times to delicately ask if Bosley only replaced hair on one's head. Eventually, I was able to get the rep to tell me that Bosley doesn't restore hair where the sun doesn't shine.

Monday, March 2, 2015

There's Too Much Poop On Mount Everest

Nepal's Chief of Mountaineering, Ang Tshering, has recently said that human waste left by climbers on Mount Everest has become a problem, causing pollution (poo-lution?) and threatening to spread disease on the world’s highest peak. Nearly 700 climbers and guides make the ascent each season and, when they do, they leave all of their feces and urine up there. “Climbers usually dig holes in the snow for their toilet use and leave the human waste there,” Tshering said, adding that the waste has been “piling up” for years around the four camps on Mount Everest. Nepal’s government has not come up with a plan yet to tackle the issue of human waste, but the government imposed new rules last year requiring each climber to bring down to the base camp 18 pounds of trash, which is the amount it estimates a climber discards along the route. Climbers either bring down 18 pounds of trash of forfeit their $4,000 deposit. Guess which one they're probably going to do?

Suffice to say that the feat of climbing Mount Everest has diminished quite a bit since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's first trek in 1953. It's certainly still a hazardous and hostile environment, but, when you've got hundreds of inexperienced tourists going up there for that all important #TopOfTheWorld selfie, waste management isn't going to be a priority. And Heaven help you if you die up there, because you won't be coming back either. If you're up for some heartbreak, just do an image search for "Everest bodies". We've essentially turned our tallest mountain into a mountain of shit. Organic matter will decompose up there, as there are several varieties of fungus that live happily in the sub-zero temperatures, but that decomposition happens at a snail's pace. Maybe if we just wait it out, global warming will melt all the snow and the shit will come flowing down with everything else in a big shit avalanche. Shitvalance? Shitnado? I think I just wrote Sci-Fi Channel's next disaster movie.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Choice Home Warranty Scam Is Looking For Fat Albert

I've been getting a lot SPAM lately from a place called Choice Home Warranty, so I decided to fill out one of their web forms. I listed my name as "Albert Cosby". Within 24 hours, I got a call. Initially, the guy on the other end was pretty amused by my Fat Albert impression, but, when Albert took umbrage at having his weight called out, things got a little heated. Soon, Bill Cosby himself had to intervene. The salesman seemed to enjoy my bad Bill Cosby impression at first but grew increasingly frustrated when I wouldn't let him get a word in and hung up about three and-a-half minutes into the call.

The number they call from is (732) 947-5442

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Legal Help Center Calls Me

I got a call yesterday from a lady claiming to be from "Legal Help Center". My caller-ID reported the number as (702) 224-2006. Basically, I got called by a group of virtual ambulance chasers hoping to cash in on class action lawsuits against manufacturers of faulty trans-vaginal mesh p[roducts. The lady on the other end was sticking heavily to her script, so when I told her that I would have no need for a trans-vaginal mesh lawsuit since I was male, she seemed a bit confused as how to proceed. 

The number they supposedly called from, 702-224-2006 is one that has been used for the past 12 months to push various scams like medical research, health insurance, etc. It's obviously connected to a boiler-room call center staffed by foreign workers. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Bosley Hair Restoration Calls me

The folks over at Bosley Hair Restoration called me recently. Seeing as I had just gotten my hair cut a few hours previous to the call, I wasn't really in the mood to talk about hair transplants. So, after the rep went into her pitch, I remarked that I didn't know that Tom Bosley was still alive. The lady on the other end didn't seem to know who Tom Bosley was. Must not have been a Happy Days fan. I then told her that I would love to see a movie about Tom Bosley eating beans. Before I could make a pitch for a Kickstarter project to finance a Tom Bosley bean-eating movie, the lady interrupted me, called me unprofessional and hung up on me.

I didn't even get a chance to work in a Charlie's Angel's joke. Maybe next time.

PS: RIP Tom Bosley. 1927-2010

Monday, February 2, 2015

Amazon Started Collecting Sales Tax In Illinois

If there were a Razzie award for "Worst State in The Union", not only would Illinois show up to collect it, but it would then give a passionate speech about how hard it worked to become the worst, would sell the award on eBay and would charge the buyer sales tax after doing it. This month, ensured compliance with the Illinois online sales tax law and has started collecting 6.25% sales tax on all items purchased through its site by Illinois residences. Brick mortar retailers in Illinois have praised the new law without realizing that they're shooting themselves in the foot in the long run for short sighted apparent gains.

I hate to sound like I'm vehemently anti-tax, because I'm not, but I do believe that the tax burden in Illinois is already too heavy. Merely looking at my property tax bill is enough to make my pocket book vomit twenty dollar bills. And while I do support Illinois' constitutional duty to properly fund our schools with tax revenue, I realize that they do so at half the funding rate of other states. Which, again, kicks the tax burden down the road so that other sources of funding can pick it up. Thus comes the online sales tax leading to that sinking feeling that we in Illinois are being taxed into oblivion.

Illinois isn't the first state to force major online retailers to collect sales tax. Twenty-three other states have similar requirements. Amazon can expect purchases to fall off about 10 percent, if Illinois residents are anything like the folks in other states. For big purchases, Amazon could see a decline as high as 25 percent from Illinois residents. The thing is, the 10 percenters and 25 percenters aren't taking that money to brick and mortar shops in their respective states. They're just going to other online retailers that don't collect the tax.

There are some instances where you can buy from Amazon and still avoid the sales tax. Purchase from an Amazon seller or purchase a product that says "fulfilled by Amazon" in the description. Those retailers don't have a taxable presence and will sell to you without collecting sales tax.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The New My Coke Rewards Sucks

For about three years now, I've been somewhat meticulous about entering Coca-Cola bottle cap codes into the MyCokeRewards website. It's a fairly pointless endeavor, as, by my calculations, each point is worth only about three cents. Collecting and entering codes is like saving up pennies in a jar. Still, it's easy to do and the points do add up. Eventually.

Recently, the brain trust over at MyCokeRewards revamped the website. In addition to the code entering, there is now a series of social challenges that you have to do in order to earn status. Greater status unlocks better rewards that you can use your points for. The social challenges entail linking your social networking accounts and posting content from MyCokeRewards to it, which essentially turns you into a shill for Coca-Cola. It's no longer enough to simply offer a loyalty program, My Coke Rewards now wants its customers to help them trend on social media.

It's a poor business practice. First off, focusing so much on social media penetration is pointless, as Coca Cola isn't going to get much more brand awareness or attract many new customers via this method. Second, all of the shilling that My Coke Rewards is having their members do consists of re-posting content, thus relegating the tweets and statuses to little more than Internet background noise. Sure, MyCokeRewards may trend, but the content that pushed the trend will be meaningless.

I can't help but think that My Coke Rewards should have thrown a bone to its loyal customer base and elevated everyone who was a member before the status system to the highest status. That hasn't happened, though, and it won't ever happen because it makes no sense from a corporate standpoint. There are millions of people who have a decent amount of points already sunk into the system and, in order to get a chance to redeem those points for some non-lame rewards, those customers are going to shoot for Gold status. So, they'll re-tweet and re-post content like some heroin addict making promises to his dealer in order to score a future hit.

And the worst part about this whole ordeal is that the brain trust over at My Coke Rewards has disabled the ability to send in your codes via text. I hope that's only temporary, as that had been the only way to avoid dealing with the insanity of their website. 

Me? I'm out. What was once a recreational use of points has now become too impactful on my lifestyle. Forget the sunk cost. I'm cutting my losses. The only way to win this game is not to play.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SIMCITY BuildIt Review

The level of respect I have for Electronic Arts has been declining for several years now. It took a huge tumble last year with the release of their lobotomized PC version of SimCity. Actually, I didn't think my opinion of Electronic Arts could get any worse. The release of SimCity BuildIt for Android and iOS has proven me wrong.

The whole point of the SimCity franchise is that it's a City Simulator. And, yet, as I expected, there's not much simulation going on in SimCity BuildIt. It's more like a crafting game where you wait for various pieces of the neighborhood to spin up and fit in. It's basically an urbanized version of Hay Day. And, just like any freemium game, if you don't like waiting, you can pay real money to buy enough virtual currency to craft things instantly.

Honestly, though SimCity BuildIt is somewhat fair with regards to the virtual currency. The craft timers are fairly reasonable and there aren’t any hard-lined pay wall barriers. Of course, coin shortage is a constant problem by design but BuildIt has a number of ways that you can easily earn more. There are plenty of opportunities to sell crafting materials to the AI. You can also sell materials to other players online. The most effective use is to use them to upgrade residences which will earn you a fair amount of coins instantly. In order to expand your land, you have to acquire certain special items, and the method for doing so seems to be too random, so it's incredibly frustrating.

Still, SimCity BuildIt is a beautiful game to look at. You have full rotational control over the town and even the low-class buildings are gorgeously detailed. But, the graphics are just are superficial means to entire you into spending some bucks so you can build even prettier buildings. And the truly gorgeous structures have costs in amounts that one can never hope to achieve without paying for some virtual cash.

All things considered, SimCity BuildIt isn't bad for a freemium game. But, if you're a fan of the old SimCity franchise, you're going to be frustrated and disappointed.

Cow Fart Valley

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

National Claims Center Calls Me

I got a call recently from someone claiming to be from the National Claims Center hoping to find someone in need of federal disability benefits. First, I got a recording from (561) 231-1541 and it told me that I'd soon be getting a call from a live representative. The live rep called from (561) 231-5017 claiming to be from the National Claims Center and asked if I or anyone in my household needed help filing for disability benefits. Since this seemed like some boiler-room cold call scam, I put on my Clovis voice and messed with her a bit. You can hear her getting more and more frustrated as the call goes on. At one point, I reprimand her for interrupting me, after which she soon politely says he goodbye and signs off.

Monday, January 12, 2015

LegoLand Discovery Center Chicago

I'm a Lego fanatic. In fact, one of the happiest days of my childhood was the Christmas when I received the Lego knight's castle. It's that passion for Lego that inspired me to bring the family to the LegoLand Discovery Center in Chicago over holiday break and it's that passion that I found lacking in every single employee in the place.

Before I delve further into this review, let me offer a tip: Buy your tickets online. Trust me on this one. You'll be able to bypass the drones stuck waiting in line to buy their tickets at the counter. And, if you can arrange it, try to buy the "Arrive after 3pm" tickets, as they are cheaper and the LegoLand Discovery Center is open late enough that you won't miss anything by arrivng so late in the day. And don't bother purchasing the "Activity Pack". At $5 extra per person, it's not worth it. I offer these money making tips and tricks because LegoLand Discovery Center is just not worth paying full price or waiting in line for.

The kids were all excited to go because, like me, they are Lego fanatics. In fact, they avoided buying anything at the traditional Lego store we encountered during a little side-trip because we were all sure that the gift shop at the LegoLand Discovery Center would have a better selection of items. It doesn't. Not by a long shot. It's basically the same type of store you'll find in any large mall. And, considering that you have pay so much to gain admission, you'd think that they'd offer a small discount on the items they sell. A better business model is definitely needed.

By far, the most disappointing feature of the LegoLand Discovery Center is the employees. They have no passion for what they're doing and there were times when they were downright rude. I get it; an environment packed to the gills with tons of kids running around doesn't exactly inspire smiles. And it wouldn't be so bad if every single employee wasn't slow and plodding at their job.

The play area is utter chaos, which is to be expected. Don't expect peaceful play in a place that admits children of all ages. And it was disappointing to see that no one was staffing the play areas. The Duplo area, intended for kids five and under, was overrun by older kids without any supervision. A staff member in the area just to maintain control or even to have a presence would go a long way.
That being said, some of the Lego exhibits were impressive. Chicago in Lego looked incredible and was, for me, the highlight of the visit. The Dragon Ride was very cool, but the line to got on was longer than the actual ride lasted. And the ride didn't work properly as it had trouble tallying the shot scores of everyone in the gondola. There's also a 4D movie based on Lego Chima. Unfortunately, many of the 4D features were not working during our visit.

So, my own recommendation is that you avoid LegoLand Discovery Center Chicago if you can at all help it. You don't get much bang for your buck.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Medieval Times Review

We decided to take take the kids to Medieval Times: Chicago Castle (actually in Schaumburg, IL) last Thursday night as part of our ongoing New Year's vacation. Back in my post-college days, I lived about ten minutes from that place and had always wanted to go, but never quite got around to it, basically because my friends and I often referred to it as "Ye Olde Tourist Trap"

The show is much like the Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur Hotel in Vegas. There's lots of fanfare, actors wearing costumes and talking in pseudo-old English accents, jousting, sword fights, utensil-less food, and wenches serving ale (at substantially marked up prices).

Don't expected to get seated right away. Upon entering, you're led off to the great hall where you can buy various souvenir trinkets and where various upsell ceremonies take place. The Hall was packed to the gills with people making it hard to move around. I got so antsy over it that paying $10 for a beer in a souvenir mug actually seemed like a good idea. Anything to take the edge off.

Once you get in, you're served a decent meal of texas toast, soup, chicken breast, grilled potato wedge, riblet and an apple turnover. Not bad. But, we didn't come for the food. We came for the show. As an actor myself, I appreciated how hard the actors at Medieval Times worked to battle each other and play to the crowd. The only bad thing I can say about the performance was that when any defeated jouster got knocked off their horse, the actors quite clearly jumped and it looked really fake. However, the rest of stage combat was really good. Whenever they clashed swords, sparks literally flew (something gimmicky about the swords, no doubt)! I also loved seeing the knights using flails and shields as weapons.

Overall, I can say that we all had a great time and were glad that we went. Medieval Times is not particularly cheap, though. And there are a ton of upsell packages to wade through. Yes, it's gimmicky and yes it's touristy, but it's fun and it's something you should do at least once.

Google photos made an auto-awesome movie of the video footage I shot at Medieval Times Chicago Castle. If you have a look at it, you can get a decent idea of what to expect.