Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blizzard Technical Support Comes Through

Last week, I got home on my lunch break from work and decided to fire up World of Warcraft so that I could do a little work on the seasonal Brewfest achievements. Before doing so, I checked my e-mail. Blizzard technical support had sent me an e-mail indicating that they had suspended my account because of a chargeback. I knew what had caused this. Just a few weeks back, my account got hacked by a gold spammer and it took me ages and several calls to Blizzard technical support to get my account back and to get my World of Warcraft characters restored. Obviously, when my account got hacked, the gold seller used a stolen credit card to buy time on my account. I figured it should be an easy enough fix.

And, to be honest, it was. After talking for a mere 5 minutes to a Blizzard customer service representative, my account was restored. I didn't even have to tell him the problem, I just mentioned the chargeback, which made him look up my account and he saw via previous trouble tickets I had opened that my account had been hacked. Bravo. I was happy about that. The only real issue is that it took me over an hour on hold to actually get to a representative. One has to wonder, if a Blizzard customer service rep could so easily determine that I had been hacked and that the chargeback was not my fault, then why would I have to initiate a call in order to get it removed? With all the gold scammers running rampant on the World of Warcraft servers, and all the chargebacks resulting because of them, Blizzard obviously has their hands full. Still, it doesn't take much of a leap to put 2 and 2 together and figure out what had happened to me.

I guess it really doesn't matter. An hour on hold isn't a huge deal when you consider that the problem got solved once and for all.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Purchasing Electronic Books

I've been on a huge reading kick lately, but there's a real dearth of new reading material in my house. I tried to fill the gap with issues of Time and Wired to no avail. I wanted to tear into a book and work through it. Yet, since I bought my Roku streaming device, I have been very anti-clutter. And books just add to the clutter. That's why I decided to try out some electronic books. I don't have a device like a Kindle or a Nook or even an iPad, and I'm not so sure that I even want one of those things. My trusty iPod touch is still plugging along and is perfectly capable of reading e-books either through its native iBook reader (available for iOS 4.1 or greater) or the download-able Amazon Kindle app.

I went with the iBook app for now because I like the interface better, although the selection on the iBook store leaves a lot to be desired. Kindle offers a fuller catalog of older books but iBook has a prettier user interface and takes Paypal as a payment option. So, I purchased "Sh*t My Dad Says" by Justin Halpern and "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs" by Chuck Klosterman. Reading them in the iPod touch is pretty easy and I don't find myself needing a larger screen in order to do so. In other words, I still do not want an iPad

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dual Electronics XDMA6630

This is a Sponsored Post written by me on behalf of Dual Electronics. All opinions are 100% mine.

My current car audio solution leaves a lot to be desired. It's outdated, underpowered and just not sexy. How bad is it? I'm sporting a tape deck! I need to get hold of something that will not only pound out some mad notes, but will also improve my cool factor as well. Enter the XDMA6630.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Mac Brothers Take Wrigley Field

The Mac Brothers with Harry Carey

I don't often get to hang out with my siblings without the spouses, kids and other distractions. So, when I decided that I would head up to Chicago for a weekend to relax and see some old friends, it felt like a great opportunity to get some of the family together to catch a ballgame. The Cubs just happened to be playing yesterday, so myself, CJ Mac and Mike took in the game with Jason tagging along. It would have been even better if I could have gotten Johnny Mac and our sister to attend, but this thing was so short notice, it was impossible to get everyone together.

Next year, though, we're all committed to getting together for a game. This time, the White Sox.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Hotel Room Is A Little Small

While we're bumming around downtown Chicago this weekend, Jason and I have opted to stay at the historic Chicago Essex Inn. It's a decent looking hotel, but our room is incredibly small. It feels like we got shoved into a maintenance closet. The room is so small, that when one of the Chicago Essex Inn staffers brought up the rollaway cot, he had no clue where he could possibly put it.

Watch Jason's rant about the issue below.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Work Within The System

I swear, I'm trying to be a kinder, gentler TommyMac. A TommyMac that is less prone to resorting to zany schemes when confronted with a problem. A TommyMac who tries to play by the rules just like everyone else. In keeping with that, when I discovered that kiddo's mom was in the hospital yesterday, I offered to bring the little one out to see her in the hopes that a visit would make her feel better. Now, I had been prevented from bringing my daughter into the hospital for visits before, and knowing that those arcane "no children under 16" visiting rules were still in place, I figured I had two options. I could either sneak her in like I had done before, or I could actually appeal to the hospital administration, explain the situation, and see if a solution could be arrived at that would make everyone happy.

Putting on my very best professional voice, I called the hospital and was eventually connected with someone who had an influence on the hospital visiting hours policy. The policy is a leftover from the H1N1 scare last year. It was enacted to help prevent the spread of the disease to young children. I was informed that, since the scare is over, the policy is currently under review by a committee. And, we know that committees work at the speed of bureaucracy, so the policy just hadn't been re-written yet.

I prevailed upon the administrator on the other end of the phone to allow an exception for my daughter as I felt that a visit from her would be an essential part of the healing process for her mother. The administrator readily agreed, guaranteed that I would be allowed to bring the kiddo in for a visit and assured me that she would contact the appropriate nursing station to advise them of the situation. With that, I happily brought the kiddo in for a visit without being accosted by an angry nurse with a strict adherence to policy.

It's nice to work within the system when you can. I want you all to know, though, even if my request had been rejected, I still would have found a creative way to sneak my daughter in for a visit.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm A Work Of Art

When I attended GenCon last month, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with a number of artists in the Vendor Area. There was a lot of talent there, but I was really impressed with the work of Brent Woodside of Woodside Illustrations in particular. He has done some spectacular work on various Lucas Film projects as well as some TOPPS trading card limited edition sketch cards. If you have a look at the online gallery, you'll see that he has a very distinct style that successfully merges realism with cartoon/fantasy elements.

Anyway, Brent did a pencil sketch of me in the guise of a typical World of Warcraft human rogue character. It arrived in the mail yesterday and I have to say that I really like the result. It's drawn in pencil on good quality 11x14 paper. He successfully captured what I would call the "essential TommyMac elements" which includes the high forehead, the cockeyed self-deprecating grin and the side-ways head tilt. I haven't had anyone attempt to do an artistic rendering of myself since getting a characterture done of myself at Navy Pier some 15 years ago. Upon seeing what Brent Had come up with, I knew right away that I should have had him do the picture in color when I had the opportunity. There's always next year. Meanwhile, I'm very pleased with what I've got. It might even be suitable for framing. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hand Meets Glass

I resolved this weekend to finally get my home workspace cleaned up. It was in dire need of it, too as I had let it go far too long between cleanings. As I surveyed the mess, I briefly considered employing a shovel to expedite the process, but, instead got down on my knees to tackle the mess with using my own two hands. As I began to sort through a pile of clothing, I heard a distinct crinkling sound; it was a sound I had become all to familiar with over the years: it was the sound of broken glass. By sheer, klutz-contaminated instinct, I lurched forward, losing my balance and sending me to my knees. I reached down to block my fall with my right hand, and that's when I felt it. The swift, burning pain shot through the palm of my hand and up to my elbow. I screamed loud enough for my dogs to bark wildly after me. Looking down only confirmed what I already knew: I had pierced the palm of my hand with a large shard of glass.

I'm not sure where it came from, perhaps the remnants of an old achievement certificate I had gotten from work and put up in the closet. It doesn't really matter. All that mattered was that I now had the dilema of whether or not I should remove the large glass shard from my hand, or leave it in. What could I do? I pulled it out! And, the moment I did, blood gushed all over. I grabbed a shirt from my closet and held it to my wound.

It is at this point where my tendency to get wordy with my stories has to be over-ridden. You see, 12 stitches later, my hand is killing me and typing isn't helping the matter. So, I'm going to make a long story short. I drove myself  to the hospital, got fixed up in no time, and counted myself very lucky that, when I fell, I happened to have my hand over my heart when I tried to break the fall. Had I not, the damage could have been much worse. So, it seems that Fate watches over fools, little children and people named TommyMac.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Coffee Fail

Should Have Checked For Cups

I haven't bothered to replace my coffee maker at home yet. I can't decide whether I want just a basic coffee maker or if I want to scale up and get some sort of coffee/espresso hybrid machine. It hasn't been a huge burden to deal with, because I can usually make coffee at work. That is, until I run out of coffee at work, which is what happened today.

Luckily, I had a dollar bill in my wallet, which would be enough to buy a cup of French Vanilla cappuccino from the gourmet coffee vending machine that trolls me at every opportunity. My need for coffee was so great that I decided to risk it. I wish I hadn't. As fate would have it, a full cup of coffee was already sitting in the coffee vending machine when I purchased my beverage. This, of course, resulted in the machine filling the cup that was already there to overflowing, thus denying me coffee.

Not the best way to start a Friday morning.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Twisted Legacy Of F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of such works as The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned, is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. Indeed, his contemporaries like J.D. Salinger, Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Elliot heaped praise upon him for his writing, often crediting him as an inspiration for their own work.  When he wasn't writing novels or short stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald spent his time working on his lesser known, yet more preferred hobby: trying to plunge the world in chaos.

Born in 1896, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a distant cousin and namesake of Francis Scott Key, author of The Star Spangled Banner. Growing up, Fitzgerald hated our national anthem due to the fact that it was sung to the tune of a popular British drinking song, To Anacreon in Heaven. Embarrassed by this blatant act of plagiarism and horrified that his distant cousin was lauded for his work, Fitzgerald took to alcohol and began to identify with a much closer blood relative: Mary Suratt. Suratt, who was first cousin once removed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, had, by the time of Fitzgerald's birth, already become infamous as one of the masterminds behind the Lincoln assassination. Seeing Suratt as a martyr, F. Scott Fitzgerald became determined to act. Yet he was fearful of being caught, jailed and forced into a life without alcohol. Fitzgerald meticulously planned a covert operation to disrupt the working of the American government by taking the lives of the wives of important government officials. He planned to do so though the use of contaminated feminize hygiene products.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's father had been a prominent salesman for Proctor and Gamble, which, at the time, sold candles door-to-door to housewives. As Proctor and Gamble grew into a multinational seller of consumer goods, F. Scott Fitzgerald used his father's connections to devise a plan with like-minded Proctor and Gamble research scientists to introduce to the market tampons that were too absorbent. So much absorption would substantially increase the growth of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, resulting in toxic shock syndrome and death. Fitzgerald had intended to see to it that Elanor Roosevelt, Sarah Jane Garner and even Bess Truman used the contaminated products, thus causing their deaths. This would result in a terrible distraction for the American leaders, keeping the United States out of World War II and ensuring a Nazi victory. It's not that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a Nazi sympathizer; he just wanted the world to remain in an era of despair so that his novels, which were primarily about struggle and strife, would keep selling.

Illness due to alcoholism would get the better of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his plan would not be put into action. Decades later, however, while rummaging through old files in the hopes of resurrecting old ideas, researchers at Proctor and Gamble stumbled upon the formula for the super-absorbent tampon that Fitzgerald had planned to use. Not knowing its origin, the Rely tampon was swiftly put into production in 1980. Thirty-eight deaths resulted from the toxic shock syndrome cases caused by the tampon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Google Voice Is Spoiling My Fun

It looks like the most recent update of Google Voice for the Android operating system has a pretty nasty bug. Whenever a user tries to record an incoming call, the caller is unable to hear the person who has been called after about 30 seconds. Of course, this usually leads to the caller hanging up. Reports of this bug are all over the Google Voice user forums and hopefully a resolution isn't too far away from being implemented.

But, what does this mean for me, personally? It means that some great opportunities to mess with telemarketers have been lost. I've gotten a few calls over the last week that have gone completely sour due to the Google Voice bug. Here are a few schemes that died because of it:

  • Telling a representative from Capella University, an online educational institution focusing on business administration curriculum, that I wanted to pursue a singing degree with them. They are, after all, "Acapella University" 
  • After telling a recruiter from University of Phoenix Online that Thomas Mac had been killed tragically, I proceeded to pretend to rant and cry like a distraught relative. I insisted that it had been his dream to attend University of Phoenix Online and that University of Phoenix Online should enact a memorial scholarship for him. By the time I explained that Thomas Mac had been killed after being run over by a beer truck driven by the Incredible Hulk, I realized that Google Voice had dropped the call. 
  • I asked someone from Walden University if they had a Klingon-American studies program. Thanks to Google Voice, the question fell on deaf ears. 
 I can only hope that someday soon, this Google Voice bug will be fixed, because, in the meantime, some great opportunities are being lost.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Car Reaches A Milestone

While driving back from my road trip to Dave and Melanie's last weekend, my car went through what is considered a solemn right of passage for any automobile: It crossed the 100,000 mile threshold. I found this to be a particularly auspicious occurrence because I've never owned a car that even passed the 75,000 mile mark. I was obviously bemused enough to pull out my camera and take some pictures and video of the changeover, though I wouldn't have been if I had known what the car had in store for me when I got home. I swear, the second I got the aging beast of an automobile into my driveway, it decided to blow its brake pads and rotors. Never mind that the thing already was in dire need of three tires and a complete windshield wiper mechanism overhaul. So, in celebration of reaching over 100,000 miles without spontaneously combusting, I took the car in today for some much needed repair and maintenance work.

My mechanic couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Get Your Masters Of Art In Teaching Online From USC

This is a Sponsored Post written by me on behalf of USC. All opinions are 100% mine.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Horror Of Instant Coffee

By early yesterday morning, I was still catching up on my sleep. Somehow, I managed to ooze out of bed and into the kitchen. I attempted to heed the pleas of my daughter to make her some cereal, but it was no use. I needed to jump-start my brain with some coffee before I could even hope to function.  I filled my trusty coffee maker with water and added a few plungers worth of my favorite ground coffee, clicked the START button and waited for the friendly gurgling sound to start. Nothing. Had I forgotten to put in the water? Nope.  It appeared that my coffee maker had decided to take Labor Day off.

I briefly considered bothering the neighbors for a few cups, but as the one to my left had recently moved out and the one to my right would most likely turn to ash upon contact with direct sunlight, I decided that I had no alternative but to settle for instant coffee. Instant Coffee. It pains me just to type it. It's an abomination. So, it was with much regret that I stuck a mug full of water into the microwave and reached for the tiny package of Folger's Instant Coffee that had been hidden in the darkest recesses of my cabinets.

The concoction that resulted from my adding Folger's crystals to hot water can most politely be described as vile. It was like I had added organic fertilizer to water. Sure, it was coffee in the strictest technical sense in that it was brown, had caffeine and had once long ago descended from a coffee vine, but what I ended up drinking would no doubt be a violation of the Geneva Convention had it been served to prisoners of war.

Reluctantly, I choked the revolting bile down and hoped that it would kick in as soon as possible. If nothing else, it heightened my appreciation for real coffee and has motivated me to replace the old coffee maker as soon as possible

Monday, September 6, 2010


It looked like it was going to be a great night on Friday. I was spending time with my friends Dave and Melanie and had gotten to see my god-daughter, thus partially fulfilling my promise to her that I would come around more often. We played a few rounds of cards, I played the old songs on the guitar and we talked about years gone by. I even discovered a great beer from Capital Brewery that incorporated wheat from Washington Island, a place I often visited with my family as a child. Life was good, or so it seemed as I started to drift off to sleep, thus ending a 48 hour insomnia cycle.

As I began to lose consciousness, something strange happened. My legs went numb and my mouth dried up. I staggered to my feet but then promptly fell to my knees. My heart rate kicked into overdrive and I began to hyperventilate. I recognized these symptoms. I was about to go into a panic attack. I've had them on rare occasions over the years, though this one felt much more intense than any I had ever had previously. I reached for my cell phone, took it apart into its component pieces and scattered them across the room, thus ensuring that I would not be panic dialing anyone.

I tried to calm myself down by repeating my name and the name of my daughter over and over again, intermixing those thoughts with a chorus of Aupres de ma Blonde (nothing like trying to focus on the lyrics to a bawdy French tune to keep your brain from melting). My body was in full rebellion against my mind. My body wanted to sleep, but my mind was determined to stay awake at any cost. I managed to pull myself up and walked to the bathroom where I let part of the 72 ounces of Capital Brewery's Wheat Beer that had been working through my bloodstream out into the toilet. I felt no sensation. I began to wonder if I was truly standing at the toilet. Perhaps I was passed out on the floor, barely awake as I pissed myself. I pinched myself. Did I feel something? I couldn't tell. I did it again. Inconclusive. I began to pace the room back and forth, my fingers brushing against the wall as I searched for sensation. I heard myself snoring as I walked.

I snapped back to consciousness for a moment and stumbled back to the heap on the floor when I had earlier been trying to sleep. My legs gave out and I collapsed on the floor. My arms were completely numb. I was convinced that I was dying. Was I having a heart attack? A stroke? Whatever was happening, as terrified as  I was, I was determined to fight it. I rolled over and my back scraped the cold tile. As I laid there, I felt like I had been put on a slab in the morgue. I was dead. I died in the home of a life-long friend. His kids would never be able play in that room again. My daughter would grow up without a father. My parents would outlive me. I'd have a craptacular funeral because I didn't write down anything that I wanted. There were so many things I needed to say to people. There was so much I still wanted to do.

No! I would not let this happen. My mind rebelled against the notion of dying and I once again crawled to my feet. I stumbled to the bathroom to pee again and to get a drink of water. Again, I pinched myself. Again, the results were inconclusive. Maybe I was dead and Dave's finished basement was some kind of limbo. Maybe I'd flush the toilet and the divine light of Heaven would shoot out of the bowl and show me the way home. Maybe this lack of knowing whether I was alive or dead was Hell. I went back to pacing the room in a sleepwalking stupor, my hands reaching out for any kind of sensation that would confirm to me that I was indeed alive.

I know now that it was the Sun breaking through the basement window, but, at the time, I thought it might be God coming to take me. I collapsed on the floor again, awaiting judgement. Before I gave up, I made a deal with God. If He let me live, I 'd right certain wrongs, live a better life, etc. The exact details of what I'd promised are a subject for another post. All I know is, the moment I said to myself "Okay, I surrender", I heard a door open and little footsteps coming down the stairs. It was my god-daughter.

"Is it time to wake up yet?", she asked.

"Yes", I said. This was the confirmation I needed. Whether it was all the result of an insomnia induced panic attack or a near death experience, I was indeed alive. "Yes, it is".

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ant Swarm!

As if the sensed that the approaching severe thunderstorm was near, I found a large swarm of ants on my driveway early last night. I don't know what they were up-in-arms about, but it made for a somewhat interesting video.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Video Conferencing With Facevision

This is a Sponsored Post written by me on behalf of faceVsion Technology USA. All opinions are 100% mine.

FvWith the economy being in the tank lately and our travel budget being close to nonexistent, the boss has been all about video conferencing. While video conferencing allows everyone involved to have a much richer conversational experience than a traditional phone call, it has always taken a significant amount of investment to get a system up and running. Small and medium sized businesses just can't afford the video conferencing solutions offered by major brands such as Polycom, Tandberg, and Radvision because of their high cost.

Maybe you've felt the same pain as I have when it comes to video conferencing. Thankfully, there's a solution out there and the folks over at faceVsion have it. How does a Skype-certified webcam that is capable of delivering full screen 720p streaming video over the Internet sound? That's exactly what the FV touchcam N1 offers. I have no doubt that, had I had one of these while my daughter was trying to show my mother her loose tooth, the video quality would have been excellent.

You might be tempted to go out and pick up some other webcam that has "HD" stamped on it, but the fact is that most of those supposed HD webcams cannot stream true HD quality over Internet. Sure, you'll get HD quality video, but you will only see it locally, you won't be able to stream it over the Internet. That's where FaceVsion Technology USA excels. Their built in H.264 hardware encoder is the key to making true HD quality video calls over Internet.

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