The general category for posts on this blog.

They don`t live here anymore

Furthering my pursuit to stop junk mail, I have begun attacking the mail that I get that it addressed to previous residents of my home or people who have never lived here.

The first step is the catalogs and coupon mailers that come addressed to someone else “or Current Resident”. One previous tenant was a golfer, I’m not, so the weekly (sometimes twice weekly) fliers from the Golfsmith has to go. The fliers contained no information for opting out of their mailing list, no phone number to call, except the local store who informed me that they were not responsible for the fliers and he wouldn’t give me the main office number. But in the age of the Internet, this didn’t stop me. I went to the Golfsmith website and used their contact page. After a few emails back and forth trying to make the customer service team there understand that I hadn’t ordered anything and just wanted off the mailing list, they finally got it and have claimed that I have been removed.

Thankfully, that was the hardest one to deal with so far. Others have immediately understood what I wanted and responded accordingly, so the catalog of horrifically expensive watches should stop, the fishing catalog, and handful of others should stop within the next few weeks.

Next to deal with are the real mail items for other addressees. Legally, I can’t open their mail to find out if there is a contact number. Nor am I supposed to just throw it out. According to the post office, mail not addressed to me should be marked “Not at this address” and left in the mail box. I’ve been doing this for almost a year now and they still deliver mail for the same wrong people. I suppose I may just have to live with it.

The last thing to deal with is random junk mail, usually for local businesses or those packets of coupons for services I don’t need from companies I’ve never heard of. This level of junk is called Direct Marketing, and there just happens to be a Direct Marketing Association and they publish a method to be removed from their lists. You can find the instructions here. Now, unlike the prescreened credit offers I posted about before, being removed from this list isn’t free. It is going to cost you $1 per name/address combo you want removed. But $1 is worth it to me, not only to stop me from getting this junk, but possibly reducing the amount of this junk that gets printed.

The fight against junk mail continues…

Meeting Fu

When it comes to business, one of the greatest pains are the glut of meetings the average large corporation insists on having. As a programmer, I have come to the point where I estimate any project at least three times the amount of hours I actually need to do it, in part to leave room for mistakes and redesigns, but mostly to cover the seemingly endless meetings the client will wish to have.

The worst offender of wasted time is the Status Meeting with the client. Now, Status Meetings with your manager or with other team members can be quite productive, but with the client its just because they want to see work being done. The first problem is that not all work can be seen by the client. If the code I have worked on has made part of the program function better, or differently behind the scenes, then there is no screen I can show the client to say “Look what I did”. This results in two behaviors:

1) The stack of paper. When a client insists on Status Meetings being face to face, I cannot go to the meeting empty handed. Despite the fact that my job as a programmer is almost entirely paperless, I have a stack of paper in a drawer of my desk that contains print outs of sections of code (from my personal web page), spreadsheets (of comic books and a sample timesheet I made for a friend), manuals (for my universal remote among other things), and a complete guide to Teradata specific query formats. Thrown on top will often be one or two emails printed that concern the project from the client I am meeting with, and two pads of paper, one with a task list (a huge TO DO scrawled at the top) with items crossed out and one with various ramblings and scribblings. I take all this stack of well thumbed paper with me to the meeting, and then periodically I will shuffle through it before pulling out a random piece of paper and then either agreeing or disagreeing with the client.

2) Useless screen modifications. During the project planning stages, I will suggest that certain changes get made to the layout of the screens, more often the initial design of the screens is done UOP (Ugly On Purpose) so that they can be fixed later. Clients absolutely love to see things move around the screen to new places, especially if they believe it is their personal input that is resulting in the changes (one item may clearly belong on the left side of the screen, but I will place it on the right and try to get the client to suggest we move it to the left). All this designing and redesigning pages wastes time both in and out of meetings.

The best bet, however, when dealing with meetings is to take extra care when planning them.

Step one, if your company uses Outlook to schedule meetings make sure than any time you don’t want there to be a meeting, you have something scheduled already. For example, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm every day, I eat lunch, and to avoid people (especially people in other time zones) from scheduling meetings during my lunch, I have a meeting scheduled every day called “Provision Processing” (Food Eating) and it is attended by a few random people who also wish to eat lunch at the same time I do.

The next step is to never schedule a meeting on a day where everyone is open, specifically the client. Try to find a day where they already have five hours of meetings planned. Your best bet is to look for a day when they look all booked up except for an hour or hour and a half around noon. Since you took my advice on Step One, your lunch is already blocked, but that gap is probably where they plan to have lunch. Schedule it then. If it does happen to fall into their lunch, the meeting is likely to run quick since they want to get out of there. Basically, anything you can do to make the client initiate shortening the meeting is great.

If all else fails, call in sick. Sore throat, take my wife/kid/father/dog to the doctor. Specificity is not your friend, stay generic when possible but if you have to give details, make and keep a list so you can remember what fictitious ailments you have assigned to your family members. Never ever make it serious though. If you ever fib your way into Get Well cards, you’ve gone too far.

Of course, none of this applies if you actually have stuff to show the client. The honest truth is always the best policy when its good news. All this other stuff is just to avoid having to explain to the client that they are honestly clueless. You might also get extremely lucky and have a client who understands and some weeks is willing to simply accept “Work is progressing and is on track, but there is nothing to show you this week.” In which case, ignore everything I said.

Except the thing about scheduling a meeting for your lunch.

You Clicked What?

My life has become noticeably easier since I began using an RSS feed reader for all my favorite sites. Not only does it ensure I don’t forget to check a site, but I have been able to start reading from more sites.

One web site I always love reading is Snopes. If you don’t know them, visit them and enjoy. They like to debunk, or sometimes bunk (or is debunk like disgruntled and the root word isn’t really a word), stories. Today’s gem is about an email scam involving fake IRS investigations.

Being in computers, and having actually been a domain and system admin that involved working with email servers, you might think I would be numb by now to the dumb things that people will click. Spam email comes in many forms, but to me at least they have always seemed obvious. I don’t bank with BB&T, so its odd that they send one of my accounts forty seven emails a day about money I don’t have with them. Almost every email that comes in regarding a pharmacy, drug prescriptions, Viagra, Cialis, or any number of other drugs… not real, and if I did have a need for any of those, I would not buy them from an unsolicited email, I’d get a prescription from my own doctor. And I would never take a mortgage from a bank that sends me a random email, especially when its not addressed to me.

Seriously folks, if you don’t know the person sending you the email, take a minute and read it, consider it, and 999,999 times out of a million delete the thing without clicking on the links.

And another safety precaution, if a company sends you an email that says, “Click here and enter your account information!” Even if it looks valid, even if it is valid, don’t click there… go directly to their website yourself and log in to your account manually.

Fighting the Flood of Junk Mail

Every day I go to the mailbox with a small sense of dread. Not for any bill that I am expecting, but the glut of junk I know I will find there. On average, I get one piece of “good” mail every three days, and ten pieces of junk per day. What an amazing waste.

So, I decided, rather than just continue to drop these things in the trash or the recycle bin, I am going to try to get them to stop sending it to me at all.

The first step is going to be the easiest, and also the one with the most affect (I hope). A large percentage of the junk I receive comes in the form of credit card and mortgage loan offers. Last week I finally decided to read through one from top to bottom and see if I could find a number to call to make them stop. Eureka! At the bottom of the page was a section about prescreened credit and loan applications. The Consumer Credit Reporting Companies (Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion) provide a web page that allows you to opt out of their prescreened credit efforts for five years, or forever.

I have chosen to opt out myself and my wife forever. The request forms go off in today’s mail, so we will see how this goes.

Anyone familiar with my blog here may notice that I have added a new category, A Little Less Junk, for this post. In the future this category will contain my efforts to stop as much waste in my life as I can. I’m not some super eco-nutjob, but I’ve come to realize that there are many things I can do which would make me happier in my own life, while also maybe helping out the world a little.

I Hate You

No, really, I do. If you are one of those stubborn people who haven’t been watching Jericho or Veronica Mars, I hate you.

Veronica Mars, currently finishing up its third season, is probably one of the best shows on television. While other shows that ran season long plots often wound up with entirely unwatchable episodes that could never be watched alone, Veronica Mars managed to have every episode contain its own plot while still throwing clues and furthering the main season plot. It was smart and funny. And it has been cancelled because of people like you.

Jericho is in the same boat. When I first read the plot of the show, I was skeptical, but after watching it, they really managed to pull off the “Terrorists nuke a bunch of cities and throws the US into chaos” world brilliantly. Like Veronica Mars, every episode was tight and contained its own mini story, a plot resolved in one episode, while also serving the greater overall plot. It too has been cancelled.

Of course, I cannot lay all the blame at your feet. This season, the networks, and I mean all the networks, really screwed up by putting so many shows on a multitude of hiatuses. Seasons broken in half or in thirds, shows constantly bumped in hopes of getting higher ratings from specials and game shows. The one thing they don’t seem to understand is, the main reason a high rated show stays high rated is the ability of the audience to find and watch the show. Jericho did great until the hiatus… it never recovered. Even powerhouse Lost slumped in the ratings after a promising start. Standoff might have done better if they’d ever actually put it back on the air. It ran 11 episodes up until December 12th when it got put on hiatus to return on March 30th… wait, April 6th… now, June 8th where it will be on Friday instead of its original Tuesday slot for its remaining 8 episodes (maybe). Fans like me just wanted to watch the show, but I can’t watch it if they don’t air it.

As it is, many shows don’t even get that far. Runaway, Kidnapped, Vanished, Studio 60, The Black Donnellys, Drive, Day Break, Happy Hour, Justice, The Nine, Six Degrees, The Wedding Bells, Smith, Raines… Lots of these shows didn’t even start with full order seasons, or even half orders. Networks are often hedging their bets by ordering 6 or 7 episodes, and as a viewer if I know that a show may only run 6 or 7 episodes I am going to be less likely to tune in. Its seems that gone are the days of building an audience, if a show doesn’t come out of the gates booming with success its not likely to stick around, and with prospects like that is it really any surprise that the viewers aren’t showing up?

TV has one more season, if this fall is a repeat of last fall with all the show cancellations after one or two airings, they are going to lose me as a customer. They might get my business on the back end when a show goes to DVD, but they’ll never get my ad revenue dollars.

I honestly think the business model has to change. At a minimum, Sweeps Weeks need to go away. Networks should be rated for their advertising based on viewership average for the entire year. Maybe that alone would go a long way to ensuring that they took care of their shows all year long instead of just a couple a months scattered throughout. After considering it a while, I’d be willing to pay as much as $1 an episode downloaded to my TV without commercials through and On Demand like system, even on my Xbox360 if it had to be. Maybe networks should consider going that route, dump this 24/7 programming model that is full of trash anyway and focus on making a handful of solid engaging hours per day.

Whatever they do, mostly they need to recognize, you can’t have loyal viewers if you are not loyal to your viewers. Someone has to start, and since it would be stupid to ask viewers to watch things that don’t interest them, the networks have to start by letting shows that don’t launch fantastically stick around to see if the viewers can find it.

Aspect of the The Walking Dead

I’ve written about The Walking Dead before, and in my continued efforts to talk about my game idea without rehashing the same stuff over and over, I will write about them again.

There are six collections now instead of four as when I wrote before, and the story remains good. There are elements in here that just make sense to me, and are in line with the story of the world I would present in my game. If you haven’t read all the comics, I’m about to ruin one thing for you, so skip the rest unless you want the spoiler… its not that huge of a spoiler, so don’t get too bent…

In the comic, one of the things revealed that I really liked is the idea that everyone is doomed. See, The Walking Dead doesn’t refer to just the zombies. After an incident where someone who died through other means, never having been bitten by a zombie, comes back as a zombie, its apparent that whatever causes the zombies is already in everyone, just dormant. They are all going to become zombies, no matter how they die, unless their death involves the destruction of their own bodies such that they can’t rise.

This aspect will be integral to my game. I talked earlier about how players will have to manage food and resources, and how those will deplete even when offline. When you die, you are dead. There is no resurrecting or respawning, if you want to play more you have to start a new character. Then, if you want, you can travel to your old character’s hide out and kill the zombie-old-you if someone hasn’t done it already. When you die, you are undead. Your body will rise as an NPC, and if there are people unfortunate enough to be living with you, if they aren’t careful, they may be undone from within.

Woes of a DVR Owner

Not mine… I have no woes. My 6 Tuner Medusa PVR using Snapstream’s BeyondTV works wonderfully. But a guy I know has issues.

Its a problem I see many people with DVRs complain about, that oddly scheduled programs or late changes often get missed because the show listings on the DVR don’t get updated. That’s one thing I love about my Medusa. BeyondTV, however they manage to do it, is always up to date (as long as my internet access hasn’t failed). I’ve never missed a show because it ran a few minutes long, or even when the President decides he wants to assure the nation that he is not an idiot (or confirm to the nation that he is an idiot, you can never be sure which he is going to do).

The only time I’ve ever missed a recording was when the power went out while I was on vacation. Usually, power outages come in twos or threes. Power off, power on for a few seconds, power off… then it either comes back on again or stays out for a while, but its that little flicker that causes the problems. Sometimes its just the once like I describe here, sometimes its two or three flickers before its out for real. I set up my Medusa, all my PCs in fact, not to reboot on power failure because I don’t want them powering on and off repeatedly during the flickers.

Oh, and I missed a show once when a channel broke in with breaking news. Of course, I didn’t see the breaking news until three days after it had happened, so all it did was annoy me.

But back to the DVRs… I don’t think I would put up with that, it being wrong all the time, as it kind of defeats the purpose of it. Is it a failing of the software? of the service provided? Is it the DVR or the cable company? I’m going to have to look into it, because unless they roll out the CableCARD 2.0 standard and start supporting it, I’ll have to get an in-box DVR to be able to record digital cable channels. But there’s no rush, not until they decide to stop providing the analog cable feed.

RAD is not rad

Rapid Application Development is not a horrible idea. Of course, much like Communism, it is not a problem with the idea it is the implementation. When most companies get into a RAD style of work, the result more often than not is just flying by the seat of their pants. No project plans, minimal design documents… usually it is just a list of features and a deadline, or a dozen lists and a dozen deadlines, and the lists change daily.

Having worked for two years on one RAD project, and then two and half on another, I really would like to work on something with more structure, or at least be part of team that is doing RAD instead of people one guy trying to work on multiple phases on the same RAD project by myself. I go into one meeting about phase one in the morning, then in the afternoon I go to a meeting on phase two when I have to pretend that I am not aware that phase one is behind schedule… it really is quite maddening.