May 24, 2010

He Doesn't Steal Magnolias Either

Here are the things the person who broke into my car last night did not steal:
  • EZ-Pass
  • Motorola Nextel Phone
  • 5 empty moving boxes
  • Travel-sized bottle of Purel
  • Verizon phone car charger 
  • Blank VHS-C tapes in package
  • 2009 Melissa Surach Calendar
  • Medium-sized Brown Hoodie from Old Navy
  • $100+ of change in box waiting to go to Coinstar
  • Pink Post-Its with potentially killer song lyrics on them
  • Crate Powerblock Amplifier Head, Zoom 1010 Guitar Effects Pedal, Fostex Digital 8-track, and other various electronics in a box in the trunk
  • Dillinger Escape Plan's Option Paralysis, Every Time I Die's New Junk Aesthetic, Torrential Downpour's Self-Titled Debut LP, Matthew Sweet's 100% Fun, and 20 various awesome Mix CD-Rs
  • Car Stereo
  • Car
Here's what the person did steal:
  • Less than $3 in change (maybe)

May 20, 2010

Draw Muhammad Day 2010

You can do your own research into what Draw Muhammed Day 2010 is. It shouldn't be too difficult today (unless you live in Pakistan). I am just going to unveil my drawing and say that I think Free Speech and Comedy will forever be more important than any Religion. Have a fun life (and donate blood if you can).

May 19, 2010

American Express: The Plot Sickens

Further dicking around on the American Express website netted this banner:

The shimmering golden shower behind the phrase "including those already purchased" was enough for me to call up and see just WTF was the deal at that place. After entering my card number and security code to the automated cyborg, my balance was spit back at me. $38, yeah I know. Thanks. Pressing zero a few times got me to a human, who, as you could guess, asked me to give him my card number and security code. Again.

I told him that I activated my card today and discovered that my balance was much lower than the amount stated on the card. Then I told him that I saw on the website that cards are apparently not subject to fees or lost value any more, including ones already purchased.

He, Carlos, explained that my card was purchased in April 2008. To me, that seems to fit the criteria--it was purchased and already purchased--so I would think these fees would be waived, but it's not the case, apparently. My monthly fees were charged according to the original rules--12 months of no fees, then 6 months of $2 fees from April 2009 until October 2009 when they came up with the New American Express Gift Card no fee promotion. Cards are not reimbursed retroactively.

You may be saying to yourself, "Retroactive? But RoBeast Rollie's gift card wasn't actually activated until today!" Excellent question, you!

Turns out that there is no such thing as activating a gift card. They are "automatically activated upon purchase" and the 12 month waiving of charges followed by monthly fees begins immediately.  That sticker on the card that says "To activate your Card, please call 1-888-233-8637" in big purple letters is a figment of your imagination. The automated voice that answers with "Thank you for calling American Express Gift Card Activation Line" is just joking. If you follow the prompts and enter your card information, and the voice says "Your gift card from American Express is active and ready for use. Please remove the activation sticker now. No further action is needed," then I don't know what you're smoking because that didn't happen, dude.

So, my fees will not reimbursed because of American Express' activation scam. And those sons of bitches covered their own tracks too. In that activation call you just imagined in the last paragraph they say "Your gift card from American Express is active and ready for use."  They purposely don't say "Your gift card is now activated" because, to them, it's already active. You don't know that, because, to you, the ambiguous verb tense of "active" feels like it applies to the present. And technically, it does because it's active in that's it's actively incurring monthly fees. Motherfuckers.

And I didn't realize this until I called The Activation Line back so I could get exact quotes for this blog entry, but I really did imagine entering my Gift Card information. You see, they only technically ask you to enter the last 5 numbers of the card. Of course this means that you can enter virtually ANY FUCKING NUMBER and it will give you the same "Your American Express gift card is active" line.  69317, 64825, 45876, 66669, 90210... it doesn't matter because any card they've ever issued is already activated and your pressing of numbers and pound keys just sells the fucking illusion! And you're too busy feeling joy over the gift you just got to stop and realize that you are actually being taken advantage of.

It's amazing that they even go through the charade of the activation. I told Carlos that I was confused as to why the cards would even be shipped with the sticker on them and he mumbled his way through a non-explanation and then actually asked me why I was confused. Why? WHY, CARLOS? I guess I'm confused as to why anyone would work for such a deceptive company. To their credit (pun not intended), they have discontinued this practice of monthly fees, but how long did this bullshit go on for and how much did they steal from people? I guarantee this only stopped when they got called on it. Maybe I'm really more sad than confused. Sad that lots of people probably lost lots of money. Sad that giant corporations will actually go to the length of setting up official sounding phone lines for the sole purpose of deceiving people. Sad that any business can put "America" in their company name and then turn around and FUCK AMERICANS EVERY DAY.

Well... that's my $38.02. Thanks for listening.

American Express: The Gift That Gives To Itself

Today I started using my first big boy wallet. There's no velcro or a hole to attach a chain, no dated tribal designs or embroidered elephants, and it isn't made out of duct tape. It's just a boring bi-fold leather thing that won't seem to stay closed on its own. Even though I just tossed out a lot of extraneous plastic and paper (FYI--I stopped carrying my Ren & Stimpy Yak Shaving Day card when it expired back in '00), I still have too much crap in it.

There's one item that seems to be getting smaller since I first received it though--an American Express Gift Card in the amount of $50. I received it from a boss of mine as a work incentive for doing something I can't recall years ago. My plan was pool it together with other gift certificates I'd received from the company and buy myself a laptop.

Well, as it turns out, American Express cards don't sit around and wait for you to spend them. Like regular credit cards, they expire, but... the fucking money disappears from them years before the expiration date. Let me blow up the fine print for you:

"Subject to $2.00 monthly service fee applies, but is waived for the first 12 months after purchase."

My $50 gift card that I just activated for the first time today is actually only worth $38 (if I use it today, that is). Doing the math, this means American Express started deducting its "fee" 6 months ago, and the card was purchased 18 total months ago.  The card "expires" in July 2011. Yeah, the fucking $12 that would still be left on it in July 2011.  Considering that American Express actually charges $3.95 for a $50 card in the first place, this is a real scam and a half.

Is it my fault for not reading the fine print and spending the money sooner? Sure, I guess it is a little bit, but seriously, who would assume that a gift card would have strings attached? besides the obvious and reasonable expiration date, of course. But who in their right mind would assume that a service fee would be applied TO SOMETHING THAT'S NOT EVEN BEING USED. Serve me, and then I can see you collecting service fee. I mean, it's a gift, and they're cool with robbing from it? American Express can lick Ticketmaster's fucking taint while it gets a dinosaur diarrhea burrito stuck up its ass.

Sorry, I've been watching too much Angry Video Game Nerd.

May 17, 2010

Sign O' The Tide

What's it gonna be, Tide. Are you Effective or Useless?

By the way, there were so many possible titles for this blog entry, I may as well share some others:
  • In and Out with the Tide
  • It was the Best of Tides, It was the Worst of Tides
  • The Print of Tide
  • Decide, Tide
  • Uppity with a Touch of Downy
  • Oh hey look, you can buy a 100 oz. bottle of Tide with a Touch of Downy for $69.99 at Amazon and a percentage will go to the RoBeast's upcoming unemployment fund thanks to Amazon Associates that I signed up for a hundred years ago and never used until today but now that Blogger has a widget for it you can certainly expect to see more selling out on this website!

May 4, 2010

Guns, Razors, Knives, MP3s

Deftones' latest album Diamond Eyes is out today, and I am again faced with the Media Consumer's Conundrum--where do I buy it and what format? For the purposes of this blog, I am considering "consume" and "purchase" to be synonymous. I'm not going to argue here about free downloading because I think I've made it clear that I am, for the most part, against it. That being said, I did download the leaked version of Diamond Eyes weeks ago. I've only downloaded leaked albums a few times in the past (Dillinger Escape Plan's Irony is a Dead Scene, Deftones' self-titled, and tracks that eventually became System of a Down's Steal This Album) because I was curious, impatient, and knew full well that I was going to pay for the album when the true release date arrived. In each case I did, and the same goes for Diamond Eyes.

I believe we all agree that choice is good and gives power to the consumer. It also, as I experienced with Dillinger Escape Plan's Option Paralysis, can confuse the fuck out of us. Here's a quick follow up on that saga... I ended up purchasing a limited edition version of the album at FYE (the physical store), which came with different artwork, a T-shirt and a bonus track. I think I paid $20 plus tax. The bonus track ended up just being an unnecessary remix of "Gold Teeth on a Bum" and the shirt was too big for me (I ended up trading it with a bandmate for an old Every Time I Die shirt that didn't fit him). The special packaging done by former DEP singer Dimitri Minakakis was cool, but in reality I haven't looked at it since I first opened it. There was certainly the instant gratification of popping the CD in my car and blasting it on the first day it came out, but I'm not positive it was all worth it. That's not to take away from the quality of the album, but I think it has pushed me to clamp down on my music spending habits.

Now that we're in May, and there two more new albums by favorite bands of mine--Deftones and Far--I'd like to experiment a little with my routine. Today I downloaded the mp3 version of Diamond Eyes, but it was certainly not without lots of analysis.

  • Standard CD [explicit] - $9.99
  • Standard CD [clean] - $18.98
  • Vinyl (unknown track listing) - $21.83
  • Import CD (unknown track listing) - $44.98
  • Standard Digital [explicit] - $7.99
  • Standard Digital [clean] - $7.99
  • Deluxe Digital [explicit] (two bonus tracks) - $9.99
  • Individual tracks Digital (13 available) - $0.99
  • Standard Digital [explicit] - $9.99
  • Standard Digital [clean] - $9.99
  • Deluxe Digital [explicit] (three bonus tracks) - $11.99
  • Individual tracks Digital (14 available) - $1.29
Hot Topic/Shockhound
  • Standard CD [explicit] - $9.99
  • Standard Digital [explicit] - $6.99
  • Standard Digital [clean] - $6.99
  • Deluxe Digital [explicit] (two bonus tracks) - $13.99
  • Individual tracks Digital (13 available) - $1.29
Newbury Comics
  • Standard CD (autographed booklet) - $16.99 (sold out)
  • Standard CD - $16.99
FYE (normal price/member price)
  • Standard CD [explicit] - $12.99/$11.69
  • Standard CD [clean] - $14.99/$13.49
  • Standard Vinyl - $22.99/$20.69
There's more to this than just having lots of options. Today is the release date, but when pre-orders were originally taken, only the standard version of the album was available. Quite a few hardcore fans are pissed off because they immediately pre-ordered the album, only to find that extras such as bonus tracks and autographs would later be included. I sympathize with them. There is also the temptation to get Deluxe over Standard for the bonus tracks, one of which  iTunes has exclusively--a cover of Drive Like Jehu's "Caress." There is really nothing super crazy here to throw us off like alternate artwork, or different colored vinyl, free mp3 download cards, or T-shirt bundles, so the major decisions will be made based on format and price.

I've mentioned before that I was an eMusic member for a long time, so digital downloading isn't such an alternate universe for me, but I've employed it for brand new releases. The arguments over bit rate quality is always in the back of my head, but in reality, I don't notice the difference between a CD or an mp3 encoded at 192kbps or 256kbps. I've also never needed to go back to an archived CD to replace a lost mp3, or to re-encode one at a higher bit rate, so that sort of obliterates the physical backup argument. Taking this into consideration and that I rarely go back to look at album artwork that I have saved in a shoebox, I decided to give the digital format a shot this time.

With all bit rates being equal* and DRM-free, I did quick price comparisons and the most cost effective thing would be to download the 11 album tracks from Shockhound, 2 bonus tracks from Amazon, and the final bonus track from iTunes for a grand total of $10.79. Shockhound charges sales tax in NJ, but it still ended up $.50 cheaper than Amazon. I did notice that the Shockhound downloads did not have the associated album artwork, which in this case would just be a thumbnail of the album cover. They also don't appear to have the track order embedded in their name or properties. Amazon downloads don't have either of those problems, so in the future, I may pay them the extra two quarters for their assistance.

I haven't yet picked up the iTunes exclusive track because I'm always bothered by the fact that it's in a format other than mp3. I've downloaded a couple albums and tracks from iTunes in the past, and have just never gone through the hassle of burning, then ripping the tunes to listen to on my non-iPod. I may wait for it to eventually be non-exclusive and find it on Amazon in the future. Speaking of that, I see the Option Paralysis mp3 album download is now only $5 there. Amazing.

So what have we learned today? That I'm willing to spend less to gamble on the digital format with no frills, but I'm willing to spend more for what I'm being told is "bonus" music. I've seen figures that CDs are still the winning media format, so I think I'm in the minority. Am I making out on this deal? Am I being taken advantage of? Is the artist reaping any benefit? Will the rhetorical questions ever end?

* I believe all three albums were available as 256kbps, but I didn't necessarily know that going into it. None of these sites seem to explicitly advertise the bit rate for tracks. They should really list this information in a column next to the track time. Shockhound promises "192kbps minimum" but I gambled and won. I am also not an iTunes expert, but I am assuming that the $1.29 price tag suggests a 256kbps rate.