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Friday, December 01, 2006

New stuff

New stuff all around.

About 3 weeks ago, we adopted a cat named Princess.

About 2 weeks ago, I purchased a Nintendo Wii.

A few days ago, I added that new "Enjoyable Diversions" sidebar to my blog, which automagically updates through the wonder of Google Reader. I collapsed my long list of archive links into a drop-down menu, to save room on the page.

So, even when I'm too lazy to update, you can continue to see what interesting blog posts I'm reading.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On Voting

I know I owe y'all a long entry on China and how it went with pictures, and I promise that it's coming (most of the pictures are on my computer now, so all I need to do is sit down and write a bit about our trip), but I thought I'd just put this up while it's fresh in my mind.

I went to vote this morning. I vote in district 12 at the:
according to the PA election website. I voted on an ES&S iVotronic, which although it isn't a media-blasted Diebold machine, still has no verifiable paper trail.

While my vote went fine (as far as I could see, anyway), I heard two volunteer election people talking about the eVoting machines, discussing battery packs. I distinctly heard, "I think we should leave them all plugged in for now," which is hardly confidence inspiring. Then again, maybe I'm just paranoid from having read too many Ars Technica article about voting machine deficiencies before this election.

Does anyone want to watch returns tonight? Maybe the Stewart/Colbert take on it? 'Cause I don't get Comedy Central. So, invite me over.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ni hao

Greetings from Beijing, where we are up early and ready to take a flight to Xian (home of those famous terra cotta warriors).

We've been busy these past two days, visiting such sites as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Ming Tombs, and various small shopping outlets. It's been super fun, and our hotel room comes with a computer connected to a medium-speed internet line, so I figured I would post before we left this hotel in case we weren't as lucky at the next place.

Our tour group is kind of ridiculous, partially because it contains several people who don't seem to like Chinese food or appreciate any aspects of the Chinese culture, and a bunch of people who ask inane questions and are generally annoying.

We've taken lots of pictures and will certainly get around to posting those at some point. We even have some pictures of the most annoying person in our tour group (Cowboy Bob!), as well as - you know - the actual attractions.

More later - I have to go take a shower.

Monday, October 02, 2006


A small group of us went to see Spamalot at the Benedum last night, and while my expectations were low, the show certainly didn't blow me away. It simply cleared the low expectation bar. Parts were funny, but I found myself cringing more than I wished and often wondering how it had managed to capture the Tony.

Then again, Crash won last year's Oscar, so I suppose we shouldn't put too much faith in award-giving organizations.

With less than a week before we hop a slow boat to China, this week feels unexpectedly long. Speaking of which...does anyone want to drive us to the airport Sunday morning? Really early Sunday morning? Our flight is at around 8 AM and it's international, so we're probably supposed to get there even earlier.

I guess I should head home soon. I can't concentrate.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Anyone want to buy a toaster?

We helped Brian move on Saturday into his new house. It's a rambling little bungalow in the Jewish part of town, but the best part of his house (the best part of any house, really) is his two little Asian neighbors, who would scream with delight at the slightest thing.

I also bought a board/card game called Collosal Arena and we played it. I went into Games Unlimited actually looking for a game called Intrige, but - alas! - they did not seem to have it in stock. Collosal Arena isn't a huge-boxed game, and it plays fairly quickly with 5 people, which makes me think that with less players, it would really shine. I approve.

Katie and I tried to clean up/organize our junk that's spread all around the apartment yesterday with little to moderate success. We're also trying to eat healthier and shed some pounds with little to moderate success.

We leave for China in a little under two weeks. Quack quack!

Friday, September 15, 2006

What mii worry?

The Wii details finally dropped yesterday: $250, Nov. 19 release, and there will be one controller + nunchuck in the box, along with a copy of Wii Sports. There's a slick little Channels interface that was shown, which would essentially duplicate a lot of the things that my MythTV box can currently do, but it looks a bit more Web2.0-y. The verdict? Well, it hasn't changed. I'm probably going to grab one at or very close to launch.

It's unfair that Boston Alex gets to have kittens. I disapprove, unless she gives one to us. I acquired the first season of Arrested Development on DVD this past week. We might get to see Therese the Geese this weekend. I'm getting multiple super secret phone calls. And Survivor started last night.

So life is good. I should really try to stick to my workout schedule more, though. My new goal is to lose 10 pounds by the new year!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

An open letter

Dear PNC Bank,

Up until about one week ago, I had no reason to dislike you. I've held an account with you for as long as I can remember. My first checking and savings account, opened by my father who wanted to teach me about money and banks when I was a small child, was with you. I have essentially kept that account throughout college. Last Saturday, I decided it was time for us to take it to the next level; Katie and I were going to merge her PNC account into mine and - for the first time - we'd both be the same joint account with you. It was a proud moment and one that, based on my past experiences with you, I was sure would go smoothly.

Let's be fair. The actual physical process of closing down Katie's account and adding her to my account was fairly straightforward and simple. We did have to wait a little, but that's to be expected when going to the bank on a Saturday. The lady who helped us simply told us what she was going to close Katie's account, move her money to my (now our) savings account. That was that. After fiddling around on her computer a little, she printed out a certified check for the amount left in Katie's account, marched it into the vault, and gave us a receipt.

Had the journey ended there, there would be no need for this letter. We were not even halfway home yet, PNC Bank.

This past Thursday, Katie received a not-so-friendly letter from you that stated that when her account was closed, she took out $2.13 more than she actually had in the account. This letter had us puzzled, because we hadn't even been the ones who had completed the final transaction from Katie's (now closed) account. We had simply watched as one of your employees printed out a certified check and filed it. What $2.13, we wondered?

What was even more disconcerting was the fact that the letter stated that we needed to settle this discrepancy as soon as possible, as there was a $5 charge that would accrue for that the $2.13 went unpaid. That is more than 200% interest daily, mind you.

Katie called one of your branches (after finding she couldn't call your main help number, because it kept insisting on an account number and wouldn't accept her old account number, as it had been closed) and tried to find out what was going on.

The employee who answered the phone was able to clarify the situation, but was highly disrespectful. Let's skip the poor customer service here (we'll revisit the theme again later) and get to why you were insisting that we pay $2.13. It was because on the Thursday before we closed Katie's account (2 full days before), Katie bought a bagel using her PNC check card. That bagel cost $2.13.

Somehow, in your system, that charge did not go through until after Saturday. Likewise, somehow, the woman who helped us close Katie's account did not even notice that there might be pending charges that hadn't cleared. This brings us to the core question we have for you, PNC. Why would you write us a check for money that you did not have? If we had bounced a check, you surely would have slapped us with a one-time fee (of, say, $25). When you bounce a check, you go right ahead, deposit it anyway, and then charge us a daily fee of $5? Am I getting this right?

This still wouldn't have been a big problem if we had been able to rectify the situation easily. The first time Katie called you, your employee told her that she owed $2.13 and she better pay it or that it would "damage her credit" and that should would not be able to open a future account with you - harsh words when she never did anything wrong. She then told her to bring $2.13 to a bank and give it to a teller. Not exactly convenient, given that she was currently on the phone with a PNC employee. Why was she not able to simply transfer the money from our joint account to rectify Katie's old account discrepancy?

Katie was upset with the situation and was told goodbye without this possibility even being offered. I decided to see if I could do any better and called PNC's main help line with my account number. After explaining the situation, the nice woman on the other end said I could simply use Katie's PNC Bank online banking to transfer money from our joint account to her old account.

Great! I logged on, saw the two accounts, and initiated a transfer. didn't work. The account I was attempting to transfer into was invalid (read: closed), despite it showing a -$2.13 balance and appearing on the online banking site. I called to report the error, and the employee, after telling me he can't give me information on the account I was reporting an error with, tells me to go to a branch and give a teller $2.13.

The next day, I went into the local branch site downtown (I had paychecks to deposit anyway), and brought $2.13 and cash to give the teller. I deposited the paychecks (one was Katie's) and then explained the situation and gave the teller the cash. She punched some buttons on the computer, said the deposit wasn't going through, and then went to talk to someone higher up the food chain. After about five to ten more minutes, she came back and said that I couldn't put my $2.13 into Katie's old account. My name wasn't on the account, and despite the fact that I am her husband and her account was closed so that she could be added to mine, I couldn't even deposit the $2.13 to balance her closed account. The reasoning? Katie was the only one who could "reopen her account" temporarily to deposit the $2.13. The teller was nice and commiserated with me about the red tape in the system but, in the end, was unable to help. She politely showed me the $5 daily charge that you would levy against us if we delayed our payment.

I called Katie and told her to try to get a PNC before the day was out. She scrounged up $2.13 in cash (at this point, not even willing to try to deal with trying to convince one of your employees to transfer money from one account to another) and headed to a branch. She explained the situation to the teller and gave her the cash. The teller, after some computer crunching, told her she would have to talk to one of the higher-ups who sit in those little cubicles.

The guy in the cubicle? He punches some keys on his computer and says "I can't do this today. You have to come back tomorrow." Excuse me? Katie tells him we're leaving town, and asks what he could possibly do tomorrow (a Saturday) that he can't do today. Instead of answering, the guy suggests we do it over the phone. Katie pointedly replies that we have already tried using the phone. At this point, Katie is visibly upset and then (and only then) does cubicle guy do this: he picks up the phone, calls someone to reopen the account, hangs up, and deposits the $2.13. Why on Earth he said he couldn't do anything about it "today" is beyond me.

Let's face it, PNC Bank. You blew it. In total, both Katie and I spoke to three of your employees (six total - three on the phone, three in person), all of whom either were powerless to do anything or pretended to be. All of this over a $2.13 mistake that you committed. There's a sign in your bank that says, "If time is money, why not save some of both?"

The $2.13 doesn't bother us. It's chump change. What bothers us is that you made a mistake, and not only would you not take responsibility for it, but you made it near impossible for us to correct it. I am very tempted to take all of our accounts and leave you, PNC Bank, but I'm now slightly worried about what kind of hassle we'd have to go through closing another account of yours.