Paypal is sort of like Bank of America – it’s this big, dumb corporation that holds power through coercion, not because it’s sensible and everyone likes it. Trying to resolve anything through Customer Service is very telling of this fact.

the setup:
It’s not exactly unusual for me to be at the office in the neighborhood of 12-16 hours a day. So I thought it may be more wise to have Paypal purchases sent to the office, rather than having items potentially sit on my doorstep all day. I tried to go through the steps to “confirm an alternate address,” as one electronics retailer I planned on buying from only sends to Paypal-confirmed addresses. Quickly I ran into a roadblock, as I am “ineligible” for alternate address confirmation due to having a Buyer Reputation Number of zero. The Reputation Number is supposed to reflect the number of transactions a user has successfully completed with unique Paypal members. Based on that, I should have a Reputation Number of probably 50-75. It turns out, however, that the Reputation Number system was discontinued, ohhh, probably three years ago or so.

the attempt at resolution:
After discovering this catch-22 of having a “zero” Reputation Number and obviously not being able to do anything to increase the number, I wrote Customer Service. I waited a week, heard nothing, then wrote again. This time I waited a couple weeks. I still heard nothing, so today I called. Customer Service told me to navigate to the same “Alternate Address Confirmation” page I have previously visited numerous times. The result on the next page was the same: “You do not currently qualify for Alternative Address Confirmation.” The best solution Customer Service could offer? “I would recommend you buy from a seller who doesn’t ship to confirmed addresses only.” Thanks a bunch.

Considering the disclosure that the call may be monitored, I tried to get this Customer Service fellow in India, or wherever, to blatantly admit that the website contains information that’s completely wrong and outdated. Suddenly, a language barrier made it’s way into the conversation: “I don’t understand what you mean…. sorry, I don’t know what you mean.” And, like a broken record, “the only thing I can recommend is to buyer from a seller…” No resolution at all. And just having someone answer a call doesn’t qualify as “Customer Service.”

Paypal’s revenue in Q4 of 2011 was $1.2 billion. Something feels very, very odd about a company that makes over a billion dollars in three months but yet has a website that has been outdated for three years.

Music Top 10s

02/19/2012

A work in progress- a “top 10” of really great albums that flew under the radar:

Dandy Warhols – “Welcome to the Monkey House”
You may have heard a couple tracks from this 2003 release on the radio and TV. “We Used to be Friends” was the theme song for the show Veronica Mars and “You Were the Last High” had some radio rotation. Other than that, it seems there were no real accolades to speak of, although the album is excellent. It was produced by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran which, no doubt, made “Welcome to the Monkey House” more retro, 80s synth-happy than previous Dandy Warhols releases.

Tin Star – “The Thrill Kisser”

VAST – “Visual Audio Sensory Theater”

“Lost Highway” soundtrack
As a longtime Nine Inch Nails fan, this album was an instant must-have when released in 1997. It featured a couple new NIN songs (including “The Perfect Drug”), was arranged by that group’s principal member, Trent Reznor, and also included work by other bands I enjoyed: Smashing Pumpkins, David Bowie, Rammstein, and Marilyn Manson. What I came to discover, though, was that the overall blend of styles on this soundtrack was really pretty remarkable/magical. I enjoyed the rock-oriented tunes, of course, but also enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) the mysterious, brooding Angelo Badalamenti tunes and the lighter style of offerings like Lou Reed’s “This Magic Moment.” I own probably only a dozen soundtracks or so, but this one easily takes the cake as my absolute favorite.

Orgy – “Punk Statik Paranoia”
Overall, Orgy is not exactly a great band, but I really like them anyway. In fact, they are tied with Tool for the most concerts by a single band I have attended – both at six. Whereas Orgy’s first two albums felt like experiments in a band defining its very experimental sound, “Punk Statik Paranoia” is well produced, heavily guitar driven, and upbeat. It just rocks in a way that Foo Fighter’s “In Your Honor” does… it’s a great album to put on your MP3 player for when you go to the gym. Unfortunately, I heard the remix of the song “Pure” that plays during Orgy’s “Trans Global Spectacle” tour DVD before hearing the original album version. In fact, I love the remix so much that I could never really give the album version a fair chance, and it’s hard to find, too (the CHR-Modern Rock Mix).

Teddybears – “Soft Machine”
Songs from this album were used in a ton of commercials, but you’ve probably never heard of the group. “Soft Machine” is super catchy and mostly upbeat, dance/electronic/rock type music that’s great for a workout or as a lead-in to the weekend on a Friday night.

Muse – “Origin of Symmetry”
“Origin of Symmetry” was released in 2001 and immediately preceded Muse’s breakthough album “Absolution.” There is something raw and underproduced about this album, although some of the arrangements are rather incredible. In a way, that kind of indie, carefree production value is reminiscent of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” although, stylistically, the two albums are very different.

Bruce Springsteen – “The Rising”
Ten years ago, I never would have imagined that “The Boss” would, one day, be included on any such list. One of my cousins unexpectedly passed away last year, and he had to have been one of Springsteen’s biggest fans ever. He was always quoting songs and asking random music trivia about the E Street Band that I could never answer. When I graduated high school, my cousin gave me a copy of “Greetings from Asbury Park.” I listened to it once and never listened to it again. Sure, it’s appears on Rolling Stones’ list of “greatest albums of all time,” but it just wasn’t my thing.

In 2002, I heard a song from “The Rising” on the legendary, but now defunct, Cincinnati-area radio station 97X (WOXY). I told my cousin about it, and he practically ran out and bought me the CD. I was blown away by it. The whole album is thematic of 9/11, but it’s very touching, and the production is really tight. The contributions on guitar by Steven Van Zandt and Max Weinberg on drums are pretty captivating, especially on “Worlds Apart.”

Sure, the album was nominated for a Grammy, but I think it’s power and emotion have since been forgotten about, much like that feeling of pride and community felt at the end of 2001. No judgment, no blame for that latter comment… just merely an observation.

Tools needed:
-thin flat-head screwdriver
-Phillips screwdriver

Before you begin, be sure to unplug the external power going to the hard drive and to discharge all potential static built up on you/your clothing by touching a grounded, metal object that is not the hard drive…. seems like simple stuff, but it’s really important.

Steps:
1) Turn the hard drive over. Gently wedge the flat-head screwdriver between the hard drive enclosure’s base plate and the main body of the enclosure. Begin to slowly pry so that the side of the enclosure begins to bow outward. Continue until the base plate pops out. Keep the popped out side close to seam (so the still-attached side of the base plate doesn’t get bent). Perform the same pry technique on the other side of the base to fully remove the plate. [click on any of the photos to enlarge]

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

2) Now that the hard drive is exposed, you will notice three, small aluminum brackets on both sides of the drive. Bend those upward – this can be done by hand.

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

3) Use the Phillips screwdriver to remove the four screws binding the hard drive to the enclosure. Once removed, bend the aluminum screw brackets upward.

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

4) With the exception of the power and data cables, the drive is free at this point. Carefully turn the enclosure over so that the drive slips out of the case. Gently pull the slack out the cables that are still plugged into the drive and begin wiggling the power cable out (the transparent connector with four wires).

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

5) Once the power connector is unplugged, do the same for the data cable. Do not be forceful with the ribbon cable. Through trial and error, I have broken these cables before, and they aren’t fun to try to fix. Additionally, you don’t want to end up with bent pins on the hard drive itself. If the ribbon connector doesn’t come off easily, unplug the other end from the board attached to the enclosure. Since the drive will then be free, you will have plenty of leverage to remove the cable from the drive.

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

At this point, the drive is completely free from the enclosure. Congratulations!

If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment or sharing below!

Also, see my LaCie Rugged Hard Drive Disassembly post here.

Warfare

02/16/2012

MSN/Innovation News Daily (whatever that is) posted a rather interesting article last week entitled “‘Smart bullet’ hits targets a mile away.” The gist is that Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico has developed a bullet that uses fins to constantly readjust its course towards a target pinpointed by a laser beam. Pretty cool, huh? But what are the implications brought on by new warfare technology, and do we really need it?

Articles related to the aforementioned one (linked at the bottom of this page) speak of topics like the U.S. Army placing an order for “suicide drones” and a new grenade/launcher combination that’s being assessed in Afghanistan. Suicide drones are capable of relaying reconnaissance information back to operators on the ground and can also be used as a missile, if needed. The new grenade launcher looks more like a small, automatic assault rifle than ever, and the projectile that goes along with it can be programmed to explode at precise distances.

Although this kind of technology seems pretty incredible/kinda awesome, we have to continue to ask “We need this equipment to fight whom?” The military-industrial complex really starts to seems like a complex when we assess how we Americans constantly and continually police the globe. What would really be awesome would be diplomacy and to look past the rhetoric that people hate Americans “because of our freedom.” Education and critical thinking help provide that much-needed chance to take a step back and think “Ya know, it can’t really be as simple as that.” And it’s not.

Consider another perspective: let’s say your neighbor commits some sort of heinous crime, then disappears without a trace. Before you know it, people are speculating that he has fled the town, the county, maybe even the state. Ten years pass and the police are still camped out in your backyard. I image you would be irate. After all, you didn’t invite these visitors to occupy your yard, and you can’t figure out how to get rid of them. After all, it is your property.

Many Middle Eastern people were sympathetic over 9/11… we know that. We’ve seen them. We’ve heard their voices. We know most of them aren’t terrorists. But it also has to be less-than-comforting to have convoys of soldiers, armed to the teeth, rolling around their towns in these destructive machines, playing a perpetual game of Whac-A-Mole.

Something about no longer having to actually confront, who you believe to be, the enemy is alarming. Simply enough, in the days of yore, if someone shot at you, you shot back. The enemy was pretty well defined. You knew who and where they were, hunkered down on the other side of the battlefield. Now, we fly aircraft outfitted with small, black-and-white cameras having resolution only great enough to show people carrying… things. And we shoot at these people from meters, and sometimes kilometers, away. But what exactly are they carrying? Guns? Cameras? Does anyone know or really care?

When these incidents – these mistakes – take place, the government has a tendency to go on the defensive. Dispensing half-truths and other fabrications seem to be the priority, rather than acknowledging that people are fallible. It happened with the Reuters photographers that were gunned down by Apache helicopters in Baghdad. It happened when Pat Tillman was killed by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan. It came to light when Jessica Lynch contradicted our government by clarifying that she was never able to fire a single shot from her jammed M16 rifle when her convoy came under attack in Iraq.

The same people who try to write history, whether or not what’s being written is factual, are the same people developing advanced weaponry. Through psychology and force they remain in power. And when fraud is revealed, more propaganda is thrown around by asserting with scary words like “terrorist,” “espionage,” “traitor,” and “insurgent.”

I would like to make a note here that our troops are not responsible for this culture. They are young, impressionable men and women who are trained to be tough and to dehumanize the enemy. Our soldiers on the front lines are under constant stress, knowing that a threat to their lives could be just around the corner. PTSD is rampant among troops returning home, and the constant warfare dictated by our government is screwing up the minds of these young adults for the rest of their lives. It is insanely irresponsible to go to war based on “bad intel” and to then keep fighting anyway. To date, 4,000+ U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq. That’s more than all the people killed in the 9/11 attacks. Interesting, considering 9/11 and the purported presence of “WMDs” were used as justification to invade Iraq. As we all know, no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, and no evidence has ever been uncovered linking Iraq to 9/11 in any capacity.

Another “defense” program recently in the works has been the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet program. The selling point for this aircraft was that it would save the military money, as it could be used by the Marines, Air Force, and Navy, rather than developing a new jet for each of those branches. However, what is a “money saver” is actually the Pentagon’s most expensive program ever, at $382 billion for 2,443 F-35 jets. 2,443 jets for what? Are these to patrol our borders? As we worry about what is happening on the other side of the globe, drug violence is spilling over into the United States. Farmers along the U.S./Mexico border have been killed, and it’s speculated that a number of abductions and killings in Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Alabama are cartel-related. (CNN)

If we really want to do some good, we could take some of our drones out of the Middle East, and do some reconnaissance work over the Mexican villas that the drug cartels are operating out of. We could also stop spending money in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop spending so much money on seven-hundred-some overseas military bases in over half the world’s countries, and stop pumping money into Israel and Egypt so they can keep acquiring weapons. The term “national defense” means less than ever these days. It’s become a convoluted catchphrase used to justify a whole host of actions that have very little, sometimes arguably nothing at all, to do with actually defending a nation.

Imagine what better use we could make of reallocating money intended for “defense spending.” Our schools are in serious trouble. We have people living on the streets, eating out of trash cans. Emergency services are being cut in towns across the nation. Our infrastructure is eroding in many places. But focus on a greater good and “taking care of our own” gets replaced by meddling in affairs across the globe. We also “invest” billions of dollars annually in other countries to promote pro-Americanism. That’s not the official decree but, believe me, recipients of U.S. aid are not random countries asking for a handout.

U.S. Army Orders First Suicide Drones
http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/550-suicide-drone-army-switchblade.html

New Video Showcases Army’s Grenade Launcher
http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/185-xm25-grenade-launcher.html

‘Smart bullet’ hits targets a mile away
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46206458/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/#.Tyhfc4E_cXA

Pentagon’s F-35 Fighter Under Fire in Congress
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june10/defense_04-21.html

The Mexico drug war: Bodies for billions
http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/15/world/mexico-drug-war-essay/index.html