Better things coming soon. . .

I’ve got a couple of ideas boiling in my head, building up pressure. I’ll be letting them out on this site over the next month or so. In the mean time, here are some updates on older posts.

  • 420 Picture Of The Day# is up to 23 pics.
  • CIALUG meeting minutes for April are missing ‘cause there wasn’t much discussed.
  • For Good Places to Eat in the Des Moines Area add Daddy O’s to the list. Close to my home, and they have Yam Fries! Yummy!
  • Tip: Catching up on podcasts at 2x speed works, but only if you don’t get too far behind. Had to perform some triage on my back log of podcasts this week.
  • SomaFM donation required me to sign up again for PayPal. UGH. Guess that just shows how much I like SomaFM, right?

Favorites: Google Reader

I have to admit, I wasn’t too hot on the idea of RSS feeds when they were first introduced. I was in the habit of visiting each of my favorite Web sites each day to see if they had updated. Early on, I tried a few RSS feed readers and browser plug-ins. I wasn’t impressed.

That all changed about a year ago when I started adding those sites’ RSS feeds into Google Reader. As of today, I subscribe to a total of 18 feeds. I like the fact that is Web-based and not a plugin because I can access my feeds from just about any browser or computer (and I do get around in that regard).

I’m sure most of the other feed readers I tried have improved a lot since I last gave them a go, but I’m happy with Google Reader, and I’m sticking with it.

RANT: Pick Up Your Dog Poop, Please!

While working from home the other day, I observed from my office window a gentleman walking his small dog on the bicycle trail which runs behind our house. First, they walked by in one direction, then a few minutes later they came back through, obviously heading home.

The dog was at the end of one of those retractable leads and the lead was reeled all the way out, allowing the dog to go far off of the trail. Our yard is fenced, so the dog was in the middle of our neighbor’s yard, which has only an “invisible fence” for their own dog. Being a dog, it naturally determined that the middle of our neighbor’s yard was a good place to poop, and so he did. No big deal.

The gentleman waking the dog, however, did not have with him any means for picking up after his dog. So he left the poop in the middle of our neighbor’s back yard. What a jerk.

Many ideas ran through my head. I could have run out with my own scooper, picked up the poo myself and disposed of it. Or, I could have scooped it up, followed the rude man home and depsoted the poo on his yard. Maybe I should have opened my wiindow up and yelled at the man, “Hey! Pick up after your dog!” Perhaps I should have called the police. It is, after all, against the law in most cities (including ours) to not pick up after your dog — a law that is very difficult to enforce.

Instead, I let it slide and went about my business. Still (as evidenced by this post), it bothers me that some people with dogs just don’t get it. Owning and caring for an animal is a big responsibility. Being a good dog owner reqires picking up after it. At the very least, you should carry a plastic bag with you while you walk your dog. If you don’t like the idea of getting that close to your dog’s mess, pick up a proper scooping device to carry with you.

Your neighbors will thank you, I will thank you and you’ll feel good knowing you aren’t a total idiot and complete jerk.

Deja Vu?

OK, I’m at a restaurant, writing other posts for this blog. The table next to me when I sat down consisted of a family of 5, including Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad and child.

I was at my table for awhile. That family finished their meal and left. Who was the next party to be sat at that very same table? A family of 5 including Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad and child. Weird.

Here are the differences I observed between the two parties. The Grandpa and Grandma appeared to be older in the second party. The child sat between the parents in the first party, but in the second party, the child sat next to the wall. The child in the first party was male; in the second party the child was female.

Here are the similarities I observed between the two parties. The parents and children in each group were approximately the same ages. The entire party sat on the same sides of the table — the grandparents together on the far side (relative to my position) and the family of three on the closer side. The men sat on the outside part of the booth and the women on the side closest to the wall.

Chaos is strange.

Open Projects Group?

I had a funny idea the other day. Inspired by Make Magazine, Systm, Prototype This! and other sources, I thought it might be fun to organize a group of fellow geeks and hackers to work on various projects. I got as far as coming up with the following, very rough plan for organizing such a group:

  • Projects could be hardware, software, mechanical, practical, artistic, whimsical, or whatever.
  • All members would meet quarterly to brainstorm new projects, collaborate on current projects and help move stalled projects forward.
  • Members would split into project groups revolving around active projects. Each project group would determine how frequently they meet to progress their project.
  • There would be an annual project fair for presenting completed projects. This would be the deadline for completing projects. Projects presented at this event would be considered closed.

I have a few project ideas on which I’ve never acted. It would be nice to get a group together to help motivate me to take action on these ideas and provide some peer pressure to keep me focused on moving them forward. An Open Projects Group would provide this, I think.

Trouble is, I’ve got to find the motivation to move this idea forward. . .

PayPal/eBay troubles

Awhile back, I sold and purchased a few items via eBay and PayPal. OK, a long while back — before they merged, in fact. So I’ve had accounts on both systems for a long time which I have rarely used since their creation. To the point where I had almost forgotten I had them, really.

Recently I received a payment to my PayPal account from a random user. WTF? Before I could take any action, I also started getting direct e-mail messages from the buyer and seller accusing me of being a criminal. I didn’t want to deal with this, and I didn’t want to become a victim of fraud myself, so I dusted off my PayPal login to make everything right.

But PayPal wouldn’t let me make it right. Because the buyer had filed a claim against me I was unable to refund their money. Again, WTF? I tried to cancel my account. Again, because of the unresolved dispute, I was unable to do that. Huh? Thank You PayPal.

Unable to make it right myself, I decided to let the dispute run its course so I could then cancel the account. Wrong choice. I started to get additional payments from other buyers. Fortunately, I kept on top of the new payments and was able to cancel them immediately.

The seller had apparently given my e-mail address in several of their eBay auctions, so the buyers were unintentionally sending me their money. This could have been an honest mistake on the seller’s part, as our e-mail addresses are very close in spelling. With my refunds, I was able to include a note. I stated that the buyers should contact the seller immediately because of the incorrect e-mail address. That seemed to put an end to the harassing e-mail messages accusing me of criminal activity.

I was not thrilled about the prospect of checking this account multiple times a day until the dispute was resolved so I could cancel any new transactions, hoping I did not receive any more disputes in the interim. My only recourse was to call PayPal directly and request they make it right. That should be easy, right?

I called PayPal support and got through to a live person by hitting zero through the menus because none of the options really fit my situation. After explaining the details of my predicament, I was told that I would have to wait for the dispute to end before I could log back in to the Web site to cancel my account. I put my foot down. I demanded that the account be canceled immediately and that all money be returned immediately. I explained that I wanted to avoid the very likely situation where I continued to receive payments and disputes to the point that I would never be able to cancel the account myself. That’s why I was calling, so I wanted resolution now.

After being placed on hold for about 2-3 minutes, I was then told that the account had a $10 positive balance and it would take up to 180 days for me to receive my check. I advised them I did not care about the $10, just please cancel my account and make sure I receive no more payments. I explained that I did not want to log in to this account again. I wanted it canceled, disabled and defunct NOW. I was told this would be done within the next hour.

The very next day, yet another rogue payment showed up on my PayPal account. Yeah, they did not cancel my account after the phone call despite my explicit request and their assurance that this would happen. It was still in the same state as it was prior to my calling, except that the dispute had been resolved. That, at least, allowed me to log in, cancel the last rogue payment, then start the cancellation process. Oh yes, there was a process.

Since I still had that $10 positive balance, and I did not have payment information on file (thank goodness, lest the account get compromised), I had to give them a valid CC number or bank account in order to close the account. I understand they wanted to make sure to identify me as the owner of the account, but for $10? There should have been an option to disable the account and forfeit the balance, but there wasn’t.

To make sure I minimized my risk, I used my credit card’s online account number generator to generate a one-time account number to give PayPal so I could cancel my account. I put a dollar limit on that account number of $10, and an expiration of 2 months. I was then, finally, able to cancel my account. Whew.

The moral of this little tale? If you have any accounts on systems which take or make payments and you have let those accounts languish, stop reading this entry now and go cancel them. I mean it. I’ll wait for you to get back. Do it right now.


There, are you done? Good. Unless you plan on actively using these services, it is a good idea to not sign up for them in the first place. I thought, at the time, I was going to become a small-time eBay seller. I had various electronic items I was going to sell and I did sell a few things at first. After a time, however, I found it was more trouble than it was worth for me. My only mistake was keeping these accounts around “just in case” I needed them in the future.


Coda: a couple of days after canceling my PayPal account, I received an e-mail stating that someone was trying to send me a payment. It stated I should sign up for a PayPal account so I could receive it. No Thank You PayPal. I’ll pass.

Just back from vacation, but not ready to be back!

Over this past weekend, Lori and I took this trip and stopped over in Sparta, WI for one night and Gays Mills, WI for two nights, then back home.

In Sparta, WI, we stayed at the wonderful Franklin Victorian Bed and Breakfast. We’ve stayed there before, but we tried a new room this time — the Franklin Suite. We had an excellent stay and recommend this B&B to anyone.

In Gays Mills (actually, half way between there and Soldier’s Grove), we stayed at The Inn at Lonesome Hollow. This was quite the find, and I hesitate to mention it here for fear that it will become too busy 😉

Lonesome Hollow is tucked back in a small valley of its own, and really gives you the feel of being secluded. I wish we had stayed longer so we could hike and explore around more of the acreage.

While we were in the Gays Mills area, we visited several apple orchards. Most of them were very commercial and easy to find, so they don’t warrant mention here. If you want to go off the beaten path to an orchard with more of a family farm appeal, check out Turkey Ridge Organic Orchard. Here is a write-up with some info about the orchard. Here is a map of the location. We didn’t buy a lot, but the apples were delicious, the cider tasty and the people working there were very friendly.

My only regret is that we didn’t take gobs of photos. I’ve gotten out of the habit of taking photos and need to re-acquire this important skill for trips like this.

Here are a few more maps:

  • The route we took to visit orchards on Friday. This starts at the Franklin Victorian in Sparta, WI and ends at the Inn at Lonesome Hollow in Soldiers Grove, WI.
  • The scenic road trip we took Saturday. The next two routes are more detailed maps of the two side trips we took around Ontario, WI.
  • Route we took Saturday through Wildcat State Park.
  • Route we took Saturday through the Amish area just West of Ontario, WI.