I got an Xbox 360 about a year ago with the hope of using it as a media player for my HP Media Vault because it is supposed to be a DLNA-compliant media server. It’s not. You can get it to work by installing Twonkyvision’s server on the Media Vault (which costs another $40), but it won’t stream Divx/xvid-encoded videos, which pretty much renders it useless as a media player in my opinion.
I’m not much of a gamer myself, and so the Xbox 360 hasn’t gotten much use. For some reason that I cannot recall, I decided to upgrade my Xbox 360 silver membership (which is free) to an Xbox Live Gold membership which costs about $7.99/month. I figured I could always just switch back to the free membership if I didn’t use the Gold membership features. After a while of seeing that monthly charge appear on the credit card, I decided to cancel it. I first tried canceling it on-line via the webpage for Live, then through the Xbox console, and wasted at least a half hour before searching on the Internet only to find out that that only way to cancel it is to call up 1-800-4MY-XBOX (1-800-469-9269) to wait to talk to an operator. And that took an additional 18 minutes, most of which time I was on hold.
I really hate it when a company makes such an obvious attempt to hang on to subscription fees that it causes that level of inconvenience when attempting to cancel a service. Signing up took a few minutes and I didn’t need to call anyone, but canceling took 48 minutes from my life. So I’ll post this here for three reasons:
To help someone in the future to not waste time looking for an on-line solution to canceling their xbox live membership.
To let Microsoft know that this is a really stupid policy.
To let any other company that is contemplating a similar strategy not to do it because customers don’t like it.
I hope someone Diggs this and maybe it will get the attention of the person Microsoft who can correct the situation. If they do, I’ll gladly remove this from my blog.
Since I’m shilling for Google today, I’d like to also recommend the bookmark feature that they offer in the latest version Google toolbar. I use 3 different computers at home and keeping bookmarks synchronized on them was just about impossible. Two of the computers are dual-boot Windows and Ubuntu Linux, so that makes it even harder. I also use IE as well as Firefox and so that means I have 6 different browsers I can use just on these 3 computers. It was even more complicated when I had 2 additional work computers because then I had 6 more browsers because one computer was a triple boot, XP, Vista, and Ubuntu. About 2 months ago I decided to give the latest Google toolbar bookmarking feature a try and now that I’ve used it I find that I absolutely love it. No matter which computer or browser I’m using, the bookmarks are properly organized and accessible.
If you use it, you will come to see this image in the toolbar as the most frequently used real estate on your screen
Even if you’re on a borrowed computer without the Google Toolbar, you can still access your bookmarks in a webpage by going to http://www.google.com/bookmarks
I should mention that Google Bookmarks use ‘tags’ for organization, so a single bookmark can be listed under several tags. Traditionally, bookmarks could be stored in a hierarchical order, which somewhat defeats the purpose of a bookmark, because you have to go searching through a directory-like structure for it instead of having nearly instant access to it. Unlike organizational tools that are heirarchical, tags are flat, so when you store a bookmark and can’t think of where it belongs, you can put it under several tags. I mention this because if you import your bookmarks and you have multiple levels of categories, Google will make up unique tags for each level. I found that to be a distraction, so I reorganized afterward by editing those tags.
I’ve been reading RSS feeds for several years. I think that most people, probably 90% of people who use the Internet, still don’t know what RSS feeds are used for. They are a way to keep track of websites that change frequently without having to go visit them all the time. This is done with a news aggregator.
There are a lot of competing services for aggregating your RSS feeds and I’ve experimented with most of them over time and have finally decided that Google’s works best for me. I’ve used Newsgator, Bloglines, and Yahoo at one time or another and none of them have the features or ease-of-use that the Google Reader offers.
So if you have been seeing RSS feed logos on web pages, particularly blogs, go ahead and sign up for Google Reader and start reading your web sites through an RSS feed and you’ll never go back to the old way again.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 3 weeks since I wrote anything in the weblog. I’ve been staying busy, primarily working on finance-related activities. After 24 years of working at HP, I decided to take an early retirement package and left the company a few weeks ago. I was ready for a break and felt that the offer was good, so now I’m in the middle of moving money around and organizing my finances. Yesterday I computed the basis for HP stock that I had accumulated over a 23 year period that had undergone 3 splits and 2 company spinoffs. I had been dreading that excercize, but in the end, all the numbers added up and it wasn’t too painful. Thankfully, the HP Alumni association had a spreadsheet I used as a starting point that kept track of the price of HP and spin off stocks all the way back to HP’s IPO. I realized that if someone had the foresight to buy $1000 worth of HP stock when it went public in 1959, today it would be worth well over $600,000 in a combination of HP, Agilent, and Verigy stock. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get started that early .
A while ago I experimented with purchasing individual stocks and experienced pretty good gains, even though I had a few of my stocks lose most of their value. Having picked those losers led me to wonder if I had the temperament for purchasing stocks individually. It seemed too much like gambling. In retrospect, even with those losers, my net gains were still over 20% a year, and so I couldn’t complain too much. I decided that if I were ever to try investing in individual stocks again, I’d do a much more thorough job of analyzing the companies. The worst kind of investing is where you buy a stock after hearing a ‘hot tip’ from some dubious source about a company that is ‘about to explode.’ Often times, the company implodes instead. I can see by the amount of ‘pump and dump‘ spam email I get that it must still be popular to speculate in companies with no real earnings. Now the spam messages don’t even make any pretenses about the company having any potential, instead tacitly inviting investors to engage in a game of the greater fool theory.
I’ve heard several horror stories about people who are suckered into handing over control of their money to seemingly trustworthy individuals only to be cheated, sometimes out of their entire life savings. Fortunately, I’ve not had this experience myself with investment counselors, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying on their part. I used to get calls from boiler room operations promising “30, 40, or 50% annual returns” but I never took the bait. I even had a guy tormenting me with voicemails every night at home, eventually resorting to insulting me with comments such as ‘anyone with a modicum of intelligence would be able to tell that this is a great investment’. Yeah, I want to give my money to someone who would talk to potential clients like that… I will never buy an investment from someone trying to sell it to me over the phone. Anyone ‘selling’ you an investment probably does not have your best interests in mind.
Lately I’ve been reading investing books and studying a lot of companies using analytical tools geared toward value investing. I would never have the temperament to be a day trader but I do plan to have a more active role in investing now that I have the time to do it.