Are all Hearse Ghost Tours Savannah – hearseghosttours.com drivers this reckless?

If you are planning on visiting Savannah, and are considering a ghost tour, you may be well advised to properly evaluate and scrutinize the tour operator. If your safety is important to you, you may wish to ask for a copy of their driving records, drug and alcohol policy, proof of insurance, and any applicable operator license or safety inspection certificate.

It appears this may be particularly true for the specific topic of this post.

I just sent this letter to the owner of the company that provides Hearse Ghost Tours in Savannah (hearseghosttours.com) after my phone call to (912)695-1578 did not satisfactorily address an experience I had with one of their drivers:

Hello,

I am writing to you with concerns about one of your drivers. I have already relayed my concerns to the lady in your office, as well as to the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.

At 5:02PM on May 24, I was behind one of your vehicles (#BSI 3091) on Congress Street, heading East. With NO warning, your vehicle came to a complete stop, and, without hesitation, began backing up in an attempt to parallel park on the side of the Lucas Theater. As a result of waiting for pedestrians to cross, my vehicle was approximately one standard car length behind your vehicle.

Clearly, if your vehicle continued to advance, it would have impacted my vehicle on the front passenger side. There were other vehicles behind me, and I had no where to go. I began honking my horn.

Your driver continued, so I honked again. Your driver continued, so I started honking in rapid fashion. Your driver continued. In the mean time, the drivers behind me began reversing, creating room for your obviously dangerous driver.

Your driver, however, continued reversing. My passenger began yelling for him to stop, as he was within a mere half foot from hitting our vehicle. I pulled my car back as far as I could– not out of harm’s way– and got out. If my vehicle is to be hit by a reckless driver, I prefer to not have the airbag deploy in my face.

I approached your driver and asked what he was doing. He said he was parking. I explained that he had used no signal, and no hazard lights. He had made no indication of his intent to park prior to advancing in reverse. He was dangerously close to hitting my car.

Your driver did not apologize. He stated, “I saw you, I wasn’t going to hit you.”

The situation resolved with me being forced to illegally reverse on a roadway, in order to make way for your driver’s illegal reversing on the road way, failure to signal, and failure to yield.

I contacted your office, and was told by a lady, who was instantly defensive, that the driver did NOT see my vehicle, even though the driver stated he had. She stated that the vehicles have a large blind spot and are difficult to park. She stated he may not have seen my vehicle, but instead the vehicle behind me.

Regardless, if the driver did not see my vehicle, the honking of the horn should have stopped him. This is especially true if the driver is aware that the vehicle has blind spots. Instead, the driver continued reversing, would not make eye contact, would not get out of the vehicle to see how dangerously close he was to an avoidable collision, and would not apologize.

Judging by his lack of spacial abilities, his failure to signal, and his failure to stop when other vehicles are honking at him, I suspect your driver was intoxicated. That is exactly what I reported to the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.

I will be reporting this issue to the City of Savannah so they may review your drivers’ records and the safety of your vehicles.

The larger problem is one of referral business. I have lived in Savannah for 11 years. Each year, I have between 6 and 12 out-of-town visitors. In fact, my in-laws will be here in about two weeks. They are extremely excited to go on a ghost tour. Guess which tour they– and all of my future guests– won’t be taking?

Thank you,

A concerned citizen

I wouldn’t patronize them.

That is all.

Quit calling it exploration

Am I the only person who follows “space” news who finds it incredibly irritating that the cable news networks are categorizing SpaceX’s successful launch as “exploration”?

What are we exploring exactly? It’s pretty simple. Launch, orbit, repeat. We are exploring nothing. Nothing!

Also, note to Tamron Hall of MSNBC: This was not the first commercial rocket launch. Not. Even. Close.

That is all.

Bad Retail Experience Part II: Kroger

Kroger, oh Kroger. You put me in a bad position. You are the most convenient store for me to shop, but you are really starting to slip. I can forgive that your highest-price-in-town canned cat food forces me to send my dollars to your competitors, but I have very little patience for less than competent employees.

I went to Kroger today to buy a chicken for roasting tomorrow. Knowing that Kroger’s stocking is hit-or-miss, I first went to make sure they had a chicken (even though we are the top chicken producing state in the nation).

The only chickens they had in the cooler were these fancy-pants organic things, with a price in the $10+ range. It was easy to find them– they were flanked by about 3 feet of empty space on either side, where reasonably priced chickens once sat, I presume.

I asked the two managers who were talking nearby if the only whole chickens they had were the $10 ones, and she went and checked. She said they had more in the back, and said she would have an employee get them.

I continued my shopping, getting all of the food for the weekend, and head back to grab a chicken, about 10 minutes later. I once again find $10 chickens, and 6 feet of empty shelf. Now, though, there is a guy who is setting out ground beef.

I ask where the chickens are. He points to a box, where I am expected to fish out a chicken. Why, after the manager specifically asked him to put out chickens, would he instead put out ground beef? Why should a customer, who was patient enough to wait for them to restock, have to sort through a box to find a chicken?

And, the most irksome part– the part that sent me to Kroger’s competitor Piggly Wiggly to buy a chicken– is that the chicken they wanted to sell me was 15% salt water. That’s not chicken, that’s chicken product. They are so salty that I can’t even eat them. And I don’t pay $25/gallon for chicken broth, which is what 15% salt water chicken product works out to at $3/lb.

Piggly Wiggly had a nice chicken, around $6, and only 3% solution. Cheaper on cat food, too.

That is all.

Bad Retail Experience Part I: Home Depot

Hey Home Depot,

I just got back from your store.

I have a project that, according to my math, works out to about $250. I was planning on buying all of my supplies today. Instead, I bought nothing. The reasons are two-fold, and here they are:

1. Lack of Employee Knowledge. I had to ask five– F I V E– Home Depot employees where I should go to find SKU 755578, Master Flow Water Based Mastic Half Gallon Tub. The first guy didn’t seem to understand the word “mastic,” and sent me to the very far corner of the store, where I found buckets of roofing compounds. No mastic in sight.

The two ladies over there both told me it was in plumbing. That didn’t seem to make sense, so I asked another guy on the long walk back to plumbing. He was confident– Aisle 7, left side, near the end, eye level. Nope, no mastic in sight.

I headed to customer service. The nice lady was able to look up the product, and walked me right over to it. For the record, it was not by roofing, not in plumbing, and not at eye level Aisle 7 on the left near the end. It was eye level, on the right, at the other end, and in different packaging than is shown on the website.

15 minutes to find mastic. 3 tubs in my cart.

2. Poor Stocking Procedures. My project requires a respirator. The first guy I asked knew exactly where respirators were. I looked up the respirator I wanted to buy online– SKU 674580. It is specifically listed as a Demolition respirator, safe for use around insulation. Looking at the display, I find the spot where the respirator I want is supposed to be sitting. There is one respirator in the box, and it is the wrong one.

At this point, I go back to customer service, and ask for her to locate one of these masks. I learned my 15 minute, across-the-store-and-back lesson with the Mastic. She says they have 19, and we head over to where I just was. Sure enough, there are none on the shelf. I located a box of these respirators by the hand-written SKU. The lady gets a ladder, and gets down a box.

The respirators are listed as Lead Paint respirators, not Demolition and Renovation respirators as on the website and the shelf sticker. Nowhere on the packaging does it say it is safe to use with insulation. Either they are listing this respirator incorrectly on their website, or the SKU was hand-written on the incorrect box. Any way you look at it, I will NOT trust a respirator for insulation use that does not specifically say it is safe for insulation use on the packaging.

At this point, I had spent nearly 30 minutes in Home Depot. I had successfully acquired ONE of the ten or so items that I needed to purchase for my project. The item I was not able to acquire is essential to start my project.

I left my cart at customer service. I won’t trust a respirator based on the hand-written SKU by the same Home Depot employees that sent me on a wild goose chase to find a product that they should have located the first time I asked.

Home Depot got ZERO dollars from me today, and it looks like Lowes will be getting my money for this project.

That is all.

Green Is Universal, MSNBC Is Hypocritical

“It’s ‘Green is Universal’ week here at MSNBC,” said Tamron Hall while sitting in front of a bank of flat screen monitors, placed on desks where I have never seen anyone sit.

Yes, this is the same “Green is Universal” that I have been talking about 2007. I posted about it here and here.

Math check!

3 monitors, let’s say 100 watts each. That means each of them uses 0.1 kilowatt-hours for every hour they are powered, and the three of them it combine to 0.3 kilowatt-hours for every hour of use.

My first post on the subject was Tuesday, November 6, 2007. That is 1,628 days from today. Each day has 24 hours, so about 39,072 hours.

0.3 kilowatt-hours multiplied by 39,072 hours equals 11,721 kilowatt-hours wasted. WASTED!

But that’s not fair, is it? Surely they don’t have them powered on all the time. OK, fine, let’s say they use them 8 hours a day. That means MSNBC has wasted 3,907 kilowatt-hours. WASTED!

According to the US Energy Information Administration:

In 2010, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 11,496 kWh, an average of 958 kilowatthours (kWh) per month. Tennessee had the highest annual consumption at 16,716 kWh and Maine the lowest at 6,252 kWh.

It appears as though MSNBC has wasted somewhere between about 4 months of electricity for the highest of home users, and up to almost two years of electricity for the lowest home users, all AFTER they declared that Green is Universal.

So please allow me to translate “Green is Universal” from MSNBC-speak into normal person terms:

Green Is Universal, MSNBC Is Hypocritical

That is all.

Ruining America’s Pasttime

I am not as excited for the upcoming baseball season as I have been in recent years, and as a result, I am generally not following it. I did, however, make one observation:

Major League Baseball ruined opening day.

Baseball, as you may recall, is the sport closely affiliated with such phrases as “America’s Pasttime” or “As American as baseball and apple pie.”

That is why it is so disappointing that Major League Baseball would choose to play the first two games of the 2012 series in a different country, on a different continent, in a different hemisphere.

The 2012 season is underway, with Oakland and Seattle playing twice in Japan. A quick show of hands– who saw it? Who knew about it?

I didn’t think so.

Good job, MLB. You’ve taken a virtual holiday for sports lovers, and screwed it up.

Typical.

That is all.

SC License Plate # GCF 541

Hey, driver of the Lexus SUV with SC plate # GCF 541. Yeah, you, the one with the sticker in your rear window that looks like a strand of paper dolls.

Yeah, you suck at driving. You cut me off while you were driving recklessly, and failed to take any corrective action once aware of your recklessness.

We were both in left turn lanes, you to the inside, me to the outside. Instead of turning into the left lane, you swept into my lane. You left me with a choice of either slamming into the housing project, or slamming on my brakes and hoping the guy behind me was paying attention.

I honked at you. I don’t think you realized, since you were ON THE PHONE. So as I passed you, I honked again to alert you of my vehicle. I couldn’t trust that you were paying attention. You didn’t signal during the initial turn, so I was unsure if you were about to swing back into my lane.

You were still ON THE PHONE. You didn’t even look over to recognize that you were a safety hazard.

You were behind me the rest of the way because, coincidentally, we both decided to pass the exact same cars at the exact same time. Of course, I always signaled before I initiated a lane change, and you NEVER signaled before you initiated a lane change.

I watched in my rear view mirror as you finished your call. After you completed your call, you then placed another call. You were talking on the phone when I turned out of the 50mph rush hour traffic onto a side street.

It is my greatest hope that, upon the crash you cause due to your recklessness and inattentiveness, you only injure yourself.

That is all.

Your Co-worker For President

Self-discredited former governor, Fox News commentator, and celebrity blogger Sarah Palin said yesterday:

If I had to vote in South Carolina, in order to keep this thing going I’d vote for Newt and I would want this to continue.

I’m shocked!

Are you telling me that Fox News contributor Sarah Palin is encouraging people to vote for (former) Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich?!

Again, I’m shocked!

On a totally different note, who does this picture of Newt make you think of?

Newt Schrute Gingrich

Yeah, he looks like Dwight Schrute.

That is all.

DirecTV May Suck.

UPDATED Jan. 19, 2012: See comment below

Uhh… DirecTV… do you suck, or are you just shady? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.

I want to order. I have perfect credit. I have never missed a payment on anything ever. I have owned my home for almost a decade, and don’t plan on moving at all.

It all comes down to about $23.

They want me to pay for them to ship hardware from their facility directly to their installer. I think that is ridiculous. The installer can’t do their job without the equipment. Certainly I’m not going to pay for an internal shipment. And they’re certainly not shipping anything to me.

In any event, DirecTV has been sending us these mailers. It’s basically the same offer as online, but an extra $5 off each month for a year. You have to call to receive the offer. Note the bolding.

Today I call, ready to order. We almost made it through the whole process, but it came down to $23.

It is worth noting, for those who might call and order DirecTV in the future, that I found the conduct of their representatives to be unsettling. I felt like I was being sold, not being allowed to buy, which is basic salesmanship 101.

They kept telling me of features for which I qualified, as if I was getting something that other customers do not get. Their website and advertisement indicate that just about everybody gets these features, if they want, when they sign a contract. Tactics like those can come off as shady. They also revealed details of their location and personal lives that, according to a supervisor, they are not permitted to reveal. It leaves me with the impression that they run a pretty sloppy ship over there.

We went through the whole ordering process, including intrusive questions about what I like to watch on TV that should have been avoided by simply asking if I knew what package I wanted, or if I needed help deciding. So at the very end, they tell me it will be about $23 for shipping. What? I thought shipping was free. Nope, not with this offer, apparently.

It says at the bottom of the mailer, “$19.95 handling and delivery fee may apply.” So it may apply. Ok, then, if it may apply, then why does it apply to me?

I’m told that in order to get the Shipping and Handling fee waived, I have to order online. But, the mailer they sent me directs me to order by phone to get the special deal. If I order online, it is impossible get the deal contained in the advertisement.

While they were happy to tell me about all these features for which I qualified, and raved about my credit, they were unable to tell me a single situation where I would be able to get the deal from the advertisement, but not pay for them to ship hardware to someone who isn’t me.

According to the DirecTV people with whom I spoke, in order to get the deal as listed on the flier that was sent to me through the mail, I must pay shipping. Period. Nothing would actually be shipped to me. Period.

Instead of saying a fee may apply, they should have said that a fee does apply. Put it right on the advertisement, and let me decide if I want to spend $23 now for $60 in bill reduction over time, or to save the $23 now and not get the extra discount over time. Why hide the shipping fees by saying they may apply, when customer service representatives insist that it must apply in order to get the deal on the advertisement that enticed me to call?

Can that be viewed as anything but shady? How many people signed up from similar fliers as this, and paid shipping without questioning it? Did they know that the flier said they may have to pay shipping, but the actual offer required them to pay shipping? Of course, they wouldn’t have qualified because, according to DirecTV, the fee that may apply, definitely applies. One thing seems clear,though– the mailer didn’t make it clear that I would pay shipping, and the company can’t tell me any situation where shipping could be avoided.

Twenty bucks, twenty bucks, twenty bucks. It adds up. Lots of mailers. It looks like lots of people may have had to pay a shipping fee, but really had no choice if they wanted the deal in the advertisement.

Now I’m not so sure I want DirecTV. Between the way they seemed slimy on the phone, the seemingly shady fine print, and their unwillingness to recognize that $23 makes or breaks a sale, I wonder why they deserve my business.

The thing is, I would be a great customer. I love football, and I love hockey. The person who referred me to DirecTV– and would benefit from the referral– did it based on the NFL Sunday Ticket, and the NHL Center Ice package. While there hasn’t been a single football or hockey game in the last five years that I have wanted to watch but couldn’t, it would sure be a lot more convenient to just turn on the TV. DirecTV really wants to lose those two sales over $23?

Anyway, I tried to call their corporate office, but– get this– they were closed due to weather. It doesn’t bode well for such a large company when their corporate office in Idaho, which receives 32 inches of snow a year, and is covered in snow for two months a year, is closed due to snow.

In any event, I will try to call their corporate office again tomorrow, and ask how I can get the deal from the advertisement and still fall under the may portion of the fine print. Either their customer service department doesn’t know they can waive the fee, or DirecTV has charged a shipping fee to every single customer who ordered based on the mailed advertisement, even though the fine print indicates that only some people have to pay the fee. And that ignores the fact that nothing is ever actually shipped to the customer.

That is all.

Occupy Savannah

Occupy Savannah is a joke. I’m not going to go into the lack of impact their protests have had. I will note, however, that during their daily flash mob at the Bank of America branch, there are usually more people waiting in the ATM line than engaged in protest.

This morning, I was driving behind an occupier. Well, not an occupier– an occupier occupies. This person appeared to be driving to the protest, indicating they were a part time occupier, also known as “hanging out at the park.”

Written across the back window of their $19,000 Made in Mexico car was the following:

REPEAL CITIZENS UNITED

Wait…. w h a t . . . ?

I hope this particular person doesn’t think we can somehow “repeal” a non-profit organization. We can rescind their tax exemption status, but we can’t “repeal” an organization.

The only other reference to Citizens United of which I am aware– and I am acutely politically aware– is the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision. I’m not going to explain what it is, for if you do not know, it is unlikely that you are reading this.

Needless to say, how exactly can a Supreme Court decision be repealed? It can’t. It is a ruling, not a piece of legislation. It’s options are either to be overruled by a future Supreme Court decision, rendered moot via a constitutional amendment, or weaseled around with Congressional legislation of questionable constitutionality.

None of those meet the criteria of Repeal Citizens United. This particular individual should occupy the library, and acquire a bit of self-education on how our government works, before attempting to impact change.

That is all.

Shopping – Christmas, Grocery, etc.

1. Attention JC Penney: Shopping in your store is like hunting for buried treasure. Why should I have to walk up to one of your employees and ask, “Excuse me, where are the clothes that are not for fat ladies?” You should put up a sign that says, “Fatties to the left, minnies to the right, and everyone else straight ahead.”

Of all the dollars I spent today– and I spent a lot of dollars– JC Penney didn’t get any of them, not even with a $10 off $25 coupon.

2. Attention Barnes and Noble: If your website says it is in stock online, and I go to the store and ask for the product, do whatever it takes to find the product. Don’t tell me you must be out of them without checking your computer. If I can order it online right now, and pick it up from your store in 60 minutes, you clearly have stock. If you cannot be bothered to look up the product I want, I definitely cannot be bothered to drive to your store and find parking, only to deal with employees who cannot be bothered to look up the product I want.

Of all the dollars I spent today– and I spent a lot of dollars– Barnes and Noble didn’t get any of them.

3. Attention chicken producers: I will not pay you several dollars per pound for 15% chicken broth. At $3.00 per pound, that is the equivalent of paying $25.02 per gallon for chicken broth or, more likely, saltwater. I will not pay you 8x the price of gasoline, 8x the price of milk, or 4x the price of chicken broth, for chicken broth. Any chicken product that is more than 5% solution should be labeled as exactly what it is– chicken product. You know, kind of how people who sell fake chocolate have to describe their product as chocolatey or ice cream that doesn’t contain cream is described as frozen dairy dessert.

That is all.

Hey MSNBC, you suck at this!

Hey MSNBC, I tuned in to your network for almost an hour today– even though it wasn’t my turn to watch– to try to catch up on the news. Can you guess what happened? Nope, I didn’t catch up on the news at all.

In fact, I didn’t see even a bit of news, not even one second. Any viewers who tuned in to MSNBC between about 2:05PM and 2:56PM EST to catch the headlines of the day were turned away.

Why? MSNBC was too busy airing yet another presidential campaign speech full of platitudes, clich├ęs, and immature partisanship.

Sure, they could discuss the failing EU, the rigged Russian elections, or the two wars we are fighting. But hey, the president is speaking! Why not take a break? The worst that could happen is that some random nobody on some random blog says…

Hey MSNBC, you suck at this!

That is all.

Rondo SX Furrian VWH Review

Well, I did it again. I bought another guitar.

For those of you keeping score at home, 2011 has been the year of the guitar for me. I have purchased a Fender Standard Jazz Bass, an Agile AL-2000, and Jaime got a Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Short Scale Bass.

The newest addition is a vintage white SX Furrian from Rondomusic.com. Rondo originally was selling these guitars for $109.99. Then they dropped them to $99.99. I finally bought one when they lowered the price to $79.99. It fills three gaps in my collection: 1. It is white. 2. It has a maple neck. 3. It is a Tele-style guitar.

SX Furrian VWH

Here is my review.

Body. The body is nicely done, with smooth cuts. There are no major dings, but the back does have an area where it appears that the sanding was overly aggressive. The color is nice, but the paint job is not so nice. If you look into glare on the guitar, you can see a series of lines in the finish that run parallel with the grain of wood. The clear coat seems soft or thin, and is easily scratched. This guitar should age quickly, which is fine by me. The neck pocket has a hairline crack in the paint (same as my American Standard Strat), and there also was a paint buildup sticking out near the neck that I had to remove and smooth. The biggest issue that still isn’t a big issue is that there are several random black dots embedded in the finish, one right on the upper bout, the rest on the back or sides. They’re small enough that you can’t see them from about 5 feet away. If this was an expensive guitar, it would be completely unacceptable. But for $80, meh.

Hardware. The body hardware is a mixed bag. The pickguard is dual layer black-and-white and has a softer matte finish than most budget instruments, which is a nice touch. It had the rippled edges that you would expect on a budget instrument, and that was easily fixed with some sandpaper. The screws are straight, but cheap. The bridge and string saddles are of adequate quality. One of the screws for the bridge plate is installed at an angle, but secure. The six holes that hold the six screws that attach the string saddles to the bridge plate seem rough and slightly undersized. There is a bit of a gap between the head of the screw and the bridge plate. Some cleanup with a Dremel should fix this. The control plate is adequate. The knobs are surprisingly nice. The switch tip looked like they popped it off a mold for a model airplane, and required some shaving. The jack mount is of the football variety, and seems to be similar to every other football jack I’ve seen. The neck plate is thin, and the neck screws are cheap. The strap buttons are cheap.

Electronics. The electronics are just ok. The switch feels cheap, the pots are cheap, and the pickups leave much to be desired. The bridge pickup in my guitar was ridiculously microphonic. When removed from the guitar and hooked directly up to an amp, you could speak into the pickup and hear your voice. When it was in the guitar, you could hear the strap moving as you played. Kurt sent me out a new pickup that solved the problem. Still, the pickups are cheap ceramics with plastic bobbins, and will be replaced. The jack is of the cheap variety, but adequate. The soldering was done fairly well, with only a couple of cold joints that looked like they could use a reflow. I did shield the guitar because single coils do not play well with my noisy house power.

Neck. Overall, the neck is pretty nice. It comes covered with odd this orange tint that I quickly removed with paint stripper, revealing the maple below. Unfortunately, it also revealed a few areas where the neck was sanded after the sealer was applied, and so now I am left with bare wood in spots. My plan is to do a full refinish with Formby’s Tung Oil.

Frets. The fretwork is pretty good. There are a couple of frets that are a tad bit higher than the rest. It doesn’t make the instrument unplayable, and it seems like a perfect guitar for learning how to do fretwork.

Nut. The nut is actually of better quality than I expected, and was well cut but sloppy. I did a bit of cleanup while I had it out while stripping the neck, and I do not plan on changing it

Tuners. The tuners are junk. They move up and down as you turn them, and they seem to have dead spots. They are stable once set, but they need to be replaced to increase tuning accuracy. The string tees are also not very good. They had sharp edges and were causing the strings to bind when tuning or bending. Some sandpaper smoothed them out, and the result was greatly improved tuning stability.

Setup. The setup was mixed. The neck relief was set correctly, but not for the light strings that were on the guitar. My thicker strings pulled it to within 0.001″ of where I like it to be. The pickup height seemed random. The biggest setup issue, though, was the action. The low E string was at 9/64″, where it should be 4/64″. All the strings were between 4/64″ and 6/64″ too high. The E strings had the string saddles installed at severe angles, leaning in towards the other strings. It was very odd, and I can’t imagine that anyone could think it was correct. The intonation was dead on for most stings, with minor adjustments needed on two strings. This will all need to be changed, though, after I clean up where the string saddle screws set against the bridge plate.

Overall. This is a decent little guitar. It is more than I expected for the money. I would not recommend it to a beginner. The little issues here and there could be enough to prevent a beginner from sticking with it. I also wouldn’t recommend it to someone who is uncomfortable working on their own guitar. It doesn’t make sense to pay someone to fix any issues you find on an $80 guitar. If you can’t do the work, don’t get the guitar.

BUT… if you are comfortable doing some work, and appropriately adjust your expectations before buying, you will be extremely satisfied. If you look past the fit and finish issues, and the low quality hardware and pickups, you will see that you are getting a very nice body and a very nice neck for very little money.

This guitar seems like a great platform for improvement and customization. I plan on replacing the strap buttons, the tuners, and the string tees as soon as possible, and eventually the pickups. I’m going to use it to learn how to refinish necks, and to learn how to do fretwork. It is such an inexpensive instrument that it doesn’t bother me if it picks up some scratches. I would buy another one in an instant.

If there are any areas I missed, let me know!

That is all.

And now, a bit of politics.

I can’t resist.

The Washington Post has published an article that explains how the CIA and DNI plan on hosting a scaled back “year-end” party this year. The article describes the fancy food and served booze that our tax dollars provided last year.

It then goes on to cite Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who apparently needs to direct a little more of his agency’s product to his own office, who said:

Scaling back our holiday celebrations is just another small example of our commitment to making sure that we continue to make wise fiscal decisions across the board.

Seriously? Our Director of National Intelligence considers it to be a “wise financial decision” for an organization to throw a party when that organization’s parent entity (the federal government) is currently carrying FIVE TIMES annual income as debt?

Here is the equivalent. You’re driving a school bus loaded with kids. You’re going 65 MPH downhill, quickly approaching a cliff that can only be avoided by making a sharp turn. In an attempt to slow your bus and avoid near-certain death, you stomp on the brakes fly your hand out the window to increase air resistance. Sure, you still plummet over the cliff, and you and a bus load of kids still die, but at least you did your part to slow the bus.

Here’s a thought: CANCEL THE PARTY.

Here’s another thought: Have the party at a public restaurant, pay for a single bland chicken entree that everyone gets, and allow your employees to participate in a cash bar if they so choose.

Here’s a final thought: C A N C E L T H E P A R T Y .

That is all.

Thanksgiving Fun

Well, not quite fun.

We did have an excellent Thanksgiving, even though one of our guests was stranded up north due to weather. That, however, is not the subject of this post. The subject of this post is home repairs, and how they almost always occur at the absolute worst time.

About six hours ago, at 1:00AM, the trouble began. Our guest noted a gurgling sound coming from the kitchen. I went in to check it out, and confirmed what I had suspected– the drain was definitely slow. Not good. Last time we had that sound, I had to tear out my downstairs bathroom to the studs and the floor joists and rebuild it from scratch.

I cleared the sink (who would have thought that I could mess four full loads of dishes in less than 36 hours), and inspected. The water was slowly draining, so I was hopeful. I employed the double plunger method, as suggested by our guest, in an attempt to force out the blockage. It seemed like I had made some progress. Water was draining fast. A quick flush of the toilet and a flooded bathroom indicated otherwise.

I went outside and opened one of the cleanouts. All the backed up material came flooding out. Not good. I went under the house, and opened the other cleanout. There was water to the top of the 4″ pipe. Again, not good.

As I was now covered in some pretty nasty stuff and couldn’t use the water, there was no way I could go to bed. I decided to stay up until Home Depot opened at 6:00AM, and I researched my options.

The plan was to first try a bladder. This is a rubber balloon-like device that you attach to your garden hose, and insert into the pipe. The pressure from the hose causes the bladder to expand, sealing the system upstream, and subsequently sprays water into the pipe. In theory, the hydraulic effect pushes out the blockage.

The secondary option was to rent a drain rooter. This is the big snake device that plumbers often use to clear drains. Almost certain to work, and with my luck, almost certain to cause immense amounts of expensive damage in the process.

The third option was to call a plumber and proceed to fill his (or her) crack with cash (sorry plumbers, you must get sick of those jokes, until you get paid, that is!).

I was at Home Depot when the opened, and was back home by 6:05AM. I rigged the bladder up to the hose, and climbed under the house as daylight was just barely visible. I wasn’t comfortable being under the house near electrical wiring while spraying water at high pressure, so I rigged up a valve that I could control while standing outside. I went to stuff the bladder into the nearly overflowing pipe and realized… it was empty. That was good, I thought– it’s not a full blockage.

I put in the bladder, crawled out from under the house, and slowly applied the water. I could hear water spraying in the pipe, so I knew it was filling. After about five minutes of increasing pressure, the spraying noise had stopped. It sounded like water was flowing. Success!

I shut off the water, ready to close things up and hit the shower. Alas, it was wishful thinking. All of the water that I had just pumped into the pipe began flowing out of the cleanout. I quickly turned the water back on in hopes that the bladder would re-expand and re-seal the pipe. It did.

I let it flow with my ear on the sewer pipe (good times) until it sounded like it did before– silence. I then added slightly more pressure. With that, I heard a huge ‘woooosh’ sound that lasted about five seconds and then transitioned to the spraying sound of the bladder in an empty pipe.

I turned off the water, and removed the bladder. No back flow. I went inside and turned on the kitchen and bathroom sinks, and crawled under the house. Between the both of them, there was less than 1/4″ of water in the pipe.

SUCCESS!

I started at 6:05, and finished at 6:50. Nice. I woke up Jaime and told her everything was fixed (as she asked), and hit the shower. Now I’m enjoying a nice cup of coffee and having a nice, quiet morning.

In the grand scheme of home repairs, I rate this to be relatively simple, very cost effective, excessively inconvenient, and extremely disgusting.

That is all.

Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Short Scale Bass Review

Early this year, I purchased a Fender Jazz Bass for $175 from a local pawn shop. To my surprise, Jaime took interest in learning how to play.

I had been tuning it for her, but a couple of weeks ago, I was busy. She tried to tune the bass, and soon realized that her small size was not a match for a full-size, 34″ scale bass. She needed a short scale bass.

We decided to get her a bass, and the timing worked out that it arrived just a few days before her birthday.

We ordered a Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Short Scale Bass in metallic silver from Sweetwater. We ordered it on a Thursday, and it arrived the following Tuesday. Sweetwater was excellent, as always.

Squier Vintage Modified Short Scale Bass

Here is my review on the bass. As background, I am a guitar player. I have played for 20 years. I am not a bassist. I do, however, own a bass. And, I setup all of my own instruments– 7 by my count. I’m probably an advanced amateur in terms of skill level, with a strong understanding of the electrical side of things.

I am going to nitpick here, but overall, the bass is nicer than I expect at $170 delivered. I would buy it again in an instant. It is made in Indonesia and, like the Ibanez I bought about 9 years ago, they did a good job.

From the headstock down… The headstock is very glossy, which Jaime likes, but I do not. The truss rod hole had some residue in it, and is not fully painted. No big deal. The tuners, while cheap, do feel solid. Each tuner has four screws, and each tuner had at least one screw that was either not fully seated, or screwed in on an angle. The E string has two misaligned screws that were not even in contact with the tuner, and the tuner easily flexed away from the neck. I tightened them down even though they were slightly crooked, and they are now stable.

Jaime complained that it feels like it sticks a bit when she is tuning. This may be partly caused by the strings, which will be replaced soon, or the nut, which I will replace with a Tusq one in the next couple of weeks, or the string retainer, which is so cheap to replace that I might as well do it.

I emailed Fender to ask what the nut is made of, and they said that it is simulated bone. They sent me the service manual (thanks Fender!), and it says the nut is part number 0994920000. I don’t think so. Those parts are definitely white-ish. This nut is gray. Anyway, it is very low quality, and it isn’t molded/cut very well. It doesn’t render the bass unplayable, though.

The fretboard seems to be of a nice rosewood. It was, however, very dry, just like my Agile AL-2000. I think this is pretty common on guitars that come over from Asia on a container ship. It is a cheap and easy fix– a $5 bottle of lemon oil from the grocery store will last you the rest of your life. One application made a huge difference. The board is now much darker, and feels better.

While I wouldn’t call the edges of the fretboard sharp, they were sharper than I like them. Jaime has small hands, so that will likely be a friction point for her. I very carefully used some sandpaper of ascending grit to very slightly soften the bottom fretboard edge. It took a while, but the end result is a smoother, faster neck. Nice.

The maple portion of the neck is nice, with some nice grain. There is some cool looking grain in spots, and one funky spot by the pocket end of the neck. It’s almost like one spot of heavy flame right where the heel curves to the back of the neck. If I were looking at this in the store, I would have moved on to the next instrument, but now that I have looked at it a bunch of times, I kind of like it. The maple on the bottom edge from around the nut to the the third fret has a slight amount of ripple in it. On a more expensive instrument it would be unacceptable, but for this price it isn’t an issue. It could easily be sanded smooth. It doesn’t impact playability. The finish is almost non-existent, almost a matte finish. The neck-body joint is very solid. The neck feels great.

The frets are well seated, and nicely done. There were no sharp edges. The ends had a nice, smooth, slight angle to them. There are no obvious high spots on a visual inspection, although I won’t know until after I’ve done a full setup. The frets themselves, however, were tarnished, probably from taking a slow boat and then sitting in a warehouse. No big deal. I taped off the fretboard and polished them, and they look great.

The body is nicely finished, although a bit heavier than I expected. Overall, the bass seems to weigh about the same as my jazz bass. The finish seems to be of a similar type to that of my 93 Am. Std. Strat. The sparkle is nice. There are a couple of slight discoloration spots that are over the paint but under the clear. They’re both on the back, and not an issue. It is very hard to pick out the join lines under the paint. The paint around the J pickup has some overhang that is indented and cracked. I’ll slice it off, and it will easily be sanded out and look as it was intended. No biggie.

The pickguard is nice, but the edges are jaggy and the round cuts have checking on them. It was overtightened, although the screws are all inserted properly. Fender says there are no plans to make any different pickguards for this bass, so it’s this or a custom job, at about 1/4 the cost of the bass. I took it off and used 1000 grit sandpaper to smooth the edges, and it looks better now. There is no foil backing, so I will be adding that when I upgrade the electronics. The metal control plate seems to be of good quality. The knobs look and feel like cheap. They need to be replaced.

The wiring looks well done, but employs the typical back-of-the-pot grounding scheme that I usually eliminate. The pots are all 250kA Alphas with spline shafts– cheap, but okay. I will replace them with a master volume/pickup balance/master tone configuration using Bournes solid-shaft pots. The jack is cheap, and will be replaced. The control cavity is painted black. I have heard it is shielded, but I haven’t tested.

The pickups are mixed. Like most reviews, I find the P pickup to be nice. I won’t fill the post with unnecessary adjectives to describe tone. It sounds good. The J pickup, though, definitely has a weaker output. At full volume, the pickups aren’t balanced. This could be caused by pickup height, but that seems unlikely given the other reviews. I will replace the J pickup with the bridge pickup from a MIM Jazz bass, available for about $20.

The bridge seems adequate. It’s a bit thinner than the bridge on my jazz bass, but again, $170. No need to replace it. The strap buttons seem fine, although a bit sharp. Straplocks will be installed, so who cares. The neck plate seems like every other neck plate. It does the job.

So there you have it. I think I covered everything. We went into it hoping to get a bass that Jaime could play right now, but would also serve as a good platform for upgrades. I don’t have a problem spending money upgrading such a cheap instrument. The neck and body are the important components, and on this bass, they alone are worth the $170.

Planned upgrades:

Replace J pickup w/ Fender Standard Jazz Bridge – $24
Replace Nut w/ Tusq – $10
Replace Pots, Jack, Wiring – $10
Replace Knobs – $10
Fit and Finish Completion – $5 (sandpaper, lemon oil, tape, q-tips, foil, adhesive, etc)

About $60 in upgrades will make this thing sound and play much nicer. Further upgrades, like new tuners, may be necessary down the road. Still, at $170 + $60, this is a great bass for $230.

It was playable out of the box, but tuned down about a whole step. I brought it up to tension, and want to let it sit for a couple of weeks before doing a full setup. The weather is much different here than in Indiana or Indonesia, so some settling time is in order. From just playing and inspecting it, though, I can tell that everything is very close to where I think Jaime will like it.

If you have any questions, let me know!

That is all.

Mike

Samsung still sucks

Yep, Samsung still sucks.

I finally got the replacement for my printer. For those of you keeping score at home, it has been 46 DAYS since I first contacted Samsung about my printer problem.

The printer that arrived to replace my MINT condition, 5-month old printer is cosmetically junk. It is NOWHERE NEAR the condition of the printer I sent in for repair.

My printer sits on top of a filing cabinet in a locked room where nobody– not even my cats– are allowed to go. There are NO opportunities for damage, scrapes, scuffs, or discoloration. I had only filled the paper tray ONCE ever. The printer I sent in, with the exception that it wouldn’t print, was FLAWLESS.

I count at least 15 scratches on the fake carbon fiber top on the printer they sent me. On the handle on the front, more scratches, but these were accompanied by a stranger’s finger prints! The paper tray also has obvious scratches that they (poorly) attempted to buff out.

Come on Samsung, it has been 46 days since I initiated this. You can’t possibly expect me to be satisfied with a scuffed up dirty printer.

This is insanity.

That is all.

Samsung support SUCKS, and they lost my business

So I’m done with Samsung. Their support is terrible.

I have been a huge fan of their printers for a long time, having recommended their printers to dozens upon dozens of people. But not anymore. It turns out that SAMSUNG SUPPORT SUCKS.

When you purchase a printer from Samsung that is a lemon, they want to place an unusually high burden on their customers to overcome their poor manufacturing and quality control.

Back in December, I purchased an ML-2525 to replace the ML-1740 that I had for years and years (and filled with Samsung toner after Samsung toner). I waited a looooooong time for Amazon to ship it, but it was an upgrade for my old Samsung– it was to be worth it.

My ML-2525 never worked right. It would never start the print job when you printed, instead going to a solid red light. Turn it off and on, resend the print job, and it will print that one job. After that, it is dead again.

I contacted Samsung on September 2 after I reached the end of my rope with the perpetual power cycling. They returned an email that asked me to complete a series of troubleshooting tasks, which I did. I emailed back the next day and NEVER HEARD ANYTHING.

I let TWO WEEKS pass waiting for a response, and let me repeat that I NEVER HEARD ANYTHING.

On Monday, the 19th, I contacted Samsung. I was given a choice of a repair or a replacement. Obviously, I chose the replacement– I do NOT want a refurbished printer, and I do NOT want this lemon back. Half of my prints were unusable, so the starter toner was wasted. I want a new printer with a fresh starter toner. I was told I would be contacted back.

It took Samsung EXECUTIVE customer support THREE DAYS to call me back. Those were THREE DAYS added on to the previous SEVENTEEN days I waited for a response to my email.

Now, after talking to Executive customer support, I am told I have two options.

1. Drive the printer to a service center using my gas, add wear an tear to my car, and risk my life on the roadway. The Samsung rep, Alisha at 1-800-SAMSUNG Extension 85109, told me she could not provide me with the address to the service center. Think about that. Samsung wanted me to drive my printer in for repair, but couldn’t tell me where to drive it. Does anyone with common sense see the apparent stupidity in their solution?

I looked it up. They want me to drive this printer to Hilton Head. That means that for me to drop it off for repair it is a 52 mile ride, and then a 52 mile ride home. Then to pick it up later, it is a 52 mile ride there, and a 52 mile ride home. That is 208 miles, or over 8 gallons of gasoline ($28 in gas!) plus 7% of the miles required between oil changes (Another $2.10 if oil changes cost $30). These printers go for $40 on sale at Amazon. Samsung wants me to spend over 75% of the cost of a new printer to get this one repaired. Obviously they are trying to make the burden for repair so high that I just buy a new printer.

Well I know that the business model of printer and ink manufacturers is based on environmentally unfriendly policies, such as artificially rendering perfectly good toner cartridges unusable to force people to CONSUME more toner, plastic, and shipping services, and I know it is the dream of every printer manufacturer to bring disposable printers to market, but that isn’t going to fly. I am not going to spend a penny out of my pocket to overcome Samsung’s shortcomings as a corporation in terms of either quality control, or customer service.

SAMSUNG wants me to spend over $30 to get my broken $50 printer fixed!

2. Send the printer in for repair. They will send me a shipping label via email (that I can’t print, Samsung you idiots), or they will mail me one (adding to the NINETEEN DAYS I HAVE ALREADY WAITED FOR SUPPORT). The problem? They will NOT arrange for pickup. They will NOT provide a box. OK, show of hands– how many of you hold onto printer boxes for 9 months? NOBODY. I don’t have a box. Samsung expects me to come up with a box to ship this printer. Then, they expect me to spend my money on gas and risk my life on the road to take their broken printer to a shipper.

As of right now, Alisha at 1-800-SAMSUNG Extension 85109 has transferred my case to some other division, furthering this TERRIBLE SAMSUNG CUSTOMER SERVICE EXPERIENCE. I now have to wait UP TO TWO MORE DAYS to find out if the person that Alisha at 1-800-SAMSUNG Extension 85109 transferred me to can find a local place for me to take the printer so I can WAIT EVEN LONGER as part of my AWFUL SAMSUNG CUSTOMER SERVICE EXPERIENCE.

If they can’t find a place to fix it, I will have to wait even longer as part this HORRENDUS SAMSUNG CUSTOMER SERVICE EXPERIENCE for them to send me a shipping label (can’t print with my CRAPPY SAMSUNG PRINTER). Then, I have to wait for it to ship, for them to fix it, and then ship back another printer.

All told, I will have to wait at least a MONTH to get service on my printer.

If I don’t get contacted from someone from Samsung with confirmation that my brand new Samsung printer is on the way, they can expect that I will NOT recommend them to anyone in the future (check the DIY guitar effect forums– I have sold dozens of people on Samsung). Not only that, but I will take every opportunity available to me as the owner of a VERY popular political debate forum and a growing radio show to inform my members and listeners that SAMSUNG SUPPORT IS TERRIBLE, AND PLACES UNREASONABLE BURDENS ON THE CUSTOMER.

That is all.

Mike

Federal Scheduling Conflict

President Obama apparently wants to address the nation and a joint session of congress regarding his new economic plans. He sent Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid his request for an invitation that directly conflicts with a previously scheduled Republican debate.

It is expected that the president will ask congress to set partisanship and politics aside in the interest of the country, so I was a little surprised by Speaker Boehner’s response:

Boehner Letter

OK, fine, that wasn’t his real response. Instead, he asked him to pick a time on Thursday. Ouch.

The president, who must be invited to address a joint session of congress, chose to request his invitation during a previously scheduled Republican debate. He also chose to request his invitation on the same day the congress returns to full session. Speaker Boehner says that this presents logistical issues due to necessary security sweeps.

Does anyone see this move by the president as anything but a political game?

Three of the Republican candidates are in congress, and I think intend upon being at the debate. The president wants to set aside partisanship and reach across the aisle.The president almost certainly realizes that presidential candidates who are in congress may carry more weight within their party, and will likely need to play a significant role in any bipartisan negotiations. In short, shouldn’t the president wait until those three can attend? Isn’t it a political game to choose to address congress when it has been well known that three members will be in California at the time he requested?

If the president’s focus is on jobs, why is he asking that the first bill passed by the returning congress is not about jobs and not about the economy, but about him. Give your speech from the Oval. Congress will watch. These people barely only work like four months a year. Don’t waste that time with political games.

That is all.

Good Company: C.F. Martin & Co.

I ran out to the store a week ago this past Tuesday to pickup a set of strings for my Acoustic. I hadn’t changed them since when the Blackhawks were playing in the Stanley Cup Final, so well over a year!

I grabbed a set of Martin 80/20 Bronze Mediums from the local shop, and headed home.

Later that night, I started stringing, like I have hundreds of times before. Loosen string, remove string, wipe dust off area under string, pencil in the nut slot for lubrication, put on the new string the proper way, bring up to tension, tune, stretch up the length of the string, tune, stretch, tune. Repeat for each string. It usually goes off without a hitch.

This time, though, I was the lucky recipient of a fluke. Upon bringing the highest-tension E string– the thinnest string– up to pitch, it snapped. I would expect it to have snapped at the point where the string meets either the tuners, the nut, or the bridge. Not in this case– it appeared to snap right around the 3rd fret. Strange. It seemed like the string must have had a weak spot right there.

I emailed the company, and asked if they had any sort of guarantee on their strings, expecting them to pretty much tell me I was out of luck. To my surprise, I received an email from a nice person named Sandy, who asked for my address.

I got the mail to day to find a rather large package from Martin. Included was a replacement set of strings, a Martin calendar, a copy of their magazine, and one of their catalogs. Overall, a very nicely put together package, and definitely more than expected for a single broken string.

Thanks C.F. Martin & Co. I think the only way I could be happier is if you sent me a guitar… heh!

That is all.