Verizon upgrade our FIOS box the other night so it now allows for over 1000 channels. When I used to change the station to 164 (GSN) I’d just hit 164 and it’d change. Now I have to hit 164 then ok for it to change. For data entry points there tells me that channel 1000 is coming soon.

Verizon FIOS. Yes, your new OS for the box sucks and is overly difficult to use, but 1000 channels. NFL Network (Time Warner still doesn’t have that), foreign channels available, tons of Hi Def channels. Blazing internet speeds – my burst speed is like 10 times faster with FIOS than it ever was with Road Runner. And I’m paying $15 less per month through FIOS too.

How can you lose? I’m watching Dallas/Green Bay tonight in Hi Def. What are Time Warner subscribers watching? Lifetime TV? Yeah; that’s a tough choice. If only Gumbel weren’t announcing the game – it’d be perfect.

If you run a website online that has a secure side, no doubt you’ve gotten calls from a company called Hackersafe. For a small fee, they let you put a little button on your site that shows your site to be secure and safe from hackers. For free, you could easily make one of your own and put it up there, so I’m not sure the benefit of this thing – since no one (outside of webmasters) have ever heard of Hackersafe.

Hackersafe touts their service in an appealing manner. It’ll help with conversions. It’ll help with traffic. You’ll get a link out of it (oh, that magic word!). Let’s start backwards on these claims.

The link you receive comes from Hackersafe’s directory, which already has thousands of outbound links, so your link will never be seen by anyone, ever clicked on, etc. It’s pointless. Also, your website will be forced to link to Hackersafe on 100% of the pages on the site, so you are giving up thousands of links from your site (potentially) for one in return. Yeah; that’s fair.

The second claim is that it’ll help traffic. I presume this is from the marvelous link you get back. Since no search engine cares if you have a Hackersafe logo, they won’t rank you higher. Your PPC ads will not be raised a spot or two because of a Hackersafe logo. Any website you advertise on will not give you more exposure because of a Hackersafe logo. What’s the basis behind this claim?

The final claim is that the presence of the logo will help with conversions. I ran with Hackersafe a few years ago. The increase in conversions (if there was any) is negligible and easily explained away by random chance or seasonal differences.

But the real problem with Hackersafe is their repeated and annoying telemarketing calls. I get calls from them every week asking me to sign up with them. Every time they call, I remind them that we used their service a few years ago and it was a waste of time. They seemed stunned that I’m a former customer. Nice record keeping, guys. Then, when asked to “put me on your do not call list” – and they agree. I get another call the next week from them and we go through the same routine.

I got my latest call on Cyber-Monday. In the morning, no less. After a holiday shopping weekend. I told the guy who called exactly this, “You all have the nerve to call on cyber monday, supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year, in the morning, after a long weekend, to telemarket me? After I’ve repeatedly told you to stop calling me?”

His response was that, “He has a job to do too.”

And I hung up. That’s nice of them, isn’t it? Pretending to try and help out webowners with their service then telemarket them on a monday morning? The nerve.

Hackersafe should be ashamed of themselves.

So I see a commercial on TV promoting a new tool called the Stanley Fubar. Best. Tool. Name. Ever. Fubar, if you didn’t know, stands for “Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition” (substitute your favorite F word, though). The tool, apparently, is simply designed to destroy something.

The video shows how well it accomplishes this task. Finally a tool with a perfect name that promises to do what it promises. I think it’s possibly the best invention ever.

Congrats to Stanley and their Fubar.

Having heard rumors about people parking outside of Best Buy looking for deals; I drove by one on the way home and saw the scariest thing ever. There -were- people lined outside the store, all the way around the store. I could see three sides of the store from my driveby and there were people camping on each side in a somewhat orderly line.

It was a crazy sight for the few dollars they will be saving. Is $100 off a TV really worth this much effort? I guess Thanksgiving is no longer about spending time with family; but more about the next day and getting a deal on a new TV or Wii. Retailers seem to be focusing more on Thanksgiving day as their sale day, much like movies release movies on Christmas Day, knowing that families want to get away from each other.

During the drive-by, we snapped a photo of the people sitting there. The picture sucks, but none of the people looked too pleased about being photographed looking like morons on Thanksgiving evening:

Best Buy Black Friday

Caught this online and I’m almost thinking that this has to be a joke. I’m not sure what the site is trying to describe – a light saber or an LED based adult toy?

Wii Light Saber

Here is the description from the website:

For use with Nintendo Wii games console. Simply slip your Wii Remote into the handle and press the on button to instantly power up your light sword, the power up and down effect is done gradually until the light sword is at its full length.

Power up and power down until at full length? Sounds kinda kinky to me. How fast do I have to power up and power down. If it do it too fast will the LEDS pop out and fall onto the floor or something?

And how long till we get our first amateur video using the Wii Light Saber as its apparently meant to be used? I say it’s less than a week.

A few months back, I saw a commercial from Cash Call which offered short term loans to those with bad credit. The interest rate on these loans were about 99% (plus or minus a quarter point) which made the payments outrageous on the amount borrowed. It sparked quite a bit of discussion on that point – and is still one of the most popular posts I’ve done on this blog.

I read each of those comments and respond when appropriate; but today I saw another commercial that makes Cash Call look like saints. This loanshark reputable lender offers short term loans – much like Cash Call – but their maximum interest rate is a whopping 365%. No. That’s not a typo. 365%. On some loans, they do offer a relatively pallitable interest rate of 171%.  As per their site:

The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for an example $1250.00 loan is 171.5% with 36 bi-weekly payments of $91.66.

I’ll whip out my handy dandy calculator to figure out the total debt. 36 payments at 91.66 equals $3300 (plus or minus a few bucks). So on a $1250 dollar loan; you have to come up with over 2.5 times the originally loan value in 18 months. If the people applying for these loans could come up with that much extra cash in such a short period of time, why would they need a loan in the first place? Think Cash should be ashamed! This, much like Cash Call, is just another in the continuing cycle of poverty that pushes people further and further down, making it nearly impossible to improve their situation. I’m all for capitalism and making money; but capitalism without morals is no better than Communism.

But it gets worse. I went to an online loan repayment calculator and figured out much you’d have to repay on a $2500 36 month loan at 365% interest. Ready? Are you sitting down? Here you go:

Loan Balance: $2,500.00
Adjusted Loan Balance: $2,500.00
Loan Interest Rate: 365.00%
Loan Fees: 0.00%
Loan Term: 3 years
Minimum Payment: $0.00

Monthly Loan Payment: $760.47
Number of Payments: 37

Cumulative Payments: $27,392.59
Total Interest Paid: $24,892.59

Absolutely stunning. I’m almost positive there is something wrong with the math here, but 365% interest – I guess – does add up rather quickly. Apply for this loan and kiss your future goodbye. 

As an added bonus, Think Cash also provides 12 handy dandy tips on how to get out of debt. Here’s my tip: Don’t get a loan from Think Cash. And, apparently as a joke, Think Cash is asking for referrals. Like their service? Win $50. And they also let you refer a friend – which, I assume, is a great way to make sure you have one less friend in the world – “Why, gee, thanks Bill. I’m glad you recommended this service to me. Now I’m stuck with a loan with a 365% interest rate. You rock!”

Even Gary Coleman wouldn’t attach his name to this service. I guess in a few months, we can look forward to Ultimate Cash – get $2,500 next day with a 500% interest rate. It really wouldn’t surprise me.

Update: Are paid bloggers being used to white wash this mess? Here Here Here Here - and more are easily findable from a google blog search. All of them talking about “Think Cash” – but not a single one mentions the absolutely horrendous interest rates. Wonder why? If you are a paid blogger; fine. That’s wonderful, but please have some respect for yourself and your blog and don’t endorse programs like this.

Marvel, this past month, announced that it was placing its comics online for a small fee. It appears that many new and past issues are already online and others will be shortly. I usually don’t think about comics too much (even though I’m a huge fan of the Justice League on Cartoon Network). But, every time I watch these shows or go see a Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman, movie etal, I realize that I have a basic problem with the premise of the Superhero.

I’ll focus on Batman, but this applies to about every Superhero out there. He’s also my favorite Superhero. He’s just a normal guy (well, normal in the no real super powers sense); except that he is stinking rich. His parents were murdered when he was a child and now he avenges their death by capturing criminals in his adulthood. He dons a cape and mask and calls himself Batman. What possible problem can you have with Batman, right?

Batman, mostly, deals with small time psychos – Joker, Penguin, Riddler, etal. While a little crazy, each of these criminals can be dealt with via the proper application of law enforcement. Instead, Batman’s presence and constant dealing with these criminals, has forced people in the city to believe that he is their only savior. By continuing to provide this free protection, the city (and police) have become dependent on one man who is answerable to no one but himself. The cops no longer do their job; they call for Batman to help them with the Bat signal. Abdicating their responsibility to protect the public to a vigilante – whom they don’t even know.

And how does Batman reward the public that has come to rely on him so much? Upon capturing the Joker, for example, he puts him back into a flawed system which guarantees that the Joker will escape again so that the city will need the Batman again to save him. Proper application of law by real law enforcement people (who use guns) would probably kill the Joker at some point and that’d be the end of it. But Batman goes out of his way not to kill a man whose only goal in life seems to be murder and mayhem. So, in the end, it seems that Batman needs the villians to maintain his control over the populace of Gotham City.  It’s a little sadistic, isn’t it? Batman’s unwillingness to kill a criminal – who probably deserves it – is causing the death of innocent people.

The theme is much the same for every superhero. They offer up their protective services (much like the mob) without being asked, or in most cases, needed. Proper application of legitimate law enforcement can deal with most of the super villians that the comic book world creates. Instead, law enforcement has become impotent by relying on masked vigilantes to solve crimes that are their responsibility.

What is the common theme here?

Citizenship relying on an overpowering omnipresent person who protects them. Functional institutions impotent because they have become too reliant on that same overpower omnipresent person.

Let’s simplify this into a more day-to-day concept.

If you had someone who always watched over you to make sure you had food, shelter and money – what incentive is there to do anything on your own? You’ve chosen security over freedom and you really have neither. By accepting this sort of dictatorial rulership, you are giving up your freedoms – lest that omnipresent individual decide you’ve gone violated the rules of what he deems acceptable behavior and have become what they’ve decided they want to rid the world of.

I, for one, do not want to be ruled by a super powered dictator, whom I had no power in selecting and whose power is unquestioned (and unquestionable in many cases) by those whom I have elected.

Focusing on a few more Superheroes, for a moment.

The Green Lantern is part of an intergalactic police force who enforce laws, bring criminals to justice and generally police the galaxy. Generally thought of as a “right wing” superhero because of this;  he is quite the opposite. Jon Stewart (the face of Green Lantern that I think of) was a former US Marine. He no longer upholds the law of this country and upholds the rule of law, he abides by an inter-galactic law and enforces it upon a country that had no choice of its implementation. If he were a true believer in the rule of law; wouldn’t he be enforcing US law not international (or inter-galactic) law?

The Green Arrow is another that is curious to me. He is generally thought of as “left wing” superhero. He fights “small time” criminals and helps poor people out of situations – and that he had a heroin addicted sidekick. Then he goes back to his billion dollar mansion, living the life of luxury. Of course. Somehow this is to make you believe that he cares about their plight. But does he really? If he did, wouldn’t he be starting a “Green Arrow Charity” and donating his money to help lift them out of poverty? It’d seem that the Green Arrow needs the poor to fulfill his desire for power as well.

I believe the only time I’ve seen the dictatorial powers of the Superheroes challenged was in the Justice League Unlimited on Cartoon Network. Where a governmental agency, called Cadmus, wanted to find a way to match their power. The goal of Cadmus, of course, was the proper one. A free nation simply cannot have a set of super powered non-elected vigilantes answerable to no one but their conscience hovering over them, literally, at gun point. But, in the end Cadmus was destroyed because – well, because America is evil, I guess – Americans do not have the right to defend themselves. That’s the message that I got out of it, at least. Whomever wrote the script apparently believes that this country should be protected by proactive benefactors (re: *cough* the UN *cough*) rather than our own military and officials.

And really, isn’t that just an expansion on the overall theme of these comics? You are helpless. You can’t defend yourself. Let someone do it for you.

What other lesson is there?

So environmentalists have come out (once again) in support of deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats as the cure for global warming. As previously discussed, poor countries are encouraged to destroy their local environment for the benefit of rich countries.

Bill Clinton came out in support of this concept just the other day.

He added that, with a bit of investment, climate change was a “phenomenal opportunity to develop poor countries.” Ethiopia was considering investing in growing cane for biofuels, he noted, a path that has already brought great profits to Brazil.

Yes. Brazil has been profiting quite nicely off of biofuels. Most notably from sugar cane. Wonder where they are getting the land to produce all of these biofuels?

Brazil, the world’s largest producer of soybeans, is more than making up for shortfall, by clearing new land for soy cultivation. While only a fraction of this cultivation currently occurs in the Amazon rainforest, production in neighboring areas like the cerrado grassland helps drive deforestation by displacing small farmers and cattle producers, who then clear rainforest land for subsistence agriculture and pasture. 

So, I am assuming that environmentalists – who used to want to protect the Rainforest – now believe that removing it is the answer. I am loving watching the environmental movement implode over its own hypocrisies.

I’m going to my backyard to chop down a few trees myself. Why not? The policy is officially sanctioned by sanctimonious environmentalists. Level everything and plant biofuel crops. And earn carbon credits while you do it. Man this saving the planet stuff is just awesome.

So today, I get two letters in the mail. One from Coynes Company and another from Enesco.

Coynes’ letter says:

As many of you know, Country Artists in the UK became insolvent and on August 10th went into receivership; further on August 11th Enesco LLC purchased certain assets of CA UK out of receivership. Since then, Coyne’s has been working very hard to procure all the Country Artist items that you have ordered through us. Most of the product we ordered on your behalf did arrive into Minneapolis, but Enesco has prevented us from taking possession and as a result we have not been able to fill some orders completely.

Coyne’s has sought the assistance of the courts to be able to obtain the product to fill your orders. At present the court has declined to assist Coyne’s. Coyne’s, however, continues to pursue all legal remedies and will advise you of any changes as they develop.

The good news is that we do have some inventory available for immediate delivery and are offering some very attractive special to try to help you through this period of uncertainty. Please find the enclosed sheet detailing the specials and you can also find them online .. (blah blah blah)

So no wonder Coynes has not been able to deliver many items to me lately. We have about 20 items on backorder with them, mainly a Breed Apart and Tuskers but some Country Artist items too (no quick link available, sorry). I wonder why Coynes, when I call them about the out of stock items, does not mention this little issue with Enesco? It’d really help make me understand why there is such a delay on some rather popular items.

Also, today, I also get a letter from Enesco:

In August 2007, Enesco bought certain assets of Country Artists out of receivership, with the intention of distributing Country Artists’ products globally. It has always been Enesco’s intention to have an orderly transition and integration of Country Artists into our operations.

As part of that transition, Enesco made reasonable efforts to enter into a distribution relationship with Coyne’s, including to attempt to order fulfillment through 2007. Those efforts included releasing all Country Artists’ products for which Coyne’s had already paid for, prior to Country Artists’ receivership. Enesco has not held back from Coyne’s any paid-for product. Ultimately, however, Enesco and Coyne’s were unable to reach a long term agreement.

Coyne’s has filed a lawsuit against Enesco, seeking to prevent Enesco from selling CA products in the US. We believe that the lawsuit is frivolous and have filed a motion to have the case dismissed. In addition, based on the court’s determination that Coyne’s is noe likely to succeed on its claims in the lawsuit, the court has denied Coyne’s request for short-term relief prohibiting Enesco from selling Country Artists’ products in the US.

The lawsuit has temporarily delayed Enesco from launching Country Artists’ brands into the US. However, we are working diligently to support you through the 2007 holiday season and continuing through 2008 and beyond.

While the comprehensive CA line will be available in January 2008, we would like to inform you that limited quantities of select CA products will be available to ship for the holiday season. Blah blah blah.

Reading both these letters as they came in today was pretty interesting. I’m no expert, but it seems like Enesco is going to come out ahead here and get the Country Artists line. Enesco, much like Department 56, is really gobbling up the smaller lines lately in an effort to reduce competition.

I, for one, hope Enesco does come out on top. Nothing against Coyne’s – I like their company and products. But Enesco would not previously do business with us because we are web based only. Given that we already carry this line that Enesco now distributes, I can’t imagine them turning us down for an account again; which should also allow us to carry quite a few Enesco products next year.

Here’s to hoping.