Xbox Live Avatar Marketplace “University Collection” without UCLA = EPIC FAIL

October 31, 2009
IMAG0070

How is it that the Avatar Marketplace doesn’t have UCLA in it?

Big deal you say.  So UCLA’s not listed in the “University Collection” of the Avatar Marketplace on Xbox Live?  Who the hell cares?  I mean there are a lot of universities that aren’t listed, right?  There’s only 30 university logos posted so heck – why are you throwing a fit?

Well – besides the fact that I’m a UCLA alum, and besides the fact that this is supposed to be representative of major sports schools in particular, I’m having a big of a hard time understanding the conspicuous lack of a UCLA logo.

Let’s get this out of the way:  UCLA is the #1 sports college in the nation.  Yes, you USC Football fans might believe that your football program (and its questionable legality, I might add) puts you in the elite tier of athletics programs in the nation, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that UCLA’s nation-leading 104 championships can’t be wrong.  And this list doesn’t even include the championships that we attained before the establishment of the NCAA:

  • 19 Men’s Volleyball NCAA Championships
  • 16 Men’s Tennis NCAA Championships
  • 11 Men’s Basketball NCAA Championships
  • 10 Women’s Softball NCAA Championships
  • 8 Men’s Track & Field NCAA Championships
  • 8 Men’s Water Polo NCAA Championships
  • 7 Women’s Water Polo NCAA Championships
  • 5 Women’s Gymnastics NCAA Championships
  • 5 Women’s Track & Field NCAA Championships
  • 4 Men’s Soccer NCAA Championships
  • 3 Women’s Volleyball NCAA Championships
  • 2 Men’s Golf NCAA Championships
  • 2 Women’s Golf NCAA Championships
  • 2 Men’s Gymnastics NCAA Championships
  • 1 Women’s Tennis NCAA Championships
  • 1 Men’s Swimming NCAA Championship

But the thing that really bites is that while we don’t have UCLA’s logo available to get on Xbox Live’s Avatar Marketplace, apparently it’s okay to use UCLA’s campus as a representation of the typical American university on the Unversity Collection view screen within the Avatar Marketplace.  Take a look at the background of the “University Collection” in the Avatar Marketplace:

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That’s right.  Avatar Marketplace’s background photo is of UCLA’s campus.  Not USC.  Not Michigan.  Not even Washington.  Meanwhile there’s no UCLA logo or Avatar content available for purchase online, despite the fact that Cal, USC, Arizona, and USC are all available.

W… T… F?

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My Rediscovery of Audible.com i.e. “The Joy of Digital Audio Books”

October 24, 2009

image I’m a regular listener of about 12 podcasts including Windows Weekly featuring Paul Thurrott.  One of the sponsors of his podcast is AUDIBLE.COM, a digital audio book store which I used to pitch heavily back in the day when I did a lot of Windows Mobile sales stuff. 

Paul’s podcast keeps pitching AUDIBLE on the program so I decided to check it out again since my wife spends a lot of time just sitting with the baby and she could really use audio books during this time.  And besides, I haven’t actively visited the AUDIBLE.COM site since the early 2000’s.

NOT MUCH TO LISTEN TO BACK IN THE DAY
The problem I had with AUDIBLE.COM back in the day (and we’re talking about back in 1999-2001) was that there was really not a whole lot out there that I found interesting in digital audio book form.  It didn’t warrant me docking my device day after day to download content from the site.  Not even weekly.  I’d buy something then I’d forget about it.  The only thing that really seemed like it might be compelling enough to ‘dock every day’ was the Los Angeles Times, read daily.  The problem was that if you missed a day, the content was worthless.  Who wants to read yesterday’s news?

And with regard to normal books, I’d just as well simply buy the Audio Book on CD from Amazon.com then rip the thing if I ever really wanted to get an Audio book.

ENTER PODCASTS!
But along came podcasts.  It didn’t require visiting a special web site to get new audio content – just an RSS feed URL.  And sure enough, the content from these were worth downloading and archiving because they didn’t get “stale” like newspapers did.  All of a sudden, there was a reason to dock my device (a Zune 120GB or a Zune 8GB Flash) on a semi-frequent basis to my PC.  Podcasts were available with new content.

Soon I concluded that if I’m going to download all that new podcast content, I might as well do the same with AUDIBLE.COM.  After all, paid content is usually BETTER than free content in general so why not get both if there’s a compelling reason to dock your device.

image WHOA.  THINGS HAVE CHANGED A BIT.
Next thing I know, I’m looking at my old AUDIBLE.COM account (Ancient!  Had to look up my old password in my files) and I’m seeing stuff available like “Super Freakonomics” (sequel to Freakonomics) and “Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown.  Hmmm.  Must check those out.  And they’re available in some kind of new “Enhanced Format” which purports to be CD quality – i.e. 192kbps, 44.1khz.  Cool.  “Lost Symbols” price was $35.

Wait a second.  $35 AN AUDIO BOOK?!?  WTF Audible?  Audio books suddenly got way expensive on me!  I don’t recall audio books costing this much on AUDIBLE.COM.  At these prices, I might as well go get the tangible Audio CD from Barnes and Noble because there doesn’t appear to be much benefit from going “digital”.

WHAT’S THIS SUBSCRIPTION THING?
Then I notice this subscription thing.  Apparently, they now sell Audio books on a subscription – specifically an “AudibleListener GOLD MONTHLY imageSubscription”.  You can buy 1 audio book every month for a year for $14.95, which locks you into paying at least $179.40 total for 12 books (1 each month) but at $15 each, you basically save yourself $20 on most major Audio books since they usually cost $35 each.

Now the REAL deal comes when you try this “AudibleListener PLATINUM ANNUAL Subscription”.  This PLATINUM deal nets you 24 books that you can download anytime you want instead of 1 each month, and better yet, the cost is $229.  This is obviously the most flexible and cost effective deal being that each book comes out to be about $9.90 instead of paying $35.00 each.

This is what I opted for.  I now have 22 “credits” left since I picked up both “Super Freakonomics” and “Lost Symbol”.

OTHER BENEFITS
It turns out that as a “subscriber” or “member” you get a bunch of additional “free stuff” like free books occasionally or free “first chapters” to whet your appetite.
http://www.audible.com/adbl/site/template/members/FreeForMembers.jsp?BV_UseBVCookie=Yes

The “big one” is you get free M-F subscription to either the New York Times Audio Digest (the NYT read aloud for your morning drive into work) or the Wall Street Journal Audio Digest.  This is normally a $49/year for each.  I should know – I used to subscribe to it way back in 1999.

Another benefit is that all books that you purchased beyond your cap (24 books in my case) are 30% off.

CONCLUSION
I really like my rediscovery of Audible.  Something else that blew me away was that apparently AUDIBLE was acquired by Amazon.com some time ago.  Didn’t even realize that.

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MORE POSTAL DECEPTION: “Los Angeles Homeowner Property Tax Review Board”

October 19, 2009

Today, I opened up my postal mailbox to find a very legitimate looking document claiming to be from the "Homeowner Property Tax Review Board – Tax Reduction Review Division".  If you found this page as a result of doing an Internet search, let me get to the point: 

DON’T DO IT.  This is a private company trying to weasel $189 from you.

 

image

Have you seen this postal letter show up in your mailbox?

WHAT IS THIS?
This is similar to a ‘phishing’ operation, except it involves real postal mail instead of email.  Having almost ‘bitten’ on a similar deceptively written letter before (probably by the same losers, I might add), I became wary of the document the moment it used my property’s Assessor’s ID number.

HOW DO YOU KNOW?
Searching through the text, I finally found the sentence I’d been looking for buried in the smallest font on the page:

"Homeowner Property Tax Review Board is not a government agency and this product has not been approved or endorse by any government agency."

Now the clowns – hey, let’s call them what they are – at this "Homeowner Property Tax Review Board" apparently attempted to defend their stance in the comments of another blogger’s posting on this concern in Arizona & Nevada, claiming that their letter was (get this) not meant to be deceptive:

"…we did not try to mask this as bill or a government document and the best way we felt that we could accomplish that was by putting in an outlined box on the OUTSIDE of the envelope THIS IS NOT A GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT."

(http://www.davidwallace.com/2009/08/property-tax-review-board-ptrb-is-a-scam/)

I’m looking at my envelope.  I see no such writing on it.  I took a photo of it and posted it below.

image  Here’s the envelope.  The back is BLANK. 
Do you see the phrase "This is not a government document" anywhere on the envelope?

 

AND THE BALONEY CONTINUES OUT OF STATE
I started searching for stuff on these guys and lo-and-behold, there’s a ton of articles about this in Arizona & Nevada.  Apparently, this company didn’t try to pull this stunt off in California first but rather went after neighboring states instead.  Now that they’re getting the spotlight shown on them in those states, they seem to be sliming their way through California.

Here’s a few doozies I found on the net.  Read them yourself:

AG says ‘property tax review board’ info available for free

"…California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. filed suit on May 12 against Michael McConville, his brother Sean McConville, and their businesses, Property Tax Reassessment and Property Tax Adjustment Services, in San Diego County Superior Court.

According to that lawsuit, the McConville brothers billed tens of thousands of homeowners throughout California nearly $200 each for property tax reassessment services that were almost never performed and are available free of charge from local tax assessors.

Few, if any, of the assessment appeals were completed, the suit alleges. In addition, the Ventura County (Calif.) district attorney’s office has charged one of the brothers, Sean McConville, with 20 felony counts for criminal conduct stemming from his property tax reassessment operations."

http://www.pahrumpvalleytimes.com/2009/Aug-12-Wed-2009/news/30550320.html

Here’s another news article on it:

Suit Filed To End Property Tax Scam
‘Official-Looking Documents’ Are Bogus, He Warns

"PHOENIX — Attorney General Terry Goddard announced Friday that he has filed a lawsuit and obtained a temporary restraining order to stop the perpetrators of an alleged fraud that claimed a homeowner’s property qualified for a "property tax reduction review."

The lawsuit names Property Tax Review Board, Inc., a Granada Hill, Calif.-based company; Property Tax Review Board’s President and CEO Michael McConville, of Simi Valley, Calif., and Carmen Mercer, of Tombstone, owner of the Post Office box included in the solicitation.

"This solicitation appears to be an attempt to scam homeowners who are looking to reduce their property tax bill," Goddard said.

The solicitation, which requests a $189 processing fee, is not affiliated with any government entity, Goddard said. The document attempts to appear official and contains a “notice number” and deadline for prompt processing."

http://www.kpho.com/news/20321829/detail.html

Here’s my favorite:

Property tax letters an alleged scam

"The Yuma County Assessor’s Office is warning residents about official-looking letters they may have received which claim their property qualifies for a "property  tax reduction review."

County Assessor Joe Wehrle said those official-looking letters, which are being sent from Phoenix by a company calling itself the Property Tax Review Board, are fake and are nothing more than a statewide scam to rip off homeowners.

"This company is fraudulent," Wehrle said. "We do not want anyone to pay any money to these people."

Wehrle said county staff has already received numerous phone calls from homeowners Tuesday morning asking about the letters, which say a response is due by Aug. 28, 2009.

"The way the letter is written, it gives the reader the impression they are appealing their taxes, instead of their property value," Wehrle said. "You should never be charged to review your property value because  homeowners can file appeals on their own for free, but they must do it on time.""

http://www.yumasun.com/articles/property-51909-letters-yuma.html

So homeowner beware.  These folks are clearly deceitful and in my opinion have no interest other than separating folks looking for a tax break during this difficult economy from $189.  I really hope California’s lawyers litigate these complete-and-utter douchebags back to the stone age.

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The funniest thing I’ve watched this week

October 3, 2009

I tweeted about this but now I have to blog about it because I keep watching it over and over again.

Imagine if you will one of the most highly tuned hand-to-hand combat fighters in the world looking at a set of skill ratings that purport to describe him in a video game about MMA.  Now imagine that fighter is NOT happy with his scores so he completely loses it in the war room and decides to take it out on the lead developer of the MMA video game and anyone else that gets in his way.

Ladies & gentlemen:  May I introduce you to Jason Mayhem Miller, MMA fighter reviewing EA Sports new mixed-martial arts video game.  Watch it all the way to the end.

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COOL: Buy all 5 Fallout 3 game add-ons, get a free Premium Theme

October 3, 2009

Okay.  So it’s not that big a deal and it’s not a Microsoft product.  I don’t care.  This is just BOSS.  It’s a 19.2MB theme and it makes your console feel like you’re in Fallout 3 ALL THE TIME.

I think this is one of the coolest Premium Themes I’ve seen to date.  I’ve not been really that impressed with a Premium Themes until now.  It really does look like an in-game shot of Fallout 3.  And I got it free!  (Okay.  So I only saved $3… but it’s still cool to get something like this for free.)

Thank you Bethesda, you sexy beasts, you.

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