Wow. Check Your Bank's Fee Structure. Seriously.

OK, it would be really nice if I had so much money that I could afford to maintain a healthy padded balance in all of my accounts, but I don't. I'm not starving in the streets but neither can I afford the luxury of just having a couple hundred dollars sitting in my account, not doing anything for me. I think I'm like most people in this respect: I balance my account and make sure I pay my bills and have some money on-hand, but that's it.

So I have a "secondary" checking account, to which my Paypal account is linked and I also use this for small recurring monthly payments like my gym membership, auto-deduction for my EZ-Pass (prepaid automated toll account), stuff like that. I usually don't have much money in this account, if any, but it's linked to a $500 overdraft line of credit. I never know exactly when, for example, a $25 deduction to replenish my EZ-Pass account will hit, but if there isn't any money in the account then it just deducts it from the overdraft line of credit, and a few days later I'll notice it and pay it off. In fact I intentionally maintain a low balance in this account because I use it for online transactions for which I can not use a credit card (like Paypal and EZ-Pass), but in case the account is ever compromised and I can't successfully dispute some fraudulent charges, the most I can lose is the $500 limit on the overdraft line of credit.

THAT PRACTICE IS ABOUT TO CHANGE. My wife suddenly started getting hit with $35 "overdraft transfer fees" whenever she used her line of credit linked to her checking account. So I urged her to close her account and open another, less abusive one with another bank, but her research showed her that ALL BANKS ARE NOW DOING THIS. I just checked my bank's fee schedule (hers it Citizen's Bank, mine is Bank of America) and no shit, there it is: any time any money is transferred from a line of credit linked to a checking account, a transfer fee is imposed. In my case I think it's only $10 or so, but still. And then of course I'll still be charged the 18% interest rate on the line of credit itself. I have had this account for over 10 years, and these fees have never existed before. But now suddenly every bank we research is now following this same practice.

In Christine's case, that transfer fee is $35. So class, let's review: you have a line of credit linked to your checking account. The explicit purpose of this line of credit is to avoid overdrawing your account and paying overdraft fees. The interest rate on most linked lines of credit is always usurious: at least 15% or higher, but really it's not a piggy bank but just a few hundred dollars safe cushion in case you make a mistake. So now every time you use that line of credit, you're charged a $35 "overdraft transfer fee," and that's each and every time the line of credit is tapped, and of course the banks are still continuing their usual bullshit practice of applying the highest transaction amounts first to overdraw the account earlier and hit you with more fees. And then on top of that, you still have to pay the interest on the line of credit. So what, exactly, is the point in having an overdraft line of credit anyway? It seems to me that now we'd be better off by just paying the overdraft fees!

Holy shit dude. I balance my checking account to the penny on almost a daily basis. I know exactly how much money I have in there, and what transactions have not posted yet. But I also know that I can afford to buy gas today and the lousy $25 or so will hit my overdraft and then I'll pay it off when I get paid later this week, as opposed to driving on fumes all week and risking getting stuck with an empty tank. Not any more!


Killing zombies with a chainsaw is every bit as fun as you'd think it would be.

And the sword is just awesome.

Steaming Pile of Bullshit

So New York State is getting new license plates. Big deal, right? They're throwback ugly and look like they were designed by a fifth-grader with a half-empty box of stubby Crayolas, but who cares?

Well, it turns out this is the latest scheme hatched by Albany to close our multi-billion dollar budget shortfall. These plates will begin to be mandated in April. All car owners re-registering their vehicles will immediately be required to pony up an additional $25 for the new plates. So much for gradually phasing it in; this immediate mass replacement is clearly just a money-making scheme.

But the real slap in the face is that, for the convenience of keeping your existing plate number, you have to pay an additional $20. So the state pretty much just arbitrarily imposed an additional $45 tax/fee on every car owner. Nice.

I Told You So

Well, I said it before, and nearly every respondent disagreed with me, most of them quite vehemently. But clearly last night's setback to gay marriage in Maine, the latest in a long series of setbacks, proves what I've been saying all along: that the gay marriage movement needs to be more tactical and less belligerent. That the "guns blazing and in your face" approaches are having the exact opposite effect, galvanizing public sentiment against us.

We live in a democracy. That means, by and large, that if the public wants something badly enough, they will get it. Dictatorial rule by fiat went out with the last Administration and we all hope that it never returns.

The public writes to, calls, and influences Representatives and Senators.

The public supports ballot initiatives and activist campaigns.

The public are the ones that ban gay marriage.

And to everyone who mocked me when I tried to stress how important public sentiment is to this movement, and how the harder we push the more ground we will lose, well I hope now it's clear that I really do know what I'm talking about.

And yes, I'm being an asshole by pointing this out. But I'm still bitter over how I was abused the last time I tried to civilly discuss this, even to the point of separate threads personally attacking me. So if one does not recognize and admit one's mistakes, one will never learn from them.

ODST: That's It?!?

So I finished ODST last night. And it was a real shock when I did it, because I finished a mission, and then was waiting for the "loading" screen to appear, and then all of a sudden the credits started rolling.

So I think this game is a complete waste of money. Here's why:

  1. There is nothing new in this game. The engine is identical, the weapons are the same, the enemies are the same, and the vehicles are the same. It's basically a $60 map pack.
  2. The plot is very thin. It's kinda neat that you get to play as each member of the team as they all rendezvous with each other, but the individual missions pretty much play as stand-alone that only happen to be thinly tied together by cut scenes.
  3. The game is way too easy. This was my very first play-through, on heroic, and nowhere did I die more than 6 or 8 times. And the packs of enemies were very sparsely placed; you can go through entire sections and only meet up with 1 group of 2-3 enemies.
  4. The game is way too short. Playing maybe a few hours every few days, I burned through it in under 2 weeks.
  5. The game has zero replay value. Really, I've already gotten all of my replay value out of Halo 3 and this adds nothing new.
  6. The online experience appears to be very similar to Halo 3. It has the same types of games. And unlike Left 4 Dead, which is all about the online experience and the solo mission is just practice for the online play, historically the online experience of Halo bears no resemblance to the campaign experience of Halo. So again, if the reason for the ridiculously short campaign is that it's just practice for the online stuff, then a) that's bullshit and b) it's again just a $60 map pack.

Review of Batman: Arkham Asylum

So this game was pretty much off my radar until Game Informer reviewed it at a 9.5 (I have a free subscription via my GameStop Edge card). It was released on August 25th, and I finished it last night.

Verdict: pretty darned good. Definitely the best Batman game I've ever played. It incorporates every major aspect of Batman's character: the fighting, the sneaking, the scare factor, the detective skills, the gadgets, the climbing and swinging and gliding, and practically every major rogue in his gallery makes an appearance.

The game play is mostly linear, in that you gain access to new areas after you play through others, with goals and whatnot to advance the storyline. The play area itself is satisfyingly large, but despite that you hardly ever experience any load delays. They must have a separate thread doing that behind the scenes based on where you're heading.

The artwork is great. Not fantastic, but great. The buildings and levels are well-designed. There's some funny moments as you're going through the asylum and there's "Welcome to Arkham Asylum" videos playing on TVs and such.

The plot is that basically Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, and Batman has to beat everyone down. You go across Arkham island, through the various buildings, there's tunnels and a subterranean sewer and cave system. You have to beat a fair number of henchmen, and they really can take a beating before they go down. There's boss battles with high-profile rogues, but not at a regular interval so that the game feels compartmentalized.

The navigation is good, with easy-to-use menus and a quick way to select various gadgets, track your progress, check the map, etc. Nothing revolutionary, but nothing that gets in the way and overall there's nothing in the UI design that is a hassle to use.

I'm split on the "extras:" the side quests, the rewards and unlockable content, etc. There's five different types of things that you have to hunt down in order to gain EXP for equipment and physical upgrades: riddles, riddler trophies, arkham chronicles, patient interview tapes, and joker teeth. Very frequently you can't get everything in a building on your first play-through so you have to go back after you get an equipment upgrade. That makes it more enjoyable because you get to revisit areas and better appreciate the layout and artwork that you didn't notice the first time through.

The upgrade rewards are okay. There's gadget upgrades, better armor, more combat moves, stuff like that. Then there's unlockable character statues, which just give you a good view of the character models. Then there's unlockable challenges, which I wasn't too impressed with at all.

The challenges basically have two categories: combat and neutralization. In a combat challenge, you're dumped in a square room with a bunch of baddies and you have to beat them all down and get a high score, and the high score is related to how many combat moves you can seamlessly chain together. I couldn't find any point to pushing for a high combat chain; it really doesn't improve your combat skills overall. So there's a half-dozen combat challenges, but really they're all the same theme except for the types of baddies and how many there are. Pretty boring and pointless.

The neutralization challenges are more fun, where you're in a room of varying design and you need to sneak and silently take down a bunch of baddies all armed with guns, and if you're not quiet enough they find you and shoot you. There's also a time limit for added difficulty.

The combat itself is not that difficult. It can even get button-mashing at times although they sprinkled enough different strikes that it seems like the ease is just a result of Batman's superior skill. I'd almost think that the ease of combat makes it more of a children's game, but some of the plot developments and an awful lot of the scenery earns the "M" rating.

Overall, the game is good but really it only took me 10 days to burn through the whole thing, playing maybe a few hours per day. The challenges are somewhat lame but the rest of the gameplay is exciting, not repetitive and has enough variation to keep it interesting. And unlike previous Batman games that were generic action games that only happened to feature Batman, this one is solidly Batman from the ground-up and offers a rewardingly different gameplay experience.

Final Score: 8.5