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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Constantine's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, February 9th, 2010
4:50 pm
12:14 pm
Monday, January 18th, 2010
7:29 am
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!
Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
9:05 am
Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
7:11 pm
Killing zombies with a chainsaw is every bit as fun as you'd think it would be.

And the sword is just awesome.
Friday, November 13th, 2009
7:36 am
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.
Wednesday, November 4th, 2009
7:04 am
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.
Thursday, October 29th, 2009
11:12 pm
Monday, October 5th, 2009
11:54 am
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.
Friday, September 4th, 2009
1:46 pm
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
Thursday, August 27th, 2009
9:45 am
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Great game so far. Really leverages the Batman mythos and isn't just another generic puncher in a bat-suit. A lot of Batman-specific things like grabbing baddies and leaving them hanging up by a rope, which really freaks out the other enemies.

I was going to say that the fights were pretty easy because they were, but then I got to Bane. Fucking Bane. Haven't beaten him yet.
Wednesday, August 19th, 2009
7:32 pm
Monday, August 17th, 2009
10:00 pm
7:13 am
Opinions Sought
Saw a poster at the gym this morning advertising "Habitat for Humanity: Women's Build." It's a female-only Habitat project.

Now, is the concept here sexist, that a female-only build will prove to the women that they're "just as good as the men," and that it's derogatory to imply that they need that proof? Or is there a simpler message here, one of female solidarity and sisterhood, which has nothing to do with comparing them to men?

Is segregating men out of activities a necessary step on the path to female equality, or does that only exacerbate the problem and should women contribute as equals to be seen as equals?

Note: No sarcasm or condescension is intended. It's frequently a mystery to me what women will find offensive and I really never know which way they will interpret something which seems innocuous to me.
Wednesday, August 12th, 2009
10:45 am
Joke of the Day
Heard a female coworker laughing uproariously from her office, so I ducked in to see what was so funny:

Dear Lord,

I pray for
Wisdom to understand my man;
Love to forgive him;
and Patience for his moods.

Because, Lord, if I pray for Strength, I'll beat him to death.


Funny, in that men are often the butt of jokes and are portrayed as oafish and deserving of physical violence.

So if we switch this around, is your very first reaction that it is any less funny or any more offensive?

Dear Lord,

I pray for
Wisdom to understand my wife;
Love to forgive her;
and Patience for her moods.

Because, Lord, if I pray for Strength, I'll beat her to death.

Friday, June 26th, 2009
8:30 am
Been There, Done That
So I finally finished Halo 3 on Legendary (got all the skulls too) and moved on to Fable II. So far I'm underwhelmed. I mean, it looks great and all, but I can't shake the feeling that I've done it all before. I made it through the first cave and got to the first town, met all of the merchants, earned some skill and money as a blacksmith, and then broke into a house and stole some stuff, got into a lengthy fight with the town watch, and then sentenced to community service. Now that's all revolutionary for an RPG, but I'm feeling kinda meh-ey about the whole thing.

So I'm thinking BioShock might be a good distraction. Any opinions?
7:36 am
What're They Teaching People These Days???
One of our projects is a minor enhancement to a very large app built by an outside development firm down in Argentina. We're trying to reuse existing stored procedures whenever possible because we don't have any documentation on the app itself and only spotty documentation on the business logic. But the new requirement is just another report that combines data from two existing reports, so maximum reuse is the order of the day.

So one of my devs calls me over yesterday, complaining that one of the existing sprocs is running really slow, taking several minutes to return about 45,000 rows of data.

So I took a look at it and saw that it's really a very straightforward select statement which just joins together 3 tables. But there's a "distinct" in there. So two of the tables are just dimensions (read: relatively static metadata) with a few thousand rows each, but the third is a "fact" (read: transactional data) table with... 12 million rows.

So the SQL is joining together three tables and then performing a DISTINCT on 12 million rows of data. On SQL Server 2000 and there don't appear to be any indexes either.

So I just performed a distinct against the fact table on the two fields that we're using to join, wrapped that up in a subquery and then joined to the dimension tables. Brought the return time down to a consistent 41 seconds. And I just know we can add some indexes that can drop that down dramatically further.

The moral of the story, though, is that now my dev thinks I'm some sort of database god, which just blows my mind. Do they not teach database fundamentals anymore? Can people (demonstrably at least 2 developers: the original and the current one) no longer recognize a blatantly bad query?

This is why technologies like Linq, while they save you loads of time, ultimately lead to a degradation in the overall skillset of developers, a thing against which I have railed before.
Thursday, June 25th, 2009
3:12 pm
This Just In: Clarence Thomas is a Fucking Asshole
So take a look at this article. I'd heard about this a while ago and it looks like SCOTUS finally ruled on it today.

In a nutshell, a 13-year old girl in an Arizona high school was accused by a classmate of being in possession of OTC painkillers, which are banned by school policy. She was taken into the office and her clothing and backpack were searched. No pills were found. She was then taken to the nurse's office where she was forced to submit to a strip search. Again, no pills were found.

She sued, saying her Constitutional Rights were violated. Now to me, this is a "no shit" statement, that she was strip-searched based solely upon the accusations of a classmate, someone who is immature and who may have all sorts of ugly motivations for making such an accusation and thus should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Amazingly, it took several appeals to get a court to agree though.

So finally it made it to SCOTUS, and the judges agreed with the obvious in an 8-1 decision. The lone dissenter was Clarence Fucking Thomas, who wrote:
"Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments... nor will she be the last after today's decision, which announces the safest place to secrete contraband in school."
This is just fucking amazing. This shithead is basically saying that school officials should be allowed to strip search any student if they think the student might be hiding something in their underwear, which is so subjective that it may as well be for any reason at all, and this decision will lead to an increase in such hiding?

Well let's take this to the logical conclusion, Clarence. If this decision had been the opposite, then what's next, body cavity searches? Because that's the only place left that anyone could hide anything, and if we should be allowed to ferret it out no matter where it's hidden, then we should allow that too. Or maybe pumping out their stomach, to see if they ingested the pills?

What a fucking asshole. Thomas just gained in prominence on my list of world's biggest assholes, and he's inching up on Limbaugh and Scalia.
Monday, June 22nd, 2009
12:47 pm
Weekend=Good, Monday=Bad
Went to WizardCon this weekend. V. Awesome. Only problem was long aisle of celebrities signing autographs: Edward James Olmos, Michael Hogan, Emma Caulfield (although I don't think she ever showed), Marina Sirtis (who still looks v. good), a few WWE stars, maybe 15-20 total. It really creeped me out because each celebrity had their own cubicle, with a table from which hung a sign with their name, and maybe a cardboard standee behind them. It strongly reminded me of a zoo, with the oddities all displayed for curious onlookers. It made me very uncomfortable and sad for them and I quickly hurried through the section and did not return.

Had dinner Friday night at Morimoto. Best dinner I've ever had (I had the matched omakase and beverages), but also by far the most expensive dinner I've ever had; it was $320 for Chris and I. Then the next night we went to Moshulu, which is a very large tall-masted wooden sailing ship, permanently docked and turned into a high-end restaurant. Also had cheesesteak for lunch at Pat's.

This Monday is so fired. Got to work this morning only to discover that I'd left my laptop at home. Then my boss told me that the open position on my team, for which we've already brought on a temp-to-perm person, is in danger of being cut from the FY10 budget. Then I went to a hot dog stand for lunch, set my tray down outside and turned to get some salt for my onion rings, and a seagull swooped in and nabbed my all-beef chili cheese dog right out of the bun. So I had to sit at the table and watch the fucking bird gobble down my hot and juicy lunch and then vomit up pieces of it because he'd eaten too much.

The best part, though, is the eBay drama. Last week I sold a $300 item on eBay to a guy out in L.A. I shipped it Parcel Post on Friday morning (the 12th). He E-mailed me asking for a tracking number, which I told him that I do not have because he did not pay for tracking or delivery confirmation. This guy flips out, accusing me of a "shady transaction" and berating me for not tracking all packages that I send out, and that it was my responsibility to pay for the tracking, not his. I thought I'd placated him, telling him that I did have the shipping receipt, that I was sure the item would arrive in 7-10 days, and that my 10-year 100% positive feedback rating should be proof enough that I'm not out to cheat anyone.

So I didn't hear from him after that, but suddenly on Friday he filed a fraud claim with PayPal, stating that he hadn't received the item and that I had "no proof" that I'd sent it. Exchanges over the weekend just showed me how nuts this guy really is; he refuses to admit that it should take longer than 7 days for Parcel Post to get from NY to L.A., and he's repeatedly accused me of fraud and demands that I send him a copy of the postal receipt.

So now my PayPal account is locked and I can't make any other transactions (I won some auctions over the weekend that I can't pay), I have had $300 forcibly deducted from my account by PayPal (as a precaution until the dispute is resolved), and now my account is close to zero and I'm praying that none of the floating transactions post because I'll get hit with overdraft fees (I did transfer funds into the account but transactions had already hit and pushed the balance into the red, although I do not yet see overdraft fees).
Saturday, May 16th, 2009
1:47 pm
"Core Conservative Principles?"
The latest from the Anus in Chief[1] of the RNC:

Gay marriage will cost small businesses more because it will increase the number of employees who can claim spouses for their health coverage.

I was just going to comment "WHAT" and leave it at that, but this quote deserves special attention:

Steele said that was just an example of how the party can retool its message to appeal to young voters and minorities without sacrificing core conservative principles.

So it's a good thing that "honesty" isn't a core conservative principle, so that means it's okay to impale that one without any moral consequences!

[1] the source of much smelly and worthless shit
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