On the Daily Show

Neil Tyson was on tonight. It's always fun to see someone I've met in person appear on national TV.

Anyway... it was good. I particularly enjoyed Jon needling him by saying the universe began 10k years ago, and Neil responded as fast as I would have with "14 billion".

Now Colbert is making jokes about Pluto, GRBs, and the WMAP results.

And for good measure, Jon keeps piling on Bill Gates for his pretty minor faux pas last night.

Pretty good few nights on Comedy Central. If they ever want another astronomer for a guest, I volunteer.

BOYCOTT Homecenter.com

I made the threat and now I'm following through.

We got a threatening email from our friend Moise who works for these jokers, and so I'm asking that everyone refuse to ever do business with homecenter.com.

Just to recap -- they didn't send us our order or answer us about why it hadn't arrived, but charged our credit card. I disputed the charge. The order finally arrived about a month late, so I reversed the dispute, and our bank put the charge back on our bill.

We get a call from someone on a residential phone line who says that we did not pay them for our merchandise. We called the credit card company, verified that we had, and called him back and told him so. He continues to email us and call us telling us that we haven't paid for our merchandise. We called our credit card company and verified that yes, we did indeed pay them and they advised us to file a complaint with the BBB. We did.

Moise emailed us again today threatening to charge our credit card and/or put us in collection.

We verified AGAIN with yet another customer service rep from our credit card issuer that yes they did pay this bill and this company should know that they were paid. They are helping us prevent this joker from actually going through with his threat, but apparently there is no way to prevent them from putting us in collection. I'm really looking forward to that -- having to deal with a collection agency for having the audacity to pay for merchandise we ordered.

So, once again, if you don't want to have to deal with not receiving your order on time, horrible customer service when you call to question the problem, and then being put in collection over a charge you paid, then stay away from HOMECENTER.COM. However, if that sounds like fun to you, by all means buy something from them.

Now excuse me, I'm going to send them a snarky email.


On more about topics that are not the Hubble ACS

Besides focusing on football, volleyball, and bad cable companies when not writing about astronomy, I also occasionally complain about the food in State College when not writing about astronomy.

Ben (mentioned by Julianne in her post about the ACS) introduced us about a year ago (?) to one of the new independent restaurants in town -- a Jamaican restaurant that made *really* good jerk chicken. Unfortunately, we noticed bad signs a few weeks ago -- first they were closed a week for renovations, then when they reopened they decided their new hours *weren't* going to include the prime lunch hour of 12 - 1, and finally we walked by and saw a sign indicating the place was going to become an Indian restaurant.

Another good non-chain is gone. *sigh*

On things that aren't astronomy

So as Steinn points out, this has been a pretty rough day for astronomers. The program I helped propose for and pitch for several years to get images of compact groups of galaxies like this one makes use of the ACS, and it looks like that program will be significantly altered, if not killed altogether.

So I should have something profound to say about Hubble, but instead, I want to rail against Comcast some more. See, I have my priorities straight!

Anyway, I checked out at least one alternative and although it sounds pretty promising, it is a bit more expensive than Comcast for internet, so I'm not going to switch unless I get extremely fed up with my least favorite company of the moment.

I was excited to see that the CDT had a story about the expansion of C-Cor and D&E. I was hoping they would point out how people are starving for a lower cost alternative to Comcast, but no such luck. So I'll say it. Please, D&E or any other cable company out there -- come in to State College (not just the Boro!), provide good service at a decent rate and people will love you and shower you with money.

In a bit of irony, while moving my files from the old G4 to the MBP, I found a letter I had written to Adelphia when they took over from AT&T -- that switch didn't go so well, either. The letter was mostly concerned with how uncommunicative they were (I had tried calling and emailing and got nowhere), but I don't remember them jacking up our rates (and didn't complain about it in the letter).

For now, I still haven't changed anything, but I'm still on the lookout for anything that's better than Comcast.

On my new MBP


I didn't get to the other posts I was going to make. Instead I spent a lot of today (and yesterday) transferring my account from my old 17" PBook G4 to my new 15" MacBook Pro. It looks like everything transferred just fine - my email is up and running, my files are here, now I've just got to reinstall apps. I'm sure that is going to be fun.


On Sports Illustrated's horrid redesign

I have a bunch of thoughts in the queue today, so I think I'm probably going to go on a blog-a-thon and put up about 4 posts today.

Anyway, I'm going to start with this short one -- The new SI website is horrible. I used to read ESPN or SI rather arbitrarily when there was a sports story I wanted to read. ESPN redid their site about 5 times over the years, and the latest version is so bad, I hardly ever go there anymore. I read SI almost exclusively, and every once in a while go to ESPN (mostly just for TMQ).

Well, SI looked at ESPN's ugly, hard to navigate site, and decided -- we need to make ours uglier and harder to navigate to compete!

So now I'm on the lookout for a new sports news website.


On running the meter backwards

Shan and I have a long list of things we would like to do to the house. On the list of things that I'd like to do is to actually have some small set of solar panels to at least partly power the house. Believe me -- I know that this is not the sunniest place in the US. But I figure that even if 30 or 40% of the days are sunny, that's still enough to generate more than the 0% of our own energy we do now.

The thing is, last time I googled solar panels, I couldn't find anything even remotely feasible. I know that there is a house in the Pleasant Hills neighborhood in Pleasant Gap (we used to live in Steeplechase, the neighborhood next door) and that the Friends School on Whitehall both have solar panels, so that there are others out there who have actually done this, but it's not the kind of thing that you can turn up information about easily.

So the other day, I saw this headline, and thought maybe there will be info there. Well, if you read the article, the project cost $0.5M, and the guy himself put $100k of his money into it.

Clearly, this isn't something that will be easily replicated.

I guess I'll just have to keep sitting around waiting for a utility company to call me up and offer to use my house as their testing ground.


On Comcast, part 2

I've been to our local Comcast office twice today.

The first trip was to find out why our bill increased by about 20%. I was told the following. First, I got off easy -- I'm grandfathered in with my cable modem service, so my service only increased 16% instead of the 34% that is the new price for those who weren't grandfathered in.

Then, I asked why the HD/DVR service went from $8 monthly to $17 monthly. The answer? That's how much Comcast charges, and so that's how much it is.

So, we went back later in the afternoon and returned one of our cable boxes (we had one plain old digital cable box and one HD/DVR box) and dropped HBO. So by reducing our service significantly compared to what we had with Adelphia, we managed to bring our monthly bill back to what we were paying a month ago.

During the two times we went to the office, there were easily a dozen other people in line, most of whom were also there to complain.

In the short term, we got our cable bill back down, but in the long term, we are dumping our "Comcastic" service as soon as we have a better alternative. Unfortunately, Verizon doesn't have DSL in our neighborhood yet, but I'm going to see if there is any other alternative. Shan and I looked at DirecTV and Dish and it looks like we can save some money over Comcast *and* get back the channels we gave up, but we haven't figured out exactly what we're going to do there yet.

If anyone wants to start a cable company or broadband internet company in State College and offer decent service at a decent price, I'll be your first customer.

On a correction...

I got duped, too.

Apparently, the story was embellished. Some of the people quoted in the article are accusing the person who wrote the press release of outright lying.

I guess I'm glad it's not true, but it would be nice if the release had never been written. There's enough work to do combating pseudo-science, we don't need to make up bogeymen where none exist.


On another company I will never use again

Shan and I have been very slooowly making minor improvements to the house. One thing we did late last year was update some old light fixtures in two bathrooms. We found some light fixtures we liked in a catalogue, googled them, and found them for a very good price at a small company with a web site.

We gave them a credit card for the ~$100, and waited. The card was charged, no light fixtures arrived. Shan called to find out what was up, and they gave her the run around. I smelled a scam, so I immediately called our bank, and disputed the charge. I don't remember the exact sequence of events after this, but eventually the lights showed up, somehow we wound up talking to them (I think they called us) and they told us (seriously -- no joke here) that the delay in us getting our light fixtures was because the manufacturer's warehouse burned down. We have no way of knowing whether or not that's true, but we did get the lights, so I called our bank back and told them to reverse the dispute, and the charge appeared on our bill the next day.

Saga over, right? Nope.

Shan gets a call a week or so before Christmas from a number that came up on our caller ID as a person's name we didn't recognize. She answers, and it is a guy claiming to be with fly-by-night internet retailer claiming they never got paid for their light fixtures. She tells him that we did pay. He says we didn't, tells her to call the credit card company and then call him back. She calls, finds out that yes, we did pay them, then calls the guy back. It turns out that the number he gave us is somebody's house and Shan got a personal answering machine ("We're not home right now, please leave a message"). So now we figure that fly-by-night internet retailer is giving our credit card information to fly-by-night phone rep. Regardless, we figure we told the guy twice now that the credit card company had paid the bill, so this weird episode was behind us.

Well, today our friend calls us *again*. Seems he is *still* claiming that we didn't pay, and that he claims to have called our credit card company and been told by someone that we didn't pay. Shan asks for a name, and he says he'll email it to her. He sends her an email with the name of the company that processes their credit card payments, but no name of the person he allegedly talked to at our bank. So Shan calls our bank again, they tell her that we paid and to just ignore the guy and call the Better Business Bureau. We did and filed a complaint.

For now, I'm not naming names, but if I get another email or call from this guy his company is going up here and I'm going to give the post a title like "boycott this site" so that hopefully anyone that googles them will find this before buying from them. Whatever we saved on those light fixtures has not nearly been worth dealing with these intellectually challenged people.


On a big surprise

In our wonderful town, our cable franchise got turned over from Adelphia to Comcast. I've been less than impressed. We got a letter in the mail at some point with a new list of prices, telling us that we would have the privilege of paying more money for worse service. I went to our local office, and they told me that the mother ship sent out that letter without letting the local office know, and that the prices they sent us weren't correct.

Silly me, I believed them.

Got my bill today, and my bill went up by 18% from last month.

Do I have any new channels? Is my internet service any faster? No and no.

Am I going to pay 18% more for nothing?

No and no.

By the way, I didn't miss the irony that I'm using my comcast internet service to post a criticism of them. If I had a choice Comcast wouldn't be my internet service, but I don't have a choice, unfortunately.


On my purty pitcher

Dr. D (see Penguin, Meat-Eating) left behind a kalanchoe when he left Happy Valley, and I inherited it. I did my best to keep it alive, but it just kept dropping leaves until the thing finally shriveled up. I left the pot of soil in my office, though, and about a month ago I noticed a leaf poking through some dried, left-over leaves. This is how it looks today.

It's purty.


This just in...

Charlie Weis is about to lose *another* bowl game.

I thought he was a genius, his little pinky could coach better than Ty Willingham, and he would show Joe Paterno how to coach in the '00s. I will absolutely give him the credit that he deserves -- ND outplayed PSU by leaps and bounds in September.

If I recall, though, now that it is January, Joe *won* his bowl game vs. an SEC opponent, 20-10. Charlie is now down 41-14 to his SEC opponent, the chants of "overrated" are raining down, and Terry Bradshaw is criticizing the genius' playcalling.

Maybe if he thinks really, really hard, he can come up with a way to overcome a 27 point deficit in 4 minutes while the other team has the ball. That's what genius coaches do, right?

On my annoyance with Penn State football "fans"

After the Outback Bowl win, I was pretty confident that we would have a nice little honeymoon period without the complainers wonking about something.


Made the mistake of reading the CDT's reader comment list about the game. "Fan" Jim has this to say -- One offensive touchdown the entire game?I don't find that encouraging.

Yes. That's what we have to deal with. We win a great game 20-10, and our wonderful, supportive "fans" complain that we didn't score more points.

In an excellent coincidence, Mikey sent me this link from ESPN about PSU's National Championship in the Fiesta Bowl over Michael Irvin and the 'Canes. Read the article. Miami had 445 yards of offense and PSU had 162. Did that matter? Personally, I think that after that game all any REAL PSU fans cared about was the 14-10 final score. But in 2006, a 20-10 win over #17 Tennessee is not good enough. I wish I had the power to kick every one of these jokers out of Beaver Stadium and unplug their keyboards.


On the best game of the day

I've been watching football all day while working on my computer. The Penn State win was sweet, but by far the best game of the day was the Fiesta Bowl.

Wow. Boise State is good, and that coach proves that you don't have to be conservative to win.


On the Rose Bowl

I'm only halfway paying attention to the Rose Bowl while I do some work, but I've looked up enough to register the following thoughts.

1) USC players are the Miami of the '00s -- I can't believe the UM guy got a personal foul for hitting the USC receiver as he turned and showed him the ball on his way in to the end zone. I would have hit him, too. Later when the receiver caught a ball and handed it to the defender, even the announcers were forced to point out the poor sportsmanship. With some luck, the football gods were paying attention and will smite SC at the next opportunity.

2) I'm not shedding any tears for UM and their Maize & Blue fans -- I dealt with enough of their grief during the PSU / UM game this year to feel any sympathy for them. All those UM fans that wallked around our town with their "UM owns PSU" shirts had us that day, but you know, at least Joe knows how to win a bowl game. I have yet to see evidence that Carr can win one. How many Rose Bowls has UM lost now? I'll take JoePa and his 22-10-1 record in bowls against Carr's 0 for his last 4 and 2 for his last 7. This UM site about him doesn't even list his bowl record!

On the Outback Bowl

Penn State beats Tennessee (again -- that makes us 3-0 against Tennessee in three bowls since 1992, and believe me, as soon as I track down Eric Richards' email address, he'll be hearing from me).

Everything that the complainers in our stadium and on our message boards and in our local media (I'm looking at you CDT MMQB) have been going on and on and on about endlessly all season long disappeared in this game. The offense looked crisp, Morelli looked like HE IS DEVELOPING INTO A VERY GOOD QB, the defense made stops and scored, and I thought the playcalling was outstanding.

Once again, Joe shows that if you give him a month to plan, he can beat anyone.

I was asked if I would root for UM & OSU to win so that the Big Ten would wind up beating the top teams in the SEC and in the Pac 10. I will say this, I will never, EVER root for UM or OSU. However, today I will not be actively rooting for them to lose. That is the best I can do.

I've kicked around the idea of posting my thoughts about the season ending loss to UW by the vball team, but I don't think my heart is in it. One day I expect to have something to say about a season ending win by the vball team, but that will have to wait at least one more year.