Saturday, December 26, 2009

VLC includes Santa Hat icon, offends Buddhist?

A few days ago I noticed my VLC icon, the much beloved cone, had donned a red "Santa" hat. I thought it was a cute little "easter egg", and thought nothing more of it. This morning I was wondering if there was a plugin or if it would be easy to make a feature for VLC that involved the icon randomly swapping hats. Deerstalkers, fedoras, pressman's hats, baseball caps...just hats. For fun. I came across a recent thread on the VLC dev forums where someone was requesting the hat be removed or a patch be made to allow users to toggle the hat on or off during the Christmas season. This person was apparently incredibly offended the some developer thought it would be cute to give the cone a recognizable hat for a few weeks out of the year. I'm really curious if this person also gets offended at restaurants that put up orange and black streamers or cardboard witches in late October, or people who wear "What would Jesus do?" bracelets. I found a little survey generator and I'm going to try to embed it here and see if I get enough readership to actually collect some useful data here. Just for my own edification.

The link to the thread is here:

[The survey period is over, it has been removed.]

Monday, December 21, 2009

Halleluja! AT&T: 1 year later

In the wake of the SNL skit poking fun at AT&T's signal problems, I noticed it has been almost a year to the day since I bought an iPhone. Now while I managed to escape their service in July it took quite a bit longer for me to escape their contract. And I only now assume to have escaped the contract as I can no longer log into their website and I haven't recieved letters from any collection agencies. AT&T has failed to directly contact me on this issue: I'm just guessing.

So the adventure started because Verizon refused to allow me to try the Samsung Omnia without locking me into a 2 year contract. I had allowed my agreement to lapse and then purchased a BlackBerry Storm. But, when I tried to exchange the Storm for the Omnia I was told that I would be bound to a new 2 year agreement. Apparently the 30 day trial is shared between the phone and the service and any change to either within that time negates the trial.

The Omnia was Verizon's final chance to retain me as a customer at that point and since they wouldn't let me see if I liked the phone enough to keep their service, I canceled my contract and left the store...heading over to the AT&T with my head hung in shame I asked for an iPhone. The rep hooked me up with my account, activated the phone, applied my RIT employee discount, sold me some screen protectors, and sent me on my way. Aside from a few odd hiccups at Wal-mart involving the phone refusing to work since it thought the SIM card was out, nothing seemed odd for the trip home. I brought the phone home and immediately set about jailbreaking it. The phone was working out pretty well for a while, apart from some of that GSM noise and sketchy signal. Over the next few months living in Rochester the signal problems grew worse and the noise became more annoying. I'm not sure if it was actually making it more, or if I'd just slowly grown to hate it.

AT&T support seemed only grudgingly willing to help me concerning my poor reception. While I understand the description of the issue leaves a lot to be desired as a technical support request, these people are being paid to at least try, which they did not. And from a customer perspective separate from the technical problem, they didn't help me at all. These people refused to admit there were any issues, kept repeating that I was in a good signal area like saying it again would make it true, and they wouldn't even consider compensating me for the poor service by giving me even one-time discounts.

I was dropping calls sometimes 3 times within a minute. It was horrifying. And I wasn't even in a major metropolitan area, I just had poor signal. And it wasn't my phone because as soon as I left my room, or stepped outside if I was in a particularly sturdy RIT building, I was able to use the phone perfectly well. As a former Verizon customer for several years I had never experienced the frustration of a dropped call. In fact, I can't remember it happening to me before this, EVER. This constant dropping of calls and failing to ring even once caused my overreacting mother to call the county Sheriff's office to investigate my apartment and make sure I was ok. I have NEVER been so angry at a phone company.

Eventually, after almost 4-5 months of this I got them to consider this might be their problem. They offered to replace the SIM card on the phone, which I knew wasn't going to help, but I decided to play along since they were finally paying attention to me as a customer and not the enemy. Unfortunately, just a little after this I had to graduate and move, so we postponed the replacement until I had settled in my new apartment. When I called again after moving, the rep at the other end, while being slightly kinder than anyone else I'd spoken to up until this point wasn't any more helpful. I was told I was 3 miles away from the nearest tower, with the maximum range of GSM being...survey says...3 miles. The guy basically told me I was out of luck, there's nothing they can do regarding compensation, my options were either step outside every time I need to make a call and hope they build a tower nearby in a few months or switch carriers. So took the sensible option: I switched to Sprint when the Palm Pre came out in July. After ~8 months, I was finally free. Or ... crap.

While Sprint was being really good to me, discounting me for poor service and eventually giving me a device which gives me flawless reception in my apartment for free, AT&T was trying to charge me a cancellation fee. They sent me 2 bills, each 2 months apart for the fee. They didn't call, they just sent me sporadic bills. I finally called them and I was again confronted as the enemy. I got through the first level which told me nothing could be done, and the next level who told me they couldn't do anything, and that level's manager who told me I was completely unjustified in asking for the fee to be dropped. (The fee they charged me to cancel the service I wasn't getting...yeah.) But he'd put it into arbitration just to get me off the phone. A representative from the cancellation department would contact me within a week.
A week went by, then 2, then a month, then 2...and no call. Eventually it was December again, and I decided to pop into my account to see if the fee was still there. And much to my surprise I no longer had an account with I can only assume that AT&T finally decided to drop the cancellation fee they had no basis for charging me. Greed is not a basis. But they must have been so embarrassed at their own unreasonable handling of my case and took so long to make a decision, that they decided not to call me.

So, 1 year later... AT&T has completely spoiled any chance of my considering them a responsible entity. They are a bad company, with a crappy network, a slew of crappy phones, and some of the worst customer service I've ever had the displeasure to receive. They are a joke, and it is a very sad way.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bourgeois Beer: Sam Adams Utopias

With a price tag of ~$200 per bottle, Sam Adams Utopias is a beer for those who feel a little heavy in the wallet. As it is also released only every 2-3 years, and it very hard to get ahold of, it has a reputation of being a fine beer for those who seek new and extreme flavors out of beer.

Some tag Utopias as a "Super-Beer", and with an ABV of 27% it's certainly something beyond mortal beers.

I managed to get ahold of a bottle through a friend of mine who still lives in Rochester near Beers of the World. I wasn't able to find it in the liquor stores near my apartment, which is ironic given my proximity to Boston. I picked up the bottle when I visited my parents for Thanksgiving.

The bottle comes with a serial number which doubles as a discount code at the Sam Adams store for a free Utopias signature glass made by Reidel. Now that I've finally got ahold of that glass and sampled the Utopias out of it, both chilled and at room temperature, I feel it's time to write about it.

At first, the swirl and look. The beer is almost completely un-carbonated, it sits heavy in the glass. Swirling it causes a noticeable coating to form on the side of the glass. It's not Stone Russian Imperial Stout or Old Engine Oil, but it's pretty thick. The beer is clear and dark, mostly an amber color like most beer. A little more towards the dark brown of a stout than the golden color you'd get in most lagers.

At the sniff you start getting into it. There are hints of dried fruits, brown sugar. There's also a similarity to the Dogfish Head 120 IPA, or Imperial IPA, owing to the incredibly high alcohol content. It almost seems like it's trying to be a low power liquor or high power wine, like a warm tawny port or a sherry. Some sort of fortified wine or burnt red wine. A lot of reviews place it similar to a brandy but I think the fortified wine label fits better, it just doesn't have that angry burn of a full-on liquor. When chilled more red fruits come out of the sniff, wild berries, blackberries.

On to the main course, drinking the beer. The mouthfeel is very satisfying. It's lighter than it looks but still thick enough to coat the tongue. Also not so thick it feels like I've chewed off a chunk of something. The beer itself is not like anything I've ever tasted, not with regards to beer, anyway. Just like the smell, it's more like a burnt wine than anything. There are hints of lots of farm fruit, but it's all subdued. Strawberry, black berry, raisins, red grapes, cooked apples, etc. They all taste more like a jam than the fruit itself. That subdued, soaking in sugar idea. When it's chilled it tastes more like a cleaner, more refreshing beer. Some of the sweeter flavors are toned down making it fruitier, more like a lambic beer. Even cold it's still incredibly complex. Warm, the beer takes on darker and sweeter tinge. The alcohol is also more pronounced. The dark brown sugar that was almost completely vanquished by cooling it takes center stage when it's room temperature. The burnt wine flavors are also a lot more prominent when it's warm.

My recommendation for this beer is to chill it first, then allow it to warm as you drink it, so as to get the full representation of the flavors. Some of the more subtle fruit-based flavors get lost in the alcoholic might of the brew when it's drunk at room temperature.

Also, my recommendation for this beer is not to buy it unless you're in it for the experience. The flavor just isn't too incredible, mostly because it doesn't taste like beer. You can get the same ideas by mixing a dry port wine with a really grape-y red wine...and maybe some of thick stout. This beer is in the same vein as the Thomas Hardy's Ale, that I also didn't like. Both that beer and this one are way too similar to a wine.

While I have a tremendous amount of respect for the brewmasters that crafted these, I just want a clear distinction between beer and wine...these ground breaking beers blur the lines a little too much for me.

Drink on, folks!