in which I pay property tax

I got my first property tax bill in the mail this week.  The amount did not surprise me – it was in line with what my research indicated before I purchased the property.  I chose not to establish an escrow account, so I will be paying my taxes and insurance directly.  A few things about this bill inspired me to write this blog entry:

1.  Owning is not always financially better than renting.  I figured this out during the process and decided to become an owner anyway.  Don’t be fooled; you need to do the math for yourself.  My property taxes alone are 66% of what I would have spent paying rent annually, and this doesn’t build equity.

2.  The county mailed out the tax statement on September 30.  The invoice states that, “Taxes for the current year (2012) are due and payable in full on October 1, and are delinquent if not paid on or before January 31.”  So I can hold my $6K+ for four months or pay it now … I wonder which option is better?  I would love to know what percentage of people just pay the bill as soon as it arrives.  I put a reminder on my calendar for January 15.

3.  You can pay the bill online – how convenient.  Except a greedy corporation (a/k/a JP Morgan Chase) has nudged their way between the county and me.  It’s only free to pay online if you pay by ACH transfer from your bank account.  Credit card purchases are charged a 2.3% “convenience fee” which is collected by Chase Bank.  That’s right – Chase wants to be paid $146.39 for the convenience of letting me use my Chase credit card to pay my county taxes.  Such BS.

4.  The upcoming November election contains three local propositions for general purpose bonds.  These are a good idea, and they keep our city infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, trails, flood control) in good repair.  For the last couple decades I have voted on similar measures, but I never really had to “pay” since I did not own property.  It didn’t seem strange at the time, but now it does.  We let a lot of people vote to approve or reject taxes that they will never have to pay.  It is much like the evil twin to the concept of “no taxation without representation”.  Surely there is a more equitable way for everyone who lives in a city to share in the cost of maintaining it?  Or maybe I should just be thankful for the free ride all these years?  Not sure yet – more thought required.

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Why people hate public transit …

A big front rolled through Dallas this afternoon, and the MATA overhead wires at Cityplace took a direct lightening hit.  All trolley service through Uptown has been stopped for more than five hours now.  Okay – so nature and weather are out of their control, but being prepared to respond to such a problem is something that could have been planned for.

No problem.  I’ll just take the bus home.  DART’s website tells me that the number 39 bus will take me right where I want to go.  I notice there is an active rider alert for that route, so I stop and take time to read it.  The alert says that street construction is impacting the Southbound portion of the route.  That alert expired on 08/10/12, and I’m going North anyway.  So I find the nearest stop downtown at Olive @ Ross.

I arrive at my bus stop five minutes early and check the realtime GPS for the bus.  It says it will arrive any moment.  I wait … wait some more … and then I check my phone again.  Now it says the next bus is in eight minutes.  I think to myself, “That’s strange – I didn’t see a bus go by.  It’s only eight minutes until the next one.  I’ll just wait here.”  Same thing happens again.  So clearly the bus is detouring downtown and not using Olive street, but there is no place for me to figure out where it really is going.

So I walk back towards the office (Arts District) and then walk another half mile to McKinney and Routh (where I would usually catch the trolley).  This is also a stop on the DART bus 39 route.  Sure enough – bus pulls up and takes me where I need to go in about 3 minutes ride time.  By the time I get where I am going, this whole process has taken an hour.  Did I mention that I live one mile from where I work?  I could have walked the whole distance in under 20 minutes.

I am happy to be home, but really pissed at the world right now.  Enjoying a nice frosty cold beer to calm my nerves.  MATA just posted on Facebook that they have finished repairs as of 6:45 PM.

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Samsung SSD firmware update requires SATA AHCI

It’s been more than a year since my last blog entry (yes, I’m still here).  I have several exciting personal and business technology projects underway, and today’s post relates to a personal project.  I have begun construction of a high-end gaming / photo editing / daily use PC.  Today’s post is a quick lesson about updating Samsung SSD firmware on the ASUS Rampage IV Extreme motherboard, but I am fairly certain it applies to other boards as well.

So my Tier 1 storage in this new rig is a pair of Samsung 830 SSDs in a RAID0 stripe for the operating system.  To configure the RAID0, I had to enter the BIOS and change the SATA mode from AHCI to RAID.  This opens up access to the Intel RAID utility (Ctrl + I) during post.  The Intel utility easily allowed me to setup a RAID0 mirror.  Time to move on to installing the latest Samsung firmware.

I burned the ISO image to a CD and booted up.  To my surprise – it did not recognize any drives in the system that qualified for the firmware (and promptly exited to a DOS prompt).  A bit puzzled, I sat scratching my head for about a minute.  Then I remembered a time when I was installing an Intel SSD in my laptop, and their instructions said it the controller had to be in AHCI mode for the firmware update utility.  So I deleted the RAID set and returned the BIOS back to its original AHCI setting.  Thank God I had not installed the operating system yet.

I booted back up on the CD again, and this time – BINGO – it saw both drives.  I went ahead and performed the update.  The utility warns you that it will be necessary to power down your system after the firmware update.  What wasn’t so obvious was that it updates the drives in sequence (one at a time).  The firmware updated quickly and reported success.  I almost hit the power button to reset, but just then I noticed the second drive was being updated.  Samsung should do a little better with the wording otherwise customers will accidentally power off during a firmware update (which could be very bad).  This picture was taken after the updates were performed (I ran the utility again just to confirm that both drives were on the new firmware).

SSD Firmware

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Dear Audible.com :

I have been an audible customer for years, but I’m probably not a “model” customer.  I tend to wait until renewal time and then rush to spend my existing credits on books before they expire (you can only rollover 6 credits).  This year was no exception.

I was a bit shocked to discover that I have upgraded my mobile tech faster than Audible can keep up.  My Blackberry Torch is still not supported (four months after launch).  There is also no mention of my Kindle 3.  A big attraction to audio books is mobility – and Audible supports lots of devices.  I just think they should work a little faster to keep pace with the latest devices.  Am I asking too much?

* Correction – Although no Kindle 3 support is listed, I was able to transfer my purchases to the unit and playback seems fine.

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Merry Christmas

What an amazing year 2010 has been.  I received the two best possible gifts – my sister is alive (making a fantastic recovery) and I learned what it means to put absolute trust in God.

We nearly lost Karen this April due to a ruptured brain aneurysm.  I was on my way to New York when I got the call.  By the time I flew home and arrived at the hospital, she was already in surgery.  After weeks in the ICU and months of inpatient rehabilitation, she finally got to come home in late summer.  And most recently, Karen was discharged from all outpatient rehab.  Praise God!

Life is incredibly fragile – it can change in a single moment.  But life is also infinitely complex.  Dr. Koebbe, the neurosurgeon that saved my sister’s life, is one of less than 100 neurosurgeons in the U.S. skilled in performing cerebral aneurysm coiling.  And there he was, in San Antonio, the very day my sister needed him.

I also have a new found respect for those who have chosen to be nurses (especially those in the ICU).  It takes tremendous skill and compassion to do what they do every day.  I will always remember Moses from the Pulmonology team.

There are too many people to thank – I can’t possibly name everyone.  Not a day goes by that I don’t give thanks for those who …

Provided a ride, a place to sleep, or listened as we coped;
Brought or cooked a meal, provided childcare;
Waited with us in the ICU as we dried our tears;
Visited Karen and prayed without ceasing!

As you spend this Christmas day with your family and loved ones – hold them close, rejoice, and give thanks for the time we have with one another.  Merry Christmas.

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Total Lunar Eclipse

Last night I stayed up to photograph the total lunar eclipse.  As the evening moved along, I was live blogging on this page with links to photos.  Now that I have had time to review the 100+ pictures I took – I decided to replace what I posted last night.  Don’t worry – you can still see the photos on my Flickr page.  Enjoy!

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The Thrill Is Gone

My love affair with the Blackberry Torch was short lived.  As promised, this is my one week followup.

The BAD …

1.  It’s never a good sign when the price drops after just a few days on the market (was $199, now $99).  When did selling 150K devices in the first three days become grounds to call the launch a failure?  If the iPhone is the new benchmark – let it be the benchmark for consumer devices.  Corporate customers don’t stand in line for 24 hours every time a new device comes out.  Refreshes happen gradually over time.

2.  The touchscreen “lags” several times each day.  It isn’t any single application or function.  The only consistent lag seems to come after the device has seen long periods of inactivity (greater than 30 minutes).  It almost seems sleepy when you go to pick it back up and start using it again.  Perhaps some sort of power saving function is going on under the covers?  Maybe it just needs a faster CPU.

3.  Social Feed notifications lack awareness of user interaction with the device.  Let me explain.  A new message arrives (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, RSS, etc) and the device notifies me.  I click through to read the new message in the social feed aggregator.  While I am there, one or more additional social messages arrive.  So I go ahead and read them since I am already there.  When I exit back to the main screen – it tells me I have additional new social feed entries to read.  Wrong.

4.  My RSA SecurID application still doesn’t work, but I participated in a forum discussion over at Crackberry where a crude workaround was identified.

5.  While so many websites work really well in the new browser, CNN continues to suck from an accessibility perspective.  No Zoom at all, and no respect for minimum font size preferences.

The GOOD …

1.  Although you can “pinch” to zoom in the browser – you may end up scrolling around to view text that extends off screen.  If you double tap instead, you get zoom and wrapped text.  Ran across this by accident and then spent a few minutes trying to figure out what I did to make it happen.

2.  Universal Search is very handy.  I usually know what email I am looking for, and now all I have to do is type in the name of the person.  All contacts and emails are automatically narrowed to display just the relevant data.

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Blackberry Torch – First Impression

I got the Torch today.  I have been a Blackberry user for many years now, but the anticipation of opening up the box this morning was almost magical.  And after one full day – I can say I am pleased with device.  Favorite things so far:

  1. The larger screen size is fantastic (especially with my visual impairment)
  2. The touchscreen seemed foreign at first, but now I can’t imagine using a BB without it.
  3. The AT&T U-Verse app is outstanding!  It is a HUGE step up from the simplistic web interface I was using previously on the Bold.
  4. Social networking isn’t just added on anymore – everything comes installed.  The “social feeds” from FB, Twitter, MSN Messenger, and BB Messenger are all integrated together and easily accessible.
  5. The new BB desktop manager makes it easy to synch music, videos, and photos.

There are still a few things I am trying to figure out.  I don’t know how to move applications to other … not sure what BB is calling them (folder, tabs, etc).  I also wish I could change the behavior of the top left “screen lock” button to be a full device lock function (prompting for password).

This device probably will not satisfy the true die hard Apple iPhone lovers, but it is a great leap forward for any Blackberry user (assuming you are okay with AT&T’s network).  Now If I could just get them to throw in a free femtocell for the house.  More detailed observations to come once I have used the device for a solid week.

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Gear Up – Almost Time to Record

A few months back, I mentioned that I was going to try my hand at audio recording or podcasting. I’m still working on my setup – trying to get all the right tools in place. It has been an adventure because I’m going into this with zero broadcast experience. In fact – I knew almost nothing about audio when I started. But learning is fun … (insert NBC’s “the more you know” shooting star jingle here). There’s no audio in blogging. I digress.

The most common question I get is, “what or who are you going to record?” I’ve got several ideas floating around, but I may start with some one-on-one interviews with family and friends about their lives. Think something along the lines of the StoryCorps project. I like this idea for two reasons. First,  it will give me experience working with the new tools in a relaxed setting. Second, the finished product will not only tell the story of the person I’m talking with, but it might also build a picture of how these lives intersect with mine. Only time will tell. So give some serious consideration to being interviewed – we can talk about anything you want. And I should point out that not everything recorded has to go into the public domain.

Since I like writing about tech, here is the down and dirty on the setup thus far. Much of the equipment I have selected was influenced by Leo Laporte over at TWiT.TV (although I’m using newer models of several of the products he recommends).

Mackie Onyx 1220i mixer
Marantz PMD661 digital recorder
Heil Sound PR40 microphone
Heil Sound SM 2 microphone shock mount
Heil Sound PL2T microphone boom
Sony MDR-V700DJ monitor headphones
Plantronics .Audio 470 USB Headset for Skype

In my next post, I will explain more about how all this equipment works together. The last item on this list, the Plantronics headset, is for use with Skype. The quality is absolutely outstanding for IP voice applications, and you can’t beat the price – just $30 on Amazon. I use one with my CIPC soft phone all the time.  But more on Skype later.  I’ll cover that in the next post as well.

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Extended Warranty & Murphy

We have all been there.  You are standing at the checkout counter making a large electronics purchase and they ask, “Would you like to purchase an extended warranty?”  That’s right where I was on October 21, 2004.  I was buying a 60″ Sony rear-projection TV (model KF60WE610) that cost over $3500.  Adding a 5-year warranty was just $350 more.  So I did it.

Now jump forward to the present day.  My extended warranty ran out 14 days ago (although the company I purchased it from filed for bankruptcy in 2007).  So just two weeks post warranty, I now have two problems:  blue blob and pink fingerprint.  I didn’t make those terms up.  It seems that is the common language used by owners experiencing problems (and there are lots of people with problems).  The blue blob problem was so common that Sony offered extended warranty coverage to replace the defective part through December, 2008.  That ship has clearly sailed.

The problem is with a part called the “optical block” (part # A1606010A).  A new one costs $670, and if you want it installed by a field technician – that will cost $190 and hour.  Based on the steps I have seen online, I can count on a two hour minimum.  So we are talking about a cool $1000 to fix a 5 year old TV.  Of course I could save a little money if I wanted to tackle the install on my own.

The next logical question is how much is $1000 towards the purchase of a new TV?  I think that is worth pursuing.  Let’s establish the criteria and see what my friends on the Interwebs can recommend:

Size – 55″ to 60″
Type – LCD (although a friend says I should consider LED as well)
Res – 1080p is strongly desired
Price – Max $2500 (maybe $3000 if you have a compelling argument)

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