Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pemco Billing

PEMCO is our auto insurance company. Their claims service and rates basically kick butt. I've only had to make one claim, but they were shockingly good. They handled everything very professionally and efficiently. There's another shoe here and it's dropping right about... now. When it comes to paying the monthly bill, they stink with the stench of a thousand rotting camels. You essentially have two options:

1) Pay the full amount at once.
2) Let them take the money out of your account on a monthly basis.

They apparently do not allow you to simply pay on a monthly basis using something like your online billpayer. They only want to play the monthly payment game if they get to take the money for you. Whats even better, if the payment "bounces" even once, they silently stop taking monthly payments and let your policy quietly lapse. Thankfully that didn't happen to us.

To go with option 2, you have to send them a voided check. If you don't have a voided check, you've got to go to your bank and get documentation that you can fax to pemco. Apparently it's not ok to simply give them your routing number and account number over the phone because "we need to verify that it's your account". You see, it's for my security ;) You have to fax or mail in a copy of a voided check. Uggghhhh, I call BS! I don't even have to do that with payroll anymore at my job.

They can very easily take your information over the phone and simply call the bank on your behalf to verify that the account belongs to you. "Oh no, we can't do that because of privacy rules!". Once again I call BS. Credit card companies do it *EVERY* time you have a transaction. It's no longer enough in most cases to simply give a credit card number, they need your "billing address" too so that they can match up all of that information. In the case of the insurance company, they'd simply say to your bank "Hi, we're Pemco, we've got a customer named blah blah blah who lives at blah blah blah who claims to have account number XYZ123, is that correct?" and the bank would say, "Yes" or "No", just like the credit card company.

Ugggh, get with the new millenium PEMCO. It shouldn't be this hard to give you money!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ask Ms. Dewey

A high school buddy of mine, named John Reid, just lead an effort to launch Ms. Dewey. Our entire lab group had a great time playing with her today. I think the best way to describe Ms. Dewey is to let John do it:

"She's a sassy know-it-all micro site that we've created that serves up some
hilarious video clips to your search queries. She's really smart (she has 3
brains, seriously). You can ask her anything, and she?ll not only know what
your asking, but serve up a snarky (yeh, I said snarky) response."

I personally found that she was oddly accurate with her video clips. She's also got a bunch of easter eggs that were pretty entertaining to stumble upon. I hope a lot of people stumble upon this because it really is a lot of fun to play with!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Solar Cell Efficiency Boost

Interesting approach to boosting solar cell efficiency. In a nutshell, solar cells cannot convert light from the lower end of the spectrum into energy. Some very smart people have figured out how to chemically combine two low energy photons into one high energy photon which can then be used by solar cells to generate electricity. Linked here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

log4j and UNIX syslog

I couldn't find Java code examples anywhere on how to get log4j to log to Unix syslog. I'm sure they're out there, but I'll be damned if I could find them. I spent a few hours with log4j today and managed to decode what's going on. Here it is in all it's glory:


import org.apache.log4j.net.SyslogAppender;
import org.apache.log4j.Logger;
import org.apache.log4j.SimpleLayout;

class FOO {

public static void main(String args[]) {
FOO foo = new FOO();
}

public FOO () {
SimpleLayout layout = new SimpleLayout();
SyslogAppender appender = new SyslogAppender(layout, "localhost", SyslogAppender.LOG_DAEMON);
Logger logger = Logger.getRootLogger();
logger.addAppender(appender);
logger.info("This is just a test");
}
}


I'd write more about how cool log4j is, but I'm under a deadline and have to get back to work...

P.S. If this still doesn't work, then you probably forgot to make your syslog daemon listen to a socket....

Thursday, October 05, 2006

2001 Saturn SC2 PCV Valve

I got my oil changed yesterday at one of those Grease Monkey(TM) shops. They're annoying because they always want to upsell you on stuff (and yet I keep going back). This time they wanted to sell me a PCV valve for about $17.00 and an air filter for about $20.00. I know the air filter was about 4 times cheaper if I bought it myself. As for the PCV valve, I'd never changed one out, but from the looks of it, I knew it was pretty cheap to buy. In addition, they had it out in about 30 seconds, so I knew it wasn't hard to replace either.

Today on my way home from work, I stopped into an auto parts (Auto Zone) store to get a PCV valve and an air filter. The PCV valve cost me about $5.00 and the air filter would have cost me about $5.00, but I opted for the snazzy KnR filter that lasts for the lifetime of the car. I got out of there for about $45.00. For my money, I got a new PCV valve and an air filter that will never need to be replaced. If I'd opted for the Grease Monkey(TM) parts, it would have cost me $37, but I'd still have to replace the air filter every 12,000 miles. I figure if I drive my car for 96,000 miles I'll break even on the KnR filter, although I haven't factored in inflation against the potential ROI if I'd bought the cheap filter and simply invested the other $35. If I always bought Grease Monkey(TM) filters, then the KnR filter would pay itself back in about 24,000 miles.

So anyway... Now that I had this PCV valve, I needed to install it. After a bunch of poking around, I found it sitting right next to the oil cap. It was incredibly easy to replace. I just pulled out the old one and plunked in the new one. Didn't even require any tools.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Discretion Advised! No Really!!!

I was going to post the transcript of the online chat that Representative Foley (R-FL) had with that 16 year old congressional page. After getting about 2 pages into it, I was disgusted and decided it wasn't worth the baggage to have it in this blog. What I will say is that it's now becoming clear that GOP leadership knew about this for a very long time and, like the Catholic church, tried to cover it up.

A poster named VannaB summed it up nicely in response to this article: "...isn't the irony so delicious? I mean here's the GOP, party of "family values" and the first line of defense against the so-called "gay agenda" and here's one of their own...one of their important, powerful own, in a Congressional seat they need BAD, and oooopsie he's a pedaphile. You can't write scripts soapier than this."