Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My videos - Creative Expression

One of these days I'm gonna have to improve my studio for video, and record some of the ideas I have for music videos.

I have some music I totally love playing again and again, I think I could do it justice with my own video. I set up my video camera tonite and recorded about 30 mins of video of me just goofing around to songs I like. It's fascinating to see what movements and expressions look totally cool, and what looks lame. What looks intense, and what looks poser. I want to train myself to express only the cool movements the way a dancer does. Then with a green-screen backdrop and proper lighting, I could achieve my goals.
And I do have some awesome ideas.

Songs I Think I Could Do Justice

Good Charlotte - I Just Want to Live

Linkin Park - In The End
Linkin Park - My December
Linkin Park - One Step Closer
Linkin Park - Somewhere I Belong
Alien Ant Farm - Movies
Alien Ant Farm - Attitude
Assemblage 23 - Complacent
Smashmouth - Satellite
Smashmouth - Then The Morning Comes
Smashmouth - Walking On The Sun
Stabbing Westward - Save Yourself
Stabbing Westward - So Far Away
SR71 - Fame
Garbage - Untouchable

My vocal range actually matches the lead singers of Smashmouth and Alien Ant Farm really well; I love singing songs by those guys in the car when I'm driving. However, my videos would NOT have my voice, hell no - I'm way more of a dancer than a singer. My videos would have the original song, as is, with my visuals on top of it.

Songs I Love but Could Never Sing

Sneakerpimps - Low Place Like Home
Sneakerpimps - Spin Spin Sugar
Sneakerpimps - Post-Modern Sleaze
Sneakerpimps - Roll On
Madonna - Human Nature
Madonna - Vogue
Veruca Salt - Volcano Girls
Kill Hannah - Crazy Angel
Sophie Ellis Bextor - Get Over You
Sophie Ellis Bextor - Lover
Telepopmusik - Breathe
Portishead - Glory Box
Switchblade Symphony - Dissolved Girl
Barenaked Ladies - Another Postcard
Garbage - Push It
Garbage - A Stroke Of Luck
Garbage - Fix Me Now
Garbage - Milk

Hopefully someday (soon) I'll be able to upgrade my studio to record awesome videos, and mix them the way I want to, and post them on qik or youtube. I've been wanting to do this for a long time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

People Who Like Your Music, Near You

I stumbled over Finetune.com (a really awesome music discovery site ala Last.fm and Pandora.com) which, when I typed in the band name "Garbage", and after playing one of their songs, it decided to play for me Dissolved Girl by Massive Attack (Mezzanine album).

Boy I hadn't heard that song in such a long time - and it was totally the right song for me in that moment! I don't know what it is, but sometimes I just need to hear a song that fits something deep inside of me; Triphop music often does that for me these days. Now I want to buy the album (I used to have it a long time ago, I think I lost it somehow; I can't find my mp3's of it anywhere).

As extremely happy as that song made me, listening to it with chills down my spine, I can't help feel bad (yet again) that nobody I know appreciates the music I like! Look. I'm a male, in my 40's, married, with 2 teenagers. My wife doesn't like Triphop music at all. My kids are too young to really get it. Most of my guy friends only like metal or rock or alternative, "radio" music as I call it. Nobody appreciates strong-female-lyrics music like I do. Nobody enjoys No Doubt, Garbage, Kelly Ali, Sneakerpimps (Becoming X), Portishead, Olive, Kill Hannah, that sort of thing. I believe I've asked everyone I know.

And yet, I know there's people all over the Internet who deeply understand these songs the way I do. I just don't know who they are - I don't want to be emotionally relating to some 16-year-old; that would be creepy. And I can't physically meet the person if they're in a far-off place or too young.

What I'm trying to say is - how do I find the people who like the music I like, near me?

There are so many social networking systems today, but most of them try to eliminate the borders and distance as a limitation. I'm all for that - don't get me wrong. But sometimes it would be nice for a bunch of adults with a common musical interest to meet for a couple hours at someone's house (with a good stereo system!) to listen to music they like together.

Meet up with Common Music Friends

For example, let's say I like Triphop and Alternative. I should be able to find a dozen people within 25 miles of me who like Triphop; and a similar set of 25 (different) people who like Alternative. Maybe all of us Triphop-25-mile-radius people talk together some how, and decide to meet at "John's" house for a couple beers and some great music! While listening we can talk about the deeper aspects of the songs, performers, bands, era, movies that used the songs, etc. That would be really cool.

And, maybe set up a completely different meeting with the dozen-different-people who like Alternative music. Perhaps some of the same people would be at both groups; perhaps not. Perhaps 1 or 2 songs/bands the group plays are ones I don't particularly care for; most of the songs will be ones I like though, so I don't care.

Solution - Location Based Social Networks

A whole slew of new social networking systems are coming out that are location-based in one way or another. Without going too much into it, check out this article: http://www.techcrunch.com/tag/brightkite/

I'm going to give Britekite a try. I know a lot of these location-based social network sites have failed. I will know a good one when I see it. Hope I see it soon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A New Toy

I just got a new toy to play with!

My friend Randy gave me a 1U rackmount PC - an older computer system he didn't want anymore. Except, it doesn't just have 1 PC in it... it has 2! Two completely separate motherboards, power supplies, memory, cpu, network/video/mouse/keyboard ports, everything.

Both machines are identical - AMD Athlon 1.2GHz with 1.5GB RAM (maxed out), with a small hard disk (1 each). He was running Win2000 on both of them. But I know the real potential of these boxes: Linux web servers! Windows has way too much overhead, especially with each next release that comes out. It makes you think you need faster and faster machines, older ones have to be discarded. But with Linux, you can install just the parts you need with nothing else; bloat cannot happen on Linux because of this. I can install just what it takes to have a web server and/or mail server and/or database server, then I can create virtual hosts, user accounts, remote-access, etc, all I want.

Randy says the box has overheating issues. I opened the box and checked it out, they only have 4 tiny 1.5" fans to move air thru the whole double-pc-system. The design causes the front mobo to overheat the rear mobo; I think I found a way to add 2 or 3 little 1.5" fans to fix it. And there's a couple other basic maintenance things to do on it (power cable breaking; needs bigger hd's)

People don't realize that a low-end home-pc for single-user use needs to be way beefier than a low-end web server with 2 dozen web sites on it. Drawing YouTube videos with audio is fairly large demand; opening 10 apps at the same time takes a lot of memory. Because of that, people's old discarded Windows PCs can actually be re-used as Linux-based web servers, if you know what you're doing.

The only downside is, once you have 5 or 6 of these low-end linux boxes running, you're drawing a lot of power (and generating a lot of heat) - more than if you just broke down and built a brand new server for $2000 that has the capacity of all of those systems combined, with far less power requirement and heat generation.

I love fixing up old computers and giving them a new purpose, allowing them to be useful again. It's fun.

Update on GOM player

In an earlier post I mentioned I was switching my PC music players from Winamp to GOM player. Well, GOM player is not far enough along in its development for me to use it on a daily basis.

I have 3 issues with GOM player today: a bug in mp3 decoding, and a bug in sound-driver-playing, and buffering.

Some of my music (actually, a large portion of it) plays fine in Winamp, but flickers badly in GOM player. What I mean is, a little chunk of audio is skipped (like 1/10th of a second's worth), so the song "speeds up" by 1/10th of a second, which sounds horrible to the ear; it messes up the beat of the music, especially if you're trying to sing to it or follow it in your mind while listening to it.

I know there's a ton of different mp3 encoders that can generate mp3 files in a wide variety of ways, including CBR versus VBR differences; Winamp just seems to handle them all perfectly, today.

There's some bug in how GOM player talks to my sound driver, in a way I've never seen before. Let's say I load up an m3u file (which is a list of many mp3 songs to play, in the order to play them). GOM player plays the first song. Then, it switches to the second song, and begins "playing" it - except no sound is coming out of my speakers! I can see the little thumb/bar moving horizontally, showing that the music is "playing" from GOM's point of view, but I can't hear a thing.

If I grab the little thumb and drag it ANYWHERE (including right to the spot it was just at), the sound immediately resumes playing through the speakers! So, I have to baby-sit every song - grabbing the thumb and dragging it back to the beginning OF EVERY SONG, to get that next song to play. Frustrating.

The last issue is that GOM player isn't buffering up enough decoded music ahead of the play-point. I know this because when I start launching apps and opening windows, even IE windows, the music cuts out for fractions of a second, then resumes. The music gets choppy like that, over and over, until the CPU is back to "idle", then the music plays continuously again. Winamp never did that. I assume it's a buffering issue; perhaps Winamp is multithreaded, with one thread doing playback, and another doing decoding; the decoder must run fast enough to be ahead of the playback by a wide margin, for times when CPU becomes scarce. Then the playback can read its data from the buffered-up audio, play it, and not hiccup.

Really intelligent software will even do internal "low-water-mark" measurements to see how well the buffer size is working; if it ever runs out of buffer entirely between decoding and playback, it tweaks an internal setting so it remembers to keep a larger buffer next time! That way it can prevent hiccups in the future by learning about how this particular machine works.

Yes, I'm running this on a machine with not quite enough memory (512MB Windows XP; it's the max this poor box can have). But if Winamp can do it, I would like to think GOM player can, with the proper programming.

So, I guess I don't have a good music player after all.

Yes I've tried VLC media player, which is awesome for movies, but has a sucky user interface in my opinion. You can't display a playlist of upcoming songs you've queued up, such as when you open a m3u file which VLC player does understand just fine.

I'm going to look around some more.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Future of Internet Video

Some interesting events have happened in the past few days and weeks that are making me think about the future.

Event #1: Senator John Culberson's Qik Videos

We have an actual senator who carries around his Nokia N85 and video tapes a lot of what he does today, twittering constantly throughout the day, updating anyone who is interested about bills, people, votes, etc.

Except "video tape" is the wrong phrase. Let me see, what's a better way to say it? How does "live streaming video that shows up instantly on your screen" sound? Yes, he's using the Qik service to do that (www.qik.com), as are a surprising number of other people (non senators), such as Scoble and others.

With Qik, you (the viewer) can type messages in a chat window which the Senator can see, such as questions for the individual he happens to be interviewing! You have a voice in politics, in a sense, directly inside the happenings and events of what's really going on there. I've seen senator Culberson on many occasions repeat a question someone typed on the chat window, to the person he's interviewing. How awesome is that?

Senator Culberson spends a good amount of time explaining his technology to all the politicos around him who had to hire interns to handle their own email. I seriously hope they don't squelch this type of communication. I have learned a lot from the few weeks of watching the senator's postings on Twitter, and watching his videos. I've learned that a lot of the conspiracy inclinations people have are wrong; there's a real explanation behind something that sounds like a conspiracy at first.

I am totally for this technology.

Event #2: Twit Live 24 Hour iPhone 3G Vigil

Leo Laporte, foremost podcast entrepreneur and videocaster just had a 24-hour long live video session, on the day of the iPhone 3G release from Apple. He interviewed a wide range of popular knowledgable computer people in the industry, as well as regular folks who just bought their iPhones in various parts of the world including Canada and Australia. He fielded phone calls from anyone who wanted to call in and talk. He took bathroom breaks. His daughter came in to hang out for a while, then left.

He learned all kinds of useful iPhone information, together with us, his viewers, such as how to take a screen-snapshot with the new edition of the software available for all iPhones (hold the main button in and press the top button; the screen will flash; now go look in your pictures for the snapshot).

Watching his show was mesmerising. I had work to do but I couldn't stop. I left it running in a window while I worked on Friday, I probably watched about 3 hours of it in various doses at a time throughout the day; listening to it when I couldn't see it (as my active windows covered his video cast).

I worked on an emergency project until 11PM then watched some more. Sometime around midnight I had to go to bed; I forgot and left it running all nite.

What the Future will be like

I am imagining a cool future where everyone has their own 24 hour video display of themselves and all the cool things they're seeing. They're sharing it with all their friends, anywhere in the world, all of the time.

Yes you can turn it off or walk away from it when you want to; but don't you want to share awesome things you see or hear or discover with your friends? Especially if you go to the zoo, the park, a new city, on vacation, etc.

Cameras are really small and light now, and getting cheaper and better practically every month. I imagine we'll have some way of automatically holding a camera that can show our face, and another one pointing in the direction of what we're actually seeing. It seems stupid to have something strapped to your head; I think it can be done without going that far. Perhaps some technology like that used in the Matrix 3 movie, virtual-camera technology, which can reproduce a view in a place where no camera can possibly be (such as right in front of your face pointing directly at you). If it can be done in 2003 for millions of dollars, then of course it will be doable in the year 2012 for $19.95!

Perhaps we'll have a standard for "3 camera view" (1 pointed at us, 1 at what we're seeing, 1 directly behind us). By having all video viewers displaying these 3 images in a standard location and size in relation to each other all the time, it will become natural to comprehend the person's surroundings and view in your mind, by simply watching their video. It's like looking in a rear-view mirror in a car: it didn't make sense when you first learned to drive, but now you can tell where vehicles are all around you, you naturally know, when you drive down the road today. Your body adapted to the little rectangle of different-picture that is your rear-view mirror, and your mind converts it to the knowledge of cars slowly passing on the left, falling behind you on the right, coming up quickly behind you because you're in the fast lane not going fast enough, etc.

All these tiny video cameras need a computer of some sort to manage everything, and broadcast the composite video stream to the Internet, live. Perhaps in the future computers will be woven into the fabric of our clothes - how light weight and easy will that be to carry around with us. Perhaps ultralight solar cells, also in the fabric, will be the power source to these ultra-low-power devices.

Your computer will have a video-viewer application with live video streaming of everyone in your family, your friends, anyone who "friended" you. Your retired parents and college professors can see what your up to (ok, well, perhaps there should be some limits).

Crime Drops to Zero

Imagine what will happen if most people in society have this kind of equipment. This is more powerful than any handgun! Nobody can take advantage of you, lie to you, cheat you and deny it later; you have it all on video, and your close friends all witnessed it. It was recorded someplace for posterity, and can be replayed in a court of law at any time. "Do you remember the face of the man who robbed you?" No, I was scared; but I have it on video right here. "But the thief stole your video equipment!" "yes, but it was streaming live to the Internet; all my friends had a copy 10 milliseconds after it happened." Regarding the disappearance of that person last week; let's go back and watch the past 48 hours of video they recorded to see where they were last. Nice.

I think about these things a lot, and I am excited to see actual accomplishments being taken in our world that match what I know we'll have in the future.

All that having been said... I be jonezin for a Nokia N95 and an iPhone 3G, I need both. :)

Winamp Sucks Now

My favorite music player for Windows, Winamp, sucks now. AOL has completely ruined it.

What Happened?

Ever since AOL bought Winamp, they've been slowly ruining it. They redesigned the layout to be totally cluttered - they decided where everything should go, and it's all welded in place in 1 big window. I don't want that. I want separate windowlets that I can resize and drag around in the position I want, let them snap in place. The way Winamp used to be.

Winamp is totally bloated now. On my low-memory workstation that I use for day-to-day things like music, news and twitter, Winamp now takes more than 30 seconds to launch. Oh, the window draws in about 5 seconds; but it's completely locked up for god-knows-why, for the remaining 25 or more seconds! It's ridiculous.

I double-clicked the title bar while playing a video, and BAM! It made the window so huge, it was literally 6 inches below the bottom and right sides of the screen! Nobody caught this bug? Double-clicking again did not reverse it: it minimized the screen to just a title-bar at the top of the screen, same width as before (6 inches off right side of screen). This is stupid. It took me 10 minutes to figure out there's no menu choice to fix the damage, I had to re-size from the upper-right corner of the window (after dragging it to the left a long way), to a smaller size, then drag the window back up and onto the screen again.

The behavior of the new features of Winamp don't feel like the old features - which leads me to believe the programming team has been replaced, and new people are working on it now. Code strangers. These newbies probably don't fully understand the code base or the reasons why things were done the way they were done in the past. They don't see the vision; they don't feel the same needs; they aren't working towards the same goals. This is purely conjecture on my part, of course, but having been a software developer since age 13, I know how to read between the lines. I think I'm right about this.

It's Time For Something New

So now I am going to switch music players. I've heard GOM player is a good one, I just installed it a couple days ago. Though it's focus is video, it can play MP3's just fine. I dragged and dropped an "m3u" file into GOM and it loaded all the songs perfectly - that's good. I don't think it can do ripping, though, so I'll have to find another good quick-loading ripper. GOM player is fairly new, it hasn't had time to get bloated and over-feature-laden. Everything it has works right, and it has new features that other players like VLC player don't have (like predictive file loading).

Music is really important to me. Music I like really energizes and uplifts me, I can work harder and longer and have way more fun doing so. Music I don't like really hurts me.

Music As Medicine

Music is a medicine for me - if I'm stressing out about certain things, I have specific music that heals my emotions related to that pain. Difficulty with my aging dad, feeling insecure and small after visiting him? Linkin Park heals that quite well!

When I was single, problems with dating and women would be fixed somewhat by strong, sexy female vocalists - Garbage (Shirley Manson) is my all-time favorite; good trip-hop like Sneakerpimps (the early years with Kelly Ali); Morcheeba; No Doubt; Pink; Madonna.

Good Programming Music?

Programming and music is an interesting topic. There's 2 completely different things that programmers do - designing and coding. For designing, your brain is fervently trying to create a new design: how data shuld be stored, how it should interact, how a screen should look, how to simplify what you already have. This is difficult work. For design work like this, I work best in absolute silence. Leave me alone; no phones, no music, no people; I don't exist, only the problems to be solved exist, and I'm completely focused on that and lose track of time.

Coding is completely different. Coding is the equivalent of "automatic pilot" for me. I know the plan in front of me of what needs to be done, since it's already designed. I just need to implement the design. Make it happen in program code, the way I want it to. It's easy, in a sense, after 20+ years I have it down to a science. I'm only limited by how fast I can type, and I can type extremely fast. For coding, I totally thrive with music. But it has to be energy music - Greenday, Alien Ant Farm, techno (Crystal Method, U2's Pop album, Run Lola Run soundtrack), Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sum 41, Assemblage 23, Psykosonik, Hednoize.

Music Has a Powerful Effect

Music has a powerful effect on my emotions, as well as my mind.

Programming does not involve the emotions at all - too much programming is very unbalanced, I've figured that out, because my poor emotions needs a life too. Family, wife/girlfriend, cats, dogs ... these all help a person's emotional self. Going out in nature and seeing beauty helps. Going to a play or opera, one that you connect with and uplifts you, can really help. Getting out and talking to a close friend can really help.

I know that as a human being I have 3 parts: my physical body (it needs exercise and good food and water); my emotions (needs love, connection with other people); and my mind (needs to solve problems and figure things out, think positive thoughts). And that's not including my spirit or soul, which also needs to be fed (helping others, planning my future success in life, love of God or nature, praying or meditating, making a connection with something higher inside of me).


I love how PCs can hold pretty much every song on every album in my music collection. That means my laptop can carry all my "medicine" wherever I go.

I guess everything in life has its beginnings and endings.
Farewell, my old Winamp, I'm going to miss you.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

No More Bruises with Stop Bruise

I found a cool new product called No Bruise: http://www.stopbruises.com/

The idea is, if you just bashed a part of your body (whacked your elbow on the door,
banged your shin on the coffee table, stubbed your toe, etc), and you're sure
it's gonna bruise, you can prevent it by wiping this product on the damaged area
as soon as possible. If you get to it fast enough, you won't get a bruise,
and it won't hurt nearly as much as it would otherwise.

Sounds crazy - but it really worked for me.

This thing comes as a box containing a bunch of little medicated pads in thin foil envelopes. Sort of like those towelette packets at the fried-chicken place, only sturdier;
and they smell way different.

It's some kind of all-natural remedy. The box says it can "reduce and prevent potential
swelling and discoloration of the skin." I found this to be true; I whacked my wrist
on a door knob really hard a couple days ago, and automatically grabbed it with
my other hand. I could feel a bump forming. As a software developer,
my hands are fairly important to me for typing.

Then I remembered I had just gotten a box of this No Bruise stuff about
2 weeks before, on a friend's recommendation.

I immediately ran and got the box from the cabinet, opened 1 envelope and
wiped the pad on the damaged area. It actually felt better right away, but I wanted
to see what would happen later. I'm sure I hit it hard enough to cause a bruise.

Sure enough, the next day it was still a little bump; no new swelling, and no
discoloration whatsoever! It still hurt a little when I touched it, but not nearly
as much as it did the day before. I could fully use my hand when typing that day.

Anyway, try it for yourself and see. The thing is, you gotta have
some of this on hand right when you hurt yourself for it to work.
If the bruise has already formed, it's too late.

I haven't seen this product in any stores yet; if they're smart, they'll sell it
at grocery stores, sporting good stores, and Walmart.

I think No Bruise is going to be popular; anything that can stop bruises completely
should be made available to everyone - sports enthusiasts, especially.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bank of America - Unending Problems

Bank of America - Unending Problems

I don't like to write negative stuff and bring my readers down, but sometimes when my outrage is too high, I have to get it off my chest. I believe this post is in the public interest, so I decided to publish it. It's about my experiences with the worst bank I have ever used, Bank of America.

Many years ago I opened my very first business banking account for the very first small-business I ever held. I chose to use Bank of America, at the time they had a nice deal for small business accounts (I forget the details). I was happy to open a personal savings, personal checking, and business checking account with them.

I mean, a bank is a bank, right? They assign you an account number, which you use to identify your account with their bank. You can deposit money in and withdraw money out of your account, with that number.

You get a bunch of printed checks - you can fill one out, sign it, and hand it to someone as payment; when they take it to any bank, they can transfer the money from your account to theirs. You also get a debit-card, with which you can perform credit-card transactions to pay people, or debit-transactions to withdraw money. All banks and credit-unions are the same in this respect.

Every month, the bank mails you a statement of all activity that went on with your account. This helps you balance your checkbook, keep track of deposits and withdrawls, and verify there's no fraud going on - every withdrawl listed is something you expected.

All fine and dandy. Until the month after I moved.

Then the Problems Began

I moved, so I had a new street address. I went to the bank and gave my new address to the overly cheerful BofA teller. She joyfully typed it into the computer. But at the end of the month, I didn't get my statement in the mail.

This is weird, especially considering I forwarded my mail at the post office from the old address to the new one, and I had already been receiving some mail that had been redirected from the old address to my new place.

When I went to the bank to ask about it, a different (but equally ecstaticly overjoyed) teller said it had been mailed, she didn't know why I didn't get it in the mail. "Would you like a copy of the statement right now?" she smilingly asked. I said Yes. "Should I deduct the $8.00 fee from your account?" WHAT? $8 to print a 1-page statement for my tiny business that's not profitable yet? Yep, for business banking that is the cost (price accurate as of the time this occurred, probably 12 years ago). OK, whatever, I paid it because I just wanted my statement.

I had her re-enter my new address, which she was completely happy to do.

Next month - no statement.

Each time I'd ask at the bank, I got lots of excuses about time-delays updating the database, and assurances that it was fixed now.

Each month my statement didn't come.

Each month I went to the bank in person, and spent $8 to get my statement printed out.

I checked with the post office again, nothing wrong at their end.

This went on for about 4 months. I made phone calls to various departments at the bank, all to no avail. Everybody either told me "it looks like the right address is already in the computer," or "it will take 30-60 days for the change to take affect."

Now, I am a programmer and database designer by trade. You can't tell me it will take 30 days for data to be updated in a database. What the hell kind of database takes that long?!?

Oh sure, maybe there are multiple databases tied together, far, far apart. Using standard networking technologies today, why would that take more than 30 seconds to copy data between servers located around the world? From what I understand, banks don't use the Internet to transfer data internally, they use direct-connect lines that are even faster than the Internet.

Let's look at it another way. When I opened my account, I gave them my address only once. It went into the first database just fine. It was distributed to all the other databases that needed it in less than 30 days. I know this because I received my very first statement in the mail within 30 days of opening the account! So why should it take more than 30 days to re-distribute my new address to the same servers using the same distribution method? How can that be?!?

I wasn't receiving the statements, which means it was not being sent to either the old or new address, from what I can tell. How is that? If postal mail is stamped "do not forward," which many banks do, that's their feedback-loop to know when the address they have for a customer is no longer the best one. This way they can obtain the new address. Maybe BofA uses that technique; I don't know. If they do, they should have received the bounced statement, corrected their database, and re-sent the statement to the new address. That would result in a delay, from my viewpoint, but I would eventually have received it.

Let's suppose they do it wrong, and correcting the database does not result in re-sending the statement. I would have "lost" the first statement, then received the very next month's statement at my new address. I would then have only missed 1 statement, not 4 in a row.

Shouldn't a bank have the best technology available, to provide the best service to their customers? Don't banks value the accuracy of data, don't they want to keep it current? Don't banks MAKE MONEY based on accurate data, being a financial business and all? Can't they spend a little of that money upgrading their computers to perform properly for however many accounts they have in however many states they exist in, in the United States? If my home Linux-server-and-database, which costs less than $1000 to build, can exchange data quickly with other systems in under 1 minute, why can't a big bank mainframe do it?

That Was the End of That

After about 4 months of paying $8 for a replacement statement, I couldn't take it any longer. I went into BofA and closed all my accounts there. I moved everything to a new upstart bank named Compass Bank which promised Free Checking, even for business accounts. That was new and amazing at the time; since then most banks have adopted this policy, but Compass started it all. I do not work for Compass, I'm just a happy customer of theirs. And I'm sure there's other banks equally good out there today.

Fast Forward To Today

Why am I writing about painful old banking memories right now? Because the were all stirred up by my visit to BofA today.

I didn't want to visit BofA today, but I had to. I needed to send some money to someone I know who has an account there. The fastest way to transfer money between banks is NOT electronic (strangely enough). It's faster to drive to bank #1 and withdraw cash, then drive to bank #2 and deposit the cash. I won't write any more about how completely stupid this is in the year 2008 - that I have to physically visit both banks to perform a high-speed money transfer - I'll save that for another day.

So, after withdrawing some money from the first bank, I drive over to BofA and walk straight over to the little writing table with deposit slips on it. There isn't just 1 kind of deposit slip, oh no. There's 2 kinds: one for local deposits, and one for out of state deposits. What? I have to know what state they're in? I have their account number and the routing number, that should be all I need.

I start filling in the out-of-state deposit slip, because I know the person lives in Texas.
There's little boxes for nearly every state in the USA - separate box for each state - I'm supposed to mark what state they're in. This section literally uses up the upper 1/4 of the form.

I fill in the account number, person's name and the date, but don't get any further.

The teller lady at the front isn't helping anyone at the moment so she calls me over, which ordinarily would be annoying (if I knew what I was doing, I'd want to be left alone until I finished writing my deposit slip). So I went over to her counter and gave her the money to deposit, and the deposit slip, as she's smiling a big smile at me.

"What state was the account created in?" she asks me cheerfully after glancing at the form.

"I have no idea what state the account was created in. It's not my account. I'm trying to deposit money in someone else's account. The person lives in Texas," I reply.

She types on the computer and puts a mark in the "Georgia" box on the form (which I would never have guessed), and says, "what's the birthday of the person on the account?" What? What's their birthday? How am I supposed to know that?

I tell her, "I don't know, July something. I shouldn't have to know their birthday to put money in their account."

I imagine she was asking that for verification reasons, to make sure I didn't give her the wrong account number. It's easy to mis-read or mis-write numbers - we don't want the money going in the wrong account! But isn't the full name of the person enough verification? I wrote their full name on the deposit slip. This person's name is so unique, there surely is nobody else in the entire USA with the same name; nor, possibly, in the world.

I say to her, "I have the routing number and the account number. That should be enough to uniquely identify the right account." She says, "we're not doing a wire transfer, so I don't need the routing number." I say, "OK, so the account number is all you need to deposit this money."

"That and the state they created the account in," she adds. "See here, at the top of the deposit slip, you can check the box of which state the account was created in... unless your friend doesn't want you to know that," and she puts away the deposit slip.

At this point, just as she's handing me my deposit receipt, I can't take it any longer.

"Look," I say, "you just told me the account number is all you need." "Yes," she says, "we can look up the state for you from the account number." I say, "no other bank I've ever used has ever asked me what state the account is created in, nor should they ever have to. They never ask me the birthday of the person holding the account. The account number has all the info you need. Please tell your management to stop asking people what state the account was created in, because you don't need to ask that question. Do not make your customers do more work than they have to. If you can look it up, then you should always look it up, and stop asking. Please tell your manager to print new deposit slips that don't have little boxes for every state in the union on the top; it's completely unnecessary and confusing and frustrating for your customers."

"OK, thanks," she said, with a worried look on her face, at which time I turned and walked out.

I've been around long enough to know how businesses work. She'll probably gossip to her coworkers about that weird customer, to relieve the pain she felt from our conversation. I never intend to cause pain for anyone, in my life; but sometimes its unavoidable. There's probably a 10% chance she'll actually mention my suggestions to her boss. There's absolutely no chance that her boss will do anything about it, or if s/he does, there's no chance their higher-ups will actually listen and respond. I know this bank will never change their deposit slips, at least, not as a result of my efforts today. Only if a VP high up the chain makes it a new policy corporate-wide, will the deposit slips change.

My Conclusion

BofA has serious issues (many of them) which cause their customers lots of pain and agony. Their policy of how they deal with this has always been "be more friendly and smiley," rather than actually fixing the problems. This makes me doubly-angry when I detect it. And I always sense it with this bank. Why fix the problems when you can just sweet-talk your customers more? After all, PR is more important than quality, right? At least, in my experience, this has been BofA's underlying policy for the past 15 years, at all branches I have ever visited in Arizona - and it really pisses me off.

Do you use Bank of America? You're welcome to, if you want. I'm sure many people have had acceptable experiences with it, or the bank wouldn't exist today.

But I'm sticking to my promise: I will never hold any BofA account again for as long as I live. They don't deserve my money ever again.

OK, I feel better now.