Archive

Archive for May, 2010

The Receipt Conundrum

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve written about tracking personal expenses, and it really helps to have receipts when you pay in cash.  I use cash for most day to day purchases and I’ve discovered that most places will NOT give you a receipt when you pay in cash.  Which forces me to ASK for one so I can enter it into my expense tracker later.  I’m not quite sure why some businesses don’t give a receipt, maybe they are saving costs by not using the thermal receipt paper for cash paying customers.  A better answer may be this, what is being purchased is a consumable item and therefore a customer is not likely of returning said item, so no receipt.  Who knows.

Yet, when I go to a retailer that WANTS feedback (some really beg by giving longer and longer receipts), I get a receipt that is way longer than is needed.  Now, I do need the receipt for any potential item return purposes, but some of the length of these are crazy.  Who is really calling the 1-800 number or going to the website on these receipts?  I would guess that a very small fraction of people vs receipts given.  Another horrible practice is spreading the receipt vital data (stuff you need to keep for a return) among the survey/ads so you just can’t cut off the part you don’t need.

Also, some businesses sometimes think of receipts as advertising or up-selling (they likely get paid for it), then proceed to give you a receipt with a discount on a competitor item (never on the brand you purchased which can be annoying).  All this adds to the heft of the receipt or another piece of paper.

Lastly, when are the retailers ever going to get off the thermal paper receipt?  To me the thermal paper is delicate and any excessive heat or oil erases the information on the receipt (often I can’t find the date or amount when entering expenses after a week).  I don’t even know how bio-degradable the thermal paper is (something I need to learn).  Maybe it’s a strategy, if there is no receipt because the information disappeared (heat/oil/water), then retailers don’t have to worry about returns.

What happened to the days of a simple proof of purchase on regular paper?

– Dom

* Above photo is from herzogbr via Flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/herzogbr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Credit Card Fraud

May 20, 2010 2 comments

Yesterday was a day of two firsts for me.

  1. I welcomed into this world my 1st daughter, a new bundle of joy to go with my two sons.
  2. My Discover credit card account was deactivated in the afternoon shortly after using the credit card to buy lunch.

I’m writing this post to inform users that they are not immune to credit card fraud, it can happen at any time and any place if you use your credit card for both in store purchases or internet purchases.

I also want you to know there are some steps you can take to HELP the credit card company identify when fraud occurs.  Most fraud that occurs is not your responsibility IF you notify the credit card company within a number of days when you recognize the charge.  For me, Discover knew enough about my habits that it detected the fraud for me.

In my particular case, yesterday, I paid for lunch with the credit card, then went to pay for dinner with the same card and was informed my card was “not denied” but that the transaction was not approved.  I used another card to pay for dinner.

When I got back to my computer, I tried logging on to the credit card website.  I could not, my log in was deactivated and I was directed to call a telephone number.  I also received a email telling me to call the credit card company, but did not receive a phone call or text.

When I called the number, it was to the credit card fraud department.  After a number of identity confirming questions, I was informed my account was deactivated due to suspected fraudulent charges.

I was then asked if I made a $600+ purchase at a major department store in Irving, TX.  I said no, I’ve been in NM all day and did not purchase anything from said department store.  I was asked about a second charge, if I made a $500+ purchase from a major home improvement store, again in Irving, TX.  I said no.  I mentioned the last couple charges I did make and a dinner I tried to pay for yesterday.  All charges were confirmed with an apology about the dinner.

I was then told my credit card was deactivated because of the two purchases, and that I will be receiving a new credit card and account number in the next 7 days.  We re-verified my physical address.  I’m glad Discover caught the fraud, but it means I have NO access to that credit line until I receive the new card and setup a new computer account.  Being that I have a new baby now, this is a minor inconvenience, but not as bad if I had to pay for the fraudulent purchases.

I inquired more about the charges, in particular I asked if the charges were made using a “magnetic swipe” or just the account number, name, address, and security code.  I asked so I could try and figure out where the source of my information came from.  I was informed that a “magnetic swipe” was used to make the purchases, which means someone went through the effort to make a physical duplicate credit card and possible ID to make the purchases.

I also don’t recall receiving any letters in the mail from a internet merchant indicating their systems were compromised and credit card numbers (along with addresses) were stolen, but I suspect this may have happened.  Companies are required by law to inform you if this is the case, but I’m sure most companies would try keep this quiet if they can.

I’d like to point out several things which I did to enable Discover to be proactive in disabling the account after fraud occurred:

  1. I used the credit card frequently enough for them to detect that I could not have possibly been in Irving, TX and Albuquerque, NM near the same time.  In addition, the types of purchases were not consistent with the location if I had been in TX (meaning why was there a major purchase at a home improvement store when I was away from home?).
  2. I setup and access my account on the credit card company website and check it often.
  3. I took the further steps of setting additional notification options, I selected to be informed of major purchases beyond $400 and to be notified by email of those major purchases.
  4. I use Quicken to manage my finances, and I check all accounts two times a week, so I would have noticed the fraud charges if Discover did not.  I’m really glad Discover caught this before I did.

Now that I have experienced a situation of credit card fraud, I am going to look into the following:

  1. Some credit cards, from their website, have the option to generate one time use (disposable) credit card numbers for internet purchases, although this can be a bit of a hassle for recurring charges, I plan on using disposable credit card numbers for internet purchases if it’s an option.
  2. When I traveled internationally, I told the credit card companies my travel plans (where I would be) and to possibly expect charges from those locations so I could use my line of credit while on travel.  I am going to ask the credit card companies if this can be done on a state by state basis.  I don’t want to make things overly complicated, but if I only travel in-frequently, it makes sense that “magnetic swipe” purchases be allowed outside my home state unless I explicitly say so.
  3. It was mentioned during the call that the credit reporting agencies would be informed of the changes (closed account and new one opened), I’m not sure of the impact of this on credit scores, but I’m going to investigate what the impact is.

Hope this writeup was useful, please comment if you have other experiences to add.

– Dom

* Above photo is from Stuart Dootson via Flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuart-dootson/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Maori Performance

May 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently connected with a friend on twitter (@tlcgoodluck) and found out she works at the Native American Community Academy (NACA) in Albuquerque, NM.  My family and I were invited to a Maori performance at the school on 5/13/2010 (these performers traveled all the way from New Zealand).  We went and it was a great visit, I learned that many of the students at the school are from the surrounding tribes in NM and that a couple of the teachers were from Laguna Pueblo.  The real goal for my visit was to meet with the science/math teachers so I can present about engineering/business/career to the kids in the future.  It was a great afternoon seeing all the students, talking with several teachers, and watching the performance.  Here a brief video of the Maori visit.  Enjoy!

– Dom

* For better video & audio quality watch the 720p HD version.

Laguna Storytelling

May 13, 2010 Leave a comment

The Laguna Public Library (in Laguna, NM) periodically holds events for the public that help promote & preserve the local culture.  This last Monday (5/10) the library had “Laguna Storytelling” with Chris Luther.  This hour long event was great re-introduction to the Keres language for me personally.  I was very appreciative that the library and Chris allowed the event to be recorded.  This video is just a small sample of what occured, the full video will be put on the computers in the library for others to also enjoy the event.

– Dom

* For better video & audio quality watch the 720p HD version.

Audio & Video gear I use

May 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Since I’ve had several questions recently about what Audio & Video gear I use, I’ve decided to create a separate page here on this blog to detail what I own & what I have used.  Feel free to contact me about any of the items listed, maybe I can save you some time/energy in your various content capturing/creation efforts.

In addition, I would like to point you to an awesome resource I found during 2009 PodCampAZ for learning more about the technical aspects of video.  His name is Israel Hymen, he runs Izzy Video, and I’m a member.

Enjoy!

– Dom

Mobile podcasting hardware for less than $39.99

May 4, 2010 Leave a comment

The SanDisk Sansa Clip Plus MP3 player has been very useful to me for capturing mobile audio and I’ve decided to write about it so others know about this useful little device.

I use the voice recording function of this MP3 player to capture presentation audio by placing (actually cliping) the device on the shirt of the person doing the presenting. By doing this I get the built in (omnidirectional) microphone very close to the audio source (person’s mouth) which greatly improves audio quality. This is the same microphone placement that makes professional wireless lapel microphones sound so good. The microphone is on the clip side of the device at the top, and since there are no wires the person is free to move around while talking. This device does employ a Automatic Gain Control (AGC) function, so it’s helpful if the presenter simply says something like 1 … 2 … 3 before really starting into their content. The AGC function is also helpful in capturing distant questions in the room.

All the audio is recorded to solid state storage inside the device (there are 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB models), the battery is self-contained (not removable) and can run up to 15 hours in playback mode. Record mode would be a bit less since the device is actively writing to storage, I have easily recorded up to 3 hours of audio at one time (I’m really curious to know how long it would record). Recorded audio consumes almost 3MB per 1 minute of audio, this means an hour of recording would take up about 180MB of space on the device, so even the 2GB model has plenty of space to do hours of recordings.

The Sansa Clip Plus records audio in WAV format (tech details are: 24kHz, 16bit, Mono = 384kbps, good enough for speech, not really good for music). I really like this particular file format because it allows for post-processing/editing. Recording devices that record directly to MP3 do not easily allow for this option without further loss of audio quality.

Here are the post processing steps I go through to get the best possible audio from this device.

1. I pull the files off the Sansa Clip Plus using the USB cable provided and copy the files to my computer (it just looks like another drive).

2. I use the Levelator software to enhance the WAV file before editing the audio (this software is free from the Conversations Network). The Levelator performs audio re-leveling on the entire file at a detail that is too manually intensive to do yourself. Here are some waveform examples captured from Audacity. If you want more detail on how this is done, please checkout the Levelator website.

This audio waveform is before running the WAV file through the Levelator:

This is the audio waveform after running the WAV file through the Levelator:

As you can see, some of the louder parts are reduced, and softer parts are enhanced. This is the magic of what the Levelator can do for your audio recordings.

3. I use the audio editing software Audacity (also free) to remove any unwanted audio parts (just highlight and delete). Once I have the audio in final form, I can then produce a MP3 file (there are steps to set this up on the Audacity website). I typically produce the MP3 file at 64kbps to keep file size down and still maintain a good quality sound.

Here are some samples of audio I recorded in the house (not the best since walls reflect sound).

Sample audio before using the Levelator at 64kbps (24 seconds):

Sample audio after using the Levelator at 64kbps (24 seconds):

Now I know the difference is subtle in these examples, and you might pickup the difference more if you use headphones. But the really nice thing about the Levelator software is the ability to amplify audio from sources that are distant to the microphone. If you want another example of this take a listen to the audio from my post “Engineering talk at SIPI”.

The title of this post is “Mobile podcasting hardware for less than $39.99” which means you can likely find the 2GB version of the device through a online retailer for less than the suggested retail price.

I hope this information was useful, I really like the SanDisk Sansa Clip Plus for mobile audio capturing and recording speeches/presentations. Just remember to re-charge the device before any long event recording.

Enjoy!

– Dom

%d bloggers like this: