Strike Back! Report merchants for requiring a minimum purchase when you pay with your debit card!

We’ve all been there.  You need milk, bread, or maybe even just a drink.  You stop at a convenience store, stand in line, and when it’s your turn to pay, they won’t accept your debit card unless you spend $10 (or some other arbitrary amt. of money).

Beware that merchants (convenience stores, shops, etc.) *CAN* impose up to a $10.00 minimum for credit card transactions, but they *CANNOT* for debit cards.  You could use your debit card to pay for a single piece of penny candy if you so desired. Though, good luck finding penny candy anymore :)

Most debit cards can also be used as credit cards, but this doesn’t matter.  As long as you can use your card as debit, and enter a PIN for the transactions merchants cannot refuse to accept it for any purchase amount.

What can you do?

Strike back!  VISA has a form on their site to report merchants that impose minimums for debit transactions.  Even if your debit card is issued through another provider like MasterCard, you can *still* use the form on VISA’s site, as long as the merchant accepts VISA.

Here’s the link:

https://usa.visa.com/checkoutfees/contact.jsp

Tell your family, tell your friends.  Unless consumers report these merchants, their policies will never change.

I for one am TIRED of getting denied at checkout when all I want to do is pickup milk, and get home.

Want more info?

Here’s the bill that makes this federal law.  Page 698 has the relevant info:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-111hr4173enr/pdf/BILLS-111hr4173enr.pdf

HP TouchPad – ORDER FAIL, FAIL, FAIL, FAIL

So I ended up ordering . . I believe 8 total of the HP TouchPads from:

Barnes & Noble
CDW
Insight

*ALL* my orders ended up cancelled.  This is a bit surprising since my first order with Insight was placed within 1 minute of the price decrease.  I think they must have sold out BEFORE they decreased the price.  My guess is that all of the above retailers don’t deplete stock until a human verifies/releases each order, OR the system automatically POSTS the credit card transaction.  Given the ridiculous amount of transactions these companies were doing during the rush, what usually occurs automagically was probably stopped by safety checks on the number of transactions, or raw amt. of revenue etc.  Once humans are involved in moving things forward, minutes and seconds very easily turn into hours and days.

It looks like the best bet for getting one of these at this point is probably through HP Directly.  They currently show OUT OF STOCK, but based on their tweets and sign-up page, it seems they do expect to get more in.

So, do you trust their notify page?  Well, I honestly do believe when they get stock, and verify orders are able to be completed, they’ll notify everyone.  That said, you can’t just immediately send emails to hundreds of thousands of people, and even if you could, greylisting and other limiters can often prevent you from receiving the email for a while.

By the time you get your notification, stock may again be depleted, for good.

What I’ve done is put together a very simple shell script that checks HP’s site for changes, and notifies me via email.  The email address I’m using is a “pushed” Exchange email, so I get notified immediately.

I’m pasting the script below, but please understand I do so with ZERO warranty, etc.   I don’t claim to be an expert in bash or scripting, and I’m sure there’s a better way to accomplish the same task.  Feel free to share in the comments if you’ve got a better way, but for me, this script DOES WORK, so I’m happy with it :)

To use this, you will need a Linux box with a bash shell, curl, bc, and the ability to send outgoing messages with sendmail locally.  If you can’t send outgoing email, the script will still alert you via the terminal that something has changed.

Here it is:

#!/bin/bash

#The URL to check for change
URL_TO_CHECK=”http://www.shopping.hp.com/webapp/shopping/can.do?landing=rts_tablet&category=rts_tablet&catLevel=1&storeName=storefronts”

#Number of seconds to wait between checks
FREQUENCY=”20″

#The phrase to look for on the page
PHRASE=”outofstock”

#The number of times the phrase occurs on the page with no change
OCCURENCES=”4″

#The subject to use for the alert email
ALERT_SUBJECT=”HP TABLET PORTAL CHANGED STATUS”

#The email address to send alerts to
ALERT_ADDRESS=”youremail@yourdomain.com”

# DO NOT EDIT BELOW THIS POINT
stop=no
iteration=1

while [ $stop = no ]

do

status=$(curl -s $URL_TO_CHECK | grep “$PHRASE” | wc -l)

if [ $status = $OCCURENCES ]
then
echo Iteration $iteration: NO CHANGE
sleep $FREQUENCY
else
echo “POSSIBLE CHANGE DETECTED, RE-CHECKING IN 30 SECONDS”
sleep 30
status_verify=$(curl -s $URL_TO_CHECK | grep “$PHRASE” | wc -l)
echo $status_verify

if [ $status_verify = $OCCURENCES ]
then
echo “FALSE ALARM, RESUMING NORMAL CHECKS”
else

echo CHANGED STATUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
echo “Subject: $ALERT_SUBJECT
$URL_TO_CHECK” | sendmail $ALERT_ADDRESS
sleep 5

echo CHANGED STATUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
echo “Subject: $ALERT_SUBJECT
$URL_TO_CHECK” | sendmail $ALERT_ADDRESS
sleep 5

echo CHANGED STATUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
echo “Subject: $ALERT_SUBJECT
$URL_TO_CHECK” | sendmail $ALERT_ADDRESS
stop=yes
fi
fi
iteration=$(echo $iteration + 1 | bc)
done

The script goes to this URL:

http://www.shopping.hp.com/webapp/shopping/can.do?landing=rts_tablet&category=rts_tablet&catLevel=1&storeName=storefronts

and looks for the gif image names for those “Out of stock” buttons

They occur (4) times in the page, and it expects to see them (4) times.  If that number changes, it re-checks in 30 seconds, and if it’s still something other than (4), the alert sequence begins.  You can easily change the variables at the top to check other phrases at other URL’s, and make sure you replace the “youremail@yourdomain.com” with YOUR email address.

Happy shopping!

Get the BEST price for your used DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s online with this free tool I created!

I sold my DVD collection a little while back and was intensely frustrated by the WIDELY varying prices offered by various purchasers.

So, I wrote a tool to do all the hard work for me by heading out to each of the popular sites, poll their price, find the best, and report back.

I just customized it into something I can share on the web that does one disc at a time, based on the UPC code.  The form submits are all custom injected with curl, sourced from RAW capture between my testing browser and the purchasing sites.  Enjoy the fruits of my labor :)

If you have a ton of discs you want a report on, contact me and I’ll see what we can work out.

The site for the tool is:

http://dvd.netmagi.com

and the sites it checks at the time of writing are:

EagleSaver, DVDPawn, SellDVDSOnline, SecondSpin, MightyBuyBack, and Abundatrade

HP TouchPad 16GB $99.99 – if you can find one!

HP is ‘getting out’ of the tablet business and is clearing out their TouchPad’s for $99.99 for the 16GB version, and $149.99 for the 32GB version.  Even with no continued support, this is a great price.  It’s tough to get a digital photo frame at this price point in this resolution.  Even if ALL you use it for is a media player or mobile web browser, $100 is well worth it.

They actually dropped the price Saturday, and I thought I missed out, but Barnes and Noble now shows in stock for the magical $99.99 price.  I ordered one last night, but now it shows:

Unable to process order. Please

call 1-877-379-0036, or

212-414-6024, if outside U.S.

I called in, and apparently they have 2,000 in stock and they’re trying to sort it out.  They could not tell me if I’d be receiving one or not.

Try your luck and order here:

http://gifts.barnesandnoble.com/HP-TouchPad-Tablet-with-16GB-Memory-WiFi-12GHz-Black/e/886111788637?itm=2&usri=hp%2Btouchpad

UPDATE:

A bunch of the larger online retailers are still showing the old price and presumably do still have them in stock.  Newegg.com, for example, shows “in stock”, but has it priced at $399.99.  It’s the same story at buy.com, CDW, etc.

I guess if you’re daring you could buy one, and hope they honor the new price with a partial refund :P

UPDATE #2:

Now show’s out of stock on B&N. .  @9:45am (eastern)

UPDATE #3:

Tried to get another (since I highly doubt B&N will really be shipping mine), and ordered through CDW when they dropped their price.  I waited on hold for over an hour to confirm the order I made online (thank-you cordless speakerphone) to find out they sold out within a MINUTE of the price drop.  HA!

So, if you thought you were getting one from CDW, think again.  Someone else posted on a deal site saying one company accepted nearly 65,000 orders for the 10, ten, yes TEN they had in stock.

As usual, I wish I hadn’t wasted time on this.

Trial by combat!

Notch, founder of Minecraft asked for “Trial by Combat” in response to a recent lawsuit by Bethesda over the naming of their most recent project, “Scrolls”.  They feel it infringes on the name of their “Elder Scrolls” game.

Check out Notch’s recent blog post to see for yourself:

http://notch.tumblr.com/post/9038258448/hey-bethesda-lets-settle-this

I suppose this in itself isn’t that exciting, but it got me wondering,  and I did a bit of digging.  Check out these excerpts from wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_by_combat#United_States

“Because the British did not abolish wager by battle until Parliament’s 1819 response to Ashford v Thornton(1818), and because no court in post-independence United States has addressed the issue, the question of whether trial by combat remains a valid American alternative to civil action remains open, at least in theory.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southwest_Airlines#.22Just_Plane_Smart.22

“Shortly after Southwest started using the “Just Plane Smart” motto, Stevens Aviation, who had been using “Plane Smart” for their motto, threatened a trademark lawsuit.

Instead of a lawsuit, the CEOs for both companies staged an arm wrestling match. Held at the now demolished Dallas Sportatorium (the famed wrestling facility) and set for two out of three rounds, the loser of each round was to pay $5,000 to the charity of their choice, with the winner gaining the use of the trademarked phrase. A promotional video was created showing the CEOs “training” for the bout (with CEO Herb Kelleher being helped up during a sit up where a cigarette and glass of whiskey (Wild Turkey 101) was waiting) and distributed among the employees and as a video press release along with the video of the match itself. Herb Kelleher lost the match for Southwest, with Stevens Aviation winning the rights to the phrase. Kurt Herwald, CEO of Stevens Aviation, immediately granted the use of “Just Plane Smart” to Southwest Airlines. The net result was both companies having use of the trademark, $15,000 going to charity and good publicity for both companies.”

Imagine if this became more popular?

Review: Top Gear US – Season 2, Episode 1

Top Gear US is back for season 2, and unfortunately, it still “stinks”.

Episode 1 was entirely taken up by a challenge:

Each host was to buy a “car”  to replace the staple Texas pickup, and then compete in various challenges around the state.

Those that follow Top Gear UK know that the challenge episodes are some of the best.  In fact, I’ve seen several of them several times like the Bolivia special, the Polar challenge, etc.

This US challenge just didn’t stack up.  The chemistry between the hosts just isn’t there, and it shows even more in a challenge episode where all 3 are front and center the whole time.  Tanner is probably the best, followed by Rutledge and Adam just doesn’t fit.  It’s not that the antics and style Adam brings to the show are wrong, he’s just the wrong person to do it.  99% of the time he’s downright annoying, but I’ll admit the 1% of the time I do laugh, it’s hearty.

The challenge builds up through some cattle herding where somehow we’re expected to believe Tanner fixes a fuel line with some tape, a manure-hauling contest, and finally ends in a “monster-truck”  race where they face off on a course full of jumps and banked dirt turns in their cars after a few modifications.  The modifications look like they just sat each car atop a toyota truck chassis (90’s era?) and called it a day.   Adam’s car catches fire, and Tanner cleans up on Rutledge after he loses a wheel.  Whatever. . ZZZZzzzzzzzzzz

I’ll admit I’m a hardcore fan of the UK series, and their chemistry is established over MANY SEASONS, but the US show needs help to succeed.

C’mon History Channel, get it right.  I REALLY want to like this show.

Car Bras – Seriously?

I’m at the mini market today in the parking lot waiting for the wife to return some DVD’s to the aptly named “Red Box”.  The car next to us had a bra.  A BRA.  I had to unlock my iPhone to check the date and make sure it was still 2011.

God for bid you found this blog post while googling thinking about getting one, here’s 3 reasons WHY YOU SHOULDN’T:

1) Ugly as sin

2) Dated.  Nothing says 1997 like a hunk of vinyl stretched across the nose of your car.

3) Protects NOTHING.  If anything it DAMAGES your car  trapping in fine dirt particles that scratch up your ride with movement.

JUST SAY NO.

3M-50 Wi-FI Thermostat: UPDATE

Original post here:

http://moderntoil.com/?p=325

Click HERE for the CT50, and HERE for the CT80.

This arrived last week, and it’s everything I hoped for, plus more.  VERY programmable via back-end JSON interface.  Of course, I’m old-skool and stubborn so I wrote a whole web-app in bash to control it :)

Here’s what my interface looks like:

Click it for a full size version.

The outside temp/humidity is polled via weather underground (XML feed), and the graph is gen’d by cacti.  I already use cacti for tons of other stuff, so it was only natural to use it for data collection here.   The red vertical on the graph represents the periods my furnace runs.  The rest of the legend it pretty obvious if you look at the full size snap.

If you’re even remotely THINKING of getting an ip-enabled thermostat, get one of these, they rock.

For those that don’t want to write their own app to control it, it can communicate directly to radio thermostat’s website and you can control it from there.  I just don’t like the idea of my thermostat taking orders from someplace else, so I wrote my own :)

There’s good documentation of the API here:

http://central.isaroach.com/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

MIT Researcher Unlocks New Method for Collecting/Storing Solar Energy

I read it here:  http://dvice.com/archives/2011/03/a-bottle-of-was.php , but their understanding of the science is a little “off”.  The author seems to think they’re generating power from water, but in reality they’re using  a process similar to what plants do to separate water, and the power is generated when the Hydrogen and Oxygen are re-combined (like in a fuel cell).

This is big news since unlike current solar sources of energy, where energy must be stored in batteries (with varying levels of efficiency), you can simply store the gases separately and re-combine them as you need the energy.

The researcher has teamed up with Tata group, which is good news since it lends some credibility to actually commercializing it.  It’s rediculous we’re still “drinking” oil out of the ground.  C’mon, it’s 2011.  You think it’s a coincidence that sunlight and water are two of the most abundant things on earth.  I don’t

Holy IP Thermostat! – RADIO THERMOSTAT CT50/3M-50

Just by chance, last night our thermostat was “adjusted” by our youngest creature (Cameron), and when we woke up this morning the temp felt a little cooler and nicer.  It was holding at 68 instead of the usual 70 we maintain during the day. I thought, that’s it, I’m getting a programmable thermostat today.  It’ll pay for itself in less than 1 season if we actually like it 2 degrees cooler at night.

Before I headed out to Lowe’s to pickup a 75ish dollar programmable thermostat, I figured I’d check online one more time to see if any new price-competitive IP-enabled thermostats had hit the market.  WOW AM I SURE GLAD I DID.

Internet or IP-enabled thermostats have long been on my wish list of geek goodies for a while.  I’ve previously looked at units from Proliphix, Ecobee, BAYweb, and others.  They all either *require* utilization of their over-the-internet web interface (some for free, some for a monthly fee), and/or are prohibitively expensive.  The BAYweb isnt too bad at ~$200.00, and looks like rock-solid hardware, but it claims to have zero support for direct query to the device, and only communicates via an outgoing encrypted connection to the BAYweb web site.  To a home automation hacker, this is about as attractive as using AOL for email.

Enter the “RADIO THERMOSTAT CT50

This little gem is only $100, features full local programmability, *and* access to the back-end IP interface via Wi-FI.  I’d actually prefer wired ethernet, but for $100, I’ll shut the fuck up and deal.  They sell these direct for ~$140, but they’ve partnered with 3M/Filtrete, and are selling them through Home Depot for $99.98.

The 3M/Filtrete Part # is: 3M-50. Search for “radio thermostat” at homedepot.com.

EDIT: Home Depot  no longer sells these, but you can get them HERE.

I haven’t gotten it yet, but I ordered based on the following features:

*Local Programmability

*Wi-FI

*API Available (free)

*Direct query to the device for variables like temp/humidity (say for ex. using curl to grab variables from a script)

*iPhone App for controlling directly (free)

*PC App for controlling directly (free)

*Remote Access via their website (only if you want to use it this way)

*CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP – Somehow this thing is more full-featured than all the competition for 1/5th the price!!!!  It’s in the same price category as non-IP enabled programmable thermostats.

GO order one now before they wise up and price this more appropriately ~$250!

UPDATE – I received it, and further review is here:

http://moderntoil.com/?p=350