Jan 182012

I spent about an hour yesterday calling all of the companies that I write checks to monthly to see what I could do to lower my payments due to my unemployment. I began every call with the same sentence — “I’ve recently lost my job and am calling to see if I can lower the cost of this service before I have to start cutting back on my services.”

Here are the results:

  • AT&T – (Cell phone) They wouldn’t charge me less for my current plan and it didn’t make sense to scale back my plan as it’s already pretty minimal.
  • Clackamas Garbage Co. – They didn’t answer the phone and asked me to leave a voicemail. I opted not to at this time.
  • Clackamas River Water – The representative I spoke with stated that they were unable to reduce rates.
  • Comcast (internet) – Comcast didn’t offer to reduce my rate but they did suggest that I scale back my service to a lower speed, which I did. This saves me about $20/mo.
  • DirecTV – DirecTV knocked $10 off my bill for 12 months without having to scale back my service.
  • Farmers Insurance – I was unable to reach my insurance agent (phone) because the local office was closed due to inclement weather. Snow was falling at the time. My email bounced back as well.
  • Homestreet Bank (mortgage) – This is a real catch 22. I cannot adjust the interest rate on my mortgage due to type of loan that I have. I also cannot adjust loan until I’ve missed 3 consecutive payments. I cannot refinance the house without a job. I would also have to payout the amount in escrow to before I could modify the loan. I could make half payments but any shortage or missed payment would negatively impact my credit score.
  • NW Natural – The gas company is unable to reduce my rates. They referred me to 3 Energy Assistance Programs.
  • PGE – The power company were also unable to reduce my rates but I could let payments slip and pay it off in the future should things get dire. I just needed to let them know that I was doing this intentionally.
  • Water Environment Services – I might be able to cut sewage rate in half should I qualify. Some info on a program is being mailed to me that I’ll need to fill out and mail back in.

I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised that I wasn’t able to lower my monthly costs by much. The real thing that surprised me was that only one person stated that they were sorry that I had lost my job. I spent some time working in a call center and while I’m certainly aware that you can become numb to the grinding nature of the job, it’s not difficult to say something brief and supportive. The lady at DirecTV was the only one to state that she was sorry I had lost my job and at the end of the call, she circled back around and wished me good luck in my job search.

Jan 132012

The largest project (in terms of man hours) is the digitization project. The digitization project is where I convert all of my CDs and DVDs into digital formats. After conversion has been completed, I can access the files from my server via xBox 360 using XBMC.

I have already worked on this project for months and it feels like it’s never-ending. I’ve chosen to break it up into small chunks daily to break up the monotony of the process.

The conversion process for music is simple. Take my music CDs and convert them in MP3 files using iTunes. iTunes will organize them by artist/album and everything will be easy to find should I need to access the files outside of iTunes. iTunes will find the artwork automatically as well which saves me the chore of this task for most of my music.

The process for converting DVDs is not as simple for a number of reasons.

  1. There is no tool that I am aware of that converts and organizes videos automatically like iTunes does for music. With DVD ripping tools, you have to convert the video, organize them, and then catalog them. This takes time.
  2. You will likely need to use different settings from disc to disc and there are a tremendous number of settings. Depending on your content, you may want to use different settings for movies, a concert, and a sporting event.
  3. Movies are frequently encrypted with a copy protection scheme because the MPAA considers it to be illegal for someone that purchases a movie to make a digital copy of it; even for personal use.

XBMC does a good job of indexing both audio and video files and transcodes them on the fly to other devices like the Xbox 360 or the iPad. It does so by looking up the folder or filename and comparing it to an online database. If it finds a match, it will index your file and add some metadata to it that makes it easier to find, including the actors in it and the genre of your video.

The problem is that your video is not always found in an online database. Sporting events are notoriously problematic. I have looked time and time again for a solution for my MMA videos — all of which require serious amounts of manual configuration. I found an MMA plugin for XBMC today that will index these files with minimal effort. All you have to do is create a text file with an event number in it for each of your videos and the plugin will look them up in Sherdog’s Fight Finder to index them. It’s still a manual process to create each of the text files but it’s not too much work and it will be well worth the labor to be able to watch these videos on the TV in my living room.

Jan 112012

A lot is on my mind yet the words escape me. I don’t know what I should or should not say about the series of events that have led me to this moment. It’s probably better to keep quiet though, even though that’s really not my style.

I started this blog as a means of accountability. I had found myself unemployed one other time in my life and I had nothing to show for it but wasted time. I have another opportunity now and I have vowed to do things differently this time.