The New FC Bayern Munich Look Good

BayernI got my first extended view of the rebuilt Bayern Munich soccer (er, football) team on Saturday in their German Cup preseason tournament win against Werder Bremen (4-1).

Bayern brought in 8 new players in the offseason, highlighted by the world class triumvirate of Luca Toni, Franck Ribery, and Miroslav Klose. Due to injuries, Luca Toni didn’t play and neither did a few of the other new players.

Compared to last season, this team already looks much more imaginative and they are playing a much more attacking style of soccer. Last season, it seemed that they were happy keeping control of the ball and making a bunch of passes around the periphery and then lobbed a cross somewhere near goal, hoping for some kind of lucky goal.

This season, they seem to be much more inclined to make a bunch of short passes and use some individual skill to break down the opposition. New signign Hamit Altintop looked great and absolutely drilled a shot from well outside the box. It was this sort of daring shot that Bayern didn’t seem to take last season.

Though Bremen had some key injuries, they were easily outclassed for the majority of the game by Bayern.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jLMGgs4qjk]

I’m very eager to watch Wednesdays game against last season’s Bundesliga champions Stuttgart. Stuttgart played great last season and they essentially have the same team back with a great core of young players at the core with a few savvy veterans thrown in as well.

Of course, I expect a Bayern win (let’s say 3-1) but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Stuttgart pulls out a win. The players at Bayern are still getting used ot playing with one another whereas the team in Stuttgart is entering its second season with this group of players.

But this entry isn’t about Stuttgart  – it’s about the warning shot that Bayern fired across the bow of the rest of the Bundesliga. Easily beating last season’s second place Bremen team has to begin putting fear ni the hearts of the rest of the bundesliga and, eventually, the rest of Europe.

Voice Mail Etiquette

When leaving a voice mail, PLEASE say your phone number as quickly and as inaudibly as humanly possible. It greatly improves the chances of me just deleting the voice mail and thus making it one fewer person I need to talk to on any given day.

ING Direct Now Does Checking

About 6 years ago I decided I should be smart about my money and I did a bunch of research to figure out the best way to maximize my income. This was in the days before I had a house so I had some spare cash laying around. Aside from investing in retirement, buying some mutual funds, and dabbling with the stock market, I shopped around for the best banking deals out there.

FirstIBAt the time, the best checking account going was with First Internet Bank of Indiana. They were one of the very first Internet-only banks on the planet. Because they didn’t have “brick and mortar”, aka buildings, they could theoretically provide much higher interest rates than traditional banks. At the time, they were offering about .75% more in interest than most banks plus there were no fees and as-good-as-free ATM utilization.

So I moved my checking account there 6 years ago and I’m still a happy customer. It’s still a vibrant bank and this weekend they are going to do some major upgrades to their backend system and possibly to the front end website.

As for my savings account, all of my turn of the century research pointed to using ING Direct for my savings account. They were offering really high interest rates for savings accounts, almost as high as long term Certificates of Deposit. To me, it was a no brainer to set up an account with ING Direct and start sending money their way.

ING DirectMy only trepidation was that this was a new offering from a company of which I had never known about. I sent in a few hundred dollars and this was reflected in my online balance. One day I decided to see if they would return my money as easily as they took it and they most certainly did. Outstanding. They pay a high interest rate and it’s not a scam.

There are one or two small caveats with ING Direct. Because they are an online-only bank you can only get money to them by sending a check which they cash and (once it clears) the money shows up on your account. The other way is via an ACH transfer (bank to bank electronic transfer) which you can do via most online bank websites but this takes 2 or 3 days to go through. Furthermore, ING began putting a hold on money transferred in so you can’t get immediate access to it even efter the ACH has gone through.

I can only think of 2 reasons for the 7 day hold:

1.) They don’t want people constantly moving money back and forth like you might do with a traditional savings account.

2.) They are doing some short term investing of your money so they can get a better return on their money on the backend (thus possibly helping to fund their much higher interest rates).

Because of these 2 reasons, I always considered my ING Direct account to be a near-line savings account (a term stolen from near-line storage in the IT world). The money is nearly immediately accessible but not nearly as accessible as in a traditional savings account. However, the money is not locked up long term like it might be in a Certificate of Deposit. (BTW – if you were ever in a real pinch, ING could wire you the money via Western Union (at a fee, of course))

All of this brings me to ING’s latest addition to their consumer banking offerings and that would be the Electric Orange checking account. This is an online-only checking account that, like the ING Direct savings account, pays ridiculously high interest rates for a checking account.

As of this writing, if you have less than $50,000 in your checking account, you would earn a 4.5% Annual Percentage Yield (APY). According to bankrate.com, local banks in my area are offering APY’s of a whopping 0.25, 0.45, and 0.5 percent. So clearly, my less-than-$50,000 checking account will earn me plenty of free money, at least when compared with the local banks. (And if I were a real player and had over $50,000 in my checking account, I could earn 5.25% APY. Ah yes…the rich get richer…)

I just got my Electric Orange checking account set up a few weeks ago. The checking has Free ATM so long as you go to one of the ATM’s that are a member of the “Allpoint Network”. The ING Electric Orange website provides a handy lookup to finding the closest Allpoint ATM to wherever you might be. They claim that there are over 32,000 locations and most of them seem to be in restaurants, grocery stores, and bars.ING Electric Orange

So free Nationwide ATM is a nice feature.

You also get a MasterCard debit card which has worked perfectly well for me the 3 or 4 times I’ve used it so far.

I tried their free Bill Pay service a few nights ago. I guess I’ll find out if it works when the check clears and/or I get a late notice from the gas company.

One of the ways that ING chose to cut costs is by not providing any physical checks at all. So if you’re one of those people who likes holding up the checkout line so you can fill out a longhand check and balance your checkbook while at the counter well….ING won’t give you any checks so there will be no checkbook balancing while standing in line.

You can send an unlimited amount of free, electric checks which is basically a PayPal type of service that does an ACH transfer on the backend. According to ING, an Electric Check works like this: “Simply enter the person’s information, the details of the payment, and an email will be sent to the recipient. The person can click on the link within the email to go to a secure page to enter their account information and the money is transferred!”

The other option is to send a free paper check via ING. Basically, they print out the check and mail it for you all for free. Heck, that’s worth it just to save on the postage stamp.

So how do you get money into the Electric Orange Account? Well, there are several ways. You can send a check in and once it cashes, it is added to your account. You can do direct deposit of your payroll check. You can do an ACH transfer. Or, if you’re like me, you can transfer money back and forth from your ING Direct savings account to your Electric Orange account and back. That is how I have been funding the checking account so far and the cash transfers are instantaneous.

I’m sure my opinion will change some over time but right now I’m pretty excited about this account and may soon convert it to my primary checking account and redirect my direct deposit payroll to ING.

For free checking, overdraft protection, free bill pay, free ATM, a MasterCard debit card, free paper check sending, no minimum balance, and 4.5% APY interest I find it hard to find something negative about this so far.

Has Vonage sped up their website?

One of the things that always bothered me with Vonage was their incredibly slow and unresponsive web site. Clicking on a link to get a voice mail was painful to the point that I never did it.

I set it up to send me all my voicemails as e-mail attachments. That prevented me from having to go to their page. 

I’d log in to their website once every 2 months just to delete all of the voice mails that were sitting in there. I logged in today in order to update some billing in formation and the pages were just as peppy and responsive as any other website.

 Has Vonage finally fixed their slow ass web site? Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that their web site is actually usable now?

Overlooked Band: Dressy Bessy

I’ve always liked the band Dressy Bessy. I first became aware of them via a bootlegged Peel Session that I got my hands on. Naturally, I figured there were an English band that hadn’t made ityet in the US.

To my surprise, I learned that they are not English at all and come from Denver, Colorado. The early albums have a “beat group” sound that has morphed to a bit more of a standard rack sound. Just about all the songs are catchy as can be.

Here’s a video to giv eyou a feel for the band.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeBdakicGYE]

Shoutcast Streams within Windows Media Player

ShoutcastA friend of mine has finally released version Alpha Beta Minor of some software he wrote. It allows you to easily access Shoutcast audio streams within Windows Media Player. It adds Shoutcast streams that you want to listen to as a playlist within Windows Media Player.

So say you want to listen to the most awesome I’m Smarter Than You Radio stream within Windows Media Center. This little utility help make that a reality.

Here’s the link:

<No valid link anymore….>

Shoutcast Streams within Windows Media Player

ShoutcastA friend of mine has finally released version Alpha Beta Minor of some software he wrote. It allows you to easily access Shoutcast audio streams within Windows Media Player. It adds Shoutcast streams that you want to listen to as a playlist within Windows Media Player.

So say you want to listen to the most awesome I’m Smarter Than You Radio stream within Windows Media Center. This little utility helps make that a reality.

Here’s the link:

No valid link anymore….

Pleased with myheritage.com

Tree GraphicI am responsible for maintaining my family tree. This task was handed down to me by my father is the family historian. Through his work, we have been able to more or less trace the family back to the lats 1600’s. He’s travelling to Germany this year to do more digging in church archives looking for more connections.

Meanwhile, I’ve been dorking around with various genealogy software for years all of which were completely retarded with regards to the Internet. The best most of them could do was output some static reports to .html files and then you had to post them to your website.

It got so bad that I was starting to chat up some friends that we needed to write our own software which was 100% web based, had community website features (aka web 2.0 features) and was generally taking advantage of modern technology and not stuck in 1995.

Through my research (and some fairly ingenius marketing) I became aware of the www.myheritage.com website. The original website was all marketing and glitz promising to deliver a modern, Internet-centric genealogy web site. That excited me but it seemed like forever before they finally got to the Genealogy part of the website.

Their first appearance on the Internet featured their face-matching technology which lets you upload a picture and it tells you how closely it resembles a star. As of today, depending on which picture I use, I apparently look closest to either James Hetfield of Metallica fame or Jack Osbourne (and somewhat like Gerri Hallwell or Kristen Bell. Apparently, I would be a pretty hot chick.)

So myheritage.com is telling me that I look like Superman which is cool. But all of that is the glitz of the website. The real value to myheritage.com is the actual genealogy website and the social aspects that they are coding in.

For one, the website is dynamic with the genealogy data instead of static reports. You can click on anyone in the family tree and not only does it pull up their personal information (birthday, spouse’s name, etc.) it also tells you immediately how you are related to that person (I apparently have a ton of second cousins). It calculates the path of how you’re related and displays a chart of that. So instead of me trying to figure out how I’m related to some distant relative, the website does it for me.

You can also store pictures and video on the site and link it to people so you can get more than just a bunch of text. It all integrates very nicely so if a family member has a picture, every time their name shows up anywhere you get to see a little thumbnail image of the actual person.

A new feature they added was sending out a monthly e-mail highlighting upcoming events (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) so you now have one less excuse for forgetting someone’s birthday.

They also do some simple and somewhat humorous statistical analysis of the data. For example, our family has a 1.86% divorce rate. The largest age difference of a married couple in our family is 15 years and 4 months.

There are some social aspects that they are adding in. You can share recipes, post news articles, run polls, and there is a message board as well.

The site allows you to do research against a ton of genealogy sites. You can export the data in the industry-standard GEDCOM file format and easily pass that information around to whomever.

My Heritage LogoIn general, it has everything that I want in a website. There are a few downsides though.

For one, you have to pay to use it. I signed up for the entry level plan which costs $3 per month, but much less if you sign up for a few years at a time. That gets me 100MB of storage, 100 members on the website, and 2,500 people in my family tree. We all want free, but I don’t regret having made the decision to send these people some cash.

The second problem is that the site is pretty slow. Nothing happens very fast. Part of that is due to all of the neat graphics and statistics that they are calculating in the background and part of that is probably due to lack of server horsepower on the back end.

My final problem is that you have to do all of the actual family tree work by using a program you download and install. Why can’t this be done directly on the website? So anytime I want to make a change, I have to use this software and have it connect to the website, do some changes, and publish it. Well, based on the speed of the website, it is certainly faster to work locally but it’s not efficient for me to have to go through a bunch of steps just to update someone’s birthdate. Also, if I’m at someone’s house, I have to download and install a program instead of editing the data directly on the website.

But those are all really small issues in the grand scheme of things. Every few weeks they keep adding features and I’m sure my quibbles will be addressed over time.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a place to house your family website, myheritage.com is a good way to go.

 

Free OCR Software

Well, sort of free. I was looking to convert a graphic, scanned text document into a Word document. Come to find out, Microsoft includes an optical Character Recognition (OCR) feature within Microsoft Office. So for any of you with a copy of Office (and come on, who can’t get a copy to use rather easily?) follow this guys instructions:

 http://weblogs.asp.net/jgalloway/archive/2006/10/01/Free-OCR-software_3F00_-You-may-already-have-it_2E002E002E00_.aspx

 I followed them and it worked much better than I thought it would – at least 98% correct.

Internet Radio Day of Silence

savenetradio

In general, the Day of Silence is a protest against the upcoming rate hike that webcasters need to pay for royalties. There are quite a few powerhouse online streaming stations broadcasting silence today…Launchcast, Live365, MTV Radio, Soma FM…and much smaller casters such as imsmarterthanyou.com.

Bug one of your Senators to vote against implementing prohibitive royalty rates.