Wizard World Chicago Comicon 2014

Having spent threedays at the Chicago Comicon, I have some mixed reviews of it.  On the whole it was a good weekend but there were things that really could have made it quite a bit more enjoyable.

First the good stuff:  the attendees and vendors (the ones selling comics and geeky stuff) were great.  Everyone was their to celebrate their particular brand of geekdom and, although often in costume, be theirselves.  The general mood was one of happiness and acceptance.

One of the highlights for me was the Bruce Campbell film festival.  It was essentiall a series of full length feature horror movies that would like either never see the inside of a theater or have a very limited runs in theaters.  I got to see three of the films:  Inner Demons (which I mentioned in my previous entry), Meet me there, and Killers.  All three were good films and quite enjoyable.  It was interesting to be able to have a short Q&A seesion with the people involved with the movies afterwards.

I also enjoyed the panels.  Twice I went to Joel Hoedson’s panels and even broke down and got his autograph afterwards.  I also went to the John Carpenter panel and got to ask him a question.  And on the last day I attened a panel that was hosted by four professional movie critics about the joys of the B movies.  I even got to participate a little bit in the discusssion on that one.

Now fot the bad.  The bad all boils down to one thing: the venue.  Comicon was hosted at the Donald E Stephenson Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois.  I have never attened a convention there before  and I pray I never have to again.  Simply put, it was probably the single worst place I can think of to host a convention.  Some reasons for this are:

1) Parking.  Parking is $13 per day.  That I am fine with.  What I am not fine with is paying $13 per day and then having to walk a 15-20 minutes through parking lots trying to figure out how to even get to the convention center and try to cross a busy road, taking ones own life in their hands, and having no shuttle bus service.  Then the proceedure for paying for parking is so unclear nobody really knew how to do it.  Oh, but take your ticket with you.  Why?  Because you may have to pay for parking in the lobby of the parking garage.  Or you might not.  Or they may be nobody on duty.  But there might be.  It depends.  On what?  Who knows?  

2)  Food.  You would think having a major confrence center like this would be an opportunity to have a variety of resturants to cater to all these people.  I mean this is a captive audience.  And at $13 for parking with no in/out privledges, people are going to tend to want to stay there.  One might also think that there would be plenty of resturants around the convention center to cater to the overflow from these conventions.  Yet there was little of either.  The convention center itself had little in the way of food options.  Oh, there are several food stands there with the standard crap (pizza, cheeseburgers, and hot dogs) at exorbant prices ($8 for a luke warm, tasteless cheeseburger.  Really?) BUt for a four day convention, that doesn’t go over very well.

Now to be fair, the hotels had several restaurants (again at insane prices) and there were restaurants a few blocks away, but I came to the convention center to actually attend the convention, not wander all over Rosemont looking for decent affordable food.

The coup de grace, however, was the food stand at the convention center when my daughter wanted cheese pizza and they just sold the last slice.  I asked if there was more coming.  The person looked at me like I was asking here to move a mountain and mumbled something we couldn’t understand.  I said “I’m sorry, did you say there was more coming?”  Now see glared at us and said, with much distain, “I said it’s coming.”

So now, really feeling the love, we get to the cashier and I am astounded that there is a tip jar there.  This is a line where I get my litttle cardboard tray thing, I put the food on it, I put the drinks on it, and everything I want I have to do and the little bit of assistance I ask for I get treated like shit and now here, at the end, is a tip jar.  Incredible.

3) Cellular signal.  Two of the three days we were there the cellular repeaters were  down the bulk of the day.  Now being in IT, I know stuff happens, but honestly they need to have back up systems in place to allow for this type of thing.

In short I was very unimpressed with the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.  In short it seemed mismanaged at best.  I will be a happy little camper if I don’t have to go back there again.

Repost of “My Wife is a Teacher”

I do not take credit for this.  I am mearly reposting an email that I received.  Although I agree witht he sentiments and thoughts expressed here, all credit it due to Mr. Vic DeSantis.


My Wife is a Teacher 
By: Vic DeSantis

I am a guy who lives for summers. I wasn’t always like this but I’m pretty sure I can pinpoint the exact time in my life where the months of June, July, and August became such an integral part of my happiness.

You might be inclined to deduce that my yearning for these warmer times is related to a sports season or a passion for outdoor activities; perhaps even slower times at work. In some regards you might be correct but not exactly for the any one of the three multiple choice answers provided. 

You see, my wife is a teacher.

When I met my wife she was not a teacher – she was a student. When we married she was finishing her degree and starting out on her own professional career. To say that I knew nothing about the educational system at that point would be an enormous understatement. In the nearly 20 years that followed I have learned everything that a parent, student, citizen, and spouse should know about the challenges that every teacher faces. Armed with those insights it is difficult to reconcile the carefully framed messages of politicians and privatized education proponents with the realities of life in the classroom.

My wife is a teacher. I’ve never once, in the history of our life together, seen her trading derivatives, speculate in real estate, engage in subprime lending practices, or make exorbitant demands on her employer for an outrageous salary. It is perplexing to me that over the past few years she and her colleagues have, at least in the eyes of many, become public enemy number one. I suspect that a good portion of this misguided angst is directly related to the economic environment; something that she had absolutely no part in creating. Is she without fault? Absolutely not. I have over the years thought that she would have been much better off taking her well-earned college degree and her intelligence into the private sector and guiltlessly accumulated as much wealth and material possessions as possible. Sometimes you just can’t talk sense into these folks.

My wife is a teacher. Instead of making money she decided to make a difference. 

My wife is a teacher. For nearly 2 years she worked diligently to achieve the prestigious designation as a nationally board certified teacher – a designation that came with a small annual bonus. After meeting her end of the bargain, the state pulled the funding.

My wife is a teacher. She has worked for a decade and a half for far less money than her counterparts who are not public employees. She did this satisfied with the proposition that the pay was steady, a small retirement income certain, and the intangible satisfaction of steering the lives of children.

My wife is a teacher. Her income is now in decline. As a reward for her faithful years of service our state has decided that she should give back 3% of her salary towards her retirement. After all they say “this is what folks in the private sector do.” Tack-on another 2% reduction for the expired payroll tax holiday and the hits just keep on coming.

My wife is a teacher. Despite continuous assaults on her take-home pay, she shells out thousands of her own dollars for classroom supplies. She is impervious to the yearly barrage of administrative mandates established by politicians and so-called “educational experts” – she soldiers on.

My wife is a teacher. She is reviled by certain segments of our society who labor under the belief that she is underworked and overpaid. One would think that after fifteen plus years in a professional where a four-year college degree is a minimum entry requirement that most would not begrudge her a $40,000 a year salary. And for those less inclined to the truth, her salary is adjusted to smaller twice-a-month paychecks to cover the summer months when school is not in session.

My wife is a teacher. She is tasked with the enormous responsibility for the care and safety of your children. I’ll dispense with the lengthy analysis on this topic. Two words suffice – Newtown and Oklahoma. Someone please let me know the next time Lebron James throws his body between a child and the working end of an assault rifle and I will hold professional athletes in the same reverence I do teachers.

My wife is a teacher. For nine months of every year our family lives in the metronomic cycle of early morning wake-ups and late evening lesson-planning. We revel in the plethora of candies and candles, gift-cards and gadgets that herald the arrival of the “Christmas Break,” and I observe with interest the emotion that a hand-written note from a 1st grader can bring at the end of a school year.

My wife is a teacher. From August to May she had dedicated herself to the interests of her kids and her school. She has prepared and toiled, laughed and cried – and shared one hundred stories about the amazing kids that walk through her door each morning. She has left me wondering in awe how she does so much with – and for – so little. 

It is the summer now – my happy time comprised of the few short weeks that I do not have to share her. My wife is a teacher – she is also my hero. I promise to return her in August.

Sadly, The Office is nearing the end. I will miss it greatly.

On Thursday, May 16, 2013, The last episode of The Office will air.  It will be a 75 minute show and, by all accounts, will wrap up the series nicely.

I have a passion for this show that boarders on the obsessive.  I watch it continually.  Every night, in fact.  I have seen each episode in seasons 1-7 at least a dozen times.  I finish watching them (in order, of course) and promptly start back at episode 1, season 1.  And then I watch straight through until season 8, episode 24.  Rinse.  Repeat.

So why this obsession with The Office?  Why do I love this series so much that most people are ambivalent to and some down right hate it?  I have contemplated this at length and I think it is the depth of the characters that really appeals to me and how each time I watch it, I learn something new about the characters and their relationship to one another.

I remember when I first watched the series it was about mid season in season two.  The was so much I missed the first time through that I can scarcely believe it.  For example, I remember when Jim caught Dwight and Angela going at it in the office.  I was as shocked as he was by this!  I missed all the signs and innuendo about them.  Upon review I was shocked that I missed it all.

Now as I rewatch each episode, I discover similar, if less pronounced, pieces of the puzzle as it were.

One thing that always astounds me is how Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) is such a buffoon 90% of the time, but when it counts, he is a genius.  After forming the Michael Scott Paper Company and he is negotiating with David Wallace he points out that his company doesn’t need to survive that long, but only need to survive to the next Dunder Mifflin board meeting at which point David Wallace will be out of a job for letting their most successful branch fail.  Or when he throws Jan under the bus at the deposition when he realizes that she had already planned to do the same to him by bringing his diary to present as evidence in the lawsuit against Dunder Mifflin.

It is the writting and the actors that bring these character to life.  They make it more than a simple half-hour sitcom on Thursday nights.  They bring life and heart to the characters.  The bring a depth that can be easily overlooked or missed by the casual viewer.

Michael Scott always refered to the people in The Office as a family.  Over the years, despite their differences, the story grew to show how right he was: they did form a family.  A crazy, mixed up, mostly psychotic family, but a family none the less.

I will miss watching their antics.  It was always a bright spots of my week.

But I always have them on DVD.  And Netflix.  And Tuesday night on TBS, And on Hulu, and….

Michael Scarn lives!!!!

TaxAct vs TurboTax…My humble opinion

Like most people, I loathe doing taxes.  Getting the forms, collecting all the right paperwork, calling the different places for information that should have been given but wasn’t….always a headache.  But even more than doing the actual taxes is the fear of the dreaded audit.  The tax code in the U.S. is staggering in scope.   Even being as diligent as I can possibly can, there is always a fear that something is going to be forgotten or missed and thus triggering the infamous IRS audit.

To help me minimize the risk, I have been using TurboTax Online since 2007.  And while I love the software for its ease of use and support, one thing I didn’t like was the price.  For me it runs about $100 per year to do both state and federal returns.  And while I hated paying it, I would swallow it because it was just so quick and easy to use.

So this year I decided to try another programs to see if it was as good at a lower cost.  After reading a few reviews, I decided to try TaxAct.  It was pretty highly rated, and at 1/3 the cost of TurboTax Online, why not give it a shot?

I downloaded the stand alone TaxAct Deluxe with my state for about $30.  My initial impression was positive, but I had forgotten all of the things TurboTax automated from previous years.   Still it wasn’t too bad.

Then I came to the part where it asks for interest that was received.  I had a few bank accounts that I did not receive a 1099-INT because the total interest was less than $10.  Unlike TurboTax, which asks for the name of the institution and a few other items, TaxAct wanted me to fill out a 1099-INT.  And that’s fine too.  But the issue was I did not have a payee EID number for the banks.  (On a separate, but related, note, when I asked the banks for this information one of them said “Oh, we don’t give that information out.”  When I told them that I needed it to fill out a 1099-INT form for the IRS she told me that she couldn’t give that information out to “just anyone” and suggested I not even tell the IRS about it.  Good Grief!)

So this led me down the first of many wild goose chases with TaxAct that end up with me calling the IRS for advice/direction on three separate issues.  I have never needed to do that with TurboTax.

Another point of issue was on the charitable donation portion of Schedule A.  TurboTax prompts you to input the specific information (who, what, where, how much) for all the charities and keeps a record of it for your future use.   TaxAct simply asks for how much.  And while that might be fine for most purposes, if I need to go back and look at the details from a prior year, TurboTax makes this much easier through better record keeping.

And the final think that set me on edge was on the Illinois State form.  Illinois has a “Use Tax” for anything that you buy on the internet that doesn’t charge state sales tax (we’re looking at you, Amazon…)  TurboTax always used to calculate this for me, but TaxAct want me to get the form and calculate it myself.  This made me very nervous, especially considering I did not have the UT form they mentioned nor did I know where to get it.  Later I found out that it was simply the total amount purchase times the state sales take rate of 6.25%.  Duh!

By the time I was finished, I was very nervous about the tax information I was about to submit.  So I decided that, since TurboTax doesn’t charge until I file, I would run it all through TurboTax and see what the difference was. 

It took me about 35 minutes to do both state and federal taxes using TurboTax.  I whipped through it like a hot knife through butter.  And I got that warm, fuzzy feeling that everything was going to be okay.  Well, as warm and fuzzy a feeling as you can get while doing taxes.  I finally reached the end and the verdict was in…

It turns of that my refund amounts for both state and federal taxes were identical for both pieces of software.  I felt relieved that TaxAct did not lead me astray after all.  The main differences were:

  • ·         TurboTax was easier and more friendly to use
  • ·         TurboTax was faster, but that might have been because it had historic data to go by
  • ·         TaxAct was much cheaper.  $30 vs $90 for TurboTax Deluxe with State.

So which will I use next year?  I don’t know.  I really like the price of TaxAct, but I miss the reassurance I always felt with TurboTax.  Is that extra money worth that feeling and the slicker interface?

I guess I have a year to decide.

God has an interesting sense of humor sometimes…

I recently encountered a neighbor at a local supermarket.  She asked me if I had called the police on the neighbors next door.  I stated I hadn’t and asked her why she was asking.  She stated the she had noticed a lot of odd activity next door with a lot of people coming and going at all hours of the day and night.  She spoke to the police about this activity.  She then informed me that (without going into too much detail) they were apparently recovering addicts.

Being a father of small children, I got very concerned.  I immediately went into hyper-protective mode.  I was going to get a CCTV system and put it up and monitor the house.  I was going to take some serious steps here.  I was going to call the landlord and ask her what she thought she was doing…renting to THOSE kind of people.  How dare she put my family at risk!

The whole while, a little voice kept chiding me not to judge even as I was ranting about the situation in front of my children.  I struggled with it because I was torn between wanting to protect my family and wanting to follow the words of Christ and withhold judgement.  Thankfully, between the little voice and the price tag of the CCTV systems I looked at, I decided to hold off until I learned a little more.  After all, all I had against them was the word of a neighbor.  And honestly, I every respect they had thus far been good neighbors. They were quite, they put up holiday decorations.  They even shoveled my sidewalk one day.

The very next day guess who shows up in our church…the same neighbors.

My wife and I couldn’t believe it. What a poor example I was in front of our kids…trash talking the neighbors and the landlord.  All the while we had folks right next door looking for a church.  And instead of meeting them, getting to know them,  and asking them if they were interested in coming to church, we assumed the worst and hid ourselves away.

I cannot believe that this was a chance occurrence.

God has a interesting sense of humor…

Well played, God, well played….lesson learned.

Comcast Business loves to host spammers!!!

Yes folks, that’s right…go right on over to comcast business with all your spamming needs!  You got spam you want to shovel out?  Well Comcast business network is the place for you!  Not only will they provide multiple venues  for your to shovel your crap out, they will help you change your domain and IP address when people start to block your ip address / domain.

Here’s and example:  after Ed sucessfully blocked a bunch of IP addresses that Comcast was allowing spammers to use, they allowed the spammer to change the domain and IP address they were using to shovel out the same old crap!  Now they are using the subnet.

Look, I know spam filtering is like playing whack-a-mole, but I expect better from a “good corporate netizen” like Comcast.  Especially one so concerned with waste of bandwidth that they throttle their own customers

Me, Chantix, and quitting smoking.

I started smoking when I was sixteen.  Not really sure why I did as I was kind of health conscious (or at least I thought I was) and I was on the swim team.  So smoking was never really something I saw myself doing.    And I hated the smell of tobacco too.  Despite these facts, however, somehow I did end up smoking for 24 years.

And then fifty-nine months ago I had my last cigarette.  And when I did, I did not honestly think it would be my last.  In fact I was certain of it.  I had tried to quit numerous times before only to fail miserably.  I tried Wellbutrin,  the patch, nicotine gum, and cold turkey, but nothing seemed to stick.  Oh, I would do fine for a couple of weeks, maybe even a month or two.  Bet inevitably I would smoke again.  It was almost a running gag in my office that every week I would try to quit.

So when Chantix came out I was hesitant to try it.  More than that, I was ready to quit trying to quit.  I was addicted and always would be addicted.  My wife was tired of the mood swings and crabbiness associated with me trying to quit.  I was tired of wasting the money on products to help me quit smoking.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never be able to quit smoking.

So perhaps it was out of that desperate place that I decided to give Chantix a shot.  I started taking it on a Monday.  For those not familiar, Chantix is taken for a full week before the actual quit date to allow the chemical to build up in the body.  During that week the smoker continues to smoke. 

The following Monday came…my quit day!  The only problem was I didn’t quit.  There was no way I could as this stupid Chantix wasn’t doing anything.  I had the same desire to smoke as I always did.  I ended up smoking like I did on any other day.  I was ready to chuck the rest of the medicine and forget about it.

I woke up the next morning and decided I would give it one more chance.  “Let’s see if I can make it to work before having a smoke,” I remember thinking as I got out of bed.  I took my shower, got dressed, went downstairs and had breakfast and drove to work.  Then when I got there, my boss was waiting for me with an issue on the mail server.  So I started looking into that.  I got that issue resolved and there was another problem that one of the users off-site was having getting connected remotely.  So I worked on that for a while.

Before I knew it, it was time for lunch.  And I hadn’t had a cigarette yet.

But this time something was different.  This time I didn’t want one.

I was thunderstruck.  I had gone almost six hours not only not craving a cigarette the whole time, I hadn’t really even though about it.

In that instant I knew that if I gave it half a chance the Chantix would work and I would be able to quit smoking.

So here I am fifty-nine months later and I still haven’t had a cigarette.  I can only remember one time during the quit process that I was even close to smoking.  I went in to the convenience store, bought a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, walked outside, opened the pack, looked at them, and threw the cigarettes and the lighter away.  I hopped back in my car and swore all the way home.

But Chantix wasn’t without its issues.  Personally I experienced very, shall we say, vivid dreams, some pretty scary dreams, lightheadedness, and a little paranoia.  Knowing these were common side-effects helped greatly in dealing with them. 

The worst for me came when it was time to quit taking the Chantix, however.  Those scary nightmares I had while taking the Chantix became some pretty scary thoughts during my waking hours when I stopped taking it.  I read up on it (on the internet) and some people recommended stepping down the dosage over a week or two.  I consulted with my doctor and he concurred.  Stepping down the dosage helped significantly.

I’m still not certain if it was the desperation of a perceived last chance to quit or the effectiveness of the Chantix medication or a combination of both, but I am pleased to say that today I have been smoke free for 1796 days and look to continue that trend.  Chantix may not be for everyone, and I have heard a lot of complains about it, but the outcome for me was a positive experience.

Spammers, Spammers and more Spammers

One thing that will just make me lose my ever-loving mind quicker than anything is spammers.  They just drive me nuts.  This obsession I have with blocking spam sometimes takes on a almost unhealthy level.

I am currently having one of these episodes, and the most infuriating thing about this one is that major ISPs are not only allowing this to occur, the are profiting from it.

The spammer in question is sending emails with the subject lines like:

  • Gartner’s Predictions on VoIP and the Cloud
  • ERP Expert’s Guide to Implementation Success
  • Facebook’s Impact on BI/ERP
  • MS Excel as an ERP/BI Tool – Tricks and Tips
  • 2012 VoIP Systems Buyer’s Guide

Often as not, the familiar name on these is Business Software Evaluations, and the email address is info@techevals.com.

But the absolute worst part is that they all seem to be coming from IP addresses that resolve to servers that host business solutions for Comcast and Verizon.  Specifically comcastbusiness.net and bos.east.verizon.net.  So these two communication giants are not only allowing this (a Google search indicated that both have been made aware of these shinanigans multiple times and have willingly chosen to do nothing about it except collect a check) but are helping them by  allowing them to change static IPs every so often and use throwaway domain names.


So I am left with no choice but to widen the net in which I use to block these spammers.  I was blocking by individual static IP address, but if Comcast and Verizon are going to continue to allow them to change STatic IP addresses to spew out this crap, I’m just going to increase my range.  I’ve got more blocks than they have IP addresses.  🙂

So now I am blocking the following IP addresses:


I’ve also made some conditional filters based on header info, sender domain,  and subject lines that hopefully will block these jerks once and for all.

Hopefully this will help someone else and if anyone knows addtional IP address rangers they use, please let me know and I will add them to my filters and to this list.


Hello, I’m representing HP…. and I’m really a hacker.

As a network administrator, one of my on going annoyances is the people calling with “surveys.”  In the past I have either just told them I wasn’t interested or just hung up on them without any comment at all.  The calls usually start with “Hi, this is Judy.  I’m representing HP and I was calling today with a short survey…blah blah blah.”

I usually don’t listen past that point and end up terminating the call.

In the past I considered these calls a waste of my time in an already overtaxed schedule.  Additionally it seemed like a “theft” of the time the company has paid for for something that does not directly benifit the company.

Recently however I decided to go through one of the “surveys” and see what they asked.  Being security minded (and slightly paranoid) throughout the survey I provided only false information.  At the conclusion of the “survey” I was very glad I did.

Some of the things they asked were:

  • How many users did we have?
  • How many printers?
  • What was our main operating system?
  • What version on the O/S?
  • What brand of Antivirus did we use?
  • What kind of routers? Switches?
  • Who was our firewall vendor?

…and then, with that last question, it dawned on me…this call was a social engineering call!  They were hackers!  I had no evidence that they were with (in this case) HP.  Only their word.  This call was really to footprint my network!

To be fair, it could have been legitimate.  But handing out thatkind of information without being certain of who I was talking to could have been very dangerous to the security of my network.

So beware of the random call from someone saying they are representing Microsoft or HP or Dell or any other company wanting to do a “survey” about your network.  It might just be a hacker footprinting your network.


Goodbye, SiriusXM. It was good while it lasted.

About five years ago, a friend introduced me to the marvel of satellite radio.   I always hated going to a new area that didn’t have any radio stations I was familiar with.  There were always CDs or iPod, but I enjoyed live radio with new music I had never heard before with live people doing the disc jockeying.  But the limited broadcast areas and ever increasing amount of commercials were driving me nuts.  Lo and Behold…here was my radio salvation.  And the best part was the amount of stations was incredible.  The choices were astounding.  And I could stream in my office and at home…pure radio bliss!

The only downside was the price…$11.99 per month.  I make a decent salary and so does my wife, but that price seemed a bit steep for something that I estimated at most I would listen to twenty hours a month, and more often about ten.

So for almost a year I hemmed and hawed about it, always trying to justify the cost.  But my fine protestant  upbringing always prevented me from making the leap and getting it.  Finally, almost a year later, my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  There was nothing I could really think of but after a while it occurred to me…I want XM radio.

So she got it for me and we both enjoyed it so much she got hers a few months later.noxm

Over the years there were issues here and there…the merger, the increase in fees…but it was always worth the money.

In September 2011, Sirius XM announced a price increase.  While the increase was minimal, like so many Netflix users responded to the Netflix price increase, for me this was the last straw on a once great product.

There are three main reasons I decided to cancel my subscription:

1)  They pulled their free internet streaming radio and made it a paid add-on.  I understand it was part of the merger, but to pull something that was purchased without compensating the user is just wrong.

2) While they were very quick to pull the XMRO (XM Radio Online) when the merger occurred, they were not so quick to merge their two accounting systems.  So when my wife got a car that only came with Sirius (and not XM like I had) there was no way to have a family plan even though we had two radios in the same family with the same company.  And I was okay with it…the first year.  By the time the third year came around, my patience with this issue was exhausted.

3)  Finally, the price increase.  As I said, its a small amount.  But history has show only a decrease in service, a decrease in programming line up, and an increase in “commercial” radio.  Add that to the economy of scales they gained through the merger and the fat that it’s just a boneheaded idea to increase price on a non-essential service in the middle of this biggest economic downturn in the last 80 years.  Well, it all amounts to the appearance of just being greedy.

On the other hand, Pandora is very cheap and customizable and friendly and goes wherever I do.

SiriusXM needs to wake up…there are lots of choices out there and none of them treat their customers with as much distain as SiriusXM does.

I found it ironic that after I cancelled my account they sent me a survey to ask why I left.  It was a very blunt tools that really did not capture the frustration I have has with SiriusXM.

See ya, SiriusXM.  It’s been fun.