I’m DONE with Target

Lots of people love Target. I don’t.

For one thing, Target seems to never, ever have what I want. No matter how mundane the item – be it a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, a Snickers bar, Irish Spring soap or a simple 4×6″ picture frame… if I need it, Target won’t have it. I often joke that the reason Target has CCTV cameras in the parking lot is so they can see me coming and hide whatever it is I’m there for.

But what’s worse, though, are the employees. I don’t know if Target only hires really stupid people, or if they train them poorly… but every time I ask a Target employee about the item I can’t seem to find, they not only act as if they’ve never heard of the thing before, they act like they can’t imagine why someone would want it:

“Orange… juice, you said? And you said it’s some kind of… beverage?”

Dear…

“Kitty… ‘litter’? Am I saying that correctly? ‘Kitty litter’? And it’s some sort of… pet accessory? For cats?”

God…

“Sandpaper? It’s not in office supplies? That’s where the paper is. Never heard of SANDpaper, though.”

Why?

There are a couple other things I could niggle. For one, Target’s grocery selection really sucks. Say what you will about Walmart, but my local Walmart has a full-blown grocery store inside. It doesn’t really cater to exotic tastes, but a family of four could easily buy all their groceries at Walmart, no problem. My local Target, on the other hand, has hundreds of items, but only one or two of any given item. Walmart has 15 types of canned chili; Target has three. Walmart has 84 different types of bread; Target has, like, six, tops. And the worst part is, unless you’re willing to compromise a lot, you can’t even buy a whole meal’s worth of stuff at Target. You want slow cooker pot roast with veggies? Target will have everything but the actual roast. Or they’ll have the roast, but no potatoes. Or potatoes but no carrots. Or they’ll have all the food, but no slow cooker spices. Or they won’t have slow cooker liners. Or something. It’s always something with Target.

Also, people say Target has “nicer” stuff than Walmart. I’m sure that’s true to an extent. Their crappy bookshelves are more stylish than Walmart’s crappy bookshelves. Target’s wastebaskets do look more like something you’d see at a hip spa or salon than Walmart’s “what old lady’s house did they steal this from?” wastebaskets. And, if you’re under the age of 25, Target’s clothes probably are cooler than Walmart’s. But at the end of the day, I can’t help but get the feeling that Target’s stuff costs 25% more than Walmart’s, but isn’t 25% better. Their crappy $129 bookshelf won’t last any longer or hold more weight than Walmart’s crappy $99 bookshelf, and their $7.50 Hanes t-shirt won’t last longer than Walmart’s $5 Hanes shirt.

*     *     *

Today was the last damn straw, though.

See, thanks to all the online security scares, I’m kind of wary about using a credit card online. So I try to use gift cards when possible. I pay for my mobile phone service with prepaid cards, which is easy to do, because almost any store that sells such cards will carry ones for my provider, and there’s a 99% chance I’ll be going to one such store at least once a month.

Spotify cards are somewhat harder to find, however. Despite Spotify’s site saying they’re available at many large (specific) retailers – Kroger! Target! Best Buy! Walmart! CVS! – they’re actually kind of hard to find.

Last night I was reading the Spotify subreddit, where some post playlists and others ask questions about the service. I saw a question about gift cards… which got me curious enough to look for them at Amazon. No dice. I googled “Spotify gift card” and got a link to this page at Target. Here’s a screencap:

Spotify at Target
(click to embiggen)

As you can see, this is a $30 Spotify card being offered for $21. It’s “only sold in stores”, “not available for free pickup” but is “in stock” at my local Gastonia (North Carolina) Target. It’s also located on aisle F29.

I had to run an errand today that would take me somewhat close to that Target, so I figured I’d buy a couple of cards. Hey, six months of Spotify for $42 instead of $60 isn’t that bad a deal, right? It’s almost like getting two months free!

So I went to the store, and went to aisle F29 (who even knew Target aisles were numbered?) I found the cards, but they were marked at $30, No problem, I figured. I’d just get them to adjust the price at checkout. Just to be sure, however, I looked closely at the rest of the cards on the aisle. No other Spotify cards, just these.

Of course, they can’t price match at the register. That would be too damn easy. After waiting for several minutes at a slow-ass register, the nice but clueless cashier (whose nametag read – I kid you not – “New Target Associate”) directed me to customer service.

The guy at Customer Service first told me that he couldn’t match the price, because the graphics are different. I asked him why the hell that matters. Packaging changes all the time, but the essential bit of a giftcard – the barcode and pin – don’t. He hemmed and hawed for several minutes, then said that he couldn’t price match because the pictured card was for “3 months of service” while the cards in my hand were “gift cards”. I told him that was a distinction without difference. Virgin Mobile used to sell Broadband2Go, PayLo and Beyond Wireless cards… but it didn’t matter which one you used, because it all went into the same Virgin Mobile account. He hemmed and hawed – no really, I think he actually said “heeeeemmm” and “hawwwww” – then said, “yeah, I’m sorry, I just can’t do it”. I asked him to get me someone “higher up the food chain”.

After a few minutes, a Target manager came up and asked me what she could do. I explained the situation, and was literally floored by her “logic”.

See, the cards were on clearance, and that’s why you can’t order them online for pickup. OK, but Google Play cards are also “not available for in-store pickup”, but they’re not on clearance. So what’s the difference?

Well, she said, they don’t have any in stock. OK, so why does the webpage say “in stock at Gastonia”? Because we have them in stock, but not those cards. What the hell does THAT mean? Oh, the cards that are on clearance? You’re out of those? So why does the website say you do have them in stock? Because they do have $30 Spotify cards in stock, but not those $30 Spotify cards.

After a few minutes of her circular logic, I held up the printout and asked: “OK, let’s pretend that you don’t work for Target. You go to Target.com and search for ‘Spotify’. This is one of the results. The webpage clearly says ‘only sold in stores’, that you can’t buy them online for pickup. It also says that they’re available in this very store. What would YOU think?” Apparently she’d “be confused too” but she’d understand because there’s some vital difference between whatever the company posted on their website and what they had in the store (despite all evidence to the contrary).

Finally exasperated, I asked: “So… you say that such cards actually exist somewhere in the realm of Target. How can I buy some of these? What can you do today to sell me these?”

“Well, I guess you can drive to another Target. There’s one at Metropolitan, and….”

Go to hell already. You know what? If I’d talked to the store manager, and if the manager had said “because fuck you, that’s why we’re not price matching”, I’d somehow feel better. I’d feel better than having to listen to someone half my age trying to explain something she clearly doesn’t understand, and clearly making it all up as she went along. I don’t have kids, but I can easily recognize someone making up teen-level bullshit on the fly. And this was weapons-grade bullshit, my friends.

I went ahead and bought a single card… because why the hell not? I’d wasted an hour of my life arguing with a 20 year-old girl at Target… that has to be better than making a special stop of Best Buy just to make a “spite purchase” of a whopping $30.

Still, though… it bugged me. So when I got home I called Target’s customer service number. I spoke to a nice lady in India (I think.. possibly the Philippines). I gave her the 18-digit receipt number and she was able to pull up the transaction in her system. She immediately saw and understood the issue, but couldn’t help much. The best she could do was issue me a refund on the on the difference… $9… in the form of a Target gift card. Dammit. I could use it to buy a mobile phone giftcard… but I bet it’ll say “cannot be used on gift card purchases”.

Bastards. I hate Target.

The Two Flags of France

Here’s something you might not know… France has two official flags! You’re probably familiar with this flag, often called the Tricolour or Tricolore in French:

Flag of France
(via Wikipedia)

But you might have seen this flag and not even noticed it:

Civil and Naval Ensign of France
(via Wikipedia)

What’s going on here? Why is one flag slightly different?

It all comes down to history, of course. The French Monarchy used a variety of flags over the centuries, but most had some form of blue shield and gold fleur-de-lis on a white background. The traditional colors of the city of Paris are blue and red, and during the French Revolution local militias wore red and blue cockades. Since white is a more “national” color, the Marquis de Lafayette suggested that white be added to the red and blue cockades, and the tricolor motif was born.

The flag of Paris:

Flag of Paris
(via Wikipedia)

Just move the stripes over and add a white one in the middle to create the new French flag.

But not really. The first post-Revolution flag actually had the stripes reversed:

First Flag of France
(via Wikipedia)

This flag was adopted on October 24, 1790, and the colors reversed to the current design on February 15, 1794. Despite this, the Tricolor wasn’t used often. Most commonly, the red flag of the Jacobin Club was flown as a national flag. But one guy really dug the Tricolor, and his name was Napoleon. Throughout his reign, the Tricolor was the official flag of France. But then, in 1815, the Bourbons were restored to power, and they went back to the white flag of old. Or rather, they did, until the July Revolution of 1830. It’s been the official flag of France ever since. In fact, after the overthrow of Napoleon III, the French elected a royalist majority to the National Assembly. The Assembly, in turn, offered the crown to Henri, Count of Chambord. But Henri demanded that the nation switch back to the white Bourbon flag. The French people – given the choice of the flag or a king – chose the flag. And that was the last of the monarchy in France.

But what about the weird flag at the top of this post, the one with the skewed proportions? That’s the naval ensign. Unlike the official flag, with three equal blue, white and red stripes, the naval ensign uses proportions of 30:33:37. Why? When seen at a distance, the proportions look normal, especially if the flag is flapping in the wind. But the thing is, the flags are so similar that they’re often used interchangeably. I’ve heard, for example, that the ensign is often placed behind government officials at press conferences, because the red is more prominent, and looks more like a “French flag” than the regular flag. When standing still, like at an indoor press conference, the red bits sometimes get lost in the folds of the flag, or are below camera level. Using the ensign fixes this.

The Welcome Screen 24 Hour Clock

I once worked in an industry that used the 24-hour clock (“military time”) almost exclusively. While I hated it at first, I’ve grown to love its lack of ambiguity. There is no “7AM” or “7PM” in my world, just “07:00” and “19:00”. I’ve set all my electronic devices to display 24-hour time, and even bought an alarm clock specifically because it can display 24-hour time.

Which is why Windows 10’s Welcome Screen drove me insane. In Windows, most regional settings are handled on a per-user basis. So if my GF and I shared a computer, I could use the 24-hour clock on my account, but she could use the 12-hour clock on her account. But the thing is, when you boot up a Windows 10 computer, no user is logged in. By default (in the United States, anyway) Windows 10 displays the 12-hour clock. It’s hardly the end of the world: I only reboot my computer once a month for updates… but it just nagged at the OCD part of my personality to see “2:34PM” on the Welcome Screen instead of “14:34”.

Can you change that? Of course you can!

Open Control Panel and go to “Region”.

If you haven’t already, use the drop-down boxes to choose the 24-hour clock option under “Short Time:” and “Long Time:” (red arrows) and click “Apply”. Then (or if your computer already uses the 24-hour clock) click on the “Administrative” tab (blue arrow):

Welcome Screen 1
(click to embiggen)

Click the “Copy Settings” button:

Welcome Screen 2
(click to embiggen)

Lastly, check the box under “Welcome Screen and system accounts”. I also read a couple of posts saying to check the “New User Accounts” box, too. Since I’m the only one who uses this computer… why not?

Welcome Screen 3
(click to embiggen)

From here on out, the Welcome Screen should display the 24-hour clock. Hooray!

Plex: Still Sucks

I have a desktop computer in my upstairs office. I have a large HDTV in the downstairs living room. All I’ve ever wanted to do is stream video files from the computer to the TV, under two specific conditions: 1) I didn’t want any kind of “app” running on the desktop PC; and 2) I didn’t want to deal with any kind of “library” feature.

After researching for weeks, I decided on the WDTV Live, because it was the only one that met my two conditions. As to the former, the WDTV Live is the only streaming box that supports SMB. Since I’d already shared my video folder to the local network, all I had to do was configure the WDTV Live for my Wi-Fi network, then click Video > Choose Source > Network Shares > Windows Shares > [My Computer] > Video. As for the latter, the WDTV Live has the ability to search for metadata and create a nice library of my videos. But since all I want to do is watch the video once and then delete or archive it, I like that all I have to do is download a video and make sure it’s in the correct folder: no adding it to (or removing it from) a library… in an app that has to run on my desktop PC 24×7.

I’ve had the WDTV Live for several years now, and the local video portion of the device still works as good as ever. I download a video to my “Videos” folder, and it’s available instantly on the WDTV Live. The device plays almost any type of video file, except for WebM, gifv or flv (none of which are really used for TV shows or movies). DivX or XviD in an avi container, mp4, mkv containers… the WDTV Live seems to play them all.

The WDTV Live also has a variety of streaming apps, too, like Netflix, YouTube, Spotify and others. But Western Digital discontinued the WDTV Live last year, having not updated the firmware some time before that. So many of these apps no longer work. So I have a box that can play any type of locally networked file… but can’t do Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu, Spotify, TuneIn or Pandora any more.

I asked for (and received) one of the new(ish) Chromecasts for Christmas. And it works OK, but has a strange bug: my Vizio smart TV loses connection to the device randomly. For 2-5 seconds the screen will go black and say “No Signal”. Sometimes it’ll happen three times in five minutes; other times it’ll only happen once every 2-3 hours. Since my Time Warner DVR and the WDTV Live have never had this problem, I thought the issue might be the Chromecast. So I ordered one of the new Roku Streaming Sticks.

Continue reading Plex: Still Sucks

Moving VirtualBox Machines

I have a client who makes extensive use of virtual machines for a remote office. Back when I set this up (almost a decade ago), I chose Microsoft’s Virtual PC because it was free (and VirtualBox didn’t exist yet). I let Virtual PC put the config files wherever it wanted under AppData, but I kept the VHD files in a folder called C:\VMs (for easy backup purposes).

Well, time passed, and Virtual PC seemed slow and creaky. So I switched the client over to VirtualBox. There was a bit of a learning curve with this: under Virtual PC, for example, I could easily make a copy of a VHD and attach that to a new virtual machine (for a new hire, for instance). You can’t do that in VirtualBox, at least not without getting “UUID already exists” errors. You can reset this from the command-line but… eh.

In VirtualBox, the easiest way to duplicate a virtual machine is to open the management console, right-click on an existing virtual machine and choose “Clone”. You can then choose a name for the new virtual machine, and an exact duplicate will be made. Only problem is, in my case, the new hard drive will be located in c:\users\[user]\Virtualbox VMs\[new VM name] instead of C:\VMs.

Of course, I could easily just edit the backup script to include the new location. But I like having all the virtual hard drives in one location. So how can you move the virtual hard drive?

For starters, make sure the virtual machine in question is powered off. Then click File > Virtual Media Manager. Right-click on the new hard drive you just created and click “Remove”. Click “Close”, then move the VDI\VHD to its new location. Back in the VirtualBox manager, right-click on the virtual machine and choose “Settings”. Choose “Storage”, then, under “Storage Tree”, click the “Add Hard Drive” icon (the one with a tiny hard drive and a + symbol). Then choose the VDI\VHD file you just moved. OK and close out of everything, and you should be good to go!

DOWNLOAD: Steelers 2016-17 Schedule!

The NFL released the official 2016-17 schedule today, and for the 14th straight year, I’ve got your Pittsburgh Steelers schedule ready to go!

There are a couple of very minor changes. I dropped “for Outlook” from the “branding”, since the calendar works with Outlook, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, iOS devices, and more. I also switched from “at” to the more traditional “vs” in the schedule. So instead of “Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers”, it now says “Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers”. I also continued putting asterisks next to (the many!) flex games this season.

The schedule is packaged in a single ZIP file. Please make sure to import the correct version into your calendaring software:

steelers_2016.csv is the Steelers schedule only, for Outlook\Yahoo!
steelers_2016.ics is the Steelers schedule only, for Gmail\iOS
steelers_nfl_2016.csv is the Steelers schedule and the NFL playoffs, for Outlook\Yahoo!
steelers_nfl_2016.ics is the Steelers schedule and the NFL playoffs, for Gmail\iOS

Click below to download:

Pittsburgh Steelers 2016-2017 Schedule

For more information (including complete instructions), click the “Continue Reading” link below!

Continue reading DOWNLOAD: Steelers 2016-17 Schedule!

One GREAT Mega Feature

You may have heard of Mega, a cloud storage service started by notorious hacker-turned-entrepreneur\wanted fugitive Kim Dotcom (Dotcom has since left the company).

Mega offers 50GB of storage space for free accounts, and also has a “MEGAsync” app for computers that synchronizes the cloud data to your local computer (like the Dropbox or OneDrive desktop apps). Like those services, Mega also has apps for Android and iOS that let you access your cloud drive anywhere, and also automatically upload photos taken with mobile devices to your cloud account.

One thing the Mega app does that no other mobile app does is… give you the option of keeping your photos’ original filenames. This may sound trivial, but it’s not. Here’s why:

Dropbox renames all the pictures you upload, and (last time I checked) it doesn’t give you the option to disable this. Dropbox’s official reason for doing this is because some devices name your pictures sequentially, as in IMG_01.JPG, IMG_02.JPG, IMG_03.JPG and so on. So if your software were to update, or if you upgraded your SD card, or if you got a replacement phone, the numbering might restart at IMG_01.JPG, causing problems for Dropbox. By renaming the pictures, Dropbox avoids this problem.

Which is great… until you want to manually back up your pictures. You attach your phone to your computer via USB, open the SD card via Explorer, and drag the photos to your Camera Uploads folder… instantly creating a giant mess of duplicates, because your computer doesn’t know that IMG_1234.JPG and 2015-06-25 17.34.10.JPG are the same picture. This is especially annoying if your mobile device already names pictures like Dropbox does, but does it just a bit differently. Because again, your computer doesn’t know that 2015-06-25 17.34.10.JPG (Dropbox) and 2015.06.25.173410.JPG (LG phone) is the same photograph.

Which is what makes Mega’s app so cool. Just open the app, go to Settings and scroll down to the Camera Uploads section:

Mega Photo Name Option
(click to embiggen)

Problem solved! The next time you want to manually back up your pictures, Windows will warn you about duplicates!