The importance of keeping good records

I'm a bit of a pack rat. Ok, I'm very much a pack rat. I don't like to throw anything away on the off chance that someday, I might have a need for it. It's especially bad when it comes to financial information. I have receipts dating back to the 1900s — which used to sound much more pathetic than it is, but considering they were 9½ years ago, I think we can safely upgrade that statement from "sounding pathetic" to "actually pathetic" now.

Regardless, I finally am able to reap the rewards of not throwing papers relating to money away. I got a letter from the IRS a couple weeks ago that I had been selected for an audit (What, I didn't mention that in my "pity party" post? Hmm, probably should've; it definitely qualifies) and that I needed to gather information about my charitable donations for 2007 (what fellow Geezer Gamer "SlapShotSal", who does taxes for a living, tells me is a "substantiation audit").

I knew the bulk of my donations for the year would be to my Church, so I got the statement I received from the Church for 2007, which had a list of all donation dates and amounts for the year. Then I pulled a report in Quicken for that year and found the check numbers that corresponded to those dates and amounts. With that list, I went to all my bank statements for the year and found the statements they appeared on and the dates they cleared. I figured these dates would be important to get the images of the canceled checks from my bank, since to see old checks, I usually have to select the statement they were on. This could've been a tedious process of having to download each statement from my bank, but I keep copies of my statements on my home network for easy reference. (It worked, too; it was very easy to reference all those old statements.) Yes, the pack rat trait applies to digital files as well — probably even more so.

Now that I had a list of check numbers and dates, I logged on to my bank for what I dreaded would be the most tedious part of this whole process — having to find each check on the old statements and get the images, one by one. Maybe I would take them into Paint.Net (my favorite free image editing program du jour) and stack three or four of them on a page to save paper.

I found the link to prior statements, but much to my disappointment, they only went back 18 months, the earliest one available being January 2008. So that wouldn't work. But there was another link for searching for transactions that indicated check images were available as far back as 2005. (Glad I didn't get audited for any years prior.) I entered a date range of the whole year, a check number range from the lowest to highest number I had, and selected "Check" for transaction type.

I couldn't believe what I saw. There was a list of all the checks, with a checkbox by each one. At the bottom of the list were two options, one to select Large or Small images, and one to select Front only or Front and Back, and a button marked View Images.

Actually, the search results were limited to 100, so I had to do the first half of the year and then the second half, but big whoop. There it was, exactly what I needed. Select the checks I needed to see, and hit View Images to see just those checks.

When I viewed the images, it showed me two checks at a time, with front and back images — so four images total — with some simple navigation at the bottom to move to the next pair of checks. Since the site's not in a frameset, I couldn't tell my browser to just print a single frame (i.e. the one with the images), and I didn't want to print the navigation links (or the rest of the webpage for that matter), so I figured I'd still be copying images from the screen. Just for kicks, though, I called up the Print Preview to see what would happen if I tried to print.

They thought of that, too. Apparently there's a printing stylesheet in place that turns off everything but the content, because in the Print Preview, the only thing visible were the check images. No navigation, no links, no tabs or corporate logos or anything extra.

Here I thought I'd be at this for days, or at least hours, gathering images and printing them out one by one, and all I had to do was click "Next, Print, Next, Print, Next…"

I'd love to publicly praise this bank for their extremely useful website, but at the same time I don't necessarily want to advertise to the rest of the internet where I keep my money. I did make a point of sending a message of thanks to their customer service inbox, though.

So, with that out of the way, now I can go back to playing my Xbox. Except that is currently on its way to a repair center in Texas and probably won't be back for a couple weeks.

Yeah, I guess I forgot to mention that, too.


The hits just keep on coming

It's a pity party, and you're all invited.

When I picked up my son's medication as we got him out of the hospital, the total bill was close to $500 for a month's worth. I figured they were just having issues with insurance and I'd just need to resubmit the claim later. In any case, it wasn't something I could worry about or negotiate at that time — the treatment required keeping the level of medication in his blood stable, and we needed the pills then. Well, I finally got around to calling my insurance carrier to see what was up.

Here's what's up: that medication isn't covered. The price, unfortunately, is what it is.


A couple weeks ago, a tornado passed really close to our house. We didn't have any damage from the twister, thankfully (in fact, it did surprisingly little damage for touching down in the middle of a shopping mall, causing no injuries). However, there was golfball-sized hail. We have an insurance adjuster coming to look at our roof to inspect for hail damage on Monday. If repair work needs to be done, it's covered, just with a $1000 deductible. Which could be a lot worse, but it's an expense when I don't need any more expenses.

And, my glasses broke this morning. I got these frames that were supposed to be made of this indestructible flexible alloy, and the frames have in fact held up well. The problem is, the screw on the hinge is held in place by this flimsy piece of wire that's barely soldered on to the indestructible frame. This same hinge actually broke twice on me. The first time, it happened so quickly as to still be under warranty that I could have the frames replaced. Not so, this time.

Fortunately, my older pair is still in great shape, and my previous prescription isn't that much different, so getting a new pair is something that doesn't need to happen immediately.

And, I just got a call from my wife, who is right now taking my son (the one with the $500/month medication) to the doctor's office with sharp, stabbing pains in his stomach.


Wait, what about The Social?

A year and a half ago, I looked at this "Zune Social" thing, and I wondered if it would be possible to "jump in" with just my desktop PC. Having a Zune Card that was just like my Xbox Live gamercard, with a running history of the music I listened to, sounded kind of cool. Gimmicky, sure, but cool. And the fact that I already had a Zune Card simply by virtue of having a gamercard meant the cost of entry was eliminated. (I suppose this is also related to me being a sucker for features, as I had access to this feature that I wasn't using.) But in order to use it, you had to use the Zune Media Player, which, compared to Windows Media Player, was pretty lacking.

I posted a comment in the Zune forums, suggesting it might be nice just to have a WMP plug-in that updated my Zune Card with my stats from WMP. The responses I got back were rather disparaging, saying they couldn't do everything the Zune Media Player did in a mere plug-in. It was also the prevailing opinion that the Zune Social was for Zunes, and it didn't really matter what I played on my PC. (Ok, never mind the fact that I could play things in the ZMP and have it update my Zune Card.)

Back in September, they released a software update, and I decided to give it another look. In short, nothing had changed. I came to the conclusion that the Zune Social was a Zune-only club, and I would just be anti-social until I somehow acquired a Zune of my own.

Two weeks ago was E3, and Microsoft announced that Last.fm would be coming to the Xbox 360. I hadn't really looked at Last.fm before, so I signed up. Not only does it offer streaming music, but it (to quote its home page) "recommends music, videos and concerts based on what you listen to." And how does it know what you listen to? Well, obviously it can track the songs it streams to you and the ones you flag as tracks "loved" or "blocked". But it can also track songs played in Windows Media Player using a plug-in.

So here you have this third-party service that is doing exactly what I was asking for from the Zune Card. And Microsoft is integrating that service into the Xbox 360.

Oh yeah, they did also say that the Video Marketplace on the Xbox 360 would become the Zune Marketplace. But so far, they've only announced that for videos. Not music.

I don't get it.


I'll handle any key you want... except that one

Here's one of those that makes a little more sense when you think about it, but it still leaves you scratching your head until you figure out what's going on. And then you think about it some more and realize, no, it doesn't make sense at all.

When you want to capture keypresses in a control on a Windows form, the "best" place to do that is the KeyDown event. It gives you the ability to capture keys, the state of the modifier keys (Control, Alt, Shift), and to mark that keypress as being "handled" so the key does not continue on as actually being typed. It also provides access to capturing unprintable keys (like Escape or Insert).

However, one thing it does not do is let you capture the Tab key. This is because the control doesn't even get a KeyDown event when the Tab key is pressed. (Indeed, Microsoft considers it a bug when it does trigger a KeyDown.)

You can sort of rationalize this behavior when you realize that the Tab key is "special". The form uses that key to determine when to move from one control to the next. So, in that way, it would make sense for the Tab key to not even get to the control. However, you can easily debunk that rationalization with two controls: a DataGridView and a TextBox. A DataGridView, with its StandardTab property set to the default of False, will, when a Tab key is pressed, take it upon itself first to move the active cell through the grid, and only when the last cell is reached then let the form move focus to the next control. Likewise, a TextBox that has both Multiline and AcceptsTab properties set to True will take any Tab keypresses and add a tab character to the input, never passing that keypress to the form.

In any case, it seems that, for whatever reason, the Tab key is handled by the form sometime after these possible control overrides, but before the KeyDown event could get fired.

Solution? Well, it turns out, there are two.

The first one I found is to override the form's ProcessCmdKey method. Start by calling the base ProcessCmdKey method, which returns a boolean that indicates whether the key was handled. Then, check to see if this.ActiveControl is the control for which you want to trap the Tab key, and if the keyData parameter passed in to ProcessCmdKey contains the Tab key ((keyData & Keys.Tab) == Keys.Tab). If so, do whatever it is you wanted to do, and set the boolean return value to true, indicating you've processed the key yourself. At the end of the method, return the boolean. (I found a simple example here.)

The annoying part is, if you were trapping for more than just the Tab key in the control's KeyDown event, you now have your logic split in two different methods (control_KeyDown and form override ProcessCmdKey). Also, if you are doing this for multiple controls (as I was for, coincidentally, a DataGridView and a [single-line] TextBox), you have to copy and combine the logic from the other controls' separate KeyDown events into the ProcessCmdKey method, testing the ActiveControl to make sure you know which control you're in.

The advantage, however, is that you only have to test the cases you're interested in. If, for instance, you want to catch a Tab, but still allow a Shift+Tab to default to the standard form's handling, you just test for an un-shifted Tab and do your work, and let the Shift+Tab condition "fall through".

The second solution is to bind to the controls' PreviewKeyDown event. This one fires in that sweet spot before the form claims it as a "command key". The event gets the parameter PreviewKeyDownEventArgs e. If you want to handle the Tab key in the KeyDown event, just check to see if e.KeyCode == Keys.Tab, and if so, set e.IsInputKey = true.

The disadvantage to this method, however, is that now you are responsible for moving the focus as appropriate — you can't just let the handling "fall through" to the form, because it won't handle it anymore. Depending on how confident you are on the structure of your form, you can either call another control's Focus method or the form's SelectNextControl method (and don't forget to set the Handled property in KeyDown, otherwise the new control might receive the same Tab keypress as well, or it might try to type the Tab as input into the old control — either way, the results might not be pleasant).

Personally, I like the second solution better. Although there is more logic required to do what should be standard Tab handling, it means the logic for my non-standard Tab handling is in one place per control, not split across two different events.


Bandwidth for May

Whoops, forgot to grab the data for the beginning of May. Daily numbers are missing, but the monthly totals are accurate.

Total for May: 19.98GB down, 4.54GB up, 24.52GB total. Not quite a tenth of the cap. This month has the second lowest total since the cap, coming in just ahead of March.

If it weren't for the impending medical bills, I'd sign up for Netflix, if only to see what it would do.


A sucker for features

Yeah, so a few people have noticed that, despite my general disdain for "social networking" services as a whole, I finally got suckered in and signed up for both Twitter and Facebook.

I was a long-time user of Microsoft's MSN Messenger service. (I even had a "charter membership" to the Microsoft Network, for whatever that's worth. Remember when we didn't have "internet service providers", but signed on explicitly to companies' dial-up networks?) Anyway, eventually I got a job where their "standard" messenger client was AIM. I didn't want to have to run two distinct messenger clients because of the combined resource usage, so I looked for a client that would connect to both services in a single client. The one I selected was Trillian, which I installed and started to use.

When I got it up and running, I noticed there were little icons that lit up with each service to which it connected, and only two of its four lights were lit. I felt like I was missing something, because I was using a program but not all of its features. So I entered my credentials for my almost-forgotten ICQ account, and on came another light. What was the fourth one? Yahoo Messenger? I didn't know they had a client, and I certainly didn't know anyone on it. But I wanted that last light to light up. So I signed up for a Yahoo account, and finally my program was complete.

Now you might understand a bit what feelings went through my head when I heard about Microsoft's E3 press conference this week. Felicia Day (who has a very cute face, but dang that girl needs to eat before she blows away) announced that the Xbox 360 would be integrating with Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm this year.

New features? On my 360? And I don't have access to use them? Well, I'd better sign up, then!

Of course, I had to be a touch creative with my account names since I waited so long, but fortunately I was able to get away with just adding a "1" to my alias and calling it good. (Except for Facebook, which demands a real name. What do you mean, "Yakko" isn't a valid first name?)

I don't know if my Facebook page will see much action (we all know how infrequently I update my own blog as it is), but I've already found that Twitter is fairly useful for those really quick thoughts I think might be nice to jot down but don't think are worth a whole blog post. (So far, I've resisted the temptation to reply to the tweets of celebrities who will never know I exist, but we'll see if I can maintain that resolve.)

And after listening to the '80s Tag station on Last.fm most of the day yesterday, I already can't wait for this to be turned on in the 360.

They hyped up Netflix again, and I started to feel tempted again. That one, though, costs money, and signing up for another entertainment service right before medical bills start rolling in sounds like a really bad plan.…