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Real estate is a racket

Financial stuff is complicated, and apart from retirement funds, home buying is one of the most common manifestations of it amongst the rabble. Computers are also complicated parts of every day life, but in terms of technology, not finance.

The last 10 years in computer technology, especially software, have brought on several innovations that help users deal with computers. This is due to the amazing User Experiences revolution taking place in tech companies around the world. Companies like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are keen on user testing and feedback, but it all comes back to design.

Is the financial industry, or more to the point, the real estate industry, really much different from software? Wouldn’t the real estate industry benefit from a user experience consultancy?

I offer a resounding yes.

I’ve been in the process of purchasing my first home for about a month now, and I’ve been burned. After signing sheets and sheets of paper multiple times, after copies of all my finances have been strewn around tables, after quibbling over an offer — now it may fall through because the lender’s (Edina Realty / Wells Fargo, I believe, though it’s hard to tell) appraiser that I paid for has given it a low appraisal. About $16,000 lower than my loan amount. This means the seller would have to agree to sell at this super low price. Obviously he’s hesitant to do this.

This snag has come up after the following events have already occurred:

  • loan formalization: I’m making up that phrase, but I don’t know what else to call that meeting with my loan officer where I sign even more papers about the terms of the loan. He tells me about the appraisal that I have to pay for (~$400) and takes my credit card, because that is the preferred method.
  • home inspection: I paid $240 to have my (potential) future home inspected to ensure that no major issues would impede the closing and final sale. None were found. My realtor said that the inspection must be done 3 days after the accepted offer.
  • assigned a closer: Much to my surprise at the time, my realtor has little to do with the closing. I was appointed a closer, who sent me a bunch of cryptic papers about title insurance and home insurance, and a form I needed to fill out inquiring any past sins. Why is my closer asking me, after the offer is accepted, after my loan is approved, about whether I’m a criminal? I was told this form is crucial to fill out and send in before the closing. There are methods in which to look this stuff up. Easy methods.
  • title business: This includes signing up for insurance and trying to find out if the seller has title insurance. I went around in circles with my closer and realtor about who finds out for me whether the seller has title insurance (he didn’t, which means I have to pay more now). And WTF is the point of title insurance anyway, especially if your title is held by the lending agency? Total rip-off.

On top of this, I am an organized person and thusly have completed several tasks. I scheduled a mover ($50 deposit gone if I have to cancel), I bought cleaning supplies and random stuff for the new place ($50), I have my insurance agent drawing up a new policy for me, and worst of all, I included my new address and the story of my new home in my Christmas letter. I will be so ashamed to send out an additional note explaining that I didn’t get the house.

The appraisal was filed on December 23rd and my offer was accepted about 20 days earlier. I was notified by my realtor (who forwarded me my mortgage guy’s email with the PDF) and the printed file in the mail on December 30th. My realtor said a week is normal for the distribution of the appraisal. Yet, the inspection had to be done within three days. Why the disparate timing?

The appraisal in question was done by someone apparently known for low appraisals. His opinion is now attached to that property for the next six months. I have conflicting information on whether we can do another appraisal. Winning a dispute is rare. Appraisals are totally subjective things, yet one person’s opinion tarnishes a property for six months. Why would the lender (the appraiser’s employer) want to do this to themselves?

Why doesn’t the real estate and mortgage industry realize that if things like this can happen (and my realtor said it’s become fairly common in this market), something is dreadfully wrong with the process. If this deal falls through, think of all the wasted hours Edina Realty has put into this. Three people did a bunch of work for nothing, not to mention me, my insurance agent, and movers.

This could have been prevented with a more streamlined, smarter process. I realize that they just want to make money, but putting the goodies (like the actual offer and loan acceptance) ahead of the finer details that are out of the buyer’s control creates unnecessary work for all. Also, appraisals should be an average, not one person’s opinion, or they should be connected to the assessed value of the home.

Get it together, mortgage and real estate industries, or suffer another failure as catastrophic as the one you are recovering from now. You need a User Experience Designer to help with your processes and forms. I am open for business.

Best of 2009: Songs!

I’ve struggled this year finding favorite albums. Sure, there were good ones. The one I listened to most consistently since its release has been Monsters of Folk. But even there, the second half doesn’t live up to the promise of the first half.

I’ve always been an album kind of gal. But, as times change so must I. It even seems like artists, including “indie” ones, aren’t bothering with the album as an art form any longer. The exceptions may be The Flaming Lips’s Embryonic and Julian Casablancas’s Phrazes for the Young, both of which contain strict rules on sound and instrumentation. That’s good and bad. Albums can be consistent in more than just sound…there’s many ways for an album to mesh together into a coherent piece of work. Just look at two more great albums this year, Dark Was the Night and Dark Night of the Soul (no they aren’t the same thing or even connected). These collections of various artists all sound like they belong together, even though they don’t sound the same. They just feel the same.

So, with that said, I welcome you to my favorite tracks of 2009, in some kind of order. (Most links will open the Google audio player in a new tab.)

  1. Another John Doe – thenewno2: Actually this came out in 2008 or something on MySpace or in France or something, but it wasn’t officially released until this year.
  2. Home – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes: Duets rule.
  3. Say Please – Monsters of Folk: How do you write a perfect poprock song? This is the answer.
  4. You Never Know – Wilco: Channeling George Harrison never sounded better.
  5. The Strangers – St. Vincent: Annie Clark is aware of the porn under the mattress trick.
  6. Convinced of the Hex – Flaming Lips: I love all the details here. Listen for the ding that appears at just the right time. Gives me chills.
  7. Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear: Enough to make Brian Wilson either sink into another deep depression, or write his next Pet Sounds.
  8. Train Song – Ben Gibbard & Feist: I don’t really care for either of these people normally, but this song stuck with me. It sounds so old, I wish it had static for texture.
  9. I’ll Fight – Wilco: Dying for someone you love sure is catchy.
  10. Just War – Gruff Rhys: I’ve no idea who this guy is, but it’s from that Dangermouse/Sparklehorse/David Lynch project. I love that mid-60s Brit pop sound.
  11. Sabali – Amadou & Mariam: Blind African pop never sounded so good.
  12. Shrangi-La – M. Ward: One of the simpler tunes on Hold Time, but it enters my mind at the weirdest times.
  13. Left and Right in the Dark – Julian Casablancas: Wake up wake up wake up wake up wake UP!!!
  14. Dear God – Monsters of Folk: What a surprising opening from a folk band.
  15. The Whole Damn Thing – Those Darlins: I wish I’d written that.
  16. Here to Fall – Yo la Tengo: YLT does a string quartet!
  17. Revenge – Flaming Lips: Well said, Wayne.
  18. Wild One – Those Darlins: Channeling Wanda Jackson never sounded so…possible.
  19. 11th Dimension – Julian Casablancas: Lost Bee Gees song, or leading single from the former Strokes lead singer?
  20. Wishes and Stars – Harper Simon: This kid’s got talent. Where on earth did he get it?

My favorite albums from 2000-2009

Painstakingly sequenced…here they are, the lucky 13. They are albums I was obsessed with. They are albums I know by heart. They became my best friends.

  1. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois: I have never listened to this album and not gotten the chills at some point. In fact, I regularly cry during any given song during the first half. Despite its quiet nature, this album became a driving companion on many trips to Wisconsin, bringing this Minnesota girl just a little closer to Illinois. Check out Jacksonville, a song forever on my mix CDs for friends. That banjo!!
  2. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot: I wasted probably a year not liking this album. I must have somehow missed Kamera.
  3. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells: Absolutely perfect album from the 1960s or 1970s that somehow landed in the 2000s. Jack White’s songwriting could not be better here. The simple, arresting power of these songs thrills me every time I listen. And what was the best homage to Citizen Kane this decade? The Union Forever.
  4. The Strokes – Is This It: This is the album I grew up to. Sitting alone in my studio apartment in St. Paul, a country girl in the big city chatting on MSN all night, trying to play Someday on my acoustic guitar. I had downloaded all the tracks individually through Napster or something, and they’re mostly different from the American album. Don’t worry Julian, Fab, etc. – I did eventually buy the real version.
  5. Badly Drawn Boy – Hour of Bewilderbeast: Let the world not forget this incredible debut album! He never came close to replicating this masterpiece, but Damon Gough will always have a place near and dear to my heart. Camping Next to Water helped me transition from college to real life.
  6. The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow: I don’t know if the songs on this album were simply overplayed, or if they don’t stand the test of time, but this is not an album I still listen to. Yet, it was one of those rare albums I heard once and gasped at its cleverness. I couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t wait for particular bits of songs, like the swirling organ on Mine’s Not a High Horse. It sounded different every time I heard it, and I love that.
  7. Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther: I submitted this album to a music club I was in, and it was a huge smash. It started my fascination with what I’ve dubbed “pastoral rock”…not necessarily folk rock, but songs with an earthy feel, almost always played by men with beards. My term never seemed to take off, and some simply call it beard rock, but I think my description is more accurate, especially based on the video for Roscoe which I swear I haven’t seen until this posting.
  8. Radiohead – Kid A: Even though In Rainbows is fresher in my mind, I had to go with Kid A here just for the memories. I wasn’t happier in college until I couldn’t get the drone of Idioteque out of my head while I walked home from working at the library at 4:00 am one night a week.
  9. The National – Boxer: Matt Berninger, the baritone of The National, is a fucking fantastic songwriter. He is like a bastard son of Paul Simon and Kurt Cobain. He writes of personal but ordinary things like Simon, while still speaking for a generation like Kurt. Slow Show came at the right time as I entered 30th year.
  10. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: I don’t think I can add any more praise than what I’ve already written.
  11. Brian Wilson – SMiLE: I’ve been interested in rock music history for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to know how we got to where we are today. Despite having started this album in 1967, occasionally scraping a few songs from the pile for various Beach Boys albums, Brian Wilson finally got to the point of releasing SMiLE. Its weird, arresting tracks sprint through American history while making it. Listen to the old west, mad musical and lyrical genius style: Cabin Essence.
  12. Jenny Lewis – Rabbit Fur Coat: I’ve never been a New Pornographers fan, but for some reason, probably thanks to Bob Boilen’s great taste, I became totally obsessed with this album. Jenny’s voice with the Watson Twins is nothing short of angelic, while maintaining that true country & western nastiness. Her lyrics really grabbed me: And it’s a surefire bet I’m gonna die / So I’m taking up praying on Sunday nights /And it’s not that I believe in your almight / But I might as well as insurance or bail. This album also opened my ears to female singers, who I had avoided since Mariah Carey’s sophomore album.
  13. M. Ward – Post-War: What I find interesting about Matt Ward is that he verges on the lame. His lyrics are always teetering on uninteresting comments on love or God, yet somehow it always works. Maybe it’s his outstanding guitar skills or raspy voice that make up for it. I can’t help but love a man who loves recordings from before he was born, and it’s nice to see his work display that love so consistently. Every song from Post-War is now a classic in my fakebook, but nothing is more epically classic than To Go Home.

Check back in the coming weeks for my favorites of 2009, and probably some other random lists. Because that’s what I do well…I make lists.

Beatles Rock Band remastered CDs 090909

Keep heading over to for the latest Beatles news!

Massive Updates to the 090909 Roundup

New songs revealed and a new trailer, plus other news on the remasters! All at the 090909 Beatles Roundup!

Beatles 09-09-09 Roundup

I started a tumblr account for all my Beatles Rock Band and remasters news and musings.

Beatles Rock Band predictions

I am embarrassingly pumped for 09-09-09: the magical date when the Beatles albums will be released as remastered stereo and mono CD box sets, plus the Rock Band game becomes available. I will be broke, but unable to stop smiling or leave my house starting on that date.

They say that the game will be a journey through the Beatles’ career — something I imagined before I heard that detail. It’s a good move that will add a ton of fun to the game. I imagine it as the tour element of Guitar Hero World tour. Different venues and places to beat in order to unlock songs.

The Journey

I see the game starting with a Quarrymen song (“Putting on the Style“, “Be-Bop-A-Lula”?), then “That’ll Be the Day” and “In Spite of All the Danger”  from Anthology as early Beatles numbers. Maybe they can throw in “My Bonnie” (Apple doesn’t own it, so it seems unlikely). What I’m most curious about is how/if they will handle Hamburg and the Cavern. I mean, how could they not build those venues into the game? Will Pete Best be portrayed in the game, and Ringo added later as in real life? So even if the same person is playing drums the whole time, their persona gets swapped out?

Aside from the Pete Best situation, the problem with all this early stuff is that the Beatles mostly did covers. I’m sure it’s a pain to get all the rights to that music, but then again I suppose MTV are pros at that. Another question is, will the early cover songs that the Beatles never recorded (though they are available on the Live at the BBC double album) be liked by the people playing the game? I know I’d love to play “Ain’t Nothing Shakin’ But the Leaves on the Tree”, but will the Guitar Hero/Rock Band gamer dude want them after purchasing a Beatles game?

Just like in real life, the Beatles will start recording after playing Hamburg and the Cavern. They could include a bit of failing the Decca audition. This part of the journey element to the game will switch quickly between recording and tours, to give a sense of urgency to the game. I wish they could include photo ops and interviews in the game to give a real sense of what life was like for Beatles then. How they dealt with failing the Decca audition and replacing Best will be exiciting to see.

They can have a lot of fun with venues, and I look forward to them recreating Studio 3 in the game. I see Shea, Sweden, France and of course English theaters being stops on tour throughout 1963-66. There were a lot of the same songs (covers, like “Twist and Shout”) were played throughout those 3 torrid years, so I wonder how they will handle duplication. It will be very interesting to go from recording Revolver to doing “She’s a Woman” live at the Budokan. I hope they also include selections their last show at Candlestick Park.

Then you’ll move into the studio full time, working on “Penny Lane” (note: not a guitar song) and “Strawberry Fields”, working up to Sgt. Pepper. I’d love to play sitar on “Within You Without You” (or even “Norwegian Wood”), but that seems unlikely. It’d be awesome if they included some acoustic versions from Anthology of the Kinfauns tapes as a tribute to their time in India. Next you’d work through to Let It Be, at Twinkenham and Apple, then up on the rooftop. Finally back to #3 to focus on Abbey Road. Then you’re finished. Unless they incorporate any solo Lennon stuff that existed before Abbey Road came out, but I doubt it. Or for a huge splash they could include a bit where you play Paul secretly buying shares of your company to gain control, then run off to Scotland to record what you’ve always wanted: a one-man-band album.

The Songs

My list of song predictions (somewhat in order) for the entire game are below the fold. Please comment and let me know what you think is missing or unlikely.

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Tivo has gone too far

I intended my next blog post to be about my time in downtown St Paul during the Republican convention. I saw a taping of “The Daily Show” and some far less funny things on the street. I didn’t get around to it though, and the subject has been beat to death, so I’ll save you all from it.

Instead, I have an irritation to share. I love my Tivo. It has literally changed the way I watch TV. I don’t mind all the “Thumbs Up” things on commercials. I don’t mind the stupid messages Tivo downloads to my box. I can deal with the Norton ad on the bottom of the Tivo home screen.

But this is too much. Today I turned on my Tivo to find my Now Playing List contained a program with a different icon than I had seen, and it was something I did not schedule myself.

Now Playing

When I played it, my worst fears were realized.

Tivo infomercial opening

What the hell does Tivo think they’re doing?! I PAY for this subscription service, and they have the balls to download a 29 minute infomercial to my box?! I don’t even know what the stupid infomercial is for — I’m not watching that shit.

Tivo, if you’re listening — knock it off NOW.

2008.5 – a year in music so far

Here we are – about half way through another year. It’s hard to believe we’re almost done with the first decade of the 21st century!

What a great time to be a music fan though.  The pseudo-mainstreaming of indie rock has catapulted non-bubble gum pop/rock to the forefront of MTV time and time again. TV dramady writers love to showcase songs by their favorite indie bands on their shows, and of course Garden State made one band change the lives of millions.

I want to share a couple things here: first, my adoration of what I’ve dubbed Pastoral (Indie)Rock. New-ish bands in this subgenre consists of, but is not limited to:

Each of these bands or musicians share a penchant for singing or playing about earthy things, or taking more modern thoughts and spinning them in a hymn-like web, in a very beautiful way. The instrumentation is always so intricate, and often includes banjos. I’m a big fan. There are more bands (Wilco, M. Ward for instance), but these are the ones taking it on now.

Secondly, I’d like to highlight my favorite releases this year so far. You can vote for yours at All Songs Considered.

  •  My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges: I cannot stop thinking about this music! As I Twitted, to me, much of it sounds like a lost collaboration between Paul McCartney and George Harrison from 1976. I normally can’t stand music from the 1970s, but MMJ are making me change my mind.
  • Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes: Although not as strong of the “Sun Giant” EP, this album is full of engaging melodies and delicate playing. Pastoral indie rock at its best.
  • She & Him – Volume 1: This is almost Pastoral Rock because it features one of its inventors, M. Ward. However, at least one member is required to have a bushy beard, and Zooey’s huge hair doesn’t count.
  • Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend: I ain’t too proud to say I still like ‘em.
  • Magnetic Fields – Distortion: I hope this doesn’t get lost because it was released so early in the year.

There are other albums (Shearwater, Stephen Malkmus, R.E.M.) that are really good, but haven’t really stuck to me. I’ve been listening to an interesting mix of old and new this year. My favorite album for the past three weeks has been Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue Live 1975 (Bootleg Series Vol. 5). So passionate.
That’s enough!