Tagged: The Things You Can’t Prove Are Lies

Antoni Gaudi’s Sun MosaicOK, I’m back from the 10th circle of hell. Yeah, you read that right, the 10th circle. You’re quite right, there were only nine circles. Until Saddam Hussein started demanding a corner office in the 9th circle. God he’s such a pain. So the devil gave him his old office and built a whole new circle for himself. And he needed some I.T. help. Of course, the devil likes to work with people who both know they are for sale and know what their price tag is. Naturally, that means he hires consultants.

One recommendation. If you’re on your way to hades, by either handbasket or the regular route, don’t forget your MP3 player and your shades. The eternal shrieks of the damned get sort of grating after a while, like an alarm clock left running by a vacationing neighbor, and the hell fire can get kind of bright. Especially if you’re hung over.

Ah yes, I’ve been tagged. I hope this isn’t the payment the red-horned guy was promising me for my work. You can’t ever count on him paying his invoices as agreed.

The Rules
1.) Post the rules first.
2.) If you are tagged you have to tell your faithful blogging public 8 random facts about yourself in a post on your blog. It can be habits, an idea, facts, or just um… stuff.
3.) At the end of your post, choose eight other bloggers you’d like to know something about and tag them.
4.) Leave a comment telling them you’ve tagged them and that they will need to read your post on your blog.
5.) Bend the rules as convenient. (My special addition!)

The Things You Can’t Prove Are Lies

I. I’ve been published at least twice under different pseudonyms. But before you think back on the articles you’ve recently in major publications, it’s only fair I tell you that once was for an underground high school newspaper and the other was for a slightly more high brow (i.e. pretentious) college literature magazine. I still have both.

II. I started seriously enjoying writing in a high school English class. Fed up with all the essay writing, in irritation I wrote a very antagonistic paper as one of my assignments. The plan was to make reading the assignment as much of a pain as it was to write it. As many of my plans do, it backfired; the teacher loved it and started treating me as though I were literary elite. Being the obnoxious bastard I am, I found that the prospect of writing angry for good grades a win-win proposition. I was brimming with pointless teen angst. I aced the class and was put in the advanced class the following year.

In college, to keep it interesting, I made a point of writing my papers in support of whatever view point I thought my professor disagreed with the most or in favor or anything patently absurd. Somehow my textual nettles continued to be well received. And I got pretty good at supporting the unsupportable. (I should have been lawyer!) I was very Swiftian. (Not to be confused with “Swift Boat“.) Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, I was just being sadistic.

III. My crowning achievement in art of the chafing word was contributing three pieces of poetry/prose to the college literary magazine under an ridiculous pseudonym. The incredibly obnoxious ditties made it in and I had the pleasure of hearing one of the editors angrily discussing their inappropriateness. Ah, good times. :)

IV. I’ve been in a small (four seater!) plane when all the electronics went out. In the clouds. I participated in an emergency line of site landing that involved a tight spiral down through a small hole in low cloud cover. Once down, the problem was diagnosed (pilot error), and we got back on and flew the rest of the way to our destination. Same plane, maybe an hour later. Several people still claim to have the “Oh Shit” email I sent them from my Crackberry while I was in the air. Sadly, I don’t.

V. I started smoking cigars with a friend on the Oregon coast in the middle of the night. We’d leave campus after in the evening after classes and arrive well into the night. On the way we’d stop at the “Mecca of Convenience” and pick up some firewood for a bonfire and whatever cigars they had at the counter. They were horrible in the way you would expect a convenience store cigars to be, but an essential part of the evening. (A better cigar probably wouldn’t have burned worth a damn on those gusty nights.) As was the “flaming manhood”, but that’s a story for another day.

VI. I’ve worn a kilt on numerous occasions, but I’m not going to prove it. That will disappoint at least one occasional reader of this blog, as he wants to submit it for Photoshoping on Fark. But I can tell you that I looked dead-sexy. Especially back when I had long hair. Don’t worry, you would agree. (Even if it required adjustments in your blood-alcohol levels.)

VII. I’d much rather be rich than famous. If I suddenly disappear, you’ll know I got my wish. Either that, or I was crushed under a collapsing stack of cigar humidors.

VIII. I won my wife over with my dance moves. Quit laughing, it’s true. She’ll vouch for it. A friend of mine (and at the time, co-worker) from Nigeria and I were really kicking some ass on the floor of a Malaysian dance club when we were approached by my now wife and her friend. The dancing continued well into the early hours of the morning. And again a few weeks later. The rest is very colorful history.

Honestly, I think nearly everybody I know in the blog world has been tagged already. (I was sooo gonna tag Laurie Kendrick, but somebody got to her first.) And the cigar bloggers I know would probably put their lit Arturo Fuentes out on my arm if I tagged them. In keeping with my new rule to bend the rules for my convenience, I’ll let people tag themselves. Wanna be tagged? Leave a comment, and I’ll update this post to make the tagging official. (Brilliant or lazy, you make the call! ;) )

People who have brought this tagging on themselves

  1. Space Chronicles Tiffany

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Screw You And Your Condescending Customer Service Reps VistaPrint!

Happy Shootin’ DudeAs you can probably tell from the title of this post, I am angry. Livid. With small twitches in my extremities that can only be stilled by breaking something. Unfortunately, I’m pretty happy with the things in my office, so the twitching will have to subside naturally.

[Warning: The following was written in anger. While Brian generally avoids excess profanity in his blog, he doesn't here. He revels in it. If strong language offends you, dear reader, consider checking back in later for the next installment, which will undoubtedly be cleaner.]

So I just got off the phone with a customer service representative for VistaPrint named Kevin. (Which kinda bothers me because I have a good friend named Kevin.) Thought I doubt that’s his real name, Kevin, I can tell you, is an asshole. And as you would expect from a grade A prick, he’s horrible when it comes to customer service. Here’s an example of the exchange that will cause VistaPrint to lose my business from this day forward.

Kevin the Prick: Hi, what can I help you with?
Angry Brian: Hi, I’m calling because the replacement order for my business cards never arrived. The one I ordered several months ago. And in fact, I’m looking at your website, and it says my order was canceled! I never got any notification of it being canceled, which is fucking ridiculous.
Kevin the Prick: [With attitude] Excuse me?
Angry Brian: [Ignoring attitude, more irritated] The replacement order I put in forever-ago was canceled. I didn’t cancel it. I wasn’t notified that it was canceled. I’ve been waiting forever.
Kevin the Prick: OK, if we can proceed without the swear words I can help you.

You know what Kevin? Fuck you and fuck your company. Customer service is of paramount importance, especially when things don’t go as planned. I think it goes without say you never, ever correct a customer. Especially an angry customer. And especially not when you’re all saddled-up on your high-horse. I don’t care if you wince. I don’t care if you shudder. I don’t care if you’re offended. And I don’t care if I was overly aggressive and a prick myself when spoke to you. You don’t correct a fucking customer. That’s right, “fucking”. Because you know what, when you do that, you lose a customer. You Kevin, you lost VistaPrint all my future business. Congratulations. I’m sure VistaPrint doesn’t mind the costs of my lost business to ensure your ears a G-rated work day.

What makes the whole thing even more asinine is I was using the word “fucking” in the exchange as an adjective; a description of how ridiculous the situation was, not as a verbal assault against Captain Pricktastic. (Who is probably illiterate and the progeny of a lonely goat herder and his smelly flock.) That sort of swearing is even allowed on the radio these days, thanks to Bono‘s televised slip at an award show a few years back.

So you as the reader, are probably thinking “Brian! Don’t say anything until you actually get your order! You won’t get it for sure now!” You know what, you’re probably right. But I don’t care. This is at least the third time I’ve had to contact them with regard to this order, and I have very, very low expectations of ever receiving it. Here’s the time line as it sits presently:

March ’07: Flawed business cards ordered (part my mistake, part theirs).
April ’07: Flawed cards arrive.
May ’07: Notice problems, which includes embarrassing spelling error, and re-order. (Have to pay a small additional fee for re-order, since it was partially my fault. Fine. Again stuck with 21 day shipping time frame. Fine.)
June ’07: Stumble on a confirmation email, and realize I never got these cards. Email customer service. Never get a reply. (I think I sent a second email, but no response to that either.)
July 13th ’07: Stumble on that forgotten confirmation email again. Check the website only to discover my order was canceled. Call Kevin the CSR clown and get pissed.

Some people reading this might also think I’m the one being a prick. Yep, that’s very likely. I was an angry customer. That was my role. They have my money, I didn’t receive the goods. I’d been screwed, and I wanted satisfaction. The CSR’s job was to talk me down with apologies (which are generally only a formality, but an appreciated one) and promises to rectify the situation followed with decisive action.

How do I know all this? I’m a I.T. consultant and I dabble with selling things on eBay. In both scenarios, you have to deal with people who are pissed from time to time. Just this week, an eBay customer failed to read my thorough auction write up (if you’ve read my cigar reviews, you know I’m thorough) and sent a livid email to me to tell me how unacceptable an item was. An item that he paid 50 cents for. The flaws were documented in both text and pictures, but instead of correcting him, I apologized.

Yep, that’s right. I was clearly right, he was clearly wrong. (And I think we both knew it.) But I asked him what I could do to make the situation right. You know what? It worked out beautifully. I got very positive feedback from him, and while I lost a little money on the item (I got to keep most of the shipping expenses), this customer would probably buy from me again! That’s customer-fucking-service, Kevin! Get your thumb out of your ass and grab a damn note pad!

WordPress needs a lion-roaring emoticon. Or maybe an exploding head. *Sigh* OK. I’m done. Happy again! :)

[UPDATE: I finally made it to the next level! My mother would be so proud...

Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
hell (8x), asshole (5x), pissed (4x), ass (3x), fuck (2x), gun (1x)]

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Hot And New: Brian’s Cigar Review Index

Antoni Gaudi’s Sun MosaicThis is kind of a cheater post. It’s not that I don’t have unimportant and exaggerated things to say, quite the contrary. I’m just slammed with things right now. Things like work.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Brian, this blog is so brilliant, how is it that you have to work for a living?” Well, dear reader, it’s because I haven’t found a good way to allow you to shower me with cash and cigars.* (No booze, please, those bottles hurt like hail when they fall on you. Get it? Hail, hell? Oh, I kill me.) I know that’d you’d desperately like to give me your discretionary funds so I can sleep in, smoke cigars and write about things that irritate me. And review cigars, of course.

And that handily brings me back to my point. As I write more and more cigar reviews, it gets harder and harder for you to track down the review you desperately want to read. (Because you know there’s no chance you’re smoking that cigar until you know what Brian thinks of it. Very clever of you.) Well, I’ve anticipated your need, and have taken steps to reduce your blood pressure. I’ve created a cigar review index page and have linked directly to it from my sidebar (look for “> The Cigar Review Index” under the “Pages” heading). Feel free to bookmark it for easy access, because it’s not going anywhere, and I will keep it up to date. Enjoy! :)

*I have found a relatively poor way for you to throw cash at me. Most of the images in my blog are pictures I’ve taken in my travels and they are available to buy as prints through my photography website. (Yes, this is a shameless plug, masquerading as a footnote.) If you’d like to shower me with cigars, which I will in turn review, use the About Brian page to send me a message. Cigars sent to me jump to the head of the review list!

How To Lose 5 Pounds In 5 Minutes Without Throwing Up

The Places I’m BigAccording to the most granular view of my “ClustrMap” I’m huge in Kansas City. And it looks like I’m also nearly the mayor of a city named Churchill in Manitoba, Canada. (It’s way up there, we’re talkin’ eye-level with Hudson Bay here.) Of course, this has gone straight to my head. And like anybody else with a engorged cranium and an audience, I’m going to write a self-help book. A diet book. And according to the established rules and precedents of diet book authorship, I don’t need to be concerned with a reasonable burden of proof, medical training, or actually being in reasonably good shape. (Exhibit A, Dr. Swill Phil, Exhibit B, The Book) Moving anecdotes about people who might be real, written sincerely enough, are the same thing as facts. I’m totally sincere about that.

Of course, to reward my loyal fans, I’ll let them buy this book from me, and reward them by scribbling on the title page of the book with a flamboyant, but bogus signature. It will work out great. I’ll get rich (because I’ll sell at least 20 books) and my fans will lose weight. At least a couple of pounds. I’ll advise them to pay for the book with as much small change as possible, because coins are heavier than bills. And of course, the more books you buy, the more unsightly weight around your waist you’ll lose. (Pocket change is so lumpy and ugly. Seriously. Not at all hot. Let me help you get rid of it.)

Now all I need are some good platitudes. Some very basic, simple things that will make people feel slightly motivated, but won’t challenge them all that much. I’ll probably stick with things with things people already believe to be true. That way, they’ll feel really smart when they read the book, because they already knew the secrets to weight loss. I’ll put a lot in, so it people will think I’ve made new connections between health principles, and have broken new ground.

Man I feel I’ve given so much already, I’m gonna tag this post “charity”. All this helping people out is hard work. I may have to outsource the actual text to a ghost writer. I mean, I’ve basically done all the hard work at this point, it’s just a matter of putting a bunch of words on paper. Anybody could do that. (And they better do it for less than half of minimum wage, because I’m not made out of money. Not yet.)

Wanna buy a book? Its gonna be a hot fad soon, and it’s always best to be on board with the latest trend as early as possible. Because that makes you look both smart and connected. It’ll only cost you $30. But if you buy it right now, you can have it for $25. And I’ll throw in something else, free. (Hey, what’s something inexpensive that I could give you to get you to give me $25? It shouldn’t cost me more than five bucks, but should be kind of glitzy.)

I think I’ll call the book “How To Lose 5 Pounds In 5 Minutes Without Throwing Up.” That’s a pretty good start. I think it needs a catchy subtitle too, because that makes it look even more intellectual. (More words always equals more brains and therefor more credibility.) I think I’ll go with “You’re Smarter and Fatter Than You Think You Are.” Insulting and uplifting at the same time. Awesome. That should chip away at the ego enough to make people think they need the book, and complement them just enough to make them believe the book will help them.

Whew, man, tough day. I think I’ve earned a beer and a cigar.

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Brian’s Draw Poker: I’m About To Save You Twenty Bucks

Why God, why do people make these posts?No, I’m not talking about the card game. And well, I might not save you quite twenty bucks if you don’t have a paper clip handy and can’t steal one from the office. We’ll say 18 bucks, just in case you have to buy a box or two of paper clips.

On somebody’s blog, I left a comment discussing draw and burn issues I experienced with a CAO Gold torpedo. (As usual, I don’t remember exactly where that was, I’m a bit of a comment whore. :oops: ) I cooked up a theory on the spot that I could probably correct a plugged cigar with either a toothpick or a paper clip. Well tonight, I got to test that theory out. Luck me.

I was smoking the first of a five pack of Cuesta Rey 1884 natural lonsdales I picked up a couple of weeks ago from TodaysCigar (before they had their business model turned upside down by the anti-tobacco brigade). The cigar smoked pretty well for the half to two thirds, and then I started to have some serious draw issues. The cigar started going out, and there was just too much left for me to toss it. And then my draw-poking comment came to mind.

As luck would have it, I had a paper clip sitting on my desk, partially unbent, shaped to trip the little switch on a stubborn CD-ROM. The stars and planets had arranged themselves just right, and as Nostradamus no doubt predicted in signature cryptic manner, I was about to correct the draw of my cigar without a special hand made gizmo. And poke the cigar I did. (Don’t you just love how I’m drawing this out?)

I’m happy to report that it worked nicely. Initially I poked the cigar twice, just off center each time. Immediately the draw went from strangling to almost too good. And since I favor a looser draw, I was happy. Well, the cigar definitely had issues, and it plugged again a bit later. I poked it one more time with my handy mangled paper clip, and had no more draw-related trouble after that. That isn’t to say the cigar was miraculously transformed into a great cigar, it continued to have burn issues for the last third, including the tendency to abruptly go out. But at least I was able to smoke it without getting whiplash. (A full Cuesta Rey 1884 review coming later after I try a few more of them.)

Though I kind of hate to discourage anybody from buying Henry’s Signature Tools/Draw Corrector (I don’t know the tool’s exact title, it’s some combination of those words). Apparently they’re made by hand by a retired fellow named Henry, who does it because he really enjoys cigars and making cool gadgets. I’m tempted to pick one up just because to the back story. Either way, it’s always good to have options. You never know when you’ll be in a tight draw, somewhere far away from your preferred correction tool! :)

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5 Tips For Success In I.T. Consulting

You don’t have to look like this to be a good I.T. consultant.[This post has been written in response to the group writing project being run by problogger.]

I’ve been an independent I.T. consultant for nearly 8 years now, and I love the life. And I often wonder why more people don’t do what I do, especially those that find themselves stuck in a salaried job they hate. The answer is always seems to boil down to fear of instability and the unknown.

I think perhaps if people had a better understanding of how consulting works, and what it takes to be successful at it, they be more likely to try it. That’s where this list comes in. Perhaps it will help to alleviate some fears and empower some people to make a positive change professionally. For others, it may make it clear to them that their traditional salaried job is the way to go. Either way, a good thing.

1.) Learn to love interviewing. An interview is often the thing that stands between you and that next contract. It is to your advantage to make interviewing one of your talents. How do you do that? Practice and preparation are the methods of my interviewing madness. I try to make a point of doing “throw away” interviews.

A “throw away interview” is an interview for a job I’m almost certain I either won’t get based on my qualifications, or am not likely to take if offered. (Some “throw aways” have surprised me and turned into great contracts!) It’s a great way to get practice, and develop your personal sales pitch and I.T. anecdotes.

For preparation, I make a point of reviewing common interview questions, and all the information I can find on the business I’m about to interview with. I usually try to come up with a few questions for the interviewers ahead of time, so I’m ready when they ask if I have any questions for them. It’s generally considered a negative not to have at least one, and the more you get them talking about the business and the project, the more favorable opinion they’re likely to have of you! :)

2.) Socialize and keep in touch with former clients and co-workers. You can’t be everywhere at once, so it’s important to maintain a network of professional contacts who will vouch for your skills and pass along word of new contract opportunities to you when you need them. Though it’s not quite socializing, I recommend using a professional contact site like LinkedIn to help you manage your professional contacts, and save per contract recommendations. (I have been able to use these saved recommendations in the place of names and phone numbers a number

3.) Be flexible, embrace risk. I like to tell people I’m in the business of selling risk mitigation. It’s true, I actually am paid for hours spent writing code, but part of what determines my rate of pay is the risk I free my clients from. I free them from the risk of hiring a bad employee. If I don’t work out, I can be let go on a moment’s notice. I’m also first on the chopping block if there are budgeting cut backs. How do I deal with the uncertainty? By charging higher rates than salaried people can expect to receive, and by building up my financial reserves. You’d be surprised how stable a contractor’s life can be. :)

4.) Play with your technology. One question that always seems to come up in interviews is “what’s the most interesting thing you’ve done with technology X” or “describe the most interesting project you’ve worked on.” The people interviewing you sometimes look at you as neat new gadget for the office. What can you do, they wonder. What new things will this guy bring to our team? It pays to have an interesting tale or two about cool uses of technology. And if all you do is “glorified string parsing” (an actual quote from a former colleague), it’s a good idea to make up some project work for yourself at home. Build a tool, throw together a website, and make a point to do it with the coolest technology you can get your hands on. It’ll make it fun, and it’ll give you some serious geek cred.

5.) Keep track of trends, read relevant I.T. blogs and magazines. In order to continue to work in I.T., you need to constantly be learning new things. Or at the very least aware of the latest buzzworthy technology emerging in your area of expertise. If you don’t have time to do #4 (which is likely if you’re on a death-march project), you do have to pop a few blogs in Google Reader or flip through a technology meeting from time to time. As a consultant, it looks bad if you don’t at least have an idea of what somebody is talking about, even if it’s not directly related to your expertise. (Sorry, but it really does.)

And a special bonus pointer!

6.) Put your resume up on every career site you find. Monster, HotJobs, Dice, etcetera, you should have your resume up on all of them. While you are actively searching for that next gig, I recommend making small changes and updates to your resume every 2 weeks on these websites. Recruiters swarm on the most recently updated resumes and after around 2 weeks, your buzz, and therefor, your exposure to new contracts will be diminished.

[UPDATE: I missed the cut-off for the last day to top-5-goodness, but feel free to check out my double sized animal-related top 5!]

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Today’s The Day To Magnify Your Charitable Gift!

Fight Diabetes with Team Hanselman!If you’ve been waiting to make a charitable donation to the American Diabetes Association until it can do the most good, your wait is over. Starting today at noon PST (3 PM EST, 7 PM GMT) the donations you make through Team Hanselman will be matched by 7 blogs! Help us make our $50,000 goal!

The Links:

Thank you for your help!
Fight Diabetes with Team Hanselman!

Are eBooks Actually Cheaper?

The Sony eBook ReaderIn previous posts, I’ve done a pretty good job of putting together a solid, if not slightly biased collection of information on the Sony Reader. I’ll admit it, I’m a borderline fanboy, I really enjoy my Sony Reader. I think they’re great, and I really hope it will be phenomenally successful. What’s in it for me? Greater availability of eBooks, at more competitive prices. I don’t get any kick-backs from Sony to hype the reader, I just genuinely think its a fun product in spite of its flaws. (At least I don’t get kick-backs yet. Sony, baby, let’s talk! 8) )

In an attempt to be a bit more objective and helpful to the steady flow of visitors looking for information on the Sony Reader, I’ve decided to investigate the accuracy of much-touted 20% discount on eBooks sold through the Sony eBook store. For comparison, I’ve selected Amazon.com. This is both because it’s really convenient, and because people who buy eBooks have likely purchased books from Amazon in the past.

Title Amazon Sony Savings %
The Secret $13.17 $13.59 -$0.42 -3.18%
The Tipping Point $8.97 $7.99 $0.98 10.92%
Freakonomics $16.77 $15.96 $0.81 4.83%
Einstein $19.20 $13.59 $5.61 29.21%
The Road $8.97 $7.96 $1.01 11.25%
Running with the Demon $7.99 $5.59 $2.40 30.03%
Wikinomics $16.35 $20.76 -$4.41 -26.97%
Step On a Crack $17.63 $14.39 $3.24 18.37%
Simple Genius $14.84 $15.19 -$0.35 -2.35%
The World Is Flat $16.50 $12.00 $4.50 27.27%
Getting Things Done $8.99 $12.00 -$3.01 -33.48%
Where Have All the Leaders Gone? $15.00 $13.59 $1.41 9.40%
 
Summary: $164.38 $152.61 $11.77 7.16%

I’m being honest here, I had no idea how this was going to turn out. (I was pulling for the Reader, but I was prepared to eat crow.) I selected books based mostly on name/cover recognition, assuming that books I recognize are likely to be books people are interested in buying. To improve my chances of being correct, I picked my books from the Amazon’s and Sony’s lists of best sellers. I have, of course, excluded books that are not yet available through the Sony Connect eBook store. I also tried to pick a few books that have been around a while but have solid name recognition. At least a few books on this list are now in paper back. Shipping costs have been excluded from consideration, but will alter the results for single book purchases in favor of Sony.

So based on my semi-scientific, semi-objective list, on average, it is to your advantage to buy eBooks from the Sony store. :D If you bought the entire list from the Sony store, you’d spend $152.61, saving $11.77 or 7.16% compared with a $164.38 Amazon purchase. (So much for the reported 20% savings.) What’s really interesting is that it is more expensive to buy from Sony in some cases. For example, for the privilege of having a digital copy of the book, you pay an extra $3.01 for Getting Things Done and $4.41 for Wikinomics. Clearly, if you were interested in just one of those books, your best bet is to buy it through Amazon (depending on how much you pay for shipping). If you were able to find Amazon prices for either of these in your local book shop, you’d clearly be ahead.

So what’s the bottom line? If you’re expecting the Sony Reader to pay for itself, you’d have to buy $21,875 worth of books to break even. If the average book is price is $12.72 (it is in this list), that means you’d need to buy roughly 1720 books. So I think it’s safe to say that the Sony Reader will never pay for itself based on purchases of bestsellers, at least for most people. (Of course, these figures do not take into consideration the volume eBooks available for free through sources like ManyBooks.net.)

OK, Brian, so why buy it? You need to buy this because you love to read. And because you love cool, compact gadgets that store a ton of stuff. If you’re looking for cost effectiveness, you need to either not buy it or take a chance at finding a deal on eBay. Or you could wait and see if the price comes down. I think it will, but I have nothing to base that on.

My previous posts on the Sony Reader:

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You Can Help Defeat Diabetes, More Than You Realize

Fight Diabetes with Team Hanselman!A good friend and former colleague of mine is trying to raise $50,000 for the American Diabetes Association to help cure diabetes. It’s a lofty goal, and he’s got a way to go. I want to help and I’d like to ask you for your help also.

If you’ve visited my blog recently, you’ve seen the little fight-diabetes image in the side bar. If you’ve considered giving some money to help fight diabetes through “Team Hanselman” but haven’t yet, you have a golden opportunity.

If you make a donation during the this weeks Blog “Donation Matching” Challenge announced on Scott Hanselman’s blog your donation will be matched by 7 different blogs/bloggers. I am one of those bloggers, and the list may still be growing! That’s right, even if you can only give $10, your money does $80 worth of good starting Weds, May 9th at Noon PST until Friday, May 11 at Noon PST. And of course, your donation will be tax deductible. 100% of all donations will go to the American Diabetes Association.

I am putting my money where my mouth is. (And given the size of my mouth it’s gonna be costly ;) ) I will be personally matching up to at least $1000 of the contributions made during the challenge. I hope you will let me match your donation! Help me give the whole $1000!

Here’s what you need to know to donate:

You can also click any of the banner images in this post to get more information and make your donation. If you lose track of this post, you can also use the image in the side bar. Thank you for your help!

Fight Diabetes with Team Hanselman!

Hate Gas Prices? Get An Automatic Quarterly Refund!

The Green and Black Smart Car (My Favorite)This morning, I heard a news reporter speaking apocalyptically about gas prices reaching $3.50 a gallon this summer. That sucks, but when I pull up to the gas pump every week and a half or so, I do so without ever taking a look at the giant price board. Why on earth would I do that?

To begin with, I need gas, not stress. I simply need to have a certain amount of fuel to commute to and from the office. (Nope, I still haven’t landed that fabled telecommute contract.) There’s one convenient gas station just a stones throw away from my condo, on my way to the office and I stop there. I know, I might be paying more per gallon than a more savvy petroleum customer. How much more do you think I pay?

Based on a 14-gallon gas tank (which is what my current vehicle has) and the prices at the two nearest gas stations as reported on Gas Buddy’s Gas Temperature Map, choosing the gas station that’s a bit further away and saving 2 cents a gallon would save me… drum roll please… 28 cents. Yawn. Given Atlanta’s hellacious traffic, I’m not driving 2 miles in the wrong direction on the way to work to save 28 cents. Sorry, not gonna do it. (However, there is a station a few miles further that reportedly is selling for 24 cents less a gallon, which is a $3.36 savings on a tank. Could be bogus, but I may take a detour later this evening for that! But I digress, parenthetically.)

It’s Another Smart Car!Short of finding a gas station selling fuel at crazy price, what are your options to save money on gas? You could buy a hybrid or a Smart Car when it comes to the U.S. in 2008. (Note pictures of cute pint-sized cars in this post.) You could also move someplace either close to work or close to a mass transit system that will get you to work. (Hard to do in the U.S. outside of New York City.) Or you could do what I’ve done, and get yourself and automatic quarterly gas refund.

In addition to buying a condo in a place that has the benefit of both being near the local subway system and having reverse commutes, I’ve been buying Oil company stock. Bit by bit, over about the past 3 or 4 years. Why? Because every 3 months they pay me just because I own the stock. It’s called a divided. The last dividend I got was for $38.40. It doesn’t sound like much, but based on a price $3.00 a gallon for a weekly fill up, that means I’m getting my gas for $2.77 a gallon. Would you drive a bit further for gas that’s 23 cents less a gallon? That’s $3.22 on one tank of gas!

Of course, there is a catch. I won’t lie to you. You do have to buy the stock to begin with. But before you start calling me names like “rich evil fatcat bastard”, “smelly money monkey” and such, you should know that you can buy shares in very small increments. (I’m cool with being called “smelly money monkey.” :) ) Embarrassingly small increments. I know, because that’s how I’ve been buying mine! But the good news is that over time these stocks have a tendency to increase in value, even while they’re paying you a quarterly dividend. There’s no guarantee that they will, but on average, they do.

Lest you think otherwise, I’m not telling you this to brag. I think it’s important for people to know the available options, and this is one option you’re not likely to hear anywhere else. Of course, I am not a financial planner, I only pretend to be one when I’m at home planning for my retirement. I would definitely recommend consulting one (or reading a lot of financial books) before you make any venture into the stock market. To not do so would be little better than putting money on a roulette wheel. (A roulette wheel is probably more exciting.)

Oh yeah, one last thing that might interest people concerned with the practices of oil companies. When you buy a share, you get a vote on their business decisions. You may not have heard of it, but there is such a thing as shareholder activism. And the CEO now answers to you. Just something to think about. Now go get your rebate. :)

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