Friday, November 21, 2008

How I chose to live greener

A lot is being said lately about going green but the fact of the matter is that a few of us have been living greener than most for quite some time. Quite honestly we look at it as a good personal decision and don't make any fanfare.

This past week, I surprised a few friends of mine with the details of how I've made greener choices they didn't even knew existed.

For example, I have an office out an in rural area of North Carolina known as Saxapahaw. Most people have never heard of Saxapahaw and even fewer can spell it correctly the first time. When i was looking at the area, a few things intriqued me.

First, the Saxapahaw River Mill was restored instead of being torn down. Something that examplified the death of the textile society in North Carolina was converted into townhouses, apartments, business spaces, and soon condos. In the process of the conversion there was conservation. Brick walls were kept and restored. The old hardwood floors, posts and support beams were kept and restored. Wherever possible, as much of the old skin of the building was retained while upgrading key components (like windows) for efficiency. Plus the super high ceilings provide a natural cooling effect in the warmer months.

Then there is the particular location. I had found myself driving between Roxboro, Burlington and Chapel Hill. Saxapahaw is located almost exactly half way betweeen Burlington and Chapel Hill. So locating there instantly cut 1/2 of my driving - and fuel consumption. And even deeper cuts in fuel consumption were made possibly by my being able to work so close to home now that I don't need to drive at all some day. Even in the midst of tremendous gas price increases, I managed to cut my monthly fuel budget by 40%.

Now what surprised my friends was how the Saxapahaw area is powered - hydroelectric. Back in the days of the cotton mill there was a hydroelectric dam which provided power to the mill (and originally provided sheer mechanical energy through wheels and pullies before the days of electrification).

The hydroelectric dam had set unused from 1964 until 1980 when a group known as Haw River Hydro Company bought the dam and began the process of restoration. In 1982, the generator was brought back online, a contract was signed with Duke Power and it began distributing clean energy into the Duke Power grid - and subsequently the surrounding Saxapahaw area. The dam generates enough power to continuously provide clean power to about 700 homes. This means that Saxapahaw is carbon neutral for its electric power... and we don't even have to pay extra for it.

More importantly though, this same sort of restoration is beginning over at the old Glencoe Mill on the other side of Alamance county from here. Glencoe, like Rivermill, has a small hydroelectric plant that is being brought back online to generate clean electricity. Glencoe promises to become an interesting mixed use community. Again turning something that was lost in the community into something valuable and sustainable.

Other greening projects are underway here in Saxapahaw. Some are simple - like changing out all of the incandescent lighting that was historically in the building to use florescent and compact florescent bulbs. Some are a bit more complex - like water conservation and sewage mitigation. Since Saxapahaw runs its own water system, conservation is able to take a local flavor and truly reflect the community here.

On a closing note, I must admit I get a little giddy thinking about the fact that when I turn on my electric baseboards or heat pump, there is a little turbine up the street in the river that's generating the power which is providing me heat. And nowhere along the way is a lump of coal or a therm of natural gas -or a gram of plutonium - being consumed.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Michelle Obama: a new type of First Lady

That rather sad, muffled noise you hear behind the whoops and cheers of Democrat America is not the sound of defeated neocons mourning the passing of trickle-down economics; it is the sound of sobbing in the Élysée Palace. For Carla Bruni, reigning queen of First Ladies, the game is finally up. Cindy McCain would have been a push-over; even Sarah Palin she could have coped with, sexy specs or otherwise. But in Michelle Obama, Ms Bruni has truly met her match. This is a First Lady like none before.

In truth, from the moment Michelle Obama stepped on to that podium at the Democrat convention what seems like, ooh, about three million years ago, we all secretly knew which way this race was going. Sure, he had big, sticky-out ears; sure, all those luvvies made that embarrassing YouTube song about him; but if Michelle thought that he was OK — if she chose him — then he just had to be a good man.

Everything about this woman speaks to the modern, post-feminist woman: she is manifestly clever, independently minded, attractive in a normal, accessible way (and not in a scary, plastic-fantastic Cindy way). Her demeanour is a reassuring mixture of sassy and self-deprecating; her easy, confident dress sense neither too sexy nor too self-conscious. Most of all, however, she appears to be the personification of sanity, a woman who, while clearly supportive of her husband’s quest for world domination, is nevertheless not afraid to point out when he is danger of drinking too much of his own Kool-Aid.

The evolution of the role of First Lady is a fascinating one. Until now, they have essentially been available in two flavours. The first is the meek, supportive grin-and-bear-it model, as exemplified by Laura and Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan and Mamie Eisenhower. Often Republican, invariably well-coiffed, they seem to simultaneously be at the centre of the action yet a million light years away from power. Often, this impression is grossly unfair. Laura Bush’s favourite writer, for example, is Dostoevsky — not that you would have known it from the press release: too intimidating, too intellectual for the wife of the man everyone wanted to share a Bud with.

The alternative is the two-for-the-price-of-one First Lady. These tend to be ball-breaking Democrats such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. They have their own careers, their own lives and their own minds.

There is one exception: Jackie Kennedy. She was pure style, a fashion clothes horse who still, 40 years on, has the power to inspire double-page spreads in Vogue magazine.

What makes Michelle unique is the way she so skilfully unites all three: supportive, independent and a fashion icon. Sarah Palin blew £90,000 on her campaign wardrobe but let’s face it, it is that blue shift dress that we all remember.

In the last American election, the big question was this: who would you most want to share a beer with? In this one, it was more like: who would you like to share a Martini with? The answer of course being Michelle. (Barack could maybe make himself useful by popping out for some crisps.) Michelle is not only invigoratingly intelligent, proud of her urbanity, but also unafraid of showing her abilities. She is certainly the only wife of a presidential candidate I can remember who, instead of playing herself down, played up the general uselessness of her husband in matters domestic — and in doing so not only held her ground intellectually but also reached out to all those women who, while devoted to their spouses, also find them slightly useless in matters of sock-tidying.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Michelle however is what having a woman lawyer like her in the White House means. For it is not often one can go to sleep safe in the knowledge that there is an educated, intelligent, sensible female voice being heard in the corridors of power.

At the 2004 Democrat Convention in Boston, when the unknown Barack Obama stepped up to the plate to deliver the keynote speech, she famously said to him: “Don’t screw it up, buddy.” One cannot help hoping those words were repeated last night.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Big Guns Come Out In Effort To Show RIAA's Lawsuits Are Unconstitutional

Thanks to TechDirt for their coverage and analysis of this issue!

from the this-ought-to-be-worth-watching dept

People have been submitting this story nonstop, but I wanted to take some time to read the details before commenting on it. It's not the first time that folks have argued that the damages sought by the RIAA in various lawsuits against file sharers are unconstitutional. However, the few times it's been brought up in court, the arguments haven't been persuasive. However, this time around, it looks like the big legal guns are getting involved, and the argument seems a lot more comprehensive and compelling.

In the past, it's been noted that the RIAA has curiously avoided suing any Harvard students, with one of the theories being that Harvard had made it quite clear to the RIAA that it would fight back hard. And, with Harvard law school at its disposal, and various professors there indicating that they had serious legal problems with the RIAA's strategy, the RIAA simply decided to ignore any file sharing going on at that prestigious university.

However, for RIAA critic and well known law professor, Charles Nesson, waiting around for the RIAA to sue someone at Harvard was getting boring, so he went out and found a case to participate in. Along with two third year law students, Nesson has hit back hard on the RIAA's efforts in a court filing, where it's noted that the very basis for many of the RIAA's lawsuits is very likely unconstitutional.

He makes the argument that the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 is very much unconstitutional, in that its hefty fines for copyright infringement (misleadingly called "theft" in the title of the bill) show that the bill is effectively a criminal statute, yet for a civil crime. That's because it really focuses on punitive damages, rather than making private parties whole again. Even worse, it puts the act of enforcing the criminal statute in the hands of a private body (the RIAA) who uses it for profit motive in being able to get hefty fines:

Imagine a statute which, in the name of deterrence, provides for a $750 fine for each mile-per-hour that a driver exceeds the speed limit, with the fine escalating to $150,000 per mile over the limit if the driver knew he or she was speeding. Imagine that the fines are not publicized, and most drivers do not know they exist. Imagine that enforcement of the fines is put in the hands of a private, self-interested police force, that has no political accountability, that can pursue any defendant it chooses at its own whim, that can accept or reject payoffs in exchange for not prosecuting the tickets, and that pockets for itself all payoffs and fines. Imagine that a significant percentage of these fines were never contested, regardless of whether they had merit, because the individuals being fined have limited financial resources and little idea of whether they can prevail in front of an objective judicial body.
Beyond just questioning the constitutionality of the law, Nesson argues that the court ought to punish the RIAA for its abuses of the law.
This Court should exercise its inherent power to allow background image redress to Joel Tenenbaum for Plaintiffs' abuse of law and federal civil court process. As detailed throughout this brief, Plaintiffs are using any and all available avenues of federal process to pursue grossly disproportionate -- and unconstitutional -- punitive damages in the name of making an example of him to an entire generation of students. The case at hand warrants the use of inherent federal power not just because of what Plaintiffs are doing to Joel Tenenbaum in this Court, but because of the manner in which Plaintiffs are abusing the federal courts all across the country. Plaintiffs have pursued over 30,000 individuals in the same way they have pursued Joel.... For these 30,000 individuals, Plaintiffs have wielded federal process as a bludgeon, threatening legal action to such an extent that settlement remains the only viable option. Joel Tenenbaum is unique in his insistence, in the face of it all, on having his day in court. The federal courts have an inherent interest in deciding whether they will continue being used as the bludgeon in RIAA's campaign of sacrificing individuals in this way.
The filing goes on to describe in rather great detail just how this is an abuse of the law and the courts, noting that it is a "perversion of lawfully initiated process to illegitimate ends," and citing the case law that suggests such behavior should be punished by the courts: "One who uses a legal process ... against another primarily to accomplish a purpose for which it is not designed, is subject to liability to the other for harm caused by the abuse of process."

And this is where it gets good.

To prove the abuse of the process, the filing uses the RIAA's own words against it. First, the writers note (and cite the relevant cases) that even if there is a "proper purpose" behind the filing, it's an abuse of process if the primary purpose in filing the lawsuit is different than the "proper purpose" behind the lawsuit. And, then the authors point to multiple sources where the RIAA noted that the reason it was filing these lawsuits was not to punish these particular individuals for file sharing, but as part of its "deterrence" educational program. From deterrence, Nesson shows how it's actually used as more of a bludgeon to get students to settle, which is clearly not the "proper purpose" of the law:
In essence, Plaintiffs are using the prosecution of Joel Tenenbaum to extort other accused infringers: the accused are told to either pay the settlement, or else be exposed to the protracted litigation and potentially astronomical damages that Joel now faces. See Milford Power Ltd. Partnership by Milford Power Associates Inc. v. New England, 918 F.Supp. 471 (D. Mass. 1996) (holding that "the essence of the tort of abuse of process is the use of process as a threat to coerce or extort some collateral advantage not properly involved in the proceeding"). The intimidation tactics are working: of the 30,000 accusations the RIAA has leveled against individuals, only a single defendant has made her case in front of a judge and jury... (that sole defendant is now awaiting a new trial).

The RIAA intimidates and steamrolls accused infringers into settling before they have their day in court and before the courts can weigh the merits of their defenses. The inherent dangers in allowing a single interest group, desperate in the face of technological change, led by a voracious, cohesive, extraordinarily well-funded and deeply experienced legal team doing battle with pro se defendants, armed with a statute written by them and lobbied and quietly passed through a compliant congress, to march defendants through the federal courts to make examples out of them should lead this Court to say "stop."
This case is going to be worth watching closely. It looks like the RIAA failed in its efforts to tiptoe around the legal bees' nest of Harvard Law.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Five Ways to Get Free Wi-Fi, Even in Bad Times

The economy is in the toilet. Maybe you've been laid off (or you're worrying that the proverbial ax will soon fall at your company). It's not that difficult to foresee a bunch of bills starting to pile up at home -- one being your monthly Internet connection.

But you absolutely need Internet connectivity to do anything today: to find a new job, network with colleagues and business friends, and check your LinkedIn, Facebook and Gmail accounts, just to name a few. So as everyone looks to cut costs and everyday expenses, here are five ways to hitch a free ride on the Internet connectivity train.

1. Go to a Panera. This is, by no means, an advertisement for Panera Bread Company (though, you have to admit that their bread products and cookies are delicious), but since 2003, the chain of restaurants has offered free Wi-Fi to all its customers.

CIO Tom Kish told that Panera has "established one of the largest free Wi-Fi networks in the U.S. with approximately 1,200 cafes providing the service," and that executives "see it as another amenity for our customers."

Kish added that "free Internet access is one of a series of Panera's innovations designed to engage, connect and support our customers."

However, if you're married to Starbucks and you want access to their two-hour-a-day "complimentary" Wi-Fi access, you'll have to get a Starbucks Rewards card, put some money on the card (defeating our purpose, of course) and agree to receive some AT&T marketing e-mails. (To read an analysis of the Wi-Fi strategies at Starbucks, Panera, McDonald's and Borders, see "Should Retailers Offer Free Wi-Fi to Customers?")

You want a free lunch, too? Don't be greedy, people.

2. Visit Your Local Library. Unless you've got children, it may have been a long time since you last went to your city's or town's library. Many people will be pleasantly surprised to realize that their town's library now offers free, high-speed Internet connections, and many do so via Wi-Fi service.

According to 2007 data from the American Library Association's annual survey of technologies and Internet offerings inside U.S. libraries (pdf file), 99 percent of library branches offer Internet service to the public, and 66 percent of them offer wireless Internet access. Just make sure you keep quiet-the local senior citizens usually don't like a lot of that "noise" that young whippersnappers make.

3. Love Thy Neighbor's Connection. This one should be a last resort, because it is not legal and not secure (unless you get neighbor Bob's permission and can vouch for his attention to WLAN security protocols).

However, tapping into your neighbor's wireless signals pales in comparison to what some other desperate laptop users have done for an Internet connection: An August 2008 survey of 300 remote employees who work on company-issued laptops revealed that people can be creative and a bit nutty. A sampling of the verbatim responses might give you some (bad) ideas: "Had to climb on my mother's roof once." And: "Had to 'hack' into a phone line at a hotel to get dial-up to work." Then there's: "Turned someone's TV antenna into a wireless internet antenna." And finally: "Sat outside an airport for 4 hours so I could use the free wireless across the street."

4. Across the Pond, Visit The name of the service pretty much says it all: operates 3,500 free hotspots in 18 European countries. Simply log on to their website and find the closest one to you.

And if you're in Belgium, you can get free Wi-Fi service at the McDonald's there. (Sadly, Ronald McDonald makes customers pay for Wi-Fi service in the States.)

5. Watch This "How To" Video. We at cannot vouch for the validity of this video, whether this software actually works as shown in the video, or whether this is highly illegal, but maybe it's worth a try: "How to get Free WiFi access anywhere, anytime." (If you're at all curious, the 2 minute, 39 second video on YouTube is worth a quick viewing.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

5 Devices That Spell Trouble For Your Comcast Bandwidth Cap

NewTeeVee posts an article this month that will become increasingly important as the "unlimited" bandwidth freeforall on residential broadband accounts comes abruptly to an end on most providers.
One of the problems with Comcast’s new 250 GB bandwidth cap is that, as Om points out on GigaOM, it’s metered without a meter. Comcast doesn’t provide you with a central tally of all your data use. The company instead suggests its customers install bandwidth metering software on their machines and then add up the numbers. Its FAQ reads: “Customers using multiple PCs should just be aware that they will need to measure and combine their total monthly usage in order to identify the data usage for their entire account.” Got multiple home machines consuming data every day? Better bust out that spreadsheet — and get ready for some wild guesstimates. After all, you can’t just install a bandwidth metering application on your Slingbox.
Read the rest over at NewTeeVee.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I can no longer eat Hershey's chocolates

File this in the "Well CRAP!" file...

Those who know me know that I love chocolate. Love with a capital L-O-V-E. Now I tend to love the fancy stuff or at least the pseudo fancy stuff. In the less than $5 a bar category, I usually look for Cadbury's or even better Milka (by Nestle from Germany in a purple wrapper with a cow on the front).

Occasionally I'd slum it with a Hershey bar or more often a Mr. Goodbar since I'm a sucker for chocolate and peanuts.

Well, tonight I found out the hard way that Hershey's has reformulated their product. What should have tipped me off was the "Half Pound" size chocolate bars had apparently be downsized from 8oz to 7oz... and then again to 6.8oz. (7oz and 6.8oz versions were sitting on the shelf together so it made it kind of obvious.)

According to sources on the internet, Hershey's reformulated their product in Fall 2007 to include lactose, milk fat, and the food additive PGPR (which is substituted for real cocoa butter to save money and reduce the fat content).

Here's the problem... I'm pretty severely lactose intolerant. Hershey's did not put any sort of warning on their product or announce the change in any way. The only way to know would be to have read the ingredients panel. And really, who reads the ingredients panel every time they buy the same thing they've always bought?!

This probably explains one particular tummy blow out that I had around Christmas that I wasn't able to explain. I had just chalked it up to my IBS but looking back it was most like Hershey's chocolate induced.

Yesterday I learned of this formulation change after having consumed ~1/2 of a 7oz bar of chocolate... within minutes, I was in full on cramps and running for the bathroom.

Now I've been lactose intolerant long enough to know exactly when I'm experiencing a full on lactose issue. It is unlike anything else. If you're not lactose this won't make sense to you but fellow intoleranters know what I'm talking about. The cramps are unmistakeable. So immediately after the first sit down episode I ran for my lactase powder. It tastes aweful but works much faster than the pills. (Sort of the same premise as those BC headache powders.)

After my stomach calmed back down I headed for the product label. There in the ingredient list was the culprit... LACTOSE. Dammit. I had to give up M&M's for the very same reason! And now they have taken Hershey's from me too!

Why do companies include an ingredient in their product that is known to give some people problems? Simple, lactose is cheaper than regular sugar. It also aids in the sweet milky aftertaste so they can get away with using less real milk and milk solids in the product.

Futher insulting my palatte I found that Hershey's had added milk fat in place of cocoa fat content AND added PGPR to replace even more cocoa butter. So in the name of saving a few cents Hershey's has adulterated their products with fake ingredients.

How ironic that Hershey's just launched the "Pure Hershey's" campaign this month. It's pure alright... a pure lie. Their chocolate is no longer chocolate, cocoa butter and milk. Now its chemical fillers, fake vanilla, cheap sugar and fake fat. On top of all that and the product downsizing, they just announced an across the board price increase.

It's so depressing I think I need some... non-Hershey's chocolate.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Starting over again at 64

Consumer's Union (the folks who publish Consumer's Reports) are almost finished with their tour across America in which they have interviewed and logged stories from all classes and socioeconomic classes regarding healthcare insurance... or more appropriately, the lack of affordable coverage.

The article below is a reprint from their blog of their North Carolina stop. Woefully, if my father didn't have good coverage from Lowes, this very same scenario would play out with my parents. Still, he is, at 50, essentially working for healthcare. What will Medicare look like for him in 15 years? What will it look like for my mom (now 55) in 10 years? How did we let insurance and more specifically, healthcare coverage, get this way in America? The picture was so rosey 20 years ago. Who was alseep at the wheel? And how do we get back on the road?

I encourage you to check out the Cover America Tour. Your children, parents and even yourself are likely to be affected by this issue at some point.

Starting over again at 64

We waved goodbye to Dave and Betty and climbed back into the RV, our arms full of goodie bags packed with fruit, snacks and Betty’s sour cream chocolate bundt cake for the road. They had raised three boys (now grown) and Betty, like many southern moms, had never felt right sending them out the door without some of her home cooking for the road. Now she insisted we do the same – and who were we to argue.

It looked like a nice life they had carved out here in Asheboro, NC. A cozy home on a quiet street with lots of greenery, Champ the dog and Jaybo the goat roam the back yard together; the grandkids had been here this morning. The perfect set up for a couple of retirees – if only retirement were an option.

After 42 years with the same company Dave’s position was eliminated, forcing him into what he thought would be an early retirement. Not long after, the company decided to stop subsidizing retiree health benefits, and the $1000 a month premium suddenly became their burden.

If they both were about to turn 65 and qualify for Medicare, that would have been okay for a short time. Or if they’d found a reasonably-priced individual plan, that would have worked too. But the cheapest plan they could have bought on their own would have been $3000 a month, and, while Dave is 64 now, Betty is still four years away from Medicare.

So Dave went back to work full-time for the healthcare benefits. He got a good job with the county, and now every day, 8 to 5, Dave works so he and Betty have an affordable health care plan.

He’ll keep working until they both qualify for Medicare, and by then he’ll be 69. It’s certainly not the future they envisioned. Says Dave, “So much for the retirement plans that we had made!"

By the time we left it was after 7:00. We drove off through the rolling Carolina foothills, dotted with tiny churches and a perfect sunset – and we were frustrated. Dave and Betty had struck a nerve. They were our dads and moms – people who worked hard for decades for their families and deserved a break when they were ready to take one, not being forced back into the workplace until almost the age of 70 by the high costs of health care.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Privacy rights and the rule of law took a serious blow today when the House of Representatives passed blanket retroactive immunity for phone companies

Washington, D.C. - Privacy rights and the rule of law took a serious blow today when the House of Representatives passed blanket retroactive immunity for phone companies that participated in the president's warrantless surveillance program. The FISA Amendments Act, H.R. 6304, which House Leadership rushed to the floor today after its introduction yesterday, passed by a vote of 293 to 129. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.

The bill was touted as a bipartisan "compromise" on the issues of electronic surveillance and immunity. But in fact it requires dismissal of lawsuits against companies like AT&T that participated in the program as long as the companies received a piece of paper from the government indicating that the surveillance had been authorized by the president and was determined to be lawful.

"Immunity for telecom giants that secretly assisted in the NSA's warrantless surveillance undermines the rule of law and the privacy of every American," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "Congress should let the courts do their job instead of helping the administration and the phone companies avoid accountability for a half decade of illegal domestic spying. If this legislation passes the Senate and is signed into law, the American people will have lost their last best chance to discover the true scope of the president's wiretapping program and to determine whether or not the law was broken."

"We are deeply disappointed that the House Leadership, which was so courageous in its previous opposition to telecom immunity, caved to the Administration's fear-mongering and put this seriously flawed legislation on the floor for a vote," said Bankston. "We look to leaders in the Senate who value the rule of law to stand up and strongly oppose this blanket immunity for telecom lawbreakers, and in particular urge Senator Barack Obama to lead his party in rejecting this false compromise."

EFF is representing the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of the millions of AT&T customers whose private domestic communications and communications records were illegally handed over to the National Security Agency (NSA). EFF has been appointed co-coordinating counsel for all 47 of the outstanding lawsuits concerning the government's warrantless surveillance program.

Additional coverage at MSNBC.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Help my church buy a new sound board

So... I want your money. Not all of it; just some of it. Many of you who read my blog have been blessed by me in various ways... so much so that every Christmas I hear my close friends moan about how hard I am to buy for. We'll here's your chance to give me a Christmas blessing in June. Yeah a little early, I know... but those of you who know me personally know I celebrate my own personal - and very non-commercial - Christmas in July. So not really that early.

Here's the scoop. If you've spent any time around me, you've heard our worship team's music and we continue to expand and enhance our musical capabilities. To that end, our intrepid sound director, Bill Sanders, found a killer deal on a soundboard that fits what we need quite well. The problem is our church runs on a really tight budget and we don't have any money budgeted for a new board. Bill and I both have already committed financially to the project but we can only fund ~1/4 of it out of our own pockets.

That's where you come in. I want some of your money. Nothing drastic - just your Starbucks money for the week. Or if you're feeling generous, your gas money for the week. (Hmm... strange turn of events, gas is finally more expensive than Starbucks... but I digress.) Or if you're just in a crazy generous mood, whatever you feel like parting with.

Below is a fancy little donation button. Donations to Integrity Church are tax deductible and Integrity is a real 501.3(c) tax exempt organization. Due to credit card processing costs, I've set the minimum donation at $10. (Otherwise Visa and Mastercard get their money and we don't see much.) You don't get anything in return for your donation except a tax receipt, a big smile on my face and a LOLCat Thank You posted to your MySpace, Facebook or Email.

And without further ado, that donate now button I promised (scroll down a little):


Saturday, June 07, 2008

Teach your teens to make money at home this summer... instead of flipping burgers.

Ok, so summer is here and schools across America are getting out for the summer. The question on the mind of every teenager right now (and most parents of teenagers) is - How can I make money this summer?

Of course there are the old standbys - retail, foodservice, babysitting, life guarding. I'm not going to knock any of those since our economy needs those kinds of positions filled but I would like to expand your horizons of thinking a bit before you settle for one of those.

What would I like you to think about is - residual income. A 15 year old has, on average, 3 years left before they have to head off to college or graduate high school and join the "real world". Those 3 years are perfect for building an online ecommerce business or engaging in any number of residual building enterprises.

First, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the world of residual income, let me give you some pointers and warnings. Residual income is slow money - i.e. income that comes in over a period of time based on continual sales efforts. Anyone who talks about making money fast is just going to end up taking money out of your pocket and putting it in theirs. The beauty of residual sales is the additive effects of previous efforts. So while the first few months might leave you with little to show for your efforts, the combined effects of continued effort plus the passage of time will yield tremendous rewards.

Some of the greatest examples of residual income in today's market come from the blogging world. A popular blog with Simple Google Ads plus the occasional sponsored post can yield can yield several thousands of dollars a month in free cash flow.

What most people forget when they're embarking on the journey of residual income is the fact that it takes time to build a base from which you can start generating the level of income you might want. For a mom or dad with starving kids who need to eat right now, this can be a challenge mentally. For a teenager, however, this is perfect since they're still within their parent's grace zone and don't have the pressure of a mortgage looming every month. This breathing room means they can start now and be well in their way to fully supporting themselves through college once they get there (instead of needing to dip back into mommy and daddy's wallets for laundry money).

Now, once they have decided to start blogging, creating commerce websites or promoting products they will need something to promote and someone who will actually pay them when they make a sale. There are quite a few agent/commission programs out there such as Commission Junction, Element 5, etc. Personally, I favor Commission River.

Commission River was created by the same guys who launched Telarus back in 1999. They have a known track record of success and some of the Telarus agents make high-six figure incomes every year from their sales efforts. Commission River charges no fees to join their program and pays out commission on a monthly basis as it is accrued.

Don't get swayed by the big dollar figures just yet. Those large incomes require a lot of work - and something more akin to a full-time job than a summer internship with a part-time job during the school year. That said, there is no reason a student can't be making a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollars a month on the side with little effort compared to a traditional part-time job. Even better, they can earn that money working from home - where their parents can keep an eye on exactly what they're getting into.

So what are the steps you need to take to get going with Commission River (or any other type of residual program)?
  1. Sign up for the program. Here's the link to sign up for Commission River.

  2. Get a blog. I personally like Blogger but there are lots of others.

  3. Find products that you can promote. Things like DSL, credit cards, home security, cell phones, wireless data cards, enterprise T1s, etc. Chose 1 fast sell product (like cell phones or credit cards) and 1 slow sell product (like T1s). (Fast sell products pay fast cash but less of it. Slow sell products take longer to sell one of but pay much more money over time.)

  4. Start blogging. Talk about personal stories, friends, things you've seen. Comment on the news, current events, local interest items. Anything you can write about, someone will want to read. In the midst of your blogging, when appropriate within context, mention on the of the products of services you have in your bucket for promotions. For example, if you get a new cell phone, link to the cell phone sale page that matches what you bought. That way others can get what you have or compare it to what they might have been looking for.

  5. Create a website. Start small... it doesn't have to be fancy. Use something like Google Pages, SquareSpace or 1&1 Webbuilder. Your goal is not to out do all the professional web designers out there. Instead your goal is to start providing a repository of useful information you have collected, cross promote your blog postings, and give you more space to write feature articles about things you're interested in.

  6. Market, market, market. Become active on Facebook, MySpace, Pownce, Twitter, etc. And be sure your profiles and pages link to your blog and website. Make up some simple business cards for yourself with your URLs on them. Put your URLs in your email signature. Your goal is to be the person someone thinks of when they need something so instead of going to Google they go to your website first.

  7. Have patience. Remember this is slow money. It builds over time. You are running a marathon here, not a sprint. So don't wear yourself out at the beginning. Allocate a certain number of hours each week and stick to it. If you have 20 hours a week to work on it, always put in your 20 hours. Treat it just as if you were clocking in and out at a "real" job. Keep in mind your goal is 2 years down the road... that's when you start getting those bigger checks and laughing to yourself about how little work it took to make that much money.
Good luck and happy promoting!

Friday, May 30, 2008


LAKELAND, Fla. – "Holy Spirit fall! God is here! We want more! More, more, more!"

That's what Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley yells out nearly every evening to the thousands who gather to hear him preach. The 32-year-old Bentley looks more like a biker than a minister, with body piercings and tattoos all over his arms and neck. But the crowds don't seem to mind how he looks. They just want what they believe Bentley has – the ability to heal them.

Image: Fresh Fire Ministries
Courtesy of Fresh Fire Ministries
Todd Bentley at the Lakeland Convention Center in Lakeland, Fla. on May 21.

Bentley claims that God has used him to supernaturally heal hundreds of people of diseases ranging from glaucoma to diabetes to even cancer. How to explain it?

Bentley said in an interview that he doesn't know exactly why now, why him, why Lakeland, and he does not promise that everyone who comes to him will be healed. But he does maintain a pragmatic posture toward prayer.

"I say, you have nothing to lose but your sickness. If the doctors can't help you, why wouldn't you give God a chance?"

Growing crowds
"If you want God, just come get some," he shouts on stage nearly every night.

Bentley has repeated a version of this invitation daily since April 2 when he and his team from Fresh Fire Ministries, which he founded in 1997, first arrived here from British Columbia, Canada, for what he thought would be five days of "revival" meetings in a local church. But those plans changed, he said, because "God is moving...and people know something is happening here." His meetings have been extended indefinitely.

While Bentley and Fresh Fire Ministries are not part of an organized Protestant denomination, his beliefs tend to follow Pentecostal, charismatic traditions.

He claims that God has used him repeatedly before this revival to heal the sick, but added that this series of revival meetings is unprecedented in his personal experience as a minister.

The meetings have outgrown four venues, including a local convention center that seats roughly 7,000. Now they meet under an air-conditioned tent that can accommodate 10,000 on the grounds of the local airport. Organizers estimate that more than 140,000 people from at least 40 nations have attended meetings here.

In this country, the self-billed "Florida outpouring" has generated mostly local media attention. But word of the revival has been generating plenty of buzz online, taking Bentley’s message and claims far beyond Florida.

So far, according to Fresh Fire Ministries, 1.2 million people have watched live streaming broadcasts of the meetings on the Internet. The meetings also are carried on the religious satellite channel, God TV, which transmits Bentley's healing services to more than 200 nations. In this country, God TV is carried on DIRECTV.

Not everyone is comfortable with this expression of Christianity, including some Protestant theologians. R. Douglas Geivett, a professor at the conservative, evangelical Talbot School of Theology, is deeply skeptical of the "Florida outpouring" and does not believe Bentley’s claims of supernatural healing are consistent with Christian doctrine

"I don’t think it fits neatly into any branch of Christianity," said Geivett. "Mr. Bentley’s worldview appears to be a mixture of New Age notions, an obsession with the paranormal, and an untutored grasp of Christian theology."

Image: Fresh Fire Ministries
Courtesy of Fresh Fire Ministries
A woman named Deborah, who suffers from scoliosis, prays with Todd Bentley in Lakeland, Fla. on May 5 as David Tomberlin looks on and Russ Roderick acts as a “catcher.” Afterwards, she claimed her illness was healed.

Claims of healing
Still, what seems to be drawing all these people of varying ages, ethnicities, and classes is a clear hunger for what Bentley's meetings are offering: the hope of healing and some sort of touch from God.

David Tomberlin, an evangelist who's been dubbed the "Ryan Seacrest" of these meetings because he serves as an emcee of sorts, tried to explain the claims of healings, saying, "The Bible talks about Jesus healing sick people. It says he was moved by compassion, so part of it is God's heart of compassion."

So every night, Bentley and his ministry team take to the stage and try to call heaven down to earth.

That's when the sick are urged to come forward for prayer and healing.

In many instances, Bentley places his hands on someone's head or area of infirmity and cries out for the power of God to descend. In response, some people may stand and physically tremble, while others may literally fall down to the ground in what they call "falling under the power" of the Holy Spirit.

Bentley’s associates say that this is not a painful experience, but rather one of being physically overcome by the loving presence of God. Anticipating these sorts of responses, one of Bentley's staff members stands behind each individual to serve as a "catcher" to gently guide the person down to the floor. Skeptics claim this "falling" can be the result of being overcome with emotion or a learned behavior.

At a recent meeting, Stephen Godula was brought on stage to tell his story. He testified that he had been healed of multiple forms of cancer by watching the meetings on the Internet at home. He plans to return to his oncologist in Philadelphia to document his healing.

Patsy Wallingford traveled from Arkansas in search of healing. Since a tractor-trailer plowed into her mobile home three years ago, Wallingford has been bound to a wheelchair because of nerve damage in her legs and feet.

On a recent night, Wallingford took to the stage and received a prayer from Bentley. "I felt like what was a warm water flow from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet," she explained.

And that's when, she said, she could feel something cold against her right foot; she decided to step out in faith and step out of her wheelchair in front of clapping and cheering crowds.

As she pushed her wheelchair off the stage, she paused to answer questions from one of Bentley's staff members, who filled out a one-page form detailing the claims of miraculous healing.

Bentley and his staff say they welcome as much documentation as people are willing to provide after they return home.

What about the money?
Bentley and his ministry do not charge an entry fee for his meetings. Each evening, four hours into the service, at close to 11 p.m., white plastic offering buckets are passed around.

They asked for money only once and strangely, on the night this reporter was there, they took their offering so late at night that the crowd had thinned-out. Bentley also receives donations directly through his Web site.

The ministry said that the average donation per person is $3-$5. While some people were reluctant to talk about what they gave, one visitor from Finland said he was only able to put in a few dollars because his travel costs were so high.

A spokeswoman for the revival, Lynne Breidenbach, said the offerings have covered their enormous operating costs. Before the move to the airport grounds, she said the ministry paid a daily rental fee of $15,000 for the local convention center, as well as comparable fees for use of a stadium. His spokesperson didn’t know how much the current setup costs. The offerings, said Breidenbach, have not contributed to a significant infusion of cash for Bentley or his ministry.

According to Breidenbach, Bentley "continues to draw his standard salary, set by his board, from his office in Canada. It is a modest salary and is in the five-figure range." The ministry said that their financial records are subject to an outside audit every year.

Bentley said he was willing to open Fresh Fire Ministries’ bookkeeping records for the Lakeland revival meetings, but has yet to provide the documentation to He said that he welcomes media attention and scrutiny because the "outpouring" is a work of God and he has "nothing to hide."

Taking the notion of any potential criticism head on, he said, "I don’t have time to debate whether revival is happening or not. I don’t have time to nitpick the reasons why God might not be moving." Instead, he said, his greater concern is to move as fervently in faith to see as many people healed as he can during this time.

And indeed, Bentley’s claims have stirred up debates within and outside the church.

Erik Thoennes, also a professor from the Talbot School of Theology, offers a more accepting, though still cautious stance, than his colleague Geivett.

Thoennes believes many Christians today are open to the idea that God might move in miraculous ways, even if they don’t embrace movements like Bentley’s. And, he offered specific advice to non-Christians who may be confounded by such reports: "I’d hope they wouldn’t get distracted by movements that seem odd, or by how goofy Christians can be, so that they miss seeing Jesus as the most beautiful, good, loving, just, true, person there is."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Pirate Bay meets Jesus

Well... Tonight I need some kind a new award to send to the guys at MorningStar in Fort Mill. In order to get the videos out of the recent outpouring sessions that have been happening there at Heritage International Ministries for the past few weeks, they did the unthinkable (well, at least unthinkable to traditional ministries). They're using BitTorrent and have their torrent files on The Pirate Bay! (Yes, the same place well known for less-than-legal video, music and software filesharing.)

Now, here's where you come in. They need people to seed these torrents for this to work. Peer to peer filesharing works by sharing the bandwidth load across the entire community wishing to receive the content.

Please take a moment to check out their torrents, download a BitTorrent client (I recommend uTorrent) and start downloading. In the process, once your downloads are complete, leave your client running for a few days (or forever) so others can benefit from you having downloaded the files.

Jesus has met The Pirate Bay. Now lend a hand and help Jesus meet the world!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wireless data cards

My business colleagues have already noticed a funny little thing in my laptop bag of late. Due to some business availability requirements, I recently started carrying a Sprint wireless card (from Millenicom) and a Cradlepoint personal hotspot (the PHS300 battery powered unit).

If you're looking to take wireless data on the road with you or there is simply no other broadband option at your home, a wireless data card could be for you. The only caveat is data cards only work where there is cellular signal. Luckily in most of the US there is at least one company who has decent cellular signal everywhere humans exist in all but the most rural of rural areas.

Our communications website has all 5 major carriers' offerings in one place to make comparing easy. Check it out online - wireless data cards. The carriers represented include Alltel, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

I generally recommend starting with Sprint's service as the benchmark. Sprint wireless data cards do not have limits on how the service can be used and generally perform better than the competing products in most markets. Sprint has long been the road warrior - and tech enthusiasts choice - because they do not have the 5GB transfer limit that Verizon does.

If you're in an area where Alltel is prevalent, an Alltel wireless data card is a good first start since Alltel and Sprint have reciprocal roaming agreements. So in populated areas (major metros) you can roam in Sprint and at home you'll be on native Alltel. I personally live in Alltel territory and the good news is my Spring card works in the reverse also - it lets me roam on Alltel.

AT&T is a good choice... sometimes. The wireless data cards by AT&T are limited by what AT&T's network can deliver. Good news in that statement is AT&T can provide ubiquitous - if but slow - coverage across their entire network. Much of AT&T's network performs at GPRS speeds (not all that much better than dial-up). Major markets have been upgraded to UMTS and as the new 3G iPhone approaches other markets should be seeing their upgrades coming online soon.

The last choice for power users - and anyone with sense - tends to be a Verizon Wireless data card. Verizon is a bit protectionist. (Now isn't that an understatement.) While their cards often perform well, their limits are widely reported. The most important one is the 5GB transfer limit on their service. For all but the lightest users this can be a concern.

Regardless of your choice, a wireless data card comes in handy for anyone who needs to take their internet service with them. And likewise it comes in handy for people where the wired infrastructure fails us (or is outrageously expensive). The last time I was in Las Vegas for a trade show I saw many exhibitors using wireless cards to avoid paying the convention center's "internet tax" - in most cases a $600 per day charge for a mediocre internet connection in their booth.

So... get wireless and go forth and surf!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Save money at places you're already shopping

Tonight, apparently I was bored. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) There was something on HSN (yes, the cable shopping channel, yes really) that I wanted. But I'm a tightwad when it comes to buying online. I expect to be able to use a coupon, get free shipping or some other sort of promotion on everything I order.

Now, yes, I'm aware that people like me are the reason so many online retailers went bankrupt. Oh well. Still I needed an HSN coupon. Well, I'm a existing customer so I can't use their juicy 15% off any 1 item first purchase coupon. A reasonably exhaustive search netted no usable coupons. Well poo.

Then something caught my attention. Most all of the major ecommerce sites have paid referral relationships. Great... but I don't want to manage hundreds of referral links and agreements. So I did what I always do. I went digging.

At the end of my digging I found a neat program called BigCrumbs. There are some competitors I was already aware of - like FatWallet and eBates. BigCrumbs' model is much like Telarus' master agency model, automate, automate, automate and pass as much money to the end users as possible.

So it turns out that BigCrumbs has relationships with most of the majors - including HSN. And on HSN purchases if you click on the BigCrumbs link (or use their bookmark) before you go shopping you get 7.2% back on all purchases except electronics and clearance, which yield 3.6%.

That means if you bought a $100 piece of jewelry, you would automatically get $7.20 back via BigCrumbs. It's sort of like an automatic rebate.

Some of the deals are even wilder. For example, right now through Expedia using BigCrumbs you can get 50% off on Hertz car rentals plus 1.8% cash back. That's astonishing!

For eBayers, you get 36% back of the fee of the transaction! You read that correctly... you get 36% back on the fee the seller paid to eBay for the auction! So you get to dip in eBay's pocket and take money back you didn't pay in the first place. Wow.

Beyond that, BigCrumbs also lists any coupons and special offers that apply to the site you're about to go shopping on. For a tightwad like myself this has to be nirvana.

Take a look for yourself at their Special Offers page, sign up and start saving today. You can even just use their special offers page to save money without signing up. (Of course you don't get the cash back then.)

Now I guess I should sit here and write out a Thank You note to HSN for the 7.4% I'll be getting back tonight. No thanks to their stingy coupon policy. All thanks to BigCrumbs.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Revival Breaking Out Across America

If you're not tuned into GodTV or one of the major prophetic ministries in America you might have missed the news. Revival - real healing and spiritual revival - is breaking out all across America right now.

Rick Joyner of MorningStar Church in Charlotte, NC (technically Fort Mill, SC) received a word from the Lord which prompted a conference called Honoring the Fathers earlier last quarter. The word was that if we would honor the spiritual fathers who came in previous generations, the Lord would pour out an unparalleled revival across the nation.

In early April, a Canadian evangelist and prophetic healing minister named Todd Bentley went to Lakeland, FL to minister there at a church called Ignited Church. During their meetings the Lord powerfully visited the church and miracles of healing and deliverance became common.

Bentley and Ignited Church continued the meetings on through April. On Monday of this week, April 21, GodTV started carrying the revival meetings live on the television channel via satellite uplink.

Along the way, word spread through the evangelical and prophetic communities about the revival happening in Lakeland and many visited it with the intent of bringing it back to their own home towns.

One of the places where it has broken out is in MorningStar Church in Charlotte where Joyner had held the Honoring the Father's Conference. It started this past Monday in quite an unusual way.

MorningStar's CSCL (K-12 Christian Private School) had 2 students who had been down to Lakeland, FL to Bentley's meetings. During a religion class, they gathered on one side of the room and started praying. What precipitated throughout the day was a full-scale revival in the school. Class was canceled and everyone moved into worship and release down in the conference center on-site.

Here is a video from that day:

Throughout the week, every day has seen a bigger and bigger annointing, presence and glory of the Lord building in the facilities and meetings. 250 people showed up on Wednesday night for a spontaneous worship event... 450 people showed up on Thursday for a youth service. And Friday night's School of the Spirit service was packed.

MorningStar's leadership has committed to continue the breakthrough meetings right into next week's Business in the Kingdom Conference. The services are available through their webstream and I highly recommend tuning in.

Now is the time for revival in our nation. The economy is tanking. We're in a crisis of real leadership. And husbands and wives across the country find themselves faced with challenging financial and personal decisions thanks to the credit woes, bad choices in a booming economy and a tightening in the employment sector.

If you need a miracle, need your faith rebuilt, or just want to see the Lord moving like this generation has never seen, get to one of these meetings. MorningStar will be chronicling its holy spirit breakout on the web here - Holy Spirit Breakout. Bentley's Fresh Fire ministry chronicles the Lakeland events here on their blog.

This is truly a revolutionary time for revival. We are sitting in the middle of a fire beginning to burn across our nation... and it will be the first move ever chronicled live on the web, broadcast around the world and documented fully on film and by media.

My personal thanks go out to the Media and Audio-Visual Teams at Fresh Fire, Ignited, MorningStar, GodTV and every other ministry experiencing this outpouring. These guys behind the scenes are making it possible for people all around the world to participate in, receive miracles and transfer the outpouring to their own towns and areas.

In one month, the Lord has used multimedia to shrink time and space. An omnipresent and omniscient God just needs us to connect with Him. And He can build all the connections we need - whether they're via satellite, TV, internet streaming, someone laying on physical hands or being in a meeting.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why I stopped watching Oprah... And won't vote for Obama

Almost 6 years ago, I stopped watching Oprah. My spirit detected a change in her that completely turned me off. I couldn't stand to even pass by her on the TV. Fast forward 6 years... the reality of Oprah's real beliefs is being seen in her fruits. She has become what amounts to the Queen of the New Age Movement.

I am a democrat. A conservative, religious democrat. Yes, I'm aware of the contradictions in that statement but they are no more contradictory than "compassionate conservatism" espoused by the radical Replican left.

It appears that Obama worships at the Temple of Oprah. Just as he would not condemn the character of his own pastor who spewed racially charged pseudo-doctrine, hate and malcontent from the pulpit for over 20 years, you will not see Obama condemn Oprah for her New Age pseudo-religio babble.

Watch for yourself... hear in her own words. Then carefully consider the people she supports and the people who support her.

The Church of Oprah Exposed. Consider yourselves warned.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

When $1 stands between you and a customer

Over the past two weeks, I have watched a large national communications carrier - who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty... for now - fall all over itself within its order processing and legal groups.

Those of you who know and and know the frequency with which I touch telecommunications contracts can safely assume it's not the first time I have seen it happen. And it certainly won't be the last.

In this particular instance, however, the idiocy of the processes and people involved traveled to new stratospheric heights. So high, I'm surprised the oxygen masks didn't deploy.

What did they do? They refused to process an order because it was $1 (yes, 1 dollar) short of the revenue required to be able to send the customer a bill. Somewhere along the way, some corporate idiotog implemented a process whereby only customers billing $200 or more per month are entitled to invoice billing. And they did so in a way that completely eliminated all flexibility, sense and reason of the part of their provisioning staff.

My client had ordered services totaling $199 - which with tax would be well in excess of $200. (To the tune of ~$214 per month.) But... Thanks to the idiostratespheric policy in place, the legal department of said carrier refused said order because the billing amount was under $200. That's right, they outright denied an order because it was, on paper, $1 too small an order to qualify for invoice billing.

I'm all for processes and procedures... until they cause a company who is struggling in the marketplace to lose a new customer over $1 in revenue.

When did the telecommunications world - especially the CLEC world - grow so stupid that it would willingly turn down a paying customer who would generate profit for the company? We're not talking about $25/mo DSL service here with no margins. This is real business service with real margins.

Maybe somewhere along the way I missed the class all these MBA graduates apparently take on "How to screw your customer and trash your business' reputation."

In this particular case, I was able to have a "come to Jesus" meeting with all of the management involved and force them to fix their flawed policy.

What's unfair however is the fact that most normal customers wouldn't have had ready access to all the decision makers required to fix the problem. Instead, they would simply have been steamrolled by an inflexible policy, stupid management and a company who refuses to admit it's so screwed up someone needs to hit the "reboot" button and start all over. Somewhere along the way, this CLEC forgot who it was and has, as such, forsaken its customers.

We are in an economic downturn. All the CLECs had better be listening: LEARN TO LOVE YOUR CUSTOMERS AGAIN! Those who fail to heed the message will find themselves sitting in bankruptcy liquidation or being sold off to some vulture capital firm who will milk as much money out as possible and then close down the company.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

BusinessWeek ViewPoint: There Is No Gas Shortage

But Washington, Wall Street, and ethanol and oil and gas companies want you to think there is, says automotive expert Ed Wallace

"They see speculation in the market, I see decline in global inventories. I don't think this is a big surprise, that we've had a jump in price when there has been a decrease in crude inventories."— Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, Bloomberg News, Mar. 5, 2008

"It should be obvious to you all that the [gasoline] demand is outstripping supply, which causes prices to go up." — President George W. Bush, Associated Press, Mar. 5, 2008

One wonders if verifiable facts ever get in the way of this administration's statements on issues that are critical to the average American's wellbeing. After all, last time I checked, when politicians are elected to public office, or appointed, as is Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman, they must take an oath to the American people before assuming their new positions. How can they forget a sacred oath so quickly? Were they daydreaming when they took it, so it never meant anything to begin with? Maybe it's just another promise you have to make to get into office: When you're securely incumbent you can ignore even solemn oaths you took.

Obviously, the two quotes that led this article came from discussions concerning the current high price for oil on the futures market. Bodman appears to be protecting the speculators in oil, as opposed to looking after the interests of all Americans. President Bush, apparently, has never talked to the Energy Dept.'s Energy Information Agency to see whether gasoline demand is actually up. More troubling, the writer of that particular Associated Press article obviously didn't look up the EIA's numbers to verify the President's assertions. They weren't accurate.

1. There Is No Shortage

Gasoline reserves on hand are at the highest levels since the early 1990s, which is remarkable considering the nation's refineries have been cutting back on the production of gasoline because their margins have declined. In fact, average gasoline reserves on hand have risen since this past October, while oil reserves in this country have gone up virtually every week this year—and only fog in the Houston Ship Channel that kept oil tankers from unloading their crude one week kept it from being every week.

In the same Bloomberg article that quotes from Bodman's CNBC appearance on Mar. 4, he also said that it was thanks to ethanol that the gasoline problem isn't even worse. He then added that the fact that making ethanol is forcing up prices of other farm commodities, including hog and chicken feed, is "nowhere near as important as trying to relieve pressure on [gasoline] supplies."

Of course, there is no pressure on gasoline supplies in this country as of today, but Bodman's statement must have made eyes roll among the executives at Pilgrim's Pride PPC; the Pittsburg, (Tex.) poultry producer announced 1,100 layoffs on Mar. 13, closing one processing plant and 6 of their 13 distribution centers because their company's outlay for chicken feed went up $600 million last fiscal year and was on track to increase by another $700 million this year.

Here's the scorecard, in case you missed it. There's no shortage of gasoline or oil in the U.S. today, and we have near-record reserves on hand. Meanwhile the Congressional mandate for ethanol has jacked up the price of chicken feed for Pilgrim's Pride, which is the U.S.'s largest processor of chickens and turkeys—by $1.3 billion. And that's for just one company processing chicken. This is what passes for acceptable to our Energy Secretary?

2. Demand Is DOWN, Yet Prices Are UP

Just so we can all get on the same page, here are the verifiable facts on oil supplies, production, and gasoline demand.

In January of this year, the U.S. used 4% less petroleum than we did a year ago. (Oil demand was down 3.2% in February.) Furthermore, demand has been falling slowly since July of last year. Ronald Bailey of Reason Online has pointed out that worldwide production of oil has risen 2.5% in the first quarter, while worldwide demand has grown by only 2%. Production is expected to increase by 3.3% in the second quarter, and by as much as 4.1% by the third quarter. The net result is that the U.S. daily buffer for oil production against demand, which was a paltry 1.5 million barrels as recently as 2005, is now up to 3 million barrels in excess capacity today.

So what is going on here? Why would our Energy Secretary say there's a supply and demand problem when none exists? Why would he say that speculators have little or nothing to do with the incredibly high price of oil and gasoline, when it's clear they do? President Bush—a former oilman—gives the ever-growing demand for gasoline as the primary reason prices are so high, yet that notion can be dispelled with one minute of research. That's the problem with rhetoric; it rarely matches the facts.

3. Speculation is Up, and the Dollar Is Down

On the same day the President and our Energy Secretary made those foolish comments, no less an authority than ExxonMobil (XOM) Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson was quoted by Marketwatch as saying, "The record run in oil prices is related more to speculation and a weakening dollar than supply and demand in the market." He added, "In terms of fundamentals, fear of supply reliability is overblown."

As for the speculators, in 2000 approximately $9 billion was invested in oil futures, while today that number has gone up to $250 billion. Now, if any publicly traded company had an additional $241 billion put into its stock in the same period, its stock would rise out of sight too—even if the company was not worth anywhere near that amount of market capitalization.

Moving on to the weak U.S. dollar as a primary cause for skyrocketing oil prices—there is "some" truth in that statement. But consider this: The dollar has depreciated 30% against the world's currencies since 2002, while the price of oil has gone up 500%. So is it the weak dollar that has caused a 500% increase in the price of oil, or is it the extra $241 billion worth of speculation? You can make the call on that one.

Possibly just to ensure oil prices don't respond to real-world market conditions, Goldman Sachs (GS) forecast on Mar. 7 that turbulence in the oil market could cause oil to spike as high as $200 a barrel. This flies in the face of all known information—but then again, Goldman Sachs is the world's biggest trader of energy derivatives, and its Goldman Sachs Commodities Index is a widely watched barometer of energy and commodities prices.

What Is Washington Thinking?

Rounding out the list of experts discussing our oil and gasoline situation is Bill Klesse, head of San Antonio (Tex.) Valero Energy (VLO). He spoke in San Diego a week after those comments from Goldman Sachs, the President, and Secretary Bodman. Believe it or not, Klesse said poor margins may cause Valero to sell one-third of its refinery operations; he stated that poor margins in recent months had caused planned refinery expansions—which would have produced 500,000 more barrels per day—to be canceled. Moreover, according to a report from Reuters on Mar. 11, 2008, Klesse recently released the information that gasoline production has been curtailed in response to slowing demand.

Imagine that: Refiners cut gasoline production, yet gasoline reserves have grown to their largest since late 1992. So much for "surging demand."

Klesse also called for the government to start imposing a tariff on imported gasoline to protect U.S. refiners' profits. Protectionism? As famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith correctly said, "In America, the only respectable form of socialism is socialism for the rich."

Which takes us back to the original question: Why is Washington doing everything it can to convince us there is a shortage when there isn't one? After all, the only people they're protecting are those heavily invested in oil futures—and that's to the detriment of all other Americans.

We're Paying for What?

When it became undeniable that poor decision-making by company executives had put a respected 85-year-old U.S. institution in financial peril, why did the Federal Reserve rush in to save investment bank Bear Stearns (BSC)? Of course, we need to restore confidence in our financial institutions, but why protect the personal assets of those who were responsible for the mess? Both the corporation's officers and its board members should contribute their personal assets toward saving the bank they put in the ditch—the bank all of us are going to pay to bail out.

Instead, the Bush administration is protecting those responsible for creating yet another speculative bubble in oil futures, and is protecting investors in the ethanol industry—much to the detriment of food-processing companies such as Pilgrim's Pride. And the net result of all this is that the prices of crude and gasoline rise ever higher thanks to a "shortage" that does not exist, while food costs are soaring thanks in part to the ethanol mandate.

The Federal Reserve lowers interest rates, but the cost of mortgages goes up six weeks in a row—and last month Bank of America (BAC) credit-card holders started being charged more than 24% interest on new purchases.

This is what they call "Republican Prosperity?" Ronald Reagan was both right and wrong when he said, "Government is not the solution, government is the problem." And government is still the problem. Instead of a fair and open market they gave us a free-for-all marketplace with no regulations at all, which lately these "bubble boys" have sent south for all of us.

One would guess that Washington missed the obvious: Protect all U.S. consumers and you're also protecting business expansion.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Solidarity. Pantone solidarity: T-Mobile Threatens Engadget For Use Of Magenta

No it's not an April Fool's joke. T-Mobile has decided to give well known techno-blog Engadget the riot act because they're using the color magenta for the phone related reviews.

Maybe I should give T-Mobile the riot act for using magenta since I was using magenta in my personal business logo 10 years before T-Mobile became an international company! Magenta, purple and lime green no less. So I definitely have first use rights on them... and I have the real USPTO copyright on my logo so they can't claim ignorant.

I mean "P" sounds like "T" after all. I think that's confusing to people. They might mistake T-Mobile for me.

Mean while, Engadget has released a helpful comparison chart for those who might become confused by the similarities between Engadget and T-Mobile.

So fellow bloggers out there, if you'd like to help take a stand against oppressive lawyers who are simply being asshats, Ryan Block posted a solidarity glyph that you can use on your own website. Feel free to snag it below or on his website.

No company should be able to trademark a color. Maybe the use of a color in a certain logo. Definitely not the color as it relates to a specific topic, broad concept or business segment. Colors are simply expressions of wavelengths of light. God created them all. HE holds the sole patents and trademarks on them then you very much. Who do these crazy lawyers think they're going to sue next? Prisms and the sun? The nerve.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

They shrunk the toilet paper!

Kimberly-Clark and apparently most other toilet paper manufacturers have gone and done something over the past few months they hoped we wouldn't notice. Well, this morning, I NOTICED!

They've gone and shrunk the sheet size of a sheet of toilet paper. In some instances not once, but twice!

Toilet paper used to be almost uniformly 4.5x4.5 inches. It was pretty much square. Now it's shrunk as much as 30%.

I'm a single guy and I prefer moist wipes for the bulk of my bathroom business. But sometimes you just need or want toilet paper. A family pack of Cottonelle Ultra from Costco lasts me about a year. Well, I finished off a pack before my recent trip out west and bought a new pack at K-Mart on the way home from the airport (along with sinus meds... a whole different story).

I thought I was buying exactly what I'd always used - Cottonelle Ultra in the purple package. And that purple package can be hard to find since not every store carries it. But somewhere in the past few months Kimberly-Clark thought they could pull a fast one and get away with it. Along the way Cottonelle Ultra became "Cottonelle Not-So-Ultra".

The new Cottonelle Ultra is no longer square. Oh no. It's now 4.2x4.0". Yes, 1/2" shorter in one direction and 1/4" shorter in the other. The nerve!

This size difference was immediately apparently to me when I went to use it. The only nice way I can put it is... it didn't "span the gap". And it's not nearly as soft as it used to be. From all appearances, they made it a little thinner too - which likely accounts for the lack of softness.

Now maybe the rest of America has smaller butts that I do. Uses the bathroom less than I do. Or maybe Kimberly-Clark is courting the children's demographic. Whatever they're doing, they shrunk my toilet paper!

I'm not the only one to notice this. Over at RoutingbyHumor, they have documentation of the incredible shrinking Scott Bathroom Tissue has been through over the past few months. It's down to 4.5x3.7". At least it's only shrinking in one direction.

I understand that the cost of production has gone up on resource intensive goods like toilet paper but really... downsizing toilet paper in an America where butts certainly haven't downsized in a long time. That's what I call deceptive product engineering. And further it's what I call a pain in the a$$. (rim shot)

So now I'm the proud owner of a 12-pack of toilet paper that no longer suits my needs. I always considered Cottonelle Ultra to be the Lexis of toilet paper. So when that Lexis becomes a Ford, where do you go?

If anyone out there knows of a super soft toilet paper that's still 4.5x4.5", send me some! (Or at least let me know what it is.)

I guess it's a good thing Wal-Mart recently upsized their Equate Flushable Wipes from 50 count to 60 count... with no increase in price mind you. I'll certainly be using more wipes now that the toilet paper just doesn't cut it.

Friday, March 07, 2008

MobiTV's Incompetence

So the mobile TV stream provider for Sprint has proven themselves completely incompetent. They are using plain text XML with no passwords, no nothing to send the links for video streams to Sprint handset users on the Sprint TV Xtra service.

Now after some smart people posted the xml results on a well known mobile phone website - Howard Forums - they're threatening to litigate against the site owner. When are corporations going to learn that you can't litigate away software engineer stupidity?

So, in case the Howard Forums thread gets pulled, here's what has their panties all up in a wad (strip out all the br's that Blogger insists on inserting):

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My favorite cake - "Peter Paul Mounds Cake"

Made with a cake mix, coconut filling and chocolate icing.


* Cake:
* 1 box chocolate or chocolate fudge cake mix

* Filling:
* 14 ounces frozen coconut
* 16 regular marshmallows
* 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
* 1 cup granulated sugar

* Icing:
* 4 squares unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
* 3/4 cup brown sugar
* 1/3 cup water
* dash Salt
* 1/4 cup butter

- Bake cake as directed and split layers.
- Mix milk, sugar and marshmallows; melt. Stir until sugar is dissolved and marshmallows melted. Remove from heat and stir in coconut.
- Put this mixture between each split layer and on top.

Make Icing.
- Melt chocolate with the brown sugar; add salt, water, and butter.
- Simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Add 1 teaspoon vanilla; mix well.

Put chocolate icing on top and sides of cake.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

US News Article & Rebates

Attention Dallas Friends: If you are available to discuss experiences you have had with rebates being returned, please email daniel ~at~ anyion dot com. You need to live within reasonable proximity of the Dallas metro.

So those of you who read US News & World Report in the print edition have already seen my face this week in the article about "Why Shoppers Love to Hate Rebates". Special thanks to Kimberly Palmer for running across my blog and picking up comments I had made about my experiences with rebates. For those of you online readers, sorry, they didn't include all the photos from the print edition online. Hopefully I can post an electronic reprint sometime.

I've been a rebater for a long time. It probably comes from the fact that by nature I'm a tightwad and by nurture I'm a shopper.

As an update to Kimberly's article, as the article was going to press I received the Toshiba HD DVD player rebate back DENIED again. This time for "failure to correctly complete the form." Now I'm not sure how it could have been incomplete... seeing as how everything was filled in. And especially since I returned it to them with the previous submission, all the UPCs, and their previous denial letter.

In my personal opinion, I think Toshiba's rebate group already knew about Toshiba giving up on the HD DVD market. And they were just denying all the rebates to save having to spend the money on them.

No matter. At least they returned the UPC panel with the denial. So I taped the UPC code back on the box, packed up the Toshiba A20 HD DVD player, took the copy of the receipt and headed back to Wal-Mart with it.

Thankfully, Wal-Mart still has a 90 day return policy on electronics excluding computers. So 2 on a quiet morning at my local Wal-Mart last week, I ditched the Toshiba HD DVD player and its associated rebate hassles and walked out of the store with $100+ back in my pocket.

For those who would like to become rebate nuts like me, here are some other tips that have helped me stay on top of my rebates:
  1. For online purchases, always print the rebate out on the spot while you're shopping. You may never find the form again. Sometimes items can completely disappear from a site before you get yours in the mail. I've had this happen to me with Fry's Outpost and

  2. Keep all your rebate forms posted somewhere you can easily see them. I use a cork board for this. I pin rebate forms that are waiting for something to come in or occur to the board near my desk. That way I see them often and they don't fall into the cracks of my mind.

  3. If you have multiple rebates in play at a time like I do, use a spreadsheet or some other electronic organization method to track how much is owed to you, when it was sent and when it was purchased.

  4. Keep copies of everything! I use my scanner for this purpose. (A Brother MFC actually.) I scan and electronically file copies of every receipt I get - even non-rebate related ones. I'm the physical world, I'm a packrat. But in the digital world I'm able to organize that mess into something easily searchable and instantly retrievable thanks to OCR and PDFs. Before I went digital I used to have boxes and boxes of receipts. Come tax time, my account is grateful too!

  5. Don't buy something on rebate that you can't afford at full price. The nature of rebates is that a certain percentage of them are simply going to fail, be rejected or go belly up. At best you'll be floating that money for a good month or two. At worst you'll never see it again. While most retailers will try to accommodate you if the rebate company goes bankrupt or otherwise fails to honor their obligations, it might take you 6 months to a year to get your money back. And in the case of purchases from small retailers or online shops, you might never get any of the rebate money back at all. And if you didn't have copies of all your paperwork, expect to be turned away at the door regardless.

  6. Don't buy something on rebate that isn't a good value before the rebate. This ties back in to #5. If the only reason the price of something is attractive is due to an attached rebate, move on. The manufacturer or retailer is playing a game with you and you'd be best to stay out of that game. Think of rebates as "found money" and treat them as such. A rebate should be an incentive to buy a particular product over a similar product from some other company. It should not be compensation for an overpriced or underperforming product.
Happy Shopping!!

UPDATE 2/25/2008: For those who missed a copy on the newsstand, here is a scan of the article. Hopefully I'll have a real reprint to post soon.