Monday, July 21, 2008

When "Green" Equals Annoying

KXAN's 6:00 news highlighted Office Depot's new location at 2620 W. Anderson Ln. for what seems to be a rather annoying way to be environmentally friendly. There wasn't a printed story I could find on the station's website, but the video is at, where you can see that this new location, in an effort to be more green, reserved several spaces near the entrance for low-emission or fuel-efficient vehicles.

Look, I'm all for more low-emission or fuel-efficient vehicles for those who want them (I'm driving my paid-for beater into the ground, thanks), but this is ridiculous. It's also a misinterpretation of the LEED standard (which, conveniently, is online). LEED, as you may or may not care, stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. On the whole, it's a great idea. Unfortunately, its implementation is not always smooth, often due to points of compliance which are vague and difficult to understand.

For example: it was stated in the news story that setting aside parking in this manner was to obtain LEED certification. That's all well and good; there is, in fact, an optional credit (4.3) in the standard that mentions providing preferred parking spaces for alternative fuel vehicles. Unfortunately, this credit also requires that the facility provide alternative fuel vehicles for 3% of the building occupants. I sincerely doubt whether Office Depot went out and bought a hybrid vehicle for anyone.

In its story, KXAN spotlighted a mother driving several children in a van who was none too happy to have to walk further because she was driving a minivan. And, really, she shouldn't have to be penalized in this way...a van with four occupants gets more passenger miles per gallon than one person driving in a hybrid. And, guess 4.4, which Office Depot apparently did not pursue, involves providing preferred parking for carpools or vanpools, into which category the miffed mom in question would have fallen. (To be fair, the credit also requires that no more than the minimum number of parking spaces be provided, and I don't know if Office Depot had total control of that, given that they are, if I'm not mistaken, sharing that parking lot with a lot of other facilities.) As it was, the mom stated that she felt unwanted at that particular location.

Of course, there is always another option for those who don't qualify for the golden parking spots near the door: the OfficeMax at Gateway Plaza is less than 2½ miles away.

And by the way, KXAN...if I'm watching online news video at your website, is it really necessary to force me to sit through a 15-second ad for the site I'm already visiting?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Unfairly Forgotten Song #2: Get Used to It by Roger Voudouris

Right around the same time as Randy Bachman and Ironhorse were hitting the charts with "Sweet Lui-Louise", Roger Voudouris saw his biggest hit, "Get Used to It", climb the charts as well, eventually peaking at #21.

There used to be an imeem widget here.  It's gone now.

Once again, Bob FM hasn't even heard of the artist, and even worse, if you find this on a compilation album, there's a good chance it's a re-recording (as is the case on the YouTube video I found).

Edit June 2010:   The imeem widget with this song has disappeared (thanks a bunch, MySpace), but I did find the original (not re-recorded) song on YouTube.  Apparently this song did quite well in Australia, hitting the Top 5 there.  And I so like the way they apparently brought a wind machine into the studio where he recorded this little clip. 

Small, but Occasionally Effective, Ways to Get Free Stuff

In all this so-called financial mess, at least there are some things that you can do if you want free stuff. There are also some things that say you can earn rewards with them, but really, your return for the time spent makes a lot of these programs not worth it. So, let's discuss the good and the bad:

Bad: Pay to Read e-mail programs

There was a time, say, around 2000, when you could get paid just to have a bar of advertisements running at the bottom of your screen. I myself made a fair amount of money doing it. Around that time (and even a little before, in some cases), programs started to pop up promising to pay money for every e-mail they sent in which you, the recipient, clicked a link. And many programs did, in fact, pay. So far, so good. Unfortunately, most mainstream advertisers realized that they were getting a raw deal, and for the most part, the programs which paid the most have dried up. Now the only programs left pay virtually nothing per e-mail, so if you want to get paid, you have to sit at your computer all day, clicking e-mails. This is not my idea of a good time.

With that said, there may still be a silver lining to this rather large cloud. Hopefully I'll be able to revisit this shortly.

Potentially Good: Pay to Search

Along with the get-paid-to-surf and get-paid-to-read-email programs in the early 2000s, there were also a few get-paid-to-search programs. And, like the others, these didn't work, and most are gone and forgotten. (The ones that are remembered are not remembered for good reasons.)

With that said, there are a couple of choices available if you want to give this type of program another shot. A new site called MySearchBonus gives a point for each valid search (with certain time limits and per-day limits) and offers for redemption, once you have enough points, items ranging from gasoline cards all the way to LCD HDTVs. The issue I have with them is the quality of their search results. They used to use Google to route their searches; I believe they now use Alexa. As far as I can tell, this has led to a marked dropoff in their results. They also don't recognize quotes in search terms; this isn't great if you are searching for a phrase.

The other option these days is Microsoft's Live Search cashback, which offers users the chance to find great deals on online items for sale. If you buy something through a qualifying deal (marked with a special icon), money is added to your cashback account.

Live Search cashback, I suppose, could be a good thing for people who buy a lot online; however, I'm not a big fan of the spend-money-to-get-money paradigm, so I'll stick with MySearchBonus.

Good: Free Music

I think I'm the last person left who hasn't subscribed to Napster or Rhapsody or any of the other sites that offer unlimited MP3 listening for a monthly fee. But just in case I'm not the only one, I have found a site called MPFree that, for things as easy as entering your e-mail address or zip code, will give you free music. (Obviously, I recommend a throwaway Gmail-type address for this type of program.)

Now, this site isn't perfect. They're not always good at crediting songs earned, and the songs credited are redeemable not as MP3 files but as DRM-infected WMA files from (There are ways around this, of course, not that I'd know anything about them.) But, I have earned 66 free songs so far, so I'm not going to complain about that.

This site has sister sites that offer chances to get more music or even iPods through sweepstakes or through earning enough points, but you can get MPFree credits by signing up for those programs, so there are some free songs for you already.

Of course, with all these programs, your mileage may vary, but these are ones that have worked well for me.

GMA's Lousy Financial Advice

ABC's Good Morning America has made a point in recent weeks of emphasizing just how bad things are financially. Whether or not you agree with that point, following some of the advice they give is not only unhelpful but potentially quite harmful. For example, consider comments made this morning by financial contributor Mellody Hobson in a segment called, somewhat inauspiciously, "Borrowing 101". Now, some of the worst ideas somehow didn't make it into the article, but you can always watch the video, which is also available on the GMA site.

Now, with a title like that, they weren't exactly singing my tune anyway, but things went from bad to worse when Ms. Hobson said that people having difficulty getting an auto loan should consider a lease. Sure, that's a great idea if you want to spend even more money for the car, and don't forget you either lose the car after three years or have a balloon payment. Hey, how about driving the old car a few more years!

But Snowed, I get 4 miles per gallon, and gas is expensive!

Okay, and how much extra will you be spending if you add a big new car payment, even with the lower fill-up costs?

Here's another phenomenally bad idea (as a "worst resort", according to Ms. Hobson): ask a friend to cosign a loan for you! That's a great idea if you want to lose a friend, but not a smart idea otherwise.

And this idea, in the same vein, did make it to the article:
It may sound crazy, but now may be good time to entertain a loan from friends or family. That's an option you should leave on the table. If you do that, it's extraordinarily important to document it, because that protects both parties and helps preserve the relationship in the event of a problem.
Yes, Ms. Hobson said this should only be done "in a pinch", but even with everything documented, you have the loan hanging over your head. It will change your family dynamic, and not in a good way.

Hey Snowed, you sound like
Dave Ramsey!

Fine by me...he says this stuff better than I do.

(By the way, the segment just before on the same show was entitled "How to Keep Your Money Safe". Here's my advice: don't watch "Good Morning America".)

EDIT: That didn't take long...they changed the title to "Panicking? See How to Protect Your Money". Well, for starters, stop borrowing it from other people!