sub eMail addresses

March 08, 2007

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Someone needs to build a sub email address feature. Or, perhaps it would be called prelude. The way it would work is you have a base email address that doesn't actually receive any direct mail, but provides the foundation. To use the email service, you would simply apply a prefix to the foundation email address. It would be necessary to allow for this to be done on the fly. The server would simply forward all the prefixes to the proper foundation address. For example, a foundation address might be: asmith1@example.com Then, when you wanted to use an email address on a site you could do something like siteName-asmith1@example.com All the email from that site would be easily identified as coming from them. Especially useful in determining if they sell your address to third parties. The secondary benefit would be the ability to filter each email address individually. So, if you made one purchase from the site that you provided siteName-asmith1@example.com for and you no longer cared about getting their correspondence, you could simply tell the server to drop all the incoming emails for that address into the trash.


Firefox 2 spell check

March 07, 2007

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I moved to Firefox 2 a little while ago. One of the nicest features in it is the fact that it has spell check built into it now. So, when I write a blog post, I no longer have to use another application to catch all my stupid spelling errors. Very nice addition.


Buying cars

March 07, 2007

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A few years ago I checked out from the library one of the Motley Fool's (http://www.fool.com) books. I think it was The Motley Fool You Have More Than You Think : The Foolish Guide To Personal Finance. I first heard about The Motley Fool back in probably 1998 or 99. At that time, they seemed very much about helping consumers make smart personal finance choices. Now the big thing they seem to do is sell stock newsletters. This is kinda funny because if memory serves that's one of the things that they say never to do in the book I read. They still have what I think is a lot of good info, but it seems like they want to make a fair chunk of change as well. Anyway, one of the ideas that I like the best in the book was a technique they put forward for buying a new car. It turns out, they have the basic process on their site now too. It's pretty long and starts here. They talk a lot about research and prep which makes sense but the thing that was completely new to me is what they get to on step 12. Basically, instead of going into a dealership, you send faxes to a bunch of dealerships asking them to provide a bid for the car you want and provide them with a fax number to reply to. (I think this comes from the book which was done in 2001 or so. E-mail is probably just fine these days, but I'd use a throw away address.) I love this idea. I don't plan on buying a new car any time soon, but if you do, it's worth going over the process the Fool's outline to see if you want to give it a shot. My guess is that it would work like a charm. Not to mention the basic benefit of having to deal way less with the full court press sales pitch. Probably goes without saying that you will still need to be on your toes for all the other little fees and financing things they will try to get you on.


More about money

March 05, 2007

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I will likely be writing a lot more about money and finance. That may sound like a big turn off, but I encourage you to read and think about it and I'll give you my reasons why: 1) My mom is a widow and at age 58 she lost her job. Even though she has a masters degree and has been director of several different organizations, she was out of work for over a year and a half. Because she didn't have substantial savings, she could not afford to simply retire. In fact, I had to loan her money during the time she was out of work. 2) I believe the primary reason she is in such bad financial shape is that my parents (through no real fault of their own) never learned how to handle money in a way that provides for the future. 3) Since my dad passed away about ten years ago I've done and continue to do a lot of research about money and finance to make sure I don't end up in the same boat. 4) I want to share what I have learned in hopes that as many people as possible can avoid being in the same circumstance as my mom. The good news is that if you earn at least a decent wage the financial mechanics of ensuring you have enough money to take care of yourself and your family are relatively easy. The earlier you start the better, but it's never to late. I'm working with my mom now to help her get on a better track. The biggest rub comes in having the personal (or family) discipline to carry through with changing the way you think about, use and save money. If you are like me, a good strong motivational factor helps to maintain discipline. In my case, this motivation comes from my mom's situation on two levels. First of all, I don't want to end up in her shoes when I'm 60. Secondly, since I am an only child, there is a very real possibility that I'm going to have to provide for her at some point in the future. I don't normally post very personal entries, but my hope is that her circumstances provide motivation to anyone else who might need it.


Open Source Alt

March 04, 2007

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Happy day. I just found: osalt.com (Open Source Alternative). It has mappings between open source and commercial software so you can easily check to see if there is an open source alternative to an app you use. They seem to keep their alternative list paired down nicely. This is a great advantage as there can be a ton of alternatives to some of the more popular commercial applications. The problem is lots of them are dead projects that didn't get very far or are so "beta" to not really be useful at all. With luck, they will just maintain a list of the top alternatives.


Marketplace Money and Credit Cards

March 04, 2007

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I really started paying attention to money when I was in college somewhere around the age of 20. Largely after I started listening to the NPR show that was then called Sounds Money (now called Marketplace Money). Incidentally, I think pretty much everyone should listen to that show. You can listen to show online and they also have podcasts. Generally, the show has a basic theme for the week which isn't always of interest. However, if the main theme isn't directly related to me, there are almost always good, down to earth discussions that are very helpful. I can largely credit this show with my first introduction to how money really works. For example, one thing they tend to talk about is how it's not in your favor to carry credit card debt. My freshman year in college I signed up for a credit card and proceeded to max it out (to I think $500) pretty quickly. Not a big deal as I could easily afford the minimum monthly payments. Of course, the interest the card was charging (if memory servers around %16) wasn't working in my favor. I kind of got this intuitively each time I paid the bill but it never really clicked. So, over the next few years I kept adding to my credit card debt. Naturally, the credit card companies helped me out in this by upping my limit each time I moved in around the max. It wasn't till I started listening to the show that the actual amount I was actually paying started to click. And more to the point, the fact that I was effectively paying way more for things than the initial purchase price because of the interest really got to me once I understood it. At that point in time, I was still in school and was pretty much self supported. I wasn't starving by any means, but I certainly wasn't raking it in. Based mostly on what I had learned on the show, I started to pay off my credit cards. I would still charge things to them occasionally, but in general I was trying to pay them down. I don't remember when I finally got them completely paid off, but once I did, I kept them that way. This is not to say that I don't still use them. I put most of my purchases on my credit card these days. The difference is that now I pay it off in full each month. I don't even know what the interest rate on my card is right now, because it doesn't really have any baring on me. I never pay interest because I always pay the card balance off in full when the bill is due. I'll be the first to say, that it was not easy to pay off the card. This came from two levels. First, I was in a college job when I first stated so there wasn't a tremendous amount of income heading my way. The second thing was the fact that as soon as I paid some down on the card I would be sorely tempted to use the newly available credit to get any number of things. This was much harder to deal with. What finally helped get me there though was reminding myself that I wanted any interest to be coming into my pocket instead of going out. Discounting Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and the other few super-duper-ultra-rich in the world, there will always be more things out there that we want than we will be able to afford. Credit cards (and the like) allow us to get some of these things when we really shouldn't, but they charge a hefty price for this. Not only do we end up paying the interest to the them that wouldn't be necessary if we made the purchase in cash (or paid off the card every month), but it also prevents us from saving money for ourselves. This is badness compounded by the fact that we also lose the growth that those savings would have otherwise provided. Your classic Double Whammy. The wild thing about this is that if you manage to tip the scales in the other way and save money so that interest and other returns are coming in, after a while you'll have a lot more money to do things with. If you don't, it's not hard to end up paying for things forever with much less to show for it. So, all this is to say, if you have a credit card and you carry debt over month to month and pay interest on it, I'd recommend really taking a look at what you are spending on and see if you can't start to swing things back in your favor.


Budget Wino

March 04, 2007

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I like wine. I know very little about it. I generally pick my wine based on the label when I go to the store because I've done no prep work. Enter The Budget Wino. The blogger reviews $10 bottles of wine and provides reviews of them. The reviews are nice to go check out, but the best thing about the site is the spreadsheet he provides. Armed with this, it makes the trip down your local wine isle much more fruitful and less prone to the hit and miss of the "that label looks cool" selection process. The secondary benefit is that I don't generally remember the wines that I like. With the spreadsheet, I'm hoping to fine that my tastes are in line with his so I can just piggy back off his selections. The first one I tried was the Yellowtail Reserve Shiraz. It was quite nice. Incidentally, the spreadsheet is put together with Google Apps. This is the first time I've really seen the product used. It's a great use. Make a simple spreadsheet and then share it with what I'm guessing was very little fuss or muss. That's a trend I expect to see continue.


Public Domain and the Internet

March 04, 2007

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Just found a link to LibriVox. From their front page: "LibriVox provides free audiobooks from the public domain". That's awesome. I'm a huge fan of audio books. In fact over last Christmas I was talking with my mom about the way I learn and the fact that I had a lot of "resource classes" when I was a kid. Something I didn't know, but I don't guess should have surprised me is that I am by default much more of an auditory learner. With a lot of help I basically overcame this, but I still don't read as fast as someone who processes the written word with natural ease. When I read I basically have to "hear" the words in my head so they go through the audio part of my brain. With audio books, I don't have to expend the extra effort. The catalog at LibriVox isn't that deep yet, but the first notable ones I saw include: "Aesop's Fables", "Pride and Prejudice", and the Gettysburg Address.


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© Alan W. Smith
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