Late Friday afternoon I came back from some errands and ran into a buzzsaw of activity at work punctuated by - sigh - a call from AMEX Merchant Services. These guys call me every 3-4 weeks to "chat me up" and see if they can suck up my time trying to tell me how to use their services more (or something). It drives me fucking crazy because they don't leave a message and AMEX is very important to us and with fraud prevention I feel that I HAVE to call them back. Time after time it’s the same, “Hi Mr. Bahr, we just want to make sure that you are satisfied with our services and see if there is anything we can do to help your business grow?”
Now, usually I say something like, "increase my line of credit back up to where it was before the Great Recession of 2008," but that just leads to a greater time-suck that I know will not yield any results. (Kind of like going into your bank and they keep trying to refinance your mortgage - not hearing you when you say you are UNDER WATER). So, this time I just said, “you can help my business by not calling me each month to waste my fucking time by trying to see how else you can insidiously worm your way into my life and business. Just STOP CALLING ME!”
I won’t go into details but it was another few minutes before I just hung up. They are relentless.
Then there are those idiots at AFLAC (yes, the stupid duck people). What is AFLAC’s deal? They come into your company and offer (sell) your employees additional benefits (insurance). The pitch to the business owner is that we can claim we offer all these fabulous benefits but don’t have to pay for them nor deal with them. Of course not, the employees pay. It’s a very very clever way of simply reaching individuals and selling them insurance, under the auspices of our business.
And, about a year ago, we tried it. We gave our employees the hour off to gather in OUR conference room while the AFLAC rep pitched their products (no doubt earning our employees’ eternal gratitude). Bottom line? Could not get enough of our employees to sign up. End of story.
Except for this. AFLAC does not have their own sales force – they use outside independent reps, basically tons of fortune-seeking down-on-their-luck insurance salespeople. And they all get the same leads. (and this partially reflects the Curse of The Inc 5,000, where getting named to the list simply brings a boatload of useless sales pitches, hucksters, and boiler-room penny-stock pickers to your phone line.)
So, every 2-3 weeks someone NEW “from AFLAC” calls me.
“We already tried you and it didn’t work.”
“Well we have some NEW products! When would be best to come in, next Tuesday at 10 or at 11:30?”
“How about never? Does never work for you? Click.”
… and another thing!
"I have an interest in my family tree. I looked at ancestry.com and have not committed to anything yet. I did, however, start the basic family tree on the site for free. I understand you have done (extensive) research and may have some ideas and experience with web sites. When you have time, I would be interested in your feedback."
Here was my answer, with notes on software and web sites.
I am assuming you want to build/record your family tree. The best programs are Reunion on the Mac and Family Tree Maker on a Windows PC. Family Tree Maker bought ancestry.com a few years ago so they are linked and it is a powerful pitch for using FTM. FTM just (finally) came out on the Mac. I would google for reviews of Family Tree Maker on the Mac if I were to go that route.
You may or may not know or recall that the reason I threw away my Windows (Dell) PC and got a Mac 3.5 years ago was because of Family Tree Maker. Well, not exactly but close.
FTM - at least back then - had a nice feature that automatically saved your work no matter what you did - meaning, after you opened up the program, did some work on your family tree, and closed the program, all changes were automatically saved. That was good....except that the program saved the files to their own special partition on the drive - like it's own separate file cabinet. One day I got a Trojan worm that I researched and realized it would take 6-8 hours of work to get rid of. So I called in The Geek Squad. They came, recognized the problem and "blew away Windows." (reinstalled it). They saved all the files in the normal places....but not the FTM files which were hiding in their own special little spot. And so. Ten years of work down the drain. Gone. Vanished. (I did not back them up becuase...I did not know where they were) That's why I switched to a Mac - no viruses, no worms, no trojans. Ever.
So, when I did this I found that.....FTM was not available on the Mac. I researched it and found Reunion was the best Mac program. I have it and use it but sparingly. Sadly, my interest is carefully typing in all of the basic info, getting the dates right etc etc has waned. I just don't have the heart.
OK, so Ancestry.com. This site is useful but it is also a typical internet money-suck come-on huckster site. Have you ever tried to look up a person on the web? Or a phone number? The most basic info is available free. BUT the REAL stuff you want is behind a paywall! And if you pay a little, they'll show you a little more. But then if you want, say, criminal reports....you can pay more....and then.... It's like Internet porn - (or....er....so they say!!)
So....I have not used ancestry.com for a while. There is a little available for free. Then they want your money. And they will keep wanting your money, endlessly. Let's say you want the ship your great grandfather came over on....buy the Ellis Island ship registry database. They will tell you if there are people named, say, "Bill Johnson" in the database. Why yes there IS a Bill Johnson in the database....buy now! BUT is it YOUR relative??? They have no idea. Of course they are motivated to have as much info as possible and as many names as possible to suck you in.
Ancestry.com also is big on linked family trees. Let's say my mother's cousin has "done" her family tree. Well that's almost the same as mine!! That can be a big help!! BUT sometimes these are inaccurate (I should say, "usually" they are inaccurate). So you might find a gold mine, you might not.
What I would do and I am contemplating this is pick the 6-month period or one year period when I am ready to dive into this stuff again and then buy a 6-month or 1-year subscription and get taken gleefully by ancestry.com again.Go ahead and prepare to spend maybe a few hundred dollars. MUCH of the stuff they have is in the public domain, but what the heck. It gives you a huge head start in some cases. It is certainly not all bad. The Web is the best friend and worst enemy of family tree research. It offers a wealth of information (for example, there are people who go to graveyards and copy down all the info on the stones and put the info on the web - invaluable!!), but lots of the info is INACCURATE. Real family tree research involves primary records: birth, marriage, death certificates and other on PAPER official records (think Obama!). You have to have the backup. I have a large tree on my mother's side and there are plenty of places on the web where amateurs who are linked some way in my tree (strangers) have things wrong. So you have to be careful with what you find on the web - use the web as a resource that leads you to some way of verifying what you learn.
Who should care? If you get it right, future generations will thank you and it's your unique personal history, shared only by brothers and sisters. Your kids will thank you.
By the way, the best place to start is free and it's called familysearch.org This is the Mormon site. You may know that the Mormons have the largest genealogical research facility n the world out there is Salt Lake. Why? I am told that the Mormon's believe that if you convert to Mormonism, then all of your ancestors were secretly Mormons too. Therefore it was important to them to know who your ancestors were! I have not confirmed this.
Hah - Now I have:
"The Mormon interest in genealogy is closely linked to their doctrine of baptism for the dead and their belief that the family unit will continue to exist beyond mortal life. Mormons trace their family trees to find the names of ancestors who died without learning about the restored Mormon Gospel so that these relatives from past generations can be baptized by proxy in the temple. Once baptized, if the ancestor's spirit has accepted the Gospel, they will be able to be together with the rest of their baptized Mormon family in the celestial kingdom. For the Saints, genealogy is a way to save more souls and strengthen the eternal family unit."
So, to answer your question. If you just want to fool around, go to familysearch.org. If you want to build a family tree using software, try Family Tree Maker for a PC (which includes 6 months free of ancestry.com I think) (although how deep they let you go is another story), or, on a Mac either Reunion of FTM for the Mac (which again has the ancestry.com free offer). Also, once you start searching around, there are many many many places to find stuff. Ellis Island ship registers are freely available for example. You just have to google and search around a little bit.
What started out as a rather harmless response to Ms. Fernbach’s bright outlook on the weather soon turned nasty. The baling and binding department of the Blatch Corrugated Packaging Company of East 163rd Street in the Bronx went out for it’s weekly team lunch at the Papadopolis Diner this Thursday. The team of 8 co-workers had been working together at Blatch for upwards of 30 years and the contempt bred by familiarity finally went over the top.
The New York Metropolitan area had suffered it’s seventh significant storm which left a record amount of snow on the streets. While navigating the slush and piles of snow the group began cursing winter heartily, “enough snow, ENOUGH, already…”
Fernbach, whose exceptionally cheery disposition was normally tolerated by the cynical, bitter group of crusty New Yorkers, made the mistake of retorting that she liked the snow. She was exclaiming this and looking toward the heavens saying, c’mon winter, bring it on,” when the first snowball hit her in the mouth.
The group soon piled on, sending a hailstorm of packed snow and ice toward the hapless optimist until, finally, baling foreman Bruno Roccotelli pushed her into a snowbank. The group, laughing, then trundled off to the diner, not realized that Ms Fernbach was still dazed and in need of help. Fortunately a good Samaritan saw the incident and was able to transport the injured idealist to a nearby hospital. The baling and binding group was horrified when they heard the news and offered Tylenol and flowers to Ms. Fernback while still finding a way to blame the entire incident on the “goddamned snow.”
Many of us name our cars. Oh, we’ve had a Skip, a Haakon, and let’s see.., Nalla, Peppy, Dexter, and Declan. And then there was my most recent set of wheels, known only as “The Hated Lexus.” Why, you may ask, was this premium 2005 ES 330 despised so fervently by it’s owner? Basking in the glow reflected off the brand new Caspian Sea-blue 2011 Volvo S-80 T6 All Wheel Drive vehicle which has just replaced the Hated Lexus in my driveway, I’ll tell you.
I bought the car two years ago under duress. The previous car, Nalla, the 1997 Volvo, had swerved after hitting some debris on the Long Island Expressway and made the ultimate sacrifice of itself to keep it’s two passengers safe after smashing into the concrete divider and thankfully not getting hit by oncoming traffic. So you can say, pun intended, that I got the Hated Lexus “by accident.” My rental car while searching for a replacement was a pickup truck. Fun if you’re moving into a new apartment or have dirt bikes I suppose.
This was 2008. The Fall of 2008. The dreaded, horrible, wretched and terrifying Fall of 2008. The car was not the only thing that had crashed. The very last thing on my mind, given the state of the business and the world, was buying a new car. We hurriedly looked around and decided that the Lexus was the best bet – three years old and with about 20,000 miles on it.
Some things I noticed right away. Like the complete absence of places to put your wallet-sunglasses-pens, and other junk you bring into your car. Or the high-buffed overly glossy interior wood trim which made me feel like I should be chewing gum and wearing some gold chains. The slick steering wheel always felt vaguely greasy in my hands. There was a center console located back by my right shoulder. It consisted of a deep storage area, and a very shallow one on top of it – maybe an inch deep. The problem here was that the latch to each compartment was right next to each other so if you wanted to open the top (shallow) compartment and grabbed the wrong latch the top compartment would go vertical….and all your stuff in there would go flying.
The electric windows were overly sensitive – the slightest touch sent the window all the way up or all the way down. To open a window only partially involved a comical up-down-up-down-up progression until I finally zeroed in on what I wanted. I figured it was just a matter of time before I adjusted to it but no. This was in the minor irritation category, like the dashboard readout of time, temp, radio settings etc…. that would disappear when you put on sunglasses.
There were a number of attempts by the car to think for you that I did not enjoy. The headlights always stayed on for 20 seconds after I left the car leaving me to wonder if they would go off by themselves or if I had somehow screwed up. The trunk had no “handle” – you could only open it by pressing the key fob. Doors would automatically lock once you got moving - makes sense to an engineer but how many times do you stop to pick someone up quickly in town and don’t bother putting it in Park? Answer: a lot! And each time I would have to slap my forehead and say Oh right, I have to unlock the doors (that I did not lock)
There was no ipod connection (one year too early). The car was absolutely and inexcusably terrible in snow. There was some sort of oddball airfoil on the trunk that prevented the use of our bike rack. I asked the dealer if he could remove it. Nope. I did not trust the car dealer (who wanted to change my brake and transmission fluids for about $180 each) and they were located about 15 miles away in the other direction from my short commute.
The rain sensor was beyond annoying. Instead of a controllable intermittent wiper setting, you had no choice for intermittent except to let the car do it on it’s own with a rain sensor. At first it didn’t work at all. I even poured a bucket of water on the windshield. No reaction. Of course all the time I was trying to get this to work I was driving in rain with my windshield wipers OFF, very safe, that. I took it to the dealer and they said, oh yes, common problem and they fixed it. But now once it got going, it started going very fast. Or again not at all. It never ever worked. The Volvo has a rain sensor too but you can turn it OFF (which I DO) and use a manually adjustable intermittent wiper setting.
And so, it became The Hated Lexus. Did it drive? Yes? Good power and handling? You bet. I desperately wanted to find some way to get along with this car but it was just far too annoying on a daily basis. The Hated Lexus is no more. And symbolically, so too is the nightmare of the Fall of 2008.
Welcome, the Beloved Volvo.
The man, Ted Bahr, of Laurel Hollow, NY, apparently did not intend to set a record when he booked a four day trip to America’s 10th-most-visited National Park, accompanied by his 12-year-old son, Peter. But by the second day, it became clear that something was stirring in the air. With the encouragement of his enthusiastic son, the two visitors made the most of their trip, spending mornings traipsing up the coastal mountains to reveal “incredible,” views, also termed “unbelievable,” as each new treeline was crossed and more “amazing,” views came into sight.
Afternoons were spent climbing and scrambling across the coastal cliffs, over giant boulders, up rock walls and engaging in the local sport known as Acadian Parkour. By the third day, record keepers were having trouble keeping up with the stream of declarative adjectives flying out of Mr. Bahr’s mouth. The final tally, aided by an exceptionally crisp and sunny last day of the trip was 378 “fantastic’s,” 490 “incredible’s”, 503 “amazing’s,” 728, “unbelievable’s,” and a staggering 1,381 uses of the word “awesome,” for a grand total of 3,480 utterances, or, 870 per day.
The previous record for a four-day period was held by Buckwheat Stewart of Hound Corner, Alabama, who set the mark of 3,263 before, during, and right after the 2007 Daytona 500, at Daytona International Speedway in central Florida.
The first practice concerns Google’s AdSense scheme. This program allows you – as a website owner – to place a small box on your website into which Google dynamically loads text (or now display or video) ads. The ads are context-sensitive, meaning if your website talks about tropical fish, Google will send tropical fish ads to your box. If someone clicks on the ad, they generate money for Google and money for you, depending on what the advertiser has been paying and other algorithms. Ahh…the famous “Google algorithms.”
Unlike virtually any other partnership known to man, Google will not reveal what percentage of the revenue they pay you. You just get a check. You got a problem wit dat, too bad. What are we, the website owners, getting? 30%? 35%, 19%? No idea. And the contract with Google plainly states that they will never ever tell you. So think of this now, you are Google with millions of clients and a month to go in the quarter. Need to increase revenue at a 100% margin? Just change the formula! Last quarter they paid the website owners 30%. This quarter they pay 29%. The math is too painful to do.
Now this is just conjecture, right? Google wouldn’t do this, after all, that would be evil. To that, all I can say is that 5 years ago we got checks in the $600-700 dollar range monthly. More recently that had trickled down to less than $100 despite having tripled our page views served. Recently we decided it wasn’t worth it and took Google AdSense off our sites. You decide.
And another thing……
How about the HP 4480 printer we (my family) bought a year or so ago that tells YOU when to replace the ink cartridges. No, not warns you. The printer demands you replace the ink cartridges NOW or it will not print. WTF?! I’ll decide when the ink is too faded thank you, after all aren’t I the one driving the car? What if I have run out of cartridges and I just need one little copy? What if I don’t care if the magenta is 10% too strong? It’s an outrageous gun-to-the-head move by HP to sell more ink - I mean who even knows how empty these things are. In the old days when HP gave you a warning, (and it was up to you what to do with it), you could get another 20-80 copies out of the cartridge. Not now. Printer won’t let you.
Nice way to juice up revenues but I’m buying a Canon or Epson today. And will never ever ever buy another HP printer again.