Sabtu, 30 September 2006

0 13 Government Resources for Small Businesses

The more I look around online the more I see that some areas of the government are trying to help people. Unfortunately, they just don't do a good job of marketing it. The FCIC, otherwise known as the Federal Citizen Information Center, has been stockpiling good tutorials and tips for a while. Here are the resources that they list for Small Businesses. When possible, I've included the PDF link as well.

I've haven't read all of them yet, but it's certainly on the agenda for the weekend.

There are clearly additional government resources for small businesses, but this is not a bad little library to save and start with.

Kamis, 28 September 2006

0 Get your Resume to the Top of the Pile

Hey great - another day of work at this place. Are you looking forward to it? Yeah, you're not alone. Over the years I have known dozens of people that were fed-up at work, laid-off, fired, downsized, replaced, upset with compensation, mismanaged, etc. Heck, I was one of these people. What boggles my mind is the approach that most people take when looking for a job. Let me walk you through this because there is definitely a right and wrong way.

First, here is what happens too often and please note that I see it as a long-time hiring manager and I see it as a friend to people that need a job. We will call this the "wrong" process.

  • Search for ways to create a resume
  • Create Resume
  • Send Resume to company or recruiter
  • Wait for a phone call

Really, what is that going to do other than add your piece of paper to a pile? Is any resume that different than the rest? No, you are wasting your time, creating false hope, and worst of all you're not changing the situation you set out to change. Sure you may get lucky with this approach but it's not likely.

Here is what I always do and what I tell friends to do. Nothing is fool proof but this approach has certainly helped several people. Sure, if you are not qualified you're not getting the job but this at least takes you out of the herd of sheep applying.

  • Create a Resume - and make it great. I created mine almost entirely based on a book named, Resume Magic: Trade Secrets of a Professional Resume Writer.

  • Look for Jobs in and out of your field. Now is your chance to choose something you like so don't be shy about it. It doesn't matter where you look for jobs but I generally choose the usual suspects:,
    HotJobs, Vault, and Careerbuilder.

  • Edit your resume's objective for each position you apply to. It has to be pertinent to the field and it has to be in line with the level of aggressiveness the company has. For a small tech company, you would use words or terms like quick to adapt, nimble, exciting, buzz, aggressive, eager, growth, etc. For a huge bureaucratic company, you'd choose different wording that wasn't as intimidating.

  • Edit the bullet points under your previous positions to use keywords that are important to the company and position. If it's a sales job, talk in percentages; 182% is always more attractive than $50,000 in new sales, 99% efficiency is always better than 572 issues closed, etc.

  • Don't be afraid to have 5 or 6 versions of your resume, I certainly do. Just be sure to keep an accurate log of your activity. Track who you talk to, dates, and the name of the resume file sent. I just toss all of this information into wordpad.

  • Send the appropriate resume in to the companies you are interested in AND a second tier that contains companies you'd settle for. Your financial and employment situation will dictate this. If you are in a high demand position, you can skip the second tier.

  • Wait 24 hours

  • Call the person you sent the resume to. If you simply faxed or emailed it to a generic email address, just stop and listen. Your goal is to talk to the hiring manager, not HR. Of course HR will be involved but they are the resume collectors. You need to have someone internally, preferably a manager, ask HR for your resume. This will put you on top of the pile. Here are a few ways to find the hiring manager:

    • Call the company's main phone number and shoot too high on purpose. If you are going for a sales job, ask for the VP of Sales. If you are going for a programmer job, do the same thing but ask for the position that fits. By calling too high in the company, the executive's admin will tell you who to call after you mention the ABC position (what you applied for). The admin's #1 goal on the phone is to protect the boss from solicitors and garbage. She/he will gladly refer you to the right person just to get rid of you. Now you can call that manager saying that you just spoke with Mr. Exec's office, and they indicated that you're the person hiring for the ABC position.

    • If you cannot get to the right person, just ask for Accounts Payable. You will always be transferred immediately. When you get there, act dumb and say that you applied for ABC position and the company operator was connecting you to the head of the ABC group. They will happily transfer you 99% of the time - again, all they want to do is get off the phone - it's human nature. Now you are being transferred internally so your call may have a better chance at getting answered because the caller ID will indicate "internal call" or something similar. If you get a voice mail, that's fine - now you have a name. Don't leave a voice mail. Call back until you get the person or eliminate them as the possible hiring manager. Voice mails will just delay things.

    • If all that fails, Google the company and try to get another manager's name. Most of the time, company's name executives on their website or they are listed in an online directory somewhere. If one Exec doesn't work, try another. You will continually use the same type of script until you get routed to the person that says, "Yes, that's my team's opening".

    • If you keep getting stumped by an admin, call at 7:00 AM the next morning. Execs start early, admins generally don't. Calling that early definitely increases your chances of getting to talk to someone with power. To do this, you will need to either have a direct phone number or the company will need to have a touchtone directory.

    When you get their voice mail, collect their name and hang-up. Again, no voice mails. Now you have a name that you can constantly ask for and you should do so until you get them live.

    When you finally get them on the phone, introduce yourself and say that you know X, Y, Z, about their company and you've applied for the ABC position. This needs to be a very brief statement. Do not ramble. Mention that your phone call is to briefly get a better understanding of his/her requirements in real terms (not HR terms). In most cases, this person will either be open to scheduling a 10-minute conversation with you or they'll answer your questions right there. I usually try to push for the 10-minute conversation and I make sure to mention my name at least twice during the conversation. I admit, they may tell you to take a hike and send you to HR but at least you are showing how serious you are. Anything you obtain is inside scoop that no other applicants have AND your name is inserted into this person's brain. You can then take this information and use it by contacting HR indicating that you've already talked to Mr. Exec about the ABC position and you want to be sure that they have your resume on file and you want to know specifically when interviews are being setup.

    If you are applying to IBM or some huge company, I am telling you now, this navigation process will be difficult. However, it's very possible. In the past, I've navigated through IBM, Sun, and American Express. If you want the job, try it. What do you have to lose?

The goal, like I mentioned earlier, is to build your name's value. You want that hiring manager to ultimately ask HR for YOUR resume and by calling them directly, you are engaging them and subtly asking them to take action. From what I have personally seen, less than 5% of the applicants do any of this. That means you're getting a huge leg up and you may even bypass people more qualified than you. I can tell you now that the aggressive, excited, eager person will get hired every time over the ultra-passive person that may have a few better credentials. Remember it's not what you know, it's who you know. By engaging the manager directly, you are beginning a relationship that other applicants won't have.

At some point, you will have an interview and I plan on writing about that soon. In the meantime, just know this: I would ditch a lot of the books that give you tips on interviewing - they're a waste of money. The bottom line is that you are going to have to remain aggressive in the interview and you are going to have to know what you're talking about. If your resume contains a bunch of fabricated details, be ready to be caught. If you have skills in certain areas, you should answer questions and then transition the conversation into your strengths. Again, I will detail this very soon.

- Jay

0 Autumn is the time for Cheap Trees - Plan your Landscape Now

Autumn is by far the best season to add to your home's landscape. Not only are the weather conditions generally prime for planting, but all of your local nurseries are in liquidation mode. If they don't sell their inventory, it dies and is ultimately lost revenue. In fact, if you were to drive past a nursery, I would almost guarantee that you'll see a sign offering anywhere from 20-80% bushes, trees, and plants.

BUT - before you pick up some green on the cheap, you need to know where you intend on planting it. Do not do what we did last year and let it sit on the back porch for weeks while you make up your mind (it gets cold fast).

Planning a landscape is tough for me because I have a difficult time making permanent decisions. However, it really is easy to do. A quick Google search will share a lot but your chances of getting good information quickly is so-so.

Here are some tips from some Dummies that are more popular than we are.

Draw the base plan:
  • Measure the lengths of all edges of your property and draw the outline of your yard on paper.
  • Measure and draw in the outline of your house.

  • * Be sure to place the house exactly where it sits on your lot.

  • Measure and add the garage, tool shed, greenhouse, yard barn, outhouse, chicken coop, or whatever other outbuildings currently exist.
  • Measure and draw in whatever paving is already in place and that you want to keep — the driveway, front walk, basketball court, and so on.

  • * Don't assume that right angles and parallel lines that are formed by walls, fences, driveways, and property lines are always perfect. Verify the distance between objects with as many measurements as you can.

  • Measure and draw existing fences, big trees, hedges, perennials, vegetable garden, and any other current features you want to keep right where they are.

  • * Indicate the precise location of a tree trunk or plant by measuring the distance from it to two known points, such as two corners of the house.

You will eventually choose the types of plants to populate these areas but if getting it done cheaply is the most important thing, I would take the plan to the nursery and make your choices while onsite. Referring to a book on trees may not be the best option because you will naturally choose things that you cannot afford - regardless of the liquidation at the nursery.

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0 The Cheap Menu, Feed Your Family for $45 per week

We have all seen random blog posts related to saving money by changing a your daily routine. 101 Ways, 25 ways, etc. Usually, you'll come away with a few good ideas and it's up to you to figure out how to implement them.

Today I happened to see an actual menu that details a week's worth of meals large enough to feed 4 people for only $45. To me, that sounds pretty cheap. I told my wife about it and her first comment was, "Sure but it's probably processed food and a bunch of crap". In reality, it's not at all. The meals appear to be relatively healthy (although I am not a dietitian) and the majority of the meals sound decent. If you see one that sounds nasty, I am sure you can easily replace it.

Here is a sample of one of the days on this menu. This image may be a little small but you'll get the idea.

You can take a peak at the full menu at Family Resource or you can just grab their pdf.

Rabu, 27 September 2006

0 Getting to Nowhere - Why Are Your Meetings Lousy?

Good meetings are good only when they produce actionable results. That only happens when the leader of the meeting or conference call sets an idiot-proof agenda, maintains order and remembers the human factor.

Today is Wednesday and I have been in 9 internal meetings this week that I wasn't leading. Only 2 of them were well-planned so I had 7 bad, bad meetings. Here are a few traits I noticed from these meetings and in some cases, I've added how I combat the issue:
  • On average, the first 8 minutes were spent discussing sports, weekend plans, kids, etc. Basically, it was absolutely unproductive and cost us time and money. How much? Well on average, the meetings had 6 participants so a total of 48 minutes that were lost for EACH meeting. Multiply that by 7 meetings and you have over 5 hours of lost time! I don't know about you but I'd kind of like my team to get those 5 hours back.

    • Getting passed this is very simple. As the leader of the meeting you need to be on time and you have to show some authority. I am not saying you should bring a gavel and bang on the table, but plan to be 2 minutes early and try to kill the small talk as it begins.
    • If the meeting was scheduled to begin at 2:00, you should start at 2:00 regardless of who you are waiting on. There is no reason to delay 6 people just because 1 person is late.
    • If you've invited someone that is too social, engage them in a project related conversation the second they get into the conference room/call. Do NOT give them a chance to bring up any hobbies, cats, kids, etc.
  • Issues that were important to more vocal people got the attention. Issues important to the project itself, seemingly got pushed aside.

    • This is counter-productive and I've seen this a ton. My meeting invitations always include an agenda that people can add things to in the days before the meeting. It is basically a public agenda in the notes section of an Outlook meeting invite. As the manager, I then objectively decide what points are the most important to the project, set the master agenda, and redistribute it the morning of the meeting. Less important issues are handled offline to and only include pertinent parties as opposed to an entire project team. When the vocal people stray in the meeting, it is MY responsibility to reel them in and redirect the conversation.
  • This one has always killed me. A few of the meeting's I've been invited to had 2 or 3 hours blocked off in my calender. I cringe just thinking about it. While certain topics certainly require that kind of attention, you need to watch this because you will always notice people not paying attention after the first 30 minutes. There is an old myth that says a human's attention span in minutes is 10 + the person's age. It's actually on Wikipedia and they don't buy it but I do. Take a look at people in your meetings and see if you agree. Blank stares, doodling, whacking away at their blackberry - you will definitely see it. If people are in a trance, they are clearly not thinking about contributing to your meeting or solving problems. How much does that help you, your project, or your company?

    • This solution is so simple yet people don't practice it. If your meeting is this long, schedule small breaks or schedule a breakout session where teams can work on a task applicable to the topic. You have to break it up somehow and this can be done in the conference room and on conference calls.
    • If someone is really typing heavy on the blackberry, think about how important their involvement is in that particular meeting. Clearly this person either knows everything already or doesn't need to provide input. To be fair, certain issues do require an immediate response, but I've seen people typing away in meeting after meeting for 20 minutes. If they don't really need to be there, don't invite them simply for the sake of feeling important and having a "big" meeting.
  • Things were solved but who is doing what?

    • On most projects people are in charge of certain tasks, and yes, I believe that those accountable should know their responsibilities. However, I've always liked the idea of assigning a note-taker and sending a post-meeting summary to the group. I've seen too many instances where items from the meeting were either forgotten or misunderstood so we had to reconvene again AFTER hours were spent moving in the wrong direction. It's just a waste of resources.
  • The hangover affect costs money. No, we're not talking about cocktails, we're talking about the 15 minutes after a meeting where people congregate and chit-chat after a meeting.

    • My managerial response to this is SO WHAT. After a long meeting, I would let people unwind a little. I know that I can be a boring guy to listen to so I loosen up a little. Let people chat, finish their sandwich, whatever. I'd rather blow 15 minutes now as opposed to settling for an hour of 50% productivity by mandating they "return to their desks NOW".

    As I am about to submit this post, I notice that Business Week this morning explains how Google tries to run their meetings. I am honestly in Google overload lately, but their points are similar what I do:

    • Set a firm agenda

    • Assign a note-taker

    • Carve out Micro-Meetings

    • Hold Office Hours

    • Discourage Politics

    • Stick to the clock
As with anything in life, things done without proper planning often flounder. Spending 15 minutes today properly planning for a meeting tomorrow will absolutely increase the number of solutions the team comes up with. If a meeting is not worth planning, then it's probably not worth having to begin with.

0 City of the Pharaoh

[Image: Cecil B. DeMille's not yet lost city – the set of The Ten Commandments, during filming].

"In 1923," we read, "pioneer filmmaker Cecil. B. DeMille built the largest set in movie history for his silent (and early Technicolor) epic, The Ten Commandments. It was called 'The City of the Pharaoh.'"
Constructing DeMille's instant city was no half-effort: "Sixteen hundred laborers built hieroglyph-covered walls 110 feet tall, flanked by four statues of Ramses II and 21 sphinxes, 5 tons each. DeMille populated his city with 2,500 actors and extras, housing them in tents on an adjacent dune."

[Image: A scene from The Ten Commandments, via NPR].

Not one to leave his creation around for others to use in their own cinematic ways, "DeMille ordered that the entire edifice be dismantled... and secretly buried. And there it lay, forgotten, for the next 60 years," eventually becoming known as the "lost city of Cecil B. DeMille."
But then, in 1983, "a group of determined film buffs – inspired by a cryptic clue in DeMille's posthumously published Autobiography – located the remains of the set. (...) They brought in ground-penetrating radar to scan the sands, and hit pay dirt: the dune-entombed remains of DeMille's dream."

[Image: The lost city, via NPR].

Peter Brosnan and John Parker – the "film buffs" mentioned above – arrived at the site to find themselves "in a field of plaster statuary... [T]here had been big storms, and more set was uncovered than had been seen in 30 years." They thus proceeded with the excavation... about which more can be read here.
Meanwhile, something about this story reminds me (very vaguely) of Skara Brae, a 4000-year old Stone Age village uncovered not by archaeologists but by an especially violent seasonal storm on the far west coast of Scotland.
"In the winter of 1850," Orkneyjar tells us, "a great storm battered Orkney. Nothing particularly unusual about that, but on this occasion, the combination of Orkney's notorious winds and extremely high tides stripped the grass from a large mound known as Skerrabra. The storm revealed the outline of a series of stone buildings that intrigued the local laird, William Watt of Skaill. So he embarked on an excavation of the site."

[Image: Skara Brae, via Orkneyjar].

Orkneyjar goes on to explain that, "[b]ecause of the protection offered by the sand that covered the settlement for 4,000 years, the buildings and their contents are incredibly well-preserved. Not only are the walls of the structure still standing and alleyways roofed with their original stone slabs, but the interior fittings of each dwelling give an unparalleled glimpse of life as it was in Neolithic Orkney."
In any case, combine Skara Brae and DeMille's lost city – then add a few ten thousand years – and you get future archaeologists uncovering, by accident, with the help and assistance of an unseasonal storm, the outlines of a buried city. Washington D.C., say, or perhaps Springdale, Utah. Thing is, these future archaeologists conclude that the city wasn't an actual dwelling place, not a real place to live – they discover far too many parking lots, for instance, and can't believe anyone would willingly live surrounded by those things – instead, they think, the city had been a monumental film set.
Excavations continue – leading to the controversial conclusion that human civilization in North America was really a massive piece of performance art, from sea to shining sea – a cinematic installation upon the plains – and so whatever film had been made there must surely still exist...
Thus begins a whole new, Paul Austerian chapter of future archaeology – in which they hunt for the lost and secret films of a buried North America.

(Thanks, Juke!)

Selasa, 26 September 2006

0 Check your Salary - Is it at least fair?

So we've discussed the various reasons that people quit and the ways managers can mismanage employees. One of the next topics is salary. Instead of blathering for an hour, I think the best exercise for everyone to complete is to see how you currently stack up in compensation. If you were to slightly alter your specialty, would you make more? How about if you packed your bags and went to work for a small company instead of a huge one?

Let start with positions. Here is an IT and then a Nursing pay comparison. These were already completed on a site named

Now let's look at the size of the company:

These are the types of comparisons that every worker should at least look into. Clearly if the job market is sour, you may not have options. Once you are at their site, their salary section allows you to build your own reports and also allows you to add your general location so you'll be able to address any cost of living concerns you may have.

If you decide to stick it out with your current company, you can always muster the strength to go beyond the call of duty and get promoted. thankfully found via

0 14 Resources on Divorce and your Finances

I wish we could only discuss happy topics on Dumb Little Man but let's get realistic - bad things happen. I am passing on a large list of resources that one of our readers sent in. She just went through a divorce and she had 2 major issues (aside from the divorce itself).

First, she went into the divorce with absolutely no knowledge. This cost her a ton because attorney's had meetings to discuss the meetings where they would explain things to her. Guess who pays that bill?

The second issue was that "90% of the sites on these topics are spam sites or attorney's trying to get a piece of the action."

So, if you find yourself in this predicament, here are the resources that one woman found useful.

Thanks Yvette.

0 Firefox extension: Book Burro Saves money on Books

The Book Burro is an extension built for Firefox and Flock. After the typical extension install (1 minute), go to Amazon or some book selling site. Once you on the page of a book, you will notice this appear on the top left of your screen:

By clicking on Book Burro, it will display the price of competing stores and even tell you if your local library has the book in stock. Here is a sample of the results when I looked up War and Peace on Amazon:

Pretty slick. On the screenshot, you will notice the Tools on the top right. Once inside, you can add/remove stores and even associate your searches to your zip code. If a local library has the book available, it will display the library and tell you how far away it is. Keep in mind that they are still adding to Book Burro so the library list is relatively limited at this point.

Check it out at Book Burro. [via]

0 Weekly How-To Podcasts: Ask the Techies

In the mood for a little technical education that you don't have to read? Well, you are in luck. Ohio University does weekly podcasts discussing various tech projects and DIY. They've been at it for a while now so there is already a very nice library that you can tap into whenever you want. Nice part #2 is that you can pick up their feed so you know when they are done with their next masterpiece.

"Each week we put up new video podcasts explaining the latest in cool technology from Photoshop to iPods. We specialize in multimedia and although we use Macs mostly, we do deal with Windows PC issues as well."

Here is a sample of what you can expect:

As you can see, they touch on a lot of topics so if hearing helps you learn (like it does for me), have at it. PS, there are at least 30 more up on their site.

My path to finding these guys: Tech Tips, That Damn PC

0 Firefox Ext: Managing Multiple Gmail Accounts

I have four gmail accounts that I use for random purposes and managing them becomes tedious at times. I've already forwarded all of the addresses to one inbox to avoid having to login all over the place, but I didn't realize that there was an easier way. Note: I didn't realize it because I haven't recently had the time to sift through all the Firefox extensions, therefore some of you may already know about this.

Cyber Knowledge
put together a list of gmail tips and #7 on their list was an extension named Gmail Manager. It's great - I can manage all of my Gmail accounts from one spot and it has a notifier that actually works.

After installing it into Firefox, I was pleased that it didn't mess up any of the other extensions or slow things down at all. So on the lower right side of Firefox, a mouse over will give me a quick summary. I can also select the account to send from on this menu as opposed to selecting it from the Gmail compose page:

[via Tech Tips and iTechtips]
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Senin, 25 September 2006

0 Cutting Costs on Air Travel

Michael Bluejay showed us all how to cut costs on electricity (very, very thoroughly I might add) and now it's air travel. I will share his 10 tips but I highly recommend you visit his site for the explanations. He has charts, graphs, and it's immediately obvious to me that he did a lot of homework on this project.

If that's not enough, he also goes on to compare the travel search engines, provide travel tips, etc.

  • Be flexible with your travel dates

  • Book at least two weeks ahead, preferably three

  • Staying over Saturday no longer necessary

  • Fly mid-week if you can

  • Using neighboring airports sometimes gets you cheaper airfares

  • Always check the round-trip price even if you're flying one-way

  • Avoid busy holiday dates

  • Book multi-city trips using the special search

  • For U.S. to Europe, fly to London first

  • Use the proper website to search for airfare

Visit Michael Bluejay before your next airfare purchase.

0 Print Money at Home (to teach kids)

Looking for a good way to teach your kids about the basics of money? Well, you can either go to the store buy some fake currency or you can do it the free way.

The Money Instructor site allows you to print fake US and Canadian currency from home. Just choose what you want and a worksheet opens as a pdf. Just print and cut!

Money Instructor

Minggu, 24 September 2006

0 How to Grab a Gun in Self-Defense

This will be a fast life tip. By viewing the video below, you will be better educated on some self-defense maneuvers to use when someone pulls a gun on you. I obviously hope this doesn't happen to anyone, but I live in the US and too many people have guns.

0 DIY - Floppy Disk Bag

What do you give to someone that has everything? Hmm, I bet they don't have this. The nice thing is that most people either have a ton of old floppies laying around and if not, they are certainly cheap enough to obtain.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will shut-up and let you take a peak. Pretty cool to me, although suits like Jay may not appreciate it.

Again, not practical for everyone but a good DIY project none-the-less.

Visit Instructables, the masters of very cool DIY projects, for the complete instructions.

0 Anonymous Messages to Annoying Co-Workers

While I believe there may be better remedies to life's little problems on the job, there are times when a co-worker simply doesn't get the hint. Maybe the guy in the cube next to you is humming the song he's listening to, maybe he's a loud talker. Whatever the case, the Annoying Co-worker site lets you send an anonymous message to the person driving you nuts.
Have you ever had a coworker drive you nuts and you just wanted to tell them about it but didn't have the guts?

Your coworker will NEVER know it came from you! Completely untraceable!

Choose from a pre-fab set of emails or you can create your own.

Anonymous Coworker

0 Why did MY car get Stolen?

Every 24 seconds a car is stolen in the US. I have been lucky so far and haven't had this problem. With my luck, it will happen when I am holding 2 kids and bag full of groceries.

While I am certainly no expert on cars, cops, or robbers, I do know some places to turn to for a little prevention. does a great job of explaining exactly what crooks look for and how to protect yourself.

Here's what the crooks are looking for and how they choose cars:

  • Bump against the car to check for a car alarm.

  • Break the window or jimmy the lock to gain entry into a locked car.

  • Cut the steering wheel itself if there's a steering wheel lock.

  • Look for exposed wiring that can be cut or for the central unit of the car alarm to deactivate it.

  • Look for car alarm decals to figure out which method to use to eliminate the alarm.

  • Jump into an unattended running car while the owner is at the ATM, dropping off videos, etc.

  • Look for the car's title, registration or anything with a home address on it.

  • Stake out sporting events, movie theaters and shopping center parking lots for the car of your choice since they offer the largest variety of cars in one area.

  • Find the second set of keys the owner "hid" in the car.

  • Copy specific vehicle information and take it to the manufacturer to get a replacement key made.

To read the preventative portion, visit Edmunds.

Sabtu, 23 September 2006

0 20 Free ways to Save Energy (and Money)

I will be honest with you. I had a run in with Consumer Reports a while back so they are not my favorite organization. However, they do have some solid tips that will save you some money without you really realizing it. All you have to do pay more attention to the little things. Here is the list of things they recommend. Obviously, they detail each item on their site so if you are interested, have at it.

  • Wash clothes in cold water
  • Hang it up
  • Let the dishwasher do the work
  • Don't overdry your laundry
  • Put your PC to sleep
  • Turn down the heat in the winter, and turn down the cool in the summer
  • A cold hearth for a warmer house
  • Lower the shades and raise the windows
  • Put a spin on home cooling
  • Take care of your air conditioner, and it will take care of you
  • Spend less for hot water
  • Think twice before turning on the oven
  • Use the right pan
  • Read the label
  • Dust off the Crock-Pot
  • Clean the coils on your refrigerator using a tapered appliance brush
  • Drive steadily--and a bit slower
  • Roof racks are a drag
  • Stick with regular
  • No loitering

20 free ways to save energy, an excerpt from Consumer Reports' "Complete Guide to Reducing Energy Costs"

0 Answers to Common Mortgage and Real Estate Questions

Getting good advice on Real Estate and Mortgages is tough if you're going to simply google your way through it. Go ahead and google the word "mortgage". With 255,000,000 results, you can be sure that 90%+ is spam. So to help out we're pointing you to a good site that is ad-lite and answers a lot of questions without using confusing language.

Here is a sample of one section's topics:

The site is and this kind of info is all available in their Learning Center.

Jumat, 22 September 2006

0 Edinburgh

In a (very) short story called "The Antipodes and the Century," author Ignacio Padilla describes "a great Scottish engineer, left to die in the middle of the desert, [who] is rescued by a tribe of nomads." Upon recovery, the engineer soon "inspires" his saviors "to build an exact replica of the city of Edinburgh in the dunes."

edinburgh[Image: Edinburgh, as photographed by Jim Webb in 2002].

There, "amidst the rocks of the Gobi," Padilla writes, Kirghiz nomads are taught "the exact height that Edinburgh Castle must attain, the precise length of the bridge that connects the High Street with Waverly Station, the correct calculations necessary to establish the perimeter of Canongate Cemetery, [and] the true distance between the two spires of St. Giles' Cathedral."
With that knowledge – and with lots of rocks – they construct "an elephantine fortress of streets, bridges, and windows." It is "a shimmering haze of towers" that blends in architecturally with the inferior mirages of the desert horizon.
Until it is buried by a sandstorm, then, this new, replicant Edinburgh functions as "a kind of global map in the very heart of the Gobi Desert," we read, "a vague though tangible diorama of the cosmos, its center a replica of the Scottish capital."

(See also Huangyangtan: or, Tactical geoannexation, Part II, at Pruned).

0 20+ Home Hacks for Cleaning or Quick Fixes

Kamis, 21 September 2006

0 So what is a PodioBook? Well, it's free for starters.

Ok so you love books but you have no time to read, and worse - you're broke. Hey, no problem. takes books, does some narration and then through an RSS feed, sends you the audio. You'll get a chapter a week. If your news reader can handle audio, then you are in good shape. If not, you can also use iTunes, Juice, and Transistr.

Oh, by the way, all of this is free. You have to register naturally but aside from that, this seems pretty solid.

I'll stop butchering it, here is how they describe themselves.

"Subscribers to the podcast feed for each book will receive a new chapter each and every week. Some listeners keep it on their computers, some transfer the book to CD, but most (hopefully) transfer the file on to their mp3 player so they can listen no matter where they are.

All the books you'll find on are provided by the authors to you for free. Many authors do this to get exposure for their work, others do it in the hopes you'll buy their next work in development. Still others simply do it for the sheer joy of writing. And while it's not required, you have the option to donate money to the author of your choice. When you consider that audio books run usually 50% more than their hardcover counterparts... we hope you'll be generous. Authors receive one half of all the proceeds from the donations from listeners. The other half goes to the maintenance and upkeep of"
I can immediately think of ways to use this. Toss it in the iPod for kids to listen to in the car, you can listen while driving, I can listen while blogging, etc!

Learn a Foreign Language via Podcast
Free Small Business Podcast Library

0 2 Quick Tips: Quicker MS Office Saving & Outlook Send-Delay

One of our subscribers runs a site named FriedBeef. Coming from a site named Dumb Little Man, I suppose my kudos on having a cool name won't mean much. However, they explain a pretty simple tip that I was already using but Mark and Jay had no idea existed. If those 2 don't know about it, odds are that there are others in the same boat. So, we are going to pass it along. Actually, we're going to pass along 2 of their tips because I found another cool one on their site.

First Tip -

When you are saving a doc in MS Office, you have a few default choices; My Computer, Desktop, etc. Well, what if you have 2 or 3 folders that you are constantly saving to? Are you clicking 6 times in order to save to the correct folder? This tip is a shortcut that tosses your commonly used folders right in front of you.

The full details are available at How to Attach and Save files Faster [Friedbeef ]

The second tip on their site that I really liked explained how to set a default send-delay to your Outlook messages. On more than one occasion I've emailed a nasty message so someone that irritated me. 5 minutes later, I felt like an ass. Thankfully, I have never gotten in any trouble for this, but regardless, setting a delay on emails is a great idea. Even if you can control your emotions, you cannot tell me that you've never sent an email and forgot to attach the attachment...

0 Alluvial Bends

sweet_home_THREE[Image: The Arkansas River. More hypnotically beautiful Army Corps of Engineers cartography].

Rabu, 20 September 2006

0 Great site to buy and sell Gift Cards

I know that Jay has mentioned how he buys $250 gift cards off eBay for like $217. Today, I wanted to show you a site that offers a similar service, but it's dedicated to gift cards and actually cheaper.

Before you blow off the idea, I am sure many of you have occasionally received a gift card to a store that you hated. Well, instead of using it to buy something that adds to your clutter, why not get the cash instead? CardAvenue essentially allows you to list a gift card that you don't want. Other members of the site then bid on your card and obviously the person with the highest bid, is the winner.

The site works in reverse too. If you are looking for a gift card, start you search there. The image on the right shows a small sample of what was recently listed.

Like eBay, there are fees to contend with. Buyers are not charged anything, however, the people selling the cards are charged 3.95% of the selling price + $.50 for the listing. This policy is similar to eBay's although not as confusing. For comparison purposes, eBay's fees are:

"5.25% of the initial $25.00 ($1.31), plus 3.00% of the remaining closing value balance ($25.01 to $1,000.00)"

So, let's see who gives the better value because I am certain that eBay provides more eyeballs. Let's say that I am selling a $250 gift card and that it sells for $200. Here are my fees from each of the auction sites:

eBay: [5.25% of the first $25.00 =] $1.31 + [3.00% of the remaining $175.00 =] $5.25 + [listing fee=] $3.60 = $10.61

CardAvenue: [3.95% of the selling price =] $7.90 + [listing fee=] $0.50 = $8.40

According to my math, CardAvenue is clearly cheaper. In my opinion it's also worth a shot because although you may receive less hits on your auction, I contend that you will get a better targeted audience since the only reason people come to CardAvenue is to buy Gift Cards as opposed to the million other items on eBay.

- Mark

Site introduced to me by Free the Drones.

0 12 Myths of Credit Reports

At some point in the future I will detail how I went from a 610 to a 763 FICO score. Until then, let's debunk some myths because I'd be willing to bet that in every conversation you have on the topic, someone will try to convince you of at least one of these points.

This batch comes from Bankrate and all of these myths are explained by clicking through:

Technorati Lookup: ,
If you really do need a credit report, you are entitled to a free report each year. You can use Annual Credit Reports and NO, we are not paid by of affiliated with them in any way.

0 Getting your Home Ready for Winter

I woke up yesterday and it was 40 degrees outside. Since I am a nice guy, I started compiling a list of things my tenants could do to prepare for the winter. While at it, I actually learned a few things that I could be doing at my house. Thought I would share a few.

  • Doors and windows: Caulk, replace worn weather stripping and broken or cracked glass. Install storm windows. Seal during temperate weather because sticky materials stop sticking when temperatures dip below 50 degrees.

  • Exterior faucets: Turn off the water supply before the first frost. A shutoff valve usually is situated in the basement or crawl space near each exterior faucet. Roll up hoses and store them in a dry place.

  • Sump pump: Manufacturers recommend that sump pumps be examined and cleaned four times a year, and one of those times is now. When sump pumps are exposed to extreme cold, ice can form on the pumps and cause damage that prevents the pumps from turning on. This is especially critical toward the end of winter when snow starts to melt, and the pumps are needed to keep a basement from flooding.

  • Garages: Check the weather stripping at the bottom of your garage door. Moisture buildup tends to cause the bottom of garage doors to warp, preventing them from working properly. Accumulated snow and ice also will keep the door from closing correctly.

  • Fans: Reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward, toward the ceiling. Ceiling fans are a great idea in the summer, when air blowing downward can improve circulation and make a room feel four degrees cooler. A cooling draft is a poor idea when it's cold, however. By reversing the fan's direction, the blades move air upward in winter. This is especially valuable in high ceiling rooms, where heat that naturally rises is forced back down into the room.

  • Filters: Replace your heater's air filter monthly. Your heating system will work less hard, use less energy and last longer as a result. Most homeowners can replace filters and do such simple tasks as cleaning and removing dust from vents or along baseboard heaters.

  • Drafts: Seal leaks with expanding foam. To seal the attic floor and defeat “chimney effect,” pull the insulation back from all areas over heated living space and look for penetrations made for wiring, ductwork, and plumbing. When you find them, apply a small amount of foam to the area. It will expand to nearly three times its original volume, closing off any escape passage for air.

  • Outlets: Electric outlets -- Install foam gaskets behind all the light switches and electrical outlet covers, even on interior walls. These simple foam gaskets help seal the holes created when the outlets and light switches are built into homes. Then use child safety plugs to keep the cold air from coming in through the sockets.

DIY Network Tutorials on:

[PDF] Exelon Energy Corp Winter Checklist

AZ Central, Consumer Energy Center, DIY Network
image by: Woolve

0 DIY: Halloween Decorations

We're big into DIY - especially when it means creating something out of nothing instead of going to the store and spending $60.00 on an $8.00 product. Markups on most items are a ton, we all know that. When it comes to holiday novelties the markups are in the stratosphere.

So before you run to Target for your Halloween decorations, check-out Madhaus Creative. They currently have 10-15 solid DIY projects for the season. Here is a pic of one sample:

Ok, this one's a little spooky. It's the ol' Head-in-a-jar.

Before you visit madhaus, I will warn you that some of the language in the tutorials may be borderline for kids. So, visit the site first and then decide if you want your little Timmy reading it.

MadHaus Creative
Technorati Lookup: , ,

0 Tons of Study Guides and Work Strategies

Every once in a while we come across a site that contains a ton of resources. I usually debate whether we should cut it up and write about them individually to make our site appear really active, but we are a weasel-free establishment so we're just going to point you in the right direction. is a free educational public service that has in excess of 75 different study guides, learning strategies, and lists of tips. A lot of it could easily be used for school or business.

Here are the categories:

  • Preparing
  • Learning
  • Studying
  • Classroom Participation
  • Learning With Others
  • Project Management
  • Reading Skills
  • Preparing for Tests
  • Taking Tests
  • Writing Basics
  • Writing Tips
  • Research
  • Math
  • Science
  • Webtruth

To help make your decision whether you visit this site, here is a sample of the content from the randomly chosen, "Learning with Others" category:

See the rest of at

Selasa, 19 September 2006

0 Google Send to Phone - Free Text Messages

I am all over Google and most of their offerings but I never knew about this. A Google page that allows you to send free text messages. Pretty simple looking form too (although I'd recommend reviewing the Privacy policy).

Apparently, this is a function of the Google Toolbar, thus the reason the URL is

By going directly to, you will notice an error.

By the way, be considerate. Some people still get charged for incoming text messages on their cell phones.

Google Send to Phone [Via Google Operating System blog]

0 Put the Credit Card away and the Phone down!

A while back we mentioned a site that stockpiles user reviews of those crazy products you see on infomercials. Basically, those that can resist the urge to whip out the credit card in the middle of the night could hop onto a site to see exactly how good or bad the product really is.

Just in case any shopping fiends fail to see the need, watch this 30-second video (feed subscribers may have to click through to the site to view):

Don't ever assume anything. Being on TV doesn't validate anything and I don't care if the person trying to sell the item has eighty doctors in white recommending it.

By the way, I think I still have the ab-zapper thing that claims to strengthen and tone your stomach muscles simply by vibration. If you want it let me know, I'll sell it to you real cheap.

0 Why Top Employees Quit

It's like clockwork. Every year a portion of our top talent decides it's time to move on. Once those bonus or holiday checks are cashed, the flood gates open and the resignation letters start flowing in.

I work in a large company and this is a problem that we have with our IT and Sales groups in particular. I reached out a to a few peers with other companies (one is an IT exec and one is actually a Group President) and as an exercise, we took a bunch of historical data and started identifying the factors that led to the annual exodus. We focused only the top 20% of the employees from a performance standpoint. It's not that the remaining 80% is unimportant, however, from a productivity, growth, and brainpower perspective, the top 20% of any group is critical. Moreover, these are the employees that are very difficult to replace.

To do this, we reviewed notes from exit interviews, cross referenced annual reviews and ultimately came up with 178 voluntary terminations from people that would have been considered in the top 20%.

To try and keep focused on macro issues, we consolidated the responses and placed them into categories:
  • Money
  • Unchallenged
  • Too Challenged
  • Dead Company
  • Watch your Levels (and the BS)
Here is the breakdown of the categories. I know someone is bound to ask why it doesn't add up so... Please keep in mind that this will not add up to 178 because several people insisted on listing 2-3 reasons when the question only asked for 1 reason.
  • Money: This one was obvious however we found some interesting nuggets of information:
  • The Stats:

    • Of the 178 files, 83 people listed money as a reason for leaving.

    • 62 listed it as the only reason

    • In those 62 cases, only 8 were at the top of their pay scale - so there was still room to earn more.

    Roughly 46% of the employees that left did so because of money concerns. To be honest, I thought this would be a much higher percentage. I think the most alarming stat to me here is that only 8 out of 83 (9%) people had maxed out their pay potential. Keep in mind that these are top employees that would have received above-average pay increases. My assumption is that they viewed changing companies as the faster path to higher earnings despite the fact that there may have been additional promotions available (which was the case several times).

    This may mean a few things:

    • We are not watching the market rate for these positions closely enough - our "pay potential" might be way too low

    • Our pay scale doesn't increase at the same rate as the market rates

    • Star Employees know their value. If you won't compensate them for it, they will look elsewhere in a heartbeat

    • We are not doing a good enough job at drawing the line towards advancement. If the employee actually sees advancement as a sure possibility as opposed to a pipe dream, it may slow their decision to jump to another company.

    Just because a engineer was hired 3 years ago at $70K and currently makes $77K does not mean that is the going rate simply because you built the comp plan that way. If your HR group is not benchmarking what these positions are really making in the world, you better.
  • Unchallenged: At what point does workplace monotony kill someone's drive?
  • The Stats: 42 records (23%) showed this was their #1 reason for leaving.

    One of the forms was completed by an employee that had the exact same job function for 3 years. He is a great example of this point. This employee was in the 20% tier because he had mastered his position and was viewed by many as someone literally doing the work of 2 people. His performance reviews were flawless. BUT - and here is the killer, he didn't feel that way. He thrived on pressure and having a huge workload was natural to him. Although his manager didn't see it, this guy was bored out of his skull and wanted more. Year after year he exceeded every expectation on his review and he was compensated for it but that was it. In this case, it wasn't a matter of compensation, it was strictly responsibility.

    One might blame this particular employee for not making his own opportunities and being more aggressive. However, one may also blame the manager for not fully understanding his top employee's goals, motivations, or attitude. It is incredibly important to have a clear understanding on what your star employees think. The best way to understand this is by simply talking to them. I am not saying you have to be best friends but as a manager, you have to know how the employee feels. In fact, it's kind of easy to test for. If there is an employee killing all his goals, try giving him more responsibility. It could be as small as becoming a mentor for a new hire, or asking him to interview someone for you. The goal is to keep a star challenged without crossing the line.

  • Too Challenged: Toss 'em in and see if they swim.
    The Stats: 38 records (21%) showed this was their #1 reason for leaving.

    Remember we are only talking about the 20% tier so the people that listed this reason, are not the lazy people of the bunch. They are the ones fed up with bureaucracy, hiring freezes, lack of cooperation, undefined goals, and poor technology. You cannot ask someone to complete 20 tasks and then give them inferior tools and personnel. A lot of employees will struggle through these problems because of their dedication to the company, however, at some point, the fight is no longer sustainable. The employee will either leave, OR , become so unmotivated that they lose their star status and become a normal employee and thus under perform.

    You can not always depend on an employee to come to you with concerns. I don't care how often you proclaim you have an open door policy - it simply is not going to happen on a regular basis. To kill two birds with one stone, you could ask key employees for their views on the department, projects, etc. You can also ask for their solutions to the problems they present. Sure, their solutions may not always be implemented but at least they are involved and you know how they feel. When people view themselves as part of a solution, they are less likely to become disgruntled thus delaying the boiling point that forces them to leave.
  • Dead Company: AKA Death by Boredom
    The Stats: 38 records (21%) showed this was their #1 reason for leaving

    If the leadership team of your company is constantly drab regardless of the company's growth or the goals achieved, you are in trouble. All employees want money and to be challenged but they don't want to have to self-motivate 100% of the time. For example, I worked for a small company that hadn't created a new product in 10 years. Nothing ever changed and to make matters worse, the executives were all stiffs. I don't believe I ever saw an executive smile and that attitude trickled down the food chain. $30K a year with a company full of stiffs is worse to me than $28,500 with a fun energetic company. You can help take this burden off their plates buy injecting a little upbeat atmosphere. I am not talking about whirley ball, acting like a clown or naming Friday as "Beer in the office day", but your attitude speaks volumes. I will say that I was surprised that this percentage was just as high as those that felt "Too Challenged" from above.

  • Watch your Levels and the BS
  • The Stats: 51 people added something random to their primary reason of leaving.

    Just because you are an Executive and depend on mid-level managers to do the day-to-day managing, does not mean that you should be ignorant to what is going on. We added this category after seeing the huge number of people having issues that appeared small, but were large enough for them to leave the company. So think of this as the micro managing managers, peer conflict sessions gone awry, crying employees in the bathrooms, process trolls, etc. Let me give you an example:

    We saw one case where a department had 2 people leave because they disagreed with the same policy. So on a team of 9, the 2 strongest people left. Doesn't that indicate to management that the policy may be flawed? If I had been the VP or executive, I would have certainly been asking the group manager for a huge explanation. As it stood, the employees left and the policy stayed.

    The key here is that your best employees are the best for a reason. When policies are changed, there is no one better than your star employee to consult with. This category actually reminds me of a post that Frank did a few weeks back listing 50 Ways a manager can get employees to quit. Basically, we saw half of these reasons on these forms and they are all things to at least be aware of because managers and team leaders do them all the time.
If you have good ways of keeping your great employees happy and productive, let me know. Better yet, tell me what you are getting from your manager today that would make you think twice before jumping ship.

- Jay

Senin, 18 September 2006

0 Quick Savings Calc: Bringing Lunch to Work

We've talked about watching your money and spending before but this hits home. Some guy named Hugh has a site with some quick and simple calculators. One of them allows you to enter how much you spend for lunch each day and how much you COULD HAVE saved if you just took that money and threw it into a savings account somewhere.

I entered my $8/day and it shows that over a 10-year period, I would have saved over $11K.

Just silly. I get rid of my cable channels to cut costs yet I am too lazy to make a lunch and brown bag it.

Do your own calculations at

Sabtu, 16 September 2006

0 Celltrade gets you out of your Cell Phone Contact

This is actually happening to me right now. I recently changed jobs and my new employer gave me a cell phone and allowed me to keep my number. Now, I am stuck paying for my old cell phone contract for another 18 months or pay $150 early termination fee. Both options are pretty bad because it kills me to throw money in the garbage.

This morning after the baby was fed, I trolled around on and saw a site that can help. In short, they will take my phone plan and match it up with someone that is looking to get into a cell phone plan.

Their explanation may be a little better: has pioneered a new cellular category that will forever change the way the world views cell phone contracts.

We have developed the world's first online community that gets dissatisfied cell phone customers out of their service contract. provides this service through an incentive based system that connects millions of cellular customers nationwide that want to Get Out with those that want to Get In.

Give it a shot if you want to get out of a cell phone contract without incurring any ludicrous fees. Go to

Jumat, 15 September 2006

0 Go from a Couch Potato to a 5k runner in 6 weeks

I mentioned before that I cannot run. Bad knees, asthma, you know - all the normal excuses. My wife is a running nut and she's been trying to get me into it for 5 years. Before I give in, I need a plan and I need to know what to expect. Fortunately for me, blogs like Healthbolt describe just that. In fact, they are mildly aggressive about it claiming to get you from couch to 5K in six weeks. Skeptically, I like their tips:

  • Pick a 5k and Sign up (Or have your wife pick one and sign you up.)
  • Come up with a plan.
  • Week 1:

    * Mon. 5 min run with 5 min cool down (start small, more on this later)
    * Wed. 5 min run with 5 min cool down (Your cool down can always be a 5 min walk)
    * Fri. 10 min run, cool down

    Week 2:

    * Mon. 7 min run, cool down
    * Wed. 7 min run, cool down
    * Fri. 15 min run, cool down
  • Execute your plan
  • Start slow
  • Diet
  • Show up on race day no matter what
  • Pick up your shirt

has paragraphs that go through these points. If you are a reluctant runner, check them out. If you have any good tips for beginning runners, let me know. I have to figure something out!
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