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2 December, 2002

Buying Stamps in December

Call me stupid. I went to the Post Office this afternoon to buy stamps. I know, I know... There is really no need to buy stamps at the Post Office. But I did.

The first sign that I made a mistake was the parking lot. It's usually about 1/4 full, but today it was nearly half full. There were 18 people in the "buy stamps only" line. When I arrived, the second clerk was leaving for her 15-minute break, so that left one guy to handle the growing crowd that was beginning to get restless as the line snaked around the various lobby marketing displays urging us to spend even more money at the Post Office.

A few observations:

  • Customer #1: A little old lady who needed 16 stamps for her Christmas cards. She spent several minutes trying to decide which design to buy. "Both of them are so pretty, I just can't decide!" She actually asked, "Can I still use the Christmas stamps after Christmas?" By the way, I think she decided on the snowman stamps.
  • Customer #2: A fellow, apparently from India, who didn't understand the concept of a "stamps only" line. He had a package that needed all kinds of special services, and he got belligerent when the poor clerk told him he'd been standing in the wrong line for 15 minutes and had to go to the 30-minute line.
  • Customer #3: A man who bought about $1.48 worth of stamps and paid for them with a check. He was a slow writer. And, of course, he couldn't find his drivers license.

My biggest beef is with Customer #1. Why, in the name of all that is holy, do people give a damn about the picture that appears on their stamps? Do they think the recipient will actually look at the stamp and think nice thoughts about the sender?

I'll give Customer #2 a break, since he's probably not familiar with U.S. Post Office procedures. And he probably couldn't read English.

There is no excuse for #3. This is 2002. There is no need to write a check at a place of business. They accept ATM cards, credit cards, debit cards, and even cash.

Posted on 2 December, 2002

New Research on Spam

Symantec released the results of a study that surveyed 1,000 consumers about spam. Guess what? People think that spam email is a growing problem at home and work.

Well, duh!

69 percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that spam is harmful to email users... Respondents also indicated that the volume of spam they are receiving is on the rise.

Fascinating findings! Groundbreaking research!

What's next? A study to determine if people think pop-up ads are annoying?

Posted on 2 December, 2002

Rejected Software

The Something Awful web site has a "Photoshop Phriday" in which visitors submit manipulated images on a particular topic. The results from Rejected Software are now available.

You'll find software boxes for Microsoft Ransom (the desktop ransom note authoring system), Roxio Easy Floppy Creator, Norton Homeland Security, Symantec PopupAnywhere, and many more.

Excellent stuff!

 

 

Posted on 2 December, 2002

Keen Advice Via Microsoft?

Keen.com is a "pay-for-answers" service, similar in concept to Google Answers. These services share a common element: Anyone can sign up as a self-proclaimed expert on any topic (credentials and actual knowledge are not required). But unlike Google Answers, the experts at Keen dish out their advice over the phone (and yes, Keen has a patent for this). Another differences is that the responses at Google Answers can be viewed by anyone.

Anyone can sign up as a Keen "advisor," and each advisor sets their own per-minute rate. Keen, of course, gets a piece of all of the money that changes hands. For example, a user makes a 10 minute call to an advisor. For this 10-minute call, a $0.20 per minute connection fee is deducted, and then Keen takes 30% of the remaining fee. So in this case, the $1-per-minute advisor earns $5.60 for that 10-minute call.

The advisors write their own ad copy and many provide a photo. This Excel advisor, who goes by the business-savvy name of  MchelleMeMe, charges a mere $0.50 per minute. Here's her ad (apparently she learned to write by hanging out in AOL chat rooms):

Hello! My name is Michelle. I have been working with Microsoft Excel and similar programs for almost 10 Years. I have two computers at home and one at work. I love working with computers! Friends and family call me all the time on excel, and now I can help you! Please call!

There are four pages of listings for Excel advisors. Some appear to be very well qualified, but who knows? Fortunately, customers provide feedback, so the good advisors tend to rise to the top, while the less-than-good advisors eventually fall off the radar. But, of course, every new advisor is probably tempted to have their friends make a few calls to build up the ratings.

Although Keen has advisors in many different fields, the vast majority of the advisors seem to specialize in psychic phenomena, astrology, and sex-related issues. Lady Campbell, for example, is a psychic who charges $8.75 per minute. From her listing:

"Lady Campbell of SanFrancisco" can be 'blunt' and direct with her answers. You need to listen carefully at all times because you will be given accurate and detailed information that may seem confusing at first, in some cases....[She] delivers a unique set of consulting services. These services are a combination of traditional and applied mathematical/engineering principles. 

Wendy June is an another example. She's an advisor in three categories: Social/Entertainment, Flirting, and Arts & Entertainment. She's a professional model, was named Miss Dreamgirl 2002, and charges $3.99 per minute. Here's an excerpt from her listing:

I worked with some very famous Playboy models and a Playboy photographer. My stats are 36DD-24-34, 5ft. 7in. tall, 104lbs., blue eyes and long brown hair. My interests are working out, going to rock concerts, relaxing on the beach and eating Sushi. I would love to talk with you so c'mon and give me a call. We can talk about anything you want....do you have a fantasy?? What a great idea to be able to look at my images and talk to me on the phone. I am sweet and we can have "LOADS" of fun so don't be shy.......I'm waiting...XOXO

So what does this have to do with Microsoft? Well, a few years ago Microsoft made an investment in the then-startup Keen, and they now promote it as an "eService." Microsoft has several links to the Keen site (for example, here), and I assume that they get a portion of the fees generated by referrals.

Maybe it's just me, but browsing around at Keen.com seems very sleazy -- almost like a soft porn site. It certainly doesn't seem like a business that would be affiliated with a company like Microsoft.

I wonder about the type of people who would use this service for legitimate software-related questions. I guess they consist mainly of people who just don't "get" the concept of free peer-to-peer newsgroups. But I also wonder about the advisors. I'm sure that there are many very qualified advisors, but why would anyone be willing to have their work interrupted at any time to answer a phone call that may result in a few dollars income?

Posted on 2 December, 2002

Harry Potter Haircut

Click here and watch a 19-year old get a haircut -- but not just any haircut. The back of her head proudly display an image of Harry Potter.

Marie had her locks dyed and cropped to create a picture of the wizard - complete with lightning scar - on the back of her head. And the amazing effect is a spooky reminder of the first Harry Potter film, when evil Lord Voldemort's face appears on Professor Quirrell's head.

Posted on 2 December, 2002

Embossed Food

The world can never have too much advertising. At least that seems to be the philosophy of a company called Gourmet Impressions.

They make a line of products designed to put advertising on common food objects. For example, the baked potato shown here proudly displays the text Ronnie's Steak House.

What's the point? Hell if I know!

Posted on 2 December, 2002