Reader Emails



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Freecycle - helps give stuff away for free

A good idea before a bad economy has turned into an even better idea during a horrendous economy. Freecycling. While many people use Ebay to sell items for money to anyone and other people use Craig’s List to sell (and sometimes trade or give) items somewhat locally, there is another option, Freecycle.org. Started in 2003, the non-profit organization is basically a simple way to offer items you no longer want to people who might want them, the only catch: everything is free.

Initially Freecycle was conceived as a way for people to offer items to non-profits, and non-profits to respond if they wanted them. It quickly expanded to include anyone, anywhere and now there are 85 countries and near 5000 local group made up of 7,000,000 people all following the same set of principles. Let’s fill up fewer landfills with items that other people might care to rescue.

It is recycling with a few well thought out rules. One of the biggest is letting people join any group, but keeping in mind each group is based on a small geographic area such as a town, or county.  As such groups vary in size.  The other important rule is what you can’t offer including no listing illegal items, tobacco items, alcohol, firearms, people, pornography, or medicine of any kind. Each local freecycle group is run by volunteer moderators who enforce the rules and the very specific way to offer, inquire and list items.

Most groups use a simple email list tool called Yahoo Groups to share their items and indicate items they are looking for or items that have been taken.  Techlife has been a user of YahooGroups since 1998, as a long time user who was introduced to this great service by Alan Braverman, employee #1 at YahooGroups (formerly eGroups) we asked him what he thought of Freecycle.

“Freecycle has a great mission.  It is gratifying to know something we all worked so hard on more than 10 years ago at eGroups is not just being used but growing, growing a great organization and supporting such a beneficial cause as saving the environment and helping people recycle.  Grassroots movements have always been great at adapting new technology, but with close to 5000 groups and 7,000,000 members it is clear that Freecycle.org is successfully spreading a positive message worldwide.”

How to Freecycle?

Easy! First make sure you have a Yahoo ID with an email associated to it, this lets you access any of the nearly 4800 local freecycle groups which use the Yahoo Groups email list system.  Once you have a Yahoo ID, visit freecycle.org, and sign up for an account with the other 7,000,000+ members all over the globe, of course sticking to your little area of it.  (Krakow, Poland has 231 members for example!)

To join a local group, search for your hometown and you will likely get at least one town nearby if not a few hundred.  Sign up on freecycle.org and make sure you use the same email as associated with your Yahoo ID (little known fact, you don’t need to use your Yahoo email as your main email).  Then select one or more groups, each which might have a slightly different set of rules but all following the same overarching principal.

Click “Join this Group” and away you go.  I joined quite a few groups in my area, each with a different feel.  One let me join right away, another had a lot of “we are looking for quality and people who give not just take” and yet a third let me browse the current listings before even joining.

Start listing your items and you will soon have a few people who want them.  Arrange a pickup and you are done.

Palm Tungsten T for free from Freecycle - and saved it from a landfill

Is this for real?

While your experience may vary, I was looking over items here at Techlife HQ and considering what we should recycle with the locals when emails started coming in for various items; some candles, a dsl modem and a working Palm Tungsten T.  I have a friend who still (tries) using their Palm but was complaining how it was getting pretty old and not always working.

I replied to the original poster indicating when I could get the device, drove over, picked it up and in just a few hours I had completed my first freecycle.  I plan on giving my friend this one for a backup device.  Plus it was saved from a landfill. (Thanks Marija!)  Your mileage may vary, but if all you want is a clean basement, here’s a great easy way to make that happen and keep the Earth a bit cleaner.

Freecycle.org is a Techlife must try.  It is easy.

Thanks to loyal reader Brad for sharing his experience and introducing us to Freecycle.  Please email or comment ideas for sites you find amazing.  It’s our own little way to recycle.


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Lear Siegler by Konrado Fedorczyko

Dear Techlife,

I don’t have a lot of money, but my old computer is dying on me.  I think there is something wrong with the power supply or the fan thingy.  Either way, I am going to replace this 5 year old beast with a new one.  Tell me how to buy a computer with today’s choices, and I will.  I am drowning in too much information.

To many computer choices and no time,

Overwhelmed


Dear Overwhelmed,

As a writer for Techlife and the owner of an internet marketing and hosting company we are actually asked this question a few times a week.  We have got “How to buy a new computer” down to the following three simple questions, cause hey, we like things simple.

Of course we need a quick paragraph of assumptions.  You are replacing an existing machine, pretty much a given these days.  You have data you don’t want to lose. “Duh!” You would like something that will last, so you don’t have to buy again in 1 or 2 years.  Yes, the word genius is tossed around quite often, feel free to to use it again.  You are going to at a minimum surf the net and send email.    “Of course I am.  Enough of the small talk, let’s skip to the questions already, you had me at easy.” 

Laptops on Amazon
Top 5 Laptops on Amazon – $675 – $1600, 13.3 – 16 inch screen size, 2 – 3 GB RAM standard and DVD Drives

Question 1 – What can you bench press?

Answer – “Are you kidding?  This is your first question?”  Give me a chance, I have a reason for this.  These days there are a few types of “new” computers for you to consider.  The standard desktop, a laptop or a netbook.  “Yeah I know this already, the desktop is the cheapest, the laptop is the lightest and – ”  Not so fast there professor, things have changed.  Netbooks are even smaller laptops, and are often both the cheapest and the lightest.  Many also have longer battery life than a regular laptop.  “So what’s the downside, they sound perfect?”  Well these machines are normally small which means, a smaller keyboard and a smaller screen and most don’t include a DVD player/recorder.  We typically tell people to visit an electronics store or even your local Target and Walmart to see these machines first hand.  They are also sometimes a bit less powerful than a laptop or desktop, which is probably ok if you are doing the basics; email, web surfing, paying a few bills.

Netbooks on Amazon

Top 5 Netbooks on Amazon – $319 – $389, 8.9 – 10.1 inch screen size, 1 GB RAM standard, some with 9.5 hour batteries

Question 2 – What’s the demo?

Answer – “The demo?”  Sorry, in marketing speak the demographic.  Who is using this machine?  Business, Family with little kids, a young woman on her way to college? What will they do on the machine?  If you are a single business user who will be the only person on the machine, what do you use it for?  Presentations?  Invoicing? A family might have a dad into photography and who pays some bills, a mom who shops for the kids clothes and researches and plans her garden, a son who wants to play video games and a daughter who wants to use voice and video chat.  “What about homework?”  I did say “want” not “need.”  Finally a college student can hopefully get by on a single machine for the life of school, which means staying in touch with home, writing papers, research, and maybe some 3D models of chemicals, people, art, or fashion depending on her major.  

Surprisingly the business user might be able to get by with a low powered netbook, if they have a lot of travel and a full size monitor, keyboard and mouse in their office.  The active family needs a bit larger hard drive with all the users and their various needs.  The college student has to consider a combination of power, speed and mobility as well as what their prospective career calls “standard.”

Pot of Gold by Ean Bowman

Question 3 – Lottery or  Stimulus?

Answer – For the high percentage of lottery winners who read Techlife we want you to know the price of a computer is just as important to those looking for a little economic stimulus love. When it comes to price each of the three types have their high and low end.  I always recommend looking at the maximum amount of RAM your machine can accept, it rarely comes with all that can be put on board.  Buying extra RAM is one of the best ways to ensure a speedy machine.  If you are looking to skimp, you can always opt for a smaller hard drive and use an external drive to store archives, which has another benefit of being a bit more secure.  

Notebook by Jan Krat?na

Final thoughts:  We have been suggesting people get laptops these days.  They are less power hungry then a desktop which means a slightly lower cost of ownership.  They have their own battery backup in case of a power failure while you are working on that masterpiece.  With your keyboard, monitor and mouse can act very much like a desktop and take up less space in the process.  Let us know what you think the best machine and why.


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New Release.  New Version.  Sequel.  The second time around audiences know what to expect and the build up is extremely exciting.  This is why we tell clients to re-invent themselves.  It is exciting for the client, their employees and their customers.  Everyone likes the makeover.

We had three exciting stories recently in Techlife that all are forms of version 2.0.  All of them are exciting and unique.

First we have a follow-up to the Techlife Gift Guide with version 2.0 of the Give 1 Get 1 program from the folks at OLPC that we wrote about last year.  You can get involved and make the donation of a lifetime, by giving the metaphorical fishing pole..

Next we have two companies who have released new versions of very popular free flash games.  XGen Studios released the new Stick Arena Ballistick and The Casual Collective released a new site with a whole bunch of upgrades and new games. We pit them head to head. (Hint we are all winners.)

Finally, we were emailed from a reader the viral video that was part of a presidential campaign starring “you” the voter.  It was a unique bit of marketing with certain Web 2.0 twist.  And while the election is over this bit of marketing is something we are sure to see more of as time goes on.

Do you have re-make, re-do, re-invention or re-ally good idea?  Share it with us.


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We love our readers!  Let me say that again, we LOVE our readers.  A faithful Techlife reader just sent me this custom viral video which certainly got my attention and had me watch it.  Techlife is covering this technology, more than posting election coverage as this technology will be seen more and more.  This viral tool has been used more than 9.7 million times for this site alone according to the New York Times.  It is a very interesting move to get American’s out to vote.

You will notice if you watch carefully, this video has my name, Dave Kaufman, sprinkled throughout in various places.   It came with an email, targeting me by name as well.  I have to say it was very well done and got us thinking about the ways people and companies will be soon making more and more personal approaches to everything we do.  It is certainly a form of Digital Ethnography.

I appreciated the humorous nature of this video and website effort, but I wonder how much I will like it when it tells a young child to do something and uses their name.  Another scary use of this technology is more advanced phishing or social hacking scams.

Guy Kawaski appreciates the humor and suggest’s a good use for his own company and as a marketing tactic.  A site called New York Politics Room 8 talks a bit about the study showing personalization in election marketing helps get voters to turn out.

For today enjoy it and if you want to send one to a friend click here, but let us know what you think and always keep the great emails coming in.


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Dear Techlife,

As a long time reader, I noticed all of a sudden a big change.  You have all these Amazon links.  I like Amazon as much as the next person but do you really think we need to have you throw it in our face like that?

Annoyed

Dear Annoyed…

Our print editor for the syndicated column asked us to write a Gift Guide for the upcoming column, so we started with the easiest solution that everyone seems to trust.  Amazon.com has been around for a while and provides a great shopping experience with reviews and photos and videos.  We wrote about them back in 2005 for “Shopping 101” and rarely do we highlight them.

The gift guide series will be over soon.  “Should we not expect a present from you this year?”  We love all the feedback from our readers.  Keep it coming.

Techlife


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Techlife loves the letters we get from readers Their real world problems are things many other readers deal with on a regular basis. This month the ever common, “technology for the sake of technology” issue rears its ugly noggin. Can our hero help? Can we resolve the dilemma?

(part of the syndicated print column’s writing process exposed to online readers)


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Techlife has gone mobile. As Sidekick’s Blackberry’s gain in popularity we often get requests from readers to offer a quick loading mobile edition. When selecting our direction we wanted to make sure to provide the same great experience our readers have come to enjoy in the paper edition and full web edition.

As you can see from these screen captures it’s a pretty decent option. Please let us know if you find any browsers that have issues. The nice thing is it should auto-detect your mobile browser.


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Dear Techlife,

My organization bought a piece of technology that is cumbersome and hard to use and really takes an expert which we don’t have on staff. If we could use it correctly it would make life easier and improve our bottom line.

I think we made a mistake as do many other co-workers and partners. It is the industry standard but maybe not a perfect fit for us. Can we just cut bait already and move on?

Sincerely,

Troubled by Tech

Dear Troubled,

Techlife is one facet of work and life, but these days there are many vying for attention in this ever faster world we inhabit. Sometimes it is easy for people and organizations to get swept up on the crest of a wave, riding the technologic marvels created for consumption. Often technology claims of better, faster, stronger are planted right along side. But as our headline asks, is this always true or would people have us believe we do function in a vacuum devoid of all other forces?

We encounter examples daily of clients and prospects who were oversold. It reminds me of the elementary children’s problem.

A child just finished a big dinner, and someone asks them if they want ice cream. There’s always room for ice cream, right? If the child was asked would you like a small or large portion, 99% would reply, LARGE! They likely would eat the size small portion but not finish the large.

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Google Docs Goes Offline - a Techlife Illustrated How ToGoogle’s inviting all their users to become trapeze artist’s and work without a net, an Inter-net connection. The innovation machine that is Google just keeps on rolling, and their newest trick is using a tool called Google Gears to let users work untethered.

One of the bigger drawbacks of Google Docs is now a thing of the past. Techlife Illustrated has put together this easy to follow guide to getting Google Docs offline. (This is our first Illustrated How To, leave a comment with your thoughts.)

Step 1

Step 1 - Techlife Illustrated - Installing Google Gears

While in Google Docs, in the upper right hand corner is a link to “Offline.” Which gets Google Gears on your computer.

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OLPC on 60 minutesWayan Vota from OLPC News

While writing a recent article, on the OLPC XO Laptop, one of the all time most popular articles on Techlife, we got to meet Wayan Vota the founder of OLPC News. Wayan’s a strong, independent voice in the community of OLPC and the XO Laptop. He was featured on 60 Minutes for his work. (see 7:06 mark on Techlife TV for Wayan) I appreciated his grasp of both technology and non-profits and how the two mesh, so we sat down with him to learn more about what makes Wayan tick (tick, tick.) (unabashed 60 Minute pun for the OLPCNews readers who know me.)

YouTube Preview Image

Lesley Stahl discusses the 60 Minutes piece on the OLPC on Techlife TV.

Techlife: Wayan Vota. Interesting name, what are the origins?

Wayan Vota: Born on Bali to hippie folks. Got a local name in the process.

TL: Why did you start OLPC News?

WV: In the summer of 2006 I noticed there was much hype around OLPC, but little thoughtful analysis of its proposed methods and assumed impacts. I wanted to explore the details of OLPC’s implementation plan – how it expected to actually get laptops in the hands of children worldwide – in public form of open commentary and discussion. With ~5,000 daily readers, over a dozen writers, and too many contributors to count, I feel that OLPC News is successful beyond my wildest dreams.

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CentSports - Bet on sports

People everywhere are excited for MLB’s Opening Day. It is a day when everyone has a clean slate. Everyone has an even shot (at least the media gives that impression.)

We all know the owners and players are in this to get paid. Well once again, loyal reader Dan writes in with an Opening Day gem to give Techlife readers their shot at a payday. (Pete Rose, this one’s for you!) I was a bit skeptical at first, but it’s free money and fun too. Nearly as good as fun at the old ballpark.

CentSports is a new kind of social gaming site where you risk nothing but can win real money. First off the site gifts you $.10 to bet on sports. Lose that and get another gift of $.10 and so on. (Yep, they are unlimited in their generosity.) Start winning and you can cash out as soon as you reach $10. Sound to good to be true? Sounds more like spam you might get, right? Trust Techlife it isn’t. It is actually a lot of fun

Do you like hardwoods, frozen ponds or field of dreams? CentSports has NCAA, the NCAA Tournament, the NIT Tourney plus the full slate of NBA games. They also have NHL hockey and starting today they have baseball’s MLB all ready for Opening Day action. They are planning on adding soccer and bringing back boxing and tennis. (Apparently those pesky tennis players will retire mid-match which screws up the betting a little.)

As a person with little knowledge of sports betting it is a lot of fun to learn on someone else’s dime (pun intended). They have all the standard bets including point spread, money line, over/under and let you parlay or combine these bets to get higher payouts.

The best part is the social aspect of the site. You can see what others bet, invite friends, publicly chat about each bet made and send private notes too.

How can CentSports fund the payouts? Advertising. They have a unique feature after placing a bet you will get the chance to see an ad which can give you bonus cash if you win. (Hint: Always hold out for near the top tier of the bonus.) There are other ads scattered around the site as well.

Overall: If you like sports and are too chicken to try using your own money, you can’t lose. Literally! CentSports is sports gambling for the rest of us. No skill required.

I hope you try it out and see if you can beat me, I was up to nearly $2. Let us know in the comments what your user name is and we can add you to our friend list on the site.


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Slacker Radio's Web Interface

Techlife’s recent Songza article has had some reader’s emailing about Internet Radio. FM radio has always been about commercials, DJs, and maybe a bit of wacky news. Listeners are now getting to play radio station owner with a few great radio station options. Techlife has been using two free options lately.

Pandora is of Techlife favorites of internet radio, but sadly it has been losing global audience with constant country restrictions. The idea is simple offer a customizable radio station that helps program songs based on other songs and artists you already told it you like (or don’t like.) They use a fancy rating system, called the Music Genome Project that is often discussed in depth. We have been using Pandora for years and really enjoy how easy it is to use. Pandora is great for exploring lots of new music. One issue I had with Pandora was I might have customized my station to much, I often would hear a few songs repeat in the same day.

Slacker is a newer entry into the internet radio business. It too offers a simple interface where you can quickly setup a station, add artists you like and start listening. It is a bit less featured than Pandora right now but it is easier to ensure the people you like you get to hear. They do less adding new artists music and play a bit deeper cuts from artists you know. I also like all the comedy Slacker has in its library. Slacker has a mobile media player, like an iPod, that allows you to take the custom station options with you. Techlife has not yet had a chance to review this hardware.

Overall: If you are looking to have a new radio experience give either or both options a try. They are both easy to use and certainly are a nice change from “my music library.”

Bonus: If you are really technically savvy, run a Jinzora Media Server and Do-It-Yourself broadcast your own music collection. A friend is doing this and it is nice to be able to explore their music collection all just using a simple web browser.


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HEMA: Brillant Design and Execution

To be unique in today’s business environment you need more than creativity. You need management willing to take a risk, and top notch people to bring the idea to life. HEMA, a Dutch Department Store has what it takes. HEMA gets it.

As many longtime readers know Techlife has a day job, providing marketing and technology consulting which includes web site design. We are always looking for unique examples, that really engage the user. We got this email from Charlie S., a reader and customer.

HEMA is a Dutch department store. The first store opened on November 4, 1926, in Amsterdam. Now there are 150 stores all over the Netherlands. HEMA also has stores in Belgium, Luxemburg, and Germany. In June of this year, HEMA was sold to British investment company Lion Capital.

Take a look at HEMA’s product page. You can’t order anything and it’s in Dutch but just wait a couple of minutes and watch what happens on the page.

Charlie’s email proves something that HEMA executives figured out. Make something unique and people will help virally market for you. HEMA’s site has attracted positive attention, just look at these headlines. Who wouldn’t want these types of things associated with their company?

Creativity Matters

Hema – Greatest Store Ever

Great Website

HEMA: Breaking Through The Clutter of Online Retail

Cool Site of the Month

Cool Online Catalog Promo

HEMA: Innovative Error Page or Advertisement – You Decide

HEMA has people touting the greatness of their products, talking about their company, using words like creativity, greatest, cool, and innovative. People don’t mind marketing when it has an entertaining purpose. They embrace it.
Have you seen a great Rube-Goldberg or unique marketing idea? Let us know in the comments.

One of my favorites is Honda’s Rube Goldberg. What sets these apart from other ads is the time and energy in the productions, people appreciate the clever, hard work that makes a few seconds of enjoyment, but a lasting impression.
YouTube Preview Image


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History of Religion by MapsofWar.com

A reader emailed me MapsofWar.com and I was intrigued. But the mystery only starts with the amazing visuals spanning 5,000 years of religion or imperialism.

Many clients I work with ask me to visually simplify complex problems and we use various techniques to deliver stunning solutions. Maps of War has used history as the backdrop for an artist who’s medium is Flash and large data sets. Techlife interviewed the creator and artist of Maps of War, who wished to remain anonymous.

Techlife: MoW is a dynamic project, why did you create the first MoW? Which one is it?

Maps of War: The first map was Imperial History of the Middle East. This map was the original idea I wanted to share with everyone, and the overall site was created to showcase it.

Imperial History by MapsofWar.com

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Screenshot of Doodle PollLoyal Techlife reader Alan wrote in asking if we knew of a solution to run a simple office pool about when the CEO’s wife was going to give birth. This is actually a really good problem and we jumped in with two feet.

Alan shook off our first two attempts which involved loyal stand-by Google Docs and their spreadsheet application. I suggested he create a spreadsheet, invite everyone in the office to share it, have them add their guess for dates and times. I also suggested Google Calendar. He could create a shared calendar and everyone could input their dates and times. As I said, Alan was pushing for something better. That’s when I remembered Doodle.

Doodle Logo

Doodle is a free service that is designed to do one thing very well, schedule people to a single event. It really shines when those people don’t use the same shared calendar. Doodle was created by Michael Näf and Paul Sevinç and their company Inturico Engineering out of Zurich, Switzerland.

Since the launch they have been written up by 43folders among others. Development is constantly continuing, Doodle is available in 16 languages and also has a polling tool. It is a simple site and the Techlife friends have used it to organize parties, a trip to a winery, and a fantasy football draft, as well as the boring and mundane meetings and conference calls.

The reaction from first-timers usually is, “So easy. I am going to use it for the next meeting.”

In Alan’s case he would need to just “schedule an event.” Give it a title, most likely, When will the CEO’s wife give birth? Add a description like, enter you name and check the date, and drop $5 off at my desk. Each person’s name may only have one checkbox checked.

The best thing to do is try Doodle so we created a poll to help you get started. Visit our poll to answer, and leave a comment below about how you have used Doodle.

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