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Motorway by Dan Metcalfe

In a jungle of endless “please hold for the next available customer service rep”, confusing phone menu trees, and brief, poorly written email exchanges acting as guides along the journey we recently burst into a pool of cool calming customer first waters. “Enough with the metaphors Techlife, I come for the meat and potatoes of these columns. ” Hey that’s a meta- nevermind. People, the energy behind change, have begun to make small shifts in their behavior at work. Each small shift is a positive push toward improving the customer experience.

A little over three years ago Techlife’s 1,000 Loyal Customers seeded the idea of thinking about the loyal customer, instead of always seeking the new customer. We followed it up with How To Provide Amazing Support detailing  not just the “how” but also a bit of the “why.” After sending these ideas into the jungle, a funny thing happened. People remarked, “Hey, that’s not a new idea.” Of course they were right, old ideas are often good places to look for ways to deliver new experiences. Here are personal stories of how companies are providing unique experiences on old ideas.

New faster Internet for FREE – yes please

Good ideas tend to stick around and good customer experience is seeing a resurgence. Comcast, yes that Comcast, the one people loathe and complain and fill internet forums with horror stories contacted me, an existing customer. They offered me free of charge a new higher speed modem with a built in router. The new modem would allow me to access their faster internet speeds and not cost anything additional. I accepted. The package would arrive in 6-8 weeks. It arrived in two weeks. Surprise again! Then the hook up was painless and easy, surprise number three.

Vrooom! Try our best toys

A local RC car store with an indoor track trains employees to make the customer happy with a simple program. They empower the teenage staff to let customers of all ages try expensive remote control cars, even though most parents just purchase $25 cars. The goal is clearly to remove any barriers and excite customers while bucking the “you break it, you buy it” philosophy. It was a lot of fun for kids and adults. Customers love the store and want to return. Best of all the store spends next to nothing on store decor and puts all their efforts into customer service.

It’s been 4 years – We still love you

Restaurant.com this week sent me an email apologizing that a local certificate I purchased in 2009 was no longer valid because the local restaurant stopped participating in their program. The funny thing is, I thought I lost the certificate and forgot I had used Restaurant.com to purchase it, plus they already had my money. They owed me nothing.  But by contacting me more than 4 years later with nothing more than, “You should choose another gift certificate ours never expire” I went back to their site, saw all the advancements they have made including a cool smart phone app that ditches the need for printed paper.

Each of these examples has the “don’t be a dumb consumer, there’s something else at work” side. But we are smart consumers who know that if Comcast gives me a new modem, I will stick with them and maybe even upgrade to a faster speed. If an adult or child plays with an expensive RC car it might turn into a birthday wish list, which results in an $85 remote control car purchase. If Restaurant.com is eager to bring back a long time customer they use honesty while also getting to show off all the new features and maybe generate more purchases.

These three examples are great, but in the past six months I have heard of many more. Readers have shared airline successes, mobile carrier wins, toy stores making kids happy, doctors who go the extra mile, and even janitors who help well outside of their realm.  What are some of the best examples you have seen and experienced?


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Super vision. Check. Super plans. Check. Super funded. Check. This is the story of a Chicago designer with the plan to take over the world.

Matt Marrocco and Ryan Stegman

Matt Marrocco and Ryan Stegman

Meet Matt Marrocco, unassuming product designer who raised more than $300,000 in 2012 from people who want to learn to draw. Matt launched the “I DRAW ____” series first with the successful book “I DRAW CARS” and then in his second product he donned a cape, mask and ignited the world of crowd funding with the book “I DRAW COMICS Sketchbook & Reference Guide”. Matt used Kickstarter, a platform for raising money for projects. Tefchlife caught up with Matt right after his amazing project was successfully funded. He was changing into his super hero costume , but we both averted our eyes after all we are both professionals.

I DRAW COMICS book exterior

Techlife: Hours ago you just closed a successful round of funding for your book project “I DRAW COMICS.” The goal was $10,000 and due to the help of more than 6,400 people ended up raising more than $245,000 on Kickstarter. How do you feel?

Matt Marrocco: Honestly, a little overwhelmed.  If I hadn’t done a Kickstarter already I think I’d be freaking out.  It’s a lot to manage – keeping in communication with all of the pledgers, solving the myriad unique shipping and logistics issues and making sure everyone is happy.  All that aside from the most important goal – successfully delivering on your promise and shipping product.

TL:  Let’s rewind a bit; the project launched August 19, 2012 and ran for just 30 days. How far in advance did the planning for “I DRAW COMICS” start?

MM: Conversations with Ryan (Stegman) and my manufacturer began late last year, I believe.  I was still handling some issues with the I DRAW CARS stuff that needed a lot of attention; once that was all ironed out I was able to focus on a new creative endeavor.

TL:  Previously you successfully launched  “I DRAW CARS” on Kickstarter as your first project. It ran for 30 days raising more than $55,000 from more than 1,400 people. What made you choose Kickstarter?

MM: Kickstarter seemed new and exciting – crowd funding in general is still in it’s nascent stages and has HUGE potential.  I think when I saw how successful the Lunatik watch project by MNML was, I just wanted to do that.  I wanted to make a thing that people wanted and deliver it to them.  Period.  To go through the entire process from the very front end ideation phase, to then physically fulfilling orders at the end of the Kickstarter was an incredibly educational experience.  And yes, fun.

TL:  How is “I DRAW CARS” doing outside of Kickstarter?

MM: Great!  We’re always being picked up in more and more schools, and always fulfilling orders.  My wife has become our marketing/sales/fulfillment department full-time!  So I guess she’s going to be busier with the “COMICS” book now.  Maybe she’ll need an intern?

I DRAW COMICS inside the book

TL:  Did you ever consider a traditional publisher when you first started or is the goal to build your own publishing empire?

MM: I never had visions of starting a publishing empire – I just wanted to see what it takes to get a book made and ship it.  It has been a great education going through that process, but I don’t know whether that means I want to be a publishing house.  We’ll see.

TL:  Have you been contacted by publishers now?

MM: We have, yes.  It’s something we have to think about – no plans yet.  We will be sending samples to many of them once we have product in hand.

TL:  How did “I DRAW CARS” do as “I DRAW COMICS” campaign began gaining momentum?

MM: Well naturally with more exposure, the other products under the “I DRAW” umbrella have had a decent uptick in sales.  There are also many pledgers who have added a “CARS” book to their “COMICS” pledge – something we encouraged from the beginning.

I DRAW COMICS story lessons

TL:  Have you had an celebrity backers for either project?

MM: One notable celebrity for the Comics project was author Joe Hill. My wife and I were peeked when he took notice and pledged. I think she cried a little.  Many well-known artists and designers have pledged for both – hard to name all of them.

TL:  What was the biggest difference outside of sheer numbers between the two campaigns?

MM: We’ve had a lot less shipping-related questions this time around and I’m not sure if I just worded things better in the campaign, or if it is because there are more American pledgers.  We’ll see when I get the surveys back.

Also, in spite of our big numbers, there was very little blog coverage this time around.  A lot of the blogs I follow are design-related, and think they maybe thought comics just don’t speak to their audience?  In any case, there were a few highly reputable comic blogs that posted it, and any other attention was mostly from twitter and the Kickstarter platform.

TL:  The transparency of raising $300,000 in 2012 must have family and friends asking questions. What’s the most interesting?

MM: HA – my family is happy for us, of course.  People seem to think I’m going to all of sudden quit my job and just start selling books 24/7.  Although that is an attractive proposition, my first love is still product design.  Publishing, sales and branding are hobbies – they do, however, pay me more than my design job.

TL:  While you are making a profit (I hope), what costs are you seeing?

MM: There are costs associated with everything – from running a website, to planning logistics, to order product.  I would say the biggest cost is time.  My wife and I spend an ENORMOUS amount of time discussing projects, product details, timeline, cost, etc.  When I’m not at work, I’m working with her on this brand so any time I get to relax and not think about anything is welcome.  I think we need a vacation.

TL:  Do you see opportunities to streamline the process?

MM: I think getting on board with a publisher could be a step in that direction.  Someone to handle a lot of logistical issues we deal with on a daily basis would be nice.  As well, there are other projects in the pipeline that we’d love to get started.  They require a certain amount of attention, so until we get into the swing of the new product addition we’ll have to hold off on development.

TL:  Did you make any mistakes? If so, what were they?

MM: One big mistake is thinking I can just do everything.  There are some things better left to professionals, so when I can I try to hire those people to do those things.

TL:  What advice would you provide to anyone thinking of using Kickstarter?

MM: 3 things:
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
KEEP YOUR VIDEO SHORT.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

TL:  How did  you conceive the the concept of working with an automobile artist and a comic artist for each project?

MM: Hiring a pro to work with me seemed the best way to make the whole thing legit.  For instance, I can draw a car and a figure(kinda), but I’m not the person to be telling people how to do these things.  When you have a professional (and in Ryan’s case, a WELL KNOWN professional) working with you, it adds an air of validity to the project that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

TL:  What’s next for the “I DRAW” brand? Will you continue to use Kickstarter?

MM: We’ve got lots of exciting ideas in the pipeline – stay tuned.  Kickstarter is a great place to generate funds, but also to simply get the word out!  Many projects don’t’ really need the funds, they just want the social bump that having a kickstarter gets you.  I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.

Here’s the video Matt made for the project:

YouTube Preview Image

 


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Money. You work hard for it. You save. You look at how you can amass more of it. It hasn’t been since the sell an item on Ebay how-to of  “Modern Day Alchemy” that Techlife delivered an article about money. (Editor’s note: “Modern Day Alchemy” was the most recent published syndicated Techlife column.) (Author’s note: The proceeding editor’s note is completely fabricated for artistic license, but it did look highly impressive.) So prior to the how-to on using Ebay, the last time I spoke of money was back in 2009 with “Freecycle – Give, Get, Save“.

One thing readers often comment about is their confusion after reading a column. Upon hearing this remark, like any good columnist I make plans how the next time I will just dial it back. Make it easier to understand. But then you get deep into a subject about online cartography, such as “Why North is No Longer Up” and realize, maybe there are readers who don’t know what cartography means or what how it would relate to immersive photographic cartography. And right there a reader says, “I’m lost, I didn’t realize I picked up the New England Journal of Medicine.” Clearly they are lost because cartography is the study and making of maps and likely would be a minor side bar in the New England Journal of Medicine. I wonder though; “Hey you, yes you, the reader. Your epidermis is showing.”

In an effort to bring a bit of fiscal responsibility to Techlife–  Wait sorry, in easier terms, in an effort to showcase how to save you some money I have a simple piece of advice for your online shopping. Don’t checkout. Of course I don’t mean, never. That would make it hard to get anything purchased. Instead it might be better to say, slow down when checking out. When you purchase anything these days, many people as suggested by an early Techlife column, are conditioned to read reviews. Learning from other users the positives, negatives and little tricks of products and services helps improve decisions and buying habits. This is being a smart consumer.

I specifically said “save you some money.” You are nodding your head, saying to yourself, “I stuck with him this long, let’s see where he is going.” There are many sites that exist to offer online shopper’s coupon codes, Retail Me Not is easy to use and user driven. The site has coupon codes for more than 150,000 sites. The strength of the site is the data around each coupon code. Users can rate the codes providing a success rate of each code. A recent search for Amazon.com coupon codes found the average discount was $40. There were 20 codes listed as “active” which means more than 50% success rate and recent usage. There were another 32 codes listed as unreliable, which is based on success rates less than 50% and age of the code.  What this means is with more than 50 coupon codes for just a single site, albeit a popular one, Retail Me Not is a site to visit EVERY time you are starting to make an online purchase on any web site. Be sure to share how much you have saved? To date I have saved over $500 using this site. Savings like that is habit forming.


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Christmas present by lawerence

It’s already here!  Time to start thinking about what your favorite syndicated columnist wants this holiday season.  Peace?  Goodwill?  If you can deliver them, by all means.  My guess is that you might be a few credits shy of making that one happen.

So a quick reminder how this works.  I make a list of cool, affordable awesome. (That’s right, awesome is a noun too.)  Readers race to purchase said awesome and deliver it to me. The first reader to deliver each item earns points. (The points are new for 2009! Creative, right?)  Wait a second, have you never read this before?  If not, the idea behind “My” Techlife Gift Guide are things that I want.  Self-serving?  Yes.  So let’s begin!


I loved the book Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.  Their newest economic’s masterpiece, Super Freakonomics (yeah I said it) arrives just in time for the “big economic season.”  How fitting! I can’t wait to read it. (First delivery = 1001 points)


Call me old school, but look who’s back. Mario. Make that New Super Mario Bros. for Wii. Think back to the side scrolling days from NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Gameboy, DS….hmm I guess these guys must have Levitt’s Freakonomics. Give the masses more of what they crave, economics 101. This newest installment has our favorite plumber able to play in 4 player mode. Let’s go rescue the Princess, together! (First Delivery = 3029 points)


Our world relies heavily on power. Laptops, games, phones are power hungry. Batteries are great, but sometimes it would be nice to use the solar power staring me in the face. I want the Brunton 26 Watt Foldable Solar Array. First off, I’m not a solar expert so I need something easy.  With more than 15 reviews and 12 5 star reviews at Amazon, it seems like a great option for keeping me powered up. And hey this one benefits the buyer too, it means more Techlife can be written and delivered. No more “my power went out” excuses. (First Delivery = 8359 points)


Finally, here’s something that each reader can get me. A Pix-Star digital picture frame with FotoConnect. Why this specific model? Because if offers the chance for each frame to be able to receive new photos without a PC! With just an internet connection, it can share photos, be addressed via email, pull up photos from Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Windows Live, Smugmug, Photobucket, Shutterfly, MobileMe, and more. It means you can update your gift to me with new photos whenever you like. How cool is that? And the kicker, no monthly fees to boot. (Each Delivery = 1304 points + bonus 293 points per photo sent)

These gifts give you a great idea of what I am looking for this holiday season. Please be generous and give your favorite writer something they can’t live without.


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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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Chevy Chase plans the family vacation on his computer in National Lampoon's Vacation

Before Clark Griswold loaded the car, he planned his Family Vacation using a computer.  I am sure all Techlife readers have used their computers to plan trips and book accommodations for years now.  

For our reader’s travel plans Techlife has covered sites like Travelistic, Farecast, Google’s MyMaps and RovAir which all aid the traveller.  Today there are countless websites devoted to planning a trip by air, land and sea along with various hotel accommodations.  But there is another way…vacation rentals. 

A Techlife reader shares this story with us…

We were heading from Oakland to Chicago for a week of fun this spring.  Our family has two small children and a week cooped up in the hotel would have been unbearable.  So we hopped on the computer and found salvation.

If you are looking for a bit more local flavor and unique roof over your head, combined with a chance to get a great deal in a down economy vacation rentals are a great option.   So this is just another Craigslist article, right?  C’mon give Techlife a little credit.  Check out VRBO.com, which stands for Vacation Rentals by Owner, to find over 120,000 properties all over the planet.  

In addition to a more local experience, a VRBO is perfect for the travelling family, as the typical listings are condos or  homes instead of just a hotel room.  This gives you bedrooms, a common area, and often a kitchen for equal or even less money than a single room.  For the family with small children through the extended family or friends travelling together, you get the privacy of your own room but the fun of hanging out at night and in the morning.

As one friend of Techlife is fond of saying, “vacations with little children aren’t vacations but just changes of location.”  Searching the VRBO site, has listings that include all sorts of kid friendly amenities, including homes with pools, swing sets, beaches, dvd players, and a few with use of the property’s boat!

Due to the economy we put ourselves on a tight budget, after searching around VRBO.com we realized our budget was not enough money, but we couldn’t spend anymore.  So we waited, and waited, and waited some more.  Then just a week before our trip, we put our plan into motion.

VRBO does have some drawbacks, each listing is maintained by the property owner so the occupancy calendar is not always up to date.  That alone gave me pause about some of these owners in maintaining their property.  In addition, unlike a normal travel site the search tools were a bit weaker.  I was looking to travel over the Fourth of July weekend and had to visit each property, and then click a second time to the occupancy calendar.  I would have preferred to only be shown properties that fit my criteria from the start, including date.

Price also is weak search criteria.  The site has to sell itself to the property owner and the owners clearly prefer a week rental or longer.  Some owners see the value in offering just a weekend or single night price, but again a bit of manual search is required.

There are some other things a traveller has to get used  to, dealing with countless different owners.  You can easily call or email each owner though from VRBO’s easy to use interface to book or ask a question.  The best feature of VRBO is consistency, you get used to the way the listings are laid out, photos here, description here, bullet points here, price here and can quickly assess properties.

At that late date, I sent out emails to all the best properties on the site in the Wrigleyville area of Chicago where we wanted to stay.  We explained we had this much to spend, and understood they were asking more.  We quickly got a few replies from aggressive owners who realized some rent is better than no rent.  We also lucked out, no Cubs games that week so the owners were going to be fighting for us.  What we got was….

Techlife has been using this site for some time and enjoys the adventure of finding the perfect place and that moment where you open the door and hope it really is perfect.  Of course some properties have guestbooks with comments which really helps.  Remember if your vacation rental ends up like a Griswold vacation you will always have the memories and a killer script.

An amazing place with hardwood floors, cherry cabinets, granite counter tops, stainless appliances and we actually entertained at our place one night while our kids slept.  It was truly a great vacation and the vacation rental was the best.


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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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Wow that is an ugly title.  Let’s dissect it a little.  OLPC is the One Laptop Per Child non-profit organization that’s goal is to spread computing and learning with computers to children across the planet.  The XO Laptop is the small green and white, ruggedized computer that the OLPC uses to help fulfill this mission.

G1G1 v2 stands for Give One , Get One and v2 is version 2, since this is the second holiday season where OLPC is using their marketing muscle philanthropically inviting you to help, with a unique program.  Donate $399 via Amazon.com and an XO Laptop will be shipped to you and another XO Laptop will be shipped to a child in a country somewhere in the world.

Techlife has been using our XO Laptop for over a year now and the machine has been a big hit.  We have let various children bang on it and even loaned it out and the excitement was overwhelming.

The Techlife Gift Guide has brought you the Metrokane Corkscrew, the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, the Tent Cot, Wired Magazine, a Skull Bowling Ball, Lego Batman, Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones, a remote controlled helicopter and the Ironman DVD.

The G1G1 program is the ultimate in tech goodness.

Goodness is in the cool laptop you will get to play with and share with a child locally.  More importantly, there are countless children who with some small aid from YOU can make a difference in the world starting today.  Economic hardship in our life is one thing, like going to Starbucks once a day or dropping the movie package from your pay-tv package.

Techlife rarely asks for anything, and now we are.  Please consider this program.  Read up on the machine and learn about it.  Then help a child.  It’s what the holidays are all about. You could always give a velociraptor in the OVPC project instead.

Original Unboxing of the OLPC XO Laptop from the G1G1 Program


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The Metrokane.  Techlife may only spring for the cheap stuff but it still comes with a cork, or whatever that new age cork material is these days.  Screw tops are so European.  When we saw the Metrokane Houdini in Blue it was clearly a gadget must-have.  So which reader will do us the pleasure of sending this gift our way?  Don’t be shy, we’ll even share a bottle of wine with you.


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Ok, we want you to get something nice for you. Splurge! Necessity! It may look odd, but the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000, which is their way of saying funky keyboard with even funkier mouse, is something Techlife is already using.  The split keyboard with a unique angle and the baseball mouse begin to feel better and better.  Your body will thank you.


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At the Techlife offices we crave unique and ingenious the Kamp Rite Tent Cot is part Tent, part Cot, and all good.  It combines a tent and cot to keep you sleeping off the ground. Easy to setup and take down this something we are drooling over.  Be sure to check out the Double Cot model too.


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Dead trees? Check. No beeps? Check. Analog page technology? Check.

We still enjoy reading, on dare we say it, on paper. There we said it. I mean sure our syndicated column, Techlife is printed so maybe that’s our love for going old school with Wired Magazine. Wired’s writers are some of the best in the business and technology world. Sure you can read them online, but live the oxymoron with us. Get us a subscription.


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Strike fear into the heart of your opponent as you mess with their heads.  When you pull out this skull bowling ball, you tell all comers no one is spared with your take no prisoners bowling style.  Oh yes, tonight my friends, heads will roll!

As seen in Mystery Men and most certainly not seen in Kingpin or The Big Lebowski.  We thank you in advance for this gift.


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The Nintendo Wii is a big hit in our offices.  It works for the video game fan and the casual fan to sit down together and enjoy playing.  The most popular game in our office is the Lego Star Wars series.  Which means the Lego Batman series would certainly go over well.  Another option is always the man in the Fedora with Lego Indiana Jones.  If the person you are buying for has a Playstation or Xbox these great games are available for all systems.  BAM! POW! KER-SPLAT!


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Look out Airwolf and Howlin’ Mad Murdoch its time to ditch the simulator. These remote control micro helicopter’s were our fun gift in 2008 to everyone. Of course we picked up one for Techlife but a few more wouldn’t hurt to have around for friends and clients.  Simple to understand but challenging to fly, RC Helicopters are certainly fun toys.

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