Sweepstakes Scam

I received an envelope in the mail with a return address of Sweepstakes Clearinghouse. That sounds promising. Inside I found a letter stating that I had won a consolation prize. This was part of a 10 million dollar giveaway. My hope was that the consolation prize was 10 bucks or something equivalent.

The only thing I seemed to have “won” was $400 credit vouchers on merchandise. The problem was that all the merchandise was priced above $400. Now I initially was excited to see some computers listed as merchandise that I could apply the vouchers towards. However my excitement waned as I saw the specs on the computers.

I think these computers were leftovers from some bargain bin. They only had a 3 month limited warranty. This must have been due to the fact that they were refurbished. I had to look in the fine print to see that. They only had 256 megabytes of RAM which is weak. The real kicker was that they had hard drives sized from 10 to 20 gigabytes.

At first I thought this might be some kind of joke. However the joke was on me. The more fine print I read, the more I did not like about this so called prize. Apparently I had to pay the difference between the merchandise value and my voucher. I would also be responsible to pay an undisclosed shipping and handling fee.

Now I do not know all the laws involved here. However something was definitely fishy. This company was trying to make me think I had won a prize. However they were actually trying to sell me some junk. There is supposed to be no purchase necessary in legitimate sweepstakes.

They did provide a business reply by mail envelope. So I wrote them requesting that they take me off their mailing list. Hey. At least it was mailed on their nickel. They should be happy I did not report them to some government agency that regulates sweepstakes. If I receive another mailing from them, I think I shall. Come on people. Start running a real business and stop with the scams.

Startup Rules

I read a recent blog post by Mark Cuban on rules that startups should follow. This seems to be a popular topic in some blog circles. Mark was blogging in response to another blogger’s post on the subject. Some of the things Mark said made a lot of sense. However there were some controversial recommendations as well. I guess that is what makes for a good blog post.

Here are the hot topics that Mark recommended. He said there should be no offices in start up. There only needs to be one big open space. Startups should not buy SWAG. They should never hire PR firms. And they should also not buy espresso machines.

The real interesting part of the blog post was all of the comments. Some people said that although the rules made sense, they would be difficult to follow. Some readers felt that it was good for a startup to not spend money unless there was a current need. The main comments seemed to center around the rules about no offices. People chimed in that productivity of developers goes way up if you have offices. Other people pointed out that it would be detrimental to be on a sales call when there was a lot of noise in the background due to the open space.

A lot of people commented that they used PR firms successfully in startups. And a bunch of coffee drinkers said Mark was absolutely wrong about not having espresso machines. This seemed to be a religious debate issue.

Personally I drink soda with caffeine. I liked when a small company I worked for provided free drinks. It was a small cost to them. It paid off well with the developers. I can also attest that having a real office with a door helps both productivity and phone calls I need to make. There is something lost when you are not all in a room together. However I strongly prefer the office.

Startups are a special case of the normal workplace. You might have some rules that differ there. I bet the best rules may even differ between the types of startup. The emphasis should not be on the rules themselves. It should be on the value that the startup provides its customers. Or more importantly, how well does the startup company fare.

Rebate Nonsense

My family wanted some new phones. I ended up purchasing four of them. To ensure compatibility, I bought them from our wireless network carrier Verizon. Each phone came with a $50 rebate. So the price was not that high for the phones, or so I thought. I filled out all the paperwork as soon as I got home from the store. Then I received rebate cards in the mail. These are supposed to be debit cards I can use like any VISA. What a hassle.

I just want my money rebated from the company. There is a way to do this with the rebate cards. However I had to go online and create an account for each of the four debit cards. Only then was I able to request a check for the proceeds. Right now I am still waiting for these checks to arrive.

Now I think I understand what is going on. On the whole, there are going to be some people who will not follow through with the rebate. Then the company gets to keep the money. They also get to hold on to the money paid up front for those that follow through with the rebate. It is like the consumer is floating the company a short term loan. This might make a little business sense.

I look at this from the good customer’s viewpoint, namely me. You are not fooling me with the rebate discount. I know how much I paid for the phone. Each time I have to mess with the hassle of getting my money back through the rebate, I get more frustrated. And guess who I blame this frustration on? You guessed it – the company that made me go through this in the first place.

This reminds of another story where I fell for a trick from the local Best Buy. They had a huge rebate on some merchandise they wanted to move. It turned out that I was never able to obtain the official rebate forms. What did I do? I never shopped at that store again. They just lost a customer with deep pockets. I figure that if enough people do this, the bad ones will go out of business, making the world a better place.

Here is my advice to retailers. Build any discounts into the purchase price. If you must lower prices via a rebate mechanism, apply the rebate automatically at the point of sale. You might be fooling some of your customers. But you are not fooling me. If you gamble with some difficult rebate games, you may end up losing a valuable customer such as myself.

Customer Communications

The windshield on my car is in sad shape. The wiper scraped a scratch in a circular path. A pebble made a hole in the middle. Finally a large crack has been spreading across the whole thing. I saved up some money. Then I called a company that comes out to your location to replace the windshield.

I had done this before. For some reason my car’s windshield is expensive. I was relieved to find that the price had come down a lot since the last time I had to replace the windshield. So I asked them to come right out and replace mine.

The salesman asked me for my e-mail address to send out a confirmation. I was impressed with the e-mail I received from the company. It contained a picture of the guy that was going to come replace my windshield. It also told me his name, and a short bio of him detailing his experience.

Yes this is not needed. But I thought it was a nice touch. It made the experience a little more personal. That’s some top notch customer communications. I did not even care that another guy actually came out to do the install.


I recently read a blog post about a small start up that failed. They were about to enter an incubator program when almost all of the founders quit. There were four partners total. Once three out of the four quit, the incubator company decided not to invest in the start up. A lesson learned from this event was that networking is crucial for start up founders.

The author did admit that personal networking is uncomfortable. It is also hard to justify, since there is usually no immediate benefit from the work. Not all members of a company must do it. But if you are starting up a small company, then it is essential for you. Networking is a skill. You must work on improving your skill at it. Not everybody has this talent naturally.

I can relate somewhat to this story. The latest company I joined is primarily a management consulting company. One of the top priorities of the company is personal networking. This is required for landing new business for the company. However it is also how things are accomplished internally within the company as well.

We were instructed about the importance of networking at one of the first company classes you are required to take. Our instructor sent us out in the halls of the training facility, and told us to get out there and meet people. I found it a little difficult as I had no business cards. However that should not stop the progress of networking. I ended up scribbling my name and phone number on small pieces of paper. Hey. I had a good excuse. I was a new guy.

Now I am finding that although the most intimidating part of networking is making that initial connection, it is also tough work to follow up. It is easy to tell somebody that you should do lunch some time. It is more difficult to follow through when everybody has a tight schedule. I was impressed with one of my classmates in the new hire class. After class she immediately called upon people she had met in her class to help her with her latest project. I was impressed enough that I signed up to help her myself.

I suspect this skill may help me a little at my new job. It will be more useful in my ISV though.

Sex Sells

When reading any magazine, I like to pay attention to the advertisements. This month's Doctor Dobb's Journal was no exception. One such advertisement rose to the top. It was an advertisement by Servoy. It is funny that I never heard of them or their product before. However their ad jumped off the page. They had a large chested girl in a bra clutching a laptop computer. Sex sells. This was the only ad in the magazine that prompted me to go to a web site.

The web site continued the good marketing work. They said that by downloading their free product, I would be entered into a contest. The prize was a free trip to Las Vegas to attend their conference. I have never heard about their product, and they have their own conference? Who cares? I would like to get free tickets to Vegas. There was another interesting thing on the web site. The ad in the magazine asked "Can Sexy Be Easy?" The web site answered YES.

The world of marketing appeals to me. I guess you could go to school to learn these things. However I prefer to study examples from the real world such as Servoy. My own company may some day need to put out ads that sell. When that day comes, I would prefer to do the job myself. I don't want to hire some person or company to do this essential task. The result may make or break me.

Although I am normally stingy with my outbound links, Servoy deserves one this time.

Stock Options

A long time ago, I received a couple shares of stock in a company. This was received as a gift. I have held on to these shares for a long time. I have benefited when the stock split time and time again. Each quarter I receive dividends from the company. Normally I also receive a proxy to vote my shares in the annual meeting.

This year I just received a postcard in the mail. It told me to go to a web site to download the proxy information. I don't think so. I am old fashioned in this regard. So I called up the company and got them to mail me a printed copy of the proxy information.

There was a strange proposal up for vote this year. It had a strange name and I could not figure out what it was. So I poured through the proxy information. Buried down on page 62 of a total 68 pages was the information. They were proposing to increase the number of shares available as incentive options for employees. There is already 26 million shares authorized for this purpose. They were trying to add another 5 million with this proposal.

I do not hold it against employees to earn a good salary. And if you started the company, and still hold on to a big portion of the company, then good for you. I even think that a little stock option incentive is good for employee morale. But let's not get greedy. And let's not dilute the my common shares. You would think they would be cautious in this regard given the current financial situation. Maybe that's why they tried to switch me to electronic proxy delivery this year automatically. Nice try guys. I am voting no for more stock options. Keep my share price up.

Out of Office

I read a blog post of interest on the Netflix blog. So I posted a comment there. Sometimes I like to be a part of the blogosphere. A Netflix employee must have received an automated email based on my comment. I think that because I received an email from that employee a little while later. To be more specific, I received an automated reply from that employee.

Here was the contents of the reply from the Netflix employee. They were on a leave of absence. They stated they will not be checking their Netflix email regularly. The provided the email of some other Netflix employees that would be backing them up during their absence. Finally, they provided a personal email address in case somebody was sending them personal email.

What kind of operation are these guys running? All I did was post a comment to their blog. If you are the person who automatically receives email responses when somebody comments, get that changed before you leave the office. It looks very sloppy when I get an out of office email from you when all I did was post a comment to your blog.

This kind of incompetence is not specific to Netflix. Previously I downloaded some software from Intel and got some similar shenanigans. Hey. I can complain all I want and get nowhere. I am just internalizing this behavior. And I will make sure that I myself am not guilty of this. You got to be careful of your actions when you are part of the public facing portion of your company.

Value Added

The missus told me the garbage disposal stopped working. I pressed the button to turn it on. There was no noise at all. I pressed in the reset button near the switch. This did not help. So I did what any responsible homeowner would do. I called the plumber. Mine happens to be BGE Home.

The person who answered the phone had a couple of suggestions on how to get the disposal working without their help. They told me how to locate the reset switch on the disposal. Then they walked me through how to manually turn the disposal to get it cranking again. These two hints actually did the trick.

I was happy for many reasons. They topmost was that the water that was backing up into my sink went down the drain. I also did not have to take a day off from work to wait for the plumber. And my plumber is not cheap. I think they charge $90 just for showing up. My disposal is also expensive. It ran somewhere between $100 and $200. I was going to go out and buy another one so I would not have to pay for two plumber visits.

Now I do not know for sure why the plumber helped me out for free over the phone. Perhaps they are just too busy for easy fixes. Or maybe customers get mad when they shell out the big bucks and the fix is actually this simple. I do know one thing. I am going to remain loyal to this plumber. Hey. If they take care of me like this, maybe they won’t rip me off when I have much more expensive work to do.

BGE Home is doing some good things here. These are tough economic times. Businesses who get it right like this are going to prosper no matter what the economic climate. Thanks again BGE Home for your help.


I got a heavy stock yellow envelope in the mail. My name was printed on an address label. The back of the envelope only said “Biotech Research”. This was a mysterious letter indeed. Therefore it was the first piece of mail I opened.

Inside I found a letter on heavy off-white paper. It stated that this was a verified special delivery. It even had a tracking code. The sidebar of the letter had a long list of management positions and names in the company sending me the letter. The letterhead stated that the company had been in business from a year prior to when I was born.

The second page of the letter appeared to have a real physical signature. Along with the letter I received an authorized discount form. Here was the pitch. I had 10 days to purchase a space heater at a significant discount with free shipping.

Wow. All of this turned out to be a sales pitch. I will tell you something. I almost wanted to buy the darn thing to reward their awesome delivery. Even the names of the products sounded good. They were the Model 500 and the Model 1000.

This company provided me with a security envelope with all kinds of high tech decoration. I guess they wanted the whole experience to be good. It was working. You can’t put a price on a slick sales pitch like this. I hardly ever felt like I was being pitched. I was being wowed.

Phil Katz

I have seen a couple blog posts about Phil Katz recently. This seems strange as he died eight years ago. However this is no reason to ignore this pioneer. So I thought I too would write about him. Perhaps his ghost is stirring up blog writers everywhere.

Phil produced a program named PKARC in the late 1980s. ARC was a compression utility. Phil apparently rewrote the compression algorithms in assembly language to speed it up. This was well received by the personal computer community. The authors of ARC were not happy. They ended up suing Phil. He paid them. Then he proceeded to release the famous PKZIP program. It was also a very fast compression utility that allegedly used a new algorithm and all original code written by Phil.

I have heard that PKZip stands for Phil Katz zip program. It ran under the MS-DOS operating system. Initially Phil released program PKXARC as freeware. When it became popular, he then released PKARC which was shareware.

Phil started working on the compression software as a hobby. It turned into a successful business. Phil’s family helped run PKWARE, the company Phil started to market his software. PKZIP was popular because it was faster, and some say better, than ARC. The makers of ARC worked for System Enhancement. This is the company that sued Phil.

The real tragedy about Phil Katz is what happened after his company became successful. He got into fights with his family over money issues. I think he even ended up firing his mother. Phil spent a lot of his time and money in strip clubs. He had an elegant condo. However he hardly ever went there because he was hiding from police trying to serve arrest warrants. Phil died at the age of 37 years old. His death was caused by complications related to his alcohol problem.

I remember downloading and using the PKZIP program. And I think I even registered the shareware. That says a lot. I was a poor college kid in the 1980’s. Back then I really did not know much about Phil Katz. Now I do. And so I share what I know with you here. You can draw your own conclusions about the moral in the Phil Katz story.

Dell Versus QVC

I had some free time while dinner was being prepared. So I browsed the cable channels. I saw a channel that had some Dell computer deals. It turns out this was the QVC channel that was reselling Dell computers.

The deal they were offering was a Dell Inspiron for $999 plus $30 shipping. The actual computer would not ship until October 20th. They were really hyping that it had 4G of RAM. There were also a lot of colors available. My own question was why should I go through QVC instead of heading to the Dell website directly.

After dinner I did go directly to the Dell website. They have specials as well. Dell also provides free shipping. They have the same colors available as QVC. My price online turned out to be $848 after the discounts were applied. This even included a better processor than QVC

I ask myself how exactly does QVC make money. They probably get a better rate than me. However they have additional costs such as the sales guy I was watching, as well as advertising costs to broadcast their show on cable.

Perhaps a more important question to the consumer is why should they go with QVC? Maybe a user does not want to go directly to Dell. For example, you might not have current Internet access. Then you could not check out the Dell website. Or maybe QVC was looking for impulse buyers that do not spend the time to compare the Dell website deals.

To tell you the truth, if I had a lot of money, I would not mind going with QVC. That would require me to be rich. Right now I am not. So I figure I am going to be buying my next laptop from Dell. However this was a very interesting offer from QVC.