Category Archives: Internet . Web

Gift Card Conundrum

This is a tad off topic but I’d like help understanding why people on Ebay are paying more for gift cards than their face value.

I’m selling an Amazon gift card for $40. Don’t tell the person that gave it to me. I actually found the nice photo frames I wanted at Michael’s so I bought them there and decided to recoup the cost by selling the card on eBay. Even Steven.

I scanned a few similar bids before putting it up, expecting to start my bid at $30 and probably sell for around $35, giving free shipping as it’s just an envelope.

I was shocked to see this $20 bid winding down before my eyes at $43! What the hell?

This $200 card has nine minutes to go as of this writing, and selling at $202.

For some reason this Best Buy $50 card is bidding at $51

Although no bids yet, the person selling this $500 card expects at least $539 based on his “Buy it Now” offer.

This $25 card has six days left, and a “Buy it Now price” of $28.

And finally, my $40 Amazon card, after being put up yesterday with six days left is at an even $40. The face value of the card.

Is this a bidding war gone mad? Are people getting emotional when they get outbid? “Outbid me huh? I’ll show you who the winner is…”

Why would somone bother dealing with shipping and eBay fees to save one or two dollars? Or offer MORE for that matter? Especially when you can visit any grocery store and just buy one off the shelf. I think it’s a great idea to buy a card for a few bucks off someone trying to unload it that wouldn’t make use of it. But I’m baffled at paying face value or higher. To my knowledge these don’t offer any extra value or offers, and are no different than a store bought card or just plunking down cash at the register.

This isn’t new either. A few years back I received a $100 American Airlines gift card. Since I usually fly United I put that one eBay, and was shocked when it won in the neighborhood of $98.

It there’s something completely obvious I’m missing I’d love to know, and would probably remove this post in embarrassment. But as of now I’m lost, and ready to start a part time hobby of buying $100 gift cards in bulk and selling them for $130.

Schumpert Menu Line

Last fall I posted the number for the Schumpert Hospital Cafeteria Menu.

If you call the number 318-681-4564 you’ll find that this Shreveport Louisiana Medical center (pictured) has a daily menu recording, with a very special voice.

George, the gentleman that records the daily menu, has a deep southern accent and enthusiastically lists the food of the day with cheer and gusto. The best part, (aside from the Inspiration Station,) is each day’s menu recording comes with an uplifting affirmation.

Turns out George has not one, but two Facebook Fan clubs.

I’m not sure if he’s aware of the many fans that are making him an internet celebrity, but I hope he keeps it up. (And I hope the extension to the cafeteria isn’t getting overloaded.)

Call for yourself at 318 681 4564. Be sure to listen for the “Inspiration Station.” It’s the best southern culinary experience you can have without leaving your desk.

Here’s my original post, with a sample from last fall:


Kayak App for iPhone

Kayak.com – one of the easiest and most used travel search engines, just released on app for the iPhone.

If you’re stuck at an airport, absent from home, or away from a computer, you can easily search for flights and hotels via an interface that’s better designed for a mobile device.  Makes for a nice tool when changing travel plans on the go.

One handy feature is a list of all airlines’ phone numbers. It would be worth downloading for this feature alone.

Using the GPS it will also supply nearby airport info, so if you don’t know an airport code, or are kidnapped and unsure of what city you’re in, it will find the nearest airport to you.

Press release from Kayak’s blog.

Cnet has a detailed review pointing out additional positives and negatives.

Coupon Printer . exe

The “Your Money” section of KUSA / 9News has a section listing grocery coupons.   Today they featured it on the front page of their site, so searching for some crazy deals I clicked and found $1 off Frosted Flakes.   (Yeah I know it’s not great, but I’ve never clipped a coupon online so was curious what it looked like.)

In order to print coupons from this site, (linked through 9News.com) they require you download and install “couponprinter.exe” to your computer.  I abstained, being savvy enough to know it’s a bad idea to download random executables.  I really don’t think one of the top consumer/news sites in the city should be affiliated with this, or prompting folks to download shoddy third rate apps.   Even if it’s not malicious, programs like these are not designed well, hog space, and rarely leave your PC in better shape than before.

Here’s what a contributor to TechSupportForum.com had to say when asked “Should I Install this?”

Maybe and maybe not. That’s not much to go on, really. If they are telling you that you HAVE to install the program to print some kind of coupon, then I would be suspicious, since you really don’t need to.

I’ve seen one out there that claims it is the only way to make a machine-readable bar code, but that is a lie. I print out machine-readable barcodes all day long from Word, of all things, LOL!

Someone sent me a coupon printer exe file one time and I decided to run it on one of my Virtual Machines, and when I went to install it, it told me that it does not allow itself to be installed on a virtual machine. HUGE red flag!!! About the ONLY things that do checks for VM before installing are malware apps…

Personally, the last time I ran into this, I sent an email to the company and told them that I refuse to install any untrusted 3rd party program on my machine just to print a coupon. The coupon was for $1.00 off their product. A week letter I got a letter of apology from the company, indicating they have received many complaints about that and apologize for any inconvenience, are looking into it, blah blah blah, AND they included a nice shiny FREE coupon for their product! :)

So instead of saving a dollar and doing who knows what to my machine, I wound up saving almost 9 dollars by getting the item for free :) That’s my advice!

This site rates it even more infaborably. Needless to say I agree, and think this is a terrible idea. 

Museum of Robots

I saw the below linked article and photos of the “Museum of Robots.” Without giving it more than a glance I thought, “Cool. I wonder where they’re at?” It took me a minute on their site to realize that this wasn’t a real museum. Well it IS a museum, but not brick and mortar. The entire museum is located in the virtual world of Second Life.

Run by collectors Count and Bibi Bayliss, their mission is to display and educate how robots have influenced science, art, and transferred to pop culture as well. On virtual “display” is a real collection of small robots, and personally crafted beings they’ve built themselves.

The site Entre Todas has an interview with the MOR founders, who describe their latest exhibit featuring Clayton Bailey – shown in the video.

I’ve never explored Second Life, but some browsing led me to this SL Dance Party, which looked really fun until I realized that the real me was still sitting at my computer drinking coffee. However for displaying art, or creating a space to share with the world – this 3D environment is a fascinating way to do it. And perhaps becoming more and more mainstream.


Some Press

During my blogging break I wrote up a piece for Happy Hotelier – a Dutch based site focusing on hotel and lodging reviews. They feature a plethora of travel bloggery on their site called the “T-List” (Travel list,) with original and submitted content.

Their “10 Questions” feature highlights travelers from different backgrounds and demographics.  I completed it with some info about me and stories, and listed a few of my favorite places I’ve stayed at and restaurants I’ve visited over the past few years.

If you’d like to check it out it’s here.  And you can see that large photo of me standing atop Netherland’s Afsluitdijk bridging the provinces of North Holland and Friesland.  Yes it was quite windy that day.

There’s a diverse list of “10 Questions” participants featuring families, traveling kids, and trip reports from the U.S. and abroad.

Definition of Hacking

Right now thousands of headlines are blaring “Sarah Palin’s email HACKED.” Just like with aviation stories, the terms used are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong.  The most commonly used or overheard words are headlined as fact, in a mad rush to break the story.   Speaking of juicy stories,  Bristol Palin’s voicemail is also on the Gawker site.

Reading the comments on the Anchorage Daily News article I spotted this insightful comment by Mark, (comment 94 at 5:25pm,) describing how this really may not be hacking, and some good reasons to refrain from using personal email for business purposes.

This, frankly, is not hacking in the true, high-tech sense. It’s child’s play. I say this as a system administrator, who has seen this technique commonly used by young teens to hijack other teen’s weblogs, gaming accounts, and the like.

There are settings in Yahoo! and other services that let you secure your email account at a higher level, but if you don’t have this set up and don’t routinely use highly secure, complex, unguessable passwords (using no words, and a combination of upper and lowercase letters, and numbers) you can exploit someone’s email, and use that exploit to exploit their online banking, online stock trading, or any other online account that uses that email address for “forgotten password” notifications. You can literally change their passwords, lock them out of their online accounts, and drain their entire life savings!

Frankly, it’s grossly irresponsible to use such an account for official state business! Gov. Palin should consider herself lucky that the hackers weren’t malicious… or worse yet, from a foriegn intelligence agency! If these kids can hack her Yahoo account, it is entirely possible that online intelligence agents from other countries could do so, and may even have already done so without alerting Palin to their handiwork, as these hackers did. They literally could read every piece of email that comes across her desk, and use those emails and a bit of research to determine the online accounts of other state and Federal politicians and hack into them in the same easy manner! The governor may have already compromised dozens of online accounts belonging to people throughout the U.S. government, and once you know a person’s common login and/or password, you can easily exploit those accounts, including logging in to any private state and federal sites they might have access to! The potential security implications are enormous, as are the implications for other abuses such as using the contents of government emails for insider trading, etc.

That’s why there’s a strong need to stay on government-owned domains, ideally run by a competent systems admininstrator who will put proper security procedures in place, require long, secure passwords that are routinely changed, etc.

Wow – Maybe I’ll take back my post bashing newspaper comments...

Getting on the Grid


I’m a fan of Walt Mossberg’s WSJ Technology column. Here he is talking about the future of technology and interaction at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Especially interesting is the first 10 minutes of this presentation. He predicts how some of the vernacular associated with the internet and communications will soon fall by the wayside. For example we don’t think of “accessing” electricity, we just do it. In the future, (if you don’t already,) you won’t consciously THINK about “getting online,” as it will be completely integrated into daily life and uses beyond computers and mobiles.

Soon the terms and words we use today will sound just as dated as references from the 50s.

Full article


Fonolo Looks Awesome

I read the Consumerist regularly.   Its a great consumer advocacy site, and has interesting articles and finds mixed in with some gut wrenching horror stories.

When I read this post on Fonolo my interest peaked.  They’re offering a solution for a problem that everyone hates: IVRs, or Interactive Voice Response Systems.

The only thing more annoying and cumbersome than phone books is navigating automated phone systems.  When I call an airline, credit card, or major company it eats up so much time I usually end up spacing out and forgetting the prompts by the time I need to enter them.  I despise the turtle like pace when punching in info like zip codes and such, and then having it read back to me to confirm.  (I try and hit # to move on, but it ends up needing a 1 or something, sending me back to the original menu.)   Yes I’m quite impatient when it comes to this.   Gethuman.com is a good resource for reaching live CSRs, but Fonolo plans to rocket it into this century.

Fonolo is bringing a VISUAL approach to the archaic 1980s phone customer service technology we suffer with daily.  Fonolo will feature visible phone “trees” for a specific company.    For example if you’re calling United Airlines and need to  “Book International with Miles” you simply click through the tree, (instead of dealing with the many, many voice prompts leading you there.)  Then through their method of “deep dialing,” the site dials for you, immediately connecting you with that “branch.”

An added bonus:  Utilizing their site you can take personal notes and RECORD CALLS!  While various states laws apply regarding the admissibility of calls for court cases, it still gives YOU some concrete documentation for dealing with a company that might shift answers and policies with you. 

The service will be free, offset by advertising.  I can’t wait for this to go live, and wish them the best.   It will definitely be in my bookmarks.

They’re at Fonolo.com.  If this sounds appealing you can watch a demo too.  Its pretty interesting watching him explain the concept and creation.

It Would Be Fun to Run a Newspaper

Post title courtesy of Charles Foster Kane – who I believe would agree with my assessment below…

I read the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News online almost every day.  Even if I’m busy a quick scan of both sites provide me a stomach full of what’s happening in the city.  Even though these two papers are owned by the same company, both have unique attributes and writers, and I appreciate the access to both.

One development that’s now fully evolved in both dailies is the incorporation of articles written by readers into their newspapers, both online and print.   The Denver Post has “Your Hub,” which is an entire section written by readers and contributors.  Many times a headline on Denverpost.com will link directly to a “Your Hub” article, so instead of reading an article by a journalist you are now reading a rant from “Debbie in Aurora.”   Some are well written, others aren’t.  But there’s little separation between this and the professional content, and I don’t like that.

Newspapers are in bad shape financially.  I haven’t touched a print paper in months, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever purchased a newspaper.  However even if the majority of content is now online a newspaper IS an important presence in a city.  It always has been and I hope it always will be.  That air of authority a daily paper carries is why I prefer articles written by long standing writers, (syndicated or local,) and columnists over local residents.  Other than “letters to the editors” I believe that the “neighborhood beat” pieces should NOT be swallowed up into the pages of these papers.  Articles written by amateurs, (myself included,) have their place – but NOT as a constant part of a major daily.

My other gripe is the incorporation of comments in the articles.  Similar to blogs, almost every professionally written article is now followed by a slew of comments written by everyone and anyone with something to say.  Important yet divisive articles on immigration, politics, and religion are always trailed by hundreds of back and forth lines by many of the same commentors, and almost always deteriorate into insults and name calling. 

Unfortunately such long strings of comments don’t paint the residents of our fine state and city in a very positive light.  Very few stay on topic, and it seems few comments are screened unless they contain blatant profanity or the worst of derogatory terms. 

Every Boulder story is followed by snarky comments mocking it’s liberal leanings.  Many, too many comments bash Hispanics, (often on articles that have nothing to do with immigration.)   Even a non biased fluff article like “Gay Pride wrap-up” receives hundreds of views exposing angry personal opinions.  And conversely an article about suburban mega churches net angry leftist prose about how religion is the root of all things medieval and antiquated.  Pick a random article and read through the comments: Drivers hate cyclists.  Cyclists hate SUVS.  Gays hate everything in Colorado Springs.  Liberals hate the suburbs.  Light rail opponents insult and chastise those in favor.   Those in favor of such city initiatives call opponents militant rednecks.  These repetitive and inflammatory comments take away from what the article, especially if a commentary, is actually saying.





Today’s front (online) page of the Rocky Mountain News features a banal story about a road restriping error in remote northwestern county.  Knowing that summer in Colorado often leads to tensions between motorists and cyclists, and there’s already been numerous articles about “sharing the road,” am I stretching to think that this piece is just trolling for agitated readers and huffy comments?   Are articles being written for their value alone, or more so to instigate “discussion” among readers?  If the latter, then the writer is under the influence to coerce the style and manner in which the original article is written in fishing for return commenters.

Web 2.0 is wonderful.  It allows one to engage in immediate debate and discussion on any topic, whether breaking news or ancient history.  Bloggers and commenters SHOULD be respected for taking the time to write their opinions and share their thoughts.  Blogs equal the playing field and give the little guy a global voice.   One sole post, (hey maybe this one,) can challenge and TAKE ON a big company.

However some platforms should maintain a respectful level of dignity, and I don’t think the two largest and most influential newspapers in the state should display the unfettered rantings of hundreds behind every article.  At the very least its embarrassing when you consider people worldwide read these two papers online.

Why not allow readers to submit their comments, and then have someone review them and select which ones are posted?  If the comment is insightful and engaging THEN approve it.   I’d rather read 10-20 well thought out smart comments than 250 repetitive insults.  Many online papers already follow this method, and while it certainly requires some extra time it will filter out the nonsense, insults, and garbage – and allow readers to absorb the BEST writing by our most well spoken citizens.

So how about it Denver newspapers?  Let’s start moderating so we can achieve some moderation.  You’ll save some bandwidth too.

James Van Dellen