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November 29, 2004

Scirus Search Engine

Scirus: For scientific information only.

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[More...]

OT: Tell Me Your IQ and I'll Tell You Who You Voted For

Below, you'll find a textual version of the information presented on http://chrisevans3d.com/files/iq.htm. Is it reliable? I can't say for sure, but regardless, it presents an interesting point of discussion.


IQ and Politics

Wow, what can I say, in the past 24 hours over 540,000+ people have visited this page, and I will probably have to take it down soon due to bandwidth issues. I originally posted this to a few friends on a forum, using information from a list just like this created after the 2000 election. The list was carried by the St. Petersburg Times and the Economist, amongst others. The IQ data was originally attributed to the book "IQ and the Wealth of Nations", though I checked and couldn't find them in the current edition, I posted saying such at the bottom of the table. The tests and data were said to have been administered via the Raven's APT, and The Test Agency, one of the UK's leading publishers and distributors of psychometric tests.

I have recently been emailed by someone claiming to have seen a retraction many issues later on the behalf of the Economist Magazine. The Economist could not independently verify the IQ data and the retraction can be found here. I have yet to find any other retractions from the St. Petersburg Times or other publications. Here you can find a report correlating IQ and income, and their relation to how people voted in the 2004 election. This IQ data is based on SAT/ACT test scores. Here you can see the correlation between percentage of college graduates in a state and whom they voted for in the 2000 election.

I think matching census data to the results of the election reveals some very interesting things. For instance, there is a direct correlation that has been pointed out by the Boston Globe between the divorce rate per state, and who they voted for, as it turns out, the higher the percentage of people voting for Bush, the higher the divorce rate. That is very interesting considering many people voted based on 'morality'.

I am glad that so many people are so interested in IQ, statistical correlations, and their relation to politics. I believe such correlations are increasingly interesting as some candidates this year funneled more money into biased advertising and partisan propaganda than has ever been attempted in the history of the world.

  State Avg. IQ 2004
1 Connecticut 113 Kerry
2 Massachusetts 111 Kerry
3 New Jersey 111 Kerry
4 New York 109 Kerry
5 Rhode Island 107 Kerry
6 Hawaii 106 Kerry
7 Maryland 105 Kerry
8 New Hampshire 105 Kerry
9 Illinois 104 Kerry
10 Delaware 103 Kerry
11 Minnesota 102 Kerry
12 Vermont 102 Kerry
13 Washington 102 Kerry
14 California 101 Kerry
15 Pennsylvania 101 Kerry
16 Maine 100 Kerry
17 Virginia 100 Bush
18 Wisconsin 100 Kerry
19 Colorado 99 Bush
20 Iowa 99 Bush
21 Michigan 99 Kerry
22 Nevada 99 Bush
23 Ohio 99 Bush
24 Oregon 99 Kerry
25 Alaska 98 Bush
26 Florida 98 Bush
27 Missouri 98 Bush
28 Kansas 96 Bush
29 Nebraska 95 Bush
30 Arizona 94 Bush
31 Indiana 94 Bush
32 Tennessee 94 Bush
33 North Carolina 93 Bush
34 West Virginia 93 Bush
35 Arkansas 92 Bush
36 Georgia 92 Bush
37 Kentucky 92 Bush
38 New Mexico 92 Bush
39 North Dakota 92 Bush
40 Texas 92 Bush
41 Alabama 90 Bush
42 Louisiana 90 Bush
43 Montana 90 Bush
44 Oklahoma 90 Bush
45 South Dakota 90 Bush
46 South Carolina 89 Bush
47 Wyoming 89 Bush
48 Idaho 87 Bush
49 Utah 87 Bush
50 Mississippi 85 Bush

 

Your mail:
"As a regular reader of the "Economist" I can confirm that this table (for the 2000 election) was indeed published in the 'Economist". However, a few issues later on, the 'Economist' published a retraction, saying the data was unable to be verified and possibly a hoax."

"i was bored last night, so curiosity got the best of me and i decided to see if there was a correlation between %bush voters and %college grads by state (nerd!). so i found out each state's %Bachelor's degrees from the census and ran it--indeed there was a negative linear relationship between %bush voters and %college grads (R = -0.71)-- which means, the less % of college grads, the more % bush voters. DC had the highest % of college grads (42.5%) and the lowest % of bush voters (9%); West Virginia had the lowest % grads (16.1%) and a relatively high % (56%) bush voters...... Interestingly the last 14 ranking states in grads (&lt22%) were all bush winners (many 55-60+% voted for bush), and 11 of the top 14 ranking states in grads (>30%) were kerry winners."


Here is a conservative site that appears to debunk the original 2000 election IQ chart thing, and has a lot of relevent information.

I also wanted to thank my friends for mirroring this, I have really been inundated with hits. This was original was originally posted on www.ChrisEvans3D.com/files/iq.htm if you want to flame someone, flame me, not them. It was not posted as an elitest diatribe, just an interesting correlation.



Saving on Taxes 2004

It's that time of year again. No, not time to start working on taxes. Time to start buying tax software.

I'm not sure I'll be able to attain quite the savings of last year ($23.72 profit plus merchandise). In fact, I'm almost embarrassed at the uncoolness of the purchase thus far. Because I didn't have a coupon valid for online use, I had to purchase in-store. I will wait to see if an online coupon comes along so I can get a better deal. The deal thus far:
-TaxCut Deluxe ($24.95)
-6 Sheet Strip Cut Shredder (Staples got cheap - last year they offered a 12 sheet model) ($19.94)
-MS Money Deluxe 2005 ($39.94)
-Deduction Pro ($19.95)

The total came to $104.78 - $12.57 (12% Staples Appreciation) + $7.95 (tax) - $85 (rebates) = $15.16.

At the same time, my curiosity over what, if any, practical differences exist between TaxCut and TurboTax has grown to the point that I would probably go ahead and buy both if not for the need to enter information into both to accurately compare them.

November 28, 2004

Black Friday Roundup

Black Friday came, and went. I didn't really need anything, and there weren't any amazing deals, so I bought nothing!

November 26, 2004

Black Friday

This is an experimental "sticky" post that will stay at the top through Black Friday (11/26).

Black Friday @ GottaDeal (AKA BF04.com)
GottaDeal's BF Forum
GottaDeal BF Ads
BF2004.net
FW's BF Thread
FW's Smart shoppers to unite on black friday (by wearing red t-shirts) thread

BF Story in the Making:
Our microwave recently died. We're borrowing an extra that my in-laws have, but it's pretty small. I found and bought a cheap one at Sears for $35 on 10/31, and noticed on 11/4 that it will be $19.99 (after $10 MIR) on BF. Sears PM policy should allow me to get back at least $5, and maybe $15, without even having to go into the store.
UPDATE: I decided to return the Sears microwave as I found a nice looking bigger, more powerful one at Target for a bit more ($40).

November 25, 2004

Dell LCD/TV

Ever since I bought a new computer I've been thinking about getting an LCD monitor. They were pretty expensive when I bought my computer, so I didn't do it then. Over the last several months the price has been dropping, but not enough. There are several BF deals at around $200 for a 17" LCD, but still more than I'm willing to spend for something I don't need.

Then the stars aligned. Well, all but one.*

A co-worker sought my help in picking out and buying a new Dell for her son. I read about the great EPP deals on FW. Dell was running their Dellf promotion. I helped her get a $1500 system for about $1000, and suggested that if I could obtain a $1 LCD/TV coupon, that I throw it in with her computer order. She went for it, I got a coupon, and the rest will soon be history.

Coupons/discounts on this order included a $100 coupon, 25% coupon, 4% discount, $1 LCD/TV coupon, and free shipping.

*I didn't have any luck winning a $1 LCD/TV coupon on the Dellf site, but did get the 25% off coupon. I went to ebay and got both a $100 coupon the the LCD coupon for under $25.

I can't wait till it comes!

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

We Gather Together


We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;

He chastens and hastens his will to make known;

The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,

Sing praises to his name: He forgets not his own.


Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,

Ordaining, maintaining his kingdom devine;

So from the beginning the fight we were winning;

Thou, Lord, wast at our side, All glory be thine!


We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,

And pray that thou still our defender wilt be.

Let thy congregation escape tribulation;

Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Amen.







In the early 1600s, Dutch settlers brought the Prayer of Thanksgiving to the "New World." Music, based on a Netherlands folk hymn, was added and it became a favorite in the colonies and today is a traditional Thanksgiving hymn. This translation is by Theodore Baker (1851-1934).



November 24, 2004

UPDATE: AOL Really Really Never Gives Up

Got another cancellation confirmation letter from AOL yesterday. Meanwhile, Freeipods.com has closed my second customer service complaint without a response.

November 19, 2004

AOL Really Really Never Gives Up

First, I canceled, with great difficulty. But they wanted me back.
Their discount plan rates didn't lure me. Their attempt to convince me to pay a bill I didn't owe didn't sway me. They sent another "Payment Processing Note," which I ignored. Canceling AOL twice was enough for me.

And yet they keep trying to bill me. Because I signed up with a temporary credit card number (which has now expired), they have not succeeded in charging me, but that hasn't stopped them from trying. Repeatedly. So much so that my credit card put my account on hold and contacted me about possible fraud.

Gee, makes you just love AOL, doesn't it.

November 17, 2004

Free Prints @ Snapfish

Go to Snapfish and you will find an offer for free prints. It might be 10, 20, 25, or even 50. Not pleased with the number you were offered? Close the browser and load the page in a new one. When you get to 50, sign up, upload your pictures, and order way. No special coupon is needed, though you do have to pay for shipping, which for 50 pictures is $3.44. To sweeten the deal, it may be possible to utilize FW's $5 FatCash offer.

November 16, 2004

UPS Makes an Oops

"THE PACKAGE WAS LEFT IN A UPS FACILITY CAUSING THIS DELAY; FORWARDED TO THE FACILITY IN THE DESTINATION CITY"

Doh! At least they're honest.

November 15, 2004

Barnes & Noble's Weird Shipping

I wanted to order 3 books, and I wanted them by the end of the week. 2 of the books were "usually ships within 24 hours" and the third was "usually ships within 2-3 days." My original order was for all 3 books combined, with an estimated ship date of 11/18. Low chance of on-time arrival.

I called up and broke off the 2-3 day book into its own order. The first two books shipped tonight. The third book has an estimated ship date of 11/17. It seems that shipping fewer books is faster for Barnes & Noble.

Babystyle.com Coupon

Babystyle.com $15 off $75
Expires: 11/27/2004

coupon code: cusoon

This offer is not applicable toward the purchase of Baby Bjorn, Bugaboo, Avent, Mustela, Medela, or Peg Perego products; these products will not count towards the $75 minimum purchase for this discount.

November 12, 2004

Analyzing Customers, Best Buy Decides Not All Are Welcome

The Wall Street Journal reports on Best Buy's attempt at turning away "devil" customers.

Minding the Store
Analyzing Customers, Best Buy
Decides Not All Are Welcome

Retailer Aims to Outsmart
Dogged Bargain-Hunters,
And Coddle Big Spenders
Looking for 'Barrys' and 'Jills'
By GARY MCWILLIAMS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
November 8, 2004; Page A1

(See Corrections & Amplifications item below.)

Brad Anderson, chief executive officer of Best Buy Co., is embracing a heretical notion for a retailer. He wants to separate the "angels" among his 1.5 million daily customers from the "devils."

Best Buy's angels are customers who boost profits at the consumer-electronics giant by snapping up high-definition televisions, portable electronics, and newly released DVDs without waiting for markdowns or rebates.

The devils are its worst customers. They buy products, apply for rebates, return the purchases, then buy them back at returned-merchandise discounts. They load up on "loss leaders," severely discounted merchandise designed to boost store traffic, then flip the goods at a profit on eBay. They slap down rock-bottom price quotes from Web sites and demand that Best Buy make good on its lowest-price pledge. "They can wreak enormous economic havoc," says Mr. Anderson.

Best Buy estimates that as many as 100 million of its 500 million customer visits each year are undesirable. And the 54-year-old chief executive wants to be rid of these customers.


Mr. Anderson's new approach upends what has long been standard practice for mass merchants. Most chains use their marketing budgets chiefly to maximize customer traffic, in the belief that more visitors will lift revenue and profit. Shunning customers -- unprofitable or not -- is rare and risky.

Mr. Anderson says the new tack is based on a business-school theory that advocates rating customers according to profitability, then dumping the up to 20% that are unprofitable. The financial-services industry has used a variation of that approach for years, lavishing attention on its best customers and penalizing its unprofitable customers with fees for using ATMs or tellers or for obtaining bank records.

Best Buy seems an unlikely candidate for a radical makeover. With $24.5 billion in sales last year, the Richfield, Minn., company is the nation's top seller of consumer electronics. Its big, airy stores and wide inventory have helped it increase market share, even as rivals such as Circuit City Stores Inc. and Sears, Roebuck & Co., have struggled. In the 2004 fiscal year that ended in February, Best Buy reported net income of $570 million, up from $99 million during the year-earlier period marred by an unsuccessful acquisition, but still below the $705 million it earned in fiscal 2002.

But Mr. Anderson spies a hurricane on the horizon. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, and Dell Inc., the largest personal-computer maker, have moved rapidly into high-definition televisions and portable electronics, two of Best Buy's most profitable areas. Today, they rank respectively as the nation's second- and fourth-largest consumer-electronics sellers.


Mr. Anderson worries that his two rivals "are larger than us, have a lower [overhead], and are more profitable." In five years, he fears, Best Buy could wind up like Toys 'R' Us Inc., trapped in what consultants call the "unprofitable middle," unable to match Wal-Mart's sheer buying power, while low-cost online sellers like Dell pick off its most affluent customers. Toys 'R' Us recently announced it was considering exiting the toy business.

This year, Best Buy has rolled out its new angel-devil strategy in about 100 of its 670 stores. It is examining sales records and demographic data and sleuthing through computer databases to identify good and bad customers. To lure the high-spenders, it is stocking more merchandise and providing more appealing service. To deter the undesirables, it is cutting back on promotions and sales tactics that tend to draw them, and culling them from marketing lists.

As he prepares to roll out the unconventional strategy throughout the chain, Mr. Anderson faces significant risks. The pilot stores have proven more costly to operate. Because different pilot stores target different types of customers, they threaten to scramble the chain's historic economies of scale. The trickiest challenge may be to deter bad customers without turning off good ones.

"Culturally I want to be very careful," says Mr. Anderson. "The most dangerous image I can think of is a retailer that wants to fire customers."

Mr. Anderson's campaign against devil customers pits Best Buy against an underground of bargain-hungry shoppers intent on wringing every nickel of savings out of big retailers. At dozens of Web sites like FatWallet.com, SlickDeals.net and TechBargains.com, they trade electronic coupons and tips from former clerks and insiders, hoping to gain extra advantages against the stores.

At SlickDeals.net, whose subscribers boast about techniques for gaining hefty discounts, a visitor recently bragged about his practice of shopping at Best Buy only when he thinks he can buy at below the retailer's cost. He claimed to purchase only steeply discounted loss leaders, except when forcing Best Buy to match rock-bottom prices advertised elsewhere. "I started only shopping there if I can [price match] to where they take a loss," he wrote, claiming he was motivated by an unspecified bad experience with the chain. In an e-mail exchange, he declined to identify himself or discuss his tactics, lest his targets be forewarned.

Mr. Anderson's makeover plan began taking shape two years ago when the company retained as a consultant Larry Selden, a professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business. Mr. Selden has produced research tying a company's stock-market value to its ability to identify and cater to profitable customers better than its rivals do. At many companies, Mr. Selden argues, losses produced by devil customers wipe out profits generated by angels.

Best Buy's troubled acquisitions of MusicLand Stores Corp. and two other retailers had caused its share price and price-to-earnings ratio to tumble. Mr. Selden recalls advising Mr. Anderson: "The best time to fix something is when you're still making great money but your [price-to-earnings ratio] is going down."

Mr. Selden had never applied his angel-devil theories to a retailer as large as Best Buy, whose executives were skeptical that 20% of customers could be unprofitable. In mid-2002, Mr. Selden outlined his theories during several weekend meetings in Mr. Anderson's Trump Tower apartment. Mr. Anderson was intrigued by Mr. Selden's insistence that a company should view itself as a portfolio of customers, not product lines.

Mr. Anderson put his chief operating officer in charge of a task force to analyze the purchasing histories of several groups of customers, with an eye toward identifying bad customers who purchase loss-leading merchandise and return purchases. The group discovered it could distinguish the angels from the devils, and that 20% of Best Buy's customers accounted for the bulk of profits.

In October 2002, Mr. Anderson instructed the president of Best Buy's U.S. stores, Michael P. Keskey, to develop a plan to realign stores to target distinct groups of customers rather than to push a uniform mix of merchandise. Already deep into a cost-cutting program involving hundreds of employees, Mr. Keskey balked, thinking his boss had fallen for a business-school fad. He recalls telling Mr. Anderson, "You've lost touch with what's happening in your business."

Mr. Anderson was furious, and Mr. Keskey says he wondered whether it was time to leave the company. But after meeting with the chief operating officer and with Mr. Selden, Mr. Keskey realized there was no turning back, he says.

Best Buy concluded that its most desirable customers fell into five distinct groups: upper-income men, suburban mothers, small-business owners, young family men, and technology enthusiasts. Mr. Anderson decided that each store should analyze the demographics of its local market, then focus on two of these groups and stock merchandise accordingly.

Best Buy began working on ways to deter the customers who drove profits down. It couldn't bar them from its stores. But this summer it began taking steps to put a stop to their most damaging practices. It began enforcing a restocking fee of 15% of the purchase price on returned merchandise. To discourage customers who return items with the intention of repurchasing them at an "open-box" discount, it is experimenting with reselling them over the Internet, so the goods don't reappear in the store where they were originally purchased.

"In some cases, we can solve the problem by tightening up procedures so people can't take advantage of the system," explains Mr. Anderson.

In July, Best Buy cut ties to FatWallet.com, an online "affiliate" that had collected referral fees for delivering customers to Best Buy's Web site. At FatWallet.com, shoppers swap details of loss-leading merchandise and rebate strategies. Last October, the site posted Best Buy's secret list of planned Thanksgiving weekend loss leaders, incurring the retailer's ire. Timothy C. Storm, president of Roscoe, Ill.-based FatWallet, said the information may have leaked from someone who had an early look at advertisements scheduled to run the day after Thanksgiving.

In a letter to Mr. Storm, Best Buy explained it was cutting the online link between FatWallet and BestBuy.com because the referrals were unprofitable. The letter said it was terminating all sites that "consistently and historically have put us in a negative business position."

Mr. Storm defends FatWallet.com's posters as savvy shoppers. "Consumers don't set the prices. The merchants have complete control over what their prices and policies are," he says.

Shunning customers can be a delicate business. Two years ago, retailer Filene's Basement was vilified on television and in newspaper columns for asking two Massachusetts customers not to shop at its stores because of what it said were frequent returns and complaints. Earlier this year, Mr. Anderson apologized in writing to students at a Washington, D.C., school after employees at one store barred a group of black students while admitting a group of white students.

Mr. Anderson says the incident in Washington was inappropriate and not a part of any customer culling. He maintains that Best Buy will first try to turn its bad customers into profitable ones by inducing them to buy warranties or more profitable services. "In most cases, customers wouldn't recognize the options we've tried so far," he says.

Store clerks receive hours of training in identifying desirable customers according to their shopping preferences and behavior. High-income men, referred to internally as Barrys, tend to be enthusiasts of action movies and cameras. Suburban moms, called Jills, are busy but usually willing to talk about helping their families. Male technology enthusiasts, nicknamed Buzzes, are early adopters, interested in buying and showing off the latest gadgets.

Staffers use quick interviews to pigeonhole shoppers. A customer who says his family has a regular "movie night," for example, is pegged a prime candidate for home-theater equipment. Shoppers with large families are steered toward larger appliances and time-saving products.

The company hopes to lure the Barrys and Jills by helping them save time with services like a "personal shopper" to help them hunt for unusual items, alert them to sales on preferred items, and coordinate service calls.

Best Buy's decade-old Westminster, Calif., store is one of 100 now using the new approach. It targets upper-income men with an array of pricey home-theater systems, and small-business owners with network servers, which connect office PCs, and technical help unavailable to other customers.

On Tuesdays, when new movie releases hit the shelves, blue-shirted sales clerks prowl the DVD aisles looking for promising candidates. The goal is to steer them into a back room that showcases $12,000 high-definition home-theater systems. Unlike the television sections at most Best Buy stores, the room has easy chairs, a leather couch, and a basket of popcorn to mimic the media rooms popular with home-theater fans.

At stores popular with young Buzzes, Best Buy is setting up videogame areas with leather chairs and game players hooked to mammoth, plasma-screen televisions. The games are conveniently stacked outside the playing area, the glitzy new TVs a short stroll away.

Mr. Anderson says early results indicate that the pilot stores "are clobbering" the conventional stores. Through the quarter ended Aug. 28, sales gains posted by pilot stores were double those of traditional stores. In October, the company began converting another 70 stores.

Best Buy intends to customize the remainder of its stores over the next three years. As it does, it will lose the economies and efficiencies of look-alike stores. With each variation, it could become more difficult to keep the right items in stock, a critical issue in a business where a shortage of a hot-selling big-screen TV can wreak havoc on sales and customer goodwill.

Overhead costs at the pilot stores have run one to two percentage points higher than traditional stores. Sales specialists cost more, as do periodic design changes. Mr. Anderson says the average cost per store should fall as stores share winning ideas for targeting customers.

Write to Gary McWilliams at gary.mcwilliams@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications:

Best Buy Co. had net income of $705 million in the fiscal year that ended in February 2004 and $570 million in fiscal 2002. This article transposed the net income figures.

November 11, 2004

FreeiPods.com Can't be Trusted

I've come to the not-so-difficult-conclusion that freeiPods.com can not be trusted. Though they did send me my iPod, they later put my account on hold. When I inquired as to why, their generic response was:

Thanks for writing in about your account's status. We have placed your account on hold due to suspicion of fraud. We have taken a closer look at your account, and have decided that it will remain on HOLD status. Due to high levels of fraud, we are forced to take actions against users who attempt to take advantage of our free offer. The reasons for this action may include multiple accounts, improper offer completions, more than one account to the same household, etc. We take all types of fraud very seriously, and since we give our products away for free, we cannot afford to be lenient on dishonest methods users try to obtain their free items.
In addition to the fact that they closed the Customer Service Inquiry without giving me a chance to respond, my response, below, details the main reasons why I find their actions highly suspicious.
About a week ago, I asked for specifics as to why my account is on hold, and the generic answer provided did not provide them. Please follow through. Keep in mind, my account was obviously not suspicious when you SENT OUT MY IPOD. It's only now that my friend (who referred me) is trying to get his iPod that you are placing my account on hold.

The fact that your FAQ now states, "we hold the right NOT to tell you why you are on hold for proprietary reasons." sounds like an excuse to defraud members of freeiPods.com! I can assure you that I will be warning my friends who have not yet been suckered into freeiPods to beware of their questionable practices.

The fact that they have a "I know I have done everything correctly according to the ENTIRE Terms & Conditions. I know my referrals completed offers they were legitimately interested in, and signed up without my help, and from their household. I have no idea why I'm on HOLD." question in the FAQ is also problematic. People who have played by the rules should not be encountering holds. The answer states:
We take fraud very seriously. If you were placed on hold it is likely your account raised some concerns that caused your account to be suspected of fraudulent activities.

Reasons can range from the following:

- Multiple accounts
- Offers not being completed correctly
- Not being legitimately interested in an offer (ie. canceling right away)
- Helping a user join, and "walking them through the process."
- 2 Accounts to the same household

Or other reasons not listed here.

If you feel like you still have no idea why you are on hold, or may know and want to inform us of what could have happened, then please do so below. Please note, we hold the right NOT to tell you why you are on hold for proprietary reasons.

Some of those reasons are fine, others are not.

"Offers not being completed correctly" - Then don't give credit for the offer.

"Not being legitimately interested in an offer (ie. canceling right away)" - How do you define right away? Furthermore, just because cancellation occurs right away does not mean there was no legitimate interest. For example, the product/service could turn out to be really bad.

"Helping a user join, and 'walking them through the process.'" - I don't recall reading anything about this in the T&Cs**. The closest seems to be 2.(d): "A user may not use another person's name or information to receive products from this website. For example, one person may not join the site for another person, or complete offers for another person's account."

"Or other reasons not listed here." - Broad language such as this is ridiculous!

At any rate, from what I've read, one of the main "other reasons" for an account to be put on hold (when nothing fraudulent was done by the account holder) is when there is a problem with referrals. Specifically, if a referral signed up twice, there is the possibility that they'll penalize the referrer.

*As if this doesn't impinge on free speech. I find it interesting that my blog is the first hit when you search for cancel aol freeipods on Google. If this is the reason that they put my account on hold, it does bring a bit of good news. Violating their T&Cs doesn't constitute fraud, so they won't be coming after me trying to get the iPod back.

**The T&Cs do, however, contain a different list of reasons for holds, including:

V. HOLD
1. Common Reasons for Being Placed on Hold
(a) Multiple accounts.
(b) Fraudulent referrals.
(c) Negative feedback from one of our affiliates or offers being completed and immediately canceled.
(d) More than one account at a user's shipping address.
(e) Posting information on a website, forum, or auction that has to do with "canceling the offers" included, but not limited to, cancellation phone numbers, cancellation time frames, and any encouragement or direction to cancel the offers after signing up with them.*
(f) Any other reason or a combination of reasons at the sole discretion of Gratis Internet.
2. Additional terms regarding "hold" status
(a) We reserve the right to place a user's account on hold at any time.
(b) We are not responsible for notifying a user about his or her account being placed on hold.
(c) If an account is placed on hold, all orders will be frozen and the user will be unable to order from any of the Gratis Internet websites.
(d) A user who has had his or her account placed on hold may not create another account.
(e) A user's account will be on hold indefinitely. Holds do not expire.
(f) A user may not receive any reimbursement for points or referrals accumulated prior to being placed on hold.
(g) If a user feels that he or she has been placed on hold in error (i.e. has not acted against the terms of Gratis Internet), he or she may contact us via our website.
(h) We reserve the right to place a user's account on hold after they have gotten credit for a free item, and even after ordering and receiving their free item. We also hold the right to follow up legally on fraudulent activities.
Other contradictory information in the T&Cs:
I.2.(f) Each user is personally responsible for maintaining the security of his or her account. A user should not share his or her account information and is responsible for keeping his or her password confidential. Gratis Internet is not liable for any losses incurred through the access of your account by a third party or the disclosure of your password or account.
vs.
I.2.(b) Only one account is allowed per shipping address. We do this to ensure quality leads for our advertisers. Since we are 100% advertiser supported, we cannot afford to support multiple accounts at the same shipping address. If there is more than one user at a shipping address, we suggest that they share an account. All accounts which are found to contain shared shipping addresses will be placed on hold.
But don't worry, in case anything goes wrong, Gratis Internet has made it clear that they're a customer service oriented company:
VI. CUSTOMER SERVICE
1. Contacting Customer Support
(a) Due to the volume of customer service requests, we do not offer a telephone support. All questions, comments, and concerns should be sent to us only after reading our entire FAQ/Help page on our website, as many answers to common questions can be found on that page.
(b) Please allow two business days for responses to customer service inquiries.
(c) In order to ensure the preservation of account security and to promote customer service efficiency, users should only email us using the address with which they signed up for this website.
(d) We reserve the right to block any email address.
2. Contacting Us
If a user chooses he or she can contact us at the following postal address:
Gratis Internet
PO Box 50945
Washington DC 20091

OT: Arafat is Dead ... Again

It's now official. He's dead. Again.

November 10, 2004

Beechnut Baby Food Rebate

Save 48 proofs of purchase from any Beech-Nut Naturals®, First Advantage® or Table Time® products. You'll get 4 coupons for $1.00 off any 10 Beech-Nut® items.

Save 16 proofs of purchase from 16 Beech-Nut® Table Time® Tubs or Dices. You'll get 2 coupons for $1.00 off 4 Table Time® Tubs or Dices.

November 9, 2004

Free MCI T-shirt

Click here to request one.

November 8, 2004

AOL Really Never Gives Up

There's low, and then there's scummy. And then there's AOL. First, the made it hard to cancel. Then, they sent follow-up letters to try to get me back. But the thing that really pissed me off was the "Payment Processing Note" that they sent to me, claiming that they were unable to process my payment for AOL Service. Well, considering that I cancelled during my free trial, they had better be having trouble charging me!

Despite the fact that I had no real reason to call, I figured I would anyways. At 4:48, I called and reached a recording. By 4:49, the Divya answered, asked for my name, account #, and my security question. After discussing the problem, she passed off my call to another department at 4:50. Within a minute or so, Fatima answered, and again asked for my account #, then name and security question. She claimed that the account had never been terminated. I told her I didn't care what her system told her. She then tried to indicate that I would have to pay the balance in order to cancel. Yeah, right! She proceeded with the cancellation process, which I again refused to participate in. Supposedly, this new cancellation will take affect today.

Bottom line: thank goodness for $1 credit limit disposable credit card numbers.

Countering Sneakwrap

Ed Foster writes about Sneakwrap, the method employed by suppliers of goods and services to provide/amend the Terms & Conditions by having them take effect through the (continued) use of the product or service.

Is there a way to turn the tables on the purveyors of sneakwrap? At least in some instances, it might very well be possible to take matters into our own hands by sending service providers back our own "terms and conditions" for them to keep our business.

The full column follows.

You've probably noticed how virtually every utility bill or financial statement you get in the mail each month comes with a whole new set of fine print terms that you are supposedly agreeing to by continuing the service. William Woodward, a law professor at Temple University, has noticed this too, and a few years ago he decided to try a little legal exercise with some of his service providers by sending them back his own "Terms and Conditions of Continuing Service" form along with his check. "There is no reason that a consumer cannot have her own form and do battle with a business that has tried to take away important rights by sending out its one-sided form to the consumer," he wrote. "There even seems to be a little poetic justice in it."

Woodward's specific concern was the dispute resolution terms many vendors employ to prohibit class action lawsuits and/or mandate arbitration. His terms therefore basically took the approach of simply preserving his (and the vendor's) right to use the courts. Under the contract law concept of "Battle of the Forms" his terms cancel out the vendor's terms, leaving both parties with the rights they should have. "The approach is benign in the sense that it doesn't purport to change the phone rates or the like but, rather, simply brings consumer rights back to where they were -- and ought to be -- before the arbitration or no-class-action clause arose," he said.

In Woodward's "Battle of the Forms: What You Can Do To Preserve Your Constitutional Right to Go to Court Against Businesses That Rip You Off" -- which can be seen here -- he explains how this works. He also provides a sample form he created to send to Sprint that can easily be modified to send to other vendors.

Anyone who is interested in giving it a try should keep a couple of things in mind, Woodward notes. While the idea of conflicting terms canceling each other out is well tested in business-to-business disputes, he doesn't know of any cases that have been tried involving consumers. So there's no guarantee it will work.

And there is a real possibility that the vendor will cancel your service rather than accept your terms. "This is because the form obtains the vendor's agreement if the vendor does not terminate service, just as the vendor's form purports to get your agreement if you continue to receive service," Woodward says. "You should be prepared for this and be willing to secure alternative services if the vendor decides to end the relationship."

Woodward says that the form he sent to Sprint resulted only in a "we're considering it" response from the company. In another case, however, he actually got a little bonus out of the deal. "I bought several hundred dollars worth of merchandise at Pottery Barn, and they said I could save ten percent if I opened a Pottery Barn credit card," Woodward says. "So I did. When the terms for the credit card came later in the mail, they included a mandatory arbitration clause, so I sent my own form back. Pottery Barn then canceled the account, but I kept the discount. I'd do it again."

Clearly, there are some forms of sneakwrap that don't lend themselves to Woodward's approach. "With Internet transactions, for example, it is pretty hard for the consumer to send a form back," he says. "The same goes for one-shot purchases of software where, if a contract is formed at all, it's formed on opening the box or installing the software. Any terms the consumer tried to add later would be an attempted modification that would fail."

So, if you're up for it, pick your fight carefully. Services like credit cards or long distance make sense, because there are plenty of alternatives. But I'm certainly not going to try it with SBC or my friendly local power company.

But at least this is one way we can choose when and where we fight back against sneakwrap. And if enough of us do so, maybe some of these companies will think twice about all the fine print they keep sending us in the mail. And that would indeed be poetic justice.

November 5, 2004

Halloween is Over ... Let the Sales Begin!

I was in Rite Aid last night, and the Halloween candy was 50% off! Yay!

November 4, 2004

OT: Arafat is Dead

It's now official . . . maybe.

Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat Dies (Deutsche Welle)

Arafat dies in Paris hospital: Israeli media (Turkish Press)

Arafat 'brain dead' - Israeli TV (News24)

Arafat is Clinically Dead (Arutz Sheva Israel Broadcasting Network)

Channel 2: Arafat has Died (Arutz Sheva Israel Broadcasting Network)

Arafat Reported Clinically Dead; PM Denies (Reuters)

Arafat Reported Clinically Dead; PM Denies (ABC News)

More . . .

The latest that I've read is he's brain dead, but on life support, according to both Palestinians and French officials. The funny thing is that the Israelis have known that Arafat is brain dead for years!

November 3, 2004

Free Zyrtec Fleece Blanket

Just complete a short survey.

Moladot Calculations

In preparing new entries for my Moladot page, I modified my old excel spreadsheet to make it even more precise. First I added logic to handle situations when the number of minutes and/or chalokim is 0. Additionally, the verb (was/will be) is now in the past tense if the molad occurred prior to the approximated announcement time (9 AM EST). To do this, I had to calculate the dates of Rosh Chodesh, which is immensely more complex than calculating the moladot. After referencing a variety of resources online, I have succeeded, and can tell you the dates of Rosh Chodesh and the times of the molad well into the future.

FreeiPods.com is Wacky

My friend, Shaya, whose referral link I used to sign up for freeiPods.com reported to me that his account has been stripped of all but one referral. Included in the list of removed referrals is mine, which is odd, considering they shipped my iPod. So I went to check my account status, and it now reads:

While you have completed all the requirements to get a free iPod, we have reviewed your account and referral offer completions and have placed your account on hold. We have determined that your referrals appear to not be unique users. Because we make money from advertisers who only pay us for unique users, we cannot credit you for these referrals.
Click here to view your order status!

How silly!

And, I got my first piece of freeiPods.com spam in a while. "There's a revolutionary money making phenomenon that is spreading across
the Internet like WILDFIRE!" Oh boy, let me respond!

November 1, 2004

AOL Never Gives Up

Despite making myself quite clear that I don't like AOL when I cancelled, they keep trying to get me back. They sent another letter that arrived late last week, again inviting me to come back, with price plans "as lows as $4.95/month." I think not.