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People constantly joke about how they have 100 (500? 1000?) different channels but they still can’t find anything to watch. Have you ever realized how true that joke is? I’ve found a much better alternative.

Netflix.

I was a member several years ago but cancelled because movies were sitting on my desk for weeks instead of getting watched. I’m home a little more now than I was back then, so a few months ago I decided to give it a try again. I am so glad I made that decision. It’s such a simple but good concept. Make a list of every movie you want to see, then they’ll get sent to you one (or more, depending on your plan) at a time. Shipping is super fast (at least in my area). If I put a movie in the mailbox before the morning pickup, Netflix receives it the very next day and I receive the next movie on my list the day after that. In addition to that, I can watch a lot of their stuff online without having to wait two days for the mail. Now I rarely find myself hopelessly flicking through channels trying to find something the slightest bit interesting.

Hmmm, this might not just be a Netflix thing. Maybe I’m becoming a convert for the subscription media thing. I just tried out the free trial of Microsoft’s Zune pass, and I will probably be purchasing a subscription. With the Zune pass, I get unlimited access to most of their catalog of music. In the time that I’ve been trying it, I’ve discovered tons of new music and found a bunch of songs that I’ve always liked but never had. I’ve been tempted to get Zune Pass for a while, but what finally won me over is the new feature that lets you keep 10 songs per month.

Yep, I think I’m definitely a subscription convert if the price and terms are right. With Netflix, the speed of shipping combined with the always-available online content makes it well worth it’s cost, which is about what you’d pay to rent two movies. With the Zune pass, $15 a month always seemed like a bit much for me considering the fact that if I cancelled my subscription, all my music would be gone. However, $15 for temporary access to the full Zune library and 10 songs to keep permanantly is a great bargain.

OK. Gushing rant over

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Mobile Blogging

I am writing this entry on my newest gadget – an ipaq 110. The ipaq is a PDA – no phone, just a PDA. Sales on phoneless PDA’s have been abysmal over the past few years, especially in comparison to smartphones. I am purposely going against the trend.It’s not that I don’t see the benefits of having one device, the problem is that when it comes to purchasing smartphones in this country, I see nothing but a bunch of bad options. Let’s see . . .

– I could’ve taken the standard path – buy a smartphone that is subsidized by a service provider. After paying a chunk of money, I would’ve been stuck with a 2 year contract, a phone that would not have worked on other networks, and a monthly bill that was inflated by data costs. To cut down on data costs, I could’ve gone with a wi-fi enabled phone, but phones with wi-fi are more expensive.

– I could’ve bought an unlocked phone which would not be limited to one network. I would’ve spent a LOT more money, and once again I would’ve been forced to choose between extra data costs and expensive wi-fi.

– I could’ve bought a network subsidized phone and then used one of the various unlocking methods to get rid of network limitations. Depending on the phone model, unlocking can cost money and it can be risky – just look at the horrible experiences many iphone users had with unlocked phones.

None of these options seems worth it to me, especially considering the alternative – a plain old PDA. My ipaq 110 has wi-fi and bluetooth. I can get online, work on my website, blog, write lyrics, and more – and I don’t have to deal with any monthly fees or contracts. Counting shipping costs, the ipaq cost about $280 (www.datavis.com) – comparable to the initial cost of some of the cheaper smartphones. If you want to factor in the other costs, you could add the data costs for the 2 years of contract time (I believe it usually starts around $20/month) and you’ll find that a $280 smartphone really costs you $568. Ouch! I think I got a good deal.

So, my hope is that my ipaq will make me more efficient. There have been many times when I wanted to do some writing, but I was not at a computer or the computer I was at didn’t have the file I wanted to work on. Now, that won’t be a problem because my computer is with me. My e-mail is with me, my RSS feeds are with me, my schedule, my lyrics – it’s all here in my hand.

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My Door to Door Days

Several years ago, during my search for a summer job, I responded to an ad in an employment newspaper. I ended up working for a marketing company, selling electric service from door to door for a week. For seven days, I went from door to door trying to get people to switch from the major electric company in this area to a greener and “cheaper” provider. Without question, that was the absolute shadiest job I have ever had. When I did my own research, I found that for most people, the switch to a “cheaper” company would actually end up increasing their monthly bill, but that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that we were trained to manipulate people into making the switch. Every cloud has a silver lining – the worst part was also the best part. Long after I left that job, I retained the lessons learned. I don’t aim to be manipulative, but I value everything I learn about how people work and learning the techniques of manipulation has helped me avoid being manipulated. The basic idea was to get people to sign a contract without putting a lot of thought into it. In order to do that, we were supposed to play on their trust, use their reflexes, and encourage rashness.

We approached the door – knock knock/ding dong. “Hi I’m Ahd Child representing Green Mountain. I’m just registering all the PECO customers on this street for the flat rate they can get now.”

Our speech was pre-written and very calculated. As we began by saying who we were representing, we quickly pointed to our Green Mountain name badge in the binder we were holding. We said this part very quickly so that the person wouldn’t really register it. We wanted them to pay attention to the next part. In our binders, next to the Green Mountain badge, was a stack of PECO bills. As we said the word “PECO” we would point to the company name on the bill with our pen. A pen can control a person’s attention. Try this trick that they taught us during training. While you are talking to someone, reference and point to (with your pen) something on a paper. Once the person’s eyes are on the paper and as you continue to talk, move the pen to the four corners of the paper in an X pattern. The person’s eyes should follow your pen. We’d also slow down as we said the word “PECO.” The result was that they would see and hear “PECO” while barely noticing “Green Mountain.” We “plainly” stated that we worked for Green Mountain, but people always inevitably ended up thinking we worked for PECO – a company they knew and trusted.

If we had succeeded in getting electric bills from their neighbors, we’d leave those on top and using our pens and gestures, we’d draw attention to the name. If someone sees that their neighbors signed up, they’d be more inclined to go ahead and sign up. As we said “flat rate” we would hold our hand up and flat, illustrating our words. This brought the person’s eyes back up from our binders and made the words stick in their minds.

“You see what happened now is the government changed the law so everyone can get the new rate now easily.”

I don’t quite remember the speech word for word anymore, but this is pretty close to what it was – including the bad grammar. The bad grammar was purposely included to make sure the speech sounded natural. There was no mention that by getting these new rates they’d be switching electric companies.

“All I need is an old electric bill, if you could just go grab that for me.”

This was one of the most devious parts. At this point we break eye contact, looking past the person and into the house as we ask them to grab the bill. We’d also point into the house and then we immediately looked down into our binders, making sure not to resume eye contact. Our trainers called this “being assumptive.” If we were properly assumptive, even before the person realized what they were doing, they’d turn to grab the bill. Of course some people would think about it and stop, but that was only after they involuntarily started the motion. Try it yourself. Ask someone to get something for you that’s already in easy reach. As you say it, look and point at the object. Then, look away from the person. Your body language should show that you assumed that they are already doing what you asked them to do. Despite the fact that you could easily have grabbed the object yourself, the person will move to grab it. They may stop halfway there and tell you get it yourself, but if you do it right, there will be some sign of a reflexive reaction to your words.

I forget the rest of the speech, but once the bill was retrieved, we’d copy the person’s info (name, address, etc.) to our form as we talked. As we finished, we’d inform them that we just needed their signature to activate this new rate. We never asked them if they wanted to switch companies, we just filled out the form. Once again we were being assumptive. If, after all our efforts at manipulation, the person refused to sign, we’d leave – with their bill if possible. That way, when we went to the next house, we’d have a neighbor’s bill to point at, so even if the neighbor hadn’t signed up, it looked like they had. If they did sign, we informed them that the last thing they had to do was vocally confirm that they had been informed of all the conditions. We let them know that we were going to dial a number on our phones and somebody would ask them questions. We told them what the questions would be and how they should answer.

“. . . and they’ll ask you if you are aware that there will be a one-time charge of $5, and you say yes . . . “

(I think the charge was somewhere around $5, but I’m not sure.) This was the first time during the conversation that a start up charge would mentioned. At this point, we’d be wrapping things up, the person already signed the form, and they should be distracted by the phone call. They should feel too rushed to voice an objection to this small additional fee.

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Cleaning Up Their Act (a little) – Burnlounge Update

Previously, I wrote about Burnlounge and their shady business model which looked suspiciously like a Quixtar pyramid scheme. It seems that after getting the unwanted attention of the FTC, Burnlounge decided it wasn’t worth it. They’ve changed their business model to “eliminate the network marketing portion.” Now instead of paying them for the opportunity to sell their music, you can create your own Burnlounge store for free. Of course you’d still be selling their music, but without the fee, the Burnrewards you get in return seem a little more enticing.

Of course there are still a number of for-pay services available, but they are a lot more straightforward now. You can still pay a monthly fee in order to get cash instead of Burnrewards, but you no longer get cash or rewards for convincing other people to sell stuff under you . . . though there is something about getting rewards for sales your “affiliates” make. I think the value of some of their for-pay services is still questionable, and the affiliate thing sounds a little pyramid-ish, but the new business model is definitely an improvement. Take a look at their frequently asked questions for more info the changes.

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Burnlounge

I wrote this article about burnlounge.com a while back for a website that never really took off. I’ve been meaning to repost it in my blog for a while but I kept putting it off. I just read that the FTC is taking a closer look at BurnLounge, so I finally posted it. Now I can say “I told you so.” 🙂

Being an artist today is not like it used to be. The combination of broadband internet and cheaper technology has made easy for just about anyone to express his creativity and share it with the world. This ease of access hasn’t reached its limit yet – new businesses and websites targeted toward do-it-yourself artists are constantly popping up. Unfortunately though, opportunities like this are rarely missed by those looking to exploit the uninformed and eager.
I recently learned about BurnLounge.com, an online music store with a twist. I’m always interested in new things in music and new things on the internet, so this sounded like it was right my alley. I went to the website, searching for information on this service, hoping to figure out if I’d be able to afford to take advantage of whatever it was offering, but the more information I found, the more confused I became.

The idea behind BurnLounge is that you pay BurnLounge a yearly fee, and they allow you to set up an online music store where you can sell digital downloads of music supplied by them, but chosen by you. As you make sales, you receive BurnRewards which you can trade in for free music downloads for yourself. If you get your friends to open BurnLounge stores, you get rewards from their sales too. If you are willing to pay a monthly fee in addition to the yearly fee, you can earn cash instead of BurnRewards for your sales.

My first reaction was to wonder why someone would buy music from me instead of just going directly to BurnLounge or another person with a BurnLounge account. It’s not like it’s a physical store where it would make sense to own a franchise. The McDonald’s at Philadelphia’s 30th Street station isn’t really competing with the McDonald’s down the street from me because they are in different locations. Online music stores do not have that distinction – they are all located in the exact same place – your desk…or wherever you keep your computer.

My second reaction was to think that I must be misunderstanding. If they are asking for yearly and monthly fees, there must be something that their users gain. I figured that there had to be some benefit that I had missed, so I went back over the site, scouring every page to find it. I didn’t find it.

Then, somebody mentioned something to me that made it all make sense – pyramid schemes. Wow. I thought those didn’t make it past the 1980’s, at least not in the mainstream. I even checked out the website for Quixtar, one of the most notorious pyramid schemes in the U.S. Some of their marketing material has wording extremely similar to what is on the BurnLounge site.

For the benefit of those that don’t know, here’s how a pyramid scheme works. The parent company has a product. You pay the parent company a fee to sell the product. You get a percentage from the sales of the profit. If you convince other people to sell the product, you get a percentage from their sales to. If those people get people to sell, they get a percentage from those people’s sales and you get a percentage from both of them. It’s all very logical and it sounds like you could make a great profit for a relatively small amount of work.

While it may sound nice in principle, problems arise when pyramid schemes are put into practice. In a 1979 FTC ruling, Amway, a company founded by the same folks behind Quixtar, was determined to be a legitimate and legal business. However, it came to light that less than 50% of the sellers ever made any profit and that most of the profit that Amway made came from the sellers own use of the products. Pyramid schemes are marketed as being great money-making opportunities for sellers, but in reality they are for the parent companies to make money off of the sellers. I’m sure most of the people reading this either have or know someone that has stacks of boxes in the spare room, attic, or garage, left over from a “business opportunity” that didn’t quite work out.

At this point, I think it’s pretty clear that I’m not buying into the whole BurnLounge thing, but I thought maybe I’m being unfair. I went back to the site and found a contact e-mail address. I sent an e-mail with a few questions to customer support @ burn lounge . com. Honestly, I had doubts that I would get an answer, but in less than one hour, Eric Kerslake of BurnLounge Retailer Support sent me a response. Here are my questions and the answers I received along with what I think of each answer.

Q. Can you clarify the amount/value of BurnRewards or cash per song sold that BurnLounge store owners will receive?
A. BurnLounge retailers will receive .05 cents per track sold, and .50 cents or 20% of the gross profit margin (whichever is greater) for any album costing 9.90 or more.
My Thoughts: Let’s do a little math. Let’s say you want to break even over the course of a year. It costs $29.95 to set up a store and an additional $6.95 per month to get cash for your sales instead of BurnRewards. To break even, you would need to make $113.35 for the year. At $0.05 per song and $0.50 per album, that means you would need to sell 2,267 songs or 227 full albums in the year.

Q. When compared to similar but free services like those offered by PassAlong.com or iTunes’ referral program, what are the benefits of using BurnLounge?
A. The benefits of using BurnLounge is [sic] the ability to have your own customizable download store to attract customers with tastes similar to yours. BurnLounge also is a great opportunity for any person that has their own music they would like to sell on the BurnLounge site. BurnLounge allows artists to submit their music for free to the BurnLounge catalog. So an artist can have their own BurnLounge and receive commissions for the tracks that they sell and royalties for their own music sold by them or other BurnLounge retailers.
My Thoughts: I guess having your own customizable store could be considered a benefit…if you could make money from it. The problem is at this point, the idea of making a profit from a BurnLounge store is not very feasible. For $55, CDBaby.com will sell artists CD’s and send files for digital downloads to a large number of online music stores. That’s $55 period, not per year and instead of a measly 5% of sales (or nothing if you don’t pay at least $113.35 per year) the artist gets the full sales of CDs minus $4 and 91% of whatever the various online stores pay CDBaby for your sales. That 91% may not amount to the larger part of your sales in all cases, but it will usually be well above BurnLounge’s 5%.

Q. The concept behind BurnLounge sounds very similar to the business model behind notorious pyramid scheme company Quixtar. What is the difference?
A. I am not familiar with (Quixtar) and when looking over their site it looks to be a very different style of website. BurnLounge is not a pyramid scheme and is in compliance with all local and federal laws.
My Thoughts: This is very true, the websites are quite different, but my question was specifically about the business model. As for Kerslake’s straightforward but unsupported statement that BurnLounge is not a pyramid scheme, check out the wikipedia entry for Pyramid Scheme and decide for yourself.

Q. Should potential store owners join BurnLounge expecting to make a profit?
A. All BurnLounge store owners can make a profit, however the less effort that a retailer puts in to BurnLounge the lesser the return. You do not automatically make money as a BurnLounge retailer, you will need to put some effort in to getting customers and traffic to your BurnLounge site through advertising or word of mouth.
My Thoughts: Advertising costs money. You already have to sell over two thousand songs to make money from your initial investment, how much would that number jump if you have to include marketing costs as well? You could always go by word of mouth. You only need to find enough people to spend over $2,000 at your website.

Q. What do you think will make music buyers choose BurnLounge stores over iTunes and other popular digital music stores?
A. BurnLounge offers a unique opportunity to support artists and local retailers by offering the same products that other download sites offer for the same or similar price. BurnLounge is also the only download service that allows members to have their own customizable download site for as little as 29.95 per year.
My Thoughts: Let’s take a look at some excerpts of this question and answer. “BurnLounge offers a unique opportunity…by offering the same products that other download sites offer for the same or similar price.” That doesn’t sound very unique. In my brief search of the web, I did not find another site that “allows members to have their own customizable download site for as little as 29.95 per year,” but I am not sure how this offering will “make music buyers choose BurnLounge stores over iTunes and other popular digital music stores.”

Things are not looking good for BurnLounge sellers. Drawing visitors to a website is far from easy, especially when that website does not offer any significant advantages over many popular, corporately backed websites. For a seller, drawing visitors would just be the first step. Generating sales is even more difficult. Success at drawing visitors and generating sales seems very unlikely considering the current context. iTunes is the largest seller of digital music downloads. Most people looking to buy music online will go there simply because of its popularity or because songs bought there will play on their iPods (BurnLounge songs will not). More discerning shoppers will search for cheaper stores (e.g. PayPlay.fm tracks cost $0.77) or stores that offer downloads without restrictive DRM (digital rights management).

My verdict on BurnLounge – stay very far away. The “service” they offer is nothing but bait to convince people who are looking for alternate sources of income to hand over their hard earned money. There is nothing to gain by signing on with this company and plenty of money to lose. I generally feel that anytime someone asks you to pay them so you can make money, they are not to be trusted, and BurnLounge is no exception here.

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I’m on drugs

I grew up in a household where drug use was discouraged. Drugs have known and unknown side effects and many of the times that we tend to resort to drug use, we don’t need to. I’m not against using drugs, but I do try to minimize my intake of body altering chemicals. It seems that most over-the-counter drugs are aimed at symptoms, so I usually only take them if the symptoms are inteferring with things I want/have to do. A lot of the time headaches can be cured with a nap or just some quiet time. Why take cold medecine when I’m staying at home all day? It doesn’t do anything to help cure the cold.

My one exception is allergy medicine. Every year around this time, I get hit by allergies – runny nose, itchy eyes, and breathing problems. The symptoms are usually so bad that I take medicine whether I’m out and about or at home doing nothing. Two days ago I changed medicines, and I am sooooo happy. I was using what I was used to – Benedryl. It’s been far from 100% effective and the other day, I got tired of having to take it every 4 hours. I went to CVS and checked out my alternatives. Claritin sounded real good – would just have to take it once every 24 hours. I ended up buying a pack of Alavert, which is the same drug as Claritin (loratadine) but cheaper. I am a convert – this stuff really works. It is way better than Benadryl, and it is so much easier taking it once a day. No more constantly checking the time to make sure I take my next pill before the symptoms return. No more waking up with no more medicine in my system and allergy symptoms running rampant.

Did you know the active ingrediant in Benadryl, diphenhydramine, is also the active ingrediant in many sleeping aids? Yes, Benadryl is a sleeping aid. No more taking a sleeping aid every 4 hours throughout my day. I know a bunch of drugs come with warnings of drowsiness, but that is one of the primary uses of Benadryl. Now that I know that I’m wondering why it doesn’t come with a stronger warning. According to wikipedia, loratadine’s side effects are much milder – “dry mouth, headache and gastrointestinal disturbances.”

If you suffer from allergies, I definitely recommend you give loratadine a try.

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