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November 27, 2006

EscapeArtist.com — 'Restart your life overseas'


Do you ever wonder why it is you do what you do?


Taking it a step further, have you ever dreamed about living somewhere really different from where you are?


EscapeArtist.com provides a free trip into fantasyland using real-life props: properties, that is, of any and all kinds and types, all over the world, for rent, lease or sale.



November 27, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Helpful Hints from joeeze: How best to dice — and slice — onions

In the above video Aaron Headly, a professional chef in Ann Arbor, Michigan with 28 years of experience, demonstrates why the technique advocated on "America's Test Kitchen" can be hazardous to your (fingers') health.

"Slicing onions crosswise allows them to soften and break down more readily than slicing them pole to pole." — Cook's Illustrated, January/February 2007 issue.

November 27, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What's that giant flushing sound? Over $8 billion of gift-card money purchased this year that will never be used


The headline of Ron Lieber's "Green Thumb: Growing Your Money" column about gift cards, in last Saturday's (November 25, 2006) Wall Street Journal, read,

"The Gift That Keeps On Taking"

I never dreamed that of all the publications on our blue planet, the Wall Street Journal would be the first mainstream media member to trash gift cards and unmask them to a wide audience as the enormous fraud they are.

I especially liked the final four sentences of Lieber's essay, which read: "Some retailers won't replace lost cards and advise users to treat them like cash. Since they see it that way, why not just give the real thing instead? Research firm TowerGroup figures that nearly $8 billion of gift-card money will ultimately end up unused this year. That generally doesn't happen with green cash money."


As I have contended here for years.

The newspaper piece follows.

    The Gift That Keeps On Taking

    Gift Cards Stay Popular, but Some Recipients Get Only Headaches

    One of the most popular gifts in America still leaves a lot to be desired. The National Retail Federation expects shoppers to buy close to $25 billion in gift cards this holiday season, even though both state legislators and federal regulators have put the cards' fees and fine print under the microscope recently. In August, the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency told banks that they should disclose their terms and conditions in a way that both giver and getter could clearly understand. A handful of states, meanwhile, have passed laws creating their own gift-card rules.

    The two main issuers of these cards would prefer that you didn't view them as consumer-unfriendly. Banks and credit-card companies push one type, those with Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover logos on them. Recipients can use the plastic at merchants that accept that card. Retailers' cards, meanwhile, give enthusiasts the run of a store.

    The bank cards have the biggest drawbacks. Almost all levy purchase fees of a few dollars and charge other fees if the recipient doesn't use them up within six to 12 months. There might be shipping fees, card-replacement fees and others, too. Washington Mutual Inc. charges purchase fees above $5 a card, and some of its cards levy maintenance fees of $2.50 a month after six months. A bank spokeswoman says it believes its cards are priced competitively.

    Banks do need some fee income. Unlike retailers, they don't make much profit on the goods that are bought with the gift card. But the insults never seem to cease: You may have trouble using the cards at gas stations and restaurants, and many retailers won't let you use both a card with a small balance (to drain it) and another form of payment to pay for a single purchase. Is it possible that givers just aren't aware of the trouble these cards can create for the supposed beneficiaries? Gift cards from retailers are better but not perfect. Both Kmart and Toys "R" Us have done away with expiration dates, maintenance or inactivity fees this year. Amazon.com, American Eagle Outfitters, Blockbuster, Bloomingdale's and Macy's still hit users with them. Company representatives note that most people drain their cards quickly and thus lose no value.

    So why charge these fees at all? Some states require companies to transfer unused monies into state unclaimed-property accounts. The cost of tracking funds and then following the rules necessitates a fee, according to a spokeswoman for Claire's, a chain of accessory stores for young women. (Retailing scofflaws could keep the leftovers themselves and hope states won't catch them.)

    If you are handing out gift cards this holiday season, it is rude to do so without warning recipients about the pitfalls. Remind them about any fees. Also, hand over the original receipt and write the card number on it. The recipient will need it if the card is ever lost or stolen and he or she wants a replacement. Some retailers won't replace lost cards and advise users to treat them like cash.

    Since they see it that way, why not just give the real thing instead? Research firm TowerGroup figures that nearly $8 billion of gift-card money will ultimately end up unused this year. That generally doesn't happen with green cash money.


The online version (but not the paper one) of the story was accompanied by a link to a very informative graphic detailing the fine print on over 50 different individual cards.

If you insist on giving them, at least you'll be able to keep your losses to a minimum.

This one, though,


remains the gold standard.

November 27, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Fight Song Pen


From the website:

Fight Song Pen — Plays your team's fight song with a click of the top

Hear your favorite school's fight song every time you write a note with this special musical pen.

Also carries official team logos and colors.

The high quality rolling ball pen has a rubber grip pad and is refillable.

Sure to be a conversation piece around the office!

Choose from these 24 schools:




$8.95 (batteries included).

November 27, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'CIA.gov is now encrypted... to assure visitor confidentiality'


Say what?

You could look it up.

November 27, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Due to factors beyond our control...


You may be among the legions of readers worldwide who wonder why their comments are blocked, then labeled as spam and returned.

You may be among the many people who wonder why, when exploring the archives, a seemingly irrelevant or absurd picture or graphic heads the post that follows.

You may or may not be mollified to learn that I have nothing to do with either of the above problems.

TypePad's own, intrinsic-and-not-accessible-to-me spam filter does the blocking: I've never, ever filtered my comments in any way.

Which many people feel is absurd: most blogs with a significant number of readers either filter, pre-screen or block comments completely.

I'm just not with the program but that's really no surprise, is it?

The deal with the crazy pictures unrelated to the post is another TypePad glitch: it somehow takes a picture from one post and moves it to another one, seemingly randomly.

It's been happening for years so I don't expect it to ever go away.

When I find a funky mismatched pic+post, I fix it.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Except for one thing: from now I can simply send a link to this post to people who complain about their comments being blocked as spam.

November 27, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

MAKE Magazine Gift Guide — 'Open source hardware, software and more for the holidays'


I like it.


Open source is what I'm about.


In fact, in my twisted, Bizarro-world fashion I've taken it to the next level and encouraged everyone to not even bother naming me as a source: just take what you like, slap your own name on it and take the credit/money/whatever accrues.


But I digress.


Surely there's something for everyone here — and the price is so right.

[via Phillip Torrone and MAKE]

Full disclosure: A while back Phillip emailed me and asked if I wanted a complete set of MAKE magazines since its inception — I accepted.

November 27, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Butter Measuring Knife


"It's better with butter."

An old slogan that beats out anything since.

But I digress.

The current issue (January-February 2007) of Cook's Illustrated gave it a rave review, which follows.

    Measuring Butter Knife

    The recent appearance in stores of unmarked artisanal and European-style butters (as well as the perennial problem of improperly wrapped marked sticks) can leave many wrapper-dependent chefs helpless in the face of precise cookie and cake recipes. If you don't want to rely on imperfect eyeballing skills, KitchenArt offers the handy Pro Measuring Butter Knife, a reversible ruler-like paddle knife that accurately measures and neatly cuts both Elgin-style ("stick") or Western-pack-style ("cube") butter, though it's too narrow for pound-block butter's wider plane. For this convenience, we'll happily make a bit of room in our gadget drawer.



From the website:

    The Measuring Butter Knife makes measuring and cutting butter a breeze

    Simply view the butter using the see-through slot.

    Line up the end of the knife with the end of the butter and select the right measurement.

    Lift up and cut!

    It's that simple.

    A perfect measure everytime!




White plastic: $4.70.

Chrome: $7.88.

Satin: $7.88.

November 27, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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