After This, I want An iPhone

New York Time Columnist David Pogue posted a YouTube video about his experience with the iPhone. After watching this video, I suddenly find myself wanting one. There are several drawbacks to the iPhone, but most of them I can overcome.

1) It’s AT&T only

No sweat, I’ve been trapped contracted with AT&T for years.

2) It’s not expandable

Well, I’ve had 3 Windows Mobile Pocket PCs over the last four years, and considering the iPhone offers a full-featured operating system with 4 or 8 Gigs of memory, I think I can live with that. I have a 1 Gig SD card in my Pocket PC, and I’m still limited to Windows Mobile 2005 capabilities.

3) Ah, who cares I still want one.

Enjoy the video.


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The Entire Point to Buy Owner Is To Not Use A Realtor…

And so it begins. When I got home from work, I found on the kitchen table an envelope hand addressed to me with no return address. I opened the envelope up to find large, bold text with AOL Instant Messenger quality underlining and spam quality writing on a piece of paper with a faint Remax watermark. The text was at least double spaced and and of a font large enough that the small amount of writing took up the whole page. The text said:

4.5%! Thats(sic) right! I will sell your Buy Owner for only a total of 4.5% commission! If Buy Owner sells your home before I can then you pay me 0% commission! You have nothing to lose! Beware of those flat fee real Estate(sic) companies that offer to sell your home for an upfront flat fee combined with a percentage because they are not full service. I take no fees upfront! I will handle the whole transaction from start to finish! Call me, **** ********, Direct at (***)***-****. Remax sells more homes than anyone else in the world!

If you think that was painful to read in a Windows Live Writer blockquote, try reading it on a full page. Obviously, I edited out the name and phone number but I left Remax in there because they rightly should be publicly embarrassed at the quality of marketing of some of their agents.

Well, *****, here’s my offer back to you: I will take you up on your suggestion to pay you 0% commission as I will not be using your services. With writing like that, even if I were interested in paying a standard real estate commission (and I have absolutely no problem paying a professional to work on my behalf), there is no way in hell I would want you drafting a contract that my signature might go on. Take some writing lessons at Camden County College. It sounds like you learned how to market from reading your spam folder.

This Realtor doesn’t seem to understand the point to Buy Owner. Buy Owner is not a flat fee brokerage; they provide marketing and screening services. I handle showing my house and negotiating with potential sellers, then Buy Owner provides the services of a title company to handle the closing.

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The Lock Switch: Every Consumer Device Should Have This Piece of Engineering

My last cell phone was a Sony Ericsson z500a. I must have liked that phone, because when I was able to upgrade, I took a newer model, the z525a. The z500a, for all it’s usefulness, had a very annoying feature: a dedicated camera button on the side of the phone that could be pressed by other objects in my pocket. I can’t tell you how many times I took my phone out of my pocket to make a call only to discover that the camera was on and the battery was very low. I’ve also shot many pictures of the inside of my pocket.

My Pocket PC has a similar nagging problem. The hardware buttons get pressed while moving around in my pocket and strange things happen, appointments get created, I get audio recordings of my pocket, but above all else my battery drains.

My video iPod, by contrast, does not have this problem. Why? Because Apple, which above all else is great at design, included a lock switch that prevents accidental turn on and operation while being carried around in a man’s overcrowded pockets. This lock switch is at the top of the device opposite the headphone jack and is firm enough that it isn’t likely to toggle when brought into contact with a Swiss Army Knife or change or other pocket sized consumer electronic device.

What I wouldn’t give for a simple lock switch on my phone and Pocket PC…

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FSBO: Dealing With Realtors

As I mentioned the other day, my wife and I placed our house on the market. We went with Buy Owner partly because we lack the equity to cover a traditional 6% realtor commission. I thought back over the period six years ago when we were looking for a house. I knew a lot of Buy Owner properties were on the market, but we pretty much ignored them. I may not have understood how to buy a house without agents, but I also realized that a seller of a FSBO (For Sale By Owner) property probably won’t pay a commission. When we signed with Buy Owner, I began to wonder what I would do if I were contacted by a potential buyer who wished to be represented by a buyer’s agent (realtor).

Last night, I actually did get a call from a realtor who had a client who saw my house on the Internet. We spoke for a few minutes. She asked if we were listed with MLS (Multiple Listing Service), to which I answered no. Buy Owner does offer the ability to list with MLS, but again, commissions have to be taken into account. I had given thought to what I would say to a buyer with a realtor, and I came to the conclusion that I would suggest that the buyer pay the commission. The realtor said that is not very common in New Jersey, which is true. Traditionally, the seller pays the commission. After a few moments of discussion, I said that I have bought and sold properties before and I understand a little about how real estate works, and although we have our asking price and very little room to work, we will give consideration to serious offers. She said that she would pass that along to her client.


I can’t believe some people. Naturally, since we’re trying to sell our house, we’re trying to get rid of six years worth of clutter. Today, being trash day, we placed a lot more trash than normal on the curb. My wife called to say that somebody went through our trash. That isn’t a big deal in itself, but they ripped bags open and left a bunch of trash on the ground. My wife had to leave our children unsupervised to clean up the mess left behind by our dumpster diver. Whoever it is moves fast. She was carrying a torn comforter out to the curb while talking on the phone with me, and it was gone within two minutes.

I have nothing against dumpster diving. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and obviously if we’re throwing something away we have no use for it, so if you do that’s fine; our last two couches were somebody’s throw-aways. But if you’re going to rip my trash bags open, make sure the stuff you don’t want makes it back into the trash can. I don’t care if it is kitty litter or dirty diapers. You opened the bag!

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My House Is On The Market!

My wife and I made the decision a few months back to move out of our house. We’re going to take over my in-laws’ house and build an addition. We love our house and our neighborhood and if not for the offer from my in-laws we would probably stay here indefinitely.

I spoke with a realtor whom I was referred to initially, until we discovered that we did not have enough equity in our house to cover the traditional 6% commission. I won’t debate here on my blog whether a realtor’s commission is fair or not, because I’m not entirely sure. I’m not sure that the tier structure is fair. As you can see, our house is listed for $175,000. A realtor’s commission on that is $10,500. Imagine a realtor selling one of those $500,000 homes, and expecting a commission of $30,000. Could we expect the same level of service as the seller of a higher priced house? In theory, yes, obviously a professional would treat us with the same level of service but when human nature is taken into account, I’m not as confident. In any case, the realtor we talked with was highly recommended to us by a friend on a professional basis and we expected nothing but the best. However, the CMA (Comparative Marketing Analysis) generated by the realtor was a little depressing taking into account our current mortgage and equity. My wife told me to check into Buy Owner.

I am very impressed with Buy Owner. What Buy Owner offers a seller is marketing and screening services. We bought the Executive package which gives us a page in their magazine. We also get a certain number of photographs and there was a special on virtual tours. The photographer should be contacting me today to set up an appointment. The pictures on our seller’s page were taken from the consultant’s camera just to get the ad started. I spent the weekend trimming the bushes in front of the house, cutting the grass, pulling weeds, and laying down mulch. When we bought the house the previous owners spent a great deal of time on landscaping and I was attempting to get some of the curb appeal back.

If you’re looking for a house in a good, central location in a safe neighborhood, check out our page. We live in the center of Camden County, New Jersey, right off the White Horse Pike. The Lindenwold station of the PATCO High Speed Line is less than two miles from our house. This offers service to center city Philadelphia and Atlantic City. My wife used to work in Philly and took the train over every workday. We’re also under an hour from "the Jersey Shore". We live on a quite, friendly, tree-lined street that is frozen in time. The street is safe and the neighbors are kind and friendly. We hold a block party every year in time for Independence Day. The party will be this Saturday. We get a permit to block the street off, set up barricades, hire a DJ, and bring our barbeque grills and patio furniture the our front yards and just enjoy a day outside. We have a Chinese Auction (which my wife is running this year) and plenty of other festivities. Oh, yeah, also plenty of beer or other varieties of "happy juice".

There is a pizza restaurant just around the corner. I walk over to get food. Across the railroad tracks is Sharky’s, which has the best wings around.

If you’re looking for a 4 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath cape cod on a quarter acre in this kind of neighborhood, check out our page. If you’re interested, Buy Owner offers mortgage pre-qualification services which take only seconds. In the past, I’ve had to find a realtor, get a referral to a mortgage broker, fill out an application, wait for an answer, then go back to the realtor. The process took weeks. With Buy Owner, you can find out within moments if you can qualify to buy a house.

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Eliminating Clutter Tip: Get A Clean Slate

I’ll keep this post short. I want to post more often, but we’ve been incredibly busy lately. I’m in my final three classes and we just put our house on the market (more on that in a later entry).

I hate clutter, and yet for some reason I seem to be the worst offender. This morning my wife came up to my computer room and asked me about a bunch of magazines that I had laying around. I’ve built these things up over more than five years, some I’ve had for six or seven. Some were free from organizations, some I had a subscription for a year or so, yet most I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. As I went through this pile, I realized that if I’ve had this magazine for five years and I haven’t read it yet, what are the odds that I will? With my wife’s help, I threw just about all of them away.

Some things we keep around for no apparent reason. I actually feel better with these magazines gone, like I just deleted a ton of items off my to-do list. If you have magazines laying around or tasks that you just aren’t going to get to, just start with a clean slate.

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Windows Live Writer Beta 2 Is Out

Actually, it’s been out, but I finally learned about it today. There are many new features and plug-ins available, and I look forward to testing them out. I learned that Blogger finally did add an API to upload images from an offline blogging client, however; that came out too late for inclusion in this beta. I’ve always wanted the ability to add images while typing my posts offline, but I realized during my Typepad trial that I rarely use a feature like that. Hopefully the next release will include the API. For now I either have to compose my entries using Blogger’s online editor, or compose them offline in Windows Live Writer and upload the images manually after publishing. Blogger always inserts images at the beginning on the post, and I have to cut and paste my text around them. When I’m trying to include screenshots to demonstrate steps in software, this is very cumbersome and painful, and is why I haven’t updated my Using Thunderbird for University of Phoenix Newsgroups post, which by far brings me the most traffic out of the 160 plus entries I’ve made.

I like the ability to add Blogger categories, so I can truly "fire and forget". Up until now, I’ve been composing in Windows Live Writer, publishing, then logging in and editing my post to add the categories. It’s nice to have that extra step removed. Maybe I’ll write more now that publishing got easier. Other new features include inline spell checking (apparently hard to do but very useful) and new windows don’t open every time you finish one post and want to start on another.

I find Windows Live Writer (beta) to be an adequate and functional free offline blogging client. Blogger does include a WYSIWYG editor, but it’s minimally functional and of course you have to be online to compose entries. With Windows Live Writer, I can maintain entries on my laptop and publish them when I choose. If you’re looking for a free offline blogging client, give this one a try.

If you don’t mind paying, try Blogjet, which I took advantage of a 30 day trial for during my Typepad trial. It’s also a very good editor.

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Do Mac Apps Really Suck on Windows?

Some of you may have heard that Apple Inc. (Formerly Apple Computer, Inc.) released the Apple Safari web browser for Windows last week. Many of you may not care. I’m not sure exactly where I fit in. CNET’s Rafe Needleman wrote a blog entry titled "Mac Apps On Windows Suck. Here’s Why". I’m not sure that I agree with all of his conclusions.

With the Apple iPhone due for release soon, the announcement of Safari for Windows shocked a lot of people. Many developers and gadget geeks salivating over the iPhone had been hoping for an SDK (Software Development Kit) in order to produce applications for the iPhone. If you’ve ever used a Pocket PC, you know that third party applications are practically salvation. Pocket Outlook is minimally useful, but Pocket Informant is a wonderful excursion into the world of mobile productivity. WebIS Flexmail 2007 is also a wonderful replacement for Pocket Outlook’s email functionality. I don’t know many Apple people, but I do know that like Windows, sooner or later you’ll need a third party application to get things done. As the iPhone runs Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, I’m sure it will need more applications. However, Steve Jobs (and I’m sure others, but Steve is the public figure) have decided to make the iPhone a closed platform. As I understand things, there will be ways to write applets through Safari, but that is the extent of development capability on this platform.

And so, millions of geeks are upset. I was sort of apathetic to this announcement. I don’t intend to buy an iPhone right now. The announcement of Safari for Windows excited me about as much as, say, Outlook Express for the Mac. Oh, wait, my Macs do have Outlook Express. At least, my iMac does. I downloaded Safari on my work computer just to test it out, but for the most part I’m sticking with Firefox for the time being because the available extensions allow a great deal of customizability. Opera is nice, but Firefox meets my needs so I see little reason to use Opera, and IE7 needs a session manager for me to take it more seriously. I am spoiled with Firefox because when my system crashes, I can pick up exactly where I left off. If I have 50 tabs open and half of them are partway through a long article, I won’t miss a beat. If IE7 crashes with two tabs open, I’m hosed.

However, I don’t see the platforms through eyes of zeal. I have settled on Windows XP as my main OS for the time being because of all the tools available, Windows XP does what I need it to do the best. The programs that I use run best on Windows XP, I don’t have to buy any new hardware, and of course it is well supported and established.

As far as tools go, I differ in my opinion of iTunes from Rafe Needleman. I actually think that iTunes is a fairly decent media manager. Actually, my favorite feature is the podcatcher. I really don’t care for Microsoft’s digital media implementation. I believe that their target market is the gyrating silhouettes from the iPod commercials a few years ago. Windows Media Player 11 is decent, but has no podcasting capability. I download several podcasts, and iTunes does a wonderful job of managing them. Ever since I got my video iPod, I’ve come to appreciate iTunes even more and I’ve digitized the better songs from my CD collection to sync with the iPod to listen to when my wife is in the car with me. Now, if a better iPod sync/media utility comes along, I’ll happily try it out. For now, I’m content with iTunes.

Linux is a fine platform, but I have written it off for the time being. The software that I use and have come to depend on runs on Windows, and finding replacements or figuring out a new workflow just takes too much time on the two other platforms. Actually, I would love to play with Mac OS X more, but the hard drive on my iBook apparently crashed, and I don’t have the time to take the thing apart again, swap the hard drive into a PC laptop, and use a Windows XP disk to check the hard drive. Mac OS X Tiger doesn’t ship with much in the way of hard drive utilities.

In any case, if you’re into Safari, check it out for Windows. If you’re not, don’t sweat it. Firefox will probably remain the undisputed champ of Windows browsers (and Mac and Linux) for a while.


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Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway Toy Recall

There has been a recall of some of the wooden components of the Thomas and Friends wooden railway set. I just thought I’d post this here for other parents. I’m sure my kids have chewed on these at one point or another, and they somehow got through with lead paint. I guess whatever communist country these toys are manufactured in hasn’t gotten around to banning lead paint yet. If you have any of these toys, follow directions on the CPSC recall immediately.

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Darn It Jim, I’m A Computer Geek, Not A Medical Billing Specialist

For those who don’t recognize the paraphrase, this title reflects the sayings of Dr. McCoy (played by DeForest Kelly) in Star Trek TOS (The Original Series). This is brought on by my latest foray into a medical billing issue that is covered by my plan and yet after almost two years is not resolved. I am adding a new category to my blog, Hall of Shame, for products, services, or people that I write about which belong in a Hall of Shame somewhere.

My youngest son, Caleb, was born in August of 2005, almost exactly 54 weeks after his older brother. About a week after being discharged from the hospital, we took him to "baby’s first pediatrician’s visit" at Laurel Pediatrics. This office used to have a small branch near our house, but they moved to a much larger office several townships over, about a 15 mile drive from us. We all know that although medicine is based on science, doctors "practice" medicine and sometimes there are no hard answers. I learned very quickly after the birth of my first born that where there are three doctors you’ll find five opinions. Although the office by our house was small (in fact, my wife’s pediatrician was the father of the doctor who practiced there when we first began using their services), the larger office had many doctors and nurse practitioners, and my wife got tired of hearing something different every time she went in so we selected an office with one doctor, so that at least we won’t hear a different story every time we go in.

In any case, that first visit went well enough, but the bill was a problem and as of this afternoon continues to remain a problem. Most hospitals, at least in 2005, don’t have wireless Internet access and because daddy (and especially mommy) tend to take off work for the birth of a baby, chances are it will be a few days until the child is added to the insurance policy. A child can’t be added until a Social Security number arrives, so often by baby’s first doctor’s visit, baby isn’t officially covered by insurance. It’s often customary to bill the insurance under the mother’s coverage for the first thirty days, and that is what I instructed this office to do when they asked about insurance. Well, why would the person working behind the desk at a doctor’s office listen to a computer geek who is married to a former benefit’s specialist who has actually researched this with his current coverage? They sent the bill into Aetna under Caleb’s name, although Caleb was barely a week old, did not have a Social Security number yet, and surely wasn’t covered. Aetna did what any good insurance company would have done when they receive a bill for somebody who isn’t covered: they denied the claim.

Well, if the insurance company denies the claim, then the doctor’s office sends a bill, which I got. I was confused and sleep deprived, and immediately assumed it was Aetna’s fault. I called them, ready for a fight. I found out that the services were of course covered and they would be happy to pay, and the doctor just needed to submit the claim again. No problem, I called the doctor, passed that along, and put it out of my mind. That is, until I got another bill. I called Aetna again, and sure enough, they hadn’t seen a bill yet but will gladly pay it when they do. I called the doctor’s billing again, and told them to resubmit.

I got my third bill after that. This time, I called Aetna and had them get on a 3 way conference call with me and the doctor’s office and between them, it looked like everything was resolved.


I got a fourth bill last June. I was ready to go down to the billing office, stand over their shoulders until they got the claim submitted properly, and bill them for my time. They said they’d resolve it.

Now, a year later, I got my 5th bill. I was livid because now there is a late charge attached to a bill for services that are covered and should have been paid long ago. I called the doctor on Saturday when the bill came. Today I called Aetna. Guess what I found?

The doctor did properly submit the claim on the date of service, but because Caleb had not been added to my policy yet, it’s been sitting in the cue for almost two years. This time, I’m told that it will be resubmitted for payment.

Almost two years, 10 or more phone calls, you’d think I should be able to bill both the doctor and Aetna for the time I’ve had to put into solving this billing problem that both of their ends should be trained and equipped to handle. If I wanted to be a medical billing specialist, I’d call one of those 1-800 numbers that come on late at night. This one is definitely going in the Hall of Shame, not quite because the services or quality on either end was bad, but because I shouldn’t have to do these people’s jobs for them. I have no doubt that the doctor’s at Laurel Pediatrics are dedicated, and I’ve had Aetna coverage for years and have had few problems (except for our current prescription plan, which is really bad). This billing should have gone easier. You’d think nobody has ever processed a medical bill for a baby who hasn’t been added to daddy’s policy yet…

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