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Handling Telemarketers, Kiddy Style

by @ 12:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As parents, we always strive to teach decorum and proper behavior to our kids. One of these areas has to do with how one handles telephone calls.

As a matter of personal choice I rarely pick up the phone. Having three females in the house for a number of years, the Pavlovian in me has learned that chances of me receiving calls is rather insignificant. Nevertheless proper telephone etiquette is a necessity of life. I still answer most calls I receive in the office.

So here's the conundrum. How can we teach the kids proper telephone manners when most callers are telemarketers? My wife and I have different approaches in dealing with them. Depending on her mood she could go from rude to nasty. In some cases it even makes me shudder, which is why I sometimes plead with her to allow me to handle the calls. My methods are more gentle. They go from abruptly declining to fooling with them.

I have to admit neither of us employs much etiquette in dealing with telemarketers. But I'm afraid that now my children have acquired some of this crude behavior and that worries me.

As adults we can differentiate between a genuine call and a sales cold call. The distinction is murky for kids however. The learned response is to be rude, no matter how amiable the caller is. In fact it seems that the more polite the agent, the more harassment the kids will unleash.

I'm not sure what the solution is. How do you teach grade-schoolers that some polite callers are really script-regurgitating sales-people interested in selling something they may not even know about and collecting a commission? And they might be calling from the next town, India, or even a federal prison.

For now we've taught them to never identify themselves or disclose any information no matter how trivial. I suppose adding my number to the federal Do-Not-Call list would also be a good move. I just hope my kids don't find out about it. They almost look forward to tormenting the hapless agents.

The Housing Dilemma

by @ 10:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The recent plunge in new home sales in the United States should come as no surprise to those following the housing market in the last six or seven years.

The laws of economics are much like the laws of physics: "what goes up must come down". But it remains to be seen if the more colloquial law stating, "the higher they climb, the further they fall", also holds true.

The meteoric rise of the housing prices, especially in the bi-coastal areas, has been an anomaly to say the least. But the prices have continued to defy the rules and fly in the face many analysts who have believed steadfastly that it can't continue, only to watch in amazement as the market speeds past every predicted bump.

And so today we're faced with almost the same conundrum we encountered with the stock market back in the halcyon years of 99 and 2000. Can the housing market continue its march upward, or is it time to bail? As usual, by the time the answer to that question becomes clear, it's already too late for many. There is little doubt that the housing market is due for a breather, but it can also be argued that housing is a different breed than stocks. For one, they are tangible assets, and for another they are a necessity for people.

But lest we forget, as everything else in life, the housing market follows the old rule of supply and demand. As long as demand is strong and supplies are in check, the prices will continue to rise. The US population is still on a growth path and there doesn't seem to be an over-abundance of homes in the market. Yet one can't help wonder if prices are artificially inflated or if the demand will continue to be in the same caliber that it has been in the past few years.

In any case, average home owners (those with one home) have little to fear. We all need a home to live in, even if the future proves that we overpaid for the nest. On the other hand real estate investors, heavy equity borrowers, and ultimately the banks are in for some pain, should home prices lose their footing and find themselves in the clutches of gravity.

Intel and Analysts: I Told You So

by @ 3:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A couple of weeks ago when Intel Reported a blow-out quarter I mentioned here that analysts will reverse course and upgrade the stock. Here's my blog note I am referring to: Intel Flies in the Face of Analyst

Well, today Lehman Brothers joined a bunch of other analysts such as those form J.P. Morgan who have been pumping up the stock since their quarterly report.

Thank you guys for your acumen and sharp insight, telling us what Intel already reported. Whatever would we do without you?

Geico Bows to Google (At Least for Now)

by @ 3:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Google's wildly successful Adsense program, while a blessing for some, has become a bane for others. In a lawsuit brought on by Geico, the insurance company claimed damages because some of Google's advertisers buy the "Geico" keyword for the specific reason to display insurance-related messages to the viewers.

While Geico claims that this practice infringes on its trademarked company name, I can't see how this holds any water. I suppose if the ads are defamatory or baselessly attack Geico, the company's lawsuit may have some merit, but even then, Geico should pursue such litigations against the original advertisers, not the publisher itself.

The point is that if everyone wanted to use cheap litigation to stop their competitors or detractors, then that could amount to censorship and that would drastically change the advertising landscape. Even Geico may not like that.

Intel Flies in the Face of Analyst

by @ 10:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

So much for the Intel downgrade by Credit Suisse First Boston barely a week ago. The brainiacs at CSFB downgraded the stock to underperform on November 24th citing lower demand. Tonight Intel pre-announced a blowout quarter citing higher demand.

So what happened? As usual the analysts' darts weren't hitting the bull's eye. Maybe they had a bad night at the casino, maybe they had some short positions to cover, or maybe they're just blabbering fools trying to create a stir.

However you cut it, they were wrong. And watch tomorrow when the "smart" analysts come out of the woodwork to upgrade the stock and feed on our perpetual fear and greed. But it's not all bad news. After all they're right 50% of the time, aren't they?

The Deficit Monster

by @ 12:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Lately Alan Greenspan has been harping on the growing US account deficit and the plunging dollar quite a bit. It is no surprise. Law makers just raised the ceiling on the US debt and Bush (who is mainly responsible for the current dire economic state) is saying: "Where do I sign?".

This must be the most ludicrous dog and pony show ever. Even a child can grasp the absurdity of what the law makers are doing. They over-spend and then pass laws to legitimize the wastefulness. It's as if the town judge pardon and then legalize every offense after committing them himself.

Greenspan has a reason to be worried. The Dollar is hitting all time lows against other currencies and foreign confidence in America is clearly waning. Some may try to comfort themselves by proclaiming that the budget deficit ratio to the total GDP is still lower than its historical highs. Fine, bury your head in the sand. But while we're inhaling dirt, others discover that America just isn't what it used to be.

But even more disconcerting is that the world isn't what it used to be either. Foreigners are starting to realize that the US isn't the only game in town. Europe and China certainly offer good investment prospects, but even countries like Turkey have started to attract serious investors.

And so we continue to be blindly lead down the road. If the democrats are known for tax and spend, the republican have proved their prowess in borrow and spend. And when it's all said and done, it's the average American citizen that will be left holding the bag.

Phishing the hosts

by @ 3:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A new and more stealth phishing scam has entered the Internet scam market. According to this link, scammers are now able to manipulate the hosts files in users' computers, thus redirecting them to their nefarious Web sites without the user ever realizing it. This is mainly done with script-laden emails, some of which may not even require users clicking on any links – just opening the email is enough.

Frankly I am surprised that it took this long for scammers to employ this trick. But abolishing the hosts file, as some experts might suggest, is not a solution to curb the crackers using this trick. First of all hosts files are still legitimate means of translating names into ip addresses. I bet many organizations still use them internally as a quick and simple DNS alternative. Secondly, hosts files are invaluable for debugging. I can't tell you how many times I have used the hosts file to troubleshoot DNS problems, access issues, or other host name related quirks. Without the hosts file, I would have had to tinker with a name server which is a lot more complex and may itself be the root of the problem.

Finally, who's to say the bad actors won't change the computer's DNS entries to point to their own evil name servers. If they can change the hosts files, modifying DNS entries takes just a little more work.

Let's not eliminate a helpful tool out of fear and desperation. Practicing good security is the only way to fight these types of attacks.

Google Nears Yahoo

by @ 11:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

With help from its earning's announcement last night, Google seems poised to overtake Yahoo's market cap in short order. The gap is hairline thin as I write this.

It's hard to imagine that a company of such humble beginnings could surpass Yahoo in such a short time. But then again that statement alone is astonishing in its own right. It wasn't long ago that Yahoo itself was considered a speculative company with a sky-high stock price. Now it's almost looked at as an established and viable denizen of the corporate world.

And yet we wonder if Google's lofty valuation is justified. Who knows? If you consider that its market cap is almost triple that of Amazon.com, that question may have some merit. But then again Amazon.com's market cap rivals that of Raytheon, a large defense contractor with 78,000 employees.

Goodyear Making Good

by @ 10:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Late August on a trip from Connecticut to Virginia my car broke down in the center lane of the Jersey turnpike. The alternator had died and the battery had little juice left to keep the car going. So on this hottest hour of the hottest day of August, I stepped out of the car, pushed it to the shoulder in the middle of the angry traffic, and not having a cell phone walked a mile to the nearest rest stop to call for help.

At the end of the day I found myself in a motel in Burlington, NJ. My car had been towed to a Goodyear service station that was closing for the day and there were no open car rentals offices at that hour.

The next day, I made a call to the service station and made sure they had started to work on the car. Anxious to continue with my trip, I rented a car (I definitely recommend Enterprise, they pick you up!), and finally made it to Virginia to visit my Grandmother.

The next day I called the service station and found out the car was ready and the day after that I set out to Burlington, NJ again to pick up the car and return to Connecticut. I returned the rental car (again, I recommend Enterprise, they drop you off too!), paid the repair bill and got back home. The car drove just fine.

About 3 weeks later, the alternator started to make screeching noises and then a couple of days after that the noise stopped and the charge indicator lighted up on the dashboard. I knew I was running on my new battery alone and I had little time. I had a warranty on the repairs but how could I possibly go to New Jersey again? It is an old car and I thought it was time to junk it. What bothered me was that the repairs had lasted less than a month and I had no recourse.

But before junking it, I decided to call the Burlington service station and at least give them a piece of my mind about their repairs. But much to my surprise the manager apologized and told that my local Goodyear service station would honor the warranty -- A ray of hope. Calling the local Goodyear station went better than I could possibly imagine. The manager patiently listened to my case, took my information and promised to call me back. Yeah right, I thought.

Right he was, he did call back, made arrangements for me to bring the car over immediately, and showed concern by encouraging me to buy a new battery (which he would reimburse) to install in the car, in case the current battery died on the way there. The repairs took about an hour, didn't cost me an extra dime, and the car is back on the road. On top of that, a few days later I received a call from him just to make sure everything was well and I was satisfied with the service.

Thank you Bill O'Russo and thank you Goodyear. You've got yourselves one very satisfied customer.

Hotmail Keeps the Promise

by @ 4:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just logged in to my Hotmail account and noticed the storage meter reads 250 MB. It's good to see them keeping the promise they made a few months ago after Google introduced their 1 gigger email service and Yahoo followed suit with their 200 meg upgrade.

I was beginning to think that Hotmail might renege on their promise. Glad my suspicion was disproved. Bring on the spam.

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