Every couple of months or so, we have to collaborate at work on a Microsoft Word document and submit it without all the distracting markup in it. And it seems like it always takes four of us half an hour to re-figure out how to accept all changes in Word and remove the comments. This applies to Word 2007 and all newer versions.
Sometimes I also find the tracked changes and other markup causes weird problems, and the fastest way to make them go away is to get rid of the markup.
So I figured it might help someone. This is something that either takes you 30 seconds or 30 minutes. If you don’t do this every day, it’s likely to take too long. This is for those of you who can’t do it in less than 30 minutes. Read more
Commodore’s rise and fall are legendary, at least to people like me who grew up using their computers. Putting numbers to that rise and fall was more difficult. I dug up the Commodore financial history from 1978-1994 to help quantify that spectacular rise and fall. Read more
Most consumer electronics don’t come with the cables, because cables are a high-margin, high-markup item. Many people don’t know that. And many people give and receive consumer electronics on Christmas day.
The Kansas City Star published a forlorn editorial this week about the struggles of many people this Christmas.
I can relate. I’m much better off than many people, but this is the third Christmas in a row where my job has a hard end date attached to it. And this year, for the first time in my career, I made less money than I did the year before. For me, Christmas has been the worst day of the year for a very long time, because I know I can’t live up to everyone’s expectations of me.
But I’m better off than a lot of people. Right now I have a job. Some of my former coworkers took bigger pay cuts than I did this year, or they’re still looking. And, as bad as this year has been, I think everyone needs to go without work for a month or so sometime in their life. I think I have something that can help, but I’m gonna make you read something first. Or at least scroll a lot. Read more
I saw an interesting question about the configuration of mid-1980s (pre-PS/2) IBM PCs on a vintage computer forum this week. The question regarded how various machines came from the factory, especially when some collectors have PCs they bought from the original owners, including an invoice, showing the machine didn’t match known factory configurations. This made me think of the gray market.
The gray market referred to the practice of discounters getting genuine IBM PCs and reselling them, sometimes modified. The most famous gray marketer was Michael Dell–the “Dell” in Dell Computer Corporation–who got his start by upgrading bare-bones IBM PCs and selling them out of his dorm room and later, out of a condo. Eventually he decided he wanted a steadier supply, and started manufacturing, becoming the company we know today.
On a forum I frequent, the discussion turned to garage sales, and some people shared some horror stories. As someone who visits a lot of garage sales, I’ve seen the ways people deal with some of the pitfalls. In the interest of encouraging garage sales, I’ll share my tips for running a garage sale.
One problem is people showing up at 5 or 6 in the morning wanting to get in early. The best way to prevent this is to be vague about your address. Be specific enough that they can find it, but vague enough that they can’t find it early. What do I mean? Don’t say “2329 Jefferson” in your ad and streetcorner signs. Say “single-family sale, 23xx Jefferson.” Then, when you’re ready to open your sale, put a sign in your front yard and open your garage door. Last of all, have a helper go out and put some signs on nearby major intersections.
The early birds can still show up if they want, but they’ll have no choice but to sit in the car and wait for you, since they won’t even know for sure which house is having the sale. Only the people really, really serious about buying something will, and those are the people you want.
Lowballers are the other problem. I’ll admit, I’ve asked for discounts before when buying large quantities of stuff, but I don’t demand them. I see some people demanding discounts on everything, no matter how low the initial price is. Yes, I know that’s annoying. I’ve actually had people running sales ask me if I’m interested in the same thing they’re getting lowballed on, in hopes of selling it to me instead. Garage sale prices are already pennies on the dollar, but some people insist on squeezing out every last penny.
The best tactic is to lower your prices late in the sale, say, after 10 am. Advertise that prices will be 25% or 50% off at 10 am, and maybe knock something else off at 11 am. When a lowballer tries to play games with you, just say, “no discounts until 10 am.” They can come back then, assuming the item is still there. If they really want it, then they’ll pay your asking price.
Do be realistic about your prices, though. I once went to a sale, picked out 10 items (unmarked) and asked how much. I was expecting $10, maybe $20 at most, based on what I paid at other sales. She asked $60.
What did I do? I went through the pile again. It turned out half of it was stuff I could turn a small profit on at $6 each. Half of it was stuff I couldn’t sell for $6 myself. So I put those back. I reluctantly paid $30 for the other five. I honestly doubt anyone else expressed interest in what I put back. If it ever did sell, I’m sure she didn’t get $30 for it.
If you don’t know how to price something, visit a few sales yourself to get an idea what stuff goes for. Or at least visit your nearest thrift store and see what they charge for the kind of stuff you’ll be selling.
Leaving items unmarked and soliciting an offer encourages lowballers to offer 10 cents for things that ought to be priced a dollar. Or it leads to awkward exchanges like mine, where someone puts most of it back.
Do keep in mind a significant number of people who come to your sale are looking for things to re-sell. They may have a booth at a flea market or antique mall, they may sell on eBay, or something else. You’ll have some bargain hunters and curious neighbors, but most likely the majority will be resellers. Their profit margin isn’t your main concern. But the general rule of reselling is that 3x markup is the minimum that works. If an item sells on eBay for $10, the most you’re going to get from a reseller is about $3. The reason is because eBay is going to take $1.50 in commissions. The government is going to take another $1.50 or so in taxes. So the seller spends $3 to make $3-$4. But of course the seller would rather spend $1, sell for $10, and make $5-$6.
I’ve seen old Marx train cars priced at $50 at garage sales because the seller claimed he saw one just like it go for $100 on eBay. In the cases I’m thinking of, it’s always been a very common car worth no more than $20, so I know the seller was either lying or mistaken. If you think you have something really special, my advice is to attempt to sell it on eBay instead. You’re not going to get eBay prices at a garage sale. Essentially, as a garage sale operator, you’re a wholesaler.
If you don’t want to hassle with eBay, take a name and number from anyone who shows interest.
One tactic I see sometimes (and my family used) is to advertise a sale as a moving sale instead of a yard or garage sale, in order to get better prices. Advertising a moving sale can allow you to get better prices for your highest-end stuff, like furniture or nice electronics or perhaps name-brand clothes in nice condition. But things like used toys and VHS tapes sell for about the same price no matter what you call the sale.
Some people post phone numbers in the ad. Unless the ad runs the same day as the sale, this is a mistake. It’s just asking people to call you and want to see your stuff early. I admit I’ve done it myself. There have been a couple of times that I couldn’t find a sale, the ad had a number, and I called for directions and ended up buying a lot of stuff. But if you don’t want people calling you all hours of the day in advance, it’s probably not worth it. Putting a nearby landmark in your ad is just as effective and saves you the phone calls.
Finally, I’ve seen people take out ads a week or two in advance of the sale. I don’t see the point. Most circuit regulars don’t plan beyond the upcoming Saturday. So placing an ad early just forces you to do a lot of explaining to disappointed people that the sale is next week. The best day to advertise is the Friday before. The day of the sale is often too late, as many people have already made their plans. An ad in Saturday’s newspaper can draw in people who change their plans on Saturday morning, or people who plan spontaneously. But if you’re paying for the ad, Friday is best. If you advertise on Craigslist, run your ad early in the week and refresh it closer to Friday.
Did you catch the mistake in the photo at the top? Arguably there are two, but one of them is worse than the other. Organizing the stuff into logical groups would help it to sell better. The toy cars, the tools, and the electronics ought to all be together, rather than making it look like someone dumped a box of random stuff onto the table.
But the bigger problem is no price tags. The box of miniature light bulbs in the upper right would easily sell for $10 online. Mark it at $3, and it will sell. Unmarked, don’t be surprised if someone offers 10 cents.
And those are my tips for running a garage sale. I hope they help you have a less frustrating, more successful sale.
This weekend I found myself in search of a power cord for an original Playstation. It’s the same plug that the Sega Dreamcast and Saturn and Sony PS2 use, but it seems like online almost everyone wants $10 for a suitable replacement. I learned how to replace your video game system’s power cord cheap, and I’ll share the secret with you, too.
I found out by accident that the local Game Stop sells them for $4.99. I had to run an errand about four doors away from a Game Stop anyway, so I dropped in. It took me a little while to find, but I found the cable.
It’s not the same. What they sell as a “universal” AC power cable has two round sides on the plug, not a round and a square like the original Sony cable. I knew I’d seen the connector on the end of that Gamestop cable before, so I didn’t pay $5 for it. It turns out it’s universal because it also fits the original Xbox. An Xbox cable works on a Playstation but not the other way around.
I did some digging, and I found that the official name for the connectior the Playstation uses is IEC 60320 C7P. The “P” stands for “polarized.” The “universal” connector on the cable Gamestop was selling is the IEC 60320 C7. The nonpolarized plug fits the polarized connector, but not the other way around.
A ton of home appliances use the IEC 60320 C7. Every tape recorder or boombox I ever owned, for instance. It’s the most common connector used for devices that draw 2.5 amps of current or less. Well, my boomboxes are long gone, so I raided my wife’s. Hers just happens to be different. Rats. I ended up swiping the cable from a dead laptop AC adapter. Wouldn’t you know it, it plugs right in to the Playstation’s power port. That old laptop cable was probably made in the same factory as the cables Gamestop sells as universal video game power cables.
I’m happy. I saved five bucks. (The wasted trip to Gamestop doesn’t count because I walked there from someplace I had to go anyway.)
It wasn’t long ago that you could find this type of AC cable anywhere for a two or three dollars, tops. By anywhere, I really do mean anywhere–discount stores, Radio Shack, consumer electronics stores, maybe even dollar stores if you’re lucky.
Cables are high markup items, but even at $3, these things offer a healthy profit margin, so they should still be readily available at something near that price. I know sometime in the last decade I’ve bought one of these things at Kmart.
So before you pay even $5 for a replacement cable, raid the drawer where you keep all your stray electronics wires and see if you can find one that fits. Failing that, look around for something else around the house, like a boombox, VCR, or DVD player, that has a power cord that will fit. If not, hit the electronics section of your local discount store. Odds are it’s closer than the closest game store, and a suitable cable should cost less there too.
Don’t go into a store asking for an IEC 60320 C7 because they won’t know what you’re talking about, of course. The name may be listed on the packaging. The United States doesn’t require that name to be molded onto the cable, although some countries do. Study the image above and you should recognize the cable on sight in a store. If worse comes to worse, print out the picture above and bring it with you to compare. Miguel Durán drew it to be helpful, so let it help you.
So why does Sony use the polarized connector? Probably to fool people into buying a replacement cable from them at an inflated price to replace a lost cable. They fooled me, and I should know better.
I found myself involved in discussion about cars today. Two people are looking to buy something. One’s leaning toward a used car, while the other is bound and determined to buy a new car.
I know which will be retiring first.The logic behind buying used: There are lots of very low-mileage used cars out there, some of which are even recertified, have the bulk of the factory warranty on them, are eligible for an extended warranty, and cost $4,000-$5,000 less than a new car.
The logic behind buying new: For "only" a few thousand more, you get new car with a 100,000 mile warranty in its entirety.
The problem I have with that logic is that I’ve never sunk $4,000 on repairs into a car. The most expensive repair bill I’ve ever faced was $800 for a blown head gasket, and that was on a car that had well over 100,000 miles on it. If you’re paranoid about repairs, you’re much better off, from a financial standpoint, to buy the used car, figure out what the payments on a new car would be, and sock that money away in a bank account so you have it if and when you ever need it.
The person arguing in favor of a new car also argued a new car is more reliable. But not necessarily. A warranty isn’t a guarantee you won’t have problems. It just means that if the problem you have happens to be covered under the warranty, someone else is footing the bill. And no, most warranties don’t cover everything. Sometimes you get a choice between a power train warranty or a bumper-to-bumper warranty which will cover pretty much everything, but that bumper-to-bumper warranty will be a lot shorter.
And a lemon is a lemon, whether it’s new or old. You’re much better off researching what models are reliable and buying one with a little age to it rather than buying something assuming that it’ll be reliable because it’s new. The last thing you need is to get stuck with a lemon and be making high payments on it. Then you have the worst of all possible worlds.
Car companies have programmed us to think we need new cars all the time. It’s a pretty nice scam they have going. They sell us a car, sell us expensive preventative maintenance on it to keep the warranty good, charge a nice fat interest rate on the loan, and then in 3-4 years they convince us it’s time to trade it in for a new one. Then they get to sell the car for a big markup to some other sucker and the cycle starts all over again. Meanwhile, the consumer has nothing tangible or useful to show for it.
Somehow they’re still losing billions of dollars in spite of having one of the sweetest business models ever concocted, but that’s their problem. It shouldn’t be yours.
With proper maintenance (we’re talking things like regular oil changes here), most cars on the road today can go for 200,000 miles. If you’re concerned about breakdowns, carry a cellular phone at all times and get a AAA membership so you’ll have roadside assistance. The cell phone is something most people have anyway, and the AAA membership is a lot cheaper than perpetually making payments on new cars you don’t need.
That’s why the last car I bought was a Honda Civic with about 26,000 miles on it, and I doubt I’ll ever buy a new car again.
Buy a reliable car that you can pay off quickly, and then you can pay your house and other debts off that much more quickly because you won’t be sinking $400 down a bottomless pit every month for the rest of your life.
In what little free time I’ve had the past few days (we have a project that has us in the midst of a death march at work), I’ve been messing around with LyX, a typesetting program for Windows, Unix, and most other operating sytems. I remember messing with it about six years ago, when there wasn’t much else resembling a word processor available for Linux, but this time, I’m more impressed with what I see.LyX is a front-end for a typesetting system called TeX. TeX was developed by the legendary computer scientist Don Knuth when he was dissatisfied with the appearance of his galley proofs for the second edition of The Art of Computer Programming. Knuth had an eye for fine typography, and because hand-set type was increasingly being replaced by machines, he looked for a way to make a computer play by the same set of rules that experienced typesetters have used for the past 500 years.
I had my first exposure to TeX when I was working on a business analysis project with Charlie Sebold. There was a department Charlie and I both did a lot of work for, and supporting these 8 users had ballooned into a full-time job in itself. We had an expensive contractor billing an average of 45 hours a week to the department alone over the course of a year, and when I replaced him, I wasn’t able to knock that down much below 40. We believed there was something wrong with a department of 8 users spending $200,000 a year in computer support. Come to think of it, that may have something to do with why I don’t work there anymore, but I digress. Charlie and I embarked on a project to figure out what we could do to cut those costs. I don’t remember anymore how the writing duties got split up, but Charlie typeset the report in TeX. I remember him being surprised to hear that I didn’t know much about TeX, especially since I had written a book for O’Reilly at that point, and if you look at the early O’Reilly books, they look like they were produced by TeX on the default settings.
Well, intentionally or unintentionally, using TeX for the report was a stroke of brilliance, because the most influential people in the department were design snobs, and TeX produces better-looking output than anything PageMaker could ever do. The text is beautifully justified, with no rivers through it, and the kerning is always set just right, and it will even use ligatures when appropriate. Basically, it does all of the hallmarks of elegant design that they taught me in journalism school–stuff that takes hours to do by hand–and it does it in minutes.
So when Charlie handed that report out at the first meeting, he got us a whole bunch of instant credibility.
What I like about LyX is that it removes the markup stage from TeX. You apply an appropriate document style–book, letter, article, report, or whatever–and you mark lines as whatever they happen to be–standard paragraphs, headings, chapter titles, document titles, author, or whatever–and it handles all of the layout and everything else for you. It’ll even generate the table of contents for you. And if you want an index, just flag words as you write or edit, and it can generate an index.
It also handles the most frustrating aspect of writing that I faced when I was writing my book back in 1999. A good book shouldn’t spent a lot of time repeating itself, so there’ll be times when you’ll refer the reader to a specific chapter, or even a specific page. The problem is, these things change. I not only re-ordered the chapters about halfway through the writing process, I actually took a couple of chapters, combined the like topics, and turned them into two completely differently titled chapters. Finding my cross-references and keeping them straight was such a pain that I really didn’t do it all that much. With LyX, cross-references are easy. You just label a section, and insert a cross-reference to the label, and it inserts the page number and the name of the section for you. You can put a cross-reference on every page and not slow down a bit.
Now that I’ve spent a few hours with it, I heartily recommend LyX. In college I found I got better grades when I turned in papers using fonts other than Times and Arial, and the output from LyX adds a whole new degree of elegance to it. Succeeding in college is as much about playing the game as it is anything else, and LyX gives you that slight edge.
And, as you might suspect, I’ve been playing with LyX for a reason. I’m writing again. Over the course of the past year, I’ve prepared a 133-page manuscript (that’s single-spaced Times with no pretty pictures or formatting, so it’s more than it sounds). I’m in the process of editing and typesetting it now. It’s highly specialized, so I’ll be self-publishing it, rather than using a publisher. I’ll be happy if it sells 1,000 copies and thrilled if it sells 10,000, and no publisher is willing to touch a book anymore if they think a book will only sell 10,000 copies. If it sells 1,000 copies, it will have been worth my while to write. Modern print-on-demand technology makes that a much safer risk than it was in 1999, when I wrote and published my first book.
And while there are times when the help of a traditional publisher definitely makes a better book, I think this is a case where I can create a better product working on my own.