Upcoming Site Tasks

I’ve been ignoring my site lately.  I keep thinking about all the plans I have to improve and at least make it moderately useful.  I need to really figure out what my goals are with it and work towards them. The tag line “Technology, News, Photography, Life” really explains what my interests are and what this site is supposed to be about.  I do realize that these topics are pretty broad, but in the end this allows me to write about more of my interests.

Goals

  • Design or implement a new theme
  • Create new header/logo
  • Integrate Gallery 2 with WordPress
  • Integrate Google Adsense Search – (do i still want to do this?)
  • Add photography
  • Setup my About page
  • Finish my woot! page – (no longer going to complete)
  • Post some woot! reviews and projects
  • Earn first $100 with Adsense
  • Earn enough to purchase DSLR to replace past stolen camera and continue on with my photography hobby  (received as Christmas present)
  • Post once a week
  • Implement and try out Google Analytics
  • Change to dmurry.com instead of www.dmurry.com
  • Try new permalink structure /category/post-name
  • Add social media links
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22

04 2009

Earning 3% back at CostCo Wholesale

Most people that know me, know that I am a huge fan of CostCo.  I love everything about them from the product selection to customer service to the way they treat their employees.  I have never really had a bad experience shopping at a location.  However, I do try to avoid the store on the weekends at all cost as the crowds can be overwhelming.

I just recently renewed my membership and upgraded to the Executive Level which gives me 2% back (pre-tax) on all purchases.  It also gives me a nice fancy black card that sets me apart from the rest.  The cost of this membership level is $100 upfront, but even if you don’t spend enough to get the 2% back they will send you a check to make up the difference to the basic $50 membership level.  So the membership never costs more than $50 a year. (Edit: They told me this at the counter, but I have not seen this stipulation in writing.)  The only downside is you are giving CostCo $50 of your dollars to invest.  However, I plan on spending more than enough to recover my $50 and then some.  Between myself and the other card holding member I would expect to spend a conservative $3000.

$3000 * .02 = $60 check

$60 – $50 Executive Costs = $10 earned over the regular membership

Even if you only make $10 on the deal, that works out to be a 20% return on the extra $50 investment.  Granted you did have to spend $2500 at CostCo before obtaining this award.  This is similar to a rewards credit card that has variable tiered reward payouts and will only offer a reward after the $2500 mark.  Keep in mind that the maximum reward payable by CostCo is $500… if you just happen to be a family or business spending more than $25,000 there a year.

Now, if you also get the American Express TrueEarnings Card you get 3% back on gasoline, 3% back at restaurants, 2% back on travel and 1% back on everything else, including CostCo.  Add this to the 2% back from the Executive membership and you are accumulating 3% back at CostCo after you spend $2500 there.  This is a pretty good rate and works out to be:

$3000 * .01 = $30 + $10 = $40 back for that year.  This comes out to be 1.3%.  Of course this rate increases the more you spend because of the need to spend $2500 to cover the extra membership cost.  If you did spend the maximum of $25000 the rate would be:

$25000-$2500 = $22500 * .02 = $450 net earned (not counting the $50 for the regular membership)

$25000 * .01 = $250

Total = $700 back for the year or 2.8% overall of your total spent.

Who ever said shopping does not pay?

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13

02 2009

Circuit City from Good to Great to Gone

Circuit City Closed

Circuit City Closed

It is a sad day to see Circuit City finally close their doors.  There was a small hope that they could close a few stores, make well with their creditors, and continue doing business after filing Chapter 11 last year.  The problem is the chances of this happening are next to none.  In fact, this has never happened with a big box electronics retailer.

After all, who would loan money to a failing business?  Who would allow products to be sold on credit and hope that the company would be able to pay their bills next month?  A company with a great status and credit rating is able to have all of this.  In fact, they were proclaimed in 2001as a great company by Jim Collins in his book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t.” They apparently could not be great forever.

“The study began with a field of 1,435 companies and emerged with a list of 11 good-to-great companies: Abbott Laboratories, Circuit City, Fannie Mae, Gillette Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp., the Kroger Co., Nucor Corp., Philip Morris Cos. Inc., Pitney Bowes Inc., Walgreens, and Wells Fargo.”  The book stresses the need for great companies to have great people to propel it forward and all of the previous companies had this at the time of publishing.  It is deemed the flywheel effect – as long as great people are continuously propelling the wheel forward it will not completely stall.  The momentum from the wheel moving forward drives innovation, development, sales and eventually profit.

Most people would agree that the majority of the problems started occurring when Phil Schoonover took over as CEO on March 1st, 2006.  Exactly a year later, in March 2007 he decided to layoff 3,400 of its highest paid sales people.  The exact thing that Jim Collins said makes a great company he just got rid of because they were “too expensive”. The good sales people were at the front of the wheel, pushing the product out the door and when that slowed so did everything else behind it. This effectively slowed the motion of the flywheel and less than a two years later it came to a complete stop.   Did Phil Schoonover not read this book or even hear about it?  Did he not realize that people mainly shopped at Circuit City for the customer service and knowledgeable sales staff?

Probably not.  After all, what is personal in your face customer service in a big box retailer anymore?  It is one of the only things that they have above online retailers.  The other thing that they have is the physical product on display.  They have the ability for the consumer to inspect, hold, try out and instantly take home the product.  They need to exaggerate this, have their best salesmen trying to convince you to purchase and make the shopping experience phenomenal.  If not, why not go home, purchase the product for cheaper online and wait 3-5 days for it to arrive?

Even with the the liquidation sales at the remaining Circuit City stores, do not expect to find an amazing deal.  This was noticed at their first round of closing during the end of last year.  It was typical to find an item marked up to Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) or higher and then the discount taken from that.  This means that the same item whether laptop, flat panel TV, or speakers could usually be found at a competing big box retailer for significantly cheaper.  It was always cheaper through an online retailer. The only time that a deal might be found is in the last week or two of the liquidation sale when the percentages are 40-50% off, but by then not much worthwhile could be had.

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02

02 2009

Saving Money with a Programmable Thermostat

Yesterday, I installed a Honeywell programmable thermostat to automatically regulate the temperature in my house. It will work well as my schedule is pretty typical for the work week. It was relatively easy and only involved disconnecting the old thermostat and reconnecting 4 wires.  Fortunately, all of the wires were correctly labeled Yellow, White, Red, and Green so it made installation a breeze!  Follow the instructions that are included with your unit.

Now, I need to work out the details as far as the programming.  Here are the factory defaults for the work week.

Winter:

  • 6:00 AM – 70° F
  • 8:00 AM – 62° F
  • 6:00 PM – 70° F
  • 10:00 PM – 62° F
Summer:

  • 6:00 AM – 78° F
  • 8:00 AM – 85° F
  • 6:00 PM – 78° F
  • 10:00 PM – 82° F

Now, I won’t be talking about the summer settings as I am not able to figure those out at the moment.  I tried the default settings for this morning and it seemed like the furnace was running the whole two hours to try to get the house back up to 70° F.  This can’t be good.  I never kept the house this warm with the old thermostat. So here’s my first attempt at a modified schedule.  I’ll update this post after I let it run through a bit.

Winter:

  • 6:00 AM – 66° F – I’ll keep it a bit warmer for waking up in the morning.
  • 8:00 AM – 60° F – This seems like the minimum I should go for right now.
  • 6:00 PM – 65° F – I used to keep it at 65° whenever we were home with the old one.
  • 11:00 PM – 62° F – Turning the heat down at night will be new to me to help save money.

I do not feel like our house is well insulated, so I wanted to keep the temperature swings a bit less to prevent the furnace from running for hours to heat the house back up to a reasonable temperature.  I have also seen other sites recommend turning it back 10-15 degrees, but I have tropical fish tanks in the house so I do not feel comfortable going much lower than 60°.  The fish tank heaters will only compensate 15-20 degrees of ambient temperature.  The fish like to be at least 75°.

Here are two other websites with more information on using a programmable thermostat.

1/21/2009 Update:  The temperature settings seem to be working well.  I just hope it ends up lowering my gas bill!

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14

01 2009

My Flight is Not Profitable for AirTran Airways

AirTran Airways

AirTran Airways

It is true.  Flights are incredibly cheap right now.  Today I purchased a nonstop flight to Orlando, Florida from Baltimore, Maryland for $54.00 before fees and taxes from AirTran Airways. The return trip costs the same amount.  This seemed incredibly cheap to me so I decided to do some research and see if they are actually making any money from me.  It turns out that the airline reports their CASM (Cost per Available Seat Mile) on their accounting balance sheet for the year.  The most recent CASM is 11.43 cents with all fuel costs.  I did a quick search on the distance from Baltimore to Orlando and came up with 790 miles.

$00.1143 * 790 = $90.297

So It turns out that my $54.00 flight actually costs AirTran $36.30 more than I paid. I had expected this at that price.  This does not mean the flight will not be profitable as this is just what I paid and not what the total revenue minus expenses is for that flight segment.  It’s time to get to the skies!

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02

01 2009

Do Not Waste Your Time Delivering Phone Books

Five Cent Nickel’s most recent article, “33 Ways to Earn Extra Money” reminded me of a time when I was home from college during winter break and tried to earn extra money delivering phone books.  It was one of those newspaper ads that sounded too good to be true.  I could earn a couple hundred extra bucks delivering phone books during my time off.  This turned out to be disastrous.

Phone Books on the Street

Phone Books on the Street

First off, let me point out that my hometown is outside of Cleveland, Ohio right in the middle of the Lake (Erie) Effect Snowbelt.  It is not uncommon for it to snow 2-3 feet overnight in December.  At the time, I also drove a 1991 Ford Probe.  So the deal was that everyone who wanted to deliver phone books would meet at this location and pick up a route or two.  So being young and naive, I wanted to earn the most money possible and I went with two routes.  This turned out to be a couple thousand phone books loaded into a Ford Probe!  It was definitely over the maximum weight capacity, but I was not going to ask them to unload any at this point.

To make matters worse, each one of the phone books had to be individually stuffed into a clear plastic bag.  This does not sound too bad as it can be done while watching television, but it really was a huge pain that took more time than it was worth.  Think of the process, unload the car, bring the books into the living room, stuff into bags, repeat a thousand times and load the car back up.   I guess there is a possibility for some process improvement here, but this was before I had taken any classes in manufacturing or process improvement.  This was not even the worst part in the whole deal.

The hardest part was that the phone books had to be delivered to the front porch/steps of EVERY residence. This equated to parking the car full of phone books and walking up and down every driveway or driving up and down the driveways.  Neither of these options were easy. I’d say it took three minutes on average to deliver each book. At the time, it paid between ten and twenty cents per phone book delivered. At roughly twenty books an hour at twenty cents a book that is only $4.00/hour! That does not even figure in expenses such as gas money or wear and tear on the vehicle.  The profit would be significantly less.

It did not help that I was delivering these phone books in the middle of the winter after a recent snow storm left a couple feet of snow on the ground.  More than once, I got stuck trying to get up peoples driveways with a car full of phone books.  It also did not work well to try and walk since I lived in a semi-rural area where almost all the driveways are at least 100 ft long.  It was even worse to try to follow the houses parallel to the road and trudge through the snow door to door.  In the end, I gave up and returned the phone books. The company did not even pay me for the books I did deliver.

I do realize this scenario might be a bit different in other areas and climates, but I know for sure I’ll never waste my time with it again.  Even a phone book every minute at twenty cents a book, that would only be $12/hour.  I made more than that busing tables at the local restaurant.

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15

12 2008

Computer Upgrades < $100

I started researching to upgrade my computer last March and then I got distracted by outside summertime fun.  It’s actually pretty old for today’s standards (AMD Athlon 64 3200+) but I cannot justify spending the money to build a completely new system right now.  I figured I would just throw a bit more life into it with a new video card, more RAM and probably a clean install of XP 32bit or Vista.  I will definitely be staying away from XP 64bit as barely any hardware (Zune, Digital Camera, etc) I own works with it!

Sapphire HD 3870 - Contents in Box - Picture from newegg.com

The long term plan is to buy a laptop and then convert the desktop into a media center and file server for the living room.  However, I still need to buy a HDTV for this to really be worth my time.  Deciding what video card to purchase was a very challenging decision as many brands and options currently exist.  At first I was only looking at fan-less video cards, then it was the newer line of the ATI HD cards.  In the end I read these articles Can Your Old Athlon 64 Still Game? and Best Cards for the Money – Oct ’08 from Tom’s Hardware Guide and decided on the ATI HD 3870 card.  This was mainly due to the 55nm process, less power consumption, supposed ability to play Blu-ray without being CPU intensive and finally it was a good price on Newegg.  The HD 4850 was also researched as an option, but would be overkill for my processor and my gaming needs.  (My favorite game is Sim City 4, although I plan on trying out some more advanced first person shooters when I get the new video card)  I’ll run some benchmarks after I get up and running.

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07

11 2008