Sunday, May 24, 2009

Recent Web Browsing Learnings

I was lamenting the fact that browsing the web is not very productive to a friend and she suggested I summarize my learnings in written form, possibly posting such a composition to my blog. I decided I'll give that a try by looking through my browser history...
  • Stopping a "fixey" bike requires using the back tire as a skid break. I read the article because I learned about the fixey trend roughly a year ago at a vegan dinner in SF. My most recent trend following involved buying a pinstriped black blazer.
  • Having a laser-focused purpose can produce incredible results. Jim Collins apparently proposed four days after his first date with his wife, who later said she wanted to win an Ironman Triathlon which Collins quit his job to help her do. There has to be more details to these surprising tidbits but amazingly facts this NYT writer found.
  • It's hard to open up old file formats. I'm a real life possessional minimalist but a digital pack rat and recently found this link was one of the top results for opening old Clarisworks files. I was trying to do this so I could look back on my 8th grade graduation speech which I plan to reference in the address I'm giving in about 10 days.

I think I proved to myself with this post that aimless browsing of the web can help you accumulate many tidbits of knowledge but it still doesn't really "accomplish" much.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Weight Loss Tip: Big Thing of Water

I'm not trying to lose weight. But I do like to drink Coke or Pepsi with meals, particularly dinners, and I know this is not particularly healthy. A close friend of mine was... and I don't think he'd mind I say this... "bulkier" back in high school. In fact, he ate fast food every day for lunch his senior year and lots of soda with those meals.

However, he also happens to be one of those individuals who has managed to lose weight and keep it off over a period of years. He shared a tip he practiced several years ago tonight that I think will never see the written word unless I put it down here: drink big things of water.

To stop his "Coke habit" (hmm... that sounds wrong) he decided during his junior year in college to get a big 32 oz. cup, fill it to the brim with water, and set it next to his every meal. This small gesture alone lead in the long run to him cutting soda out of his diet nearly completely, and I think significantly contributed to his weight loss.

It came up in a conversation about how very tiny but achievable goals sustained over long periods can sometimes have a much larger effect than gigantic goals sustained for short periods.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Fixing the Dell Online Store

I'm writing this to fix the Dell website. It's a long shot that the site will actually get fixed due to this post, but I'll write anyways since the internet can't stop me!

Dell: please give me a hierarchy not a database for buying your products (specifically monitors).

A database is basically just a searchable list. Imagine walking into a car dealership. A happy salesman walks up and gives you a stapled 30 sheet stack of papers and says "go ahead and find which car you'd like in the 300 row table and then I'll pull it up for you." This would be a poor buying experience.

You need someone (or something) to walk you through the decision tree... the decision making process. Yes, this kind of data is harder to store in a database and online stores love to store things in databases since they're generally so handy.

Apple's website is an example of how it should be done. When I click on iMac in the store I see a page that is not database-generated, but rather created by a human editor who has laid out the 5 choices from left to right in logical order, with the most important differentiating characteristic in bold at the top (speed) and price at the bottom.

Due to the fact Dell uses a database instead of a hierarchy, my mother is literally unable to purchase a Dell monitor without my help. If this simple change were made I would no longer have to help her buy a Dell monitor.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

How to Stop Junk Mail

I'm one of those people who hate junk mail. Apparently there aren't a lot of people like me because I routinely see people throw their junk mail away rather than try to stop it!

What I've been doing consistently for the past 2 years is making an effort to get my name and address removed from every piece of junk mail I receive. Yes, every piece of junk mail. And the results have been surprising.

The amount of junk mail I receive on a daily basis is markedly lower than my roommate's. I've found that there is more than a "linear" effect of getting removed from a particular company's list because companies that spam also tend to share addresses with other companies that spam.

Other things I've learned:
  • B&H Photo/Video has adopted the best practice of providing a URL right on the back of the catalog next to your address so that it is simple, fast, and available 24 hours/day to be removed. Good job B&H!
  • Frequent shopper/flyer/rewards clubs are the worst spam offenders. I've found that these literally write their policies in such a way that it is impossible to stop all of their spam. They consider spam part of being in the special club, since they are giving away their product for less than list price.
  • Pennysaver/Valuepak can be stopped! Those once or twice a week "mailers" that look like a tabloid newspaper or come in an envelope with dozens of coupons can be stopped with enough persistence. For me, it required phone calls, website form submissions, and snail mail papers with my signature one it. But, it can be done.
On a parting note, a friend asked me a good question, "Jonathan, are you sure you're not wasting more time by stopping all this junk mail than if you just threw it out?" I think even by staying within the bounds of the question it could be "yes" but when you consider additional factors like the environment and the time spent by employees preparing the junk it seems the time I'm spending is overall net positive.