How to Use Email, Part 2: Better Subject lines

Use a descriptive subject line. What may be even worse than a blank subject is a wrong subject. A subject line of “hi,” “question,” “problem,” or “help” is practically useless. Be descriptive. If you write someone about next week’s board meeting time being changed, then an apporpriate subject line would be “Next week’s board meeting time has changed.” See how quickly that helps convey your message? Sure, you could have said “board meeting,” but what does that really say? Not much. Continue reading “How to Use Email, Part 2: Better Subject lines”

How to Use Email, Part 1: Subject lines

I’ve decided to publish some notes that I’ve been accumulating for a long time on the do’s and don’ts of email. Since it may get a bit long, I’ve decided that I’ll put them out here one at a time, and it will consist of at least five parts. (That way I can be lazy and not have to think up new topics for a while!)
So here’s the first thing that you can do to make yourself a more effective emailer: Always use the subject line. Continue reading “How to Use Email, Part 1: Subject lines”

Norton Internet Security is Garbage

I highly recommend that anyone who purchased Norton Internet Security or a computer that came with it preinstalled, uninstall it immediately and get something else. The firewall that comes with NIS is completely brain-dead, and to date EVERY computer that we have worked on which has NIS installed has had issues where the firewall keeps the user from doing anything network-related.
The idea behind a software firewall is that it keeps the bad guys out of your computer. The problem is that Norton Internet Security seems to take this a step further by keeping you from getting on the Internet or even your local area network! I suppose that the truly draconian network administrator could argue that this is more secure, but the far cheaper and simpler method would be to simply disconnect your Ethernet card from the network.
If you need a firewall, Windows XP comes with one built in, for free, and it works well. There are also plenty of other firewall, anti-virus, and spyware prevention products out there. I’ll list a few for your reference:
Firewalls:
Windows XP’s Built In Firewall – Microsoft – Free
Kerio – Sunbelt Software – $20
ZoneAlarm – Zone Labs – $50
Anti Virus:
Norton Antivirus – Symantec – $40 (yes, this product is okay)
AVG – Grisoft – $39
AVGFree – Grisoft – Free to NON-business users for ONE computer only.
Anti Spyware:
Windows Defender – Microsoft – Free
Spybot Search and Destroy – Free
AdAware Personal – Lavasoft – Free for personal use
SpySweeper – Webroot – $30/year
Alternately, just buy a Mac.

New Toy: The Kona Jake

Since I’ve been doing more biking on the road lately, I decided it was time for a road bike.? So I went to my pals at Green Mountain Bikes today and tested out a few, finally settling on a new Kona Jake. It has a nice balance of mountain bike features and road bike features. I can’t wait to try it!

Bikers and Moose and Bears, Oh $#|+!!

I went mountain biking down one of my favorite trails with my friend Peter? Merrill yesterday. Before we started out, I told him that we had seen a bear a couple of weeks ago near the bottom of Camp Brook Road.? The trail that we picked up starts at the top of Charlie Wilson Road, and empties out on Gilead Brook Road.
The trail was very wet, or as my friend put it, “the river was a bit dry.” As we navigated our way down from the top of the trail, I saw a (very) large hoof print in the middle of the trail.? Knowing that moose live in that area, this was not a surprise, but I was a little extra vigilant because running into a startled moose is not what I would consider the high point of my bike ride.? Fortunately, we did not see any actual moose, just moose prints.
About an hour later, as we were nearing the end of the trail, I kept thinking what it would be like to come up around a bend and see a bear.? As we reached a straight part of the trail and I could see more clearly ahead, about 50′ in front of my friend was a young black bear.
I could hardly believe it.? At first I thought my mind was playing tricks on me.? I tried to yell out “It’s a bear!”? But I couldn’t find the words and all I managed was “Peter stop!!” He did, and the bear took one look at us and bolted into the woods.? For a big, heavy thing, it could move pretty quickly!? We took a picture of its claw prints once we were sure it was gone, and then decided not to stick around any longer.

Owning Property Sucks Even More

Okay, so I got my quotes on pre-buy oil prices for the coming year. The lowest we found in the area was $2.55 a gallon. I’d say it was $2.549 a gallon, like the delivery company did, but I really don’t like that game, so I’m doing what they do on the bill and rounding up.
The problem is that this particular company also happens to be incompetent, as is evidenced by the fact that they repeatedly screwed up my deliveries, causing me to run out of propane in the dead of winter, and also by charging me for my neighbor’s propane and vice versa, and don’t even get me started on the fact that they, after forcing me to shell out money to have them inspect my heating system to be sure it was “up to code,” completely missed the fact that the furnace was venting into my basement for years. Brilliant. Finally, they wanted something to the tune of $2,000 to put in a new above-ground oil tank at my new building, when the next bid I got came in at $1,250.
Needless to say, I am not dealing with them any longer. So that brings me to the runner up, CV Oil, whose pre-buy rate for #2 Fuel Oil is a whopping $2.69 per gallon. Note that these folks are decent enough to price it at $2.69, and not play the $2.689 per gallon game. So I had my assistant figure out how much we used last night (by calling these folks, who kept accurate records), and the total came to approximately 2,000 gallons. Here’s where I do math: 2,000 gal * $2.69/gal = $5,380. Ouch.
I’ll say it again: “Ouch!” Let me rephrase that. “HOLY $#!+!!” So, after picking myself back up off the floor, I called the friendly folks at Efficiency Vermont to see if there was anything they could do for me. Here’s where it gets fun. The first thing they told me was that, for a building this size (approximately 6,000′ sq.), I’m doing pretty well. Ouch. Okay, now it really hurts.
So, I’ve spoken with a couple of people and have gotten various recommendations which have included:

  • Adding a second furnace to the one I have because it is too small. Adding a second furnace would make it more efficient (to a maximum of 20%, says Efficiency Vermont).
  • Make sure that the walls are insulated. Right now I do not know what’s between the sheetrock and the exterior brick of the building. If open air, they suggest stuffing it full of cellulose.
  • Have an energy audit and follow their recommendations. This would probably run me something to the tune of $1,000 or more. Awesome.
  • Get storm windows. I’m sure that the main source of heat loss here is the ancient, single-pane glass on the upper two floors of this place, but since this is an historic building, allegedly I’m eligible for tax credits if we preserve the facade and don’t make exterior changes. Given the number and size of the windows in this place, I’m sure that would not pay off for at least ten years.
  • Get rid of the boiler and put in an on-demand water heating system instead.
  • Replace the controller on the furnace, or have it reprogrammed (if possible) so that it runs in shorter increments because right now it appears that it runs for a minimum of 30 minutes any time it calls for heat, causing some “hot pockets” in the building and certainly sucking down a lot of extra oil.

That’s the end of today’s rant. What are your thoughts on heating options in the northeast? Are we doomed to pay high prices and just suck it up? Or should we all start packing up and moving south to warmer climates?

MacNu – My Initial Foray Into Podcasting!

I started listening to podcasts in February of 2006, and quickly became addicted. One that I listened to was known as Duel Boot Radio (yes, we know it’s the wrong “duel”). The hosts were funny and, while I didn’t always learn much from it, I found them entertaining.
A few weeks ago, Duel Boot Radio came to an end when one of the co-hosts backed out of doing the show. I wrote to one of the hosts, suggesting that he keep doing the show, but with guest hosts.
He didn’t want to do that, but invited me to be a guest/co-host of his new podcast, called MacNu. I agreed, and now we’re recording at least one episode a week. Look for it at macnu.com or in iTunes.

Bethel Needs Bike Trails

Now that Bethel (finally) has two good places to eat (namely the Second Cup Cafe for breakfast and lunch, and the Cockadoodle Pizza Cafe for lunch and dinner), we have the dining infrastructure needed to support tourists who come in from out of town.
Now, we need a reason to bring them in from out of town, and I say that mountain biking in the heart of Vermont is as good a reason as any! We already have a network of trails maintained by VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travellers) and VASA (Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association). What would it take to establish, say, the Central Vermont Mountain Biker’s Assocation? The Kingdom Trails Association has done a remarkable job maintaining many miles of prime bike trails in East Burke. They have something for everyone there, from beginner to double-diamond-wear-full-body-armor-totally-at-your-own-risk-you-nut-job-downhilling trails. Downtown East Burke hosts a small gas station/convenience store (whose gas prices are cheaper than here in Bethel), a small restaurant/pizza cafe (sound familiar?) and a bike shop.
Would the local VAST and VASA members appreciate some more help maintaining the trails in this area if it meant more use by mountain bikers? Is something that would attract a clean, non-polluting, environmentally friendly activity to the area, which would lead to more income for the local economy, worth exploring? Please leave a comment here with your thoughts!

Illegal Immigrants Explained

This was forwarded to me this morning, but it’s pretty much on the money, so I’ll put it up:
Let’s say I break into your house. Let’s say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave. But I say, “I’ve made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors; I’ve done all the things you don’t like to do. I’m hard-working and honest (except for when I broke into your house).”
According to the protesters, not only must you let me stay, you must add me to your family’s insurance plan and provide other benefits to me and to my family (my husband will do your yard work because he too is hard-working and honest, except for that breaking in part).
If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my right to be there. It’s only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I’m just trying to better myself. I’m hard-working and honest … um, except for … well, you know.
And what a deal it is for me!! I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of selfishness, prejudiced and being anti-housebreaker.
Now, before anyone comes back with “It’s not that simple,” let me preemptively respond with “Yes, it IS.” The key word that people seem to keep missing here is illegal. These millions of “undocumented workers” broke our laws to get here. Period. The only way that I know how you could justify this is by saying they’re here by right of conquest and, as far a I know, Mexico’s President Fox insists we’re not at war with Mexico, so I guess that’s not it.
A coworker of mine asked a couple of years ago why I was against illegal immigration, and “shouldn’t anyone who wants to come here be allowed to?” I responded by asking him “if China decided to ship about 1 billion of their citizens over to live here overnight, would that be okay? No, that would be an invasion.” The we’re letting Mexico get away with this for several reasons: we “need” their cheap labor, they’re doing it gradually, they’re our allies, it was their land to begin with, and other insane justifications.
Incidentally, for an interesting read, just google “Mexico’s southern border” to see how Mexico deals with “undocumented workers” who try to get into their country.
I don’t know, I kind of like laws. They keep things orderly, by and large. In other parts of the world where they do not have a surpluss of cheap (read “Illegal”) laborers, they use technology to overcome the smaller workforce. Take, for example, Australia’s wine industry. Over 90% of their grapes are picked by machines. Yes, machines. They say here that we could never do that, we need the workers, etc. No, we CAN do that. Our technologists are just as good as Australia’s, if not better. We’re just to lazy to want to switch. If you’re interested in more, here’s a start on that topic.
As for whether having American citizens do the jobs that “no one wants to do,” I see where that may cause some upward shifts in hourly wages. Well, according to what I’m hearing from some of my more liberal friends, that’s exactly what they want! Living wage, etc., etc. So on that grounds, they should support tighter bans on illegal immigration. And, since these “undocumented” workers will now be “documented” (read: “paying taxes,”) that should add more money to the economy, which should make both major political parties happy.
So, as I see it, the people who stand to lose here are the ones who came here illegally.

Owning Property Sucks

So, I bought this building last year, and it’s far from what I’d call a “fixer-upper.” Despite this, it still needed a bunch of work. For starters, the oil tank was buried. For some reason, this is deemed a Bad Thing by lenders and insurance agencies, although the folks at the State didn’t seem to think so.
So, for starters, I had to remove the oil tank, and that required putting it inside, which necessitated putting up a firewall in the furnace room so the tank could be there. Furthermore, we remodeled the upstairs to convert it to an apartment. Halfway through the remodeling, we were informed that I’d need to pay for a building-wide sprinkler system or a full set of stairs from the third floor off the back of the building. Either way, this is not a cheap venture. So, instead, we’re moving. On average, I paid about $4,000 a month for rent for the time I called this place home. Swell.
To add insult to injury – that’s one of my favorite sayings… think “Hey, you in the cast! Nice tie!” – I got the property tax bill today. Apparently since we decide to live here, our town Listers, following the rules of Act 68, set a homestead value of $100,000 on the apartment. Wow. We redid some floors, added a tub, a washer, dryer, and kitchen full of appliances, and BAM! $100k of higher taxes. Awesome. My average monthly rent just went up.
The (very, very faint) light at the end of the tunnel is that I should be able to drop the homestead property tax rates on my other house in town as (unless things have changed) I can only be “living” in one place at a time. Yes, that’s right – because I’m not living there, my taxes will be lower. Right – folks who live here have the privilege of paying higher taxes than folks who don’t. Thanks, Montpelier. That makes a hell of a lot of sense.
So today, we’re having some work done in the alley, having the dirt dug away from the building. Over time, dirt has built up along the side of the building, causing water to seep through the bricks in to the building. Furthermore, when there are heavy rains, water leaks in under the door, ruining the nice new floor we had put in last year (to make up for this very problem…).
While digging, our digger hit the line coming from the water main. Awesome! Fortunately, Bobby Hyde and Bruce Newell of our town road crew were on site very quickly and remedied the problem within a couple of hours. Thanks, guys! I appreciate the prompt response.