Sunday, November 26, 2006

Remember Wounded Soldiers Around the Holidays

The Wounded Warrior Project is one of my favorite charities, and one that I think about more often around the holidays. Their mission is to help critically wounded soldiers and their families during the time between their initial rehabilitation (while still on active duty) and their transition to civilian life.

One of the things they do that I especially like is the backpacks they give to soldiers in the hospital. They fill these backpacks with things that wounded soldiers need and, in particular, can use in bed, if they can’t get out of bed. Items include things like razors and other toiletries, long-distance phone cards, hand-held games, books, writing paper, etc. They even include a t-shirt.

These backpacks are tremendous comfort for soldiers during a great time of need, especially for those who either don’t have families to care for them or for those whose families are too far away to visit the hospital.

Think of a soldier during the holiday season. They’ve been thinking of you all year long.

Backpack sponsorships are $99. To sponsor a backpack:

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Friday, November 17, 2006

More Photos Like This Would Be Nice!

I just received this awesome photo/article in an email from a friend. Here's the copy that's underneath:

Comforting Embrace
Airforce Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt of the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group at Balad, Iraq, cradles a young girl as they both sleep in the hospital. The girl’s entire family was executed by insurgents; the killers shot her in the head as well. The girl received treatment at the U.S. Military Hospital in Bagdad, but cries and moans often. According to nurses at the facility, Gebhardt is the only one who can calm down the girl, so he has spent the last several nights holding her while they both sleep in a chair.

The photo is courtesy of David W. Gilmore Jr. of the U.S. Air Force. I can't source the newspaper because it didn't show in the email.

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Finally, a Better Search!

If you’re like me, you don’t have much success when doing a Yahoo! or Google search. I still get a ton of responses to my queries, and after the first half dozen (if that much), the rest aren’t very helpful. I tend to look at the top 3 to 5 links that come up (called ‘organic’ links — meaning links that come up naturally) and completely ignore the links across the top and along the right hand side that are in blue (called ‘paid’ links — links that companies pay money to have come up, like advertising). I hardly ever scroll down below the fold (the fold is the bottom of your computer screen — anything you can’t see without scrolling is called ‘below the fold’) and almost never bother clicking to the next page, because the responses get less and less useful.

Well, finally, after more than a decade of using search engines, I have found a real solution to that problem. It’s called ChaCha. ChaCha is a search engine that combines automated technology with real people. Yes, real people!!! Called Guides, who are part of the ChaCha ‘Underground’, each person has certain areas of expertise, which determines who gets the search request. They live all over the United States. Also, they prewrite and submit information that goes into the automated repository based on their expertise, similar to the way Wikipedia is built.

The first time I tried it, I got the best answer to a search query I’ve EVER gotten. Try it! Go to and put something in the search box. Underneath, you’ll see two links. The first is called ChaCha Search. That’s a fully automated search without human help. I tried that first and got a great answer to a question — the same question I had asked Yahoo! and Google, neither of which gave me an answer that satisfied me.

The link on the right — Search with Guide — brings up a live chat box on the left side of your screen. The automated system instantly locates the best person for your query and sends it to them. If they accept your query, you’ll see them listed in the chat box and they’ll begin looking. You can chat with them while they’re looking. Guides get paid for their work, so they definitely want to help you find what you’re looking for. Also, you get to rate them at the end of each search!

And by the way, see that banner on the bottom of the home page that is a collage of photos? Those are real pictures of real guides!

Please check out my novel, In Fashion's Web on Amazon.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What’s the Difference Between the House and the Senate?

Somebody asked me this question the other day and I didn’t feel that I answered as well or as thoroughly as I wanted to. So I decided to surf the web for better, more succinct definitions. Here is some very detailed information I found on Wikipedia, by way of Lisa, a search consultant, or ‘Underground Guide’, on

The United States Congress is the legislature of the U.S. federal government. It is bicameral — i.e., having two sides, those sides being the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House has 435 voting members (plus non-voting delegates from American Samoa, the District of Columbia, i.e., Washington D.C., Guam, the Northern Mariana Island, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), each representing a congressional district and serving a two-year term. House seats are apportioned among the states on the basis of population. Each state has two Senators, regardless of population. There are 100 senators, who each serve six-year terms. Both Senators and Representatives are chosen through direct election.

The powers of Congress are limited to those enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. Through Acts of Congress, Congress may regulate interstate and foreign commerce, levy taxes, organize the federal courts, maintain the military, declare war, and exercise certain other necessary and proper powers.

The House and Senate are coequal houses. However, there are some special powers granted to one chamber only. The Senate's advice and consent is required to confirm presidential nominations to high-level executive and judicial positions, and for the ratification of treaties. Bills for raising revenue must originate in the House of Representatives, as well as any impeachment proceedings.

Congress meets in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The term Congress may also refer to a particular meeting of the Congress. For instance, as of 2006, the 109th Congress is in session.

In a separate search on, I also found this:The Senate is presided over by Dick Cheney. He has some very major influence in the structure of commitee formation, which, in essence, determines the introduction of bills. It is A LOT harder to start a bill in the House, but it is even harder for Senators to get their bills to the President due to fillibusters who are common among House voters. The House seems to attack Bush more frequently over homeland security matters and the proposed militarization of Mexico (as well as the biometrics part that they employers will need to verify while completing I-9 documents). The Senate, as they appropriate budget bills, seems to be more concerned with defense spending and getting us OUT of Iraq ASAP.

If you want to read more, here’s another interesting article I found:

Thanks to all the contributors!

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Recycling — It’s Not Just About What You Put in Your Blue Bin

As consumers, we recycle what ever the state allows and what ever the state demands. That usually includes newspapers, magazines, catalogs and colored direct mail pieces, brown kraft cardboard, bottles, cans and plastic. In my state, we only recycle plastic that has a number 1 or 2 on it. (Sadly, the little numbers in the recycling triangle on the back of plastic containers go up to 6, so we are still throwing away quite a bit of material.)

But recycling is about much more than just what we put in our blue bins. For instance, do you recycle your printer ink cartridges? Staples has always had a bin in their stores where people can drop their used ink cartridges for recycling. For several months now, they’ve also been running a promotion that gives a $3.00 coupon for every ink cartridge handed in at the checkout counter.

Stop & Shop grocery stores have a carton in the entranceway that accepts used plastic bags. There are companies that recycle cell phones, and if you do a web search, you should be able to find one you can mail your phone to. For decades, we’ve been recycling glasses — not in the sense that they melt them down, but they are given to less fortunate people who need them. In fact, there are recycling bins for glasses in every Pearle Vision Center in my market. I even take my old hangers to the dry cleaners for recycling, and of course, any books, clothes or other materials that might be useful to others to the Goodwill.

The point is, recycling is not something we should take lightly. The planet earth is our home. When it takes one bag of garbage 50 years to decompose, and we produce millions of bags of garbage every year around the world, how much longer do you think we can go on before we run out of landfill space? In some areas of the U.S., children’s parks and even entire living communities are built on top of landfills, leaving the residents there to silently inhale the gases that composting garbage emits.

Please think about this every time you throw something away. Ask yourself, is this item recyclable? The survival of nature and your very own neighborhood depends on it.

Please check out my novel, In Fashion's Web on Amazon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fight Back!

About four years ago, I had a really bad customer service experience with Sears. I was so enraged by their clueless lack of proper customer relationship management that I surfed the Internet for a website I could vent on and found one:(
I wrote a scathing and detailed description of my experience, posted it on the website and walked away feeling like I had unloaded a burden. I did receive satisfaction from Sears, but I still felt the story needed to be told — I’m a writer, and writers can’t resist a good story.

The interesting thing is that about every six months, I get an email (still!) from someone who is in the midst of a horrifically awful Sears experience that has not yet been resolved and found my scathing missive. One woman and I exchanged several emails where she asked my advice on how to get them to pay attention to her and to solve her problem to her satisfaction.

Here’s what I told her, and these suggestions would apply to any company you could be having a problem with:

1. Write a letter to the CEO of Sear’s and FedEx it so it gets hand-delivered to his/her desk. Write under your signature that you have CC’d your lawyer, the FTC, the Better Business Bureau, the Direct Marketing Association, all your local newspapers and television stations, The New York Times and any of those TV programs where the investigative reporter goes out and fights for the consumer. Then, make sure you send out all those copies. Don’t pretend to do it. Do it.

Note: If you don’t have a lawyer, find one and ask their permission to include their name on the letter and to send them a letter. Tell them if you decide to hire a lawyer for your case, they’ll have first dibbs.

2. Call those TV programs where the investigative reporter goes out and fights for the consumer and try to get your situation resolved by them, on television.

3. The day after the letter arrives, pick up the phone and call the CEO’s office. When the admin asks who you are and why you’re calling, tell her your name and that you’re following up a letter you FedExed to him/her yesterday. If she wants more information, tell her it’s a personal matter. Always be pleasant, never rude or upset. Usually the CEO will not toss your letter. He or she will forward it on to the head of customer service or some other executive, who will be required to follow up because the directive came from the CEO.

4. If you don’t get any satisfaction, call the Better Business Bureau and/or the FTC and any other organization and file a written complaint. For instance, if you’re complaint is against a doctor or medical facility, you can call the American Medical Association in your state.

4. If you still don’t get any restitution or satisfaction, consider hiring a lawyer and taking them to court.

When the Westin Hotels chains started advertising that they were equipping all their rooms with feather pillows and comforters, I wrote a letter to the CEO of Starwood Hotels, the parent company, questioning their judgment. I told him that I was allergic to feathers, as were most asthmatics, and that they were losing a very large group of customers who could never sleep in a Westin, since about one out of every 10 persons has asthma (that’s not a real statistic, just a good guess). I got a personal phone call from the director of marketing of Starwood Hotels. Today, the Westin chain still uses feather pillows and comforters, but they stock enough cotton comforters and pillows to replace the entire suite of rooms if they have to. And the few times I have stayed in a Westin, housekeeping has arrived within five minutes to change out the bedding for me.

When you’re right, it pays to be the squeaky wheel. If you believe in your cause, don’t give up!

Please check out my novel, In Fashion's Web on Amazon.

Don’t Forward My Email Address!

Everybody does it. You get a funny joke or an inspirational message and you want to pass it on to your friends and family. So you put a dozen names in the “to” field of a new email and you hit send. But there is a serious problem with doing that—you are putting your friends and family at risk of receiving spam and other unsolicited messages. Also, I believe that you are violating someone’s privacy when you show their email address to others without their permission.

Think about all the emails you receive from your friends. There are often about five different sets of forwards in the email before you actually get to the joke. Now you probably couldn’t care less about these names. But think about it. Your name is on that list. Do you want your email address given out to tens of dozens of people you don’t know?

Just recently, I received an email from a woman who’s name I didn’t recognize. She turned out to be a friend of a friend. Someone I had had dinner with once. My friend had sent out a blanket email once to gather people for a brunch, and this woman had kept all of her friend’s friends’ email addresses. That really bugged me, because I hadn't given her my email address myself.

Here are some rules of email etiquette I believe we all should follow:

1. Only group together the email addresses of friends and family who already have those other email addresses. Otherwise, send out emails to your friends and family individually without other people’s addresses in it.

2. When you receive a joke or another type of message you feel is worthy of passing on, after you hit the forward button, go down into the body of the message and delete the names of the previous recipients. Keep deleting until the actual content of the email comes up in the window.

Remember, if you’re forwarding messages with other people’s email addresses on them, then other people are forwarding messages with your email address on it. Start respecting other people’s privacy today and teach others to do the same. Not only is it good etiquette, but it’s less fodder out there for spammers to get ahold of.

Please check out my novel, In Fashion's Web on Amazon.