Day By Day© by Chris Muir.


Friday, February 25, 2011

free software

A lady who used to work for Proctor & Gamble as an IT person told me the other day that companies don't want free software. That nothing that was free was worth getting. I couldn't believe her. Perhaps this is the attitude of large companies like P&G and the corporate types she is used to, but the small business and self-employed person really need free solutions. Anything that is free but delivers a service is worth it.

On the other hand, with hardware you get what you pay for. You don't need the bleeding edge, but you really need to have a computer that is less than 5 years old. I have known too many business owners who stubbornly hold onto dinosaur computers, and hamper their employees' efficiency by half. What is more expensive, a slightly used computer for maybe $400-500, or half a $12/hr employee's salary for a year? That's $12,480. Hmm. I mean, reports taking half a day to print when they could take 5 minutes. Nor being able to be online because Windows 98 will get a virus in a New York minute. That kind of thing. Have mercy on your business and get the upgrade. You'll be glad you did.

That being said, I'm still using XP, but next time I upgrade I'm skipping Vista and going straight to 7, unless I convert to Linux. I do have one Linux machine already, I run Slax on an old Thinkpad that used to run Windows ME. It was an experiment to see if I could install Slax on a hard drive, and to learn about Linux, and it was an adventure all of its own. It's still pretty limited, the RAM isn't enough to stream video.  Like I said it was an experiment.

BTW, if you run your desktop computer all the time, stop doing that and shut it completely off when you're not using it. You will save $25 a month in electricity and that can pay for your next upgrade.

Here are some free programs that I have tried that are worth getting:

Audacity (multitracking for musicians, also you can rip records by just playing them while recording with it and then select the tracks after and save them as MP3's or WAV's – much easier than hitting start and stop on the record for each song.  You will probably want a USB turntable for that.)
OpenOffice (use in place of MS Office, and they are now owned by Oracle but are still free. Also the new version reads .docx files. I really don't like their database module, but I probably don't know enough about databases to be a good judge. What I don't like is it won't save as an Access database the way the document editor will save as a MS Word document. If you have an Access database you want to convert, you have to re-design the forms to use in OpenOffice's version.)
Xtuple (ERP software, free for one user. ERP is like a contact manager (now this is called CRM) and bookkeeping all in one. Xtuple does commissions, job costing, assemblies, distinguishes between a prospect and a customer, it does everything a manufacturing company would need, basically. I forgot to notice if it does payroll though, but I suspect it can. If not, a payroll company is sometimes a good idea, especially in the Midwest where the number of tax jurisdictions is quite high. It can keep you out of trouble for missing something – also doing payroll is very time consuming)
CutePDF (creates PDF files)
FileZilla (FTP software)
KompoZer (WYSIWYG HTML editor, also does CSS)
Joomla! (Make webpages that use SQL and PHP – this is dynamic webpages based on a database)
Wamp (windows based web server, MySQL and PHP all in one package, and then you install Joomla into its www directory to make your own sandbox for testing Joomla pages)
IrfanView (image editor. You can change the size and resolution of images, crop them, and do a number of different effects to them with this)
FreeKapture (Twain scanner software. If you have a scanner but don't have the disk for it, this might work with it)
Ccleaner (cleans out your caches, browser history, leftover registry entries after uninstalling software, and even can wipe free space on your hard drive)
Cypherix (encrypt some small files, like maybe your list of passwords would be good to encrypt, or if you keep a journal on your computer, or spreadsheets about your finances, or your plans for world domination... but if you want to encrypt your porn so your kids won't see it, you might have to get the paid version)
Firefox (browser, has a lot of good plug-ins like Download Helper. Crashes less often than Explorer in my experience)
NCH Tone Generator – This software comes with a lot of other audio software in a bundle, like burning, ripping, multitracking, a streaming audio server, etc. I've only tried the tone generator. If you don't have a tuning fork or a tuner, you can use this software to generate whatever tone (A=440 is what it comes with as a default). There are people who think if you listen to various audible frequencies for a period of a couple minutes these tones can help cure various ailments, so if you're into that you can generate these frequencies easily with this software.  To me, I find listening to a standing wave kind of annoying.  I think Led Zeppelin, Fats Waller, or Ozric Tentacles are much more therapeutic. (OK, I'm eclectic. Get over it.)
HSH financial calculators – Their most popular one I think is the mortgage calculator, but they have a lot of calculators. What you need is a mortgage one, an investment one, and a retirement one. I really ought to do an article about just using these calculators to figure out what to save each month.
Malware Bytes – if you ever get a file that just won't delete, you can use Malware Bytes to remove it. Some media files I download and convert won't delete afterward, but this gets them. Also it's good at finding spyware, which is its main purpose.
RealPlayer Converter 1.1.1 – The more recent versions of RealPlayer won't convert MP4's to MP3's unless you pay them for the paid version. If you can still find the Converter in Verson 1.1.1, it will do it free. I suggest you get this version and then program it to NOT accept updates automatically.

Well, that oughta get you started!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vampire Forecloses on Bank!

Patrick Rodgers
This guy Patrick Rodgers in Philadelphia was being sucked dry by his bank.  They had force-placed insurance for a million dollars on his house which was worth under $200,000.

Force-placed insurance is where you lose your homeowners insurance for some reason (usually nonpayment of the premium, although it can be because your insurer drops you and you don't react fast enough) and due to a clause in your mortgage the bank then gets some for you, but usually it's a pretty bad deal, and the insurance is often through some affiliate of the bank.  The whole force-placed insurance thing is a breeding ground for scams and abuse.  Commonly the insurance is overpriced, but sometimes on top of that the bank "sells" you inappropriate amounts of it and gets a huge commission for doing so.

Having his house way overinsured was making all kinds of fees for Rodgers to pay that he should not have had to pay.  He tried complaining.  His bank (Wells Fargo) wasn't replying to his letters and calls.  So he researched RESPA, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.  This Federal law governs how real estate closings should go, so that banks don't rip you off with hidden charges; also if they have a relationship with say, the title agency or the insurance company, they have to reveal that. 

Under RESPA there is a certain way to write a complaint letter, called a Qualified Written Request, and if you deviate from that certain way the bank can ignore your letter.  But if you get it right and the bank still ignores you, you can sue for damages.  So he went online and figured out how to write one. He even went and read the law, and made sure he got it right.  He even went to banker's forums and read where they were bragging about how they'd managed to ignore this letter or that on a technicality, and made sure his letter was perfect.  He sent his letter.  Wells Fargo continued to ignore him, so he sued in small claims court and won a small amount of money, which they paid.  But they still didn't change his insurance, so he went back and got a sheriff's levy on his local branch of Wells Fargo.  The sheriff went into that branch and did an inventory, told Wells Fargo they weren't allowed to remove anything from the premises, and gave Rodgers some posters he could put up around town.  I'm sure that finally got their attention.

The punchline of the story is, apparently Mr. Rodgers actually fancies himself a vampire.  He wears fangs.  But no matter what your hobby, you shouldn't let yourself be victimized by financial institutions, the REAL vampires.

Here's the story:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Mighty Aspirin

picture from Wikimedia Commons
I got this one from Anita Sands:

Aspirin is an excellent painkiller and anti-inflammatory, but it also
has many other household uses.
1. To remove perspiration stains from white T-shirts, dissolve two aspirins in half a cup of warm water and apply to the area of the fabric where the stain is. This should be left for a couple of hours before washing. 

2. Has your hair ever gone yellow or green from chlorine in a swimming pool? This can be remedied very quickly by dissolving 8 aspirin tablets in a glass of water and rubbing the resulting
liquid into your hair. Leave for about ten minutes and then rinse it out. Shampoo in the usual way. 

3. First aid for pimples: Crush an aspirin tablet and add a little water to make a paste. Cover the pimple with this paste and after a few minutes rinse it off. The pimple will be less red and reduced in size. Aspirin is an astringent. 

4. Drop a soluble aspirin tablet into the water before arranging cut flowers in a vase. It helps to keep them fresh for longer. 

5. To treat dandruff, crush two aspirin tablets and add them to your usual shampoo. Leave on the hair for a couple of minutes and rinse as normal. 

6. Bee stings can be treated in the same way but any adverse reaction to the sting should be reported to a doctor. 

7. Gardeners can treat fungal soil infections by dissolving an aspirin tablet in a liter of water and using the mixture to treat the soil. Don't make this mixture too strong if using around plants as it may burn the leaves. 

8. Aspirin can also be mixed with potting compost in the greenhouse, or garden, to prevent fungus forming around the roots of new plants. 

9. Take some fresh lemon juice and mix it with a soluble aspirin to make a mixture that will remove grass stains, nicotine stains, etc from hands.

10. Mosquito bites can be eased by wetting the skin and rubbing an aspirin over the spot.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fannie and Freddie going bye bye

spiraling debt?

The Obama administration announced today that they want to do away with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac sometime in the next 5 to 7 years.  This means that the Fed would no longer be backing mortgages.  What this means is that the people who invest in mortgages (banks and more importantly their investors) will be looking for safer things to invest in.  So mortgage rates will likely go up and downpayments will also go up.

This is good news for the Fed, because Fannie and Freddie are functionally bankrupt, and it's like throwing good money after bad for the Fed to keep backing them.  It's bad news for people who want to become homeowners and live the "middle class dream", as NPR named it.

The thing is, "middle class dream" is aptly named.  A dream.  The middle class lifestyle as shown on television is more of an upper class lifestyle.  If you want to live within your means, most of us have to learn all kinds of frugality tricks like the ones I try to teach here.  It is possible to live comfortably on not that much, but you do have to forego vanity sometimes.

That being said, there is sometimes no advantage to owning a home.  In many parts of the country (California springs to mind) renting is actually cheaper than owning.  If you finance a large part of your home and pay only the required mortgage payment, your debt amortizes so slowly that you might as well be renting, plus you are responsible for all the repairs.

I see an opportunity here for real estate investors who can pay cash for houses.  Since fewer people can afford to own homes, more will be renting.  Or perhaps you can sell and take a private mortgage from the buyer, although there is this pesky new Federal law that says a licensed mortgage broker has to be in the middle of it and arrange the mortgage for you. (I'm pretty sure that this little provision was lobbied for by mortgage brokers.  Damn guilds!)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What's your house worth?

This seller wanted waaaaay too much
There is a website called Zillow that purports to list values of houses.  You can look up your house there.  You can look up what houses around you are valued at.  There is another one called Truvia.  I've used Zillow and have not used Truvia.

However, those online databases are not always too accurate.  In order to guess what your house is worth, you have to know:
1. what similar houses around it (same neighborhood, same school district, same number of bedrooms and baths, same type house (i.e. don't compare a single family with a 2-family), same construction, same kind of basement, similar square footage)
2. have sold for recently (6 mo. to 1 yr ago.  And in a market with fast-changing prices, a shorter period of time is safer)
3. in an arms-length transaction (no foreclosures, estates, transfers between family, divorces, etc.  You can generally tell this by the type of deed it was transferred with.  Look for general warranty deeds, avoid the quit claim deeds, sheriff's deeds, limited warranty deeds, and executor's or administrator's deeds).

Realtors use not only the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) but also a couple of paid databases.  One is called PACE and the other one is called Haines Criss-Cross Directory.  Access to Haines (which is the one I know) is expensive.  But sometimes they have it at the library.

Only the sale price of a house that actually sold (rather than its listing price)  is valuable in these calculations.  Listing prices are like dream prices, and usually start a bit high before the seller lowers the price enough for the house to sell.  In this way, MLS listings are like a Dutch auction.

If you don't have access to any of this information, then you can look up the tax value of your house and then the tax values of its neighbors.  Depending on the county where you live, the tax value is sometimes right on, and sometimes it's less than what the house would go for sale.  (and sometimes more, as anyone who has had a beef with the property tax office will tell you.)  Sometimes the property tax office also has a record of the most recent sale for every house, and you can just look up all your neighbors, and find out which houses sold recently and for how much.  Then it's up to you to drive by them and see if they're anything like your house.

Every county is different how they handle their data, even within the same region of the same state.  Some are online, some not.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Food prices, "global warming", what to do about it

Here is a recent New York Times article as republished with snarky comments added in which as far as I can tell, is a conspiracy-theory-oriented site - however, it seems to be a bit more reality-grounded than most of its ilk, some of which go on about shapeshifting lizard overlords <---- (wiki)  and such. (actually I've been reading a lot of that stuff lately.  It's amusing stuff, and it's been warping my brain and stunting my growth and maybe even losing the war for the Allies.) Anyway, back to the link:

The original author was trying to blame rising food prices on "global warming".  The guy was pointing out that he thinks global warming is a crock of BS and had posted this article to show that the NYT was engaging in "propaganda" for the global-warming crowd.

Interestingly, the article also mentions that both China and our own right-wing types think the Federal Reserve is responsible for rising food prices.  Funny, that's like the pot calling the kettle black.  Since China does its own economic tricks like keeping its currency artificially low.

Whatever the reason for food going up as high as it has, we really can't do much about it globally as individuals except write our congressmen, or bitch about it online and hope someone reads our screeds.  But what do you do for yourself?

What I have done is to buy a lot of food now, because I suspect prices will keep climbing.  Also, I really don't trust GMO food.  70% of all processed foods sold in the US contain GMO food.  90% of all the GMO seeds are made by Monsanto.  That means that if you buy processed food, at least 63% of it is going to fatten Monsanto's wallet.  Most of the soybeans grown here are Monsanto-modified, too. Yuk!

What to do?  Buy staple foods, like beans and rice, and stop eating fast food and processed foods.  Cook your own food from scratch.  If you don't have a lot of time, cook a large batch once a week, portion it up and freeze some of it.  Eventually you will have a variety of prepared meals to choose from.  Grow your own food to the extent that you can. (there are seed catalogs. Territorial Seed is a good one.  They have heirloom, organic, and hybrid, but no GMO.).  If you can't completely avoid GMO food, at least you can minimize your exposure to it.  Plus, staples are way cheaper than processed food.  Another thing you can do is buy your staples in bulk.  If you've got a Costco or Sams Club, that's one way; sometimes there's restaurant supply stores.  Start a small business like to make art, crafts or something, get a tax number, and you can buy from them wholesale.  Or if you live near farmers, make a deal with one.

Another way to avoid GMO food might be to avoid grain.  Just eat potatoes or sweet potatoes instead.  Unless perhaps they've got their little tentacles onto those as well. I just dunno.

In the case of possible hyperinflation (Weimar style), the best thing you can do now is buy things you will use later, or that you can sell later.  Things that everyone uses, like canned food, or socks.  You could buy precious metals, but I've recently read that the problem with that in the US is the tax on them when you sell them.  But maybe there is an up side to possible inflation -  if the price of a can of beans goes to $50,000.00, you could pay off your mortgage for a "hill of beans".
The Last Farmer: How One Man Took on Monsanto to Save the Future of Food


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Heal your own cancer for cheap

It's the Bloooooooob!
I "stole" this list off of another website.  I don't think they'll mind, they're like a free-info type site.  This is a list of links to free PDF files of Dr. Hulda Clark's books.  She is a Canadian MD who has some interesting ideas about how to cure heal cancer.  (Oops, the AMA won't let anyone say "cure" in the same breath as "cancer" unless it's poisonous chemo and radiation.  Of course she's Canadian, so not under the thumb of the AMA, but maybe I better watch out.  By the way, I have no respect for trade guilds and other organized thug groups that railroad pioneer thinkers, ruining their lives, as the FDA did to Wilhelm Reich and various others.)

Anyway, maybe you can save yourself the hundreds of thousands of bucks traditional treatment costs. If they tell you it's terminal and you only have like a 50% chance of living a couple years more with their expensive poison treatment, why not try an alternative?  Who knows, you might get better, and without them owning you at the end of it.  And in case you wonder, I'm not hurting Dr. Clark's copyright in any way, she has printed permissions to share her books from before 2007 freely, as long as the copyright notice stays in place.

Here is the list

The Cure for All Diseases (pdf) (1995)
The Cure for All Advanced Cancers (1999)
Cure for All Advanced Cancers (#2 download source)
The Cure for All Cancers (1993)
Dr. Hulda Regher Clark's Approach to Curing Cancer
Dr. Hulda Clark's Last (& Most Important) Video Demonstration (Sep. 19, 2010)
Hulda Clark's Positive Offset v. Bob Beck's Bi-phasic Voltage (Aug. 27, 2010)
Dr. Hulda Clark: The Greatest Cancer Sleuth of Modern Times July 5, 2009)
Holistic Dentists Referral List from Dr. Hulda Clark (May 12, 2007)
Tooth Infection Frequencies from Dr. Hulda Clark (Nov. 8, 2005)
Highlights of Dr. Hulda Clark's Talk at 2003 Rife Conference (Oct. 24, 2003)
Important 1998 Interview with Dr. Hulda Clark