Monthly Archives: October 2004

Check 21 – the float stops here

There are few things that annoy me more in the checkout line than someone paying for their shopping by check. Watching them juggling pen, check book and driving license it is clear that this is the slowest and most cumbersome way to pay for anything. So the obvious question is, why pay by check at all?

I suspect that the main reason for paying by check is to take advantage of the “float”; that three or four-day period that it takes a check to clear, either to maximize the interest earned or as a way to defer payment until after next payday.

Whatever the reason, this is not intended as a diatribe against people who use checks, but to let them know that the banks are on to you… the free ride you have enjoyed for so many years is about to come to an end.

I’m talking about new law on the books – the Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act, known as “Check 21”. This became law in October 2003 and goes into effect today (Oct 28th 2004).

How will Check 21 affect you?

  • Your bank no longer has to return your cancelled check – instead you may get “substitute checks” if the original check was digitized or destroyed. Instead of this, your bank may try to get you to accept “truncated” or electronic checks – just say no – your rights as a consumer will be drastically reduced in the event of check fraud, double-charging or any other problem.
  • Checks you write will clear a lot quicker – perhaps overnight. More bounced checks = more bounced-check fees, which equates to a “nice little earner” for the banking industry. It has been estimated that consumers will bounce seven million more checks and pay $170 million in overdraft fees per month.
  • Unfortunately this streamlining does not work the other way – the checks you deposit to your account will still take several days to clear. Somebody’s got some explaining to do.

The banks have been spinning this one like crazy trying to make it look like they are doing you a favor, but having done a little research I have come to the conclusion that Joe and Joan Public were not at the bargaining table when this law was being drawn up – the biggest beneficiaries of Check 21 will be the banking industry.

The banks and their lawyers will try to tell you that Check21 is a “Good Thing”, but the fact remains that the banks will be saving $2 billion a year in check processing fees as well as the extra charges and fees mentioned earlier – and the odds are that none of this money will end up in your pocket. They are already trying to make it sound like they are doing us a favor by not charging us. I wonder how long that is going to last?

Newsflash! Concrete is stronger once it has hardened!

Trust CNN to tell you what they think you really need to know.

Iran to continue EU nuclear talks

A fairly benign story, almost banal these days. It does, however, beg a question that most Americans never ask:

Who put us in charge?

Who made us the final authority on who gets nuclear weapons/power/technology?

How would we in the US feel if someone else had told us that we could not develop nuclear technology fifty years ago?

And we wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t like us…


Once in a while someone comes up with an idea that is so blindingly obvious that I find myself wondering why I did not think of it first. Plaxo is such an idea.

At some time in the past, most of us have changed address, phone number, employer or e-mail address… and instantly all of that information being held by everyone becomes instantly stale. Having to inform them of the changes is a pain… imagine if you could do one change and it automagically updates in everyone else’s address books…

Plaxo does that.

Plaxo is the first attempt that I am aware of to set up an universal contact tracking system. In practical terms, it brings your Outlook or Outlook Express address book to life.

At its lowest level, Plaxo allows you to show others what info you have about them and allow them to update the info on-line. This can be done without sharing any information or joining or signing up for anything.

However, it is when you join Plaxo that things start getting interesting. Now you get…

An online address book that you can access from any web connected computer (ever had your PDA quit?)
An auto-update/sync feature that keeps you up to date with any contacts are Plaxo member.

The ability to synchronize your outlook contact or outlook express address books. This means that when a friend changes their shared information in Plaxo your information will be automatically updated.

My biggest fear about storing personal information online is that it could be misused or sold to junkmailers/spammers. However, I have had a look at Plaxo’s Privacy Policy which has a plain-English section (hurrah!) that states:

  • Your Information is your own and you decide who will have access to it.
  • You maintain ownership rights to your Information, even if there is a business transition or policy change.
  • You may add, delete, or modify Your Information at any time.
  • Plaxo will not update or modify Your Information without your permission.
  • Plaxo will not sell, exchange, or otherwise share Your Information with third parties, unless required by law or in accordance with your instructions.

Plaxo does not send spam, maintain spam mailing lists, or support the activities of spammers.

It does not get any more clear than that. I congratulate them for making the right decision in an age when everyone else seems to be trying to “own” your information.

You can also control who gets to see your information – home, business or both.

Plaxo works well. I use it at home and at work. Once in a while it will create a duplicate, but that is easy to deal with, and corrections propagate through the system quickly.

Oh, and Plaxo is free, though VIP membership costs $20/year.

You’re losing me… Wal-Mart

The Wal-Mart store where I live is only a few years old – it is one of the newer “Superstores”. Three years ago, when Biggs on Shelbyville Road closed, it became our primary shopping place. The house that we bought a year ago is less than two miles away.

These days, however, we tend to avoid Wal-Marts in general and this one in particular, even if it means spending more money. Why?

Poor stock
We stopped buying fruits and vegetables from Wal-Mart some time ago. Their selection is neither cheap nor particularly good. The same goes for their meat and seafood selection. We used to buy organic milk there, but they were always out of the particular product we wanted, and though there was usually more in the back, it was a pain to get someone to restock the shelves.

Quantity of Staff
No matter what time of the day you go, there always seems to be lines. The four tills that are labeled “Open 10AM till 10PM” are rarely all open, and are usually all shut down by 7PM. This change seems to date from about the time that the U-Scan checkouts were installed last year.

Quality of Staff
Wal-Mart used to be a pleasant place to shop. The staff were friendly and eager to help – so much so that they were sometimes jokingly referred to as cult members. Not any more. Non-union staff and low wages have resulted in surly employees who seem to be annoyed when you ask them for help and seem to be the norm these days. Sometimes I get the impression that they are avoiding me.

Price isn’t everything.
I am reminded of a joke: “If Wal-Mart is lowering prices everyday, how come nothing’s free yet?” Too many of Wal-Mart’s so-called bargains are simply endcap displays with the “everyday” price on a great big sign. What really annoys me is how they sneak up the price. One product that we buy used to be about $4 for a pack of 9. Then they raised the price to about $5 for 12. This was ok, until they shrunk the pack size back to 9 and kept the price the same. Sneaky.

Get it together, Wally-World, or lose business

Link of the Day

Heavy traffic bad for your heart – German study says.

Your Eurodollars at work!

Link of the Day

A powerful indicator of character is how you treat people who don’t matter.

The moral of this story: Be nice to the receptionist.

Link of the Day

Now you can have your own streaker on the (football) pitch!

You have got to be kidding

A little counter-terrorism snake-oil for your continued enjoyment…

A little light entertainment

The kids will love this… but it will drive you nuts!