Friday, April 30, 2010

For those of us scoring at home (unedited)

The Facebook comments that followed my observations about cystic fibrosis kid were fascinating and hard to resist. The drama is too good, you can't make it up.

I'm delving into new territory today, cutting and pasting content from other online sources. Today's Facebook sparring necessitates it. I'll provide response to each excerpt, but first, let's set the stage.

The key players in the drama are essentially three people I have worked with at the haunted attraction. I work in an indoor maze, one that has fog machines cranking periodically throughout the night.

I previously introduced Doug, who sometimes bills himself as cystic fibrosis kid, as I recall. He's not a kid, he's turning 35 this year. He smokes, drinks Mountain Dew, loves the Minnesota Twins and indicates he has regular, ongoing medical needs for more than just cystic fibrosis.

I also referenced Mark, another co-worker who is questioning Doug's honesty and integrity. I don't think it's actually Mark doing it. Mark and Mary are husband and wife. They both work with me in the maze, and have two Facebook profiles. Initially they created a shared profile, but have since added a second profile for Mark. Mark doesn't use computers very often, and it has always been my sense that Mary maintains Mark's profile. So even though I referenced comments Mark made today, I suspect they were made by Mary, using Mark's profile.

One more person of note is Mike. He's Doug's brother, although it has been suggested that they're not actually brothers. They have different last names, so perhaps they're half brothers. Or maybe they're cousins. They clearly have a relationship, but that's all I know for sure.

A quick recap/explanation of the story: Doug is using Facebook to request donations toward his utility bills, such as gas and electricity. He has provided a link to a website that collects donations on his behalf. His request is for more than $17,000 to help pay his various bills. Mary, I believe, is questioning his integrity through Mark's Facebook account. She questions how his debts are so substantial, as well as how significant his health issues are since Doug works part time each October in our haunted maze. She has done this repeatedly during the past day or two, and has asked him to validate his financial needs. I'm not entirely sure why she is motivated to do this, but she has said, more than once, that she is concerned he is taking advantage of the kindness of others, including those who have a family member with cystic fibrosis. She has posted very sharp, pointed questions and criticism in response to Doug's Facebook messages, which he has deleted, she claimed.

So, here are a few of the comments from today, not necessarily in chronological order. Nothing has been edited, other than names. I'm using pseudonyms for each of the players.

So Doug took me off his friends list!! ANYONE who can spread the word that he is scamming people out of money, PLEASE do!! He STILL will not give straight forward answers & refuses to show verification of his situation!! There are families with small children that are sick giving this man money out of the kindness of their hearts!! He should be ashamed of himself!!

That was a recent status update on Mark's account. Earlier in the day Doug had posted comments about his situation, including a note that said he is trying to quit smoking. Mary posted an eight-point response questioning his financial need. She noted he had a fancy cell phone last fall and questioned his need to go out of state for medical treatment, among other things. There were questions, observations and suggestions in the eight-point response.

You forgot to delete us on this profile!! So before you do, I wanted to tell you that I have already contacted the website that you have your "fundraiser" through to investigate your "situation" AND the FTC is also going to be performing an investigation!!

You are a scam!! You should return ALL money you have received & apologize to EVERYONE!! You should be ASHAMED of yourself!!

AND as far as taking us off your friends list, go ahead!! I have MANY of the people on YOUR friends list contacting us & spreading the word!! Not to mention, I will be posting this as my status so EVERYONE from the Haunt will know the kind of person you really are!!

Even your "brother" Mike typed to us stating that you prefer to not pay your bills & that your current situation is your own doing!!

See you at the fog filled Haunt this October!!

Mary posted that comment on Doug's Facebook page, using her own account. I'm sure that comment will soon be deleted, too. Bottom line: Mary is not holding back at this point. She has stopped questioning/criticizing and is now seemingly on a mission. Right or wrong, I'm not going to be the judge, but it's obviously great theater.


That comment came from Mike, the brother. Mike and his wife went to Vegas a while ago, and I'm not sure why that has anything to do with Doug's situation. Mike doesn't use Facebook that much, but he posted concern about his brother's actions for everyone connected to Doug to see.

Doug how much is a pack of cigaretts now??? Put away what you pay for a pack every day and maybe you'll have enought to partially or completely pay some of your bills. YOU ARE NOT A BAD PERSON, you just need to get your act togather-we all give up things to meet our bills, you need to attend a free money mgt. course for the YWCA or the YMCA so you can learn to manage money or this will continue to happen over and over again. YOU NEED TO LEARN TO BAIL YOURSELF OUT.

That comment came from somebody I don't know, somebody connected to Doug who read his comments/criticism about his situation, and his smoking, and responded. I don't know if she was a friend, relative or online acquaintance, but she wasn't shy about offering advice.

My daughter has cystic fibrosis and asthma along with many other issues. and i preach to people who dont have a lung disease to stop smoking because my daughter has to suffer to breathe everything and you have beautiful lungs that you are ruining on your own free will. Now i see another CFer smoking? At first, I thought this was a joke, the whole raising money thing was a joke. Bills are never that high unless you live in a mansion or own a hotel. Now I am completely disgusted by this and I have no respect for you and no passion to help you. You are the issue to your own situation and I hope the rest of the people realize this before donating to something that may be a huge hoax.
You should be ashamed of yourself.
I am heathly and I don't take my organs for granted because one day I want to be able to save lives and hopefully one of them being my daughters. You on the other hand, this is just a whole nothing issue. Get help.

Another comment from somebody I don't know, somebody who has read Mary's criticism of Doug and decided to add her own two cents.

picking on your hubby? im picking on no1. i answered your comment once. you responded. then proceeded to delete both your comments. i said not 1 thing to pick on anyone. i said to take it to emails. causing drama on facebook is quite childish. putting someones business out there on someones profile is not needed. it can be done privately. that is what i said. other people read dougs profile.

Mike's wife has also logged into Facebook, making a comment or two, evidently. This last comment is from a woman I don't know, but she makes a very good point about the necessity of posting comments and criticism for all to see. If Mary knows for a fact that Doug is deliberately trying to defraud people, it makes sense that she would post what she has on various Facebook pages.

Was all of it necessary? One woman didn't think so.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pinball, 311, cystic fibrosis, Lost (unedited)

So much to blog about, so little time and energy.

There's more to write about pinball, but I'll wait. I am not a fan of 311, but they're connected to a hot topic here in the Twin Cities. I love watching Lost, but I don't dissect each episode and scene. I know little about cystic fibrosis.

I may know little about cystic fibrosis, but it's a topic that is sparking a tiny bit of controversy in my tiny corner of the Facebook universe.

I am connected to more than 30 people I know only because I have worked at a haunted house during the past four Halloween seasons. It was because of my co-workers that I opted to join Facebook. (It was inevitible, I know, but before everyone was on Facebook, I was among the holdouts. I hated Myspace so much I had deleted my account outright, and didn't think I'd join another social network, but wanting access to pictures taken in my haunted attraction was enough to get me to sign on.)

One of my co-workers has cystic fibrosis, evidently, and references it often on his Facebook status updates. He references a pen pal club and support group network he coordinates. During the past few months he has been selling T-shirts for his support group, or taking orders at least, and often pushes for new members to this network he appears to be the ringleader of.

In recent weeks he has posted several appeals for help paying his bills, from medical to utility. His medical needs, both in the hospital and at home, have created substantial debt, evidently. Such tales are unfortunate, and every dollar helps, I know, so even $20 from me should do some good. The drawback is that there are no shortage of charities and fundraising events seeking dollars every day, and plenty of people like me who try to raise money for charity every year. In my case I do so by biking on behalf of the multiple sclerosis society. I only raise the minimum to participate in the bike ride, $300, but I often do so without actually asking for donations. This year I'm hoping to scalp some concert tickets and offset much of that $300.

Since my co-worker Doug has taken to posting periodic appeals, I blocked his news feed from my Facebook page. I'm still connected to him, but I don't see his activities or status updates without going directly to his page.

Today another co-worker posted a strong indictment of Doug, questioning his motives and honesty. This co-worker, Mark, doesn't think Doug is being honest about his situation, and has questioned Doug about it through comments on his page, comments Doug has apparently deleted.

Mark's status update today prompted some curiosity and response from other co-workers and a woman I do not know. Mark's questioning and criticism if fair. How is it that Doug can smoke, work in a foggy haunted house and afford Mountain Dew, but can't afford to pay his bills? Fair questions, and the consensus of those who have posted is that they think Doug is being dishonest in his appeal for financial help.

I don't have any profound judgments about society or Facebook, I just find this morning's very open discussion to be fascinating, and wonder how life would have been different for all of us if there was no Internet keeping us connected 12 months a year. What will life be like 10 years from now?

Good question I just asked myself, here's how I'll try to answer it. In the coming weeks I'll detail my experiences with Facebook and attempt to track 20 people I'm connected to via Facebook. Every spring I will compare and contrast my Facebook experiences and the acquaintances I have made, assuming:
A. doesn't crash and burn, taking my blog postings with it
B. Facebook doesn't become as passe as Myspace
C I live another 10 years
D. I don't get so lazy I stop blogging

The thought of this blog in 10 years, and 10 years of incessant Facebook browsing, oy ve!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

There are not enough pinheads in the world (unedited)

I was born in 1970, I grew up in the 1980s.

Those years are distant memories, sadly. In many ways life is so much better now. But like everybody who grows up, there's nostalgia for the past, a sense that things were better back when.

I grew up playing video games. It seems like video games and the 1980s go hand in hand, but as I have been reminded recently, video games made a huge splash in the early 80s. They didn't completely disappear in the late 80s, but arcades were already falling by the wayside long before 1990.

By the time I was in high school the first Nintendo game system was finding its way into homes nationwide. Home video systems had never held a candle to the arcade experience, but Nintendo narrowed that gap significantly. The arcade industry quickly became irrelevant by the late 80s.

What I was surprised to learn recently was that pinball -- which suffered mightily at the success of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and the rest -- experienced a renaissance of its own in the early 1990s. As video games nudged pinball machines out of bowling alley game rooms, pinball manufacturers had to improve their game if they were to hang around. Ramps, multiple playfields and other innovations made pinball a complex game. The premise remained the same, but the complexity of it grew.

Despite the pinball renaissance, the 90s saw the same downturn in the pinball industry as the video game industry saw in the 80s.

Here we are in 2010. Both are down, but not out. How much longer that will hold true is anybody's guess, but I don't like the odds.

I can't speak for video games. I'm not interested in anything that passes for a video game, and I haven't been for a long time. But given that I was a kid who loved video games, and didn't care much for pinball, it's ironic that I have a great affection for pinball at this point in my life.

Pinball has been almost nonexistent in my life during the past 15 years, yet it fascinates me far more than video games of any kind. I haven't purchased a video game system in more than 10 years, and I'm doubting that I'll buy one again. It's more likely that I'll shell out $2,000 in the years to come for a secondhand pinball machine. I"m convinced it's not a question of if, but when.

There have been a number of pinball machine manufacturers throughout pinball's history, but for the past 10 years, it has been down to one, Stern. Stern is producing a few new machines each year, most of which are tied to a movie, TV show or other licensed entity. The days of building a machine around a simple, generic theme seem to be gone. Machines today are tied to blockbuster movie franchises and popular television shows, primarily. Even so, there's evidence that the last manufacturer standing is having a tough time selling enough machines to keep going.

There may be plenty of bowling alleys and bars willing to host a pinball machine or two, but how many people are going out of their way to play pinball? Not many, I am sure. Kids today are growing up with sophisticated video game systems in their home, they don't need to go to a bowling alley to play games of skill and chance. Between video game systems and Internet gaming, there's little need for arcade cabinets or pinball machines.

Those who love the thrill of playing pinball are few and far between, and there's little chance of another pinball renaissance, it seems.

Pinball enthusiasts, sometimes referred to as "pinheads," are a dying breed. I'm no pinball historian, but from what I do know, pinball has a long, colorful history. Today's pinball, with flippers, traces its roots to 1947. It's a game that has at times flourished, but today is languishing worse than ever. There are too few pinheads and too many factors working against 21st century pinball. I think it's only a matter of time before the final chapter in the history of pinball is written.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Squeaker convention, epilogue

I'm greedy.

I'm all about saving money, and I have learned how to save money in a variety of ways thanks to the Internet, including how to maximize coupons and rebates thanks to Keri's website. I use her site every week, but I don't promote the incredible deals I score.

People take pride in noticing that there's an unadvertised deal at Target, determining if there is a corresponding coupon in their stash and telling everyone else via Keri's site that you can get a bottle of mustard for a dime. Occasionally I have noted a coupon matches a sale item, but I don't make a habit of sharing my ways and means. Why? I'm greedy.

The way I see it, the more people realize there's free toothpaste to be had -- and that you can occasionally earn a buck credit toward your total bill by using a coupon -- the more likely the product is going to vanish from the store shelves before I have a chance to nab it. That's a common occurrence at Walgreens, a store that is lousy at stocking products it essentially gives away through its frustrating "Rebate Rewards" program. Therefore I'm not interested in promoting Keri's website, I don't need additional competition for the free toothpaste.

Keri, however, wants everyone to know about the great deals at Walgreens. Why?

For starters, she's aggregating information from multiple sources, I am convinced. She doesn't sit down for hours each week and start from scratch, categorizing the weekly coupons into a database, then searching it to match products on sale at the grocery stores to coupons in her database. I'm sure there's some of her own research involved, but the information she posts is similar to information posted on sites around the country. It doesn't take an eye doctor to see the similarities between the lists. Nonetheless, she takes time to compile such lists, add her own recommendations and knowledge and present it in an easy to follow format.

She started this, she says, to educate others about how to save as much money as she has. I don't doubt that. But I think she also saw a way to fill a niche locally, and reap some benefits from it. She makes money from her website. How much? I have no idea, but she gets thousands of hits per week, without a doubt, and she makes money off of ads on her website, as well as for referrals from her website to select Internet sites. She's very forward about what she does and doesn't do for financial benefit, and is probably more forthcoming than many sites on how she might benefit from use of her site. It's refreshing to see.

Bottom line, she makes money by sharing her tips with a growing online audience. I'm all for that, but I don't make money off of promoting her site, so I don't, because I'm greedy.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Squeaker convention, chapter 4 (unedited)

How big is this church hosting the squeaker convention? They have their own kitchen, naturally, and baked hundreds of cookies fresh that day for the convention. It's a compound.

Most of the squeakers were in the big conference room when we got there. I think it was eight to a table. Fortunately the open seats were closest to the front. I wanted to be able to get video of the event conveniently. I wasn't there in a working capacity, but I produced a short video, very similar to what I would have done had I been producing video for the newspaper. I used my company-issued camera, and edited the video late one night at the office, but the video has no visible connection to my company. The event even took place in one of our coverage areas, featuring a woman from another one of our coverage areas, but given how ridiculous our online presence is these days, I opted to do it independent of the company. Again, another story for another time.

Much of the convention was Keri's stories about herself. How she and her husband were $50,000 in debt, but made conscious choices that made them debt free in less than three year, how she decided to start a website devoted to coupon clipping, how she became a media darling.

There was a short interactive bit where we chatted with somebody we didn't know at our table. Afterward a couple of us at each table won a prize bag from a salon chain. The prize bag had a bottle of shampoo, which I'm sure is far more expensive than I'd ever pay for a bottle of shampoo. If you don't require expensive hair products then you can get bottles of shampoo and conditioner pretty cheap on a regular basis. This is assuming you're will to spend more than $1 for a bottle of Suave.

A bunch of door prizes were given away toward the end of the night. There was nothing spectacular, but there were a bunch of nice things. We didn't win any. Such is life. Keri fielded questions a couple of times during the night, and people had plenty of them. Some of the squeakers would have gladly made a six-hour night of it if they had the chance.

At the conclusion of the convention a number of people approached Keri. I expected this. People thanked Keri for all her work, which didn't surprise me. (To hear a few people talk, Keri isn't saving the squeakers money, she's changing their life. You'd think these people had joined Amway.)

What I didn't expect was people seeking pictures with Keri. Several people wanted their picture with her. Yes, she's a public figure in the Twin Cities, but the thought of getting a picture with her would never have occurred to me. Who knew telling people to clip this coupon for a discount at that store would garner rock star treatment? Not me.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Squeaker convention, chapter 3 (unedited)

So what happens at a squeaker convention? Considering I had never been to an organized gathering of squeakers, and Keri had never held a social gathering for squeakers, your guess might have been as good as mine.

The convention was held at a sprawling church in the north metro. It's our local version of the PTL Club, evidently. It's a well funded ministry that has yet to build a theme park, but that's probably next. I have no idea who plays the role of Tammy Faye Baker/Messner, but the figurehead of the ministry sure fills his pews, and the coffers. The church is a sprawling campus with all sorts of amenities. And although I didn't see the "church," I've seen it, on local television. This church has a Sunday program broadcast locally, which I think is live. And the production is slick, from what little I've seen of it on TV. This is no community access cable operation. The king of the castle has been scrutinized for the lavishness, of both his church and his lifestyle, and if I recall correctly, he hasn't shied away from the fact he lives extravagantly. It's a fascinating story, for another day, perhaps. I've read about the church, and I'd like to know more about it.

Keri is a member of this church, so she was able to secure a large conference room with tables to seat 250 of us. We all checked in upon arrival, receiving a swag bag with coupons that were of little value to me, unfortunately. If you brought donations for a local food shelf, they were collected at the door, and you received up to 15 raffle tickets for the prize drawing. My girlfriend and I donated about 40 items, including several cans of fruits and vegetables, several bottles of hot sauce, several cans of dog food, several peanut butter cups, four tubes of toothpaste, a box of girl scout cookies and a pack of disposable razors.

I'm sure many of us squeakers donated things we got free, or nearly free, at the grocery store. Toothpaste is easy to get free, or next to free, and it's easy to get lots of it. I bet there were hundreds of tubes of toothpaste in those bags.

I donated a bunch of hot sauce because I got them all free with a coupon from the Sunday paper. It's not the most logical thing to donate to a food shelf, but if people need help buying groceries, there's a good chance they'd like a condiment for their food, be it ketchup, mustard or hot sauce.

The dog food might seem like another illogical choice, but some food shelves take pet food. Just because you can't afford groceries and rent doesn't mean you don't have a pet. If people with pets lost their job and started getting behind on their bills, should they immediately get rid of the family dog? Pets are part of the family for many, and when I had a chance to get eight cans of dog food free, I did, knowing I'd donate them to a food shelf.

I stock up on cheap razors and deodorant whenever I can. I've recently amassed a good number of nice razors, some of which are disposable. I paid a buck for each pack of the disposables, and I included one in the bag. Did I need to in order to reach the 30 items necessary for us to obtain the maximum number of raffle tickets? No, but I didn't want to simply donate free stuff I had no use for. I wanted to include a few things that were of value to me.

I would have gladly eaten the eight packages of peanut butter cups I donated. If they weren't free, I paid 10 cents or less for each package. Without Keri's website, I never would have figured out how to get them for little or nothing using coupons, so instead of keeping them, I donated them. Just because you're broke doesn't mean you have no interest in a candy treat once in a while. And I'll bet it's harder to justify spending 89 cents on candy at Walgreens when your income is zero. I hope those peanut butter cups brighten up the day for eight people.

The girl scout cookies cost me $3.50. There was no coupon for them. I buy them and eat them each year. I didn't have to donate a box, but again, just because you're broke, does that mean you shouldn't enjoy a girl scout cookie? It wasn't exactly a grand gesture on my part, but I wanted to do more than donate 30 items that were obtained for next to nothing. It may not matter to the people who receive groceries from their local food shelf, but it mattered to me.