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Get in the Game: How to Buy Your First Stock

By: slickdealer dittyesq

Image by Flickr user http://www.flickr.com/photos/walter_rw/

Heeding the cry of flummoxed slickdealers, a few months ago I penned a short primer on how to get started investing — by setting up your first online brokerage account. At the time, I promised to get back to you “shortly” with instructions on how to go about actually doing something with that account.

Mea culpa. The interval hasn’t been “short” at all, but at least today, it’s at an end.

On your mark…
I’m going to start off with the assumption that you’ve already followed the steps necessary to set up and fund your brokerage account. (Just in case you haven’t, here’s that link again. Any questions — post ‘em below.) You’ve got your account opened up. You’ve got money sitting in there. Now you’re ready to put it to work. You’re ready to buy your first stock. But…

Which stock? Do you buy a stable large-cap, dividend payer like Johnson & Johnson? A speedy sprinter, leveraged to the white-hot Apple iPhone, like Skyworks? Or perhaps some moonshot biotech — worthless as a business today, but with the proverbial “huge potential” far off down the road?

It’s a scary proposition for the new investor, knowing you’re about to take a huge chunk of your net worth, and put it at risk in a manner you’ve literally never tried before. This is clearly not a time in which you want to make a mistake. But here’s the good news:

You’re going to make a mistake. It’s inevitable and … it doesn’t matter.

You see, the simple truth is that investing is like everything else in life. You learn from your mistakes. You need to make mistakes, and you will make mistakes. For that reason, it really doesn’t matter which stock you pick for your first investment. Chances are, it’s going to blow up in your face. Consider it the cost of tuition for your first investing lesson. I’d only suggest two things:

  • First, minimize your losses. This first investment is a “get your toes wet” experience, to get you comfortable with the mechanics of how investing works. Don’t go dumping $10,000 into the market on your first go-round. Start small. A couple hundred bucks should be plenty.
  • Second, have fun with it. Your first stock should be a company that you are intensely interested in. Something you’re going to enjoy owning, telling your friends you own — and learning from as you own it. Don’t worry about making money on it. Don’t worry about “beating the market.” That will come later (and as we’ll see in future columns, it’s a whole lot easier than you think.)

Get set…
With that in mind allow me to propose the following example, for purposes of illustration only. Let’s go out and buy three shares of Disney together.

Step 1: Identifying the ticker
To buy a stock — any stock — you need to know how “the market” refers to it. Click over to Yahoo Finance! Find the search box at top left, and start typing the word “Disney” into the box. About halfway through your typing, the dynamic search engine is going to suggest that you might be looking for “DIS — Walt Disney Company (The).” That’s the one you want. That three-letter code is how the investing world refers to a share of Disney stock.

Step 2: Filling in the blanks
Now that you know what you want to buy, enter your brokerage account, and find the appropriate screen for “trading.” It could be anywhere, depending on the broker you use, so take your time hunting around, and don’t be shy about calling customer service to ask. Eventually, you’re going to locate a box with several blank fields into which you will type the following information:

  • The action you want to take (“buy”)
  • The number of shares you want to buy (3)
  • The name of the stock you want to buy (DIS)
  • The price you are willing to pay (right now, Disney shares cost about $37 and change)
  • The order type
  • And the timeframe for the order

It’s those last two choices that trip up new investors most frequently, so let’s address them right now. Generally speaking, the two most common order types are “market” and “limit.” Rather than confuse you with the specifics of what they mean, let me give clear instructions here. Always choose “limit.” Always. There’s almost no advantage to choosing “market,” other than the fact that some brokers might charge you a bit less money for that type of order. Conversely, market orders can get you in a whole heap of trouble by allowing you to “accidentally” buy or sell a stock at a price you never intended to. Best just avoid the whole concept entirely.

Next, timeframe. Here, you’re presented with a plethora of choices. What they basically boil down to, though, is deciding whether you want to buy right away at whatever price a stock is selling for, or leave a standing order for a “pipedream” price and hope you get lucky. For now, let’s assume you just want to get the dang stock bought ASAP, so choose “day” and leave it at that. Click the button to enter your order, make sure the numbers look right to you, then confirm the order.

Voila. Assuming you picked a price close to whatever sellers are asking for the stock, you should now be about $110 poorer, and three shares of Disney richer.

Go! (Or don’t)
Remember: The above is a how-to manual only — the start of a conversation, rather than an edict to go forth and buy Disney shares like some madcap band of dwarves with too much gold in their pockets. So before actually doing anything described above, if you’ve got questions, ask ‘em below now.

Meanwhile, on the assumption that not everyone out there is a diehard ;Snow White fan, I’m going to start tapping out my next column on how to pick a few other stocks that you might prefer to own. With any luck, my next column will reach you with something less of a delay than this one did.

International lawyer by day and Slickdealer by night, Rich Smith is always on the lookout for a good bargain. Helping corporations pillage Third World economies is great for paying the mortgage, but Rich’s real loves are writing about stock investing for The Motley Fool, buying cheap stocks for his own portfolio, and strolling the aisles at Slickdeals in search of the ultimate blue-light special. A veteran of Moscow, Kiev, and Washington, D.C., Rich has traded-in city life, and now takes his ease in the fields of rural Indiana.

Dealing with Customer Support, Reporting Problems, Getting Answers

By Gabe Goldberg (SD user GabeGold)

Image by Flickr user TheGiantVermin

Nobody enjoys calling companies for service or help. It can be so unpleasant, time consuming, and frustrating that it’s often tempting to put aside or even discard something that’s broken, not working quite right, or just baffling because of missing, incomplete, or incomprehensible instructions.

Resist that defeatist attitude! Know how to seek problem remedies, assert your right to a properly functioning [whatever], and deal effectively or even partner with people on company service front lines.

Remember that only the right questions get useful answers. Just as you describe to a doctor or auto mechanic what’s wrong and when you first noticed it — perhaps even imitating an odd car noise you don’t like — be specific. General complaints like, “I can’t use my email”, “My scanner stopped working”, or “PowerPoint gave me an error” may (or may not!) draw sympathy, but you’ll have to give more details before getting help.

First, collect as much information as possible about your problem or question. That includes recording any error messages word-for-word, including any codes or program names. Sometimes error message text is enough for self-service problem resolution: feed the message text to Google, in quotes. If — as is likely — you’re not the first person to encounter the message, you may find discussion, tips, and answers. Of course, don’t take the first hit as gospel; browse multiple websites for credible sources and to learn multiple options.

If you’ll call/email/chat for support, remember that just as the doctor or mechanic needs details, someone analyzing a technology problem must know the environment in which it occurred. If it’s a computer problem, be ready to describe relevant features of your system (hardware, software, networking, applications, etc.), your operating system (the version of Windows XP/Vista/7 or Mac OS), what application failed (Thunderbird, Audacity, Firefox, Excel, etc.), your Internet connection (cable, DSL, FiOS, dial-up). If it’s another gadget, have model and serial numbers ready, along with specs like memory size, database version, software revision number, or anything to describe the environment.

Don’t omit details — support staffers usually prefer having more information than necessary to missing crucial details. But be clear about what you know and what’s assumed or guessed.

Note anything done just before the problem occurred and whether you noticed anything else unusual, since seemingly unrelated matters can provide useful patterns and context. Explain whether the problem has happened before and identify whatever (hardware, software, settings, anything) changed recently. Think CAREFULLY about recent changes, since they’re easily forgotten but often explain mysterious behavior.

Be honest about attempts to resolve the problem, since those may have changed the environment in which the support person will have you working. Especially note if you’ve rebooted your computer or power cycled (turned off/on) a gadget, since doing that often cures — though doesn’t explain — problems.

Mention where you’ve looked for information (product manual, company website, FAQ, etc.).

If you’re sending an email or getting ready for an online chat, reread your query as if you know nothing about the problem besides what’s there. Is it complete? Does it make sense? Have you assumed or omitted key details?

For an email subject or chat title, use meaningful terms detailing the product in question (e.g., Window 7) and the problem (e.g., “Windows Update never finds new patches”). Text like “Help!”, “Urgent”, or “Question” is uninformative and is useless for later indexing/searching.

Be clear what you want; don’t focus on the process to follow; that may distract the responder into addressing how you’re trying to do something rather than what you want to do.

Once discussion starts, collaborate rather than argue, criticize, or overpower. Be respectful — make it easy for them to help you. Don’t make them feel stupid even if you think they are; they may have missed a detail or you may not have conveyed the whole story. Don’t try to impress them based on age, experience, or professional credentials — but explain your suspicions and reasoning. No matter what, for better or worse, they’re your gateway to additional company resources. Always request a problem or ticket number — that’s often the only way to continue working on a problem without starting over.

Sadly, many support conversations are script-driven — that is, consist of mechanical responses that may not make sense. For example, you may be told to reboot your computer when you’ve already done that. Sometimes it’s easiest to play along and do — or say you’ve done — whatever’s instructed, to get to the next step. If asked to capture a trace, check a log, reset a connection — just do it. They’re there to help, not waste your and their time; they may have seen your problem before and KNOW what’s needed to resolve it. A friend’s favorite apparently useless but reasonable tech support action is having someone reverse a network cable. The cable orientation is meaningless, but removing and reseating it can reestablish a connection degraded by corrosion, dust, or vibration.

On the other hand, if a support person who sounds relatively clueful has just told you to do something ridiculous (“Go check the phase of the moon”), you might ask whether that makes sense or is just from a canned checklist.

Always keep perspective and save anger, escalation, complaining, and social media ranting for severe problems. And if you’re lucky enough to reach someone who resolves your problem with a verbal smile, gently ask for their contact information. If they provide it, don’t abuse it; save it for emergencies, not minor issues/questions or chats.

Besides help from your product’s vendor, many technology sites host discussion forums where experts hang out and offer help. For my Honda Accord I’ve had great success on sites like CarTalk and Honda Tech. Similar sites exist for almost any product.

Finally, resolve to never enter the “Customer is not always right” hall of shame for perpetrating dialogues like this.

Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with, and written about technology for decades. This article appeared originally on the slickdeals.net web site. © Gabriel Goldberg 2010. Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution by non-profit organizations with text reproduced unchanged and this paragraph included. Please email slickdeals@gabegold.com when you use it.

New Year’s Slickdealing Resolutions

By Gabe Goldberg (SD user GabeGold)

Macy's Time Square Crystal Ball by flickr user Between a Rock
Macy’s Time Square Crystal Ball by flickr user Between A Rock.

Unless you’re shopping now for late or very early gifts, to get those better post-holiday sale prices, you’re taking a breather from committing in-store or online commerce. So there’s no better time to review basic tactics for 2011 outings.

Plan ahead and buy early (and not just for Christmas — you KNOW when birthdays, weddings, other gifty occasions will be through the year!) to use the cheapest trackable shipping. Free — usually cheapest — is available from many websites during sales or for buying enough goods (only $25 from Amazon).

Use credit cards for maximum consumer protections; invoke them when vendor disputes can’t be settled quickly and fairly.

Use credit cards providing extended warranty protection. And remember this when problems occur — it’s easier claiming on them than fighting with manufacturers after standard warranties expire.

Compare prices, including shipping. Unless you’re buying something like Abebooks’ most expensive titles of the year, whatever you want is likely available in multiple places. Variation between most/least expensive offerings can be mind-boggling. Be at least mildly suspicious of prices too far below the norm.

Trust and verify. Be careful if it’s not a well-known vendor; Google it for problems and complaints.

Don’t enter personal/financial information on non-secure sites (that is, those without https URL prefix and padlock or other secure symbol). Sometimes sites claim to be — even think they are — secure, but aren’t. I’ve gotten free merchandise by griping to webmasters about their non-secure websites; they’ve been grateful for the feedback.

Resist saving credit card and account information on too many vendor sites. Yes, it’s convenient — but many recent stories about site customer information being disclosed argues against it.

Don’t send cash or wire money, no matter how appealing someone makes it sound. These are purely scam tactics.

Keep records: as you receive them, electronically file (or print) purchase receipts, warranty information, shipping details, and such. When you reconcile credit card charges (you do that every month, right?) discard redundant material. But keep anything you might need for returns, claims, service.

Not just for shopping, but especially for it: be secure with current and updated malware (virus, spyware, spam) protection. Resist clicking links in email unless you know the sender. But remember that sender information can be spoofed; preview links before clicking.

Avoid extortionate shipping charges — use shopping and price comparison websites (such as abebooks.com for used books) which disclose shipping charges with product information, rather than waiting until the last checkout step (when you’re more committed to purchase). Or simply complain about shipping so a site can discount it for you. And consider abandoning your cart if surprise charges are too high; some sites (such as stupid.com) notice incomplete checkouts and send “come back” email with codes for reduced or free shipping.

Understand return policies. Don’t buy unless you’re sure you’ll keep it or you can make a return work.

Return what’s not wanted promptly. Letting it linger runs out the clock on when it can be returned and reduces motivation to act.

Claim rebates promptly, follow instructions precisely, keep copies until you’re paid, and follow up aggressively if there’s unreasonable delay. If the rebate processor (almost never the actual seller) refuses a rebate capriciously, complain to the seller. They may fix the problem through a credit of some sort. Stores and manufacturers love people who waste rebates; don’t be one of them.

Evaluate extended warranty offers skeptically. They’re usually bad deals but sometimes pay off, depending on costs and protections offered. Watch out for sneaky renewal offers: I was offered a renewal on a five-year old TV warranty, with very small print disclaiming protection for TVs more than five years old. I’m sure Samsung would have happily taken my payment, then denied service. So they couldn’t lose — if I filed no claim, they’d keep the premium. If I filed, they’d refund it without fixing the TV.

Don’t mangle packing material more than necessary or cut tags/labels/etc. until you’re sure you’ll keep it at least a while, if not forever.

Immediately plug it in, turn it on, try it on, take it for a drive: do whatever’s necessary to verify that it’s not an immediate loser. Don’t run out the no-questions return period.

Report problems promptly and follow up aggressively. Nil carborundum illegitimi (don’t let the bastards grind you down) with nonsense delays and denials.

Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with, and written about technology for decades. This article appeared originally on the slickdeals.net web site. © Gabriel Goldberg 2010. Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution by non-profit organizations with text reproduced unchanged and this paragraph included. Please email slickdeals@gabegold.com when you use it.

Slickdeals is hiring Web Developers!
Job Opportunities
Creative Web Developer

We’re still looking for more Creative Web Developers!

Can you tell people the difference between PHP 5.1 and 5.3? Do you laugh when people say “That website is so web 2.0?” Do you look at code and say, “I could do better!”

If you answered yes to these questions, we may have a place for you at Slickdeals.net as a Creative Web Developer.

We’re looking for creative, motivated web developers who also have a passion for finding deals and saving money! Successful candidates are individuals who are strong with php and mysql and know how to use them together effectively and efficiently. They would know their way around wordpress and vbulletin and are familiar with integrating custom solutions into them! The ideal candidate is up to date on the latest web tech and trends and are always trying new things out. They hear the phrase “AJAX” and point out that its nothing new. They know a thing or two about scalability and how to make each line of code worth the bytes they take up. They desire to work for a small company where they know they don’t have to cut through a lot of red tape to get things done.

Finding and Buying Technology’s Sweet Spot

By Gabe Goldberg (SD user GabeGold)

Technology Then & Now by ilovebutter
Technology Then & Now by flickr user ilovebutter.

A nifty theory describing how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread calls people innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, or laggards. It examines thought processes, motivations, economics, and freedom of choice leading to five stages of the adoption process.

While the categories are interesting, it’s a bit too academic and theoretical for real life. First, most people don’t have one mindset for all purchases. And second, I’d call people leading the parade pioneers or bleeding edge volunteers, and I see people at the tail end as Luddites or refuseniks, or just not wanting to be bothered by change. The latter group must balance the “if it’s not broken, leave it alone” approach against missing out on benefits of progress.

The challenge for majoritarians — whether early or late in that group — is optimizing purchases. It’s nice avoiding overpriced, faddish, scarce, new twinkly gadgets or most Release 1.0 products, but also shunning obsolete bargain-bin has-beens.

Buying strategy used depends on one’s goals, needs, interests, skills/knowledge, plans/willingness to replace or retain, risk tolerance, spirit of adventure, budget, “need” to be first-on-block with new stuff, etc. Slickdealers seeking bargains, discounts, and price-performing purchases likely already analyze decisions this way.

Different items warrant distinct strategies. There’s merit in replacing cell phones every two years to pick up new features, especially when they’re free with contract renewal. Reliable printers, on the other hand, can seemingly run forever, outperforming lesser models shoddily manufactured to be disposable. And while it’s tempting to replace computers when new models and operating systems are introduced — especially as they’re ever-cheaper — the burden of installing and configuring can be daunting.

The adoption curve determines prices paid, with innovators paying a premium and needing to evaluate what’s it worth being on the leading edge. In fact, it can be hard finding truly bleeding-edge technology, with other countries sometimes getting it first — e.g., cell phone models and features appearing in Asian countries years before introduction in the US. And invitation-only or public beta testing can be fun/worthwhile/risky for innovators, with outcomes not known upfront.

Risk- and change-averse laggards can miss new-product features/benefits/productivity for years or forever by staying on sidelines. But sometimes being a technology caboose makes vendors tire of supporting old products and offer upgrade discounts to end a painful legacy product burden.

Interestingly, innovators and laggards can both be lonely, having trouble getting help, support, and updates for things that are too new to be mainstream, or too old to still be widely used. Attitudes towards them differ, though, with innovators often envied, and laggards mocked.

But no matter what sort of consumer you are — pioneer or stick-in-the-mud — it’s worth finding the sweet spot for whatever you’re buying. Technical products — computers, cameras, printers, cell phones — all have detailed specifications. A bit of analysis mapping alternatives’ costs against their capabilities/capacity/performance
often reveals an interesting hockey-stick shaped curve. The curve’s knee — where it slopes sharply upward — is where “more bang for the buck” (good) becomes “more bucks for the bang” (bad!). For example, new processors usually sell for a price premium, while one generation behind current — having reached peak economies of manufacturing scale — is often discounted.

If something’s price trends downward, and it’s easy to upgrade, don’t buy more of it than you need. For example, configure a new PC with enough memory for anticipated work, but don’t bulk it up just for bragging rights. Make sure your motherboard can take more memory — without trashing your initial sticks! — so you can fill it out when needed, for less money, while delaying the upgrade cost. Optimize processor power differently, buying as much as is reasonable based on needs and knee-of-curve thinking, since it can only be replaced, not upgraded. While almost any current computer, as long as it’s not a third-tier manufacturer’s rock-bottom model, will serve most needs, you should still check specs for shortcuts and oddities that will shorten its life or limit upgrade paths.

When seeking a particular product, don’t be distracted by add-ons just because they’re there. If you want a camera, you may not be happy with a single gadget that’s a phone/email box/web surfer/personal scheduler AND, by the way, also a camera. Similarly, if you want a printer, buying one which includes a copier/scanner/FAX may not get you best-of-breed for any component and risks needing them all replaced when one breaks or needs upgrading.

Technologies like computers, cameras, audio/video gear, and cell phones change so fast that it’s important to review installation and usage factors, along with features of different generations, before leaping on board. For example, TiVo 2 needs an external cable box and sufficient non-box cable channels to make its two tuners worthwhile. But TiVo 3 with two CableCard slots better handles most cable companies’ emphasis on digital content and deprecation of analog channels.

Comparing cell phone models is harder because the market is distorted by carriers subsidizing device costs in exchange for contracts with nasty termination terms. Here, the sweet spot can be when the unsubsidized price of a still-manufactured device is $100 or less — meaning that it’s popular and reliable enough that it will likely last a while. And seek units with standard connectors so that if a charger or cable is lost it takes a commodity replacement rather than an overpriced proprietary manufacturer-unique mutant.

Finally, “sweet spot” can also refer to where to buy: a product that a store or manufacturer won’t stand behind or accept returned can be a painful and expensive nightmare, no matter how inexpensive it was. So check support/return/exchange policies before making large purchases. Consult vendor ratings online or ask trusted and experienced colleagues; I’ve had good experiences with Costco.

Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with, and written about technology for decades. This article appeared originally on the slickdeals.net web site. © Gabriel Goldberg 2010. Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution by non-profit organizations with text reproduced unchanged and this paragraph included. Please email slickdeals@gabegold.com when you use it.

ISP Negotiations – Speeds/Features/Software Myths vs. Realities

By Gabe Goldberg (SD user GabeGold)

Image by Flickr user DieselDemon

Trapped! It’s easy to feel that way when the relationship with your ISP (Internet service provider) turns sour. Too often, people slavishly accept whatever service they get, meekly pay bills, and don’t comparison shop or even measure connection speeds. So they don’t know whether they’re getting what they’re paying for, let alone whether they can talk their way into something better.

Utility bills are so nasty and convoluted that it’s easy to ignore them – especially when they’re auto-paid by credit card or bank draft. But that lets companies bury changes to rates and terms of service, hardly ever in consumers’ favor, deep in the small print. So check bills and tiny-type messages every month, and especially carefully after moving or changing services, since orders/options/fees are too-frequently botched!

If service or bundle bills creep upward as they often do, call a few times a year to ask about specials – sometimes they’re not advertised. You may have to extend a contract to win a bargain, but if you’d have stayed anyway, it’s a winning tradeoff.

Watch the market for changes in services, prices, and bundles. When you see new features such as FiOS enhancements offered, call and demand them. Emphasize that as a long-time customer you should get the same deal as new subscribers! When considering FiOS, remember that it depends on your electricity for operation. Battery backup will carry it for a few hours but that may not be adequate for telephone, alarm system, or health communication. FiOS is strongly marketed to include phone but it needn’t; you can retain reliable copper phone service while using Internet and cable via FiOS.

Focus on what matters. For most people, after a certain point, increased Internet speed may not matter as much as other enhancements such as more premium TV channels, online backup storage, or a DVR. Aim requests to optimize YOUR total package, not simply get connection speed bragging rights.

Especially when establishing Internet service, but even after-the-fact, consider separating connectivity from email hosting to allow ISP (s)hopping without having to change email address. Fully sliced, Internet services may involve multiple fees: connectivity, email/Web hosting, and domain registration. But the total won’t necessarily exceed that of a services bundle, and splitting enhances flexibility and negotiating clout, letting you tell your ISP that your email address doesn’t tie you to them.

Even using your ISP’s email service doesn’t mean you’re trapped by monthly bills. Though AOL has offered free email service for years, even allowing accessing it with standard email software and some free Web email services, many people still feel obligated to pay for it. That’s like feeling stranded on a stalled escalator when you can just walk off.

Internet connection speeds are quoted in squishy terms, such as, “Up to xxx megabits/second up and down”. Nobody complains when actual speeds exceed the promised “up to” rating (as mine routinely do!), but not enough people gripe when speeds are far below claimed service quality. So test connection speed occasionally using websites like speedtest.net and dslreports.com, keep records (or let test sites do that), and politely ping your ISP if it falls short of what it advertises.

Check and cite reviews, BBB ratings, or blog posts indicating that the ISP isn’t fulfilling promises. Compare notes with neighbors and other customers elsewhere; if there’s a pattern of dissatisfaction, don’t be snowed by customer support claiming that you’re alone complaining. Investigate whether your city/county has an agency handling Internet complaints and mention that you’ll consult it for advice and action.

You’re a stronger negotiator if you know and cite available competitive ISPs. If you’re a cable customer with FiOS available, tell your ISP that you’re being courted by the other vendor and wonder why you should remain. And WiMAX offerings are proliferating, often adding a third service choice competing with the traditional cozy ISP duopoly (cable and telco).

Keep detailed notes on interactions with your ISP, noting date/time and contact person. Always request ticket/incident numbers for follow-up and proof of patterns. Log problems, outages, and slowdowns for later reference even if you don’t report them all.

If you’re not getting satisfaction from first-level support, escalate firmly but politely, emphasizing that you simply want to resolve issues, but not taking problems personally or blaming anyone. On a more positive note, request personal contact info from helpful people. When available, it’s pleasant being able to contact them directly rather than having to go through usual screening or taking pot luck with random staffers.

If a conversation feels rigidly scripted, try asking questions “off the record” or “person-to-person” or “as one IT professional to another” to try to get off-script and have an actual human conversation. It won’t always work but when it does, results can improve.

Besides billing, speed, and reliability issues, technology itself is a fruitful haggling area. Cellular companies are introducing MiFi, a nifty gadget which uses cellular broadband to create a small/local/personal wireless hotspot. These are often offered under special promotions but you don’t need these to play let’s-make-a-deal with a hungry ISP. A similar technology allows tethering a computer to a cell phone, using it as a modem. Some companies disable this or charge extra for it, but it’s worth asking (demanding?) for it as a service plan addition.

If you’ve had a connection for a while, you may not have the current generation of modem (and router, if it’s all one unit). Companies sometimes provide this gear at no cost, so it can’t hurt to ask for a free technology refresh – especially if speed or reliability aren’t what they should be. Separate from replacing hardware, occasionally ensure that you’re running current software versions in telecom equipment by noting model numbers and visiting manufacturer Web sites for upgrades.

Finally, for emergencies, unless you check – perhaps with a special high-gain antenna – you never know what public hotspots or open networks are within range.

Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with, and written about technology for decades. This article appeared originally on the slickdeals.net web site. © Gabriel Goldberg 2010. Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution by non-profit organizations with text reproduced unchanged and this paragraph included. Please email slickdeals@gabegold.com when you use it.

Winning at Rental Car Roulette

by flickr user www.bluewaikiki.com

While it’s all too easy to waste money on bad car rental deals, the good news is that a little online research and a few basic cautions can save a bundle.

Check Credit Reports and Scores Without Being Scammed or Spammed

743 by Flickr user TheTruthAbout

If you’re new to the wonderful world of consumerism, you need to know that credit reports list where you live and have lived, your bill payment history, whether you’ve filed for bankruptcy, and perhaps other personal details such as whether you’ve been sued or arrested. Such reports are sold to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that may use it to evaluate applications for credit, insurance, employment, or home rental. So it’s important to periodically review your reports for completeness and accuracy, rather than discovering something bad just when you need to look squeaky clean.

To fit on a small Post-It note, this article would need just one sentence: Accept no substitutes: visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com/. Though that would still be useful advice, online life is never that simple; rules fit on Post-Its but important details don’t.

Harvest Abundant Membership/Customer/Employee/Alumni Discounts

Cash by flickr user bfishadow

By: Gabe Goldberg (SD User: Gabegold)

If you’re reading this article, you enjoy discounts and not paying list price. Or you’re simply cheap — not that there’s anything wrong with that — who can argue with buying $25 restaurant gift certificates for $3 or less? And, of course, watch Slickdeals for restaurant.com magic codes!

But as broad as this site’s discounts are, believe it or not, they aren’t all-encompassing; many discounts are only available to members/customers/employees/alumni of organizations such as AAA, AARP, NARFE, credit unions, museums, schools/universities, employers, or other affinity groups. Don’t worry if you don’t belong to some of these, don’t care to join, or don’t qualify for membership. Enough similar discount-granting opportunities exist to provide plenty for everyone.

Halloween Contests 2010!

It’s the time of year that you have all been waiting for!  The Fifth Annual Pumpkin Carving Contest is underway.  Along with the ability to show off your carving abilities we are adding a new dimension and going to be running a parallel contest for Best Halloween Costumes! You have 2 weeks to design, create, take pictures and display your talent.

We have two forums all set up for you to post your own pictures. Yeah, that’s right, you will post the pictures yourself right into the forum and each entry will be a new thread. The OP will be be nameless and avatar-less.

That way the OP’s post will be anonymous and then people can oohh and ahh…discuss, praise and laugh at the entries.