Seattle Streets, Explained. Sort Of.

nyc street grid

It would have been so tempting to follow the contours of Manhattan Island but once the grid started, stubborn New Yorkers just paved straight lines.

New York’s urban planners were all kinds of sensible when they platted out America’s greatest city, perhaps because at the time they knew it was destined to be so, what with it’s critical shipping waterways and special talent for delicious bagels.  They drew it in a lovely, logical grid, with numbered streets counting in order paired with equally-sensible numbered avenues running perpendicular, creating an elegant grid-coordinate directions system that even the broken English of a NY cabbie can communicate. It has since been slowly bastardized by various political meanderings (I’m looking at you, Avenue of the Americas) but for the most part it’s survived intact as a testament to good city planning that serves both its residents and the city’s steady influx of easily-confused tourists pretty well. Of course, that doesn’t stop tourists standing on 34th Street from asking how to get to 14th Street, but really we can only lead the horses to water, especially when those horses are willing to pay upwards of $20 for a $2 “I Love NY” t-shirt.

Seattle downtown street map

Denny started from the North, Yesler from the South, and there’s really no excuse for what happened in the middle there.

Contrast New York’s timeless efficiency with Seattle’s street grid, a monument not to efficiency but to the power players of Seattle’s boomtown days, men like Arthur Denny and Henry Yesler for whom two of the city’s defining thoroughfares are named. Each followed their own drummer as they marched out the plat lines of their holdings on the growing city’s waterfront but in the late 1800’s Seattle was less concerned with traffic efficiency and more concerned about their rickety wooden elevated sidewalks, about the indecency of ladies climbing ladders in order to cross downtown streets, and about uphill neighbors with newfangled flush toilets pulling the chain too frequently and suddenly filling downhill neighbors’ basements with raw sewage. In short, Seattle had bigger (and smellier) problems. But after a city-wide fire and a subsequent massive land re-grading project which created nearly everything west of 4th Avenue, Seattle emerged into an awkward teenage phase and suddenly had reason to be embarrassed about its pimply roads and gangly broken avenues, so the disconnected sections of road were connected and it quickly became clear that no one had been paying attention.

So Seattleites will be forgiven for their poor grasp on the geography of their city’s urban core, with its wedge-shaped blocks, awkwardly-merging avenues and complete disregard for compass directions. It’s certainly not Boston or London (both cities whose maps can best be described as “a bag of worms”) but it’s less than ideal especially for all those luddite Amazon delivery drivers who would like to navigate by memory rather than GPS.

Enter the pneumonic device, the spelling of which could really use its own pneumonic device to trigger the memory of all those extra letters.  I have shared several of my favorite Seattle devices with dozens of Uber drivers the past several years who, predictably, have never heard them as they depend entirely on a navigation app to find their way from Dilling & Yesler to 3rd Ave & Prefontaine (that’s a distance of about 25 feet, I feel I must offer, so that you’ll understand my jab). Since Uber drivers don’t seem to need them but I still find them endlessly useful as a Seattle urbanite who likes walking places and providing confident directions to cruise ship tourists, I am sharing them with you; not just you, the reader, but the Google robots and their ilk, as well, since nothing is better for SEO than a good bulleted list.

Seattle Neighborhoods

Denny Triangle isn’t even really a triangle.

Let’s start with the heart of downtown, an area the Downtown Seattle Association breaks into two arbitrary neighborhoods called “West Edge” – which is neither the western-most part of the city nor on the edge of anything except perhaps becoming wildly overpriced – and the “Retail Core” which is a very honest name for a neighborhood that exists mostly to sell you a handbag.  For some reason that I couldn’t uncover in 2-3 minutes of absently browsing Wikipedia (read: what passes for journalism in 2016) the Eastish-Westish streets in this area are named in alphabetic pairs, making our pneumonic device especially efficient.  In order from South to North (which is also kind of right-to-left on the map, perhaps a nod to Seattle’s Japanese population?) those streets are:

  • Jefferson St
  • James St
  • Cherry St
  • Columbia St
  • Marion St
  • Madison St
  • Spring St
  • Seneca St
  • University St
  • Union St
  • Pike St
  • Pine St

As you can see, there are two of each letter, so we can boil this down to J-C-M-S-U-P (more on expanding it later) and the most common pneumonic device I’ve heard for those letters is “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Pressure” which may be an homage to the immense volcanic and tectonic pressure present in this region that contributed heavily to the formation of Seattle’s geography.  It also might have just been catchy.   The secular (and furrier) alternate I’ve heard is “Jumpy Cats May Scratch Upholstery & People” where the “&” is obviously excluded, obviously, as is the standard with pneumonic devices unless it’s inconvenient, in which case it isn’t.  Obviously.

Now that you have one of those lodged in your skull (or perhaps you made up your own already, you brainiac) you have a rough sense of where you are anywhere in that neighborhood.  Standing in the J’s and need to reach one of the U’s?  You’ll need to walk past the C’s, M’s and S’s to get there.  But perhaps you would like to be more exact?  Well, here’s something that might help you.  Notice that each pair is in reverse alphabetical order (James comes after Jefferson, Seneca comes after Spring), except for the C’s and the P’s.  That’s because “The P’s and the C’s aren’t PC”.  For those that don’t remember Bill Clinton-area political news coverage, “PC” means Politically Correct, which at some point in its heyday basically just meant “acceptable” as anything that wasn’t PC was basically unacceptable.  Thankfully, widespread use of the internet has sufficiently lowered our standards of human decency to the point that no one is trying to be PC anymore, and certainly not by calling it that.  But nonetheless, that’s a little trick to help you keep the order straight within the pairs.

I bet you can recite at least 25 words from Tommy Boy right now.

I bet you can recite at least 25 words from Tommy Boy right now.

Or you could just memorize them.  I mean, it’s 12 words, that’s probably less to remember than your favorite Chris Farley impression.  Try it: Jefferson James Cherry Columbia Marion Madison Spring Seneca University Union Pike Pine.  Read that 20 times right now, recite it in your head every time you pass one of the mentioned street signs, and in 2 weeks you will be gesticulating with aplomb at wayward tourists trying to find the public library (it’s on Madison Street) like a Seattle savant.

I know that your mind is already blown at this point and you’re nearly tearing the cords out of your computer attempting to run outside and navigate Seattle’s downtown streets like Ferdinand Magellan with an iPhone, but I have one more neighborhood to clog your noggin with.  When I moved to Seattle 15 years ago and started walking through the Belltown neighborhood in search of happy hour sushi and an old-fashioned made with a bourbon-soaked cherry (read: properly) it dawned on me that Belltown needed a pneumonic of its own.  I’ve had even less success convincing Uber drivers to adopt this one as it’s a bit longer and I – perhaps misguidedly – attempted to tackle some of the wedge-shaped convergence zone blocks resulting from the collision of several misaligned street grids that the previous device conveniently passes over.  With that hearty disclaimer, here’s  your mental map to the following Belltown streets:

  • Olive Way
  • Stewart St
  • Virginia St
  • Lenora St
  • Blanchard St
  • Bell St
  • Battery St
  • Wall St
  • Vine St
  • Cedar St
  • Clay St
  • Broad St
  • Denny Way

If you’re looking at the map you’ll notice that these streets only occur in this order at 3rd Avenue, and even then not quite exactly, as Olive and Stewart are still conjoined asphalt twins at 3rd Avenue and only begin to find identities of their own as they approach 4th Avenue.  Also, Denny Way is clearly not part of the Belltown grid but as the boundary of the neighborhood it seemed like a good anchor and the corner of 3rd Avenue and Denny Way is near-enough-as-makes-no-difference to Seattle Center, which is an even better neighborhood anchor.  As for Olive Way and Stewart St, they seemed like the longest and most significant boundaries of the two grid systems, and if one was trying to walk from Seattle Center to Nordstrom (from the city’s heart to its wallet, as it were) knowing how far one has traversed on that journey seemed useful.  Also, our previous pneumonic ended at Pine St which is (mostly) a block away from either Olive Way or Stewart St, depending on which Avenue you are standing on.  Trying to rationalize these decisions is actually doing a great job to illustrate how confusing Seattle’s street grid is and why pneumonic devices are necessary.  So let’s just move on.

Here's a guy that would bite your ear off in a bar fight.

Here’s a guy that would bite your ear off in a bar fight.

With the street names above, and in an homage to Seattle’s long history in the software economy, we have the following: Open-Source Vendors Let Big Bad Ballmer Win Venture Capital Companies’ Big Dollars.   That’s Olive-Stewart (appropriately hyphenated) Virginia Lenora Blanchard Bell Battery Wall Vine Cedar Clay Broad Denny.  Originally I had written it as “Big Bad Bill” which is obviously a reference to Microsoft’s Bill Gates but it turns out Bill is actually not a bad guy at all; rather, a very good guy with a huge heart who has dedicated his life to using his power and influence (and money) to make enormous improvements in standards of living throughout the third world.  So instead, it’s “Big Bad Balmer” which works just as well as a pneumonic and is perhaps much more true given his track record in Redmond and his penchant for chair-throwing.  Battery, Bell, and Blanchard are in reverse alphabetical order – similar to the West Edge streets – and Cedar and Clay defy that convention – just like the other C’s and P’s further south which are similarly not PC.

Never mind that the sentence “Open-Source Vendors Let Big Bad Ballmer Win Venture Capital Companies’ Big Dollars” isn’t particularly true in any obvious way and doesn’t actually make sense.  It wasn’t meant to be profound, it was meant to have the right letters in the right order and to stick in your brain like a half-eaten lollipop sticks in a shag carpet.  Your brain, in this example, is a shag carpet. With the help of your shag-carpet brain, you can now walk from Yesler Way to Nordstrom (Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Pressure) and then continue all the way to the Space Needle (Open-Source Vendors Let Big Bad Ballmer Win Venture Capital Companies’ Big Dollars), all without using your phone for anything other than music, texting, restaurant reviews, posting to your Snapchat story and sharing your journey block-by-block on Instagram.

The Belltown example is perhaps a little tougher to memorize and there are probably very few people navigating Belltown these days other than via the Uber app or, increasingly, indirectly via their food delivery service of choice.  That’s likely true for both of these neighborhoods just as it is for the elegant grid-like streets of Manhattan; our pervasive technology and its cloud-based software-as-a-service intelligence masking one city’s clever and human-friendly urban planning and another’s rambunctious and slipshod development from overgrown gold nugget repository to glittering technology boomtown. But on either coast, should a zombie apocalypse leave you without your precious Google Maps, the hardcore survivalists among you whose advance planning included committing these pneumonic devices to memory will handily find your way to Wasabi Bistro to trade a pack of cigarettes for what’s left of their fresh albacore.  And that, my friends, is how you write keyword-rich, SEO-friendly content.

A War We Should Try To Avoid

“Ads are being cast as the enemy as consumers find more and more ways to block them.”

This Ad Age article paints a pretty scary future, and I’m not just worried about all of the industries and jobs that depend on the ad business or the impact on entertainment and content production that is currently ad-sponsored. The real concern is the continued trend towards class-ism, where those who can afford to pay premiums receive a significantly different experience than those who can’t. We already have riots of metro bus riders upset over Google buses, do we want to separate Jimmy Fallon’s audience into warring factions the same way we have San Francisco commuters? We already exclude some of the world’s best content behind expensive paywalls at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, even Ad Age (although they at least offer a few free articles per month), effectively excluding the financially-disadvantaged from having the same cultural, business and news resources as those of us with a subscription.

Now I’m not saying that an ambitious but underprivileged future Warren Buffet can’t scrape his pennies together for the WSJ subscription that’s going to make him the next bond-trading mogul, because anyone who has the savvy to understand that heady prose can probably find $12 a month through some clever means, but what will the internet become when every great piece of content requires a fee? First, each site will start their own pay model, and we’ll pick the ones that are most important to us, and abandon the rest. Users will consolidate into closed subscription groups, rather than graze the entirety of the digital buffet as we do now. The pressure on smaller sites will be too great as they find fewer and fewer subscribers, and they will need to join forces with networks of sites in order to survive. Soon, broad subscriptions will encompass collections of content and consumers will need to choose between collections, won’t want to pay the outlay of more than one large collection, and will cease to explore anything outside their subscription group. And then what do we have?

Cable, that’s what. We have cable. Is that what you want, world? You want the internet’s cost structure to mirror that of Comcast? Think about that for a minute before you block all the ads, because unless you want to be trapped in a content monopoly and pay a monstrous monthly fee for the few “channels” you are interested in because that’s the only way to access them, then you’d better start appreciating the advertisers that take on all the risk to give you a free internet on the off-chance they can sell a few widgets, because our “free exchange of information” internet is about to be far from free.

Source: Yes, There Is a War on Advertising. Now What? | Digital – Advertising Age

Even in a data economy, it’s still all about people

I’ve spent this week at a Google SMB (small to medium business) partnership event in Miami, connecting
with the teams at Google that will help me build my business and learning about the ways in which Google is willing and able to help small businesses tackle the fireswamp that is digital advertising.  They do so indirectly, by supporting their channel sales partners with training, strategy, data analysis, marketing events, and a not-insignificant measure of scotch whiskey.

Amidst the torrential summer rains of Miami Beach in August Google has showcased what a large adwordsinvestment they’ve made in people – both their own and those working for their channel sales partners.  As we’ve spent these last few days ensconced in the beautiful (and historic, as guests are constantly reminded) Fontainebleau Hotel it struck me that even a company who has basically all the data in the world that there is to have, and arguably (or perhaps not) the most significant investment in algorithmic data manipulation, optimization and machine learning in the history of our brainy little species, even Google is still powered by people – by their relationships, their trust, their passions, their fears.  None of their data would be sought after if it weren’t organized in a way that makes sense to people – even though that often means organizing it in a way that is inefficient for the machines.  None of their revenue juggernaut of the past 20 years would have been possible had they not been able to convince advertisers – also people – that the best way to transmit their message to their customers – nearly all of which are people – was through Google’s data-driven means, and that meant a great deal of marketing, communicating, hand-shaking, and (most likely) cocktails, all of which are very people-centric practices.  Practices that are laced with data, no doubt – measuring success, analyzing costs, predicting outcomes – but which to execute still require a human with a Google badge to commence the shaking of those hands.

So for those worried that the machines are taking over, take heart knowing that even in the places most dominated by data-fueled artificial intelligence and algorithmic forecasting of even the tiniest of human behaviors, the whole study is still really an exercise in understanding people better and even – perhaps, especially – at Google the role of humans has never been more important.




Pondering the Westward view

Sitting on the vacant second floor near the office’s west-facing windows in a rare moment of reflection during what is normally a hectic and nonstop workday, I am noticing for the first time what’s actually outside these walls. Across the street is a millwork facility, and behind it a new parking garage built for the Starbucks HQ that I’d never noticed before today. Behind that is the Burlington Northern rail yard and the northernmost reaches of Elliot Bay Harbor where the massive cargo cranes tirelessly juggle shipping containers like a never-ending Lego kit. One such container rolls by in the foreground atop an 18-wheeler’s specially-fitted trailer, the driver snaking his way through the orange cones and steel road plates littered down South 1st Avenue, remnants of a perpetual construction project that currently toils a few blocks further south. Across the sky a small private jet slices through the hanging clouds, descending towards Boeing Field’s southbound runway, and not long behind it a cargo transport flight on a longer approach, its silver fuselage glinting in the waning winter sun. It’s a very raw neighborhood, marred by no attempts to mask the purpose of the sprawling warehouses that are its trademark. Even as SoDo has seen some of its industrial tenants be replaced by stylish warehouse condos and shabby-chic loft workspaces this has only peeled back the neighborhood’s skin and exposed the meat and bones of the heavy industry that first made Seattle a boomtown and the blue-collar workforce that quietly keeps the city running despite a culture largely focused on the pleasures of white-collar life.

As one of those white-collar workers I have enjoyed this office’s proximity to the massive physical scale of America’s industrial machine, and as one of the high-tech laborers pushing the country into an era of electronic accomplishments rather than physical ones the honest tangibility of this largely-bygone impotus to America’s previous-century growth has been a valuable source of perspective.

On my last day in this office – the company is relocating to a more modern (and much more tightly-crowded and “efficient”) space near the financial/legal district and Chinatown – I can’t help but wonder what the next century of industrial revolutions will bring and what the littered past of my industry and the ones that come after it will look like to those that follow us. We won’t leave behind vast warehouses, complex machinery, massive infrastructure or huge environmental change. Just digital records, unfinished ideas, and a smattering of office furniture to show for all our efforts to change the world.

Comedy In My Inbox (Part 2)

You may recall our first adventure into the fat-fingered, confused and/or lazy folks that wormed their way into my email inbox because my address is too simple and obvious to really belong to someone. It’s been several months and I have another great batch to share, as apparently my email address continues to be the “party line” account for an entire community of people named Brian (or not). The transgressions span the scale from “innocuous typing mistake” to “borderline identity theft” although I’m not really sure it counts as identify theft when someone gives you their personal information by emailing it directly to your (apparently only semi-private) work address.

The source of many of these gems of modern communication is creating an account on some website, using my address as the contact email, and then needing to either confirm the address or recover a lost password. Both are activities that fundamentally require access to the email address provided to the site, so I’m confused why anyone would thrown down a bogus one yet still go to the trouble of completing the registration form.

For example, YouTube user brandonzeula is never going to upload any videos because all his account management messages come to me:


Also, “rude.com” user “panties1877” will not see his registration process completed. It is a shame that someone who is obviously such a classy guy – who likely listens to Brahms concertos in his Oxford-adjacent den, soaking in the aroma of fine cigars, leather-bound books and dark mahogany as he slowly pickles his liver in well-aged scotch with quiet dignity – will not successfully partake in the live XXX webcams of “rude.com” (which I have purposely not provided a link to as I doubt any of my readers are sufficiently high-caliber enough to be awarded a coveted invitation to this prestigious site).


Plant Bad Seeds, Reap A Poor Harvest

Further illustrating the issue is this message intended for Brian Berry of Decatur, Illinois, who apparently has the time and inclination to create a shopping account but would prefer not to receive any communication about his account or orders and instead directs that to me. Am I expected to call him (at 217-233-6136, natch) with daily order tracking updates when he starts receiving garden irrigation supplies this spring?


What’s My Name Again?

These are selections from what must be thousands of websites where my address is used to create an account, one which probably never gets activated or used because, well, I get the important emails. People like “Brott66”, “chain the invinceble”, “Bribhoycelts”, “big red dogg” and Brian Seshabo might want to consider whether creating the account at all is worth their (obviously extremely valuable) time.

trackmill-big-red-dogg pokerstars personal-informer norton-password nexon inspiron-battleknight brott66-pogo brian-seshabo-yola

Proud (Yet Surprised) Father

I’m not sure if these are subtle hints about upcoming child custody cases I should expect subpeonas for, but I’ve also been receiving parenting-related emails from Sintia Domingues in Pennsauken, New Jersey (Google says it’s a suburb of Philadelphia). Our baby is currently the size of a pumpkin and our subscription to American Baby should begin arriving in 4-6 weeks.



Good Luck On Your Interview

Brian Dobson, who apparently lives within commuting distance of Tulsa, Oklahoma, must not have been very serious about this opening for a Fleet Mechanic at the local Pepsi Bottling facility, because he provided my email address in his contact information. I considered filling out the survey for him and sharing with Pepsi the details of his prison time and illegal immigrant status, or his sordid affair with a young heiress to the Coca Cola fortune, but unlike Mr. Dobson, I don’t wish to spend time filling out job applications for employers I want not to call me back.


Printer Ink Is A Scam Anyway

A little closer to home, Brian McNeill spent nearly $100 on inkjet cartridges for his Hewlett Packard 564XL, shipped to his door in Redmond, WA. While Mr. McNeill is a savvy enough shopper to have scored free next-day shipping and that $8.10 instant ink rebate, he falls squarely into the “noob” category for 1) ordering from the manufacturer instead of shopping the aftermarket, and 2) not having his own email address.


The Bill-Paying Adventures of Brian Hicks

Stretching closer to the creepy-stalker-slash-identity-thief area, several of my internet alter-egos have made me a recurring part of their lives by (thoughtfully, so thoughtfully!) sending me their bills. I’m able to learn a great deal about Mr. Hicks from his bills, notably that his Norton antivirus software is set to auto-renew annually and charge his credit card ending in x2788, that his Geico policy was canceled in October due to nonpayment, and that he signed a 2-year contract with Alltel to get a $100 rebate on his new Samsung Delve.




Brian Jones Gets An iPhone

I get Mr. Jones’s AT&T bill emails every month and have for the past 2 years, but I was excited in October to see he ponied up for a new iPhone 3GS. I’ve really been enjoying mine – maybe I should give him a call and we can compare apps.



Brian Parker Fails At Shopping

Somewhere in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area, Brian Parker is probably getting very frustrated that no one ever replies to his emails. As an electrical contractor, he used the email account provided by his ISP (Road Runner broadband) to create an account with Taurus Commercial, a Dallas-based contractor, but strangely sent my email address in the reply-to field, meaning Taurus replied to me, not to him. He requested support from Bluebeam Software when activating their software, but likely never received a reply as he 1) gave them my address as his own and 2) likely missed earlier communications from Bluebeam for the same reason and his order was never fulfilled in the first place.



Still shopping (and still failing), Brian Parker made some email offers on Craigslist items, but I’d guess they never led to successful transactions as he directed the seller’s replies to me. In the third one, he gave them not only a false email address, but also apparently an invalid phone number! I guess he didn’t want the bike that badly after all.




From Around The Globe

As though the antics of my fellow Americans weren’t ridiculous enough, let’s take a quick jump to some of the more exotic locales where my email address is getting play on Glasgow dating sites (sites who send me birthday wishes every year on September 19th), registering for Australian fantasy football, and taking a weekend holiday in Suffolk.




That’s all for today, but at the rate new random, misguided messages arrive in my inbox I’m sure it won’t be long before another batch becomes post-worthy. Until then, don’t email your bills to strangers, and check your reply-to fields, kids!

Comedy In My Inbox (Part 1)

I get a lot of weird email at work. I know that other people who worked here before me have had this email address (it’s *very* generic) and that does explain some of it, but there’s also apparently a lot of people who are purposely using my corporate email address as their “reply-to” or when signing up for things online. I’m not sure why you’d want to do that – there’s so many throwaway email services these days, and just because you don’t want email from some site doesn’t mean you’d want some stranger (me) to get messages about your account, does it? I know the internet brings out the stupid in people, so let’s take a trip through the “funny/random” folder in my inbox and see who’s using my email address. These are all real messages, directly from my corporate mailbox, and are not spam (strictly-speaking) – they are solicited, intentional messages meant for someone else, someone who provided my address to the sender as their own.

Match.com Vietnam

Let’s begin with the one that started me on this journey today. I am quite sure I have never signed up for Match.com Vietnam, especially not with my work address. Also, is it just me or does “Nordjylland” not sound like a real region in Vietnam?

What a Scouser!

Here’s one of many gems from overseas – and one that was actually in english. I appreciate that Colin was so inspired by Subway’s new promotion that he thought to forward it along to me. I, too, am very excited about a different 6″ sub every day for only 1 pound and 99 pence. I don’t appreciate, however, that he refers to me as a scouser – I am not from the Liverpool area nor do I cheer for their rugby team.


DSM Tuner dood

I’m really glad brian97gs created an account for me on the DSMTuners.com forums, so I can post mad pics of my sick 97 Eclipse GS for all the homies to be jealous of. Too bad his account activation process is now stalled – just like his Mitsubishi!

The Fabled Dragon of Forgotten Passwords

Johnny12333 used my address to sign up for his DragonFable account and hasn’t used it in quite some time, such that he’s forgotten his password. DragonFable efficiently emailed it to me when Johnny requested it – if only he could remember that tricky extra “3”, he’d be slaying virtual dragons already!

P.S. My rent is going to be late arriving this month

Apparently I’m a landlord for this nice couple, and although I’m attentive enough to their concerns, I’m not particularly choosy when hiring repair vendors. That doesn’t sound like me, but I also don’t have children or a Pug. According to google, Jane and Roy are an upstanding pair who donate their time at polling centers, so I’m not going to bother them about how my address got into their gmail addressbook.


Real Estate Professional

Here’s a local one, from associate Windermere broker Shane. This is not the only message I have from him, and considering he’s freely sharing with me all the details of this couple’s home buying process, I’m not sure he’s the kind of detail-oriented realtor that will make senior broker. Or maybe this is just his roundabout way of securing those all-important referrals?


Error: this seller’s account has been suspended.

Of course, what kind of good email scam would be complete without an entry related to Ebay? Ever wonder where those shady sellers get new, valid email address to sign up another fly-by-night account? Here’s your answer: they’re using mine.


Sorry Missed Address

Sheila felt it was important I not forget Chloe’s birthday. She used her Paxway “filtered internet service” to drop me a line, which I can only assume charges her by the word, necessitating that she omit any non-essential prepositions and pronouns. My question for her – if she’s the “Owner/Office Manager” of this excavating business, why is Norm’s name on the door?


The Gooch

These next two are a couple of my favorites, mostly because I love her name. Gooch. Don’t mess with The Gooch. Hey, The Gooch wants to see you. You went to prom with The Gooch? One more outburst like that and I’m calling The Gooch. Deep in the remote Himalayan mountains lives a creature called The Gooch. Hey, The Gooch emailed pictures of her kids to some stranger on the internet.



Meet the Gooches!

Wow, you just shared a link to your family photos with a total stranger. It’s only because I’m such a nice guy that I didn’t repost that link in the Something Awful forums on Photoshop Phriday.


My Secret Habbo Fetish

Everyone expects teenagers to be sneaky, so it’s no big surprise that “paromon” here used my email address under false pretenses to sign up for Habbo. The thing is, Habbo is like the tamest, most non-threatening thing your 19-year-old can be signing up for on the internet. Maybe he’s just embarrassed to be a closet Habbo-phile?


Go to the YMCA. Turn right at the basketball court.

Araksya here mistakenly believes that I know anything about Henry’s basketball schedule. From the myriad of other youth-basketball-related emails I receive, I’ve deduced that one of my many alter-egos coaches (or at least is responsible for scheduling) YMCA basketball. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to help little Henry find his b-ball games. There’s always soccer, kiddo!


Political AND witty!

I’ve got so many more great ones that I’ll have to save for another day, but let me finish with a real classic. Now I know I’m pretty net-savvy and all, but I had no idea that the Governor of Massachusetts was aware of my previous work and was considering me for a gubernatorial appointment. How flattering! If it hadn’t seemed like such a difficult commute, I might have taken them up on it. The best part? I love her clever pun – “looking forward to connecting with you”… the broadband institute… LOL!


I’ll save the rest for another day. I hope you’ve enjoyed trolling through my mailbox with me, looking for scammers, confused people and lazy typers. Remember to check your “To:” lines!

Learning to be rich, Day 12-20

Ramit’s been a tip-posting fiend lately and I’m almost 10 tips behind, so let be blow through a few of these, hitting the highlights:

Day 12: Save on eating out by buying ahead.
Using services like Restaurant.com you can buy dining gift cards at ridiculous discounts. I looked through it, and it’s mostly pretty fancy restaurants, the kind I never go to; the teriyaki place across the street from work wasn’t in there. 😉 But I’ll file it away for a future life where I explore the city’s culinary treasures with abandon.

Day 13: Negotiate your car insurance.

I don’t negotiate my car insurance. I don’t even talk to them – that’s what I have an agent for. I call up Dave at DeFranco-Merrill every year or so, or when I buy something insurable, and we revisit my policy. He helps me understand what coverages I should and should not care about, he checks rates from his collection of underwriters, and emails me a fantastic quote. No quote I’ve ever compared myself, no matter what crazy discount it offered, has come close to the rates he gets me. And I spend less of my valuable time dealing with insurance companies.

Day 14: Self-persuasion.

The premise here is that, in explaining the benefits of something to someone else, you identify the benefits for yourself, and further convince yourself. So that’s why I’m blogging about it. Ta da! Check out my mad psychology skillz.

Day 15: Host parties at home instead of going to bars.
I like this idea, especially because I now have a place that is actually big enough to have people mingle around in. The problem right now is that it won’t really save me any money – it’ll cost me money. I don’t go to bars or clubs other than rarely, and if I do it’s because I’m on the DJ’s list and I’m buying one drink to listen to the music, so I’m not saving anything by partying at home. Maybe when i’ve saved a little more from some of the other things, I’ll feel like I can spend the money to host.

Day 16: Hold off on large purchases this month.

This is another psychology one. If you can live without it for this month, it becomes easier to live without it next month, and eventually you convince yourself you didn’t need it at all. I’ve been doing that with a backup hard drive I want for my photos, music, etc. – putting it off as the price keeps dropping and I keep going another day without it. But with the rate at which my stuff keeps breaking lately, I’m getting pretty nervous about this and will probably pull the trigger on that one after thanksgiving. In general, though, this is a great idea. Every time I think I need a new projector for the basement home theater, I vow to wait at least 3 more months… and it’s been 6 months already. I haven’t spent it, and I haven’t keeled over dead for lack of a 7-foot HD wall o’ television.

Day 17: Buy generics when it doesn’t matter, name-brand when it does.
Preaching to the choir here, Ramit, buddy. I used store-brand organic peanut butter to make my lunch this morning. But I never buy off-brand gin. Neither of those decisions has been regrettable.

Day 18: No Christmas gifts this year.
That’s kind of harsh, don’t you think? I mean, why are we saving money all year if it’s not to spend it on the people we care about? Within reason, or course. Regardless of how cruel it is, I’ve kind of fallen into this anyway, as my family had planned a Christmas in Vegas together, with show tickets and entertainment our gifts to each other. Then, to give ourselves extra time to save for it, we moved the trip to March 2009. And that is how I accidentally weaseled out of needing to buy any Christmas gifts. I’ll still do a few small things, but the shopping list is pretty short this year and that’s both a financial relief and a personal disappointment, as I love buying gifts for people, especially when I find something I think they’ll really enjoy. I did decide to compensate by going overboard on my Christmas-gift-tree-charity kids, which makes me feel better about ‘auditing’ my favorite holiday.

Day 19: Shop online.
Let me sum this one up for you as there’s good nuggets in here, but some of them are repeats. Don’t pay retail. You can still have nice stuff, as long as you don’t pay retail. Buy name brand stuff when it counts (that includes clothes) but don’t pay retail. Compare prices. You don’t have to live in walmart sweatpants just because you’re being thrifty, nor do you have to paw through bins of one-armed designer shirts at Ross. (Although, guys, Nordstrom Rack mens’ stuff is much less combed-through than womens’ and not at all a nightmare). Use the internet (it’s like magic!) and services like ShopItToMe (which I’ve already mentioned) to chase the sales, and consider “non-traditional” vendors for things – like Amazon for groceries. Use the internet to be an informed consumer, and prioritize your purchases.

Day 20: Change the date of Christmas.
In case you missed it above, my family is taking our Christmas vacation in March. If you’re someone who goes to Disneyland or flies across the country for the holidays, this might be just the ticket for you. (Haha – a travel pun!) The same trip can cost significantly less at another time of year. Use FareCompare‘s “Best Time To Buy” feature to pick an off-peak period for your destination. For example, nonstop tickets to London are $1200 starting in May, but I can be there for less than $500 if I travel from December to March. Spiffy!

Alright then. I’m off to Amazon to find food for dinner!

Learning to be rich, Day 11

Day 11: Stop paying retail for clothes.
Ramit clearly doesn’t know who he’s dealing with here. I’m wearing $220 Diesel jeans today that I paid $48 for on Ebay. I’ve got a Versace suit from Hong Kong. I have a closet full of top-quality dress shirts and not a single one of them cost me more than $40 – I flat out refuse to pay any more than that, even though some of them are fancy Kenneth Cole numbers that retailed for $150. I think that’s actually what’s kept me from ordering the perfect jacket even though I desperately want it and know I’ll positively wear the crap out of it for years. No one has it on sale! I can’t pay retail for a jacket… it makes me feel defeated. Every time I put the jacket on it would reek of foolishness, laziness and failure.

Ramit had some great links today to some of my favorite bargain-chaser sites. ShopItToMe is really excellent, provided you take the time to set it up initially. Invest the effort to specify your sizes, and the brands you would realistically buy, and voila! Highly-targeted advertising. As a marketer I find it brilliant, and as a consumer I truly appreciate never ever seeing a sale on women’s sweatpants land in my inbox. Express, you could really learn from this.

I’m doing his Savings Goal Account thing with the perfect-yet-impossible jacket, using my Paypal account to accumulate the funds. Everything I sell on Ebay (less fees and shipping, which get charged to the Paypal account) turns into Jacket money, and earns interest in the Paypal money market (although not much). Will I have the guts to buy the jacket when I reach the goal amount? That remains to be seen.

Learning to be rich, Day 10

Day 10: Take full advantage of free rewards and perks

I’m starting to wonder if Ramit is either doing Professor Xavier-style long-distance-mind-reading on me, or just following me around for the last couple weeks in an unmarked car, because I’m seriously right on track with his savings suggestions about a day before I read them. Day 10’s tip is about taking advantage of credit card rewards, discounts through insurance providers and shopping clubs, and workplace perks. I’m just reading it this evening for the first time, so I honestly had no idea what his Day 10 topic was until just now. With that in mind, here’s what I did today:

  • Used Alaska Airlines mileage to book flights to Hawaii for Heidi and John’s wedding next October. Total cost for nonstop airfare to Maui: $5.00, plus whatever I spend on mai tais on the way down.
  • Called Citi Smith Barney to exercise stock options. This is more “compensation package” than “workplace perk” but what most employees fail to take advantage of is the full-service Smith Barney investment agents available to us on the phone for no extra transaction fee. I got treated like Warren Buffett even though my stock portfolio looks more like Fred Flintstone’s.
  • Logged into Citibank’s awesome ThankYou rewards program to see how I can spend the points I earn every month for using bill pay, having my checks direct deposited, or otherwise doing things I would do already. In addition to planning how I’ll spend what’s already accumulated, I made a list in an easy-for-me-to-find place of the ThankYou Network vendors I shop at regularly, so I can remember to access those sites via ThankYou and earn double points for things I was going to buy anyway.
  • My gym membership is set to expire in January, so today I set a reminder to hit Costco for another discounted annual subscription. Costco also has Starbucks cards at 80 cents on the dollar, so I’m going to buy a stack and use them for managing my Starbucks budget, save an easy 20%.
  • I have a discounted purchase program at work on things like Xbox Live subscriptions, and as that is also set to expire in January I set a reminder today to buy it through the company program and spend half as much.
  • My employer also offers us a restaurant discount program, so I’m going to finally stop at the front desk for a membership card and hopefully some of the eligible hotspots will be near Lahaina. 🙂
  • I put together info on my AAA membership, all of my rental car agency loyalty rewards programs, and a couple quick Travelocity search results pages into a Google Docs spreadsheet (my new favorite project planning tool that follows me to any computer I’m using) so I can start comparing rates for rental cars in Hawaii next year. One way or another, I’m not paying retail on that.

So after already operating in a very rewards-centric state of mind today, I read Ramit’s Day 10 entry and immediately had another idea. I have a couple tags from the Christmas gift tree at work to fill, and I’m thinking I could fulfill them by spending ThankYou reward points. Several of the things kids asked for are easily within my reach by using points, or combining points and cash, and I’ll be able to get really nice things for the kids on the gift tree. I’ll also use the ThankYou Network vendors to purchase them, so I’ll get points back for any cash I spend.

I’m still fighting the battles with Craigslist people today, too, trying to clear out stuff from the weekend’s ultraorganizathon. As is typical with Craigslist hippies, they consistently flake out and otherwise frustrate me. I’m trying to draw firm lines this go-around and minimize the amount of effort I spend bending over backwards to donate things to people that are probably more greedy than needy. We did haul a huge load of useful stuff to Goodwill on Sunday, so at least some of the stuff we cleared out might end up helping someone who is actually appreciative. In contrast, Ebay buyers are impressing me with their interest in the stuff I posted there, and the first batch of auctions ends today. I can literally hear the loose coins jingling through the intertubes on their way to me.

Buying gym memberships at Costco will save me monthly money, but I do that already, so I’m not counting that as new savings. The rest of this stuff is about large, one-time purchases so I’m not going to add that into the monthly savings total, either. Running total is still at $187/month.

Learning to be rich, Day 9

Day 9: Sell old stuff before you buy more stuff
Danielle and I are all over this one lately, as we’ve been looking around at stuff we don’t need anymore with cartoon-style cash register eyes and literally hearing the Mario coin world “ching!” every time something sells on ebay or craigslist. The amounts aren’t large, but it adds up. It’s given us the motivation to tear through the house like a Thanksgiving weekend Best of Trading Spaces marathon, sorting things to “sell”, “give away”, and “start using this” piles, and turning some pretty chaotic spaces into beacons of order and organization.

Like Ramit suggested in this tip, it’s highly motivating to set a goal with a new item and work towards it by selling old things. I’ve made $90.81 (after listing fees) by selling jeans on ebay, which is almost halfway to the jacket I can’t live another day without. (Seriously, I’m going to get pneumonia, you guys, because I refuse to wear a jacket that’s too big for me and it’s winter lately). I also thought about Ramit’s idea to identify a “budget” of how many shirts you need and keep to that number, culling the old to make room for the new, and implemented it in parts of my closet. I have a really huge closet – two of them, actually, the walk-in and a double-length wall closet, (one-quarter of which could be yours, ladies…) so while I don’t have a strict space constraint, I do have a finite number of nice wood hangars. Rather than buying more, I’m going to use them for something like dress shirts and force myself to sell/donate the ugliest one to make room for any new ones that leap into my shopping bag as I pass by Express like wood ticks jump onto the back of your neck when you pass under a tree in the woods, intending to suck some blood out of you. So like that, but with french cuffs.

While this stuff doesn’t add up to a monthly savings number, it has created a huge momentum to think thriftier and appreciate both the things I already have and the money I’d like to spend on new things. It has carried over into my workday, as well – as my cube mate Matt will attest, I spent half of Thursday cleaning, sorting, recycling, shredding, and otherwise making sense out of the drab, gray workspace I’ve been relegated to by the new overlords. In many ways it was the most productive day I’ve had at work in weeks, I think because I didn’t have to schedule 30 meetings to discuss my cleaning goals, get buyoff on my sorting strategy with key stakeholders, level-set my recycling expectations with my peer group, and submit my shredding request for management approval. As an aside, from one cog in a giant machine to another, let me share some wisdom – find something (no matter how tiny, and keep your expectations low, because it will probably be tiny) that you can exercise complete control and 100% decision-making authority over, and totally take charge of that thing and make it awesome. Small triumphs soften the dull ache from the gears of all the other cogs rubbing you, pinching you, and forcing you to turn all day in whatever way the machine is trying to move.

Anyway, I like this tip because it happens on a small scale, starting with small, easy decisions that over time add up to a lifestyle change. It has a built in reward system for achieving your goals (you get to buy new stuff) and encourages a cycle of self-examination and purging clutter from your life. So next time you’re over, ask to see our newly-organized pantry. Maybe you’ll get inspired and start an “out with the old, in with the new” kick of your own.