Beware Donating to Collectibles with Causes

4 Nov

Keen readers will notice my last blog post discussed parting ways with my beloved comic book collection. I painstakingly entered each book first into a spreadsheet and then into an online database. If I’d carefully packaged and sold the lot, spread out into a hundred or so auctions, I probably could have received $5,000 or so.

Collectibles With Causes Legit? Unknown. Sketchy? Yes.

Collectibles with Causes, also known as With Causes, Works of Life International Ministries, and dozens of other names, is a charity that accepts collectibles, sells them, and then uses proceeds for good works, When I found them in August 2014, I did my research, like any good donator would. While I found nothing indicating proceeds would be used for hateful/exclusive causes, their EIN (26-0903224) appeared in neither the California nor the USA register of charities. I called the IRS and they confirmed that they had no record of their non-profit standing. Furthermore, none of the charity rating services have an entry for them.

The only third-party mention of With Causes/Works of Life I could find pertains to their Christmas 2011 gift of a house to a large family whose house had just burned down. Here’s an article/video. Works of Life is still milking it; one of their most recent (2014) Tumblr posts gives a shout-out to this same charitable effort.

Nonetheless, I was attracted to Collectibles With Causes. I really liked the idea of a win-win-win. I get a tax write-off for my comics and don’t need to spend dozens of hours selling them. The charity sells them and my beloved comic books find new, loving homes. Finally, people benefit from the proceeds of the sale. Three wins–at least! But is it too good to be true?

Communication Problems

Collectibles with Causes might not want to reimburse your shipping expenses even when you follow their instructions.

Collectibles with Causes might not want to reimburse your shipping expenses–even if you follow their instructions.

I sent them the details of my donation on September 3, 2014 and received a canned response thanking me, providing shipping instructions, shipping reimbursement instructions, and other information. I asked for clarification on 9/7/14. On 9/9/14 I still hadn’t received a response so I pinged them again. Later in the day, no response forthcoming, I called them. Ginger finally checked the info@withcauses.org inbox and responded.

Five days later, on 9/16/14, I shipped eight boxes/about 280 pounds of comic books to:

Works of Life
ATTN: Collectibles with Causes
1175 Shaw Avenue #104-135
Clovis, California  93612

Their canned reply mentioned that, “The best method for shipping a volume of comics is USPS PARCEL POST or MEDIA MAIL …costing only approx $25.00 per long box and less than half of that for a short box.” Alas, you’re unable to ship anything with advertising via media mail. (Newsflash: comics have ads.) The plot sickens: USPS Standard Post (known as Parcel Post, until May 2007,) is much more expensive than $25/box. My shipping bill totaled $484.49. I sent them the original receipt as requested.

I notified them of the shipping cost and problems with media mail, and asked them how long it would take to get reimbursed the large shipping outlay. Amazingly, I got a reply the same day, 9/18/14, “Shipping is reimbursed once we receive your books and the shipping receipt. I will let you know once the books arrive.”

Tracking information let me know that the books arrived on 9/26/14. Ginger did NOT let me know. I sent an email on 9/29/14 asking if the books arrived. No response. I sent another email on 10/8/14 asking for an update on shipping reimbursement. No response. On 10/27/14, I emailed again. No response. (I should note that I called a couple of times in that month-long period too.) I then called on 10/28/14 and was told Ginger no longer worked there and that I’d receive a call back in a couple of days. That didn’t happen.

I called on 11/3/14, and they’re now apparently reluctant to reimburse shipping, because actual expenses don’t gel with the dream-world figures in their horribly out-of-date canned response. They asked me to scan and send another copy of the receipt. I did. Again, they said they’d get back to me. …24+ hours later, I’m not holding my breath.

Is Collectibles With Causes as Scam?

I’m not sure if Collectibles with Causes is a scam. …They might just suffer from personnel and communication problems.

If I don’t receive shipping reimbursement within a week I will contact the California Attorneys General, the BBB, the IRS, their local news media, and anybody else I can think of. I’ll pass along every bit of information I have about Works of Life and how they’ve (so far) reneged on the implied contract presented on their website, in their emails, and via phone. …I’m pretty sure that’s a crime. These charlatans are messing with the wrong dude.

I strongly urge you to find another charity for your donation. I will revise this review if they eventually make things right.

Update:

It’s 11/17/2014. After nearly two months staying on them, I have a shipping reimbursement check in hand. Did this blog post have anything to do with it? I don’t know.

If you’re going to incur considerable postage expenses when you ship something to any With Causes charity, note that you might have to wait and/or fight for reimbursement. If I had to do it all over again, I’d donate to a local charity instead. Lesson learned.

 

Dan Dreifort is a professional part-time complainer. (In lieu of donations, send his wife earplugs.) He consults on web optimization and usability for fun.

Selling my comic books :(

18 Jul

File under boring, self-serving blog posts.

After more decades than I care to admit, I’m finally moving to another state and I don’t plan to haul my comic books with me.

1,679 comic books spanning more than 60 years.

This little link comics-for-sale-all takes you to a spreadsheet listing them all. Sort it as you will. Don’t judge me. Please share with comic collectors you know. I’m currently only looking for offers on the entire collection.

I’m willing to take a huge loss selling the collection in one fell swoop, but if I don’t get a good offer, I’ll sell the 100 or so most valuable comics individually on eBay and then donate the rest.

If you want me to expand this post to discuss materialism, letting go, and a history of lists–let me know ;)

Pizza Poem

3 Apr
pizza

Avalanche Pizza’s Pesto Chicken Pizza

A member of my stalwart Wednesday evening badminton crew introduced me to fifty cent slice night at a local pizzeria. It reminded me of a pizza poem I wrote circa 1998. I think it’s a metaphor, or something.

I ate a slice of it for lunch
I’d like to have some more
I can not get enough, you see
I am the pizza whore

To eat a slice is not a sin
To waste one is a crime
I think I ate too much today
I do it all the time

And if the oceans ceased to crash
And the sun did cease to rise
I’d sit back and gorge my huge fat ass
On a million pizza pies

Flying Mantra adapted parts of this ode into a song we affectionately called, “Serpentine”. Excerpt available here.

Social SEO is Here

7 Oct
Google Plus might not be popular with people, but it's important to SEO.

Google Plus might not be popular with people, but it’s important for SEO.

Social 101 for the SEO-minded Company

SEO practitioners have seen the writing on the wall for years. If you really care about ranking well in Google, now it’s past time to pay attention to social. Almost two months ago we learned empirically that more +1 on Google+ means better ranking in Google.

I’ve spent a couple of years hinting to my clients that they should pay more attention to social; now I’m *strongly* suggesting it by outlining a few simple steps they can take (or I can take for them) in the social realm.

Step 1: More Social Outlets

Google Plus is a must. People don’t use it, but Google relies on it for organic rankings, so your organization should use it. If you want to pick your battles and only use three outlets, pick Facebook and Twitter too. But why stop there? It’s so easy to work once and have it propagate to multiple outlets.

Step 2: Maximize Social Efforts

Use Hootsuite or similar services to make social management easy. Type once and your words post on all of your social sites at once. With tools like this there’s no excuse for not also posting on sites like LinkedIn, YouTube and the like.

You can even schedule your content to post at specific times allowing you to compress a portion of your social time investment while taking advantage of peak social interaction times to get your message seen more. Hootsuite is free, and if you’re lucky enough to outgrow the gratis version, it’s only nine bucks a month to upgrade.

Step 3: Encourage Website Visitors to Share

While many sites already sport social icons linking to their Facebook page, that’s not enough. We want a more usable page that enables our web audience to use their social networks to vote and share. Employ action icons like Google’s “+1″ to let visitors make note of your specific content. Some might use a +1 as a social bookmark, others as an endorsement. Either way, we like it because Google uses it to rate webpages.

Step 4: Search for Social Engagement #

Hashtags (#) are your friend. Naturally, you should use them in your social posts to tag and categorize your content, but there’s more! Type “#hashtag” (without the quotes) into Facebook’s search bar and you’ll get a list of all posts tagged with #hashtag. But how is that useful?

An acting school might search for #audition and then comment on a post or two every week. A luggage shipping company might search for #lostluggage. A local business might search for people discussing an upcoming local event totally unrelated to their business and then share excitement about it. Etc.

Step 5: Follow for Social Engagement

Have you ever heard of the reward theory of attraction? You can follow that link, or trust me when I say that if you follow others, they might follow you too. This ties in well with hashtag searching. You can’t comment on EVERY related post you find, because that looks spammy, creepy and annoying. Instead, follow people and businesses who are posting about stuff relevant to you. …They’ll be more likely to follow you. Wikipedia says so.

Don’t lay it on too thick

Finally, the overlying/underlying philosophy here is that while social is going to help your other marketing efforts, most of the time, you should not wear your traditional marketing cap while you’re engaging with social networks. When you meet somebody on the street and they try to sell you something, how do you feel? Who wants to follow somebody who’s always talking about themselves? Well, some people do, but you’ll find the people with the most engagement aren’t exclusively self-promoting. Sometimes replying, “ugh!” or “I know, right?!” to share frustration, or asking a question, “How do you find out about _____?” or “Why?” will be more valuable than posting about something more related to your business. Remember: your business name is next to everything you post, so you can just lean on that!

This article only scratches the surface of social best practices, but follow these instructions and your social efforts will be well on their way to helping your search engine optimization.

Dan Dreifort consults on usability, SEO, and now social. If you ask nicely, he might let you subscribe to his private and otherwise unadvertised SEO/usability/social tips email list. …But maybe not.

Looking for the best Hawaii digital marketing agency

8 Jul

I fired a Hawaii marketing agency a couple of months ago. I was not a client. I’d been providing usability and SEO services to their clients since 2007. (Does that mean I quit?) I grew online business for a few of their big-name clients and received decent money for it. Everybody at the agency was polite and skilled. So why did I fire them? Throughout the six-year engagement they paid several hundred invoices, but rarely on time. I fired them because they regularly forced me to act as an accountant and a collections agent.

Glutton For Digital Media Agency Punishment

Hawaii Destination Marketing SEO and a Beach

I heart Hawaii !

A few weeks later I was approached by another Hawaii digital marketing outfit. I’m not hungry for work now, but with so much SEO and usability experience in the Hawaii destination and hospitality verticals, part of me wants to put that knowledge to good use. So when this new agency reached out to me, I engaged.

I insist on signing a mutual non-disclosure agreement with all clients. The NDA serves to protect any private information and ostensibly allows us to discuss anything without worry of public eyes and ears. After a month of wasting my time, this new agency today tells me, “We can’t sign this.” I tried to identify and fix the perceived problem, but after receiving a couple more obtuse emails, I eventually jabbed, “I take my clients’ privacy very seriously. If [Agency] doesn’t respect that, we’re obviously not a good match.” I sent a friendly “goodbye” note to his partner.

I assure you I won’t be communicating with them again unless we agree about privacy.

What I’ve learned:

  • Fool me once, shame on, um… how does that go, George Bush? Fire clients more quickly if/when they’re late with payments.
  • Don’t invest too much speculative time with clients until they agree to protect privacy.
  • I’d again like to help a Hawaii company or agency with search engine optimization and user experience.
  • I *still* don’t like time-wasters.
Dan Dreifort‘s current clients include: Product recommendation SaaS company, Plastic container manufacturer/retailer, Adjustable air-mattress retailer/manufacturer, Memory foam mattress manufacturer/retailer, Specialty shipping company, Brazilian jiu jitsu franchises, Tourist magazine, Childcare franchises, Acting school, Real estate brokers, Lawyer, Fence manufacturer/retailer, Online drug rehab center and a couple more. Dan is busy and can’t accept new work until January, 2014.

How is responsive design connected to SEO? It’s mobile.

3 May
the long tail of search

Image by Victoria Jones

Follow the money and you’ll find that hot trends in design and search engine optimization are tied to our shrinking technology.  What’s in your pocket?

For more, check out my latest article on the Geekly Group blog. It’s all about mobile, responsive design, SEO and the long tail. (Thanks, Archive.org for the save!)

Keyword Research Alternatives to SEOmoz and Wordtracker?

7 Mar

Research is the smart first step when starting a new SEO campaign or growing an existing SEO effort. I talk with clients to brainstorm a few keyword ideas and then feed those seed keywords into tools to find related keywords. Then, ideally, I look at  traffic and competition metrics to identify low hanging fruit of the long tail and other gems in the rough. (Per previous whiny posts,) Wordtracker (wordtracker.com) lost my business a while ago, but SEOmoz (seomoz.org) is just as frustrating.

Every single bit of keyword research I’ve done on SEOmoz returns “unavailable” for these metrics:

  • Local Search Volume (Exact Match)
  • Global Monthly Search Volume (Exact Match)
  • Local Search Volume (Broad Match)
  • Global Monthly Search Volume (Broad Match)

…Leaving only one SEOmoz metric, “Keyword Difficulty” which also often returns the dreaded “unavailable” result.

Obfuscating Valuable SEO Metrics is a Poor (But Popular) Business Model

SEOmoz results

SEOmoz – Close to Useless.

What’s worse, this “Keyword Difficulty” metric is dumbed down so as to hide any real value. While I’m sure the two-digit SEOmoz Keyword Difficulty score (or the nearly identical two-digit “Competition” score from Wordtracker) in some fashion represents IAAT and other competition metrics, I am more than hesitant to base important keyword decisions on these vague scores. While I’m sure their scoring algorithms consider many factors, I’m accustomed to crafting my own meta-metrics. But pretend for a second that we do trust their “scores” – exactly how are we supposed to make intelligent decisions without good traffic data?

More frustrating still is the fact that SEOmoz limits us to five keywords at a time and always takes several minutes to return results. There’s nothing less satisfying that twiddling your thumbs waiting for a screen full of “unavailable”. Oh wait, there is – try paying $99 per month for the privilege. Yeah, it burns.

What Does SEOmoz Have to Say?

I posed these conundrums to SEOmoz and received a few responses.

Load times in the Keyword Difficulty tool can vary depending on the keyword(s) and time of day but generally, this shouldn’t be more that a minute or so. Cutting down on load times is also why we limit individual searches to 5 terms.

Sounds like a crappy Band-Aid to me. I ran into slow load times regardless of time of day and keywords.

Search volumes were pulled from the tool several months ago due to problems we were having with accuracy. So instead of taking the entire tool offline, we removed search volumes while we work on new metrics that we hope provide more valuable data. In the interim, I’d recommend checking out Google’s Keyword tool if you’re looking for search volumes.

What are the chances that somebody using SEOmoz doesn’t already know about the Google Keyword tool? And why did it take a trouble ticket for me to find out that this is a known issue? Ugh.

Although we don’t have a solid ETA at the moment for a release on the new metrics, we’ll definitely let everyone know via the community and blog.

I’ll ask them if they can just send me a note when they get it in gear. I don’t want to have to follow them on Twitter for five months to figure out that their ducks are all finally in a row. I asked if I could have a second free trial whenever they fix their tools, you know, so I don’t have to pay a hundred bucks to play with broken toys:

Unfortunately I can’t promise that since we don’t have an actual ETA on when the new metrics will be updated but I’d be happy to add a credit to the account for half off your next month if you’d like.

Paying $50 to test their patches wouldn’t be as bad, but it’s hardly ideal customer service.

What’s the best SEO Keyword Research Tool?

And just to be clear, I’m asking you. Sure, I can get all the data I need directly from Google, but it’s a time-consuming boondoggle. That’s why SEO professionals like me used to pay thousands of dollars every year to the likes of Wordtracker and SEOmoz. Alas, no more.

If I’m going to spend a couple grand a year for competition and traffic metrics, I expect better. What SEO tools do you recommend? If you know a coder looking to make a buck on a new creation, I’ll help him/her design a killer app for keyword research. All I ask in return? Please let me use it.

When not whining on this blog Dan Dreifort consults on Search Engine Optimization and Usability from his home. An avid musician, Dreifort is currently performing with four different bands and trying to form a fifth. Dan Dreifort is for scuba.

A Post About Droste

6 Feb
pre-droste

Nice, but needs some cropping.

(In which our amateur blogger plays the role of self-aggrandizing art critic.)

Always bad web-form to refer to something that might soon change, but see that banner up there? It’s a Droste effect applied to a picture I took in NYC on September 21, 2001, just ten days after 911. My digital camera (a Fuji Finepix) served me well at the time, but its 640 x 480 output pales and pixelates next to even the cheapest digital cameras available today. Still, I really like that picture.

Not even worthy of Droste!

No flash?!

I didn’t use a flash for the first snap of this picture. In it the chain link fence looks cold and constraining, confining and defining the entire composition. How ironic then, that illuminating the foreground barrier really delivered a sense of openness? This is the first and last time I’ll display it. You’re welcome.

The one I Drosted.

Much better. (2001)

Shortly after my trip to post-911 New York, I started doctoring the w/flash-version of the picture. First I cropped it. That looked nice enough, got rid some extraneous color palette (who needs trees anyhow?) and provided subjective focus. It’s in this phase that I came to call the picture “Jung Gym” for what may be obvious pun-inspired reasons. But cropping wasn’t enough.

Banksy? Meh.

Next on the image doctoring docket, a pass through what looks like a Photoshop cutout filter with some selective digital hand painting wherein the artist introduces fresh, bold color to the ensemble. So enamored by this piece, I tacked on my dotcom brand and slapped the would-be commercial art on a coffee mug. It has not sold well. A dozen years later, it’s still available. Buy your uncool mug today.

Recursion, pre-Droste

Is that recursion?

Still haunted by this lo-fi image of a fence partly obscuring a jungle gym in front of a building, I immediately modded it again. This iteration, while not a true Droste, includes elements of recursion, no doubt planting the seed for future self-similar expression experimentation. What does that mean? When I look at this throwaway sketch, I see the seeds of my journey into Droste effects.

I thought this was a post about Droste?

Droste Jung Gym

Yes, it’s a Droste. (2010)

So, back to the banner on top of every page of DanDreifort.com; it’s a Drosted version of this “Jung Gym” picture wherein we replicate the original introducing near-infinite recursion. It’s not really infinite, silly. That’s impossible. We can only hint at it. Hell, instead of referring to that banner (that might go away someday,) I’ll just post the full version of that and erase the bit where I asked future reader noticing the absence of said banner to tell me to post that image over to the right. See it there? That’s why I make the big bucks.

Fast-forward to September 2009: My Sony Elph digital camera is a little better and there exists a plugin for The GIMP called MathMap. Pair the two with moderate investment in time and elbow grease and voilà! Pixel pushers the world ’round are able to create myriad mergings of art and math. For me, that meant the ability to create Droste effect images. I’ll offer only one more thumbnail image here. Clicking it, just like the following hyper-linked text, will take you to a selection of Dan Dreifort Droste effect efforts, displayed in chronological order. Enjoy!

Do you want a personalized Droste effect image? Tell me. Maybe we can work something out.

Robocalls Are Easy To Fix

4 Jan
English: A Fox 40 whistle from the late 1980s.

A Fox 40 whistle from the late 1980s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In early November I received my umpteenth call from Rachel at cardholder services. A few years ago I wasted time filing FTC reports on these jokers in a wholly ineffective effort to thwart their incessant nagging. Of late I’ve instead taken to passive aggressively nagging them back.

How I Used to Deal With Rachel and her Cardholder Services Minions

This time, as is now my custom, I pressed whatever number would get me to a consultant to discuss the urgent scam relating to my credit cards. I then pressed mute and walked away. A few minutes later, per my routine, I picked up the phone to hang it up, but this time there’s a guy whispering all sorts of awesome stuff still on the line. So I listened for a while. He’d just started at his call center job two weeks earlier and had yet to get any training. He was bitching about the people near him and how backwards and horrible everybody and everything about his job was. Very entertaining. (He was using more colorful language than I’m willing to recount here.)

I wanted to un-mute and talk to him but decided not to. What would I have said? “Become a whistle-blower!” These $#%^ing phone spammers are breaking the law and I’d love to see some convictions. Unfortunately I (and likely most call center drones) are unaware of incentive to blow the whistle on such illegal activity, if any even exists.

FTC Robocall Challenge to the Rescue?

The FTC is planning to spend serious dough on “new and innovative ways to block these illegal calls,” and is soliciting fresh ideas via the U.S.A.’s official challenge website. They’re also offering $50,000 in prizes for challenge winners. But I recognize problems with most of the submissions. They’re either ineffective, costly, unproven, violate basic privacy or show other weaknesses. Solving this problem is as simple as the American dream itself and it’s a bargain too.

Incentivize Whistleblowers

From aforementioned breathy undertones of the underbelly of the robocall world, I was able to infer that call center workers are overworked, underpaid, shown little respect and mistreated. What if we offered cash rewards for proof of illegal telemarketing activity? How much would it take? I’m guessing not much.

What person working at a thankless illegal job is going to turn down a four figure reward for ten minutes of work? IT WILL WORK. But how will we fund it? While there’s likely already a budget for this sort of thing, I understand that taxing and spending isn’t sexy these days and that we’re to rely on the private sector for things like… money. (?!)

I’ll start. If I win the challenge, I’ll donate 10% of my take to an FTC telemarketing whistle blower fund.

Won’t you join me? (Boring details for my FTC challenge submission follow. Thanks for reading!)

Project Details FAQ

Q: What is required to stop robocalls and encourage whistleblowers?

A: Funding. A website to field scam reports. Small staff to review reports. Initial marketing push.

Q: What about robocalls that don’t provide an option to speak to a human?

A: There are still underpaid minions in these shady organizations. We can turn them from the dark side.

Q: What about robocalls from other countries?

A: People in other countries like cash too. We can turn them and stop the flow of robocalls.

Q: Harumph! I hate government spending! What else would we need to crowdsource the funding?

A: If the gov doesn’t have the ability to do it already, hire somebody to use free, off the shelf, open source scripts to accept donations. Initial marketing push.

When he’s not traveling or making music, Dan Dreifort likes to consult on search and usability. Dan also likes his wife even though she has neglected him for almost four years while she’s been at veterinary school. She comes back in three weeks. Dan is very happy about this.

Best Mozilla Firefox/Thunderbird Add-on

20 Nov
add-on compatibility enable screenshot

This is what you’ll see after enabling your new favorite add-on

Disable Add-on Compatibility Checks is a great little add-on for both Firefox and Thunderbird. It makes Mozilla’s rapid release cycle totally tolerable.

If the keeper of your favorite plugin can’t keep up with Mozilla’s zany release schedule, worry no more. Disable Add-on Compatibility Checks does exactly what it sounds like it’ll do. Install it (no restart needed) and head to your Add-ons Manager where you’ll be able to enable previously dead-to-you add-ons. I’ve periodically posted links to several repacked add-ons in the past, but this plugin means I’ll never again have to edit an install.rdf file.

Sometimes Plugins Die, Little Johnny

Occasionally a plugin really and truly can’t be resurrected by this method. Case in point, today’s update to Thunderbird 17.0 killed the Quicktext add-on for good. Sad times. I loved that plugin too! RIP little buddy.

Big kudos to Kris Maglione for making one add-on to rule them all. Thanks!

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Ethan McCarty

Digital strategy | Social business | People-centric biznology

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