Archive for October, 2008

389 Years of Slavery and We Still Can’t Let It Go

My choice for a candidate isn’t in the top two running for the Presidential election this year but I stumbled across this on YouTube, and was simply floored! These are real people at a pro-Palin rally speaking about the “competition” she faces from Presidential nominee Barack Obama.

The quotes, if you didn’t catch them… were nothing short of shocking and ignorant:

“I’m afraid if he wins, the blacks will take over. He’s not a Christian! This is a Christian nation! What is our country gonna end up like?”

Perhaps it will end up like… the melting pot it was always destined to become?

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

This is a famous line from a poem, “The New Colossus,” by the nineteenth-century American poet Emma Lazarus.

Sound familiar? Do you know where you’ve heard that before? That’s right, it’s emblazoned on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The New Colossus

“When you got a Nigger running for president, you need a first stringer. He’s definitely a second stringer.”

Really? You actually still use the word “nigger” in everyday speech?

“He seems like a sheep – or a wolf in sheep’s clothing to be honest with you. And I believe Palin – she’s filled with the Holy Spirit, and I believe she’s gonna bring honesty and integrity to the White House.”

“He’s related to a known terrorist, for one.”

Which terrorist would that be?

“He is friends with a terrorist of this country!”

McCain? Bush? Cheney? Palin? Rove? Who exactly are you referring to here?

“He must support terrorists! You know, uh, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. And that to me is Obama.”

“Just the whole, Muslim thing, and everything, and everybody’s still kinda – a lot of people have forgotten about 9/11, but… I dunno, it’s just kinda… a little unnerving.”

“Obama and his wife, I’m concerned that they could be anti-white. That he might hide that.”

It would be kind of hard to hide the fact that you’re not white… when you’re black, wouldn’t it?

“I don’t like the fact that he thinks us white people are trash… because we’re not!”

Are you sure about that? I’m willing to bet a large cross-section of the US population would think you’re “white trash” too, and they’re white.

If you want to take control of an election, the best way to do it is to make sure you have a completely uninformed populace. Make sure your constituents are uneducated and do not have access to lots of sources of media (newspapers, radio, television, Internet).

Here’s something a bit more refreshing:

Fixing a Broken Netflix

Netflix mailersI’ve been a long-time subscriber to Netflix. They would ship DVDs from my movie queue on their website to my house several times a week for the last several years. I was a voracious movie watcher playing a movie in the background on one monitor while I worked in the foreground on another monitor.

Then they decided to create a feature to stream video from their website directly; no need to send DVDs in the mail anymore. Their “Watch It Now” section isn’t as up-to-date as the physical discs they mail out, but that’s ok… it’s a small sacrifice to make, given the convenience of being able to watch almost any movie I want, instantly.

But I went back to my old trusty ‘ol Windows machine to try to watch something live yesterday and noticed that Netflix upgraded their player requirements. The “Watch It Now” feature only works in IE, using Windows Media Player 11.

My Windows machine is running Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition Version 2002, which is too old for Windows Media Player 11 to install upon. The machine is only 2 years old and running Windows Media Player 10 but that’s too old to meet the new Netflix requirements. If I was running MCE 2005, it would work and I would be able to upgrade from version 10 to version 11 without any issues.

But I found a way to do it, cleanly, with minimal hackery. I’ve tested this on two separate machines and just watched “Meet the Robinsons” to verify that it works. Here’s how:

First, you have to cleanly uninstall Windows Media Player from your machine. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Control Panel → “Add or Remove Programs” → “Add/Remove Windows Components”.
    Add/Remove Windows components
  2. Scroll to the bottom of that list and select “Windows Media Player” from the list and un-check it
    Remove Windows Media Player
  3. Click Next to begin the removal of Windows Media Player from your system.

At this point, you can (and should) reboot, but I’m pedantic and usually run RegScrubXP and CCleaner to remove any of the leftover “breadcrumbs” from application addition and removal. Then I reboot.

When your machine comes back up, you’ll want to follow these steps:

  1. Download and install a copy of 7zip. You’ll need this to unpack the Windows Media Player installer you download in a moment.
  2. Download the latest version of Windows Media Player. The important thing is that you do not run the installer. Just save it locally on your hard drive for now. I saved mine to C:\Temp.
  3. Navigate to the location where you saved the Windows Media Player installer executable (called “wmp11-windowsxp-x86-enu.exe“) and right-click on it.
  4. In the right-click menu, go to 7-Zip → Extract to “wmp11-windowsxp-x86-enu\” and select that option. You’ll now have a directory with this name and several files inside it, as shown below.
    7zip Extract To...
  5. There are only two files you’re interested in here. First, run the installer named “wmfdist11.exe“.
    Run WFM dist
  6. When this completes (hopefully with success), run the one called “wmp11.exe“.
    Run Windows Media Player 11
  7. Reboot as indicated after the install, and you should be done!
  8. Go back to Netflix, log in and select “Watch It Now”, and choose a movie. You should now be able to watch your streamed movies using WMP 11 on your XP MCE 2002 system.

It worked for me, it should work for you as well.

Uncorking the truth about Mona Vie’s “Active Formula Drink” and other MLM models

In my last post, I mentioned that “Tsai” from my local sushi restaurant tried to encourage me to join his “network” to help him push and sell a drink called “Mona Vie”, based on the Açaí (pronounced “assa-yee”) berry extract, which has been claimed to be rich in anti-oxidants and other nutrients.

His strong-arm approach and insults completely ruined a long friendship we’ve had. I will not be patronizing his business for a very long time, if at all. This MLM cost “Tsai” a valued friend and long-time customer to his brick and mortar business.

Now let’s get into the details about Mona Vie… where I will link to specific resources to back up my references and statements below. I did my research on this company and their methods, product and tactics. I would never jump feet-first into a business venture without doing my due diligence, and this one is no different.

(Editor’s note: If you don’t care to read the rest of this blog entry, read the review by Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. where he gives MonaVie and their dubious claims a strong thumbs-down.)

First and foremost, “Mona Vie” (or “MonaVie” as it is sometimes called) is yet another MLM or “relationship networking” business model. Amway (now known as “Quixtar”) is the most-famous MLM business model to-date, and there have been literally thousands of them over the years. Here are a few you might recognize:

Monavie Active Drink

Company Stock Symbol
Advantage Marketing Systems AMM (USAsurance) UASG
Amway Asia Pacific. Ltd. AAP
Amway Japan, Ltd. AJL
Avon Products AVP
BeautiControl Cosmetics BUTI
Changes International (Twinlab Corporation) TWLB
Dynamic Essentials (Narure’s Bounty) NBTY
Herbalife HERB A
HMI Industries (formerly Healthmore) HMII
Kaire International (Natural Health Trends Corp.) NHTC
Mannatech MTEX
Market America MARK
Nature’s Sunshine Products NATR
NSA International NSAI
Nu Skin Enterprises, Inc. NUS
Nutrition For Life International, Inc. NFLI
Reliv International RELV
Rexall Showcase International RXSD
Royal Bodycare (Globenet International) Globenet
Usana, Inc. USNA

Many of the stock symbols above have been de-listed and are no longer valid.

The whole premise of these MLM “relationship networking” systems is that you need to build up your “network” of people beneath you in order to recoup a percentage of their eventual sales downstream from you. You find two people, who in turn find two more people and so on.

Relationship networking is the art of meeting people and taking advantage of those relationships. Often the benefit of these relationship is to obtain information and leads to further grow your business. Successful relationship networking is all about building those relationships and maintaining long lasting connections with other professionals.

The MonaVie business model (and MLM in general) is somewhat similar to a “Pyramid Scheme” where you’re charged a membership fee which is then used to pool the funds and pay everyone above you. The more people you build “beneath” you (base of the pyramid), the more money the people at the top make from the “membership fees” of those below.

Pyramid Scam

But MonaVie is not a Pyramid Scheme, it is arguably a valid business model, with questionable tactics to reinforce its business practices. With subtle changes by each of the “Distributors” in the system, they could easily morph this into a pyramid or Ponzi scheme.

MonaVie was created by “Dallin Larsen” who claims to have a 17-year history of direct-sell networking experience. If you look him up in Google, you’ll see several companies he’s created or been involved with that he has augered into the ground (Usana Health Sciences, VU1 Corp being the top two). Now he is the Chairman and CEO of “Monarch Health Sciences”.

Instead of just creating a product with the açaí berry, Dallin and his team of scientists identified 19 fruits that were included in the MonaVie product drink (see image above). Since that time, the product has evolved into the “MonaVie Active Formula Drink”.

Like all typical multi level marketing systems your guess is a correct about it’s selling propositions. You are normally encouraged to become Independent Distributors if you purchase MonaVie’s products. You profit by bringing in more distributors and get a percentage of every sale made by your downline.

You continue to work within the context of a “network marketing” based system where “leveraging upon others” is the common mantra and work ethic. The process centers around bringing in a network of people to consume and/or sell MonaVie juices to others; they sell to their friends, and their friends sell to their friends and so on.

The Cost

The first stinging point is the cost of MonaVie; a hefty $30-$45/bottle for 25oz of their engineered juice, depending on whether you get it at wholesale/distributor prices or retail prices. This means a one month supply is about $180 ($5/day or $2,160/year). They claim that you should be consuming 3oz-4oz of the juice every day (2oz in the morning and 1oz at night). This number is advertised (in their literature) to be the right amount to maintain healthy living and the right concentration of anti-oxidants.

Bottles of Monavie

The reality is that this 3oz-4oz number is designed exclusively so they can get you to consume 4 bottles a month of their juice, ensuring a solid profit stream. There is absolutely no science behind the juice concentration (which they intentionally do not publish), and nothing stating that 2oz isn’;t enough and 5oz is too much.

They intentionally made the bottle look like a wine bottle so they could justify the price. If they put the same juice in a plastic “sports” bottle, nobody would pay the price they ask for it. The reality is that it costs MORE than a bottle of wine.

There are plenty of other juices on the market that include açaí in them. V8 even has their V8 V-Fusion Açaí Berry juice which is 32oz and costs 1/3 what the MonaVie juice costs ($0.15/oz vs. $1.60/oz).

MonaVie is missing a huge market of sports enthusiasts IMHO, by making their juice in a glass wine bottle looking container. If they put it into “kid-friendly” or sports-friendly bottle, they might be able to push even more of this snake-oil to their distributors/customers.

The Business Model

According to the actual printed marketing material from MonaVie, the 8 primary ways that you make money are:

  1. Direct sales: You are expected to purchase 3-12 cases of the juice at wholesale, and sell at a retail price for about a 15% markup, but given the cost of the bottles, if you have some regular customers you can make a bit of money this way.
  2. Bulk order bonus: If you have at least 200 PV (Product Volume), each time someone you’ve sponsored orders a bulk order you get paid. Good deal.
  3. First Order Bonus: Qualified Distributors with at least 200 PV earn a one-time bonus for bringing new distributors under you.
  4. Star Maker Bonus: for Qualified Distributors with at least 200 PV, each time someone you sponsor makes the rank of “star” you earn $40. Again, money for recruiting, not selling juice.
  5. Team Commissions: This next part is written in ALL CAPS in their marketing material:


    “The team commissions portion of our plan is binary. Binary means that you will be placed in one of two legs (right or left) in your sponsor’s organization. You will then be compensated based on successfully building two legs of your own. Your sponsor (or anyone else in your upline) may also place poeple in your organization. As your group begins to grow, you are entitled to team commissions based on the total volume generated in your lesser leg.”

  6. Executive Check Match: If you reach this level, and have earned enough to build something called a “Personal” tree, which is different from the “binary tree”. It takes a LOT of work to get to this level. There is a lot of complicated detail inside the “Executive Check Match” ranking.
  7. Leadership Pools: They have reserved 1% of total company GV for the elite group of Monavie Blue Diamonds. You basically split 1% of the gross profits from MonaVie across all executives at this level. Without an earnings disclosure, you never know if you’re really getting the true 1% you’re promised.
  8. Multiple Business Centers: This is a point at which you are making lots of money. But like any pyramid scheme, does anyone other than the original company founders make it to this level? Not likely.

Here are 4 other important considerations I found while digging around on the Internet for the details of MonaVie:

  1. MonaVie is not purchasing their Açaí berries from Sambazon (purported to be the source of the best berries)
  2. The drink is not made up of 100% freeze dried Açaí. They use an undocumented blend of Açaí puree and freeze-dried Açaí
  3. Independent distributors can abuse the system and try to recruit endless representatives
  4. There are reports of people becoming very sick from the juice which can carry parasites that were present in the original berry material.

Most people get burned by #3 because it really isn’t that easy to recruit people who can work the same system to your liking. Once you exhaust (and burn) your friends and family, you’re stuck with adding strangers to your “weaker leg”. If your downline distributors aren’t as passionate or energetic in recruiting as you are, your own profits will suffer, and there’s nothing you can do to fix that, other than add more people to your downline. It’s an endless and vicious cycle.

Before you jump onto any of these MLM “business models”, make sure you check out MLM Watch to learn more about these techniques and how they’re used and abused.

In other words, avoid doing any sort of business with MonaVie or their Distributors, channel partners, executives and affiliates. Like “Tsai” said (in his own insulting way):

“The system isn’t designed for smart people.”

He’s right, because if you were smart, you’d find all of the obvious loopholes and deceit in the system and avoid throwing your own good money away at supporting it.

Quoting Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D.:

MonaVie is an expensive way to get your antioxidants – it sells for about $40 for a 25.3 ounce bottle. That works out to $4 to $6 per day if you use it as directed. While it is probably safe, I recommend sticking closer to home for your protective phytonutrients. Opt for organically grown blueberries, which are more available, much less expensive, and give you fiber as well as plenty of antioxidant activity. And don’t forget black raspberries and pomegranates, both of which have health benefits for which there is good scientific evidence.”

The End of a Sushi Era

sushi platterThere is a local sushi place that I’ve frequented an average of 1-2 times a week for over 4 years. The staff there is great and has always treated me well. In exchange, I treat them well.

Friday I went there with my laptop in hand hoping to do a little work over lunch after visiting my daughter at daycare and sharing some story time with her.

When I sat down, I was almost immediately approached by the owner (we’ll call him “Tsai”; not his real name) of the sushi restaurant with an offer to join his “network” of friends and family who are in the process of selling a very specific product from a company called “Mona Vie”. He showed me a website that is the front-face of his “leg” of the network.

Disclaimer: I am not going to mention the sushi owner’s business name, his real name or link to any of the MLM websites involved, because I am not in any way promoting them, nor denigrating the sushi restaurant or their owners.

I still respect Tsai and his family and if they wish to pursue being successful with these business ventures, I’m not going to actively hurt their potential to so do in the process.

For the next hour or more, instead of allowing me to enjoy my lunch in peace (which he has always respected in the past), I was affronted by his pitch to join his MLM program buying and selling cases of this “energy juice” that contains extract of Açaí berries (along with other unlabeled, unknown concentrations of blended fruits and vegetables).

At first, I was patient as I am with everyone who has something to share, and let him talk. Then after several minutes, things went south… fast.

I’m a reasonably smart person, and I started asking questions about the “system”, about the earning potential, about the bonus allocation and so on. Apparently the system was not made for “smart people”, as I was told several times. Then his explanations got more and more confusing, so I started asking questions, and was met with comments like “Shut up and listen.” and “You’re so skeptical, just shut up and stop thinking.”

He showed me some of his earnings, using their online “Distributors Virtual Office” control panel. He said that they have weekly “tasting parties” where they invite people to come by and try the juice, and encourage them to join the network to start consuming and selling the juice themselves (herein likes the crux of the scam; more on this later in this post).

In response, I showed him the revenue I make from my Google and LinkXL banner ads that I run on very specific, targeted websites which more than surpassed his earnings from selling this juice at these “tasting parties”, and I didn’t have to spend a dime or any time on driving to the parties, organizing them or bringing any product or marketing materials to them. My websites stay running, I get paid an ever-increasing amount each month. Simple.

This is where it began to get personal. After his pitch, and my hesitance to join his “network”, he started to insult me, my friends, my family, my intelligence and my background (none of which he knows a single shred about).

“Are you crazy? It’s only $39.00 to join. Don’t you have the money? I can pay for it for you, if you’re low on cash.”

“You’re just afraid. You’ve never taken a risk or a chance in your life. You just sit back and live in fear.”

“Don’t you have any friends? Maybe you need to get some new friends who you can get to join your network.”

“You need to make time to make this work. Just forget your work and your daughter and focus on this.”

At that point, I told him to get up, out of my booth.

I won’t repeat some of the further comments he said, but it got ugly. True to form, I exercised restraint and didn’t stoop to his level. I packed up my things, thanked him for his time and the lunch through gritted teeth, and left.

Never to return again.

Later that night, I received a voicemail from “Tsai” with an apology for his behavior and that I should reconsider his offer to join his “network”.

This morning (Saturday), I recieved two VERY early morning phone calls from a number I didn’t recognize. The calls woke me up, but I ignored them and the caller didn’t leave any voicemail.

Later this morning, I called the number back. It was “Tsai” with another apology, but this time he added that he couldn’t sleep last night and it was bothering him at a very personal level. I listened to his apology, said thank you and hung up.

Later in the afternoon, the same number called again… again I ignored it, again no voicemail.

I’m going to separate the MLM and MonaVie details into a separate blog post, which I will be writing shortly after I publish this one.

Pushing forward for an empty Inbox every day

Inbox ZeroI have 6 primary email accounts that I use every day; 5 of these are external and 1 is the one I use internally at work on the corporate LAN. I probably receive anywhere from 200-300 emails a day, about 80% of which require my personal attention and response.

I have GNOME Evolution configured to aggregate these accounts into one “view” in my mail. I also set up a “virtual folder” called “Unread Email” that all of the unread (i.e. new, incoming) email from all 5 external email accounts is visible from. Since I use this virtual folder as my primary “Inbox” folder for reading and responding to email, my “real” Inboxes have grown a bit cluttered over time because I never need to go into them directly.

I like to have my Inbox down to a total of 0 (yes, ZERO) emails at the end of every day in every account. With 5 separate mail accounts (IMAP) and 1 work account (Exchange), this can get challenging on busier days. If I have enough emails in my Inbox that I have to use a scrollbar to see them or they’ve gone “below the fold”, I’ve done something horribly wrong.

(If you’re interested in reading or hearing more about “Inbox Zero”, you might want to see this Google Talk by Merlin Mann for greater detail on the philosophy.)

After months and months of letting the “real” Inboxes for these accounts fill up, and dealing with ONLY the “Unread Email” virtual folder in Evolution, I finally went back and cleaned up the email in the main mail accounts, bringing me back to a total of 9 emails across all 5 accounts. The 9 emails which remain are there because I need to respond to them tomorrow, after doing a bit of research first.

Now my internal work email (Exchange + Outlook) is going to be even more challenging… because a large bulk of that email is research material, useful for referring back to later.

I’ve been slowly picking out the important bits and putting them into Microsoft OneNote, but I have to do that on a physically separate laptop because I do not have OneNote on my work machine (and installing any software is forbidden and locked down by very strict account policies).

Overall stress is dramatically reduced when you can log into your mail and see only THAT day’s emails in your Inbox, and nothing more. Ending the day with zero emails in your mail really does put some “completion” and accomplishment to the day’s tasks. You don’t have to be thinking about unanswered emails or “leftover” tasks from the previous day(s) or weeks ago.

If I can just keep on top of the emails in my main accounts, I’ll be well ahead of the game.

Permanently disabling the “Send To” menu in Windows XP

Microsoft Windows Vista logoOne of THE most-annoying features of Windows is the “Send To” menu that shows up when you right-click on anything on the desktop or in any folder. As with most things created by Microsoft, the idea was sound, but the implementation is absolutely horrible..

The problem with this “feature” is that when you run your mouse past that option to reach options in the right-click menu that are lower down (Delete, Properties and so on), your mouse will pass “Send To”, which then has to enumerate every single application that is registered with it for the various options provided there (Mail Recipient, Clipboard, Desktop, My Documents, 3½ Drive, and so on). This can take mere seconds to almost a full minute every single time you right-click and move past the option!

If you’re like me and are creating and moving around hundreds to thousands files per-day on Windows, this can be downright maddening. In fact, if you right-click an icon in your QuickLaunch menu and let “Send To” do its disk-thrashing dance, and then do it again seconds later, it STILL has to go enumerate all of those same applications again and thrash the disk again. The list of applications and providers registered with the “Send To” menu aren’t cached in any way.

But there is a solution: Get rid of the “Send To” menu completely!

To do that, use the following steps:

  1. Launch “regedit” and find the following registry key:
    HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\AllFilesystemObjects\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers\Send To

  2. Double-click the string value named “Default” that you see there. The value you see there ({7BA4C740-9E81-11CF-99D3-00AA004AE837}) is the one that enables the “Send To” menu.
  3. Delete the value and save the key. Poof! No more “Send To” menu.

This may seem drastic and brute-force, but I tried several other approaches, including removing all of the applications that were in the C:\Documents and Settings\{username}\Send To\ folder.

Now at least the system isn’t hanging for 30-40 seconds every time I right-click something and roll my mouse past that menu option.

Bad Behavior has blocked 104 access attempts in the last 7 days.