Downtown Magazine

Ideas and innovations for business and internet users, focusing on high-tech and social trends.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hockey Smack: Sabres Rock

OK, it's the middle of the day, but I have to spread the word on hockey and the Buffalo Sabres. And what better place to talk smack (other than right here) than on the superb
NHL Forums that cover every team, every angle, from everywhere in the world.

Last season, the Sabres went down in the semi-finals, but they were hurting, having only three healthy defenders by the time they were eliminated. Barring injuries, the Sabres are headed to the finals this year and if you check the Buffalo Sabres Forums you'll see that I'm not alone in this opinion. Daniel Briere had a hat trick last night against Boston and the offense is percolating once again. Buffalo's 197 goals is tops in the league.

Right now, the Sabres have 72 points, the best in the Eastern Conference and right behind league-leader Nashville, with 75. And the Sabres are built for the playoffs. Their home and away records are exactly the same at 17-7-2. Balance, baby, that's where it's at.

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Money Tip: Easy Way to Save

In my continuing quest to save money (and offset the high costs of living), I've decided to post from time to time different ideas for saving money. Not investing, not gambling, but actual money-saving ideas everybody can use. I'm going to tag all these posts as Rick's $$-saving tips so you can search for them.

Today's is called nickel and dime your way to success after my boss at Singer Co. back in the 70s, Al Silverstein, and it's a simple method to stash some cash for a rainy day.

All you have to do is pay for anything with bills, not coins. Even if something is fifteen cents, use a dollar bill. At the end of the day, toss all coins into a jar, box, etc. If you're an ordinary person, you use a credit or debit card sometimes, but at McDonald's, bars, convenience stores, you often use cash. This method can produce a couple of dollars a day in change if you're out a lot (when I'm at a bar, I'm good for $4-5 easily).

Save the money for Christmas presents or for a defined purchase (I once bought a new stereo system with money saved by this method). You can also reward yourself by throwing in a couple of dollar bills or even a five-spot every now and then. It adds up fast.

For the big spenders out there, use the same method, but use nothing smaller than a five dollar bill and save all the coins and singles. Your money pile will grow really quickly.

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The Pick: Bears to Win Super Bowl

If you haven't already checked out my Super Bowl picks, blog and quiz, now's the time. Yesterday, I finalized 7 days of number crunching, comparisons and internalized knowledge to produce to final pick: Chicago by a touchdown.

For complete information on how I came to this conclusion just days before the big event, click here.

I'll be adding more information, including the over/under, alternate scenarios, and some of the props. The one prop I'm banking on is anything on Dallas Clark, the Colts' slot receiver. I believe the Bears will completely shut him down, though one big catch could ruin my day. Still, if you can get props on Clark at under 3.5 catches and/or under 50 yards, take them. I have him penciled in for 3 catches and 22 yards.

More as game time approaches on the picks page and the Super Bowl blog.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Super Bowl XLI Stuff

With the big game just over a week away, a little shameless self-promotion for the awesome Super Bowl coverage on my site. (Yes, I am allowed to say "awesome" in a shameless promotion.)

You can find all the Super Bowl scuttlebutt - everything from how to plan a Super Bowl party to who's picking the Bears or Colts to how to survive the long in-between weekend over on the Super Bowl Blog.

If you think you're the kind of guy or gal who should be hosting your own sports talk show because of your incredible sports intelligence, then might I suggest the Super Bowl Quiz. You'll find out in a hurry what you really know about the world's biggest sporting event and its history.

Of course, no Super Bowl would be complete without Fearless Rick's Super Bowl Analysis, Picks and Props. I'm updating daily, breaking down every aspect of the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears with the final prediction due on Tuesday, Jan. 30. Check it out and be rightfully prepared for the game.

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Yahoo! Personal Finance: Mundane

The big announcement this past week that Yahoo!, the net's oldest, largest portal/search company was launching a personal finance section was met with a long round of yawns from the visiting public.

The space offers little that couldn't be found elsewhere on the web, even elsewhere on Yahoo itself. Offering "how to" guides on such mundane topics as choosing the right college IRA, how tax changes will effect your return and mortgage basics, aren't anything new.

The landing page offers those, plus articles from the likes of Suze Orman, Robert Kiyosaki and Laura Rowley, things to do (forget resolutions), word of the day, and a roll of current articles shows that Yahoo! is still missing the ingredient that makes for truly great companies: innovation.

I found Yahoo! Personal Finance to be more of the same and barely worth a return trip.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Microlending goes high-tech

After more than twenty years of lending small amounts of money to ordinary people through his Grameen bank, Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2006

His extraordinary, groundbreaking work with poor people who required small loans to buy supplies to produce goods for sale - and thus provide themselves with a regular income - has come to be known as Microlending and it has inspired a number of replications online.

One such company is Prosper - a community of people, companies, businesses and lenders (anyone can wear any hat) with the express purpose of cutting out the middleman (read: bank) and allowing people to get the credit they need.

Many people on the auction-style site are seeking business start-up loans, consolidation loans to pay off high-interest credit cards or bridge financing for expansion or inventory.

Prosper has helped people with more than $12 million in loans to date and can be a valuable resource for any small business.

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Mortgage Rates for all 50 States

Shopping for a mortgage, especially if you're moving from one part of the country to another, can be a daunting task, but finding a Mortgage rate, a broker or applying for a 1st, 2nd or HELOC mortgage can now be as easy as a few mouse clicks and filling out an online form.

At PersonalHomeLoanMortgages.com, you can find the best rate for your state or city, check vital statistics for your state as compared to the US averages, locate a real estate agent, mortgage broker, title company, estimate monthly payments and tax benefits with various mortgage calculators and much more.

You can apply for mortgages in New York, New Jersey, Virginia or any of the 50 states.

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Exquisite Stained Glass and Patterns

Looking for a unique pattern for stained glass or an outstanding stained glass design? Look no further than Chantal's Stained Glass a site that I believe is one of the most visually-appealing and colorful sites on the internet.

Designed by the owner, Chantal Parť, self-described as a woman with a box of fine point markers, piles of blank paper, inexpensive scanner, family computer, 30-yr old light box, rudimentary notions of html, but a head full of ideas, the site offers hundreds (maybe thousands) of patterns for stained glass creations along with items for sale by Chantal.

There's also a design tutorial, a link to her book Orchids in Glass, a forum, visitor gallery and updates page.

What I like most about Chantal's site are her own works, especially the one titled Dracula gigas, shown at right. Her work shows a passion and excellence we all should hope to attain in our lives.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Break Cabin Fever with a Cool Pennsylvania Trip


It hasn't been a particularly brutally cold winter in the Northeast, but the recent (and according to our weathermen, lasting) cold snap may have brought on a bout of Cabin Fever.

January is Cabin Fever Month in Pennsylvania and the good people at the Pennsylvania Tourism Office have once again answered the call with their winter promotion.

When you book a room at participating hotels, motels, inns and bed & breakfasts at VisitPA.com, you get the second night FREE. Additionally, there's 50% off admission to any participating attraction, including ski resorts, museums, theaters, zoos, wineries and much more.

I checked out the site, figuring a short trip to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell would be fun, and I found over 200 hotels and motels with rooms available. Since I'm more the city type, that works for me.

For those who love the outdoors, Pennsylvania has some of the most beautiful countryside in the nation, and new in 2007, state park cabins throughout the state are also participating in this buy one night, get the next night free promotion.

If you've been indoors too much this winter (and unless you're a furry animal, you have), a trip to the Keystone State might be just the ticket to shake you out of the doldrums.

Book your Cabin Fever getaway today!

Did eBay Miss Out on Joost?

And did Google get Foogled?

Just two years ago, eBay made a huge $2.6 billion purchase of Skype the internet phone software that swept through Europe like wildfire.

Skype was the invention of Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, who may have walked away from eBay chuckling to each other. Why? Because the co-founders of Kazaa and Skype may have been planning their next big thing while putting oodles of cash in their pockets.

On Tuesday, Friis and Zennstrom announced the beta for their new internet TV service, Joost. The concept had been in development under the code name Venice Project, but yesterday went... well, public.

Joost (pronounced "juiced") is presently accepting beta testers, but one has to wonder, after Google's recent purchase of YouTube for $1.6 billion, and eBay's investment in Skype, what these present-day Robin Hoods will come up with next.

If Joost allows peer-to-peer TV to evolve, get ready for a brave new world - Scandanavia-style. Buh-bye networks and HD-TV. Hello, Joost-world.

Organizing Business Meetings and Assets


As your organization grows, keeping track of people, places and things (assets) can become a real challenge. I recall (when I had two disparate locations and 15 employees) missing meetings, losing people and in a number of cases, losing certain business assets that were costly to replace.

While business assets can be handed off from employee to employee, it helps to know who has what, for what purpose and when it last made an appearance. Cell phones and laptops are high on the scale of most-desired business items, and when they disappear, it can wreak havoc on your business.

NetSimplicity has created the Visual Asset Manager - designed to help alleviate the problem. With their software, you can manage assets and easily inventory, map and track assets from a web browser or handheld scanner. Now you can stop worrying about what you own, where itís deployed and what itís worth.

NetSimplicity creates software that simplifies office administration. Their Scheduling Software is a meeting room manager. With it, you can schedule rooms and resources, automate service requests like catering, A/V equipment and technical support personnel and know who's supposed to be where, and when.

Both of their software offerings are available for a no-obligation 30-day free trial. Visit their web site for more information.

NetSimplicity will be at LegalTech in New York on Jan. 29Ė31. If you're at the show, stop by booth 3205 for a chance to win a digital camera.

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Search Wars Get Local

In the ongoing battle for leadership in the search arena, the major engines have lately trained their eyes on a virtually untapped resource, local search.

Both Yahoo! and Google have configurations set up to exploit the millions of listings of small businesses in the United States. Both have similar offerings in hundreds of American cities, relying on user input to expand the breath of information and in some cases, asking for additional money from the merchants themselves for enhanced listings.

I went to Yahoo Local and found my business listing and added a bunch of information, like hours of operation, my contact email address, which credit cards I accept and then was prompted to create a free 5-page web site, which I did. You can access my Yahoo Local web site here.

The whole process took about half an hour, though I doubt most small business owners will take the time to fully implement it. There are further enhancements one can make - for a fee - but I declined for now since my business really isn't local.

This experience gave me a number of ideas for webmasters to offer further services on a local basis. Obviously, I don't have the time to explain it all here, but I'll do so in future posts.

I'll take a closer look at Google Local in the next few days

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Most Popular Cell Phones

Motorola topped the list of Wirefly's most popular cell phones in 2006, with the ubiquitous RAZR grabbing the top three positions on the list.

Other Motorola offerings, such as the v360, i850 and i710 captured another 5 positions on the list, while Ericsson (4th) and Samsung (10th) rounded out the Top 10 (see below).

Wirefly should know, as their company web site is the internet leader in comparison shopping for wireless cell phones and calling plans. According to the company, 9 out of the top 10 cell phones sold by Wirefly in 2006 were camera phones and 30% had built-in music capability.

In other trends, Wirefly noted that phones with more functionality through increasingly robust operating systems were being brought to market with the Blackberry Pearl, Blackberry 8700 series, and Pocket PC's like the Verizon XV6700 among the most innovative and practical. Another big trend was for cell phones and services designed exclusively for children and related GPS tracking and geo-location services like those introduced by Sprint and Disney.

Overall, however, the trend was for slim and sleek, in a variety of colors. Consumers still want choice, but the RAZR was the overwhelming favorite, integrating form and function into an attractive, user-friendly device.

Wirefly's List of Top 10 Cell Phones:

1. Cingular Wireless RAZR by Motorola (in various colors)
2. T-Mobile RAZR (in various colors)
3. Verizon Wireless RAZR (in various colors)
4. Cingular Sony Ericsson z520a/z525a video phones
5. T-Mobile Motorola v360
6. Verizon Wireless Motorola v276
7. Sprint Nextel Motorola i850
8. Sprint Nextel Motorola i710
9. Cingular Motorola v220
10. T-Mobile Samsung T309

For more information about wireless cell phones and various plans from leading providers, visit Wirefly.

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RSS: Too much tech?

Just three years in existence, I've wondered just how many people use RSS (Real Simple Syndication) because personally, I never use it. RSS always seemed like a redundant service since we already had web sites, blogs and email newsletters, all of which many of us marketing wizards still employ.

So, I decided to so a little research and came up with a figure of 275 million (and the note that 27% of all internet users receive information via RSS without knowing it). Via Alex Barnett, who did the actual research, Nooked reports that RSS is key to the publishing/marketing dynamic, though I still haven't seen much of a boost to overall traffic (which, I would assume, is the purpose of RSS for most web site owners, marketers and bloggers). The debate seems to have stalled out because that figure - the latest I could find - is now 15 months old and nobody seems to talk much about the victory of RSS over opt-in newsletters and good, white-hat SEO.

Sometimes, technology enables us a little too much. I still find RSS to be somewhat of a superfluous addition to the internet marketing mix.

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Marketing: Old School vs. New Age

In the days of newspapers, magazines, radio and TV - prior to the advent of the internet - a company might have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to launch a new product or service and even then, coverage was spotty and barely traceable. Companies with the budget power could hire an ad agency or marketing firm to push their new offering, but the doors to innovation and acceptance in the marketplace were often closed to budding entrepreneurs due to financial limitations.

The internet changed all that, especially with professionals who engage in Search Engine Placement Services such as SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for both paid and organic search results in the major engines - Google, Yahoo, MSN and others. While ad agencies are struggling to keep clients and catch up to the new rigors of intelligent web design, small internet shops are grabbing the most innovative, progressive companies by understanding the dynamics of the internet, reach and search engine optimization.

Cutting costs and reaching far-flung markets through smart use and understanding of technology today often delivers better results than old school marketing and advertising. The future looks far different as small companies can now compete with larger rivals at dollar levels that are compatible with small business.

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Rubber Stamps Still Popular in Tech Age

Despite the rise of high-tech and all kinds of cheap office printing methods, rubber stamps still are in use by an estimated 75% of all businesses. Rubber stamps have been around since the mid-18th century, yet still provide business with a simple, effective way to mark documents.

The primary uses for rubber stamps are for return-addressing envelopes and other packages (ebay users love them) and for marking bills and invoices paid. The popular PAID stamp can be found in a majority of offices, with or without the date function.

In the age of high-tech, there are still low-tech marking solutions aplenty, such as pens and markers of all colors and varieties, yet the rubber stamp remains one of the most popular and easy-to-use choices for all kinds of businesses.

Any business can benefit from the proper use of custom rubber stamps and they can be easily ordered online at RubberStamps.Net.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Online Coupon Codes are Smart Business

Everybody loves a discount, and thanks to sites that offer online coupons and coupon codes, online shopping has taken on a whole new attitude.

Grocery shopping was where coupons got their glitter in retailing, but once again, technology has upped the ante, with everybody with an online store - from Amazon to OfficeMax - has coupons for particular products.

I'm not saying that using coupon for business purchases is going to get you a raise or a promotion, but it's smart business and saving money eventually gets one noticed.

Tech Reviews for Non-Geeks

I know a lot of people are going to appreciate the blog at
Techzoogle which delivers reviews of high-tech gadgets, computers and tech trends for ordinary people.

The site is very impressive for the quality and user-friendliness of the reviews on technology and other related tech news because they are written in plain English instead of geek-talk which only computer scientists or programmers understand.

For instance, a recent post about Apple TV pointed out that the new offering, which was previewed at MacWorld, will cost about $299 and function like an advanced DVD player which will enable the playing of music, movies, pod casts and photos.

The post also pointed out that Apple TV will be available in February and requires HD television.

That short, functional explanation made more sense to me than lengthy news stories elsewhere.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tips for Webmasters

With millions of websites, blogs, and social networks on the internet, competition for the available money opportunities is fierce. Some sites may specialize in being straight e-commerce, others cover a particular news niche, hobby, or pastime, but one thing they all have in common is a need to generate some kind of revenue, be that from sales, advertising, affiliate programs or whatever else the creative minds can devise.

Finding reliable information for monetizing one's site may be hit-or-miss, considering the amount of junk information circulating through the 'net at any given time. Very few webmasters actually know what they are getting into besides launching a site and adding content.

If you're a webmaster looking for a site that will help you understand just what quality website content is, or reliable information on maintaining a competitive edge in the blogosphere, myContentWebsite.com offers articles in a blog format under categories such as Website Content, Marketing & Advertising, Monetize, Scripts & Programming, Domains & Hosting and others.

The articles are generally well-written, informative, in plain English and, best of all, the information is trustworthy. Whether you are new to webmastering or well-seasoned, you're sure to find something of interest on this informational blog.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Now for something completely different

There are blogs and then there are what I call slogs, which are blogs written by slobs or at least by people trying to impersonate a slob. They are typified by atrocious writing style, misspelling and poor syntax (my favorites are "to" instead of "too" and "looser" substituting for "loser.")

But, every now and then, a slog is good enough to get mentioned here because it is witty, different and politically incorrect, like Grunge Ogre.

This particular Ogre is probably less of a slogmaster than most. He's actually a web site designer, but instead of being all techie, he's pretty down-to-earth and his site displays particularly good attention to form and function, as everything is clean and well organized. Plus, he's got so many cool icons that I'm somewhat jealous.

The writing comes in short blasts, is usually funny and smacks of 21st century realism. After wading though the usual web sites and blogs that deal with the mundane like stocks, tech gizmos and films, Grunge Ogre is a welcome relief.

I mean, where else can you find such tidbits as ...I had just gotten out of jail for being high the week before or I'd rather listen to George W. Bush recite SAT words? Worth a peek at the end of the week.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's Game Time! Do you know where your sports site is?

Often, when I have riveting opinions or superlative picks, like my NFL Playoff Picks for this coming weekend I will post on one of my favorite sites, AllSports.com, but today I have been unable to access the site at all.

AllSports has been around for about as long as I can remember, probably back as far as 1998, and the posts - from sports fans around the world - run the gamut from funny to insightful to dreadful, but it's always a solid read and often better than the MSM garble.

So, I'm a bit dismayed that I can't post to the site nor read any articles today since I keep getting the message that all webmasters dread, the URL www.whatever.com could not be found.

AdsBay: A New Player on the Advertising Horizon

If the results from my small test of the new AdsBay web advertising price calculator are correct, I - and a gazillion other smart webmasters - am about to make some serious money and finally, maybe, hopefully, get paid what space on my website is really worth.

The AdsBay advertising price calculator is one of the coolest web applications I've seen in some time. All you need to do to get a figure on what advertising on your site might be worth is plug in the web address, choose a category and options such as site wide or single page, text link or graphic, where the ad will be located and the calculator delivers a number in US Dollars/month.

The few pages I tested all came back with figures that were as good or better than I'm getting from the usual suspects and AdsBay offers a number of options - including a nice graphic link to the actual calculation that you can place on your site or blog - for selling your ad inventory space.

AdsBay Auctions, Buy and Sell your Ad Space offers options to buy or sell just about any form of advertising, without the agency fees or middleman. AdsBay may be on the verge of revolutionizing the online advertising business. Kudos to them!

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bowl Picks Final 18-14 ATS

Finishing with a flurry, my picks for January 2-9 were a stellar 4-1, including both LSU over Notre Dame and Florida over Ohio State, plus the over numbers (same score in both 41-14). On BCS games, I was also 4-1, with my Michigan choice the only one preventing perfection.

One thing I've noticed about the BCS is that they often produce mismatches, which produces more winners for me. While I love winning picks, I make the case for a college football playoff system in my final Top 25 rankings on the main site. Check it out.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

The Broncos put Boise on the Map

Last Monday night, fans of college football across America and around the world were treated to easily the greatest game of this young century, and surely one of the best of all time.

The thrill-a-minute, 43-42 overtime victory by Boise State over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl was the ultimate victory for the underdog, the best of David vs. Goliath, the little guy vs. the corporation and the best part was twofold: that the little guy showed guts and grace even when the chips were down, and they took a huge risk to win it all.

We'll all remember the winning Statue of Liberty play, with quarterback Jared Zabransky handing the ball behind his back to Ian Johnson, who raced into the end zone for the two-point conversion, but what led up to it may have been even better.

The game in its entirety was brilliant. Boise State raced to a 14-point lead, then blew an 18-point lead in the 4th quarter, and actually fell behind 35-28 when Zabransky threw an interception which Marcus Walker returned for a touchdown. But Zabransky and his teammates never quit and tied the game on a critical 4th-down hook and ladder pass from Zabransky to Drisan James at Oklahoma's 35. James pitched the ball to Jerard Rabb, who scampered into the end zone with the tying score with 7 seconds to play. That was gusty.

Lost in all of this was the 25-yard TD by Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson on the opening play of overtime. Peterson, the personification of the polished big-college corporate running back stands in stark contrast to the spit-and-hellfire Zabransky and his Bronco teammates.

It really was a game of contrast and comparison. One pundit - I believe Conan O'Brien - said the game, Oklahoma vs. Boise State was between two places where nobody lived. Funny, for sure, but his remark couldn't have been more incorrect. I don't know much about Oklahoma except that it's flat and there are plenty of ranches there.

I probably know a little less about Boise, the capitol of Idaho, but having been out West last year, I know at least this much: the air is clean, the water in the lakes and streams is blue, the people are friendly and the mountain views are spectacular. It is a marvelous place to live, raise a family or retire.

To find out more about Boise, visit Boise homes and follow the links, check out the Boise blog and breathe deeply. Thanks to the Broncos, the air has the distinctive smell of victory.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I Know What You Did... because I recorded it

Video surveillance is everywhere. Cameras are a staple now in retail stores, parking garages and government buildings. Many of the moves we make are being watched by security personnel, police or other interested parties.

But what about your home or business? Do you know what's going on when you're not around to mind things? Maybe you suspect a worker of stealing, or, what's even more unimaginable - but does happen - maybe the nanny is abusing your kids. Scary, yes, but many have been caught on videotape doing unbelievable things.

What I'm talking about here is the need for reliable, discreet, hidden Home Security that can capture the activities of thieves, liars or abusers and be used in court.

There are many ways to catch evil doers, but hidden security cameras are among the best. The perpetrators will think that they are alone and can get away with whatever their evil minds can dream up, but with a hidden camera, like the one inside this clock radio camera from Brickhouse Security is as sneaky as the person you're taping. They won't suspect a thing as this low profile alarm clock radio is fully functioning with a CCD camera inside.

The great thing about hidden surveillance is the covert nature which has been used by spy agencies for years but recently has become available to the general public.

Now, there's no reason not to be safe and secure in your home or business. The days of sneaky employees, crooked partners and nasty nannies are over thanks to devices like these.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

College Bowl Update... Happy New Year

After starting the bowl season off red hot at 7-1, my picks have fallen to a meager 14-13 record against the spread (ATS), due primarily to a series of favorites who won but did not cover from December 29-31, including Texas, Texas Tech, Boston College and Oregon State.

On January 1, I went 3-3, including the most important, Boise State's win over Oklahoma (without a doubt the game of the season and maybe the best game of this young century). One thing I will never do again is pick any team coached by Lloyd Carr. His Michigan Wolverines have now lost 3 straight to Ohio State and 3 straight bowl games. It's his coaching style, somewhat similar to President Bush's "stay the course" strategy in Iraq. We see the results of not changing policy (or game plan) until it's too late... catastrophe.

Those anxiously awaiting the Florida - Ohio St. prediction will be happy to note that it's being posted today, noting that, if Florida wins, Boise State will be declared Downtown Magazine's NCAA National Champion as the only undefeated Division-1 team in the country.

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