Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The annual Gift Card debate

So the war is now raging, Violent Acres has weighed in:
Fuck the Cheerleader; Buy a Gift Card, Save the World - Violent Acres

And so has Liz Pulliam Weston, already the reason I don't read MSN money, she now claims to know that Gifts cards are not gifts. Now I don't think she's totally off-base, here's a great quote:
A gift, ideally, says, "I thought about you. I considered your likes and dislikes, your needs and wants, your dreams and desires, and found you this token of my esteem that I hope will delight you."

But she really takes the whole thing one too far with some other notable quotes:

Would a lover, in the flush of romance, lean close to the object of his affection and present . . . a gift card?...

Heaven forbid that givers use their own judgment and spend a little time picking out small items that might give the recipients pleasure. Just give us the cash and get out of the way.

Followed-up by some interesting advice:
1. Make certain events off limits.
2. Combine a card with a real gift.
3. Think twice before giving one to someone you love.
4. Don't add to the recipient's burdens.

V of course has some strong views the other way:
Every year for my birthday, I always get a gift or two in the mail from someone I haven’t spoken to in months. I find it incredibly insulting. All year long, these people couldn’t be bothered to call me on the telephone, shoot me an email, or meet me for dinner. Yet, they feel as long as they mail me a fucking candle on my birthday, our friendship status will remain.
And yes, I’m giving out gift cards this holiday season. Merely because I know most people aren’t yet at a place in their life where they can look into a box and simply say, “This is just an object. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Idea #4 is actually pretty key to giving a gift card, giving a $50 gift card to Banana Republic is like saying: here have a pair of expensive socks. But it's really no better or worse than just buying a bad pair of socks from BR and giving them as a gift.

Idea #1 is tainted by the adding that weddings should always receive gifts, which is exactly the opposite of what couples want. Most modern couples are paying for their own weddings and they're already living together long before they wed. So why do they need another toaster? Weddings are expensive gatherings, so basically every couple that I've known that married in the last 5 years (and that's like 10 of them) would have preferred cash or a good gift card over anything else.

Heck the fiancé and I were saving up about 10k to pay for our wedding expenses, the best gift (other than something hand-made and personal) would've been straight cash to help pay for the catering and the rental. Of course, this isn't true for everyone, some couples really are moving out right after marriage and for these guys, I'll buy a gift off the registry.

As to the rest of the advice and the raging debates, I figure that Liz has some useful advice it's just mixed in with being a little extreme. V of course, is practical as always (if a little evil), but doesn't always think highly of people.

I'll draw a line in the middle and say that gift cards are a fine gift as long as they're as thoughtful as the gift you would've purchased. Buying a GC is like buying a night out for friends or buying a week of morning Starbucks or a freebie nail job or a couple of reams of fabric for your next quilt. Buying a $50 GC to a $50 / plate restaurant is just as bad as buying diamond studded earrings for a girl who doesn't have pierced ears or giving a crisp, red $50 to your independently wealthy friend.

The nature of the GC is not inherently that it's a bad gift, it's that it's gift that requires thought just as much as any other gift. Bad gifts are bad gifts, cash, cash-equivalent or wrapped in a big box. So just buy gifts that are appreciated (and take the time to wrap them, it shows that you care)

Of course, YMMV

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bill Gates on Innovation

So a few days back, I wrote a post attacking a piece that talked about stifled innovation.

And I stood up and defended a lot of MS work. Well, lo and behold, here's Mr. Gates himself singing some of the same tunes: Bill Gates on Innovation | WebProNews (Printable Version):

Anyway, tablet computers, is there somebody else out there doing tablet computers? IPTV, is there somebody else out there doing — by definition what we do is the baseline. Everything Microsoft does is the baseline, and what we don’t do, that’s what’s innovative I guess. (Laughter.) And by that definition the other guys do all the innovative things.

It's obviously a slightly different take, but he's really got his finger on something: MS generally doesn't get credit when it does new stuff. So for the most part we look at MS and just see all of the common, everyday old crufty stuff that we figure is there.

Look, I'm not a Vista nut, but I also haven't counted MS out of the software world.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Just a blatant plug

MDJ’s First Birthday! | Million Dollar Journey

So one of my favorite reads is celebrating their first birthday. And what can I say but "free stuff"!

Plus he's worth a read, not just for his own experience but for the great guest posts he has going on.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Blog link: The 10 Key Actions That Finally Got Me Out of Debt; or, Why Living Frugally is Only Part of the Solution | Zen Habits

OK, here's a great one from Leo @ Zen Habits:

The 10 Key Actions That Finally Got Me Out of Debt; or, Why Living Frugally is Only Part of the Solution Zen Habits

In particular, here's a great quote:
"And one of the most important steps, as mentioned above, was increasing my income in multiple ways, in a series of steps designed to get my finances in better shape and to pay off debt faster."

When you're overweight and trying to fix your problems you can't just eat to get level, you have to eat less. You can't just fix the "overeating habit", you actually have to starve yourself to counteract the overeating. It's like creating a bad habit to fix the other habit. Usually a good weight loss plan involves exercise too though... it's not just "eating less".

And I think this is what Leo's really talking about and it's not something that many people mention. The journey out of debt/weight problems (same thing BTW) is fraught with perils and setbacks, but it's also something that needs to be fixed from two directions.

When you talk about overcoming challenges there are always two things that you can do:
1. Remove obstacles
2. Increase forward momentum

Living frugally is equivalent to doing #1. But finding a way to make more money is equivalent to #2. What I really like is the way he talks about making more money:
The key is to find something you’re passionate about, and pursue that with all of your heart. That might mean educating yourself, and learning new skills. That might mean finding mentors, and starting at the bottom. But when you’re passionate about something, you’re more motivated to learn and to succeed. Really pour yourself into it, and you’ll find a way.

And here's where he's nailed it, this is where you do #2. Work both sides of the problem. This is what I tell everybody b/c we just don't hear it enough. Don't just lose weight, work out too, it makes the problem much easier to resolve.

Of course, as always, YMMV.