Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This isn’t just a rant. It’s a proclamation: I won’t be giving anything to charity this year.

I already gave at the office.

About midway through January, my car was broken into. Okay, "broken" might be too harsh of a word here as I suspect it was an unlocked back door (thanks kids) that allowed the thief entry. I didn’t have to repair anything on my car. Nothing was actually "broken".

Nope, there I was, walking out to the parking lot after another hard day in the office, when I noticed the glovebox open in my car. And papers pulled out. And my doors unlocked.

Oh, crap.

Sure enough, someone had rifled through my 1991 Toyota Camry. Which is in itself kind of puzzling. I mean, I drive a junker. It has rust spots and holes and everything. The paint is peeling off the roof. Oh, sure it has a new high performance engine in it, and new tires, but outwardly, it looks like a piece of crap.

What kind of a person is cruising the parking lot- which I might add is next to a Court House and Sheriff’s Office- and thinks, "Oh, I bet there’s good stuff to steal in that car!"

Anyone looking in my car is going to see the toddler booster seat in the bank, the blankets for the kids on the seats, the crappy, 1994 generic radio, the hole worn in my driver’s seat from the leatherman pouch worn daily on my belt, the crayons on the floorboard. Oh, wait, maybe it was my spare change.

I keep a lot of spare change in the car - dollars and dollars worth of pennies in the center console. All the drive-thru change I get goes there for my oldest daughter. She gets a thrill at cleaning the change out of the car. Except for January- since it was stolen before she could get to it.

Okay, even that is not entirely accurate. The lazy bastard/bitch that stole money from my car couldn’t be bothered with the $2 or $3 worth of pennies. Nope, they took maybe $4 or $5 of quarters, nickels, and dimes. Wow. What a haul. I hope they didn’t spend it all in one place.

Of course, that’s not all I’m out. No, it’s more complicated than that. See, the intruder also searched my glovebox, where I keep gas receipts and deposit tickets and slips. And maybe a spare checkbook. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. So I had to go to my bank and get a new bank account number.

And that’s where the real trouble began.

First, there’s the time I had to spend going and getting a police report made. Then I had to go to the bank, with my wife, to open the new account, get new debit cards, order checks, etc.

Then there was the trouble of contacting the two autopayees I have, like my insurance company, and telling them I’m changing accounts. In particular, I had to tell them that my automatic monthly payments should still go through, rerouted by the bank, but if not, let me know and I’d fill out new EFT forms.

So two weeks pass, and the new checks come in. Wrong. Wrong name for me, and my wife’s name is omitted. That went over really well. A call to the check printer wastes a good half hour of time, as the little smart ass there tells me I have to go see my bank to get a name added. Then he tries to tell me where my bank is located.

"I know where my bank is," I responded. Smart Ass sneered over the phone (a skill he no doubt learned at the HP Customer Service Academy) and told me that he wasn’t saying I didn’t.

Fun stuff.

So it’s back to the bank on my lunch hour the next day to raise hell and order a second batch of new checks. With the right names on them.

February then rounded out with some excitement. Where in January my two automatic bill payments were deducted from the new account, in February the bank decided not to honor them. Without telling me. The first payee was kind enough to contact me about it, and I sent in new ACH forms. Not so my insurance company.

On March 4th I contacted the insurance company, in person, and told them that my payment didn’t come out the end of February as it was supposed to. I filled out a check, and the lady tells me that’s okay, she just needed the account numbers, she won’t cash the check.

Sure enough, the same day, a payment is withdrawn electronically and I’m current again on insurance.

Five days later, the insurance company cashes my check. Overdrafting my account. This requires a visit to the insurance office again.

So, let’s see… I’m up to $38 for an overdraft fee, $150 for a duplicate insurance payment, and about, oh, I don’t know, 8 hours of my time. All in all, I figure this works out to over $300 of loss for me. I know that’s not a whole lot, but it’s more than I normally give to charities.

I sure hope whoever broke into my car really needed that $6 worth of change they stole. Like they were starving to damn death. Realistically though, I imagine they used it to buy lottery scratch offs or a pack of smokes, or maybe some drugs (I could be wrong there, no idea what drugs cost these days). Heck, maybe they bought some colored markers and invested in an eye-catching "will work for food" sign. Obama wants everyone to reinvest in America, right?

Whatever the thief did, that’s my charity for the year. This’ll be the first time in my life that when someone approaches me for a handout or a raffle ticket to aid something, I can with complete and utter lack of guilt refuse and declare, "Sorry, I gave at the Office."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

INVENTION: Sailing to the Product Land

So there I was, driving down the road, chatting with my wife on the way to work, when I had a brilliant idea. I can’t tell you what the idea was, because I signed a confidentiality agreement. But trust me. It was brilliant.

But what do you do with a brilliant idea? Let’s say you do invent the next lightbulb. Having an idea is swell, but how do you get it from your noggin to store shelves? Well, there’s a whole section of the internet out there that deals with these issues, and I have stumbled onto it.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to share all this new knowledge with you. And by doing so, also ensure my ability to prove "first invented". But more on that later. Let’s go back to that eureka moment.

I wasn’t trying to invent anything. I was complaining. And in the middle of complaining, the solution to my problem hit me. It was so obvious. Why had no one thought of it before?

Once at work- and thankfully early so I could do some quick research on my own time- I began to investigate the uniqueness of my idea. I began several web searches for existing products. Nothing on eBay. Nothing at Yahoo nor Google produced any results.

Okay, maybe this is a new idea. Or maybe it just hasn’t been made yet, but is patented. Easy peezy. Just do a Google Patent search. At lunch of course- it was time to get to work.

By lunch time I was convinced that my idea was brilliant, and I was a little angry I couldn’t just go buy one. Quite frankly, I have no desire to start a business, to prototype, to beg, borrow or steal for funds to start production. I just want one of my doodads for myself.

Lunch time proved that I wasn’t going to be able to buy one anytime soon. Nothing on the patent search. I did find a vaguely similar product- similar in the way that oranges are similar to apples; they both being round fruits that grow on trees. But no doodad analogs.

Now what? Well, thankfully, I have a wide variety of friends. Including some attorneys, a guy who loves watching invention TV shows and a guy who started his own business and has a machine shop. I contacted all three of them.

"Brilliant! I want one!" my lawyer, and fellow shared doodad-problem attorney friend said. "That happens to me all the time! You should patent that and get it made! And I know a patent attorney!"

"Pretty cool!" my inventor-wannabe friend declared.

"Oh, my gosh!" My business friend declared. "That is brilliant!"

Okay, ego stroking done. Now what?

A prototype. Luckily, I carry a leatherman tool on my belt all the time. Oh, sure, folks mock me for this, but when they want something fixed, who do they come to? And my desk was stocked with paperclips, rubber bands, pens, and a whole lot of other junk.

I had a protoype put together in under 5 minutes. Well, not really a prototype, more of a proof-of-concept. Oh, yeah, this could work.

By Day Two, I knew I had to pick a destination and how to get there. Having a great invention in my head, and a cheesy, MacGyver prototype in hand isn’t enough. What to do? Not to worry, work was so hectic I couldn’t do much. And after work it was time to go home and unwind.

Part of my unwinding is my beloved friend, television. And one of many shows I watch regularly is a BBC production called "Dragon’s Den". Again, let me state that I never wanted to be an inventor- I just enjoy watching them shoot down stupid ideas.

Now at this point, you might think I got the idea to try and go on a TV show for inventors. But no, I was too dense for that. But before retiring to bed, I decided to check the internet for when the next season of Dragon’s Den starts. In reading the wikipedia page for the show, I saw that there were similar shows in the U.S.- including one called "Everyday Edisons" on PBS.

Not that I want to be on TV, but I thought I’d check out their website. I'm glad I did.

Turns out that sponsors inventor contests. You submit ideas, without the need for patents, and companies pick the best ideas. There are cash prizes and even a cut of profits should your idea be the one that actually gets made. And remember, my idea is brilliant.

My lawyer friend was not enthused.

"You should patent it yourself! This could be a steady source of income over the years!"

Maybe. Or maybe I could own 100% of nothing (one of my favorite lines from Dragon’s Den). And I don’t have the time for that. I have a day job, two kids and I occassionally try my hand at this writing stuff. Oh, and then there's my Xbox. That takes a LOT of my time.

Everyday Edisons is perfect for slackers like me.

So here I am, one week after my epiphany, and I’ve set sail on the SS Invention. My idea is in the pipeline. Maybe I can win some money, maybe I have just blown $25 on the entry fee.