Monday, September 29, 2008

Pay Dirt

Yesterday, I launched a new project that I'm *very* excited about. I now have in my basement a vermicomposting bin, which, come spring, will yield for me some very tasty soil for the plants in my garden. And, in the meantime, there are a ton of other perks as well.

What is vermicomposting? Basically, it's using worms to make compost.

This excellent page describes what it is and how to do it.

All you need is a safe, dark spot that keeps a temperature of around 60-65 degrees, a bin, some bedding (newspaper), and food. We used an old plastic bin (18-gallons, maybe?) that used to be used for recycling and was sitting around gathering dust in the basement and some newspaper from our recycling bin. The bin is covered with an inflatable raft--the kind you'd use in the pool or at the lake. We are using it because it's free and we don't have the lid to this bin. It doesn't sit flush, so it allows air in, but keeps the light out. And we needed a place to put it so that it wasn't on the ground. Voila. Two problems solved at once.

The beauty of vermicomposting, apart from how amazingly simple it is, is that it allows you to compost your kitchen scraps into usable soil. If you pay for trash removal--or live in a climate where you can only compost outdoors during part of the year--you can create a vermicomposting bin in your own home and continue to reduce the amount of waste you have to pay to haul off to the land fill.

Other perks include a feeling of connection with the cycles of the earth, free nutrient-rich soil, a learning experience for kids--and worms make really affordable pets. If you don't want to spring for a cat or a high-maintenance caged animal that needs you to clean its bedding every week, worms are an excellent option for kids. They don't require any cleaning--in fact, you WANT them to make dirt. They don't require veterinary care or special food. Just give them your uncooked vegetable scraps once a week, make sure they have air and a safe enclosure and you're good to go. You can leave for vacation for a week and they'll be none the wiser. But kids can still get invested in their health and well-being, take responsibility for feeding them, watch their progress, and in the spring, they can help you harvest the soil and remake the bed.

You can purchase worms to start your vermicomposting project, but of course we at Thrift would never suggest that. We grew ours this summer in an outdoor starter pile made up of weeds, vegetable scraps, dirt, and wet newspaper. The pile was tucked away on a convenient patch of concrete next to our back porch, which meant that the worms wouldn't crawl back down into the earth, and that no one but us could really see it.

When the weather started to cool, we dug through and found the earthworms inside and transferred them to their new winter home in our basement. Our starter pile suffered a setback when our landlord cleared it away--we think he must have thought he was being helpful, but we were really dismayed by the unexpected destruction of our lovely pile. Luckily, the second pile remained untouched and has yielded a nice healthy crop of earthworms.

For more on what to feed them and how to make a bin, including tips on how to keep it from smelling bad and attracting flies, visit the link above.

Happy worming!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Two Real Life Thumbs Down for eBay and PayPal

I know some people have had great luck with eBay. They live for it. They live with it. Whatever.

I almost never have a good experience. And yet, once or twice a year, I forget that and give in to the temptation to get something I want cheaper than I can find it elsewhere--and then I suffer the consequences.

Most recently, I wanted to buy a book on ayurvedic cooking and healing techniques. The cheapest copy I could find was available on eBay. I bid on it. I won it--for $1 plus shipping and handling. I paid the seller using PayPal.

Then I waited.

Four weeks later, still no book. So, I checked eBay. The seller is no longer registered with eBay. I checked with PayPal--I hadn't received a refund. I also haven't received any communication from the seller.

So, the question becomes, how much of my time is it worth to recoup my $5 loss? Not much, theoretically, except that it's the principle of the thing.

I began by investigating my history at PayPal, to be sure I hadn't been refunded--or that the transaction had been canceled by the buyer. It didn't seem to have been, although it was all pretty confusing, to be honest with you. There was a debit when the money was sent to the seller; and then a credit when it came in from my bank account. So, on the face of it, it seemed like there had been a debit and a credit, but the credit came from my checking account, not from the seller. So my PayPal balance is $0, when it should be $5, if the refund came through.

Next, I tried to find some help options as PayPal.

Since there wasn't an FAQ, Disputes, or Help button readily available on the page, I clicked on the Contact Us link, which is in the fine print at the bottom.

My first option was to Chat with Sarah:



I was in a rush, so I mistook Sarah, "my PayPal virtual help assistant" who "is available to chat with me at any time" for a real person. That's amazing, I thought. They have such excellent customer service that someone is available immediately, all the time.

Here's what ensued:


Sarah - PayPal :
Hello, I’m Sarah, and I’m here to answer questions you have about PayPal. Just type into the box below and click Submit to get started.
I’m in training now, so if I don’t know the answer to your PayPal question, I’ll try to learn it for next time!
You :
Hi, Sarah
Sarah - PayPal :
Hello, you're an early bird! How can I help you?
You :
An early bird? It's 4pm...
Sarah - PayPal :
Do you mean:
How do I add/remove/edit personal information on my PayPal account?
What is PayPal's phone number?

You :
I purchased an item using PayPal through ebay, but the item has not arrived and the seller and the listing have been removed from ebay.
Sarah - PayPal :
Sorry, but your phrase is too long and I will not be able to perform a full analysis. I would be very grateful if you could try to make it a bit shorter and more concise.
You :
what do i do
Sarah - PayPal :
I'm not sure I've understood. Could you please rephrase your question?
You :
oh, i get it. you're not human. well...is any of this getting through?
Sarah - PayPal :
I'm a virtual person, and I'm programmed to do my best to help you with basic customer care issues.
You :
that's creepy.
Sarah - PayPal :
I apologize if you can't find the infomation you seek by speaking with me. I'm unable to help with your request. Please enter a new question, visit the Help Center, or Contact Us.
You :
id you get my question
Sarah - PayPal :
Do you mean:
I am unable to login, what can I do?
What if I've forgotten my email address?
Can you tell me more specific details about my account?

You :
fraud ebay help
Sarah - PayPal :
Could you be more precise please?
What is eBay?
My buyer is trying to defraud me
Can you tell me more specific information about my eBay account?
How can I report potential fraud to PayPal?

You :
How can I report potential fraud to PayPal?
Sarah - PayPal :
If you notice unauthorized activity from your PayPal account, report it to us immediately through the Resolution Center. If you notice an unauthorized transaction on your PayPal Debit Card report it to us immediately by calling the telephone number or sending an email to the address listed on the back of your debit card.
If you received what you believe is a fake PayPal email, or you've come across a spoof PayPal website, please report it to our Customer Service team. If possible, please forward the original email to spoof@paypal.com. Anything else I can do to help you?
You :
this is useless
Sarah - PayPal :
Really, that frustrates me... Because I do my best to improve every day. Really, that frustrates me... Because I do my best to improve every day. Do you have any other questions?
You :
i still have my original question.
Sarah - PayPal :
I'm not sure I've understood. Could you please rephrase that?
You :
i bought an item on ebay. it never arrived. buyer protection?
Sarah - PayPal :
OK. I'm unable to help with your request. Please enter a new question, visit the Help Center, or Contact Us.
Sarah - PayPal :
I've just opened the right page for you. Please let me know if you have other questions.
Sarah - PayPal :
I'm about to open a page which will allow you to send a copy of our conversation.
Sarah - PayPal :
I've just opened a page allowing you to send an email with the transcript of our conversation. If you cannot see the page, this may be because your pop-up blocker is activated. Try clicking on yellow bar at the top of your window to deactivate your pop-up blocker.

[This Page Could Not Be Found]

You :
you have to do it again, please
Sarah - PayPal :
What precisely are you looking for?
How do I update or edit the Shipment Tracking Information that I previously provided to the Buyer?
How do I track packages with labels created on PayPal?
How do I obtain Shipment Tracking information from my seller?

Sarah - PayPal :
I've just opened a page allowing you to send an email with the transcript of our conversation. If you cannot see the page, this may be because your pop-up blocker is activated. Try clicking on yellow bar at the top of your window to deactivate your pop-up blocker.

[This Page Could Not Be Found]

**
I have now composed an e-mail to PayPal, which also required some irritating navigation of passive-aggressive and unhelpful menu trees so that they can categorize my e-mail.

We'll see if I get any help.

I can't even ding the seller with negative feedback because he's gone.

This is what's wrong with eBay--seriously.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Calculate your gas mileage

The calculations won't be exact, but to determine your gas mileage, fill up your tank. Make a note of your mileage or set your tripometer. At your next fill up, make a note of the number of gallons you put in. Then, divide the miles by the gallons.

For example, on a recent drive to Maine, I traveled 380 miles on 12.24 gallons, which worked out to about 31 mpg (with the AC on). Around town, I tend to get 26 or 27 with the AC on.

I drive a 2004 Ford Focus 5-speed hatchback and I love it. It's zippy, comfortable, surprisingly spacious, and as you can see, good on gas. And my car payment is half what it would have been if I'd bought a Corrolla instead. Yay, thrift.

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