Work At Home and Telework Tools

We are in a new digital age. Since we do not see everyone we work with now, we need tools to get our jobs done.

Below are some of the best tools:

Timers:

Much like the show Jepardy, timing someone’s response can be entertaining. Try some of the below timers to strike up interest and entertain people when they have to wait:

https://www.online-stopwatch.com/classroom-timers/

Sports themed stop watch timers allow your team to try to guess who will win.

Kahoot – Online and mobile quiz application

Kahoot! app | Free study app for iOS and Android

Planning Poker
planningpoker.com is the fun, easy way for your team to effectively plan and execute a sprint planning session.

Meeting spaces:

https://gather.town – gamification of online meeting spaces.

Gather is a video-calling space that lets multiple people hold separate conversations in parallel, walking in and out of those conversations just as easily as they would in normal life.

Laparoscopy and the Visual Aid

Starting from the early 1900s, people with gallbladder, reproductive system or intestinal issues could finally breathe a sigh of relief. When there was pain in the pelvis, no longer would a doctor have to make an decision based on prodding to find out where there is pain, resort to bloodletting, or worse, ask for a surgeon to cut into the area to find out more about the source of the pain. Instead, a silver, elongated and slender instrument could be inserted to allow a physician to use a scope and observe one of the most complicated areas of the body without major risk to the veins, arteries, and tissue functions.

Fig 1. Doctors peer through a laparoscope.

What was this technology? It was known as the laparoscope, which promised to bring visual insights to the inside of a body so a human or animal may be observed without large incisions and open surgery. It enabled viewing through “keyhole surgery”, so named because it allows important observations and work to be done through a very small incision. This was usually performed with a trocar, which is a tool that pierces the walls of the abdomen, enabling a host of other tools to be inserted through its sleeve. The laparoscope was invented greatly reduce the complications from open surgery. Also, important to note, that unlike a slow-to-develop 2-dimensional x-ray, this technique would physicians ample access to view the organs in real-time.

Fig 1-2. Jacobaeus’ trocar

This amazing tool found its roots from a series of scopes based on the 1806 invention, the endoscope. Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland states in his 1809 entry in the German publication, Journal Der Practischen Arzneykunde Und Wundarzneykunst, it was used “for the examinations of the canals and cavities of the human body” (translated – Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland 1809). This mainly amounted to anything related to open cavities which could be at one end of the body or the other. Over the next 90 years, the endoscope opened a wide range of research within the throat, lungs, uterus, and stomach for people and animals. The esophagoscope was devised in the 1890s by Georg Kelling as a type of endoscope which did not require incisions or cuts to be successfully inserted. It was used for viewing the inside of an esophagus within animals and people.

As he began to perfect its use, he worked towards ways to use it with an incision, usually through a trocar. In the article “The minimally invasive operations that transformed surgery”, Don Nakayam writes that Kelling “found that insufflation of the abdomen with air, a procedure that he had tried in an unsuccessful attempt at controlling gastrointestinal hemorrhage, was a good way to create working space within the abdominal cavity” (Nakayam). This is something he used on 20 dogs (2 of which died) to help perfect the method. This research would later go on to influence many others in the field. There’s no good indication as to why Georg Kelling and the esophoscope didn’t ignite further use of such an important tool. This fortunately did not stop progress or similar inventions.

In the article “Laparoscopy – The Early Attempts: Spotlighting Georg Kelling and Hans Christian Jacobaeus” Grzegorz S. Litynski states “Unaware of Kelling’s work, Hans Christian Jacobaeus (1879–1937), a Swedish internist, reported on his experience with laparothorascopic technique in humans in 1910”. Jacabaues devised a much improved scope that targeted the abdomen. Though Kelling had done some of the same work, Jacobaeus would make this a reality for countless millions. As he had also discovered, instead of forcing a scope through an existing cavity, as with the endoscope, a scope could be placed into a location which made the work of minimally invasive surgery best for both the patient and surgeon.

Jacobaus, determined to prove and popularize the tool, began to experiment with it. As Litynski states, his “initial experience with this procedure was restricted to patients with ascites (17 patients)“ (Litynski). For the first time he was able to prove such an invention on multiple people and as Litynski writes, “created air-pneumoperitoneum using a trocar with a trap-valve” (Litynski) which allowed for better observation and work to be done. Even though he was unable to get past the pelvic regions to provide any meaningful observations to the stomach, the initial operations were a success!

Fig 2. Laparoscopic Trocar Placement with Subsequent Arterial Damage

This technology was a groundbreaking achievement since it could be used to observe and possibly treat kidney stones, view or repair arteries, treat bowel issues, and view or correct issues with the gallbladder. This is only the tip of the iceberg since it was built to view and possibly service the entire range of organs within the chest and bowels.

With such a great tool, Jacobaus was determined to popularize it. As Grzegorz S. Litynski states, he “was an energetic proponent of laparoscopy” and his “remarkable work on laparothorascopy (170 pages!) was published only several months later” (Litynski).  The technology was a success long term, however, Ltynski states that “, laparoscopy did not make much headway into mainstream medical practice before the First World War” (Litynski).

Fig 3: Laparoscopic Procedure to Remove Bowel Adhesions

Once the technology became trusted, it was quickly followed up with more complex variations which moved the physician further away from the patient by allowing cameras to broadcast the visual to a display for better viewing. This opened the technology up to many more applications, especially when prominent pioneers, such as In Bae Yoon specialized in adding to the possibilities of laparoscopy procedures starting from the 1970s. In the article “In Bae Yoon, an Inventor and Pioneer in Laparoscopic Surgery”, author Yonsei Med J. writes that Dr. In Bae Yoon was “tinkering with and inventing safety systems for laparoscopic procedures. He built devices needed in general surgery, such as retractable instruments, stents, needles, sutures, clip appliers, trocars, and catheters” (Yonsei Med J.). It also eventually became a commonplace tool for gynecology inpatient and outpatient surgeries. Like many medical technologies, it took decades to catch on, however, this once groundbreaking tool is here to stay.

The United Kingdom National Health Service states that “minor complications are estimated to occur in 1 or 2 out of every 100 cases following laparoscopy” (NHS) and also “serious complications after laparoscopy are estimated to occur in 1 out of every 1,000 cases” (NHS). This number of complications is low enough that patients should prefer it to any other more invasive methods. Besides the benefits and applications, the real and primary benefit most will encounter will be the ability for a patient to leave a clinic post surgery within 24 hours with minimal to no scarring!

Fig 4: Gallbladder Surgery Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy vs Open Cholecystectomy

References:

“Laparoscopy.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 2754, 1913, pp. 959–959. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/25307391. Accessed 28 Sept. 2020.

Nakayama, D. K., Don K. Nakayama, MD, MBA. (2017). 10 The minimally invasive operations that … – facs.org. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from https://www.facs.org/-/media/files/archives/shg-poster/2017/10_minimally_invasive.ashx?la=en

Hufeland, C. W. (1806). Journal Der Practischen Arzneykunde Und Wundarzneykunst, 1809, Vol. 29 (Classic Reprint). Germany: Wittich.

Litynski GS. Laparoscopy–the early attempts: spotlighting Georg Kelling and Hans Christian Jacobaeus. JSLS. 1997;1(1):83-85.

Bai S. W. (2018). In Bae Yoon, an Inventor and Pioneer in Laparoscopic Surgery. Yonsei medical journal59(8), 909–911. https://doi.org/10.3349/ymj.2018.59.8.909

Fig 1

Unkown photographer. Laparscopy. Unknown year.  Camran Nezhat Institute. Medium. Accessed 9/30/2020.

Minimally invasive surgery – laparoscopic surgery

http://nezhat.org/minimally-invasive-surgery-laparoscopic-surgery/embed/#?secret=GSs5lDjGGT

Fig 2

Nucleus Medical Media Inc / Alamy Stock Photo. Laparoscopic Trocar Placement with Subsequent Arterial Damage. 28 June 2001.  Alamy Stock.
https://www.alamy.com/laparoscopic-trocar-placement-with-subsequent-arterial-damage-image7710046.html

Fig 3

Nucleus Medical Media Inc / Alamy Stock Photo. Laparoscopic Procedure to Remove Bowel Adhesions. 1 February 2001. Museum/Collection Name, City. Alamy Stock. Accessed 9/30/2020.

https://www.alamy.com/laparoscopic-procedure-to-remove-bowel-adhesions-image7711738.html

Fig 4

Nucleus Medical Media Inc / Alamy Stock Photo. Gallbladder Surgery Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy vs Open Cholecystectomy. 1 February 2001.  Alamy Stock. Accessed 9/30/2020.
https://www.alamy.com/gallbladder-surgery-laparoscopic-cholecystectomy-vs-open-cholecystectomy-image7711871.html

In Defense of Smart Homes with Smart Speakers

Soooo I have 9 smart speakers in my home now. They did not catch on with me immediately but over a period of time I have found them to be more and more useful. I heard it all when I first blindly jumped in 3 years ago: “They are listening to you”. After much research I’ve concluded “they” are but I give up a little privacy for convenience.. and convenience is what I’ve found — and it’s sweet.

For now all but 1 of the devices I own are Google Home speakers. They are a major alternative to wiring up my home with actual speakers. Since my home has 5 bedrooms and plenty of dead zones, the portability factor make them perfect for filling the house.

  1. Kitchen (Home)
  2. Living (Mini)
  3. Family Room (Mini)
  4. Office (Echo dot)
  5. My bedroom (Home)
  6. Kid 1’s room (Mini)
  7. Kid 2’s room (Mini)
  8. Loft (Mini)
  9. A Mini not placed anywhere yet… thinking either Garage or patio.

At first the kids and my wife used the Google home for music and homework but after helping my extended family set up their Google Home in our home and realizing I could get an entire home sound system on the cheap, I quickly bought 7 more and did just that.

I now have several zones for music:

  1. Kitchen and family room (the default for most music)
  2. The downstairs
  3. The downstairs, loft and my room
  4. The upstairs

After all of the talk of music though, can one expect there is more? Yes, much more. With 5 bedrooms, I have no alternatives for calling anyone in the home besides a: yelling b: running from room to room or c: installing an in-house intercom.

As it turns out, the Google Home and Amazon Echo devices provide exactly that service. The Amazon devices provide live feeds where the Google home devices provide one way messages using the command “broadcast”.

This has made our home quieter and the children so much more responsive.

Lastly did you know this can make your smart home even smarter? There are so many home automation opportunities which honestly, I have not yet begun to imagine, though there are plenty who have and are proud of it. It’s a real “Star Trek” experience and certainly one which only gets better as more devices are configured in one’s home.

Next time you are in a place where Google Home or Echo devices are sold, do yourself a favor and buy one or more for your home. Also don’t worry about the privacy.. leave that to the techies who continue to defend the rest of us from companies who take too much.

Artificial Intelligence Using Python and Neural Networks in Visual Studio 2019 (updated 6/1/19)

You’ve heard about it, you are curious, but can’t seem to get started. Do you have a background in .Net or Java? Getting started with AI is very much within your grasp. Most every major company has a strategy for AI, does yours? Whether or not you are working with a team which is driving AI research, this should not prevent you from moving forward. What are the reasons you are interested in the technology? Once this is answered, it’ll make the next steps easier.

What is AI? Wikipedia describes it as “the study of ‘intelligent agents’: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal.” (Wikipedia). It goes on to say the term is used when “a machine mimics ‘cognitive’ functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as ‘learning’ and ‘problem solving’.” (Wikipedia) Think of an artificial agent as one to many infant minds that needs to be trained and will have their own unique personalities, one that you have some influence over.

Though the term is broadly used, often times in the context of a rules engine or a type of Workflow Foundation logic, this article will focus on modern neural networks with supervised and unsupervised “deep learning”. These types of AIs are typically very resource intensive and will challenge any hardware you may be able to supply, including any cloud systems which can be given. For this article, the minimum requirements will be that of a modern laptop running 64 bit Windows 7 and meets the requirements of Visual Studio 2019 (this would include an m5/i3 processor, 8GB ram and above).

What is the best language for AI? The answer is still a resounding Python. Though there are numerous libraries available in C#, most of the advanced highly scalable libraries which are readily available for use have been written in Python. There are also many active communities which regularly supply new scripts on a daily basis and new optimization which are only realized in that space. Further, Microsoft is a supporter of the language and has been for several years now. This includes direct support within Visual Studio, articles on MSDN and integrations within Azure. Also Python is one of the few languages which continues to get major enhancements with each new edition.

How are neural networks and data science related?

The two are not the same, though neural networks and Python can be used for data science, data science will not get a high score in a game or automate processes. Though often related, the language R is used for data science and statistics.

Libraries such as TensorFlow and SciPy make AI a breeze.

Introducing the players:

Visual Studio – The preferred IDE for most Microsoft developers. Python support has been available since 2010. It offers a standard debugging ID, framework management and an immediate window.

Tensorflow – an industry grade open source library from Google which allows developers to create scalable machine learning software. Used widely throughout Google’s portfolio, it’s easily one of the best tools available for complex projects.

OpenAI Gym – a tool which allows developers to train and test their deep learning algorithms. There are several applications and games available for it, and the list continues to grow. Each test application has a set of standardized inputs allowing developers to quickly leverage them. It is currently fully supported on Linux and is available exclusively for Python although other languages are on the way.

Python – the most popular and widely supported language for the development of machine learning and data science algorithms.

How to get started

For this tutorial, you will need to have Visual studio with the Python Workflow (PTVS) and Python for windows.

Install Visual Studio 2019.

The Community Edition is easy to get ahold of and should allow you to quickly get started however all versions work with Python. Browse to the visual studio site and download the version which pertains to your license. There is no need to uninstall older versions since 2019 can be installed safely over them.

https://visualstudio.microsoft.com/vs/

If you already have Visual Studio 2019 set up, go to Apps & Features (Windows 10) to modify the Visual Studio installation.  If prompted to update the installer, be sure to as many of the capabilities required were not part of the initial release of Visual Studio 2019

Select the Python Development checkbox

If not already selected, be sure to select Python miniconda as it will deliver many of the core libraries needed for machine learning.

Optionally if you have Visual Studio 2019 installed, you can update it through the Extensions and Updates view:

To read more about this process, visit: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/visualstudio/install/update-visual-studio

Unfortunately this does not install everything needed to proceed with Python for AI. You will need to install items inside of Visual Studio once it launches.

Now you are ready to launch Visual Studio.

Hello World Setup:

Once you’ve launched Visual Studio, select Create a new Project

Select “Python Application” from the project template and click Next

Here you can give it a name. For this you can title it “HelloPython”.

For the purposes of the exercise you will need to get up and running with TensorFlow. 

Make sure Python 3.7 is selected at the top of the screen in the dropdown menu.

Note, if 3.7 is not available from the dropdown menu at the top, it can be added at any time by clicking on the menu and selecting  >  “Add Environment”. Here you can select Python 3.7 64-bit.

If you are reading this when a newer version of Python is available but is not compatible with Tensorflow, you can always go to the Python Download site and pick up the version you need. It will show up in Visual Studio for selection later. From the MSDN Documentation:

If you’ve installed a distribution outside of the Visual Studio installer, there’s no need to check the equivalent option here. Visual Studio automatically detects existing Python installations. See The Python Environments window. Also, if a newer version of Python is available than what’s shown in the installer, you can install that version separately and Visual Studio will detect it.”

Install Libraries 

At the top of the Visual Studio screen click on the green package icon next to the selected python environment.

When the “Python Environments” tab appears on the right hand side of the screen, select “Python 3.7 (64-bit)”.

Just below you’ll see a search box and 2 or more green packages. The green package icons indicate already installed libraries. The up arrow button indicates an update is available for the package, and the X will delete the package.

Before starting, it is advisable to update pip and setuptools by pressing the up-arrow button or you will see a notice with every installation moving forward.

Install Tensorflow

Tensorflow comes in two different builds – CPU Only and GPU. When using the GPU version, the speed improvement can be immense. A modern NVidia GPU will help yield a performance boost up to several times over a comparable run on a CPU.

Due to the complexity of configuring the GPU setup, this exercise will focus on CPU only.

Type tensorflow in the search box and click “’pip install tensorflow’ from PyPi” (or press enter after typing it in).

A successful install should produce the following text in the Output window:

“—– Successfully installed ‘tensorflow’ —–“

If you are getting this error:

“Could not find a version that satisfies the requirement tensorflow (from versions: )

No matching distribution found for tensorflow”

You have not selected the appropriate version of Python.

Running the code: 

Now switch to the Solution Explorer tab. You should see the HelloPython.py file. Above it, expand the Python 3.7 (64-bit)  Python Environment. It should now have considerably more than it did before. In particular, it should have Tensorflow.

In the code window paste in the following code:

import tensorflow as Tf

S = Tf.Session()

H = Tf.constant(‘Hello World’)

print(S.run(H))

That’s it.
Go ahead and click the green “play” button.

A console window should appear with “b’Hello World'”

This means your TensorFlow environment is running!

Code Quality

Since we, as good Visual Studio coders, always should remember code quality (as well as code security..), I will mention the easiest way to assure code quality is to install PyLint.

Install PyLint by right clicking on the project, selecting “Python” then “Run PyLint”. This will allow you quickly install PyLint or run it if it’s already set up.

If this doesn’t work, go back to the Python Environments tab, type pylint into the search box and install it.

For this sample, we are getting a score of somewhere between 2.5 and 5.0 out of 10. Not bad for the first time!

Tutorial setup:

Now it’s time to begin learning how to build a fully capable Machine Learning project.

Open a new instance of Visual Studio and select “Clone or check out code”

Enter the repository location: https://github.com/tflearn/tflearn

For the purposes of the tutorial this will help you get up and running with SciPy, TensorFlow and other libraries to analyze an Atari 2600 version of PacMan. 

Browse to the “Examples>reinforcement_learning>atari_1step_qlearning.py” file and open it.

As in the previous example, make sure Python 3.7 is selected at the top of the screen in the dropdown menu.

Install More Libraries 

At the top of the Visual Studio screen click on the green package icon next to the selected python environment.

OpenAI Gym

Now it’s time to install OpenAI Gym. OpenAI Gym is a tool which allows the testing and training of artificial intelligent models and agents.

The support for it has been shaky in the past and it may not work the first time. Before trying the workarounds, simply try installing gym directly by typing “gym” in the search box and install it.

If unsuccessful:

Note:  The below binaries may be dated. You may have to download more recent versions but use the below as a base. Also, AMD64 is what you should target.

When completed, type this into the install package name field:  [YOUR USER PROFILE PATH]\Downloads\numpy-1.12.1+mkl-cp35-cp35m-win_amd64.whl

A successful install should output:

—– Successfully installed ‘C:\Users\Owner\Downloads\numpy-1.12.1+mkl-cp35-cp35m-win_amd64.whl’ —–

This should allow you to finish installing OpenAI Gym.

Type gym in the packages field and click the “pip install gym” link below it.

Type “gym[atari]” into the search field and install it

—– Successfully installed ‘gym[atari]’ —–

Now that everything is installed, it’s time to run the first sample.

Browse to examples > reinforcement_learning > atari_1step_qlearning.py and right click and run without debugging the file.

If successful, you should see a bunch of little Atari Pacman windows pop up and run alongside a console window.

Congratulations, you are well on your way to Machine Learning through Visual Studio!

Basics

Now that you have been through 2 samples below are the definitions of some of the things you’ve touched on.

New terminology

Wheel – A zip file with a whl extension containing a distribution of a framework or module that can be referenced and used by Python applications.

CUDA – is a parallel computing platform and application programming interface (API) model created by Nvidia.[1] It allows software developers and software engineers to use a CUDA-enabled graphics processing unit (GPU) for general purpose processing – an approach termed GPGPU (General-Purpose computing on Graphics Processing Units). The CUDA platform is a software layer that gives direct access to the GPU’s virtual instruction set and parallel computational elements, for the execution of compute kernels.

MKL – Intel Math Kernel Library (Intel MKL) is a library of optimized math routines for science, engineering, and financial applications. Core math functions include BLAS, LAPACK, ScaLAPACK, sparse solvers, fast Fourier transforms, and vector math. The routines in MKL are hand-optimized specifically for Intel processors.[4][5]

BLAS – Pronounced “Blahs” The BLAS (Basic Linear Algebra Subprograms) are routines that provide standard building blocks for performing basic vector and matrix operations. The Level 1 BLAS perform scalar, vector and vector-vector operations, the Level 2 BLAS perform matrix-vector operations, and the Level 3 BLAS perform matrix-matrix operations. Because the BLAS are efficient, portable, and widely available, they are commonly used in the development of high quality linear algebra software, LAPACK for example.

From <http://www.netlib.org/blas/&gt;

AI Practical Uses:

fraud and anomaly detection, character and speech recognition, data routing, search engines, suggestions and gaming.

Frameworks

Local AI:

Microsoft ML.Net
Keras
Theano
Google TensorFlow
Intel Nervana

Cloud:

Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit
IBM Watson
Google Tensorflow in DataLab
Amazon Alexa

Many of the technologies listed above have been around in various forms for many years but much of the major AI investments have been in IBM, Google, Amazon and Microsoft technologies.

It’s important to note that Microsoft and Google platforms both support GPU capabilities for acceleration. I recommend you consider the Udacity course “Introduction to Parallel Programming With Cuda”. This can be found on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F620ommtjqk&list=PLGvfHSgImk4aweyWlhBXNF6XISY3um82_

References and Further Reading:

Step up to Recurrent Neural Networks:

https://visualstudiomagazine.com/articles/2015/10/01/recurrent-neural-networks.aspx

https://github.com/GGaritaJ/ggHelperDocs/blob/master/Machine_Learning_Using_C_Sharp_Succinctly.pdf

Deep Learning Demystified

Kaggle 

https://www.kaggle.com/

Monkey brain research

http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~sereno/201/readings/04.08-CrossModalV4.pdf

Free Stock data – CSV exports

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/754593/source-of-historical-stock-data

Windows Power Management Needs Work

I have 3 computers in my home which refuse to sleep or stay in a state of standby. I thought it was a virus, an issue with my motherboard, router and a number of other things. Little did I know that Windows power management was to blame. PowerCFG is the powertool which controls whether or not Windows sleeps or remains awake. It’s highly slanted in favor of the latter. For instance I found the following things keep my computers up at night:

Legacy 16 bit applications (Living storybooks, childrens games) on 32 bit builds of windows.

Windows Automatic Updates

File sharing

Faulty power settings on USB devices

Just to name a few.

Window’s users are told to reboot their machine’s daily to basically prevent issues like this. I rarely reboot my tablet or phones unless absolutely necessary.

PowerCFG is a command line only power management tool. There is also a Power Options control panel. Lastly there are power options available in the bios settings of your motherboard. Some work, some are overridden.

In your quest to put your computer to sleep at night it’s best to shut the darn thing down. If you’re like me and can’t stand re-opening everything, prepare for some serious troubleshooting.

Task killers and the iOS

Why are there so many tips on how to kill tasks on the iPhone to free up memory.

The iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad are not the same as their Droid or Windows counterparts

Many have read tips online or have been advised by their Droid friends to close the most recently opened apps via Apple’s own built in task bar.

NOT ALL APPS BEING DISPLAYED IN THIS BAR ARE RUNNING!

The bar serves as an app-state registry and a recent app switcher. Unless the app is explicitly written to be uses by one of the 7 Apple back-grounding services, any app besides the first 1-3 displayed in that bar aren’t running. Try shutting down the phone completely and turning it back on. You’ll notice a number of apps still in the task bar. They are not running. Tapping on them will launch the app from scratch.

When applications such as Skype prompt you when a call is coming in, it doesn’t mean the app was actually running in memory. It means there is a service set up to accept push notifications for Skype. Answering the call simply re-launches the application and takes you to the location where the incoming call/notification can be handled.

So why does the bar exist? There are times when an application hangs, crashes, or acts buggy. Only then is it worthwhile to force-close the application from the task bar.

Another dead MacBook

Maybe I’m unlucky but I’ve had yet a 3rd Mac laptop die. The first time the warranty repair company ruined it and voided the warranty (yes I thought it was strange too but I was out a laptop in the end). The second time the logic board died a week after the warranty expired and 2 weeks after it had been in repair through AppleCare. I thought the second time would be the last Apple laptop purchase I’d make. Fast forward almost 10 years and I’m in the same boat again. Another logic board, again on a pro-model Apple laptop. Once again there is absolutely nothing Apple can do.
In this case I did not lost a lot of money since I specifically bought a used Macbook.

How to Get the Right Hotel or Motel by Looking Online

Gone are the days of picking a motel based on the price or the look.

Reviews and first-hand experiences tell the tale.

The most dingy looking motel may offer up the best location combined with the fair pricing and the nicest rooms. So what is the best way to find a good room to stay for your next trip? Follow this step by step guide

Google Maps

Google has come a long way. It is now directly competing with all of the travel resources, in fact I would argue this should be the first stop for the weary traveler.
To start

  1. Center on the destination(s) you are traveling to by searching for it, then zoom in on the area surrounding it which would be suitable for a good night stay
  2. In the search, type either “Motel” or “Hotel”
  3. Motels and hotels will be shown
  4. Click the red icon for each location
  5. Click the “Reviews” link
  6. To get an idea of the quality of each location, look at the rating and perform an average on the first few. You will mainly be interested in the most recent reviews. The more ‘Excellent” and “Good” reviews a location gets, the better it will be. Reviews don’t lie.

Benefits

  • Location based searching
  • Honest reviews
  • Prices at a glance

Disadvantages

  • Searches may not include all hotels or motels
  • Searches do not include vacancy information

Travelocity.com / Hotels.Com / Motels.com / Booking.com

These sites will help you run price and quality comparison between locations but do not start out with a map of your destination unless the city itself is your destination.

The map feature is a secondary citizen but still accessible.

These sites should be used as a cross reference to verify the reviews found on Google maps and possibly to book the room if the prices are better.

Benefits

  • If most Hotels are booked in the desired area, these sites will quickly tell you at a glance.

Disadvantages

  • Unless you specifically use the map feature, you may get a place 20-30 miles away
  • Not all hotels and motels are in their systems.

 

How to sell (or get rid of) your stuff on Craigslist

“Make money online”. There are many ways to do this, but they require a product.

The easiest way to find a product to make money with is to look around your very own residence. Yes, the bookshelves, that bicycle you haven’t ridden. Yes even the kitchen sink you just replaced.

As it turns out, Craigslist gets more eyes than practically any other sales outlet. Pawn shops, thrift stores, garage sales can only be seen when the shopper is physically present where Craigslist can be seen 24/7 and through sites other than Google.

Pricing

Do a search for your item online. Find out what it costs retail. If you can’t find it, look for it on eBay. Look at the price there.
The rule of thumb for Craigslist pricing:
Items which are fairly new and not outdated – ask 60% of retail
Items which are still fairly new but are outdated – ask 40% of retail.
Items which are multiple generations old but still in good condition – ask 20-30% of retail.

Remember, these are approximates. Another tip is to look on eBay at items which have sold, then knock about 15% off the price. Why? Because eBay charges that to the seller. Craigslist does not.

Wording

Keep the description simple. Try to spend more time on the benefits. Be confident.

For extra measure, search for product specifications to copy and paste in the ad. The more time a person spends on your ad, the more likely they will be to purchase yours and not someone else’s.

Keep it Current

Be sure to keep your items current. This means logging in to your Craigslist account every other day and pressing the “Renew” button. This button will only be available for roughly 10 renewals, after which you will need to delete the ad and re-post it.

Unfortunately there are times when the ads have been seen by too many people. Many of the people who are interested will have seen your item in the first 48 hours of it being posted. This is where the next topic comes in.

Be Prepared to Lower the Price

 Make it a habit to lower the price of your product by at least 10% every time you renew the ad. There will be many people interested in your item but will refuse to click on it because it’s priced too high. If you fail to lower it at the time of re-posting, the price difference will not be noticed when it goes into effect.

Taking Calls

If you’re like most people, taking calls during work hours is nearly impossible. This should not prevent you from leaving a phone number. Make sure the number you leave has the ability to receive voice mail and text messages. This will be very important to the quick closure of the sale.
The easier it is to get in touch with you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to sell the product.

The Negotiation

Chances are, the person who you are about to meet is going to be ready to talk the price of your product down even further. They may have even spoken to you about a lower price on the phone or by text prior to meeting you.

Read this page to see what buyer’s are prepared to use for negotiations. http://www.ehow.com/how_5174909_negotiate-deals-craigslist.html 

Not every buyer is out to get make your price drop. Some negotiations are genuine. If the buyer knows about a lower price for the item at the nearby shop, or the blue-book value of the vehicle is lower than your selling price then be open for suggestions.

Consider Posting in the FREE Stuff Section

Why would you spend your time posting free items on Craigslist when it could go to the dumpster or Goodwill?

1) Free items may eventually make it to Goodwill or another charity you are unaware of.

2) Many charities throw items they deem unsaleable in the trash.

3) If you can convince someone to stop by your home, it will save you the time and effort of hauling whatever it was away to a charity or a dump!

Craigslist Do’s and Don’ts

DO include your phone number

DO NOT sell highly collectible items. There are just not enough eyes on Craigslist. You’ll fetch half or less than what you’ll get on eBay. If you’re willing to do this, go for it.

DO NOT to sell highly broken items unless you are certain the parts are worth money.

DO list all of the items defects. It is not cool to hope the person will not see these defects.

DO NOT fix an item just to the point of working so it will fall apart right when the person gets it. This will come back around to you in one form or another. You are selling to a person in YOUR community. Do the right thing.

DO list as much as you can in the Free section. you’ll be surprised at who is willing to drive across town to pick up a free item!

About eBay

eBay is great but is hampered by quite a few rules and can cost a good chunk of money. Expect to lose 10-15% of your sale to eBay and PayPal fees. Also most every item listed on eBay will need to be shipped. This means you should plan on spending at least 30 minutes to an hour to box up an item and take it to the post office.
If this is acceptable, by all means, use EBay.

eBay Benefits

Never have to meet or see the person
Your money comes in fairly quickly once the sale is complete
You can sell to the world instead of your local city.

eBay Drawbacks

Costly
Risky for the seller since the buyer can file a complaint for the product
Heavy handed policies. Complaints or broken rules can lead to the permanent closure of your account as well as a permanent ban.
The interface can be slow at times

Craigslist Benefits

No fees
Most deals will turn into cash
You can meet the person face to face
People can drive to your home
Free section

Taxes

Craigslist transactions may be subject to taxes, especially for companies which think they are operating under the radar on Craigslist. Expect that each of your sales can and will be reported to the IRS. The history of your sales stays with your account for many years. Also each of your sales and personal information are publicly available.
Be sure to take into account taxes of your sales. See the link below:
http://tax.findlaw.com/federal-taxes/do-you-need-to-report-your-online-sales-to-the-irs.html

That concludes this short article. Please send feedback.