Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Email Best Practices

Note: This post was originally written for my personal blog, but since Timbercrest was the inspiration and the immediate audience I want to reach, I am publishing it here as well.

I have come to realize that a good portion of my life has centered around email. When I got out of college I was assigned to the email support team of my company and quickly became the one stop shop for 40,000 employees email accounts, I did that for four years. I also started a small computer repair shop/consulting firm during that time and did a good deal of small business email configurations. During my time as "Computer Joey" (that was my business' name if you didn't figure it out) I also had a chance to talk at schools about technology and how to be safe on the internet. Those talks came to mind when I was building a contact list for my homeowners association. Long story short, I think it would be helpful to list some pointers about incorporating email into your life:

  1. In your email address, refrain from putting any personal information (besides your name) before the "@" sign. Examples of this are: Your birthday (JohnDoe01051975@yahoo.com), your home address number (NancyDoe80@yahoo.com), Any part of your social security number, Don't include your zip code, don't include your age, etc.

  2. If you are still in the work force, try to avoid using "cute" email address names like "SweetSk8rgurl@yahoo.com". If you lose your job you don't want to put an email address like that on your resume, and checking multiple accounts can get tiresome. On the flip side, if you are retired or close to it you might want to avoid putting hobbies into your email address. Example: "Mustanglover40@hotmail.com" could make you an easy target for an internet scammer. They might find an in by sending you an email about Mustangs or classic cars.

  3. Try to avoid using the email account that your internet service provider's (Comcast, Verizon) gives you. If all of your friends know your email address is John.Doe@comcast.net and you decide to change service providers, you will lose that address and your friends might not be able to find you. I suggest signing up for a free account at Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail. They provide a huge amount of space for free and those accounts tie into to other great free services. My personal recommendation is Gmail but you should check them all out to see what you like best.

  4. Try to avoid forwarding chain letters. If you don't know what a chain letter is, basically any email that asks you to forward to all of your friends is a chain letter and spammers can use those chain letters to get your email address.

  5. On that note, whenever you are sending out an email to a large group of people, use the BCC feature (BCC = Blind Carbon Copy). There is always somebody in the group who decides to Reply to All and the next thing you know your inbox is full with generic responses, this will eliminate that problem.

  6. You should not use company email for personal use. You can't control your friends from emailing you something you should not get at work, don't put yourself in that situation. I would also suggest that students leave their school accounts for school only (it is an easy way to find someone).

  7. Don't say anything in email that you would not say to anyone's face. It is easy to form a sense of detachment when you are sitting in front of a computer, remember there is a human being that is going to read that email.

I think that is good for now. Good luck out there on the internet and try to be safe.

Other Useful Email Tips:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Tale of my Paver Patio

Allison and I bought our house in November of 2007. I think it was a warm fall because we still had leaves on the trees in the back and what I thought was a decent amount of grass for November. As the months went on and we entered the spring, my back yard was consistently a mud pit. I always ruined shoes when going out there and we eventually stopped using the yard unless it was bone dry and hot as Hades (which has it's own issues). Whenever it would rain I would have standing water all over the yard (which brings out the mosquitoes) and the stamped concrete patio I had under my deck was completely warped I had a pool sitting on the concrete too. Something had to be done.

The Old Yard:

In the summer of 2008 I started calling several landscaping and concrete contractors to come out and give me estimates. People were quoting me $20,000.00 for a 18x20 concrete patio. It became clear that my home being a middle unit in a townhouse community (with poor rear access), contractors just didn't want to do the job. We had at least 15 people come out before I decided to wait until the winter when they would all be hungry.

True to my plan, I started calling new contractors (I wasn't giving any of the guys who came before a second chance). First I had to get my deck redone which was something we didn't plan to do but was becoming a huge safety concern for us. You can read about that here. As the deck was getting done, I established a good relationship with the construction crew, so I would have them evaluate the landscape contractors coming through. They gave excellent feedback on the parade of contractors coming through and helped me get my number down.

The first thing I did was price out the materials myself. To do a 18x20 paver patio, the proper base, put a mulch bed around the sides and back... my material cost came to about $2500.00. A friend of mine had used Mike's Hardscaping in Marlton for a job and he said they were very reasonable. So I started there. They took WEEKS to get back to me but when they finally did the quote was reasonable, but I wanted to entertain other offers. We had Ace Pavers, Quality Landscaping, Eaise Landscaping, Create-a-scape, Think Pavers they all came in higher than Mike's. We also had Sun Viking come out. Now I am sure if you have been driving in the neighborhood the last 2 weeks you have seen the trucks and know that I went with them. Derek from Sun Viking was very knowledgeable about the pavers and how he wanted to approach the job. Some of the other hardscapers recommended a retaining wall and I started to think it would be a good idea to get one due to the slope in my yard. The other hardscapers came in with RIDICULOUS estimates for the retaining wall, Derek's quote was more on the level to me. Derek handed me a 2 page list of references encouraged me to call; that is what pushed me over the edge to go with Sun Viking. They weren't the cheapest (they were the 2nd) but when it was all said and done, I felt they would do the best job.


The guys at Sun Viking completely exceeded my expectations with the job they performed. Simply excellent work and the crew was incredibly nice (Dave - one of the workers - even let me film him for one of my comedy websites). Little things like going back and checking the quality of the pavers and quality of their cuts completely validated my decision. One of the lead workers (also named Dave) got a bad stomach bug and missed a day and when he came back, didn't like the look of some of the corner cuts another worker had done, so he redid them. Top notch work ethic like that is what makes me glad to recommended Sun Viking to anyone.

I also want to apologize to my neighbors. I was under the impression that the land behind the fences before the wooded area was a common walking area, although I am not 100% sure where our properties end now (getting the official survey from the township). Had I known I would have asked first and thank you for your understanding to allow us to continue. Also extra special thanks to my neighbors at the end unit for letting both sets of crews go on your front lawn to get all that material in the back.

Here is the final product:

Here is a quick run down of how much the other contractors cost (in percentage compared to Sun Viking)

1. Ace Pavers - 12% More
2. Quality Landscaping - 12% More
3. Create-a-scape - 17% More
4. Nick's Curb Appeal - 29% More
5. Think Pavers - 23% More
6. Dom's Hardscaping - 34% More
7. Eaise Design - 36% More
8. Mike's Hardscaping - 4% Less

If you have any questions about this project or the deck, please feel free to contact me through the Timbercrest site, I would be happy to answer. Thanks for reading!

PS - In case you were wondering, no I did not get a kickback from anybody. I just want to share this information to save you time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Having my Deck Replaced

Hi everyone!
As most of my immediate neighbors know, I recently had my deck replaced. This was something I was not looking forward to doing, but it was getting so bad (especially the stairs), that something had to be done. I was debating on having someone shore it up and give it a good cleaning, but honestly that would have bought me a year or two so I opted to get the whole thing replaced.

Being a middle house in a townhome community, getting things done in your backyard is easier said than done (as I am sure most of you know). So I started making phone calls. I started in the summer and to summarize: nobody wanted to do the work because of the additional manual labor of bringing the materials around a very small pathway. I waited until the winter and started making calls again. I had several vendors out and eventually decided on CK Construction. They didn't charge a crazy fee to get the old deck out and the new materials in and frankly the account rep Dennis was nicer and had more knowledge about the products he used. CK also had a very competitive price (they weren't the cheapest, but I viewed them as the best solution).

CK Construction
4 N Hood Ave
Audubon, NJ 08106
(856) 672-9293
CK Construction
Email: ckcdecks1@comcast.net

So once the contracts were signed, we had to get permits from the Mantua Township Construction Office (Link). I had to meet with the zoning offer Ted to work out the logistics of where the deck was going to be set vs. the laws (which had recently changed, and thankfully in my favor). Once the permits were signed, it was on to construction. I also want to thank my neighbors at 12 and 16 (I am not going to put the street down for security reasons), for being okay with the workers going on their property to get to the back.

It took the guys 6 business days to get the old deck out and new deck in. The men on site were complete professionals (and on a side note had excellent tips for Xbox360 games). I wanted to share this information with my neighbors because I had a heck of a time getting a contractor to even do the job let alone give me a fair price, and CK Construction did both. And in case you are wondering, no I am not getting a kick-back for putting this up :-)

Pictures of the old deck:

Pictures of the New Deck:

Check back next week for story of the paver patio!
- Joey