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June 17th, 2005

What it means

Slightly Off the Mark is the title of a weekly column I do for our small town newspaper, the Albion New Era (www.app-printing.com/newera.htm). My persona -- somewhat befuddled, mechanically incompetent regular guy -- combined with my name, made for the title, which actually comes from a line in a story about bowling scores. Since it's a weekly column, I expect you'll see it, oh, I don't know ... weekly.

By the way, since I actually get paid for the column, the subtitle of my site is misleading -- but I'll have trouble thinking of myself as a "real" writer until my fiction gets published.

Jumping Through Mini Hoops

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

You know how you can start doing something simple, and after a great deal more time and effort than anticipated, regret ever starting to begin with?

Me, too.

My original plan was to write a column about dumb laws – an easy column. But during my research, I ran into a web log by a man who mentioned an add promising a free Mac Mini, basically to those who provide the company with free advertising.

I ignore such ads, under the too good to be true theory, but this guy checked it out and claimed the deal was for real. A Mac Mini is a $500 computer, which can be a small investment in return for exposing a company name to prospective costumers.

I really, really wanted that computer.

After doing some checking, I found the company was on the level, at least to the extent of not pulling a scam to get your identify, or credit card number. Ah, but there's no such thing as a free ride, and I soon discovered that my ride would be a long and bumpy one.

It was, in theory, a simple, three step process. First, type in every bit of information accumulated over your entire life. No problem. Privacy? I gave up on privacy long ago; heck, I shout out my social security number to strangers on street corners. There was the possibility of attracting those uncannily annoying spammers that fill an e-mail box with all sorts of sexual enhancement products and money making opportunities. To combat that I gave my old e-mail address, not used since it became a spam convention months ago.

So far so good.

Second step: Sign up for some of these GREAT NEW OFFERS! Why do these people yell at us? If the offers are so great, they should yell for themselves.

But I digress. I chose the GREAT NEW OFFER of a low interest, no fee credit card, knowing I wouldn't be accepted. The web site didn't say I had to spend money; just that I had to go through the GREAT NEW OFFER acceptance hoops.

Third: Sacrifice your friends on the alter of commercialism. That's not what they call it, of course. They call it “Tell all your friends!” Specifically, send your friends an e-mail, telling them of this great site and all the miraculous things they can expect. Then you don't have to worry about having friends anymore.

You're even given a template, a little website brag to be pasted into an e-mail. I don't know how they can tell, with no live link between my e-mail program and their web site, and it's a little scary wondering if they have some way of knowing. Maybe Santa Clause has all those Macs. Just in case, I did send the word on, in the same way I used to send chain letters before I gave up on the whole good luck thing: I sent it to the people I don't like. If you didn't get an e-mail from me, singing the praises of a web site that wants to give me a computer, I like you. Or I don't have your e-mail address.

I could also accomplish this part by signing up for a free t-shirt with the company logo on it; the ultimate cheap advertising. But when I clicked on that I was informed I also had to sign up for several more GREAT NEW OFFERS, and I already had a headache from being yelled at.

Finally, I hit that last button. My old computer proceeded to tell me to finish the application process. Perhaps it was jealous. More likely, that GREAT NEW OFFERS demanded an actual financial disbursement, after all. Or, maybe my e-mail program has some way to tell if I really was thrilled to be giving everyone a great new opportunity.

It had now been over an hour since I began the quick and simple process of getting my Mac Mini.

I went back, and discovered another way to get credit for helping them advertise was to post their website on Live Journal. Some of my friends have been telling me to get my own Live Journal for awhile now, as a place to get my thoughts, feelings, poetry and embarrassing pictures recognized, so I figured, why not? I went to their website.

They wanted every detail of my life, including blood type, dating history and retinal scans. Then they suggested posting a picture of myself to accompany my entries. Do you think I keep good pictures of myself laying around? Do you think there ARE any good pictures of myself?

After several attempts, I hit a button that said, Congratulations! You will be a member of Live Journal as soon as you get an e-mail, click on it, and jump through still more hoops! Cool. It only took me another hour.

I spent half a day on this. I could work a street corner in Chicago for that time and get enough money to buy my own Mini, without the frustration.

On the bright side, I now have my very own kinda-sorta website, but don't bother going there – I haven't had time to post anything.

And I'm not holding my breath on that computer thing.

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