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I have five phone lines. I know, it sounds insane at first—especially since up until a few years ago I'd only ever had one. But my wife got tired of the phone being tied up all the time because I was on the web.

I didn't mind it—I liked that the phone wasn't ringing. And I didn't think that she'd mind because she's rarely eager to answer the phone, much less talk into it. But you know how these things go. Within days of her pronouncement, we had another phone line. Now I could be on the web all day, and we could still talk on the phone.

That was all fine and good until she got a modem. Now we basically had two modem lines, and no line for talking. You can see what's coming.

My wife always thinks ahead. I think that women, in general, are more forward-thinking than men. If men were smart they'd just get out of their way, stay home and raise the kids, and let the women rule the world.

My wife doesn't disagree with this. In fact, she always tells me if I just go along with whatever she wants, then I'm freed of all responsibility. If something doesn't turn out right, then it was her decision and she can't blame me. (I can't blame her, either, but that's another story.) To me, giving up most decision-making at home is certainly worth giving up all possible spousal blame.

So she proclaims that we don't just need a third line, we need a third and fourth line. I'm wondering if this isn't excessive, and feel a little guilty because now I see why the phone companies keep adding all these new area codes. But I don't want to be responsible if we need a fourth at a later date, so I agree.

Of course, our house wasn't wired for four lines. So the phone installer comes out, crawls around under the house, drills, has to run lines through the garage, where he manages to get them wound into the garage door spring and breaks it so we can't open the garage door for three days and it costs $600 to fix, and then, like magic, we have four lines!

The fifth line was my idea. I wanted a cell phone. People think I'm at the leading edge of technology, and in many ways I am, but teenage girls were walking down the street chatting on HelloKitty cell phones while I was still searching for pay phones.

Of course, my wife had ideas about this, too—so we had to get one of those Lt. Uhura-like earpiece things so that we didn't hold the cell phone too close to our heads. Still, this made sense to me, since I can imagine that all the radio waves coming out of a cell phone aren't that much different than the radio waves inside a microwave oven and I don't like the idea of a half-baked brain.

I think five phone lines will be enough for the two of us for some time. But I haven't asked my wife, and she very well may have different ideas.

As so often happens, one thing leads to another, and I realized I needed another answering machine. At first I resisted. The last answering machine I bought was expensive and complicated with a big glowing red HAL9000-like button (really). Listening to messages remotely was so complicated I never could remember them. The instruction book said, "*Simply* press *1234 then wait for a beep, then press *011 then wait for another beep, then press *022 then #." Why, that's simplicity itself!

To avoid this I considered getting the phone company's voice mail service. But the fine print said it cost $20 to set up, plus $11 a month, and while I'm bad at math, I'm not so bad as to miss that it would cost $152 the first year.

So I looked on the web and found a new Casio TA-114 all-digital answering machine with more features than I'd ever seen (including a fun talking clock and a stylish semi-transparent blue case) for a big 20 bucks. It's very easy to use, too, because it tells me what to do. Just what I need, an appliance that tells me what to do—but hey, I enjoy that.

OK, so maybe I'm too easily amused. But little things like cheap, smart answering machines give me hope for the future. When computers cost $20 and tell you what to do, we'll be better off—as long as they're not too smart. That, of course, is best left to a spouse.

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Perfecting Your Press Release

Speaking of communication... In her article "The Traditional Press Release is Dead," marketer B.L. Ochman of whatsnextonline.com suggests the following info be included in a "made-for-the-Internet" press release format:

"Think of the electronic news release as a teaser to get a reporter or editor to your web site for additional information. Here's how the Internet-ready news release should work:

  • The lead paragraph of a release should state its point in 40 words or less. Of those 40 words, no more than six words should be used to describe what the company does.
  • Additional material about the company that is not directly related to the point of the story can be compiled in a separate paragraph below the lead or at the bottom of the page.
  • Writing style? Think of how you'd describe the story to a friend on a 30-second elevator ride. Pay attention to the way the stories on the nightly news are described during a 10-second commercial break on an earlier show. Listen carefully to the way radio news broadcasts relate the top stories of the day.
  • Make your entire release a maximum of 200 words or less, in 5 short paragraphs. Use the bulleted points "Who? What? Where? When? Why?" as paragraph headings." Read the rest here.

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I Was A Teenage Cell-Phone Mutant

As long as we're on the subject (or hovering somewhere near it) I recommend that you buy one of those "hands-free" earpiece things. They cost around $30—but it's worth it to keep those potentially brain-scrambling microwaves away from your sensitive little brain.

Pathologist and lawyer George Carlo, director of the Wireless Technology Research program, reviewed 75 studies of cell phone radiation and concluded there's enough evidence to raise serious questions about the safety of cell phones. While the FDA does not agree, it can't hurt to follow Carlo's advice: hold your cell phone antennas at least 2 inches from your head (or buy one of those earpieces).

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Share Your Web Page Notes

Here's another useful way to communicate—without having to add more phone lines! One of the great things about paper is that it lets you make notes on it. You can circle items of interest in a newspaper, draw a moustache on Survivor's Rudy, write notes about adding more cheese to your diet under a picture of Calista Flockhart, or highlight important words and phrases in books. You can use these paper-based things you didn't create, to create your own notes.

Now there's a way to do the same thing on the web. eQuill lets you download a small editing bar. Then you can make notes on any web page—and share your notes with someone else. No, not everyone in the world sees them, just whoever you send a referral e-mail to. It's easy. It's free. And it's very useful for when you're designing and building web sites because it lets your communicate with your clients about the pages, right on the pages.

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Free Voicemail, Email, And Fax All In One Place

If you don't even want to spend $20 on an answering machine, you can get voice mail for free.

I've started using a service called OneBox for web-based e-mail, free voice mail, and fax. The thing I like best—Onebox will read your e-mail to you over any phone. Yes, it's one of those computer voices (unfortunately not Majel Barrett), but I find it useful, and amusing. You can listen to voice mail through your e-mail, and send voice mail to anyone else's e-mail. It's great for people who have a hard time reading, too, since you can use it all (except the fax portion) over the phone.

If you want to give people a phone number where they can reach you, but not your normal home or office number, this is a good way to do it. If you're self-employed, it's like having an extra phone line (at least for taking messages). And it's a great way to work at home, yet still retain your privacy, since you won't be hearing the phone ring 24 hours a day, but you also won't miss any calls.

Onebox will even forward e-mail from your onebox to any other e-mail account, so you can add extra privacy when you sign up with online web sites and e-mail lists. It's a very handy system.

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Tip: How To Read Those Long License Agreements

OK, so you're signing up for some interesting new service on the web. You will inevitably be presented with a license agreement. The license agreement will inevitably be very, very long—and shoe-horned into a field so small you can only read a few words as a time. This is, of course, all part of the lawyers' cunning plan. They figure if they make it hard enough to read (setting lots and lots of stuff in all caps really discourages reading, too), you won't read it.

How do you read these things easily (and you should read them). Click into the field. Press ^A (control A) to select all the text in the field. Press ^C (control C) to copy the text. Open a notepad and press ^V (control V) to paste it. Now you can read it in a much easier format and see what it is you're actually agreeing to!

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Do Good For Free With Just A Click

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One Final Word
(or should I say "famous last words"?)

The trick with all technology is to try to use it to your advantage, and not become a slave to it. This is, of course, easier said than done!


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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.