How Twitter Saved me $700

I rented a car from National recently. When I picked up the vehicle, I asked the agent what it would take to switch to a Prius from what had been reserved for me. To my surprise, he said it would actually be a *downgrade* from the reservation. Huzzah!


At no time did the agent state that this would cost me an additional $700 (fees plus taxes). In my estimation, and by dictionary definition, this would imply: “a lower grade, rank, or level of importance.” I didn’t discover this oversight until after I had returned the rental.

Certainly, I was not expecting to cover month-long expenses accrued from this trip, and would have opted to stick with the original car assigned (had I been told it would have cost me $700 more for the Prius option).

Immediately, I posted my financial frustration to Twitter, making sure I referenced National’s Twitter account in the process. A few minutes later, someone from National reached out to me with a response tweet. We took the discussion to email.

The result? Within a day, all seemingly-erroneous charges were reversed. Social Media isn’t just for geeks, folks – it’s your direct line to customer service agents the world over.

More importantly, I’m more likely to *CHOOSE* National next time I go to rent a car – since I know I can get ahold of a human being should something go awry. It’s not a specific issue you should focus on, but how an entity handles the issue. Thank you to National for empowering Elizabeth to help me solve this issue, and for creating a repeat customer.

2010 Toyota Prius V Car Review

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I’ve had my new Toyota Prius for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say – I love it! I wanted to drive it for awhile before I attempted to review it for all of you. This was to allow me to make a serious decision as to how I liked the car, and gave me the opportunity to try everything out! There are a lot of gadgets, gizmos and gauges in this little baby. It’s definitely an awesome piece of machinery, and one I’d definitely recommend you take a look at if you’re looking for a new ride.

Even though I’m not a car enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination, I’m happy to be trying to review it for you. When I first push the button and start the car, you can’t even hear anything! The energy monitor comes on, letting me know that the gas engine is charging up my battery. Even when running off the gas engine, it’s really super quiet.

I’m noticing that I’m now watching how I drive, and whether I’m being conscious of my fuel economy. The Hybrid System Indicator shows me what I’m doing in regards to charging the battery, and how well I’m conserving fuel. I try hard now to pay attention, and make sure that I’m at optimum efficiency.

My tech package on the car includes the back-up camera, which is really nice! The audio options in my car are amazing. It comes with XM Satellite radio, a 4-CD changer, and an auxiliary connection so that I can easily connect my iPhone (and virtually any other MP3 player that I have) via Bluetooth Audio. The Tech Package also includes Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Collision System and the Lane Keep Assist.

Amazingly, I averaged approximately 100MPG for well over two minutes straight. No, that’s not a typo. Thanks to the hybrid engine and running off of the battery as much as possible, I actually am getting about 100MPG. In the weeks I’ve had the car, I’ve only had to fill up the gas tank twice. It’s a nine-gallon tank… and I am driving a LOT. What does that tell you about how well I’m conserving fuel?

One small complaint that I have about the car is that it could be designed a bit better to help me see my blind spots. I’ve been in far worse vehicles, though, so I can live with this. As far as layout of the interior and dash – I’m a very happy camper.

The cruise control is something amazing to behold. When I have it set, it will automatically detect the speeds of cars ahead of me, and adjust my speed accordingly!! Can you even believe that? Who would have dreamed a few years ago that a car would be able to even DO that?!

I can guarantee you that I will continue to own a hybrid car of one brand or another for many years to come. There’s nothing you could say at this point to convince me to go back to an entirely gas-powered engine.

I could Geek out all day talking about my car. For now, I’ll let you watch the entire video and make your decision as to whether this could possibly be the coolest car on the market right now.

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How are Computers and Cars Alike?

Geek!This is Scott Morgan’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

I’m a computer geek by nature. My first PC was a Texas Instruments Ti-99/4a Personal Home computer that my parents bought me for Christmas when they were selling for $50 a piece at the local Brand Names Outlet. Mom bought 6 cartridges for my sister and me, three apiece, and cut out the proofs of purchase to have the Speech Synthesizer Module shipped to us so I could play Parsec with a drone computer voice speaking in the background. My first computer that I purchased myself was an Apple //e with one floppy drive, CP/M Microsoft Z-80 card, Imagewriter 2 Color Printer and an Apple RGB Color Monitor – total cost $2200 on the Apple Credit Program!
Since then, I’ve owned a dozen assorted Macintosh computers second hand and have built several PCs myself…

But my other passion is automobiles. I’ve been a mechanic for many years and love the feel of grease between my fingers, the smell of gasoline and burning metal of rotors being machined. So when someone asks me at work how to keep their computer running in good shape, I tell them that a computer is like an automobile; both are machines, both require maintenance and both require the best parts to be high-performance machines and eventually both will break and need replacements.

My job at work is to diagnose customer problems with their Internet and determine problems with their Internet connections, whether they are related to their computers or their Modems, or our servers, or somewhere else on the Internet. I recommend to most customers to do a weekly routine of maintenance to their computers so that their computers are working the way they should, determine which upgrades they need to keep up with their expectations of performance. You certainly will not get the same graphics and sound performance out of Pentium III with Windows 2000 that you will get out of a Dual Core Intel PC running Windows Vista. Of course, many of my customers would lead someone to believe that the chipset does not matter, as if they could get the same gasoline fuel mileage from a carbureted Cadillac V8 as they could from a Honda Hybrid engine.

Computers are getting faster and more powerful, whereas automobiles are getting smarter and more efficient, a stark contrast to the 1970s and 1980s when computers were designed to maximize their efficiency (such as the Cray X-MP that was built cylindrically to minimize wire length and maximize direct connections) and cars were becoming faster and more powerful; an example of this would be Ford’s use of wind tunnels to minimize drag resistance to make their car bodies more aerodynamic and cut through the air faster and safer and Ford’s constant competition with Chrysler on the racetracks of America. Computers are becoming more powerful at an exponential rate, and the manufacturers are “borrowing” from the designs and breakthroughs in the automotive industry.

Apple computer recently released a new design for their Macintosh Macbook Pro line recently with a “unibody construction”, an idea where the base of the book is not screwed together piece by piece, but cut from one single piece of aluminum, which adds to the rigidity, strength and takes up less space. Ironically, this is also not a new idea, but something that the automotive industry introduced back in the 1970’s with many of their vehicles using a Unibody Constructed weld that centered on the vehicle cabin as being the base of the vehicle instead of mounting a vehicle body to a set of frame rails. This made the body more lightweight, used less metal and made a stronger frame where it was needed most, to protect the insides of the car that needed the most protection – the passenger cabin.

Computers have become faster due to advances in processors breaking the Gigahertz speed barrier to the point where manufacturers realized that the only way to make them faster was to include more processors to pick up the slack in speed. When Apple introduced the concept of including more than one processor working in conjunction with each other, the biggest obstacle was in making the processors share the work. Apple figured out a way to pipeline the data between the processors and having the processors check each other for discrepancies, and thus, the G5 was born. Duo processors are commonplace nowadays and the car manufacturers are racing to keep up with the computers at last. The automotive manufacturers are putting faster computers in their automobiles to keep up with the calculations that are necessary to get the most fuel efficiency from their engines and the safety devices onboard. Pontiac Motor Group even released an automobile in 2005 called the G5 which has replaced their long running Grand Am line of cars. The chicken has finally come before the egg… or has it?

Car engines used to be completely air cooled before the invention of water cooled engines that dissipated heat away from the parts that need to stay within operating temperatures. It wasn’t too long before AMD and Intel began making CPUs that created so much heat that their cooling fans couldn’t keep up with the airflow necessary to cool the heat sinks. A much more efficient solution was found by using a radiator and water pump system identical to what is used in automobiles.

Manufacturers are making cars smaller by means of reducing body weight in cars, and making hybrid engines which is the one way that car manufacturers have really begun to make serious progress in becoming more efficient, by creating engines that move electrically most of the time when it’s most efficient to do so. PC manufacturers still do not have computer that can use a hybrid battery, albeit unfortunate that some batteries in laptops last year were returned to the manufacturers under warranties because they were combusting.

The biggest problem with a computer is when you let it sit for too long and it gains dust to the point where the hardware becomes antiquated. If and when you do decide to use it, you need to determine whether you need to upgrade the hardware to meet your requirements. How are you ever going to play World of Warcraft on a PC that has a 128 MB PCI Video Card and only 512 megs of RAM? When you decide to bring that old jalopy out of retirement, it has to be because you either overclocked your old PC and fried the motherboard or your wife has decided to return to college and needs your PC more than you do. You might decide to just buy another computer in lieu of buying all the parts needed to get “Old Faithful” running again. However, $500 worth of computer parts can buy you a revived computer, and you’ll be on your way to mining for gold ore and beating up zombies in no time.

Cars are another matter entirely. Say your wife has not only decided to go back to college, but she’s decided to go to a college where she has to commute on a daily basis between work and home and school and you have the choice of letting her take the dependable SUV that you know will get her there and back on time safely, thus protecting your investment of the $25,000 Student Loan she had to take out to afford school. The other choice you’re presented is letting her take your car, the one that needs new brake pads and routers, tune up and oil change… the one you were going to give your son for college. Now you’ve decided to get that car fixed up and running for yourself to take to work and back so you can earn a living and plan out your retirement, but your son still needs a car. You’ve offered him your car, but you’re going to need it, and you certainly don’t want him in an unsafe car.

The beauty of automobiles is that they last so long, and the older ones always seem to be in style. Nobody in their right mind would hesitate at giving up their old PC that doesn’t start up sometimes when you need to write a term paper for a new computer with a warranty on it and the software needed to get the job done. Likewise, nobody in their right mind would take a 1967 Camaro to the junkyard simply because it used a quart of motor oil between oil changes before you bought it with a seized engine. The interior may need some reupholstering and the body may need a coat of paint. But the engine and and brakes are what counts. What if you had the means to revive a classic for your son, and he was all the more happier to put his hard earned money from his summer jobs where it mattered and spend some time with you in taking on such an endeavor? You come to an agreement that you and he would work on the weekends to restore an automobile back to roadworthiness and that he would take the car to college and pay the gasoline and maintenance costs if you would help with the insurance payments… and all you would have to do is help him with the work, and teach him how to maintain it. And it gives the two of you the time you need to bond before he heads off to the school of life.

First you decide that a Camaro is too big of a car, too much engine and too inefficient for him… heck, the kid’s gotta have money to actually EAT while he’s at school. You settle on another classic that is more affordable, more efficient and just as much fun to drive… you find mid 1980s Mustang convertible with a body in good shape. But the car has sit for so long up on cinder blocks that it needs the brake drums and rotors resurfaced, new pads, new brake hardware and new tires. You figure it will take all summer long to restore the car to driving condition and about $1000 in parts. You turn on the key and there’s no power on the dashboard. Of course, the battery’s disconnected – the owner didn’t want it to drain the battery dry. You reconnect the battery cable and turn it over, the starter clicks and nothing happens. You ask the owner how long has the car been sitting, and she tells you that it has sat in the yard since her husband took it off the road three years ago.

When the car has been sitting that long, the cylinders will be as dry the day the engine was assembled, so having some engine assembly lightweight oil or a teaspoon of Marvel’s Mystery Oil inside the cylinder walls with the spark plugs removed is a good idea while turning the engine over. Even spraying a little WD-40 down inside the chambers will help reduce the friction of startup and engine oil pump priming.

  1. spray around each spark plug with air to remove debris and dirt; remove the plugs
  2. spray each cylinder with WD-40 or equiv. penetrating oil
  3. add a teaspoon of Marvel Mystery Oil
  4. put the plugs back in
  5. let the engine sit for several hours
  6. remove battery cable
  7. put emergency brake on
  8. put transmission into neutral
  9. remove the spark plugs again hand turn the harmonic balancer to turn the engine over 1/4 turn at a time.

If you cannot turn by hand, the engine is seized and the car needs to be towed to a mechanic. The cylinder heads may need to be removed and the pistons loosened with a rubber mallet before it can be turned over.

Is the American Auto Industry Dead?

As noted in an email to me this morning, GM has asked Congress for a short-term emergency aid package to help them survive the credit crunch and come out stronger on the other side. This has caused an intense public debate with media on both sides weighing in on the merits of federal aid for Detroit.

There’s a poll, released today, that explores what the American public thinks about this issue. According to the poll, the idea of federal aid has broad-based support: a majority of adults agree that the government should provide loans to the auto industry. They believe that the automakers will face bankruptcy without federal aid, that aid to automakers is viewed as just as important or more important than aid to the financial sector, and that the majority of people view a Big Three failure as a trigger for economic depression.

Of course, I do ask that you consider the source of the poll (Peter D. Hart Research Associates).

“Do you believe that the government should or should not provide loans to America’s automakers so they have the money to manufacture vehicles?” 55% agreed.

“President-elect Barack Obama has stated that one of his first economic priorities as president is to make sure that the American automobile industry continues to be able to operate, and he favors an economic assistance program to help them. Do agree or disagree with him?” 64% agreed.

“Do you believe that America’s automakers will face bankruptcy without government loans?” 60% agreed.

“The federal government has recently provided financial aid to the insurance and banking industries to make sure that these industries do not fail. Do you feel that providing financial aid to ensure that the U.S. auto industry does not fail is more important, just as important, or less important?” 55% believe it’s just as important.

“If General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler were to go out of business in the next few months, how likely do you think this would be to trigger an economic depression in the U.S.–extremely likely, very likely, somewhat likely, not likely, or not at all likely?” 33% say extremely, 27% say very, and 29% say somewhat.

“If you learned three to five years from now that America’s automakers had successfully weathered the current economic challenges and emerged as leaders in the worldwide automobile industry, how important would that be to America–extremely important, very important, somewhat important, not important, or not at all important?” 44% said extremely, 38% said very.

In my life, I’ve owned one American car – a 1991 Ford Escort. It served me well enough throughout my college years, but definitely had its fair share of problems and ultimately died. I moved on to a Nissan, a Toyota, and have been driving Acura automobiles for the past few years. It’s not like I don’t consider American cars when it comes to getting a new one, I just… find better options, prices, ratings in International vehicles.

What will Cars of Tomorrow be Like?

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With the Technological advances being made every day, what do you think the future holds for automobiles? Where, and how, do you see yourself “driving” twenty years from now? With the gas prices being so insanely high right now, it naturally led to a discussion as to what changes will be made to our travel habits.

The folks in my chat room and I were discussing this, and we came up with a few ideas as to what we think the future of automobiles is or should be.

  • No wheels!This is a given. Eventually, we’ll be flying around. It won’t happen soon, no. But at some point, it will be far more efficient to not use wheels, and to fly instead.
  • Renewable Energy! That’s a given, again. I’d personally rather see more cars running off of electricity, rather than fuel or hydrogen. Electricity is all around, and is much better than destroying the Earth. Is that to say electric cars would be better or safer? I don’t know. But I know our planet would be much happier if we were running our vehicles this way.
  • Free content. I have XM radio in my car, and I love my subscription. But at some point, it becomes silly to pay for services like this. If cars came equipped with Internet service, you could have an unlimited world out there as far as music and entertainment goes.
  • Full Heads-up Display Right now, it’s really inefficient how our dashboards are laid out. The instruments should be embedded somehow invisibly within the windshield. This would help with night vision, and help you see objects like deer better.
  • Automated Driving Wouldn’t it be great to punch in where you’re going, then just sit back and relax? Let the car do the actual driving! I can’t wait for that day, personally.

I’m pretty sure all of these things are coming. Will it happen in our lifetime? I don’t know, honestly. But isn’t it fun to think about? What do you think is in store for the future of automobiles?

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