Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sharper Image Bankruptcy Renews My Faith in Basic Consumer Intelligence

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

well, if they were really sharp, they would not be going bankrupt, now would they?

It’s likely old news to everyone by now that electronic oddity store The Sharper Image is going bankrupt. You may have heard about it on the news or from a friend. Or perhaps you found out the hard way when you tried to use a Sharper Image gift card in the store only to have it refused. That’s right, as it flaps around like a fish out of sound fiscal waters, The Sharper Image will no longer take its own gift cards.

While I could easily talk at length about how wrong it is for a store to stop accepting its own gift cards, I have to say I’m quite amused by this situation. You see, The Sharper Image is the most perfect example of a store that needed to go bankrupt. I can think of no store, not even my arch-nemesis Wal-Mart, for which financial collapse is a more fitting fate. My anti-Sharper Image stance can be traced to the three characteristics of The Sharper Image that led to its demise:

  1. The Sharper Image sells nothing but crap that nobody needs.
  2. That crap is overpriced.
  3. Despite the fact that Americans like to buy useless, overpriced crap, The Sharper Image couldn’t figure out how to sell their own useless, overpriced crap.

The fact that The Sharper Image is going under has slightly renewed my faith in the American shopping public. I’m shocked they were around for as long as they were selling dinosaur robots and other technological amusements that are about as fun as stabbing oneself in the face with the broken shards of a Chia Pet. Even I, someone who is easily amused by every latest shiny blinking contraption (fortunately I possess just enough financial restraint to keep myself from buying them… usually), have no problem passing by The Sharper Image every time I encounter one of their stores.

I think the best indication of just how worthless The Sharper Image is (was?) is the fact that some credit card issuers have reward programs that let you trade in one dollar worth of reward points for roughly $8,000 in The Sharper Image gift cards which is roughly enough value to get you one pack of used Sharper Image-brand AA batteries (batteries not included).

Now that I think about it, there is the possibility that The Sharper Image will emerge from its bankruptcy somewhat intact, still taking up shopping mall units that would otherwise turn into emergency backup Starbucks in case the mall’s primary or secondary Starbucks location ever had an espresso machine failure. If The Sharper Image does manage to return from the abyss, please… I implore you, don’t fall for its shiny blinking subterfuge. Stay far away from those robotic dinosaurs and roll-up piano keyboards like in that one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and hopefully The Sharper Image won’t make it very long into Round Two.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Do You Think Taxes Are Funny? Then You Are Either Weird or Eligible for This $10,000 Contest

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

While scouring the internet for somewhere to buy TurboTax’s Home and Business edition for a lot less money than I really want to pay, I came across this little contest running over at the place where lame wanna-be film artists go to die: YouTube.

Apparently all you have to do is make a video of a funny stand-up routine, as long as it’s about taxes, and then the least suckiest person wins $10,000 and gets to open for Jay Mohr who you may remember from his hot wife, Nikki Cox. To get you started, here are some jokes about taxes that you can use for your video that I just made up:

I’m out of work, my wife left me, I owe the IRS $50,000, I’m being audited for the sixth straight year, and I just found out my dog has rabies. On top of that, I apparently really suck at joke-writing because I thought “my dog has rabies” was an awesome punchline to “I owe the IRS $50,000.”

I went to my tax accountant the other day when he said he was done with my tax return. He’s at his desk clicking away at his computer when I come in—you know, doing tax accountant stuff—so I go up to him and I ask him, “Am I getting any money back this year.” He jumps out of his chair and shouts, “Yes! $523!” I look up at him, throw my hands in the air, and say “Hallelujah!” He looks at me funny and he says “Oh, I didn’t realize you got excited when someone else won at computer Solitaire. By the way, you owe $4,000 this year.”

I decided to try out some of that “tax preparation software” this year rather than going with my old way of doing taxes—being unemployed and not making any money to pay taxes on in the first place. But when I started up the program it started asking me all of these personal questions that made me feel uncomfortable. “What’s your Social Security Number?” “How much money do you make each year?” “How many children do you have?” Well, I know from Dateline NBC that I shouldn’t give out by Social Security Number to a computer. I wouldn’t even tell my wife how much money I made each year, assuming I had a wife, or that I made money each year. And if computers aren’t advanced enough to be able to scan the entire world for my DNA and tell me if I have any children I don’t know about, then I sure as hell don’t want a computer doing my taxes for me.

As you can see, you’ll get no competition from me in this contest.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Punny Poll #30: When Will We See $4 Gas?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

image produced by random funny picture generator

The previous Punny Poll asked when you would file your Federal income tax return this year. Over 40% of you said by the end of February, but we all know you’re not going to. Another 16% said they would have them in by the end of March, meaning April 15th. Nearly 5% said they would never file their taxes for this year, and the alarming part is that all of the people who checked that answer had U.S. IP addresses in the survey logs. Thanks for being jerks and not paying your taxes, jerks. For everyone else, your donations to the Help Keep America #1 or At Least #2 or #3 Fund are greatly appreciated.

A recent economic forecast that you won’t find at this link indicates that the price of regular unleaded gas could hit $4 a gallon on average in the U.S. this summer. What does this mean for you? Well, in short, anything that costs money will become much more expensive, such as booze and hookers as well as fruits and vegetables, unless those booze and vegetables use public transportation which they probably do not.

While some of you may be inclined to believe this report which predicts $4 gasoline by Memorial Day because it is written by experts in economic analysis, I think a much more accurate way of determining the day we hit $4 gas is by asking you, the readers of Punny Money who will just click the stupidest survey answer—because that’s the American way!

How would cutting Saturday mail delivery affect you?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How to Buy Four Nintendo Wii Systems In Just Four Weeks, Finale

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it turns blue when i push the power button

Last Time: Epic Battle

January 30, 2008, 8:30a.m.

Only 24 hours remained until my deadline for finding those last three Wii systems. After that, the anime convention I worked for would have to rent them instead—at nearly full retail price for just one week’s rental period. I was determined not to let that happen, but the single Wii I had procured so far simply sat in the corner of my living room and laughed at me.

“What the matter, Nick?” said the Wii. “Can’t find me any friends? Why don’t you give up and go back to playing with your own Wii? Loser!”

As tempted as I was to throw that Wii through a window, I realized that would have set my count back at zero once again. Instead, I decided it was time to kick the search into high gear.

January 30, 2008, 10:30a.m.

Two hours later, I had finished programming the numbers for every EBGames, GameStop, Best Buy, Circuit City, and every other potential sellers of Wii into my phone. I programmed them in order of distance from my home, out to a radius of 12 miles. I even put together a cute little map with push-pins and concentric circles that would cause any stranger on the street to think I was hunting down a serial killer. In a way, I was; only the killer was not one of people but one of every second of my free time.

I started a round of phone calls after a quick lunch break. I got about halfway through the list with no success when suddenly I started getting answers like “Yup, we’ve got one in stock” or “We have a few left.” In fact, I received three such answers. I could get this quest done today with a little luck.

I managed to convince each of the three stores to hold one Wii system for an hour in my name, but it wasn’t until I consulted the push-pin map that I realized it would take me 52 minutes just to drive between all of them. I realized I needed some help, so I whipped out my little black book and started calling people who owed me favors over the years. About 10 minutes later, I realized I had been using the Yellow Pages section for “chiropractors” instead of my little black book, but my posture had improved 20% just from speaking with them.

Realizing I was on my own for this one, I ran to the car and set course for the nearest store.

January 30, 2008, 12:15p.m.

Picking up the first two Wii systems was rather anti-climactic, unless you consider the armed robbery taking place at the first one and the unexpected crossover with the cast of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit to be climactic. Regardless, I had Wii systems #2 and #3, and the only store left in the area with one in stock was at a shopping mall just one traffic light away.

As I entered the mall parking lot, I was faced with turning left—a route I was vaguely familiar with from the single time I had been to this mall—or going right. Choosing familiarity over my gut instinct, I went left and parked in front of a JCPenney department store. As I madly dashed through the first floor’s maternity section, I glanced at my watch and calculated that my hour-long hold time would expire in seven minutes. “Plenty of time,” I said aloud.

Inside the mall proper, I located a directory map to confirm my suspected location of the mall’s videogame store as one level directly above my current location. I found the “You Are Here” sticker immediately, and the map listing for the game store under the “Entertainment” category placed it in location D5. I was right—D5 was one level up from me… on the far end of the mall.

With six minutes left, I began to calculate just how long it would take me to climb the stares and run the entire length of the mall. Since the map had no scale, I had to extrapolate one by estimating the size of the nearby Hallmark storefront and comparing it to the store’s representation on the map. By my estimate, the Hallmark store measured 25 feet while its picture was an inch. The “You Are Here” and “D5″ looked to be about 34 inches apart, so that meant I’d have about 850 feet (plus the height of the stairs) to travel. I guessed that I could run 500 feet a minute, but when I glanced at my watch and realized I had spent the last five minutes and 50 seconds doing math, I determined that I would need to average a distance of 850 feet in ten seconds to make in there on time.

So I did that (more or less) and threw myself onto the counter of the videogame store in D5. Out of breath and unable to spout even a single word to help the clerk identify my purpose, I simply motioned toward my crotch.

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “You want a Wii. Yeah, we have plenty left.”

“I’m… huff… sorry?”

“Yeah, we got a shipment of 30 today and only sold two of them so far. How many do you want?”

Epilogue

After that day, the Wii became much easier to find. While that store in the mall sold all 30 of its units by that evening, Amazon.com finally had them back in stock shortly after. The anime convention’s treasurer kindly informed me that he saw plenty of them in stock at a Wal-Mart the following week, but he was unable to find even one Xbox 360 due to new supply problems from Microsoft.

As for me, I haven’t played 10 seconds of any videogames whatsoever since the ordeal ended. But now that this story has been told, I think I’ll be able to get back to playing with my Wii sometime soon.

And if you want a dirty joke out of that last line, you’re out of luck because I’m giving up on the Wii puns (and the big puns too).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

How to Buy Four Nintendo Wii Systems In Just Four Weeks, Part 4

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

you will have a ball with this next part of the saga

Last Time: Shading Dealings

January 18, 2008

It seems my internetting diligence has finally paid off; word on the e-street is that GameStop is getting another shipment of Wii systems today. Some stores will receive as few as three units, while others may get 15 or more. I wake up early to start calling stores, but these efforts prove futile as GameStop’s Wii shipments come via UPS during the day. I’m tempted to set up an automated dialer to call every GameStop in the area with the following recorded message:

Hi, you’re being called by Nick, a guy who really needs three more Nintendo Wii systems by the end of the month. If your store currently has a Wii in stock, please press 1. Otherwise, please stay on the line until you have one.

Fortunately I don’t need to go that far because a mid-morning call to a GameStop just two miles away reveals that they’ve just received a shipment… of three.

January 18, 2008, 11:25 a.m.

Telling my boss that I needed to sneak out for an hour to “take a Wii” probably confused him enough that he won’t even realize I’m gone. It only takes me 10 minutes to get to the GameStop after I find out they have Wii units in stock. Unfortunately the store refused to hold one for me for even 15 minutes, but I’m sure my town doesn’t mind me testing out its new red-light and speed cameras as much as I did to get here.

I dash from my parking spot into the GameStop, narrowly avoiding a collision with a grocery delivery truck (luckily it was parked, so I had the advantage). I run up to the counter, catch the eye of the mid-20s clerk, and ask, “Do you have any Wii systems in stock?” I wince as I hear what I hope is the echo of my own voice, but alas it is another customer asking the same question at the same time. I turn and see a gorgeous young Japanese woman in a short white dress (it’s 40 degrees outside) opening her sequined purse.

Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: I’ll give you 20 dollars above retail for it.
Me: Wha? Huh? Abup…
Mr. GameStop Clerk: Sorry, we can’t sell it above retail price.
Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: Then how will you decide who gets it?

Crap, I think to myself. A mid-20s guy has to pick between pleasing another mid-20s guy or an extremely attractive girl in a slinky outfit. I get ready to walk out the door.

Mr. GameStop Clerk: Well, I suppose we could have a contest.
Me: A contest?
Mr. GameStop Clerk: Yeah, to see who wants it more.
Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: What sort of contest?
Mr. GameStop Clerk: Well, how about…

…the most massive one-on-one videogaming tournament you’ve ever seen, featuring a trip through gaming history with 23 stops along the way! First we’ll travel back to 1986 where you will each play through the Sega Master System’s Fantasy Zone to completion, with 65 points being awarded to the highest scorer. Then we’ll move on to a grueling six-hour Duck Hunt marathon on the NES, followed by a best-of-30 Mortal Kombat tournament for the ages! And then…

Me: How about we just play best-of-five Wii Tennis on the display over there?
Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: Okay!

January 18, 2008, 11:55 a.m.

Before long, the Wii Tennis match between me and the really hot Japanese girl is tied at two games apiece, and I currently have the advantage in the final game. All I need to do is slam this next serve into her court and that Wii is mine!

I flick the Wii remote above my head and time it perfectly so I hit her with a power serve. But as I’m about to bring the remote down, my cell phone rings, throwing off my timing and giving her a serve she easily returns in my back court. Now we’re at Deuce #3.

I answer my phone. It’s my boss.

Mr. Boss: Er, um, Nick, what exactly did you mean by “taking a Wii?” You know our company has a strict policy against sexual encounters during work hours, homosexual or otherwise.
Me: Oh, uh. Sorry, Boss. Don’t worry, it’s nothing like that.
Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: Will you hurry up? I want that Wii already!
Me: Shhh!
Mr. Boss: Uh… if you say so. I hope she’s pretty at least!
Me: Yeah, she i—er, I mean… I’ll be back in 20 minutes. *click*

I turn to my opponent and glare.

Me: You’re going down, missie.
Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: Tee hee. I haven’t even used my secret weapon yet!

About five minutes and six more deuces later, she has the advantage. I suspect I’m finally starting to wear her down, but I need to be careful because I’m just one point away from losing. I lean back, flick the Wii remote in the air, and smash a power serve her way. She sees it coming but barely manages to return it. The ball floats gently toward me. I see an opening and get ready to send it there. Then suddenly…

Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: Oh no! My dress has fallen off!

I try not to lose my concentration, but my opponent has found my one weakness. Instead of timing my return perfectly, I end up spinning around, tripping over my own feet, and stumbling head-first into a nearby shelf.

Mr. GameStop Clerk: The winner is… Miss Hottie Japanese Girl!
Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: I win! I win!
Me: That’s so cheating! You weren’t even naked!
Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: Ha, you wish. Now where’s my Wii?
Mr. GameStop Clerk: Coming right up!

I follow the Japanese girl to the counter, hoping the clerk will find a second Wii miraculously while searching for hers. Instead…

Mr. GameStop Clerk: Hey, where’s the Wii I had up here?
Mr. GameStop Assistant Clerk: You mean the one I sold to that kid 10 minutes ago?
Me and Miss Hottie Japanese Girl and Mr. GameStop Clerk: You WHAT???
Mr. GameStop Assistant Clerk: Yeah, he came in and picked it up while you all were over at the Wii station.

I laugh to myself a little bit, disappointed that today would be another Wii-less day, but satisfied that my new arch-nemesis would be walking away empty-handed too. Speaking of her, she glares violently at the clerk who’s been serving us, walks toward the door, but turns around before leaving and glares at him again.

Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: And I was going to sleep with you if I got that Wii!
Mr. GameStop Clerk: Oh wait, I just remembered we have another one in the back. Why don’t you follow me… back there… and we can look for it together?
Miss Hottie Japanese Girl: Tee hee! Sure!

And so off they go to the back room. I look at the assistant clerk.

Mr. GameStop Assistant Clerk: You’re gonna blog about this, aren’t you?
Me: You betcha. But instead of writing about how it really ended—with me getting here five minutes after the last Wii sold out—I’m gonna make up a more entertaining story involving a hot Japanese girl and an epic Wii Tennis tournament.
Mr. GameStop Assistant Clerk: You must not get very many readers.
Me: I bet I will after today!

Next Time: Wii #2 At Last!