Coming up I hope :)

I have requested two interviews.

1. Eviction Lab, want to know what is happening with evictions in the USA. Check this site out it's not pretty but it's important to talk about. So i have emailed and asked them for some insights.

2. I also contacted a site that does specialty tea sets. I hope to have someone from the site based in the UK contact me soon for an inerview.

3. I have also sent a request to two more people one expert on heat waves and a company that provides expert witnesses for trials.

C. T.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Zuuzs? Huh? What is that? Patricia Blair Explains In This Edition Of Candid Conversations

Have you heard the expression what do you get for the person who has everything? Or, how about he/she is so difficult to buy for.  Sometimes it is just not easy to find a gift for a person on a good day much less at Christmas.  One of the famous lines people will give when asked about what they want for Christmas is “I don't know.” The flip side is having to deal with a list that is long and or filled with some pretty pricey stuff. staff decided to do a survey via its Facebook page, asking friends who they think is the hardest person to buy for.  Though not scientific people responding to the survey picked husbands as the most difficult to buy for.  My reaction to that was, really?  So I contacted Patricia Blair, zuuz's VP of marketing to explain the survey and the concept of zuuzs.  Patricia, great to meet you here on Candid Conversations.

Patricia B: Thank you so much for the opportunity!  It’s a great time of year for zuuzs!

Cliff T: A survey, that is a neat idea.

Patricia B: Well, social media is meant to be an engaging platform, right?  And so we thought, why not ask our friends what they were up to this gift-giving season.

Cliff T: Was this a planned idea or did it just pop up in a meeting?

Patricia B: It just popped up.  Zuuzs was designed to be a socially interactive online shopping site—where shoppers can share they're deals and receive cash back.  So it’s important to us that we also interact with our customers to get their thoughts and ideas.

Cliff T: How many people responded to the post on Facebook?

Patricia B: Almost 1,000 responded to the “Most difficult to buy for?” question. Over 2,000 responded to the open-ended “What do you want most for yourself for Christmas?”  And over 1,000 responded to the specific list of “What was at the top of they're wish lists"? 

 Cliff T: Patricia, I have to admit reading that husbands are harder to buy for than any other group is a surprise, was that your reaction as well?

Patricia B: No, not at all.  I wasn’t surprised because at my house, my spouse is impossible.  First of all, he’d much rather give than get—which works out nicely for the family, but just one Christmas I’d like to WOW him with a gift.  Also, electronics are high on his list, and he’d much rather pick those out himself so he makes sure he gets exactly what he wants.

Cliff T: How are you connecting the results to using the zuuzs site?

Patricia Blair: Zuuzs tries to make our online shopping experience as easy and fun as possible.  The survey helped inform two ways to shop: We designed a holiday shopping page [] that arranges gifts by price point and by who you’re shopping for—kids, men, ladies, etc.  So browsing is easy!  Zuuzs also takes our shopper's preferences (for retailers, products and so on), and when someone signs into their zuuzs account, they get an automatic selection of great deals that are most relevant for them specifically.

The holiday shopping page is working so well, we are currently designing a New Year’s Resolutions page for January, coming out next week and a “Love is in the Air” shopping page that will come out in mid- to late-January.

Cliff T: Speaking of zuuzs, what is it and how does it work?

Patricia B: In short, zuuzs shoppers get cash back for shopping with our more than 800 major retailers including Wal-Mart, Nordstrom, Target, Ulta, Macy’s, etc.  Specifically, customers go to and create a short profile that identifies their favorite stores and products.  Zuuzs customizes they're shopping experiences, pulling the best and most relevant offers from over 800 retailers.  When customers are ready to shop, they click on the deals or the retailers they are interested in, and zuuzs transfers them to the retailers.  Once there, customers make their purchases, and zuuzs sends them they're cash-back reward. Amounts vary, depending on the purchases and retail partner.

Cliff T: How long has zuuzs been around for and does the name zuuzs mean anything in particular?

Patricia B: Zuuzs has been around for just over a year, though we really started promoting it during the first half of 2012.  The zuuzs name came from our founder, tied to a nickname his wife had as a child. Very sweet story.

Cliff T: So wives or anyone else can use the site to shop find what they want and get cash back on purchases, interesting.  What is the typical amount that a person can get from a transaction on zuuzs?

Patricia B: It really depends—on the customer, on the retailer and on the items purchased.  Some of our partners offer up to 10 percent!  But 2-5 percent is the average.

Cliff T: From what I see you have to be a member to get the cash back, that said do you offer special incentives for members and for those who become a member of the zuuzs community?

Patricia B: Basically, it’s really easy to join, and it’s easy to invite your friends into your zuuzs circle. From there, members have access to the good deals and the cash back. 

Cliff T: What are some of the other things members can do, i.e. can they make up wish lists or customize the account to look for special items etc?

Patricia B: One of the things we hear great feedback on from our members is the customized deals that we offer them when they first log on.  Based on each member’s purchases, we scour our retailers for bargains, and offer those up whenever someone first jumps on our site. 

Cliff T: Of course one of the big questions at this time of the year is with respect to shipping.  Patricia, I am assuming that that is dealt with via the merchants on the site?  I am also assuming that clients need to deal with things like returns via the merchant as well.

Patricia B: Yes, once the purchase is made, shipping and returns are between the merchant and the buyer.

Cliff T: Getting back to the survey what were you aiming to do, by that I mean were you looking to get people to think about what they are buying or was this just a fun thing to do?

Patricia B: zuuzs is all about engaging our members—and the survey seemed like a great way to encourage conversation over Facebook!

Cliff T: Besides thinking about what to get what are the other things shoppers should be doing to make it easier to shop online?
Patricia B: Here are some tips for savvy, safe online shopping:

  • Order online and pick up at the store.  Get the browsing benefits of online shopping while still getting near-instant gratification by ordering online and picking up at the store.  And you can save lots of money! 
  • What’s the shopping trifecta?  Retailer rewards + credit card cash (or points) rewards + zuuzs cash back equals maximum rewards for your gift-giving. 
  • Look for free shipping.  Shop online stores that offer free shipping either across the board or when you spend a certain amount in one order.  Many retailers also ship to store for free. 
  • Don’t store credit card information.  Unless you shop an online store frequently, don't allow them to store your credit card information. Many online stores keep your credit card information as the default, so make sure you check this before logging off. 
  • Keep your passwords sacred.  Never save your user names or passwords on computers you share with others. 
  • Shop the “buy x, get y” deals.  You could potentially get enough gifts for all your friends in one fell swoop. And capture the savings. 
  • Skip the gift wrapping upcharge.  It can add $5 or more to your cost. 
  • Read the fine print.  Some retailers don't allow you to use coupons on sale or clearance items. 
  • Save by ordering from out-of-state retailers.  If there are no retailer facilities in your state you save on sales taxes.  For instance, in DFW this translates into about 8 percent; in Chicago about 10 percent savings.  This benefit will likely be legislated out of existence soon, so this may be the last holiday to take advantage of it. 

Cliff T: Well with a name like Zuuzs and concepts like doing surveys to engage members it sounds like you think outside the box and have fun doing it? Is that a fair statement?

Patricia B: Absolutely! That’s the whole point of zuuzs.  We’re serious about saving, but we want to have fun at the same time!

Cliff T: Patricia, I want to thank you for sharing the story about the survey and Zuuzs, it has been fun.

Patricia B: I am always happy to share. And I invite your readers to visit zuuzs and tell us what they think at

Patricia Blair is the VP of marketing at  Recently zuuzs did a survey on they're Facebook page and found that the majority of people cited husbands as the most difficult people to shop for.

Zuuzs is a site featuring over 800 merchants, members can get cash back by clicking through zuuzs to they're favorite retailer.

Patricia spoke with us via email from her office in Dallas, Texas. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Candid Conersation #35 Peter Grabosky On Running For Municipal Council In Halifax Nova Scotia

Way back when I had more hair, meaning when I was younger, I met a gentleman by the name of Peter Grabosky. Pete was involved with a youth group in Greenfield Park Quebec. I decided to become a part of that group. Peter and I became good friends and have been for many years now.

Peter has been in the military for years starting out as a sailor, working in signals and then moving into logistics as a cook. Now in his current incarnation he is a buyer for DND. But, that is going to change if Pete has his way. You see Peter Grabosky has decided to jump into the fray that is politics and he is doing so at the civic level running for council in Halifax.

Pete welcome to Candid Conversations.

Peter G: Thank you Cliff for inviting me I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you. It’s been a while.

Cliff T.: Some would ask are you nuts, do really want to enter politics given the attitudes people have towards political figures. My question is based on the fact that I know you are interested in politics, you always were even at a young age. So why now, what prompted a run for HRM council?

Peter G: As you are well aware, I have been interested in the affairs of the community and I guess when I was younger I used to enjoy watching question period on T.V. and listening to the CBC current affairs shows. In high school I ran for student council for five years representing my class or grade. And, then in grade 11 I ran for School President. I did not win, I came in second but, I surely fell in love with the debate and interaction with other students working to find out the needs of the students.

I have been serving in the Canadian Forces for over 20 yrs and as a serving member I had to remain neutral. I am retiring soon I felt that this is a great opportunity to give to my community & stop debating with the television when watching Tuesday night council meetings. We often hear we need a change but, this time in HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality) there has to be a whole new vision & direction. HRM has been managed and mismanaged for 19 years. And, I believe that I can provide sound, experience and leadership to work with a new group of councilors to improve transit, provide homes for the homeless & establish a equitable fair tax system.

Cliff T.: What district are you running in and why did you choose it?

Peter G: I am running in District 11 Spryfield, Sambro, Prospect Rd. It is on the Western shore of HRM and it is the 4th largest district with 30 distinct communities. I live in the district and will represent both the district and HRM. 

Cliff T.: What would you say are the key issues that you are getting feedback on in the run up to election day in HRM?

Peter G: I am hearing about the need for road repairs, transit issues, Access-A-Bus service, speeding vehicles, fair taxation and the feeling of not being heard. Our district is suburban/rural and residents feel that their concerns have not been held to high standard vs the concerns on the Peninsula.

Cliff T.: Are there any red hot button issues that seem to be popping up as you go around speaking with voters? And, if so what do you think or more accurately speaking what would you like to see done about that red hot button issue?

Peter G: Within Dist. 11 Metro Transit is a red hot button. The Sambro Loop communities have fought a battle for public transit for many years almost losing their bus. The Prospect Communities, are not served at all by Metro Transit & we are only 20 minutes from downtown.

Cliff T.: If you could pinpoint what is missing in the political discourse in HRM, what would that be. What issue do you think needs attention that is not getting any at all and why is it important?

Peter G: Since Halifax won the Shipbuilding contract prices of housing, rents & condo prices are rising exponentially due to speculation. Low cost housing practically does not exist. I believe rent control has to be be studied and I am a proponent of mixed housing developments and as a councilor I would work with developers and other councilors to create communities that are environmentally sustainable. I would convince developers that it would be in their interest to build new developments with ample green spaces to play as in parks and introduce small variety stores, bakeries, shops in the local neighborhood so families are self sustaining without having to use their vehicles to purchase a litre of milk. Presently, cookie cutter housing developments without any amenities within 5 km are being built and this must end in my opinion. We must rely less on vehicles and more on public transit.

Cliff T.: A real big problem is low voter turnout. Many see political figures as less than honest people, some would go as far as to say many are more like mobsters. Knowing that you can not change everyone's mind how are you combating this thinking?

Peter G: In the last election in HRM slightly over 36% of the population voted in 2008. Yet, if one follows HRM politics for the past number of years I believe the voter in HRM will respond positively in this election because there is an air for a cleaning of house! Citizens have become more engaged this time around and I personally began visiting homes in mid-June knocking on doors and visiting business’s from West Dover thru Brookside, Spryfield, over to Sambro Communities.

I will say that I have heard from at least 2/3’s of the people and they tell me that this has been the first time anyone has visited their door and shared personally election literature and bothered to visit and listen. Therefore, I believe we have developed a relationship and I hope an open-ended dialogue that will continue. As it is both the responsibility of the candidate and the voter to remain in touch and engaged to seek solutions to issues and creating a trusting relationship.

Cliff T.: Having come from a big city, Montreal, do you think Halifax and the region can and will one day be a rival to cities like Montreal and Toronto and if so how?

Peter G: No. Halifax Regional Municipality is an entrance to Canada and an East Coast playground but, it will not rival the major cities like Montreal or Vancouver. There are many factors that Halifax would have to create and because of its geography major businesses would not locate to HRM. I believe there is no need to compete HRM is complimentary to the larger cities and it is O.K. to be number two as we are distinct, proud and very welcoming here on the East coast.

Cliff T.: It is tough going out and working a campaign. What or who inspires you to go on especially when you are feeling tired or have heard and said the same things over and over?

Peter G: It is the voter, the resident when I knock on the door who has questions and really is engaged with his/her community who provides me with energy and they offer vision and hope to me. I began thinking that people don’t care about their municipality or municipal politics but, I have been proven wrong. There are some that are disgruntled, or indifferent but, usually after some discussion we come to agree that municipal affairs is vital to our very existence. My wife, Anne is an inspiration and my backbone. She is my strength. Finally, the late Jack Layton is my light that drives me to pursue a positive outlook seeking compassionate, hopeful solutions to challenges, keeping a vital, open mind to all suggestions and not work against the residents but, for them in a creative, ethical and morally accountable direction.

Cliff T.: Have you been surprised by anything or anyone yet as you campaign?

Peter G: I have been pleased and humbled people I have just met or made friends with that wish to volunteer their time, experience and some financial donations. There is a misconception that people are tired of politics and politicians. That is a false assumption because people really care and want to be productive, participants in their grass-roots decision making. I am so proud to have met so many good, fully engaged artists, members of various cultural groups, business leaders, government employees, moms & dads with families full of hope who are determined to contribute and be included in this democratic process.

Cliff T.: Pete it has been interesting to hear or, shall I say read your thoughts. Thank you for taking time to do a Candid Conversation. 

Peter G:Thank you Cliff, your wisdom and experience as a journalist is evident by the questions you have presented I was honoured to have the opportunity to discuss the HRM Election and respond to some of your queries. It is only days away and we will soon see a new Mayor & Council get elected in Halifax Regional Municipality and I have been honoured to be part of creating a new vision for tomorrow.

To follow Peter Grabosky and his campaign you can visit him on Facebook at his page Peter P. Grabosky or, his main page at and Peter is running for a council seat on the HRM council in Halifax NS. He wrote to us from Halifax. The election for mayor and councilors plus the school board trustees takes place October 20th 2012. For more on the election visit,

Monday, July 16, 2012

Get Cracking & Get Walking For Calgary's Seniors & The Golden Age Cub Of Calgary A Candid Conversation With David Howard From The Canadian Legacy Project

There are a number of walks for different causes that take place in Canada each year. A new one has been launched in Calgary. It's the Calgary Seniors Walk in support of the Golden Age club of Calgary. The organization provides a variety of services to persons who are pre-seniors as well as those who are seniors.

The club itself has been around since 1951, the walk to raise funds for the club is a new concept. To talk more about the event and what it means for the club I have reached David Howard from The Canadian Legacy Project. Mr. Howard thanks for walking over to your desk to write back to me and the readers of Candid Conversations

D. Howard: I am thrilled you have taken an interest in this important fundraising event.

Cliff T.: First off congratulations on the launch of the seniors walk in Calgary. This must be very new territory for the club and the Canadian Legacy Project.

D. Howard: This is very exciting event and we are thrilled to be presenting it and working with the Golden Age Club to help them raise their profile in the community and raise much need funds for their organization and the tremendous work they do in the community.

Cliff T.: It seems like doing walks for charities and organizations has become quite the norm these days What prompted the decision to jump into this form of fundraising?

D. Howard: Our walk is very different than any other out there, as walkers under the age of sixty five have to walk the four block route balancing an egg on a spoon, signifying the difficulties seniors have getting around day to day. The event is during lunch hour in downtown Calgary and all walkers will be wearing their yellow event t-shirt, so it is bound to make an impression with corporate Calgary and raise the awareness we need to support our seniors.

Cliff T.: What role does the Canadian Legacy Project have or was this just something you are doing to get the ball rolling for the Golden Age Club?

D. Howard: The Canadian Legacy Project created the event and we are funding and managing the event to support the Golden Age Club. The Canadian Legacy Project is a non-profit with the mission to improve the lives of our disadvantaged youth, seniors and veterans and mobilize collective action in celebrating our legacy.

Cliff T.: Mr. Howard, how did this start, I mean was this your organization's idea or was the first steps made by the Golden Age Club?

D. Howard: I met with the Golden Age Club roughly a year ago and was overwhelmed by the great work they do in the community and saddened that they could do so much more and support so many more seniors if they had the finical resources to do so. With that idea in mind we set out to create an event that would help them raise funds and awareness, not only for their membership but, all seniors. Too many of our seniors are living in poverty and/or are becoming shut ins and, this is something we need to change. They are the builders of this country and we need to support them in their time of need.

Cliff T.: From what I see your plan to have those under the age of 65 walk with eggs on spoons to signify the day to day difficulties that seniors face getting around? Mr Howard I have a sneaking suspicion there is going to be a lot of cracked eggs by the time the walk is done!

D. Howard: I hope so, the more broken eggs the better, because that means we have had good support by the Calgary community. But not to worry, we do have a street cleaner taking care of the mess immediately after the walkers finish.

Cliff T.: What kinds of challenges do seniors face that you want to highlight in this event and what kinds of programs will the money be used for?

D. Howard: There are thousands of seniors living in Calgary's East Village and the majority of these seniors are living in poverty, they do not have the means to get out in the community and socialize and they become shut ins. There are also a large percentage of these seniors that can not afford a proper meal. So the event will raise funds for the Golden Age club so they can help these seniors. The Golden Age Club has an amazing facility but, they lack the funds needed to effectively run the programs our poverty stricken seniors need.

Cliff T.: I am assuming that the way for people to get involved if they want to raise funds during this walk is to sponsor a walker or to become a participant, are there other ways that people can get involved?

D. Howard: We are encouraging people to walk or sponsor a walker, or better yet get a team together sand raise pledges and come out for a fun and unique event.

Cliff T.: These kinds of events can be complex in nature. Were there challenges? And, if so what kinds of challenges did you face when you started to put the event together.

D. Howard: The main challenge is getting people to understand that we have so many seniors that need our support and they are too proud to come out directly and ask for it. As a community we are failing in giving back to those who built this great country and paved the way for so many to have such great success.

Cliff T.: I have to ask are you going to be one of those egg carrying walkers?

D. Howard: You bet, I am raising pledges and will be there on August 30th with egg on spoon and ready to walk

Cliff T.: I am sure that you will be thinking about seniors you know during this event, is there anyone special that helped you keep going during the preparation of the event?

D. Howard: My grandparents showed me the importance of giving back to the community you do business in and I owe them allot for showing me how important it is to do just that.

Cliff T.: Will the legacy Project also be looking at doing this kind of walk for seniors in other cities?

D. Howard: We have had those discussions with other group’s across Canada and are doing some research but, for now, we need to build the best event we can here in Calgary. 

Cliff T.: Well I do think you are well on the way. My best to you the volunteers and the walkers. 

D. Howard: I appreciate you taking an interest in the vent and hope all your followers will come out and support us on August 30th. 

David Howard is with the Canadian Legacy Project. The organization helps youth seniors and veterans who are disadvantaged through various events and donations. 

They recently signed on to help the Golden Age Club of Calgary with they're project, a walk in support of the club. The event itself takes place on August 30th at 12 PM MT in Calgary. For more info on the event you can visit the page at

Dave Howard wrote to us from his location in Calgary AB.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sal Dickinson Explains How You Can Get A Real Deal On Vacations In Florida

I have had the pleasure of visiting Florida, I went to Miami for a week and it was toasty warm and cool at night. The hotel I stayed at was nice and my room had a great view of the Atlantic. I went as part of a team to do a trade show so I in effect got a free vacation, with a little work tossed in for good measure

I'd go back in a minute but, trips like that one don't come about to often and vacations can be expensive. One company offers a unique opportunity for travel minded individuals who want to visit Florida without having to smash a lot of piggy banks to do it.

Who and are they and how do they do it? Ah, glad you asked. The company is Vacations Auctions Inc. and the how is via I am happy to say I reached the founder and CEO Sal Dickinson. I am sure a lot of vacationers are looking forward to finding out more about how they can visit Florida for fraction of the cost. Welcome to Candid Conversations.

Sal Dickinson: Thank you Cliff. It’s a pleasure to be part of Candid Conversations. Thanks for having me.

Cliff T.: Off the bat I have to say this is one of the more unique ideas I have come across online. An auction for trips to a particular place in this case Florida. How did you come up with this concept?

Sal Dickinson: Back in the mid 1990s I was the marketing and sales executive of a large, resort company and we were one of the early adopters of the internet. Given it was new to business back then, I was reading as much as I could on internet marketing and learned of an auction held by Cathay Pacific, an Asian airline. It intrigued me and I thought there was application for like auctions domestically, particularly in the leisure market. I started collecting domains and 15-plus years later I left the corporate world to start my own business and launched 

Cliff T.: What kinds of vacations can a person bid on?   

Sal Dickinson: Our site offers a wide variety of accommodations and attractions or experiences from the panhandle of Florida all the way down to the Keys. You can bid on 3-nights at a luxurious 4 Diamond, beachfront resort like the Loews Don CeSar Hotel, including a $100 resort credit, or on 2-nights on a number of quiet romantic Bed & Breakfast Inns we have throughout Florida. Attractions and experiences range from a number of dolphin experiences such as the Dolphin Harbor at Miami Seaquarium to Indoor Skydiving at iFly Orlando to admission for four to the Tallahassee Automobile Museum. There’s something for everyone.

Cliff T.: To bid on an auction does one have to sign up and is there a fee to be a member of the site and if there is a fee how much is it?

Sal Dickinson: There is no fee to be a member of our site but you do need to sign up in order to place a bid. You can still shop all of the offers and take advantage of the buy direct option from any of our hotels or attractions without ever having to sign up. Folks can also sign up for our newsletter without signing up to bid. And once a person wins an auction, their winning bid is all they will be charged – bids are tax inclusive and we have zero add-on fees or service charges. 

Cliff T.: Sal how long does the auction last for and is there a starting bid? 

Sal Dickinson: Auctions last for one week, starting and concluding at 10 pm EST on Sundays. Starting bids begin at 20% of retail value, so as an example, 2-nights at Hawks Cay in the Florida Keys opens with a beginning bid of only $150. Bids follow in increments of $5.

Cliff T.: One of things one must probably note is that the auction is for the vacation or vacation spot, not things like flight and car rentals. Besides that is there any other ting or things that are not included?

Sal Dicinson: Each of our auctions are essentially advertisements that also promote buy direct specials, most at savings of 20-30%. Some offers and auctions have incremental fees such as a resort fee or cleaning fee at our vacation homes, and auction redemption can be blacked-out or exclude holidays but, each of those exclusions are clearly identified in each offer.

Cliff T.: Are there any spots in Florida that are big draws for people or do you find that the various parts of Florida fair equally in an auction?

Sal Dickinson: The Orlando/Central Florida market is always popular, as are the Florida Keys. We also see a lot of interest in all of our beach destinations, from Sanibel Island to St. Pete to Palm Beach and north to St. Augustine. And surprisingly our inland cities offers such as Gainesville and Tallahassee also move well each auction cycle. People like to have different leisure experiences, especially at great savings and that is something folks can regularly find on our site.

Cliff T.: I am assuming that the goal for is to increase the profile of Florida, that said Sal are you finding that there has been an increase in interest with regard to vacationing in Florida?

Sal Dickinson: Absolutely. We are the official auction partner of VISIT FLORIDA, the State’s official tourism organization and visitation to Florida has materially grown. Our own site has experienced consistent growth year over year since our inception, with users from 140 countries, but I want to note Floridians are one of our largest markets as they know Florida and understand the value they can get on hotels and attractions on our site. 

Cliff T.: On the other side of this of course are those looking to get people to visit their vacation spot. Sal, I bet this must be somewhat of a challenging sell, given that you asking a client to let people bid on a vacation package or location at below what they normally charge I am assuming you put the concept of an auction as a way to promote the business would that be an accurate way of looking at it?

Sal Dickinson: Spot on Cliff! As I mentioned before, our auction site is an advertising promotional site where hotels and attractions promote their business and their buy direct offers. Each auction, which repeats every 4 weeks, is only for one voucher, not dozens, so the consumer exposure is high for the business with minimal downside.

Cliff T.: Besides repeat bidders are you also getting repeat clients offering spots and vacation packages?

Sal Dickinson: We have a lot of repeat or long term businesses promoting their offers on our site. The Miami Sequarium for example, has been with us for more than five years and has three different offers/auctions with us. On the bidders side, we have more than 200 repeat bidders that have won 20 or more auctions. Our intent was to create the proverbial win-win and given the level of engagement of repeats both from consumers and tourism businesses, I’d say we’ve achieved that.

Cliff T.: This is a very unique way to offer vacationers a way to find a great vacation spot or package. Are you planning or currently setting up site for other states or even other countries?

Sale Dickinson: Expansion into other markets, domestically and eventually internationally, has always been part of our plan. We’re currently in final stages of dialogue with two other states, one in the South and the other in the Northeast, that will hopefully go live before the end of this year.

Cliff T.: Before I forget, how do you ensure that people pay for the package or the location they are going to? 

Sal Dickinson: If you are the winning bidder on an auction, your credit card is charged that winning bid and you receive a confirming email with a link to your voucher within 5 hours of that auction’s conclusion. You can also sign into your account to access that voucher as well. 

Cliff T.: There are some things I have not covered here, if people want more info is there a way they can get in touch with someone, or is there an FAQ section on the site where questions can be answered and do you also offer a forum for people to communicate with you and or each other?

Sal Dickinson: Instead of a FAQ we have a How It Works page in the main navigation of our site, as well as a live chat function that if not staffed, users can leave a message, as well as a Contact Us form that will promptly be responded to. They can also email

Cliff T.: Nobody wants to or expects to have a bad time on a vacation, that said it does happen. After the bidding and vacationing is done if a client is not completely satisfied do they deal with you or the operator who offered the package or vacation spot? 

Sal Dickinson: The answer is both. Hopefully the hotel or attraction would immediately remedy any negative issue a consumer may have. If not, we have had winners contact us and we’ve either refunded their monies or provided them with a credit on their account to be applied to future auctions, depending on circumstances and their preferences. We maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and through our customer service plan to keep it! 

Cliff T.: It's a novel concept, as I mentioned before. I really appreciate your taking time out to explain Florida Vacation Auction to the Candid Conversations readership. Best to you and the crew at Florida Vacation Auction.

Sal Dickinson Thank you Cliff. I appreciate the opportunity for our site to be shared with your readers.

CEO Sal Dickinson leads the team at To find out more, bid on a package or just to see what the site is about click on over to the link above. As mentioned the site offers packages and stays at locations in Florida. Sal Dickinson wrote to us from his office in, where else, Florida.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Candid Conversation About Self Defense With Chris Roberts CEO, SAFE International

When I was younger I was interested in studying a martial art. I decided to try Tai-Chi.  Unfortunately the lessons were cut short when the instructor injured himself, taking himself out of the game so to speak for an extended period of time.

I have to admit I am still interested in taking a martial art partly for exercise and partly for self defense.  SAFE International is an organization dedicated to helping people who want to take a self defense course. The organization works with men, women, youth and in the workplace and also offers personal instruction. Recently SAFE announced that it would be providing services for people wanting private instruction in the Montreal area.

That got my attention so I contacted the CEO of SAFE Christopher Roberts to find out more about the home and other instruction they provide.  Christopher, thanks for being a part of Candid Conversations.

Cliff T.: Chris, can you define what self protection means, is it different from Karate or other martial arts?

Christopher Roberts: I define self protection/self defense as being able to handle violence from not only a physical standpoint, but also from an awareness and avoidance position, as well as from a verbal diffusion position.  Most self defense companies focus on the physical skills, but if we are truly interested in avoiding violence, one must cover all segments of violence prevention and handle them in a realistic, practical, and effective manner.

Cliff T.: I see from your website that you have been doing this for quite some time, since 1994.  What prompted you to start SAFE?

Christopher Roberts: My reason to start is not like most in the self defense industry who grew up with a close tie to the martial arts. My reason was basically to have my own business and to have a business that could make a difference in people's lives.  I had worked in the fast food industry for many years before this, and I could not see myself spending the next 40 years of my life feeding tasty, but unhealthy food to the public. With what I do now, I hear weekly how SAFE International is helping others.

Cliff T.: Besides teaching self defense are there any other things you teach?

Christopher Roberts: No, this is all I know how to do.  Lol! Now, within the topic of self defense I teach different things as I mentioned previously.

Cliff T.: Also on your site you mention teaching for persons 12 to 82. Is teaching self defense different for a young person vs an older person?  Do you also train women differently from men?  And, what if a person has a disability, how do you handle training for them? 

Christopher Roberts: Yes, while the top priority for all groups is the awareness/avoidance phase, it is particularly important for seniors since they have some limitations physically.  That being said, if one is a life or death scenario, there are still some basic concepts a senior can use with success such as eye strikes which don't require a great deal of strength.  While women and men have some very similar self defense concepts to cover, the methodology I use is quite different due to ego, comfort level, physicality level, etc.  I have also taught those with disabilities and to be quite honest I have probably had my most fun teaching them due to how honest they are with their thoughts and with the lack of ego which is so commonly seen when teaching most self defense. 

Cliff T.: What is the goal of the training, what exactly do you want your clients to get from the course? 

Christopher Roberts: If I was to put it quite simply, I want my clients to leave feeling safer than when they began training and to have a level of Peace of Mind and confidence that they can handle confrontation from all angles such as awareness/avoidance, verbally, and physically. 

Cliff T.: Is there a process that you go through before you begin to train someone and if so what would that process be? 

Christopher Roberts: The only process is to ask what they hope to gain.  If they want to learn how to fight, rather than how to get out of or avoid a fight, then my material is not for them.  This is something I recall Richard Dimitri once telling me about someone who left one of his seminars.

Cliff T.: Chris I understand that you are going to offer training courses to people in Montreal and that the training will be in a private setting.  Is there a particular reason that you are offering personal training vs public training?  And does SAFE currently do public training sessions in Montreal? 

Christopher Roberts: Since SAFE is a mobile company, we are always available in Montreal as we are throughout North America.  I find that people are much more comfortable training with a group of friends, co-workers, family, or privately, than they are with a public group of people with whom they have no familiarity.  Self defense is very personal for most people, so having the right environment is very important in order to make them feel comfortable to train, ask questions, and share their fears, concerns, and stories. 

Cliff T.: I bet that you come across some real interesting myths about self defense training. What are the most common and what can happen if these myths are held on to? 

Christopher Roberts: One of the biggest myths is that you need to train for years to be able to defend yourself. In fact, with a few hours of quality instruction you can learn the basics which are enough for most people. Now, the more you can train the better obviously, but this is a myth the martial arts community puts out there in order to increase their profits.  Another myth is that martial arts/karate is practical in real life self defense scenarios.  While I love the marital arts since I trained it for years, it is important to remember it is very different than reality based training which brings in the real emotion, psychology, and physical concepts which just aren't present in the martial arts.  One more myth is that you have to be big and strong to be effective in defending yourself.  I will take an inexperienced person with a never say die mentality over a 10th degree black belt who doesn't have the right mindset to protect oneself or one's family. 

Cliff T.: There are lots of people and companies offering self defense courses, Chris what sets your company and course apart from the others out there? 

Christopher Roberts: The biggest single thing I think that sets us apart is our teaching method which involves the use of humour.  So many have told me there is no room for humour with such a serious topic.  I say Bullshi....!  When people are comfortable with the instructor and trust them, they open themselves to an optimal training experience.  Think of seminars you have done over the years and I will bet the ones you remembered most and got the most value from involved humour. 

Cliff T.: Do you still do any teaching? 

Christopher Roberts: Yes, while administratively things are crazy with scheduling, training, etc, my real passion is teaching and I will always have time to do that.  Our Women's Self Defense Parties have become very popular and I love teaching them.  Also, our corporate courses, and courses for seniors are growing as well, so I have been doing much of that teaching. I will always do some teaching, but my goal is to keep surrounding myself with those who can teach better than myself.

Cliff T.: Have you heard back from clients, and if so what is the general feedback you are getting? 

Christopher Roberts: The feedback we get is very humbling and inspiring.  We have had people share with us how information we shared prevented them from being attacked.  We always hear how much fun our courses are and how that was an unexpected benefit of our program.  We consistently hear that the info we teach has been the easiest to remember due to us teaching concepts rather than techniques like most teach. 

Cliff T.: Is there any story you have heard that makes you go yeah now I know what we are doing is working, making a difference to people? 

Christopher Roberts: Yes, two young women we had taught 4 years previous were at a mall in Ottawa when they were approached by a man who held a knife to the throat of the one woman while the other woman was on the other side of the van.  She began yelling which caused the attacker to run away.  About an hour later he tried to abduct a woman and her child, but he was caught.  People got involved and caught the man. After he was arrested and attacker went back to jail.  Long story short, the young women had indicated they remembered what to do due to the humour they experienced with our course 4 year before. 

Cliff T.: Well as much as it would be nice to not have to deal with the question of self defense, it's good to know that there are people like yourself out there making a difference and helping people stay safe.  Thank you for taking time out to explain what you do. All the best in your endeavors. 

Christopher Roberts is the CEO of SAFE International, a company based in the Ottawa area that helps Canadians and Americans by providing self defense courses. To find out more about what Christopher and his team do you can contact SAFE by phone at 1-800-465-5972 or via the web at the there site Christopher Roberts emailed us from his office in Ottawa.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Robert Ferringo Sports Betting Handicapper With Docs Sports In A Candid Conversation

I am not a betting man especially when it comes to sports. In fact I have no clue about sports in any way shape or form. So I have to wonder and I did wonder enough to ask myself how would I go about betting on a sport. There are lots of systems out there and for those who, like me, know nothing but, want to try betting on sports that is daunting.

I contacted Robert Ferringo of Docs Sports to ask him about betting for the the non sports type and I am happy to say my bet that I would get a response paid off because he has joined me for a Candid Conversation. Robert Ferringo, thanks for taking the time to be on Candid Conversations.

Robert Ferringo: No problem. Thank you for the opportunity to communicate with you and your readers.

Cliff T.: Like I said I do not know a thing about sports and sports stats let alone betting but, at Docs Sports you guys do because you have been doing it for 40 years. What is the first step for a geek like me who wants to try my hand at sports betting?

Robert Ferringo: Well, the first thing that you would need to do is find an outlet for your sports wagers. The best way to do that is to find out what your local sports gambling laws are and what they entail. I am not entirely familiar with Canada’s laws or approach to sports betting at casinos or online – again it’s important for everyone to consult their local and federal laws – but for the sake of this interview I’m going to assume that everything is legal and that it’s copacetic for players to bet on sports in your country.

That being the case, the first thing you need to do is find a Sportsbook. And, ideally, you want to find several Sportsbooks (3-5) to place your money in. The reason that you want several books to play at is the same concept why you would collect more than one bid on a job if you were, say, finishing the basement of your house. You want to get as many different people around so that you can shop for the best price. And in terms of Sportsbooks, different books have different spreads and odds for different games. So by having 3-5 books that you use you will be able to shop around for the best odds on your plays. It may seem like a small thing or a luxury. But over the long haul it can have a significant impact on your rate of return.

In terms of finding a book, the best way to do it is to go online, take some time, and research the different options available. You would want to read reviews by both sides (people who love and/or loathe a certain book) and then make a decision based mainly on the trustworthiness and reliability of that book.

Cliff T.: Robert, what should people avoid doing when it comes to sports betting, or to put it another way what are the key do and do not do tips you would advise people abide by?

Robert Ferringo: As far as what you should do and don’t do to be successful I could list you 1,000 things! But to keep it basic, here are the keys:


First and foremost I would say is never bet more than you can afford. When done properly, sports betting is a form of investment. And you never want to put down more money than you can afford. You have to be prepared to lose whatever money you are starting with so if you can’t afford it then don’t do it!

The second most important thing that you don’t want to do is that you don’t want to go into any betting situation thinking that it is a “get rich quick” scheme. One of the most critical aspects of sports betting is money management. So one of the worst things that you could ever do is bet more than your bankroll allows on any given game. As a rule, each individual bet you make should be around 3-4 percent of your bankroll. If you have $1,000 that you’re playing with and you go in and drop $500 down on your first bet you are just begging for trouble.

A third thing not to do is to try not to get emotional and don’t chase losses by trying to “double down” or things like that. This one is easier said than done. People get emotional about sports. And, they get emotional about money.


Practice solid money management. Again, this is critical. Don’t overextend yourself on any one situation, no matter how much it seems like “a lock”.

Keep a long-term strategy in mind. There will be big wins and bad losses. But if you keep your focus on the long-term success of your bankroll you can make a lot of money and have a lot of fun doing it.

Bet against the public. This is a slightly complicated issue. But the general idea is that when everyone expects one thing you want to bet the other way. In essence, you want to bet with the Sportsbooks. Because, really they are going to shade any odds away from the teams and situations that they know the general public wants to bet on. But if you can position yourself on the opposite side of the general betting public you will find that you win more than you lose.

A couple great examples can be found in the last few Super Bowls. This is the most wagered on single game in the world. And in the last five years the underdog or, in the case of the 2011 Packers, the team that received the significantly smaller number of bets on them, covered the spread. The Super Bowl underdog has won three of the last five games outright and over the last 11 years the underdog is 8-3 against the spread in the biggest game on the planet.

Cliff T.: Are there a lot of sports betting systems out there and which would say are the best ones to use especially for a person who is just diving in?

Robert Ferringo: The sports betting “systems” really vary by sport. And there are thousands. So I really couldn’t point to one specifically. But, again, the two most important things that I can impress upon your readers is A) be strict and disciplined with your money management and B) always be looking for situations to bet counter to the general betting public. When everyone is positive that a certain team is going to win – and the best way to gauge something like that is by listening to the hype from the ESPN and sports media bobble-heads – you want to have your money going the other way.

Cliff T.: Sports betting as an investment, really. Can one actually earn a living by betting on sports?

Robert Ferringo: You can absolutely earn a living solely by sports betting. I know that because myself and a lot of other people do it! It’s not easy. People may think that they could do it because they know a lot about sports. But it’s not about knowing a lot about sports – it’s about knowing and understanding a lot about sports betting.

As I mentioned, sports betting, at its core, is not much different from playing the stock market. Except in my opinion it’s a lot more fun, the payouts are a lot more immediate (you know within a couple hours if one of your investments won or lost as opposed to having to wait weeks or months or years for a stock to go up or down), and you can see fantastic rate of returns.

But, again, the keys are being really good at what you do, being very patient, being very disciplined, keeping that long-term perspective, and being ready to work 365 days a year!

Cliff T.: Ok Robert where does Docs Sports fit into a lifestyle and for that matter how do you and Docs Sports help people get the best bang for the betting dollars they put out?

Robert Ferringo: We provide picks on a daily basis in a wide range of sports to people that want to bet on sports and want to make money. We have clients from all walks of life and they come to us for a variety of reasons, and sports betting probably plays a different role in each of their lives. However, they all come to us for the same reasons: because they know that we are better at this than they are and that they can play longer, make more money, and have more fun by following our plays than if they were to try to survive in the gambling world on their own.

As far as the “bang for their buck”, different handicappers favor different sports and situations. Personally, I have always felt that college basketball is the best and most profitable sport that anyone can endeavor. I think that football is the most difficult to turn a long-term profit in. But other niche sports like hockey, baseball, the NBA and even sports like the WNBA and Arena Football, can be big time moneymakers.

But for me, the first two months of college basketball (November and December) are the best time of the year to turn a profit. And over the last six years someone betting my plays during that time would have experienced over a 500 percent return – and that is with a flat Unit size, meaning that you aren’t adjusting the bet size that one percent of your bankroll represents. So, basically, if you had started in 2006 with $10,000 and bet about $200 per game you would now have well over $60,000 in the bank. And that is just betting for two months a year. If you were to adjust your bet size every $10,000 in profit (so when you got to $20,000 you would bet $400 per game, at $30,000 bet $600 per game) you would have well over $100,000. 

Cliff T.: I am assuming that there are no guarantees when it comes to betting on sports, stuff happens. So with that in mind how can a player and or a beginner make a safe bet so as to not lose the shirt of they're back?

Robert Ferringo: Yeah, even the best gamblers in the world still lose 4 of every 10 bets that they make. So the most important thing is to keep that sound money management in mind. The idea of “going big” or “doubling up” is for tourists, amateurs and action junkies, not people that are really trying to make a living or a long-term profit by betting on sports.

There are no “safe” bets. But if you’ve done your homework, if you have found some strong angles to play (be it situational, statistical, motivational, etc.), and if you have found the best value in your bet based on the spreads and odds then you have made a “smart” bet. And if you do that consistently then in the long term the odds will work out in your favor.

Cliff T.: Sports handicapping and Docs Sports interesting combo. Would you say that the site is a clearing house for sports betters or is it more a mentoring site for the betting person?

Robert Ferringo: As I said before, we provide advice for people who bet on sports. We don’t take bets, we don’t place bets, and we don’t do anything but offer our professional, educated opinions on plays. In essence, we are akin to stock market advisers for our clients.

Cliff T.: Sports handicapping and Docs Sports interesting combo. Would you say that the site is a clearing house for sports betters or is it more a mentoring site for the betting person?

Robert Ferringo: As I said before, we provide advice for people who bet on sports. We don’t take bets, we don’t place bets, and we don’t do anything but offer our professional, educated opinions on plays. In essence, we are akin to stock market advisers for our clients.

Cliff T.: Robert, I bet you get asked this a lot, was sports betting a hobby before the career or is it a hobby and career at the same time?

Robert Ferringo: Oh, it’s definitely not a hobby now! Sports and betting are all business to me now. I try not to take it too seriously – I mean, it’s not life and death we’re dealing with here – but I am an ultra-competitive person and I absolutely hate to lose. So I don’t mess around when it comes to my work.

Prior to my time at Doc’s I was a very amateur bettor, a huge sports fan, and had been a sports reporter at my hometown paper in Watertown, New York.

Cliff T.: Do you still get surprised by an outcome, or to put it another way have you suggested a pick and have been totally surprised by it not turning out the way you anticipated it would?

Robert Ferringo: I am surprised on a daily basis. Anything can – and does – happen in sports. That’s part of the beauty of it and a big part of the reason why people love it. It is unscripted drama played out in these really random situations. I wouldn’t say that I’ve seen it all at this point, but pretty close. I’ve lost games in ways that you simply wouldn’t believe if I told you. But I’ve also pulled out some victories that were just comical in their good fortune. Things usually even out when it comes to “luck”. But when it really comes down to it it’s all about the math and the numbers. And I don’t make a lot of money for my clients or myself because I’m “lucky”.

I always like to say: gambling isn’t magic, it’s mathematics.

Cliff T.: What is the typical day for you? Or to put it another way is there a lot of work that goes into putting together picks and how does that get done?

Robert Ferringo: No real day is “typical” I can say. But a generic day includes waking up, spending time with my beautiful daughter, and then getting down to business. In the morning I check the scores from last night (even though I was following the games) and tally up my wins and losses. I update the site, check through e-mails, and get all the logistics out of the way. Then I look at what the overnight lines have done and start to sketch out my plays for the day. I do a few hours of research, watch what the lines do and how they are influenced by the betting on that given day, then I type up and release my picks to my clients between noon and 1 p.m. EST every day (depending on the sport).

The afternoons are usually spent writing and researching, as well as coordinating the other handicappers. I get a little more family time in the early evening, and then I settle in for the games that night. From about 7 p.m. to about 1 p.m. I’m watching games, jotting down my own projected spreads for the next day, and trying to stay up to date on injuries, news and things like that. Sleep a few hours, wake up, and repeat.

And yeah, there is a ridiculous amount of research and work that goes into every pick that I release. From scouting to running math models to researching things like injuries, weather, etc., it’s definitely trying to hit a moving target.

Cliff T.: Robert, I noticed that on Doc Sports there is a section where visitors can get a chance to try they're hand at betting. You have an offer valued at $60.00? What exactly do visitors get for that in this free offer?

Robert Ferringo: On our site what we will do is offer new clients $60.00 to use toward the purchase of any handicapper’s selections on our site. For instance, a daily package for my NBA picks is $29. We are basically giving someone two free days of service just for signing up with us. Or, a weekly package of my MLB selections (seven days’ worth from the date you sign up) costs $89. Well, we’re giving you $60 when you sign up. So for $29 – which is less than the $30 for a daily package – someone can get a full week of service that is backed up by Doc’s guarantee (your handicapper will show you a profit or we will extend your service until they do). In that MLB example it is basically buy one day and get six free.

Cliff T.: Is this the only special you have or does Doc Sports have regular offers like this one?

Robert Ferringo: We are always doing things like that in order to give people an opportunity to experience our service. For instance, right now we’re also offering a 3-for-1 deal for our handicappers. So if you were to sign up for a week’s worth of my picks you could also pick two other handicappers and get their picks for free. Every handicapper has their own different style and system (I like to say that we’re like samurai, each fighting with a different weapon, or like super heroes, each with a different superpower). So we like to offer specials like this so people can come in, get familiar with our system, find a handicapper whose style they feel best fits their own betting goals and needs, and then go from there.

Cliff T.: Robert, thanks for letting us know more about Doc Sports and betting on sports in general. I hope you and Doc Sports is around for another 40 years.

Robert Ferringo: Thank you again. And good luck to you and all of your readers!

Robert Ferringo of Doc Sports is a professional handicapper with Doc Sports he wrote wrote to us from his office in Sauk City WI. To learn more about sports betting and handicapping visit and don't forget about the 60 dollar offer to try your hand at picking a winner. Of course you should remember that betting responsibly is the key to being a successful player. For more info visit

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

1 Million Pixels = 1 Million Dollars. A Candid Conversation With Chris Pavlich

Imagine that you want to get something or go somewhere. For me the get something would be a new radio for the ham shack, for the go somewhere, Japan. I always wanted to do that.

One enterprising guy, Chris Pavlich took an idea and has built a site where users can buy pixels. The goal originally to raise funds for studies in Prague. But, the business is taking off and Chris is probably looking at doing some other things.

Cliff T.: Chris welcome to Candid Conversations, what is the name of the site and what exactly are you doing with it?

Chris Pavlich: Hi, Cliff. Thanks for having me. My website is called the Million Dollar Project. The idea is simple: Make $1 million by selling 1 million pixels for $1 each. The main reason for doing this is to gather enough capital to create my own non-profit organization (“The Charity Network” © 2012). However, I am also trying to graduate debt-free and pay for studying abroad in Prague this summer. I don't like the idea of graduating with a huge student debt any more than any other student, but I’ve decided to do something about it now instead of waiting to pay off loans for half of my life! In the process of furthering my education, I will learn invaluable ways to run a successful non-profit. 

Cliff T.: Interesting that you would sell pixels, why did you choose to do this?

Chris Pavlich: I woke up one day and found an order pending for over $40,000! Of course, the advertiser forgot to shrink the image to an appropriate size and abandoned the purchase out of shock at the amount. The biggest problem with the site is that the image has to be manually shrunk by the advertiser beforehand to meet the number of pixels they want to purchase. A lot of people either ignore or forget this and then are surprised to find the estimated cost when they upload an image that is 200X200 pixels (i.e. $40,000). So, to get straight to the point, I am still waiting for my big break.

Cliff T.: 1 million dollars that is a lot of money, now I am assuming that you’re really looking to fund the study trip first. But, the site is probably going to grow, are you planning to make selling pixels a full time business venture?

Chris Pavlich: If I could make a living off of selling pixels, I would do it in a heartbeat. However, there is still a lot to explore out in the world and I really want to hold some full-time positions in consulting or banking. So, even if I was extremely successful with the pixel advertising, I am still going to work in the business world and make my mark there. Hopefully, my non-profit will eventually become my full-time occupation. Of course, the more money I make with this initial venture, the more options I will have available.

Cliff T.: As you mention this is a not for profit venture. What would you like to see happen after Prague?

Chris Pavlich: After Prague, I would like to finish paying off my student debt. I am fully financing my college education because my parents cannot afford to help. Yet, I have managed to keep my debt to a minimum with savings and internship salaries. After that, I am going to conquer one of my life goals: Start a non-profit. My non-profit will be called "The Charity Network" (© 2012). As you may have guessed, it is called “The Charity Network” because it does have something to do with "The Social Network." I hope to create an integration with the Facebook platform that would make it simple for all users on Facebook to donate to charities of their choice, see how and where their money is being used in the world, and link up with friends in global initiatives. It will harness the power of social networking to change the world in a big way with small contributions from everyone. Imagine the possibilities if all 850+ million users donated a single dollar! Poverty and starvation could be wiped out overnight! It is time for the world to stop being apathetic and begin to act in meaningful ways. If citizens of third world countries can stop worrying about the food and water they eat and drink every day, they can move on to build a thriving economy. Thus, any money put into eliminating poverty will be paid back many-fold by bringing new countries into the global economy. It goes without saying that I am very passionate about this cause. If the Facebook integration does not work out, a separate website or an app are backups.

Cliff T.: From what I see you still have lots of room on the site, is getting new clients a challenge?

Chris Pavlich: Well, the site has only been live for about three months now. I have yet to take it to the social media worlds of Twitter and Facebook, but I plan to do so in mid-March. Getting new clients is a challenge because, compared to Facebook ads and Google AdWords, I am a microscopic competitor. Most of the ads on the site right now are from family and friends. However, this site could become an overnight sensation, as The Million Dollar Homepage did seven years ago, if the news media even gave me five seconds of their time. The social media world is a powerhouse, so I will see just how much buzz I can create.

Cliff T.: How are the pixels sold?

Chris Pavlich: Each pixel is sold for a $1. Everyone is welcome to buy my pixels, which are available in 100-pixel blocks (10x10 pixels). There are 10,000 blocks and, thus, 1,000,000 pixels in total. You can buy as many pixels as you like until the entire page is sold out. When you buy some pixels, you upload an image (company logo, symbol, etc.) equal in size to the amount of money you want to spend (e.g. $600 ad = 30 pixels x 20 pixels image). You then pick where on the grid you want your image. Afterwords, you provide your site URL so that when someone clicks the ad it pushes them through to your website. Finally, you will write some ad text and upload a larger image, both of which will appear if someone hovers over your ad with his or her mouse. All purchases are completed securely through PayPal.

Cliff T.: So from what you are saying the client gets 100 pixels or more if they want and that is for 1 flat fee or do they pay for the space each month?

Chris Pavlich: It is one flat, simple fee. The buyer makes a purchase based on the size of the image they upload (e.g. 20x30 pixel image = $600) and that ad will stay up until at least 1/1/2017 guaranteed. If the project is at least 10% successful, the site will exist in perpetuity. So, this one-time advertising cost is minimal when allocated over the long-term.

Cliff T.: This sounds really interesting, maybe I should advertise, Chris thanks for sharing the story with us.

Chris Pavlich: It’s been my pleasure. I would love to have your advertisement on the site. Please, keep in touch.

Chris Pavlich is the brains behind the Million Dollar Project a site where people can buy pixels for one dollar. The site can be found at and Chris also has a blog check and the Million Dollar Project out, I think you will find it interesting. Chris wrote to us from Austin TX. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Boogie Bowl & Raise Some Dough For Equality School. A Candid Conversation With Caitlin Franco

Shake shake shake, shake shake, shake your bowling ball! It's for charity you know. Let me explain. I came across a press release for a fundraiser being put on by Equality Charter School.  Having been a bowler when I was a teen I thought this was pretty cool.  That led me to contact Caitlin Franco to find out more about the school and the fundraiser.  Caitlin welcome to Candid Conversations.

Caitlin Franco:  It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me.

Cliff T.:  First what is a charter school and how is it different from a so called regular school?

Caitlin  Franco: In brief, charter schools are public schools that are held strictly accountable for academic achievement results in exchange for autonomy from many of the rules and regulations of the traditional school system.  The Equality Charter School was authorized by the Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools and approved by the State Education Department Board of Regents.

Cliff T.:  I see that you have a unique way of admitting students, by lottery, that must create some interesting results?  For example what happens if a student comes into your school with special needs or who has a trouble past, how does that get handled?

Caitlin Franco:  We accept all children, regardless of previous academic achievement, behavioral concerns, or special education status.  Every child who comes to Equality has a fresh start and we make sure that they have the tools required to be successful in the future.  Because there is no screening in our lottery process, our student population is truly representative of the community.  Because of this, we have a special education population of approximately 21%, one of the highest of any charter school in New York City.  We teach students with disabilities in an inclusive environment, meaning that they are educated in the same classrooms as general education students.  The majority of our classrooms are co-taught with a general education teacher and a special education teacher.

Cliff T.:  I know this is a tough question to ask but, do kids drop out of your school?

Caitlin Franco:  No.  At this time, we have not had any dropouts.  Overall, we have a very low turnover rate for students. Students who leave are primarily because they are moving away. We have a very high parent satisfaction rate which is what contributes to our success.

Cliff T.: What is the school day like for the students and what do they get taught?

Caitlin Franco:  Scholars arrive to school at 8:30am if they would like a free breakfast. Classes start at 9:00am. Our scholars attend four 90-minute standards-based classes throughout the day. All scholars receive ELA (English Language Arts) and math instruction for one period each day. They receive social studies or science every other day.  And then they receive either Home and Careers, Art, or Physical Education/Health each day.  We believe in an engaging and academically rigorous environment – which is very difficult to achieve with scholars who range across all achievement levels.  Our teachers work very hard to accomplish this. In addition, we offer academic supports and extracurricular activities during lunch and after school, including book club, mathletes, debate team, small group instruction, eight sports teams, HW (homework) help, and more.

Cliff T.: Do you cover all the grades or a specific grade range?

Caitlin Franco:  At this time, we are grades 6-8.  We will be expanding in the 2014-2015 school year to the 9th grade, and then we will expand one grade level each year afterwards until we are a full 6th-12th grade school.

Cliff T.:  Just looking at and reading your website I see a strong positive attitude and a desire to really help your students.  Miss Franco besides the academics is there also an emphasis on community and team building as well as individual growth?

Caitlin Franco:  Yes, we emphasize community and team building on a regular basis.  We have worked hard to create a culture that welcomes scholars, parents, community members and staff.  We want our scholars to feel a part of something special.  We accomplish this through many different outlets.  We built a stronger relationship between our scholars, families, and local community when we had our annual food drive where our scholars and families donated enough food to feed 75 local families during the holiday season.  In addition, to build the relationships between staff and scholars we had a staff-scholar football game and a pep rally which were both exciting events that brought our school community together.  We also work hard to build community within our school between scholars through many means, such as a Student Council where scholars get a say in the school environment.  There are more than the three examples I just gave, but that should give you a clear idea of some of the ways that we build community and a feeling of teamwork throughout our entire school community.

Cliff T.:  How do you measure success and has any of your former students come back to the school to show current students what they have achieved by being a part of Equality Charter School?

Caitlin Franco:  Every scholar who enters Equality is measured differently in terms of success.  Yes, standardized tests are a part of the equation, but where a student has come from and the gains that they have made from beginning to end, the more experience they have had, the more well-rounded they are as young adults is just as important to us as are their academics.

In addition, we measure success by assessing if we have fulfilled every aspect of our vision.  Progress is something we should acknowledge, but true success is when your ultimate goals are met.  Our vision for this year is: Equality will have a firm commitment to supporting and consistently recognizing high academic achievement and social development.  At Equality, there will be a respectful, engaging, and academically rigorous environment where all staff and scholars believe that all scholars can achieve. Equality’s educational impacts will extend through service and connections to the Bronx community at large.

We have had several former scholars come back to visit, and at this time 5 of them volunteer on a weekly basis.  To me, this is an additional indicator of success.  Scholars have moved on to other schools, but they feel welcome in our environment and they look to us as a source of stability and support.

Cliff T.:  I noticed that you accept donations, do you get any government funding or is everything paid for by donation?

Caitlin Franco:  Our school is primarily funded by government money.  We get the same amount of money as public schools, yet we have to do more, such as fund our entire back office.  We have not relied on donations for our daily operations. 

Cliff T.:  Miss Franco, what or should I ask why this kind of school?   What was the draw for you to get involved with a charter school?   How long have you been at Equality?

Caitlin Franco:  I have been at Equality since the beginning.  We started to write the charter in 2007, and the school opened in 2009.  For me, it has been a labor of love.  It is a lot of work, but I have learned more in the past 2 ½ years from our scholars, families, and staff than I think I would have learned doing anything else. In addition, this school is a true opportunity for us to change the lives of students, who would not want to be involved in that?

Cliff T.:  This must be such a different feel from a public school.  Not only do you have to keep staff and students motivated you have to also keep the lights on.  How do you find the time to balance school life with school finances?

Caitlin Franco:  I am not the person who balances school life with school finances. I have to give credit to our amazing staff.  There is no way that this school would be where it is today without all of the amazing individuals that make our organization.  I especially have to give credit to Favrol Philemy, our Associate Principal, and Gabriel Park, our Director of Finance and Operations.

Cliff T.:  Speaking of funding, Miss Franco, lets talk about your fundraiser.  I love the concept, having been a bowler when I was teen.  How did you come up with a charity bowl?

Caitlin Franco:  We have never had a fundraiser before.  When we discussed our options, what was most important to us was that it would be a community building event.  Bowling seemed the perfect way to accomplish that! Our fundraiser is more about bringing everybody together than to raise money.  Our hope is that this will become an annual event that our school community looks forward to each year to enjoy each other and celebrate all of our accomplishments.

Cliff T.:  How does one go about getting tickets for the event and can a team of bowlers participate in the event?

Caitlin Franco:  Please visit for more information on the event.  Through this link, you can sign up to attend the event or to donate money if you cannot attend.  Even a donation of $5 helps us!  Your donations help to fund our scholars to bowl for free and participate in this wonderful community event.

Cliff T.:  Besides the disco bowling are there going to be any special things that people can look forward to I.e. trophies and other door prizes?

Caitlin Franco:  There will be a raffle. We are in the process of obtaining raffle prizes, so they will have to stay a secret for now!

Cliff T.:  And, when and where are you holding the event and what will the proceeds do for Equality?

Caitlin Franco:  The event will be held at Bowlmor in Union Square in New York City on March 4th from 10am-4pm. The proceeds will first and foremost help to fund our scholars attend the event free of charge. The remaining proceeds go to Equality Charter School and its scholars.

Cliff T.:  Well Miss Franco you sure do have a challenge ahead, I hope you have a great time and thanks for speaking with me and my readers.

Caitlin Franco: Thank you again for your interest in Equality.  It has been a pleasure.

Caitlin Franco is the principal at Equality Charter School. For more information about the school and to donate you can go to their website at Miss Franco wrote to us from the school located in the Bronx NY.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Football (Soccer) & Vampires? Find Out More In This Candid Conversation With Martin Tracey Author Of Beneath The Floodlights

What do football players or as we say here in North America soccer players and vampires have in common. Well each has a goal in mind. Football players like to score points and vampires like to score blood. Outside of that I can't see what else they have in common but, author Martin Tracey does. He his book Beneath the Floodlights. The book tells the tale of a team that is in bad shape and in need of divine intervention so to speak. The intervention does come in the form of a new manager and a crew of players who seem to possess incredible skills. Little do most folks know including some of the teams players that the manager and his crew are vampires and the Manager is on a quest to clone the first vampire. But, there are some slight problems that the manager encounters. I got in touch with Martin Tracey to discuss the book.

Cliff T.: Mr Tracey, or Martin welcome to Candid Conversations.

Martin Tracey: Hi Cliff, Martin is fine. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss Beneath the Floodlights.

Cliff T.: Pardon the pun but, I would like to sink my teeth into this right off the bat, so to speak. Vampires and football an interesting combo. Tell me how did you come up with the plot?

Martin Tracey: I have always been fascinated with the supernatural and horror since a small child be it ghosts, werewolves or vampires. I remember in particular around the age of 9 or 10 watching Salem’s Lot starring David Soul and it just fueled my already existing active imagination. Also like most Englanders I have always been hooked on football. In England football is a massive cultural entity which significantly dominates a variety of social circles and is very much a way of life for many individuals in this country. The team I follow is Wolverhampton Wanderers and their nickname is Wolves so I initially had the idea to have werewolves taking over a football team, but the more I thought about the plot I felt that vampires had more scope to develop the story. To many the idea of the worlds of football and vampires colliding may seem a very unique storyline, but to me it made sense to marry the two worlds together because I am writing about two subjects that really inspire me. I decided to make Cezar a Professor in Football to allow the scope for him to run a School of Football Excellence and be a credible expert in the sport and I thought if he was also a Professor in Genetics I could develop the plot of him extracting DNA to make a clone. If Cezar purchased a large enough residence he could set up both his school and laboratories at the same location. Birmingham is a major city in England yet it is surrounded by ample countryside so I decided to have the residence set up in rural Staffordshire, close to the Shropshire borders which is rural enough to possess a private dwelling yet is close enough to Birmingham for Cezar and his vampire footballers to travel to the football ground.

Cliff T.: In the book it looks like there are 4 characters that are central to the plot Johnny, the professor a girl and another vampire. How do they interact with each other?

Martin Tracey: Johnny Knox is a local boy done good. He epitomizes every school boy’s dream in that he is playing for the team he supported as a child, in this case the fictitious Birmingham team of Kingsbarr United. He is club captain and would give blood for the good of his team (you will have to read the book to see if he literally has to!) He is also a strong family man and he would die for his family without a moment’s hesitation. Johnny is haunted by the disappearance of his son some years earlier but has a daughter and also finds himself adopting a Romanian child during the course of the book. When Professor Cezar Prodanescu, the master vampire from Transylvania manages the team, he recognizes Johnny’s loyalty to the club and also his ability as a player and captain. It is never on Cezar’s agenda to compromise Johnny’s position on the team hence one of the reasons he wishes to keep his vampirism secret. Cezar is the head of a raging vampire nest which doubles as a School of Football Excellence and the most promising prospect from this school is Andrei who is a fantastic footballer and is as prolific at scoring goals as he is drinking the blood of humans. It is Andrei who helps Cezar unearth the grave of the world’s first vampire which is secretly in Sutton Park (Birmingham’s equivalent of Central Park where King Henry VIII once hunted deer) so that Cezar can attempt to extract the DNA from the ancient bones in a bid to make a clone. Whilst in Birmingham Andrei unsuspectingly falls in love with a human girl called Lily and much of the book features on his struggle to protect her from the vampire world which torments him as it is against his very being: as a master vampire he is programmed to lead the way in drinking human blood to augment his vampire race. The old saying of “opposites attract” couldn’t be more appropriate as the sweet, young innocent Lily is totally at odds to all that Cezar stands for. Andrei doesn’t share his master’s desire to protect the humans that have complemented their lives and this clash between master and servant leads to dramatic consequences. There are other strong characters in the book, for instance some of the other human footballers: Jody who loves all things 1980s, winger Charlie Cheng - a Chinese Kung Fu expert and Italian playboy Giuseppe. The products of the School of Football Excellence/Vampire nest who spectacularly merge into the team are all latter-teenage orphans mainly from the countries of Romania and Brazil. Another strong character that features is Kingsbarr fan Gene who also happens to be a seasoned vampire slayer. 

Cliff T.: Is there a bit of you injected into the book?

Martin Tracey: Sub-consciously perhaps but not intentionally. There are traits of me in Johnny I guess, my family are my main priority in life and I like to think I have strong values around loyalty but I could never play football as well as him. In fact most of the time I was a goalkeeper when I played! Many of the locations I’ve used around Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield are inspired by the love I have of my home city so when I reflect on the drinking bars of Broad Street for example some of my life experiences possibly seep through.

Cliff T.: Martin, it's mentioned that you aim to be realistic while still writing in such a way that the reader will feel the horror as well, how difficult was that for this book? And, what did you do to ensure some reality was sprinkled into the fiction?

Martin Tracey: Very good question. If certain characters are portrayed as being traditionally cynical but then become exposed to a supernatural situation that they are forced to accept I think this gives an element of realism to the story. I try to get the reader to identify with the character and consider “well if that could happen to Johnny then could it happen to me?” I get the characters to question the situation they are exposed to until they themselves come to the conclusion that they must have experienced something they could not believe possible but there indeed can be no other logical explanation other than they have experienced a supernatural occurrence. Also by placing the characters in more familiar situations and by balancing fact with fiction, this is more likely to draw the reader in when the more horrific situations occur. Many of us have fears lurking in our subconscious anyway: for example how many of us have got into a car alone late and night and found ourselves checking the back seat of the car expecting a presence to be there? Many of us have involuntary fears that can be brought to the surface if manipulated well enough.

Cliff T.: Besides this book I see that you working on two others Mind Guerrilla and Divine Inspiration, what can readers look for in these two books?

Martin Tracey: Mind Guerrilla tells the story of a tough and uncompromising Birmingham cop named Judd and his superior and friend William. They are presented with the need to catch a very unorthodox serial killer and this leads Judd uncomfortably back to a previous time in his life when he was a football hooligan. Unfortunately football hooliganism was a very big problem in Britain in the 70s and 80s but in the book its ugly mark on football has developed to a more sophisticated level. William is suffering from a debilitating illness which affects his physical being but he has always possessed a gift of telekinesis and as his illness deteriorates his telekinetic powers actually increase and this helps him assist Judd in readdressing a travesty in justice whilst at the same time seeking to avenge his sister’s misfortune at the hands of a religious cult.

An abridged version of Divine Inspiration was once published as a short story in Words magazine but I am developing it into a novel. It tells the story of a failing Rock Star who is helped from beyond the grave to try and resurrect his career. It is a proper haunted house story where Jack, the Rock Star, returns to his native Peak District in Derbyshire and purchases a creepy old mansion with a piano that seems to play on its own accord.

Cliff T.: When did you get interested in horror and why did you choose vampires for this book?

Martin Tracey: As I mentioned earlier, since I was a child horror is something that has just always fascinated me, I remember watching the old Hammer Horror films and just fell in love with them. A particular favorite is The Curse of the Werewolf starring my favorite actor of all time Oliver Reed. At a very young age my mates and I would discuss the films and invent stories about seeing ghosts – eventually convincing ourselves that the stories were real. We even kept a log book with drawings and particulars about the respective ghosts! I have never experienced anything supernatural to my knowledge but when you have an active imagination the entity of the unknown is very appealing and I keep an open mind about these things. I chose vampires because I liked the idea of their powers increasing under the darkness of the English winter sky i.e. Beneath the Floodlights. In my book vampires have evolved to stand sunlight but like other nocturnal creatures they perform best in darkness.

Cliff T.: I am assuming that the books are geared to sport and music and horror lovers, or do you have a wider audience in mind?

Martin Tracey: The book is first and foremost geared to an audience who is comfortable with mature themes. The book is about modern day footballers so swearing is par for the course. I have always been intrigued how the bite of a vampire is quite sensual in many vampire tales that I have seen and read, with the victim succumbing to the bliss that they encounter, so I have exploited this theory in the book. There are some musical references in the book mainly due to Jody’s love of 80s music and the team blast out CDs in the dressing room as a method of pre-game preparation. If the reader likes sport, music or horror then they won’t be disappointed but I believe the portrayal of the struggle Cezar has with his emotions around Lily and the human footballers allows the more sensitive and romantic reader to enjoy the book as well. There are also sprinklings of history in the book including that of British monarchs.

Cliff T.: Martin I noted that besides writing books you also do some acting and writing. Are these full time jobs for you or do you have a day job as well?

Martin Tracey: By day I work as a Performance and Analysis Manager and by night (and at weekends) I juggle my other interests whilst foremost being a husband and dad. These days the acting is very limited but I did land a part in a zombie film, called ZombieHood, which is set in Nottingham and I believe is due for release sometime this year. Both my youngest daughter and I play zombies (she needed the grotesque make up more than I) but my eldest daughter has a speaking part as the news reader who reports on the mayhem that the Zombies are causing across Nottingham. Before writing novels I concentrated on writing songs and played in a few bands around Birmingham. I had some success in the music business supporting the Fine Young Cannibals at one very special gig and I have a song called “Raging Bull” on the CD “Old Gold Anthems – the songs of Wolverhampton Wanderers”.

Cliff T.: I see that people can get the book from Amazon, can they buy the book via you're website and get copies in stores?

Martin Tracey: There is a link on my website to contact me directly to buy a signed copy; obviously UK readers can post me a cheque in sterling. I would not wish to alienate my overseas readers so if they contact me through my site in the first instance I could easily arrange to email them a PayPal invoice so they too can purchase a signed copy. I believe that they do not even need to have a PayPal account themselves to do this. In the UK the book is available in Waterstone’s store. The book is also available at Barnes and Noble, the AuthorHouse online bookstore and several other outlets.

Cliff T.: Martin it's been great to chat with you here on Candid Conversations. All the best with the books and other things you are up to.

Martin Tracey: Many thanks Cliff; I’d be happy to chat again sometime perhaps when I release other publications. All the best for now or as we say in Birmingham “Tara for a bit!”

Martin Tracey, author of the book Beneath the Floodlights, a tale of vampires and football. The book can be purchased from in print and electronic version for the Kindle. Mr. Tracey also has a website Martin Tracey wrote to us from Birmingham U.K.