Strolling the floor at Internet World, a massive convention in Chicago last month, I found a few intriguing consumer-related products nestled among the business-to-business e-commerce vendors.
PocketCard (www.pocketcard.com) offers parents a new tool for managing a child's finances.
For $10 a year (with the first year's fee waived), a parent can give a child 13 or older a Visa debit card. The parent decides when to transfer money into the card's account, and how much.
With some kids getting $50 or more a week in allowance, this could be an ideal way to keep them from walking around with a large wad of cash.
As a bonus, parents are e-mailed each time their child makes a purchase, allowing them to monitor where the money is going.
It's also a good way to move money to teens who have moved far away for college.
Other than the $10 annual fee per card, there are no other charges, and the card can be "refilled" with cash via the Web site or telephone.
PocketCard also offers a similar debit card to businesses, which lets a company issue funds for a business trip, but get exact recordkeeping of where the money was spent.
Another card, from Ask Dr. Tech, should be a godsend to those of us who have been tagged by our friends as technically savvy. Techies are often deluged with phone calls from people asking for help with pesky computer problems.
For $49 a year, you can purchase your friends and family memberships in Ask Dr. Tech (www.askdrtech.com). This service provides unlimited 24-hour telephone tech support for the Windows software platforms (including Windows 2000) as well as the Office suite of tools and hardware support for many major manufacturers. According to a representative at the show, Linux support will be added soon.
Best of all, the hold times are guaranteed to be under 10 minutes.
For another $50, you can buy a Premier membership that lowers the wait to five minutes, and receive insurance coverage against theft and vandalism (including viruses).
On my trial call, the wait was under a minute and the person on the other end of the phone seemed to know what they were talking about. A second tier of engineers handles questions beyond the abilities of the first-line troops on an on-call basis.
*James Turner is a computer consultant and avid Web surfer.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society