This is column #1098, and it occurs to me that you may actually have missed a few.

For the first few years, they appeared on the site of a deep-discount broker called Ceres (which was soon renamed Ameritrade).

Here — in the spirit of summer re-runs — is the very first one, from four and a half years ago. I’m not putting it up there with the original Seinfeld episode or anything. But here it is.

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Welcome to my “daily comment.” The ground rules Ceres and I have agreed to are simple. I can write whatever I want, ranging from a sentence to an epic, and nothing is off limits.

I can even say things like, “Don’t trade stocks yourself – for most people, it’s smarter to invest through no-load mutual funds.” Which it is. (Not that this has ever stopped me from testing my hand against the pros.)

Most days, I’ll presumably write something vaguely related to money, since money is much on my mind. But don’t be amazed by a political screed or two, or a recipe for low-fat lunch. (OK, here it is: take one low-fat Bilinksi chicken sausage, microwave 90 seconds, place across a slice of low-fat bread, drown in ketchup, envelope in your fist, and eat, being careful not to bite off a finger in your enthusiasm – it’s that good.)

On the theory that we should start with something simple, like cash, today’s “comment” is an ode to automated teller machines.

Some people still don’t like using them, but for most of us it’s hard to remember that just 20 years ago ATMs barely existed – and were met with considerable animosity when they were. Even the press was dubious. “People will never trust them,” was the general reaction. Not me. I love machines, am only so-so with humans, and hate standing in line. So I was an “early adopter.”

But what I learned 20 years later – last weekend, in fact – is how one big New York bank, Chemical, decided to overcome resistance and build usership. A massive educational ad campaign? Nah. Supposedly, according to a friend who used to work there, Chemical simply programmed the machines to occasionally dispense extra cash. Knowing New Yorkers, Chemical knew word would spread. (Remember, back then people counted their cash-machine cash very carefully, to be sure they got what they were supposed to. So if they got an extra $10 or $20, they noticed.)

I can’t say for sure Chemical actually went through with this. Nor what proportion of honest souls, if any, actually turned in their surplus cash (sounds like a college psychology course experiment, no?). But compared with the cost of a major New York City ad campaign, dispensing a few thousand extra twenties is a bargain.

If any of you are working to introduce “digital cash” to a skeptical universe, perhaps there’s a marketing lesson here somewhere. If you need guinea pigs to ply with extra digicash, please include me in the beta test.

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[Programming note: Tonight’s Frasier is the one where he’s booked as a TV talk show host. Rerun. In tonight’s Just Shoot Me, Finch encounters his ex-wife at Nina’s “sexaholics” meeting. Rerun. Tonight’s E.R. is the one where Dr. Corday’s domineering mother comes to visit. Rerun.]

 

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