FTC Disclosure

Life is complicated enough without getting into hotwater with federal agencies so: TAKE NOTE Many things I review I got at no charge in exchange for an honest review. Consider this as informing you that ALL things I review may have been gotten at no charge. Realistically about 60% but in order to keep things above board just assume that I got the stuff free. Words like, “sponsored,” “promotion,” “paid ad” or even just “ad” are clear ways to disclose that you’re being paid to share information and links so BE AWARE that some of what I write can be described as an AD by the government. BTW I will NEVER say a product is great, super or even acceptable if it isn't whether I got it free or NOT!

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Pick of the Literate 
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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Infinity Hold by Barry B. Longyear, short review


I am a fantasy/scifi fan of long, long standing. I read it for a lot of reasons and am always treated to new surprises. The philosophic aspects of this book were outstanding. A treatise on accepting responsibility for your own actions is so needed for our current society. This was published in 1989. I would make it required reading for every 9th grader. That is an age that has the capability and a mind open enough to change themselves into something better.

Bando is a multiple time loser facing life in a future prison. In a cost saving measure, society’s decision to send all lifers to a prison planet seems financially feasible. The impact of a fresh start on a cast of miscreants of horrendous talent provides thought provoking insight as to how we might all change for the better. It is a good read with a very positive soul searching side effect.

Don’t read scifi? Open your mind, you may find it expanded.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Twas the night before the night before…

The calm before the storm, the quiet of dawn before the first attack, the wind whistling threw the wreaths, rain pouring down, snug in my cap, munching gingerbread men. Christmas is a celebration of childhood. Memories of past Christmases threaten to overwhelm my senses. My anticipation is not now for my gifts or my children’s gifts but my grandchildren’s. How that time has flown is totally beyond me. I don’t ache, puff on a pipe, wallow in ageism, in my own mind I am still cool, listen to “classic” rock and lift weights at least three times a week. How, impossibly how, can I have grandchildren? Nevertheless, I do, I dote and I am excited to watch their faces and behavior on these magical days.

There is no me in Christmas, there is only the gift of giving. The rush of pleasure when a gift scores. The astounding emotion when shouts of delight and glee accompany the opening of gifts. The fun of being there, with family can not be surpassed. The true gifts of Christmas are the feelings that you cherish for the rest of your life. May you have memories this holiday that you can cherish forever.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Samsung FlipShot-ho hum



I just got the Samsung FlipShot aka SCH-U900. If you haven’t noticed by now, I am very family oriented, specifically focused on grandchildren. I frequently lament that I don’t have my camera on me. However, I always have my phone on me. Thusly I wanted a phone with a decent camera. The FlipShot comes close.

Samsung claims it is a 3 megapixel camera with flash and zoom. The photos are not what I would consider decent from a digital camera but compared to my last phone/camera, they are much better. The phone has a slot for a micro sd memory card. I popped a 2gb card in there for saving my photos. I have not been able to find a way to default the photos to the memory card. You have to manually move them. I haven’t given up and perhaps in a software upgrade there will be a way to get them to the card without moving them manually. Getting them off of the phone is interesting. If you don’t buy Samsung’s charging/data cable, you can send them to yourself and get them on your pc that way. You can upload them to the Verizon picture place which allows you to share them but still doesn’t let you download them to your pc. You can email them to yourself or you can print them….only to their print service which is Fuji Film. So if you actually want to work on the photos yourself you really need to get the charging/data cable. Verizon wants $30.00 for the cable. I found it on http://www.wirelessemporium.com/ for $16.00 plus shipping but I found a coupon on http://www.retailmenot.com/ that got the total down to $15.29.

Loading the software onto your pc is simple enough. Then you plug the cable into your phone and into a usb port on your pc. You can actually charge your phones batter off of your pc’s usb port, which is kinda of cool. Anyway, you get a menu on your phone screen asking if you want to access your card. At that point of you agree, your phone is seen as a memory card by your pc. You can then move, copy or whatever you want as if it is merely a memory card. The whole process is much easier than pulling the micro sd card out every time you want to move photos to your pc. The memory card is in a slot under the battery cover.

The software is a bit quirky. I found once you access the micro sd card from your pc the software doesn’t seem to want you to do it again without a reboot of your computer. I notice on my laptop if it goes into sleep mode and I re-log in, the software works again.

The same cable is supposed to let you use the phone as a modem on your computer. I can find nowhere, that is NO WHERE any reference to how you are to do that. Samsung’s site is dreadful. It is not easy to search and there are discrepancies with model number, serial numbers and English syntax. Butkus on how to use the phone as a modem. Even their contact form was goofy. Very disappointing as to how to find information.

The on-screen menu on the phone is so-so. It isn’t any worse than most but certainly no better. It is not intuitive and is difficult to navigate. The music function is decent as is the built in speaker. I have not been able to get the Bluetooth head set to work with the music yet, maybe never. The setting of ringtones is cumbersome. You can select specific tones for users but it does not appear to let you do so for a group. Then they don’t seem to function properly anyway since the default ringtone you set, seems to defeat setting individual settings.
All that said, it is an ok phone. I like the camera even though blurring seems to be the only shots you can get. The phone shuts down all by itself occasionally and the guy at the local Verizon store thinks their will be a software fix out for that in January or February. All in all, a little better than my last phone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Do you give a damn?

I awoke last night at 3:00 a.m., in tears. I dreamt of the impact our war is having on families. My tears were for parents, children and spouses who have lost a loved one. I don’t want to get into a diatribe on our current war. That is being endlessly debated with emotion, passion and sadly little reasoned thought. I want to dwell on the pain that war has brought to our society. Is there anyone who has not been touched by loss? I know too many people who have lost someone close to them. My son’s friend was one of the first to die in Afghanistan. Your children should not have to face the loss of their peers.

The local paper has being doing a series of articles on a local boy who died in the war. I suspect that those heart rending articles are what precipitated the dream or nightmare as it was. It doesn’t matter what you think about the war, the reasons, good or bad that we are in it or how we can get out. What matters is making sure that those who have sacrificed are not forgotten. Making sure that their families and loved ones know that others appreciate those sacrifices is critical. It is imperative as a society that right or wrong we honor those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. We are not honoring war when we care for those who died or came back impaired, we are honoring the people who give themselves for the rest of us.

You all know someone who has suffered loss; take the time to tell them that you care too. It is important; never more so than in this season. Give a little of yourself, it won’t compare to what they have given, but it may help alleviate their pain.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Put Up or Shut Up.

Instead of complaining about your latest bad experience of puchasing on the web, think about being proactive, when you buy something online and have an experience, good or bad, rate the transaction. It gives us, collectively, a much better idea where and from who to buy. The more we participate in the process the better chance we have of seeing reliable, fair vendors online.

I’ve mentioned I got a new cellular phone, once I feel comfortable with it, I will review it. In the meantime I wanted to get some accessories for it. The Verizon store charges top dollar for the accessories so I looked elsewhere. Overall the ratings of cellular phone accessories resellers are much worse than abysmal. I was amazed how many nice web sites go so poorly rated by folks who had used them. I’ve mentioned in the past the rating company I use most frequently is:
http://www.resellerratings.com/
They seem to be very reliable. Website after website got too many highly dissatisfied customers. In fact, it was hard to find any site that specialized in cellular accessories that got even an average rating.

I have no theories here. I don’t know why that is the case. What attracts snake oil sales mentality to the cellular field? I placed an order yesterday with wirelessemporium.com. I will certainly let you know how it worked out. They got an 8.61 rating out of 10 but with only 9 reviews who knows how accurate it is. You bet I will be rating them but how about you helping me and yourself out by spending 30 seconds and rating your next online transaction.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Are you leaving money on the table?

How often have you gotten to the checkout area at an online store, saw the area for coupon and wished you had one? I search out many coupon sites but too many of them want to overwhelm you with spam and or offers. The only one I have found that works well is:
http://www.retailmenot.com/
I have used several coupons from their site and had them work. A couple have not worked but frankly their success rate is way better than any other coupon site I have used. I ordered a data cable for my new phone from wireless emporium today and when checking out they asked for coupons. I went to retailmenot and found a coupons and saved $1.80. Sure, that isn’t an enormous sum but better in my pocket than in theirs’. So the next time you hit the checkout page and see an open form field for coupon, check out retailmenot.com and perhaps you too will save some money.

Kudos to Benq

My son’s 17” Benq LCD monitor blew out. It was in the last month of it’s three year warranty. I sent it in for warranty service after talking to their tech support. I actually got a technician on the phone with NO wait and after trying a couple of things he suggested, he emailed me an RMA (return material authorization) and I shipped it. They got it on a Friday and my son got it back on the following Tuesday. Considering the horrendous wait times I have seen on warranty service from other vendors, I was truly impressed. Benq has very aggressive pricing and even backs up their warranty. How utterly amazing!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ringtones--Do we really need them?

Ok, I got a new phone. Verizon was able to move my contacts over to the new phone but not the ring tones. Seems somewhat suspicions to me since I now have to buy the same ringtones again. Of course I could be satisfied with one of the standard ringtones that comes with the phone. Not likely though, being a boomer, I wanted a Cream ringtone and a Who ringtone. Of course I had to get my wife a Led Zeppelin ringtone. Do we need them? No, do we want them, yes. It is an expression of individualism, it makes me smile when my phone rings.

Were they easy to get? NO. In fact I wonder how many people don’t get them because it is cumbersome. To me a web site where I could just pick out the ringtones I wanted and have them downloaded to my phone would have been perfect. Every web site I found wanted a financial commitment,(most $9.99) each month. Why would I want to change my ringtone each month and why would I want to make a long term commitment. So I downloaded them for the phone from the phone. Sounds simple but when you get knocked off multiple times with “the network is busy at the moment” message it becomes an exercise in frustration. The free service that allowed me to search their ringtones kept dropping off line. I finally tried the Sony service, the Led Zeppelin selection was abysmal and they charged me $3.00 for the privilege of looking at their catalog. That is a total ripoff since I would still have had to pay for the ringtone if they had had it. I finally got what I wanted in addition I got things I didn’t want such as frustration, anger, despair and reluctant acceptance that if I wanted the specific ringtones I had to play their stupid games.

You can get what you want if you are willing to jump through the corporate hoop to get it and are stubborn enough to persist. If they made it a cleaner, simpler process, they would sell more ringtones. Certainly is obvious why the younger folk hack their ringtones and don’t pay for them. I don’t think it is the money, I think it is the aggravation factor. They are not willing to spend the time to jump threw the hoops. I am not sure they are wrong.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Micro SD Deal—Kingston Rules!

I got a new phone that takes Micro SD memory. I went shopping and discovered the prices are all over the place. Here is the best deal I found.
http://www.buy.com/prod/kingston-usb-micro-sd-secure-digital-reader-w-2gb-microsd-card-red/q/loc/101/204737106.html

Not only is it a good price for a 2gb micro sd card, it includes a USB reader and is made by Kingston, one of my favorite vendors for only $25.00 and FREE shipping. Why is Kingston a favorite? Anytime I have had a warranty issue, they have politely, pleasantly and rapidly handled it. Not below my concerns on customer service. Kingston has it, so even if is was more money, it would be worth it due to the Kingston service.

So if you want to store a lot of music or photos on your phone, grab this, it can’t last long at this price.

Another ISP Stumbles

My ISP recently informed me that it was migrating servers. This was, of course, for my benefit, would provide me with a better interface, more security..yadda, yadda, yadda. I am liquidating some equipment for a client. I sent out 50 emails one Monday requesting bids on the equipment. On Thursday I began to wonder why I was getting no response when I got a call following up on an emailed offer. Since I get multiple email accounts in my Outlook I didn’t notice that I was getting NO email in from my business account. So all those emails were wasted as I was unable to get any responses. The ISP took 3 days to straighten out the receiving problem. I discovered Saturday morning I could get email in my business account but I could not send from it any more. I could do it before they “fixed” the email problem but after I could receive but not send. After another several hours we got it “all” fixed.

The following Thursday I got an email stating my site was migrated and I should check it. I did and it wasn’t working correctly. I happened to use FrontPage to create that site and my FrontPage extensions were no longer enabled. So I went out to enable them. It would not enable due to some .htaccess files that I had to track down and delete before it would enable. It said it enabled….it didn’t. After over one hour waiting online for a tech chat, I got a guy who said my FrontPage extensions were corrupt, backup my site and he would delete it and I could then upload it back up after he fixed the FrontPage extensions. I did so and the web page was partially republished. Of course I discovered then that I could receive email but not to Outlook. I had to go to their site and download a patch to allow me to receive to Outlook. Now I think it is all working but I refuse to hold my breath because that would lead to certain death.

The point I am making here, admittedly verbosely, is that why is it that people we are paying to provide us with a service can claim to be upgrading our experience and in the process providing us with loss of business and umpteen hours of reconstruction. Rather than the “Customer is always right’, it appears to be the customer isn’t even considered.

I’m mostly retired, reasonably computer literate and it took me hours to solve my issues. What about the folks who aren’t retired, don’t have the time to spare and are not quite as literate? If we are evolving into a service economy then we better start seeing some service, somewhere, PLEASE!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Never Try? You May As Well Die

Absolutely nothing to do with saving money on tech.

Too many people look over their shoulder and regret their past. Instead of looking at the past, perhaps look at today and do what is necessary to keep you from looking over your shoulder tomorrow with regret.

What haven’t you done that you wished you had? What haven’t you tried that now you can’t? Instead of postponing do it now.

Have you told someone in your life that you do truly love them? Today? Why not? What are you waiting for? Have you taken the time to call you high school buddy and say what the heck are you doing these days? Have you at least tried to help someone you don’t know just because it is the right thing to do?

Today is not the time to regret what you didn’t do yesterday.
Today is the time to do the things that stave off regret.
Today is the time to try a new dish, a new radio station, dig out an old sweater and wrap up in it, color your hair, shine your head, do what ever makes you happy. Smile at a baby, thank someone for helping you. Live your day as full as you can….and tomorrow, you can look ahead at what’s next as opposed to looking behind with regret.

Only you can make the most of yourself.

.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Certified Check Scam

I have some tech stuff posted on Craig’s List to sell for a client. I haven’t gotten a lot of response but 40 % of the responses offered to buy the equipment at my asking price. Now what is most interesting is that a full 50% of the offers to buy my equipment for asking price were totally fraudulent. Think about that, 50% bogus offers. Overall the bogus offers were 20% of my total responses.

Here was their deal. “Wow, want to buy your stuff immediately, I’ll send you a check for $4,000.00, you deduct $3,000.00 for your equipment and give the remaining $1,000.00 to my shipper when he picks up the equipment.” The explanation is that way he doesn’t have to do two certified checks, he can just do one and I pay the shipper. Doesn’t sound too bad and he is paying the full asking price. Here’s the kicker, the certified check will bounce. Guaranteed, it will bounce. I thought everyone knew about this scam but after explaining it to my client, he still didn’t see the problem. I called my local chief of police and he didn’t feel it was feasible to pursue the issue. I wanted to set up a sting but he noted that realistically tracking the author of the email would be difficult and statistically the author was most likely be outside of the U.S.

This is a common internet related scam that most of you who are reading this are already familiar with. My surprise was the number of people who I mentioned this to who had never heard of the scam. I related the story to a tech support guy whose surprise was that someone would trust me to not keep their cashiers check and run. He had not read one thing on the web about how many of these “cashier’s” checks are fraudulent. So in the unlikely case that you are not familiar with this scam, remember is something is too good to be true, it probably is not true.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Gift Card Rip Off, A Rant by any name.

Gift cards are an easy and often thoughtful gift. What fries me is that the retailers act as if they are doing you a favor by selling them to you. Well over 10% of gift cards are never used. That works out to about an $80 billion dollar gift to the retailers. You would think they would be more interested in selling them to you, knowing that 10% of them will never be used.

I went online last night to purchase a couple of restaurant gift cards. I got all the way to check out for an Outback gift card when they added in their fee. FEE! They were charging me a fee to buy a gift card and charging me to mail it as well. I have no objection to any business making a profit. However charging a fee and shipping on a plastic card that 10% of will never be redeemed seems WRONG.

After much searching through many restaurant sites, I found that Olive Garden is waiving shipping for the holiday. Their card can be used at the Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 or any other Darden restaurant. The Olive Garden card NEVER expires and there are now zero fees. In addition, Olive Garden will sell cards at a discount, but most of us aren’t going to buy enough of them to be able to do that.

MetroMedia Restaurant Group doesn’t appear to every charge a fee or shipping. Best of all they have Bennigan’s, Bennigan’s Sport, Ponderosa, Bonanza, Steak and Ale, 29 Degrees Tavern, the Plano Tavern and the Southlake Tavern where you can use the card. No fees, no shipping and lots of places to use it. They have no dormancy fees, which some cards reduce the value for non-use, imagine that! They do expire, but then so do gift certificates. MRG cards have a minimum life of three years.

Gift cards are a nice gift, perhaps if we patronize those business that act as if they want our business and charging no fees for the privilege of spending money with them, the rest of them will start making their gift cards more attractive.
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