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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Please check out my other blogs
Pick of the Literate 
or Azure Dwarf’s Horde
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Clueless George Buys A Plasma TV Part 1

A Slightly Fictionalized Serial Saga Of the Horrifying Complexity of Purchasing A Plasma TV

This is going to be posted over three posts as I don’t want to make anyone suffer through reading the grotesque length of this dismaying tale of how I love my buddy but hate his masochism.

It all started on a sun drenched day with a promise of being one of those low humidity, slightly warm fall days you wait for all year. When suddenly the phone rang, a little voice said, “don’t answer, don’t answer,” but much to my eventual dismay, I did.

George wanted my advice. An astute individual with a good heart and low technical skills, George always seeks my advice regarding any tech purchases. He even reads this blog!

I’ll save you a lot of reading right now. If you are considering purchasing a big screen TV on the web, you may wish to reconsider unless you have severe masochistic tendencies. There is no need to read the tawdry tale that follows unless you too, are masochistic.

My buddy George asked me for advice on a big screen purchase. Since I know Peter Putman , the renowned HDTV expert personally, I called him for advice. Pete told me definitely go 1080p and recommended plasma as all of the past negatives of plasma have been corrected and it is a better picture than LCD. He also suggested that the LED TVs are grossly overpriced. We did not discuss 3-D. My recollection is that he thought Samsung, LG and Panasonic products were all fine but he may have mentioned more.

I got together with George over an inexpensive box of Cabernet and we discussed TVs. We also discussed the Phillies, the Steelers and the Eagles but our purpose was TVs. I have discovered that copious quantities of Cabernet do tend to broaden the topic field though.

George decided on either a Samsung or an LG. He found the best price at Amazon on the LG 50PK550. Through a variety of humorous (my word, not his) setbacks in trying to use the Discover Card secure number software and both Amazon and Discover blaming the other for the process not working, he canceled the TV. He canceled the TV because at that point the Amazon online system would not accept any credit card for that order. Everyone at Discover and Amazon were very polite and both considered the other at fault.

George, learning from his mistake, then called a local TV dealer and got the TV. Don’t I wish! George had planned on reordering the TV from the same vendor but in a search of Amazon, he found a better deal from another vendor. Did I mention George’s masochistic tendencies? He ordered the TV and his credit card(Visa not Discover) went through. He thought he was done. Hah! We killed a whole 3 liter box of Cabernet through this saga. If you truly are interested in the rest of the tale, tune back into The Days of Tomorrow or Money Saving Tech Tips, your choice.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Absurdity of Banning Books

I know this a tech blog mostly, but I still have to shout out something about Banned Books Week September 25−October 2, 2010


First, I went out and bought 8 books for my grandchildren today. None of them are banned. They were innocuous children’s books but it was my own little support of the book industry.
My stomach literally roils when I think of book banning. My first thoughts are of the Spanish Inquisition. Telling people don’t read that is akin to saying don’t look down when you are climbing. The first thing you do is look down. If the narrow minded idiots who seek to ban books really want to succeed, they should make whatever book they are trying to suppress required reading in the schools. This would curb the enthusiasm of the teens for whatever they are striving to ban.

My own recollection of restricted, not banned but restricted, books was in the town library. Children under 16 were not allowed to read books in the adult section. Of course that meant they must be better than the ones I was allowed to read. After I successfully read the children’s section of the Library my Dad got me dispensation to take out books from the ADULT section. Well, it wasn’t as adult as I had thought. This was long before the terminology of Adult was ascribed to porn so that wasn’t my surprise. My surprise was there was so little difference besides length of story. I never did figure out what they were protecting us from.
I do have to say that my love of reading and now writing must be laid at the feet of my father. He read constantly and encouraged all of us to read. Dad was the most well read person I ever met, ever! He graduated from high school but never had the opportunity to go further in his education so he made up for that by reading everything he could acquire. His love of reading has trickled down to great grandchildren who love books. All due to one very humble man’s love of reading.
He wasn’t perfect. Dad made a rash assumption years ago about the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. I was in a way, way,way, way off Broadway production of it and I asked him if he had listened to it. He shamefacedly admitted he hadn't, so I bought him a copy. He listened and he ended up using it to teach his Sunday school class of "young' adults. He generated a lot of controversy in that little church particularly when he was so outspoken about his own willingness to ban something before listening (reading) to it. I was always proud of my Dad but I truly busted my buttons when he dropped the needle on that LP and opened the eyes of his fellow parishioners.
So my love of reading led me to writing. Today I am writing to remind anyone who reads this that banning books is paramount to national suicide. If we let radicals of any stripe dictate what we read and how we then think our nation will perish. Succinctly it is patriotic to read!
Go out and buy a book!  Preferably go out and buy one of my books but if not mine, buy somebody’s book or get one out of the library.
Be proud to be a reader!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Uniden DECT1560 Cordless Phones

This is a very nice set of phones for a good value. The setup was easy, right from the menu button on the phone. Since I always read manuals, I read the manual anyway. The call clarity is good, even my mother-in-law was impressed and we all know how hard that can be. The different ringer option is nice. Since we are using both the phones in the same room it is easy to identify which phone is ringing. I also liked the ability to program incoming calls using caller ID with specific rings. Come to think of it, that may be how my kids are screening out my calls when I call them. Hmm!

All in all the phones are a good value for the dollar. The two phones combined footprint is smaller than one of the phones that were previously on our desks. Range from the base station was good as well. I don’t walk around the yard with my phone anyway but this got reception in the basement and in the garage which are all I am looking for in a cordless.

I chose this product from CSN stores with no input on choice of product from them. They then provided me with the product to review. There were no conditions as to what I could or couldn’t say. I plan on using the product because I like it and that was the basis for my review. I recommend the product.

PRODUCT DETAILS:
• Model Name/Number: DECT1560-2
• Caller ID/Type: Handset
• Telephone Type: Cordless
• Speakerphone: Handset
• Display: 3-line
• Multi-Handset Capability: Up to 6
• Telephone Special Features: Caller ID, Phonebook Transfer
• Intercom: Yes
• Additional Handsets Included [Nom]: 1
• Display Type(s): LCD
• Pre-Consumer Recycled Content Percent [Nom]: 0 %
• Speed Dial Memories [Nom]: 70
• Conferencing: 3-Way
• Paging: Yes
• Caller ID Features: Name/Number Display
• Total Recycled Content Percent [Nom]: 0 %
• Caller ID Locations: Handset
• Global Product Type: Telephones-Cordless
• Memory/Redial [Nom]: 5
• Compliance, Standards: ENERGY STAR Qualified
• Frequency: 1.9 GHz
• Color(s): Titanium

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Civility or Lack Thereof


I was recently offended on my drive to play golf last week. Two other drivers were courteous and I didn’t witness a single witless driver. I was offended because it is so annoying that courtesy is so rare that you notice it when it occurs.

This morning on the way to breakfast someone was courteous. Two were flat out rude. One portly young man in his large, tricked out SUV made sure he blocked the exit drive from the strip mall I was leaving. Considering the fact that my left signal was on, I wasn’t going to get in front of him or slow him down and he looked at me as he approached and then turned his head when he stopped directly in front of me, I surmise it was just rudeness. The other idiot felt obliged to blow his horn at the courteous driver who stopped her car and waved me, the pedestrian, to cross in front of her. I smiled and waved at him, in spite of my inclination to flip him the single digit salute.

In the interest of fairness I’ve tried to puzzle out what fuels the lack of civility that often seems rampant. I’m sure people have economic woes preying on their mind. I suspect that many are oblivious as opposed to rude. Some folks are so busy conversing on the cell phone, eating their lunch or putting on their makeup that secondary tasks such as driving courteously escape their notice.

The flip side is that yesterday several strangers assisted my wife in a parking issue. Albeit she is much, much more attractive than I am, they may have been just as courteous to me.

Where you might wonder is this tirade going?

Don’t know, wish I did. I try to be courteous in all things, let alone behind the wheel. I have made a conscious refrain from expressing my frequent outrage by sordid hand gestures due to both courteous restraint and the number of nuts with guns. I guess where this is going is that it would be great if we could all try harder to insert some civility into our daily life. It wouldn’t change the world but it would make it a much more civilized place to live.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Printmaster Platinum 2.0 Not So Masterful


Oh, the joys of Windows 7. My American Greeting Card CreateACard Platinum 7 is not happy with Windows 7. It isn’t flat out incompatible, it just is erratic. Sometimes it works just fine and others, no so much. So I did a search and found a site that claimed to have evaluated greeting card software. They rated Printmaster Platinum as number one.

Well, I have to wonder if they actually looked at the software. First I was lured by the 50% off price at Staples. I should have guessed that if they were selling it at 50% off it was not the best seller. Next it took forever to install, hug, chug, I think I can, I think I can. Luckily I have two computers on my desk so I wasn’t dead in the water during installation.

Upon starting the software I discovered that their idea of greeting cards and that of my old reliable American Greeting Card Create are radically different. My MS Publisher 2003 has better greeting card options than this package. It also was slowwww! I mean really, really slow.  It takes 56 seconds from when you click on the icon to open the program until the program actually opens. It took 20 seconds to open a greeting card template. That may seem like nit picking but for example it takes my old CreateACard software 5 seconds to open and less than 10 seconds to open a full fledge greeting card with message, not just a “start here” template and it isn't suppose to be Windows 7 compatible.

Bottom line, I bought a swiss army knife, do everything not so well, instead of a software package that specifically does greeting cards well. My bad! I can’t blame it on anyone else. I’d like to. I called Staples and got the old “there is NO return on software” policy. So I am stuck with a software package that claims to be Windows 7 compatible but is really, really slow and claims to have good greeting cards, not really.

So if you are looking for something to generate nice greeting cards, I can not recommend Printmaster Platinum. For me, I’m going to continue to use my erratic, out of date, old CreateACard software that is still better than my supposedly up to date new software.

I don't know that the Hallmark Card Studio Deluxe works any better but I'm guessing it can't be any worse.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Fly The Unfriendly Skies When You Can Take A Very Friendly Train?

The recent Jet Blue flight attendant that went bananas seems to clearly illustrate why airlines are in financial difficulty. Their service stinks! In fact they provide no service. Their attitude is dismissive. Airlines nickel and dime you to distraction. I used to fly more often just for fun. I now avoid airlines as much as I can. I’m retired, I had anticipated flying more not less but why, oh why would I subject myself to being abused?

I’ve started taking the AutoTrain to Florida. Say what you will about Amtrak but the service was terrific. It reminded me of how much fun it was to fly years and years ago. The Amtrak staff acted if they were really glad I took the train. They extended themselves. The food wasn’t outstanding but it far surpassed anything I’ve had on an airplane for many years.

The next time I go cross country I plan on looking at a train instead of a plane. It would be nice if the AutoTrain went cross country. That would be a treat. Get off for a couple of days and sightsee and then get back on the train and keep on going. If you haven’t tried the AutoTrain or any other train, I would suggest you do. It is far more civilized than a flight and you will be treated as a valued passenger instead of an annoying nuisance.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Water Aid, A Good Cause

I went to the local arts and crafts show this past weekend. It was crowded and noisy and packed with talented people. After an hour or so of walking I realized I was parched. I just started to look for a vendor or store selling water when a woman handed me a bottle of water with a local real estate agents name on it. It was a free bottle of water advertising her real estate firm. I thanked her for being a “life saver” and drank my free bottle of water. I thought nothing of that free bottle of water. I wasn’t truly parched I just felt like I was.

Reality check is that 4000 kids die each day due to illnesses from lack of clean drinking water. They aren’t just parched, they’re dying!

It is frightening to consider a number like 4000 dead kids per day. Actually it is beyond frightening and into appalling! The following video describes Water Aid an international organization that works to provide both clean water and sanitation instruction.



Contact Information:Address: 232 Madison Avenue Suite 1202 New York, NY United States
Phone number: 1-212-683-0430 Web site: http://www.wateraidamerica.org/

I am a blogger. I am not much of an activist. I don’t carry signs and march in protests. However I do write and amazingly I have a few folks who read what I write. I participate in an organization called Bloggers Unite.

From the pages of Bloggers Unite: Bloggers Unite is a community that cares. Bloggers Unite is an attempt to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place. By asking bloggers to write about a particular subject on 1 day of the month, a single voice can be joined with thousands to help make a difference; from raising awareness for cancer, to an effort to better education systems or supporting 3rd world countries.

I don’t participate in every event that Bloggers Unite suggests. That isn’t inferring that those events aren’t worth support, it is my inability to better budget my time to get everything done I hope to do. This is not a political cause, this is a people cause.  It's easy to take clean water for granted unless you don't have any clean water.  Pony up to make a more humane world.

The following widget will allow you to make a donation to Water Aid. I made a donation. If you make one too perhaps together we can make life better for someone we don’t know and will never meet. That’s something to feel pretty darn good about.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Credit Card Companies Are Not Your Friends

Wow, that is a blanket and bald statement. However I have a good reason for feeling that way. The credit card companies are currently involved in trying to convince people they are the good guys out to help you. I wonder how much they have actually changed.

The basis for my cynicism occurred about 10 years ago. The Internet was still fairly new and my business got a call from someone in NY who saw our web site. The caller spent a couple of hours on the phone with one of my sales reps, configuring several laptop proposals. After two days of emails back and forth the caller said that he wished to purchase 8 laptops. My rep came to me and asked how he could do a transaction that large over the phone. I told him to get all, note ALL, of the necessary credit card information and then call the credit card company. I instructed him to not only get the transaction authorized, I told him to go to the credit card company’s fraud department and verify the transaction with them as well.

My sales rep jumped through every hoop the card company threw out. After he had approval, we ordered the laptops and shipped them. Our account was credited and we thought the transaction was final.

Imagine our surprise when two months later our credit card account was slammed with an $8000.00 reversal. They just plucked out eight grand and said one of the two credit cards the NY customer used was invalid. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth to absolutely no avail we called the cops. The cops locally said they would contact the cops in the community where the laptops were shipped. Of course, the address was vacant. The local cops said they couldn’t do anything, the NY cops said they couldn’t do anything and the credit card company said, tsk, tsk you lose.

The only good but still confusing fact was that one of the two cards the NY customer used was just fine, so one half of the transaction went through. We did find out that the NY customer had changed his address from a CA address to the NY address the week before the transaction and changed it back the week after the transaction. Oddly enough the credit card company and the cops couldn’t use that fact to pursue the crook.

Who lost in this deal? The credit card company didn’t lose a single dime, in spite of their assurances to us that we were covered, we weren’t. A small business taking an $8000.00 hit is hurt. I realize to the big guys, $8k is chump change, but not to a small business.

My caveat to any of you small business owners that thinks you are protected by your credit card company when you get an authorization, THINK AGAIN.





Tuesday, September 7, 2010

CSN Stores Score


CSN Stores are making a push in the blogosphere. They are providing products to review such as console tables , back to school stuff, office supplies, the list is practically endless. What I like about this outfit is that there is no attempt to direct my writing or influence it. They provide products to review and they encourage me to go to any one of their more than 200 stores and choose the specific product I want to review. How cool is that!

I recently reviewed an APC Backup UPS 350 that I got on their site. They made no attempt whatsoever to influence what I chose or how I wrote my review. To me that speaks quite well for their confidence level in their site, their policies and their products.

I got an email today asking me if I would be interested in looking at another product. I replied affirmatively. Now the hard part will be trying to decide what to review.

I love being retired and writing! This is so much fun.

Stay tuned, who knows what I will pick to review, I sure don’t! See it here, Soon!

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Monday, September 6, 2010

VGA vs. DVI/HDMI


There have been countless pieces written on this topic but frankly I never read them until I got a new 24” monitor that had a HDMI input. I was not happy with the HDMI from my PC to my 40” so I hadn’t planned on bothering with the HDMI to DVI on my 24” monitor until I saw an Amazon HDMI to DVI cable at a reasonable price ($7.49). What the heck, I bought it and tried it out.

I saw no difference between VGA and the DVI/HDMI. I found this curious so I googled VGA vs. DVI/HDMI and most of the posts I found were several years old. I did find one post that was more recent and made sense. The bottom line as I could see was that unless you have specific video needs there isn’t a whole hill of beans difference. VGA is analog and DVI/HDMI is digital so theoretically digital should be better. However the majority of users are not involved in situations that stress either choice.

BTW there are several HDMI connectors so once again a picture is worth a thousand words. I own 5 HDMI cables and of course none of them were HDMI to DVI. The picture at Amazon made the cable selection very easy.

So if you have VGA and are happy with the visual aspect you probably don’t need to upgrade. If you are running some serious video components and want to receive your audio signal digitally (DVI/HDMI carry audio and video digitally) then DVI/HDMI is a better choice.



Thursday, September 2, 2010

Get A Good Deal On Your Central Air Conditioner


HVAC folks have a special language just like any other profession. Unless you are in the business you really are not going to be able to get a truly clear understanding of all of their terminology. That is not a bar to getting a decent price. Many AC vendors are proposing units that exceed the government standards for energy savings. By exceeding the standards they assure you that you can get the $1500.00 tax credit offered by Federal Tax Credit for Energy Efficiency. If you have used the tax credit for any other Energy Star improvement, you can NOT use it again. It is a once and done tax credit, no matter what the salesman tells you. Also remember it is up to 30% of the purchase or a maximum of $1500.00 for most Energy Star improvements. Solar panel installs fall under another category so look that up if you are interested.

The tax credit is not a refundable tax credit. That is important. A refundable tax credit means that if you owe no taxes and you generate a refundable tax credit, the government will pay you the credit. As an example: if you owe no taxes and have a refundable tax credit of $300.00 the government will send you a check for $300.00. If you owe $500.00 in taxes they will take it off your taxes. The Federal Tax Credit for Energy Efficiency is NOT refundable which means if you owe $500.00 in taxes and have a $1500.00 tax credit, the government will wipe out your $500.00 tax bill. As best as I can determine, there is no carry over and there is NO additional refund. So when the sales person is trying to upsell you to get the tax credit make sure you can actually get the tax credit.

Another concern is how to determine how much of an upgrade you should purchase. You would think there would be some kind of rule or guide that you could look at to determine what size of AC unit you should add. I’m not talking sizing the unit for your cooling, I’m talking is it worth money in your pocket to go from a 10 SEER unit to a 15 SEER unit. Will you see the difference in price in a savings on our electric bill? I did a lot of browsing before I found a site that gives you an easy to use, clear to understand form to calculate cooling or heating costs.  Good Site
Go to that site, plug in your numbers and see what it costs to run a 13 SEER unit for the season. Then plug in the same numbers and see what a 17 SEER unit will cost to run for the season. (Obviously put in what ever sizes you are getting quoted.) In my case, due to deregulation I expect an increase in my electric rate. When I did the calculations, I doubled the number of cooling hours for a worst case, I tripled my electric rate and ran the numbers. It would take 19 years of electric savings to pay the difference between the 13 SEER and 19 SEER units on the quotes I received. Your circumstances may be different but this may help you to cut through the verbiage and actually see if a more efficient unit will save you enough money or a slightly less efficient unit to justify the cost differential. Also whether you can take full advantage of the Tax Credit will have a bearing on your decision. Good luck!

Other sites that provided good info:
http://hvac-talk.com/vbb/showthread.php?t=170094&page=4
http://www.coloradoenergy.org/procorner/stuff/cooling_load_hrs.htm

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

 Money Saving Tech Tips