Friday, May 29, 2009

Shopping for smarties.

Here are some tools to shop for deals on electronics from Cnet's webware:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Preach On!

Here's a sermon...errr....article from the Wall Street Journal which is timely given these troubled time's: Cutting Monthly Bills? Turn To The Web.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gadgets: Recession Proof

David Pogue's latest article Many Ways to Plug In to Tech Savings begins states:You might think of high-tech gadgetry as something that drains your bank account — but it can save you money, too. A lot of it.
Amen. Pull back on discretionary spending by all means, but don't pull back on capital expenditures which will yield a return on your investment.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Less is More

Five gadgets you can get rid of now because they're obsolete. 

Thursday, July 10, 2008


The cheapskate blog from cnet could otherwise be called dealz, dealz, dealz!
Rick Broida scours the web for cheap gadgets. Just remember: the cheapest isn't always the best value.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Conserve, Conserve, Conserve.

Drilling for more oil today will yield zero oil, but changing our behavior in simple ways can easily yield a savings of ~1 million barrels/day. Painlessly. Ultimately the adoption of more efficient vehicles in the form of smaller vehicles, hybrid vehicles, diesel vehicles and electric vehicles will allow us to decrease oil consumption while still growing the economy. As always, technology is the tool. We just have to have the will to use it.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Patience is a virtue...

The new iPhone now features:
- 3G (fast) data connection.
- built-in GPS
- enterprise-grade support (e.g. Microsoft exchange)
- available in 70 countries
- starts at $199

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Why don't you own a video camera?

Often times we look at techies and shake our heads because we can't understand why they have that latest gadget. What does it do that's useful, really? It costs how much?!!!!
But sometimes the techies are on to something. The early adopters of digital cameras, for example were right on. Today, there is almost no reason whatsoever to use a film camera . Quality, cost, convenience, compactness... Eight years ago, digital cameras were an expensive novelty, but today, one would be pretty much a fool to not own a digital camera. 
Today, I would argue that the same could be said for owning a camcorder, or more accurately, a video camera. If you weren't paying attention, until recently, video recorders were the size and heft of a hard-covered book and could cost close to $1,000. Now, a video camera that can give you passable video quality delivered straight to your computer (no more tapes! no more tapes!) is closer to the size and heft of a deck of cards and costs less than $150(!). If you have kids, or have some other event that you'd like to save to video, you'd be hard pressed to find a reason not to buy a video recorder.
Sure a high-end video-camera can still cost uite a bit, but low-cost video recorders such as the Flip which are good enuff for friends and family are the ultimate option. Why don't you own a video camera? They're too big and clunky. Not anymore. They're hard to use because there are too many wires, tapes and stuff to handle. Not anymore. They're too expensive. Not anymore. If you're dead broke, charge $150 on a credit card and pay it off over 10 years. The video you get in return should be well worth it.

Save the planet, save some money

One myth out there is that environmental responsibility takes a financial sacrifice. 
I would propose, that more often than not, environmental responsibility either requires no financial sacrifice, or yields financial gain.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tax preparation: CPA or CPU?

There have been a number of comparos in the press lately. Should one use a human accountant, TurboTax or a service such as HR Block?
First off, it should be obvious that the answer depends on your employment/job situation. If You're self-employed, business owner, freelancer, contractor, etc, you most likely would benefit financially and perhaps professionally by using a trusted CPA.
But if you have a "regular" job where you get a salary and your real estate consists of only your own home TurboTax should definitely be the first option. There is no math involved. The hardest part of the whole process is getting your records organized, which is something you would have to do for an accountant or H&R BLOCK anyways. Then all you have to do is follow the instructions and basically type in data from your various tax forms and receipts. The only drawback is that as you go through the step-by-step process, you'll probably find that a lot of the questions don't apply to you so there's a lot of pushing the NEXT button.
- TurboTax is 100% online. If you get tired of working on your taxes, you can log out and pick up where you left off.
- Federal and State taxes are filed for you electronically when you're done. (If for some reason you want to print out the forms and mail them, you can do that too.)
- Your records are stored online and you can save and/or print copies of the forms at will.
- When you use TurboTax for the SECOND time, huge time savings are realized because data entry is reduced (address, SSN, tax staus, etc are all saved from the previous years' session).

New York magazine and Gizmodo (below) have CPA vs. Turbo Tax showdowns while Cnet has a generally favorable (8/10) review for Turbo Tax
New York Magazine

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hulu: It's not ready for prime time.

There's been some hype about the new video site Hulu. It's exciting because like YouTube, all the videos are searchable and FREE. Unlike YouTube, the content is from the major TV networks and major movie studios. The concept is tantalizing: This FREE service could potentially usurp cable and Netflix. But alas, it's not quite there yet. The graph above summarizes Hulu's shortcomings, despite the fact that (or maybe because it is?) FREE.

This isn't a full review, but in summary Hulu:
- offers FREE movies and TV shows to view on a computer
- links to other sites that do have the video you're looking for even if Hulu doesn't have it.
(e.g., searching for 'LOST' and 'One Tree Hill' gives you links to the ABC and CW sites, respectively.)

- The video quality is sub-DVD resolution and does not look good connected to an HDTV
- searching for 'Iron Chef' returns links to 'Top Chef'.
- searching for the Russell Crowe classic 'The Gladiator' leads to about 8 links to the not-exactly-classic 'American Gladiators'
- searching for 'The Titanic' leads to 'Wildboyz: Thailand 2'

In short, searching for stuff on Hulu is hit or miss...or miss completely.
To those using Hulu now, I say: Good Luck!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Haggling: for the Best Buy

Who knew? Everyone knows that the sticker price on cars is strictly for suckers. But how about the price tags at your local electronics retailer and your local big-box retailer?
At Megastores, Hagglers Find No Price Set in Stone-The New York Times

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flash-based hard drives: Like Ryan Leaf.

Jeesh. Flash-based hard drives a.k.a., SSD (solid state drives), are like the Ryan Leaf of computer tech. Flash-based drives showed so much promise, yet has delivered nothing so far for notebook computing. They are expensive (~$900 for an SSD upgrade on a notebook computer) and unreliable.

In theory, SSD's have many advantages over conventional hard drives:
- energy efficiency (due to lack of moving parts)
- silent operation
- compact size
- fast

So far, the potential benefits have yet to be realized. Performance gains have been minimal and in some cases are actually WORSE than standard hard drives. Compact size has been a non-factor so far since they're usually used inside of standard notebook casings. Energy efficiency gains have also been minimal.

Now, adding insult to injury, a recent analysis shows that "a large computer manufacturer" is getting around 20 percent to 30 percent of the flash-based notebooks it is shipping sent back because of failure rates and performance that simply isn't meeting customer expectations.

About 10% of the SSD notebooks are defective (compared with only 1% of standard hard drive-based notebooks). Another 10% or so are reporting performance issues with basic functions such as video streaming.

Of course we're just in the beginning of phasing in SSD drives, but here's to hoping that you don't make the mistake of buying an SSD-based computer. Here's also to hoping that I'll be writing about SSD's being like Eli Manning in the near-future...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD: Much ado about nothing.

Most people bring in the new year with a positive salutation like "Happy New Year!". Well, no one told Warner Brothers, because the first thing they said to the HD DVD consortium was "$%&# off!"

Indeed, the top tech news as the CES 2008 gets underway is the most recent development in the Hi Def "format wars": Warner Bros/New Line drops HD DVD like Microsoft dropped Plays For Sure.

Ostensibly, this is a major development in what is ostensibly a major format war because it tips the balance of content to Blu-Ray's favor. Columbia, Disney, Fox, Lionsgate, Miramax, Warner Bros., New Line, and Sony are all committed to releasing movies on Blu-Ray while only DreamWorks, Paramount, Universal, and the Weinstein Company remain committed to HD DVD.

So which type of player should the consumer buy? The answer is obvious: Neither. Am I saying this because of the price? Blu-ray and HD DVD players are down to $199...surely not too much for even the thrifty, right? The price is fine, but the utility isn't.

First of all, if you're one of the majority of people without an HDTV, don't even bother. Your $30 DVD player will deliver a picture every bit as good. Even if you do have an HDTV, chances are pretty good that you have a 720p set. In that case, an upconverting standard DVD player will get you a picture so close to HD that you may not be able to tell the difference. Says who? Says Andy Parsons, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association. Also, for HDTVs 32" or less, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between standard DVD and HD DVD or Blu-Ray.

So that leaves Blu-Ray and HD DVD useful for those with 40"+ 1080p HDTVs, right? Well, kinda. As mentioned earlier, if you own an HD DVD player, you're just praying you'll be able to see any movie given the lack of studio support. The selection for Blu-Ray isn't much better: There are about 400 titles available in Blu Ray compared to about 90,000 standard DVD titles. In other words, Blu-Ray and HD DVD display awesome resolution, crystal clear 1080p resolution pictures for a few movies/TV shows, but for 99.96% of the content out there, Blu-Ray and HD DVD players don't do a damn thing.

Bottom line, a few things have to happen before this "format war" comes to a conclusion:
1) The movie and TV studios have to get behind either Blu-Ray or HDTV or both formats must be universally supported. Otherwise the consumer is left in the lurch and neither type of format is useful at all.
2) 40" HDTVs must become common place. Before that happens, neither Blu-Ray nor HD DVD offers any appreciable benefit.
3) HD DVD and/or Blu-Ray players must drop to below $100 in price.

It is easy to see how the above three conditions may not be met for one or two years. So it is entirely conceivable that the consumer will choose neither Blu-Ray or HD DVD. In one or two years, there's a high probablity that digital delivery of movies via on-demand and internet downloads will become the choice for viewing movies at home. Netflix and LGare teaming up to offer movie streaming service and an expanded movie rental and download service is expected from Apple within weeks.

So basically, if the question is Blu-Ray or HD DVD? The answer is: Who cares?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

2008: Year of the LCD HDTV

My headline is certainly more accurate than this article in PC World.
In the above article, dated Jan. 2006, a Samsung rep brags that price of 40" LCD TVs dropped to "only" $3000; the insinuation being "go buy one now!".

Well, if you did, you were one of the lucky few...who had to prep their homes for "Cribs MTV", that is. Now nearly two years later, a brand-name 40" LCD HDTV can easily be had for $1300 (a 56% price drop). Admittedly, that's a long time to wait for prices to drop, so perhaps even more remarkably, the prices of name-brand 32" LCD HDTVs (720p) have dropped more than 20% in the past two months! Before Thanksgiving, Sony, Sharp, Philips and Samsung 32" LCD TVs were going for ~$900; anything under $850 would have been a steal. Now every mainstream retailer from Amazon to Circuit City to Best Buy has name-brand 32" LCD TV's for less than $750 and deals can be found for sub $700 units. If picture quality isn't critical for you, 32" off-brand (Westinghouse, Insignia, Olevia, etc.) sub-$600 prices are easy to find. Off-brand 19" and 26" HDTVs can be had for less than $400...matching the prices of CRT (tube) TVs from just a few years ago...

The widespread adoption of LCD TV's in the U.S. is now imminent. Up until recently, the 40"+ sized TVs were the big sellers...early adopters had money to burn and they didn't want "small" screens. But 2008 will be the year of the meat-and-potatoes buyer: those people that have an eight-year-old CRT (20"-30") TV in their living rooms and simply want an upgrade and don't want to empty their savings accounts. By next Christmas, that promises to be a given and average consumers should be happily carting away 32" HDTVs for $400.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I love the Kindle*

* If that seems like a strange sentiment from a thrifty techie, that's because it's not my sentiment. JL was kind enough to blow $400 of his own hard-earned cash and waste enough of his own precious time to provide the following review. Note that the following in no way represents the opinion or viewpoints or thrifty sensibilities of this blog.
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I love the Kindle. I'm an avid reader, and the fact that I can download a book as soon as I hear about it is pretty sweet. The price is pretty steep at $400, and could be a deal breaker for those on a budget or for anyone who has somebody in his or her life who nags over finances. However, as a single dude with disposable income, I don't really care. In fact, I ordered the Kindle as soon as it showed up on Amazon's website, before I had even done a shred of research.

Perhaps the most endearing feature of the Kindle is its standalone nature. Unlike my iphone, ipods, PDAs, and just about every other personal electronic device I've ever owned, I'll probably never, ever synch my Kindle to my computer. It comes with a USB connector for downloading audiobooks (seriously though, who the fuck listens to audiobooks?) and other miscellaneous media, but I don't intent to use it. I'm sure people will be hacking this thing in order to make it do all sorts of crazy stuff, but as an e-book reader, it's a standalone device, which I think is awesome. Thanks to its long battery life, I keep my Kindle in my backpack, and pull it out to read when I feel like it. It may seem insignificant, but the fact that I can treat my Kindle exactly like my paperback copy of Fight Club is priceless.

Amazon's in-device Kindle store is very good, and much like the main website, it compiles your previous online book purchases in order to make recommendations for you. The store features the usual search features that you would expect, and you can read book samples and reviews before purchasing a title. No surprises there. After you click buy, it takes about a minute or so for the book to download straight to the device. Think of it as itunes for print media, which I think is exactly what Amazon is aiming to create. Connectivity is through Sprint's wireless network, so coverage area and download speeds have been great. In order to conserve battery power, I only enable wireless connectivity when I want to browse the store or purchase something.

The interface isn't as intuitive as the iphone's, but it's still simple enough. It feels pretty good in your hands, although I have accidentally pushed buttons and turned the page on occasion. The QWERTY keypad is pretty easy to use, but the keys are skewed in a weird semi-swirl pattern for some inexplicable reason, which contributes to the Kindle’s already strange aesthetic. There's a small rollerwheel above the keypad that's used for selecting and clicking menu items. As far as the display, it actually does look pretty much like paper. The e-ink technology is pretty damn impressive, and I don’t strain my eyes after reading for hours. I would have loved a touch screen, but maybe I'm just spoiled by my iphone. And speaking of iphones…

In response to all of the negative reviews that the Kindle has received (mostly from people who have never even seen one in person, no less), I have this to say. This thing is not an iphone. It's not a blackberry. It's not a PDA. It's a fucking BOOK! And as a fucking book, it functions nearly flawlessly. I would rather stab my eyes out with wasabi-covered chopsticks than read an ebook on the tiny screen of my iphone. And I will never want to carry a Kindle-sized device around with me all day for use as a phone and PDA. For all those retards who say "I can't fit the Kindle in my Pocket! It's worthless!", I say "Fuck you, Dragonmaster! You're a freak who's never been laid, and that's because you carry a paperback fantasy novel in the back pocket of your size 47 stone-washed jeans!"

There are also people who fear that Amazon is trying to destroy our way of life (I'm not exaggerating here) by replacing bound books with electronic gadgetry of the devil. But if you think about it, the transition from paper books to portable electronic books is a relatively painless one. This is akin to the transition from the walkman/discman era to the ipod era. It’s replacing one device with another device of similar size and shape that serves the same purpose, only with more data than before. This is less revolutionary than the introduction of the walkman itself (which ushered in the era of portable music), yet more revolutionary than the advent of ebooks (because no one wants to read Atlas Shrugged on a fucking computer screen). It’s simply a logical progression in media technology, much like the progression from CDs to digital music downloads. Paper books will probably always exist, albeit in smaller numbers. So to all of the old fogies out there, Amazon isn’t trying to destroy your way of life. But things do change. Get over it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

R.I.P. CDs

CDs and DVDs are useless. At least as it pertains to computing. It’s one of those things that is self-evident, but not entirely obvious...yet. After all, every desktop and notebook computer sold today has an optical drive built in. I believe that 2008 will be the year where that will begin to change.
The other day I was in an older colleague’s home office and was amused to see a stack of 3.5” floppy disks. These disks have the capacity to store one digital photograph and no capacity to store an mp3 file. How quaint.
Upon my return home, I saw a stack of CD-Rs and CDs on my desk. How quaint.
The fact is that CD/DVD drive in my notebook is dispensable. The only things I have used the drive for lately are: ripping CDs and installing software. Now with music and movies and software available for download, the need for an optical drive in computers is questionable. I used to burn CDs, but that was when burning CDs was an economical way to store and transfer data. Now that 500 GB hard drives are available for under $150 and flash usb drives are available for $12, CD burning is anachronistic.
Desktops will probably have optical drives pre-installed for some time, but in notebooks where space, weight and power consumption also argue against the presence of an optical drive, the DVD/CD drive may go the way of the 3.5" floppy drive. look for sleek, compact notebooks from Apple, HP and Dell with NO CD/DVD drive...

The iMac was the first mainstream computer to forgo the floppy disk drive. Fittingly, a new Apple product may be the first mainstream device to dispense with an optical drive: Apple subnotebook rumored for January 2008

$79 iPod nano

The one knock against Apple products is that they're expensive. But one of those "best-kept secrets" is that Apple's refurbished items are often a decent deal. Prices and deals vary depending on availabliltiy, but recent deals on iPods at Apple's online store are pretty good: $79 for a last-gen 2 GB nano, $99 for a 4 GB nano. iPod shuffles are on a fire sale at $39. That's pretty good, considering that a pair of Apple's earbud headphones (which come with the shuffle) cost $29 alone.... The best part is that while the goods are refurbished, they have one year warranties and are supported like-new by Apple. So if their is someone on your holiday shopping list that wants the greatest, but not necessarily the latest, check out Apple's refurbished iPods. Or you could go with a Zune.