Entries Tagged as 'Shopping'

Gas Prices

OK, someone’s going to have to explain to my how gasoline prices can go up sixty cents per gallon in less than six weeks!

The only “good” think I can say about the new pricing level is that it really doesn’t matter what station you go to, the prices all seem to be within a penny or two.

But come on now… this is ridiculous — and totally unjustified.

I guess the way that we’ll see gasoline prices plummet just before the election is pretty clear; they’re going to jacked up to over $5.00 a gallon this Summer!

Originally posted 2008-06-12 16:37:15.

Amazon Merchants

Once again I’ve been disappointed with the “service” and “products” provided by an Amazon merchant.

I’ve ask Amazon how to inhibit the display of any and all items except those sold by them; I don’t care to deal with the questionable merchants that use Amazon’s sites.  And obviously Amazon doesn’t stand behind them either (look over their A-Z Guarantee, and notice that a person who buys an item every day has the same lifetime limits as one who rarely buys — sounds to me like Amazon is afraid to offer a real guarantee — why should I have more confidence).

Anyway, rather than play the game with Amazon I’ve just opened a charge dispute with my credit card company (which in this case happens to be an Amazon credit card).

If Amazon doesn’t have a way to block the display non-Amazon merchandise I’ll close my account (and credit card).

Originally posted 2009-04-08 12:00:24.

Where Can You Use Credit Cards?

Here’s a quick list:

  • Grocery stores (3% category on Citi & Chase)
  • Gasoline (3% category on Citi & Chase)
  • Pharmacies (3% category on Citi)
  • Fast Food (3% category on Chase; bonuses for Blinx)
  • Electric & Gas Bills (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Telephone Bills (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Cellular Bills (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Cable Bills (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Traffic Fines (provided there’s no convenience fee,  I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Property Taxes (provided there’s no convenience fee,  I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Retail
  • Dining Out
  • Movies
  • Movie Rentals
  • Online Shopping (I highly recommend virtual card numbers)
  • Colleges and Schools
  • Travel
  • Hotels

There’s virtually no limit to where you can use credit cards; and every place you use cards that pay cash back gives you cash back (up to you limit, and then just switch cards).

Then you can pay your credit card with you bill payment service; or you can have your credit card company issue an ACH directly from you checking, savings, or money market account (this actually keeps the money in your account longer, and instantly credits to your credit card — of course you’re authorizing your credit card company to withdraw from your cash accounts, so you have decide if it’s right for you and you generally have the option of either automatic payment or directed payments).

———-

Blinx is Chase’s name for PayWay / PayPoint / FastPay — the RFID enabled credit card way to pay (Chase embeds RFID chips inside of many of their credit cards); currently they provide incentives to get people to use RFID style payment.

Virtual Credit Card Numbers are available through services offered by a number of credit card companies.  They differ slightly in implementation, but essentially allow you to set charge amount limits, and expiry dates.  Once an authorization is done to a virtual credit card number the card can only be charged against by that merchant.  You can generally extend the expiry date and charge amount at any time you want.  And you can terminate the card at any time you want (you cannot prevent already authorized charges from being committed to the card).  This is an excellent fraud deterrent, and prevents companies from charging any authorized fees to your account (which saves you the trouble of having to file a charge back).  I’ve used virtual card number ever since I had an MBNA VISA card (MBNA was acquired by Bank of America), they were one of the big innovators in this technology.

Originally posted 2008-05-16 21:35:48.

Limited

Tomorrow Apple releases it’s newest iPhone (it’s a 4G model, so it won’t be on AT&T — and is rumored to be on Verizon) and AT&T discontinues offering an unlimited data plan.

Yep — no more $30 unlimited smart phone data plan from AT&T…

While AT&T says they will decrease pricing for light users what’s likely to happen is that many users will exceed their data plan allowances and end up paying more than they used to.  Heavy users will probably be switching carriers.

Currently AT&T says that 98% of it’s customers use less than 2GB per month of data; I find that a little hard to believe, but I guess if they attract predominately “showcase” customers who don’t really have any reason to have a smart phone other than status — sure… but if that’s true, why would they have all the massive problems with over-subscription that they have and feel compelled to make a change?

And if iPhone users jump from AT&T they’re likely to jump to the 4G carrier that offers the newest iPhone — of course, they’ll probably need to do it soon, Verizon is also considering getting rid of their unlimited data plans — of the big three only Sprint has announced that they are not considering moving away from their unlimited offerings.

Seems fundamentally wrong to me when it appears that more and more companies offer unlimited voice services that companies would start pay-as-you-go data services (when they have traditionally been unlimited).

Oh well, yet another reason to hate your cellular carrier…

Originally posted 2010-06-06 02:00:53.

Zeiss Lenses

Not lenses for your camera… lenses for your glasses!

Carl Zeiss Optical has been making high quality lenses for optical needs in glasses and sunglasses (I’ve always preferred to pay a little extra for Zeiss polarized lenses for my sun glasses) at While Mill Industiral Estate just outside Wexford, Ireland for over 30 years — on 30 September 2011 they announce the facility is closing and that production is being moved to China by years end.

While the quality of the production of Zeiss optics might be every bit as good after the move; I’m thinking I might just not want to waste the money buying a “name” that’s been put on a product that’s likely made in the same factory that something costing half as much does.

You’ll have to decide if you want to support Zeiss; but more and more it seems that brands I trusted for quality are just becoming labels that charge higher prices and offer nothing.

Originally posted 2011-10-03 02:00:25.

Panasonic HDC-SD10 High Definition Camcorder

I purchased a Panasonic HDC-SD10K High Definition Camcorder from B&H Photo Video a little over a week ago for $299.00 delivered.  The K suffix means black; which is I believe the only color available in the US.

I had originally found this model camcorder on Amazon for the same price as a customer return, but I was a little hesitant to purchase it, and by the time I decided it was worth the asking price it was no longer available; but as luck would have it a few days later B&H was offering brand new units for the same price.  The B&H price is good through 16 January 2010 while supplies last.

First, let’s keep in mind that $299 is less than half as much as the nearest comparable camcorder; so if it doesn’t seem like this is a Rolls Royce, perhaps that’s because you’re paying Yugo prices.

The HDC-SD10 was announced last year at CES, but didn’t ship in the US until this past Summer, and it was never really a very popular model since Panasonic offered an almost identical model with 8GB of internal memory (the HDC-SD10 has no internal memory) for $50 more.  Other than the internal memory, these models are identical.

A quick overview of the HDC-SD10 (for those who don’t want to just look up the specifications for themselves).

1920x1080i MPEG4-AVC/H.264 video, 2.1MP JPEG stills, 1/6″ CMOS, 16x optical zoom, 2.7″ touchscreen LCD, image stabilization, auto focus, built in light and flash.

When the unit arrived, I opened the box and allowed the battery to charge for a couple hours before trying it out.

While the batter was charging I looked over the unit.  It seemed reasonably well constructed, and it looked like a good deal of though had been put into positioning the controls.  The only thing I don’t care for is how the cover on the SD slot opens — I’m very partial to how Nikon did the SD cover on my D40, and this just seems far less well done.

I popped a 2GB SD card into the camcorder (I expected it to complain about the slow speed rating, Panasonic recommend Class 6 SDHC cards); but to my surprise it worked.  I would recommend that you use at least Class 4, and that you use at least a 4GB SDHC card.  But if you have other cards around, try them.

Unfortunately, by the time the battery had charged, the sky was cloudy and I was robbed of my opportunity to get some bright daylight shots — but I figured taking shots in overcast would give me an idea of how the camcorder worked.

I took two videos outside at the second highest quality setting (that’s the default); and I snapped about a dozen still images.  Then I went inside and did pretty much the same test.

The two video tests were:

  • walk back and forth with the camera
  • stand stationary and rotate around

Both tests involved using the zoom in and out (both moving and stationary).

I should note here that I did all of my initial testing without reading the documentation — this should be considered a testament to how easy this camcorder is to use for anyone who’s used a camcorder (or digital camera) before.  The controls were easy to find and use and there was simply no confusion about how to accomplish my task (which is good; my old JVC camcorder always seemed awkward to use, even after having it for several years).

With my test data collected I sat down and the computer.

I didn’t bother installing any software on my computer, I just popped out the SDHC and slipped it into the computer.

The digital stills were easy to find; same directory structure as most digital cameras.  The images are JPEG files, and contains EXIF data.

The video sequences took a little more looking to find, and they are standard AVCHD (MTS) files.  Both Windows Media Player and Live Movie Maker are able to deal with these files.

Let me pause here and remind you that what follows is my first impressions of the HDC-SD10; not a complete review.  My personal feeling is you need to use a camera or camcorder for several shoots before you’ve got a good feel for what it does and how well it does it.

The outside stills were good.  Certainly they don’t compare with either of my DSLRs or my high-end point-and-shoot… but then again, this is a camcorder, not a camera.  The only weakness I found with the digital still was that focus cycle requires a few seconds and the shutter release is not locked out during the focus cycle.  Which means you can snap a picture that is out of focus fairly easily if you’re not patient.  You can snap a still image when the camcorder is recording or when it isn’t.

The outside video was amazingly clear.  The color was very good, and the motion was acceptable.  Quickly panning produced some motion artifacts, but normal movement was far clearer than on my JVC miniDV camcorder.  I will have to say that my feeling is that the zoom is too fast; but I guess it’s better to be too fast than too slow; and for most people I would expect they want a fast zoom.

The inside still images were fine.  The flash works very well.  The colors were about what you expect from a mid-range point-and-shoot.  Nothing to write home about, but acceptable if you need to snap a still and you have the camcorder in your hands.

The inside video was actually quite impressive.  The reviews I had read of the camcorder indicated that low light performance wasn’t very good.  From what I saw low light performance was quite good.  In rooms with no lights on the camcorder was able to register a moderate amount of detail just using its built in light.  In reasonably well lite rooms the level of detail was quite good.  However, the color under LED lights or CF lights was definitely off (I don’t have any incandescent lights in my house, I suspect the color balance would have been better).  Comparing the performance of this camcorder to my JVC miniDV it is definitely better.  Better detail in low light, and equal or better color.  Obviously if I wanted to shoot any video that I was going to show someone I’d turn on some incandescent lights (bounced off the ceiling).

The sound quality on the recordings were fine.  There was quite a bit of wind outside, but the camcorder didn’t seem to be able to deal with it.  Obviously the stereo separation on any camcorder without external microphones is poor — and not a metric I’d concern myself with.

At this price point, the HDC-SD10 seems like a keeper.  You’d pay as much for a standard definition digital camcorder, and half this much for a standard definition miniDV camcorder; or twice as much for a camcorder with substantially better specifications.

I’m hoping the weather here warms up some so I can get out on a sunny day and really shoot some footage to fully evaluate how the camcorder works; and I’d like to do some shoots on the river and at the beach as well.  My expectation is that this camcorder will be fine for me, and I’ll be looking to purchase a few accessories in the near future.

If you want a really high end camcorder; this isn’t for you.  If you want a good quality high definition digital camcorder for hobby use and your not foolish about throwing your money away, perhaps it is worth consideration.


Optics

Sensor
1.47 Megapixel 1/6″ CMOS
Lens
2.95-47.2mm f/1.8-2.8
Zoom
Optical: 16x
Digital: 1000x
Filter Size
30.5mm
Recording
System
NTSC
Recording Media
SD/SDHC
Recording Time
Not Specified By Manufacturer
Video Format
High Definition
MPEG AVC/H.264
1920 x 1080, 1440 x 1080
Still Image Resolution
JPEG: 2.1 Megapixel
Audio Format
2-Channel Stereo
Display
Display Type
LCD
Screen Size
2.7″
Touchscreen
Yes
Features
Image Stabilization
Optical
Lux
1400Standard illumination
91/30 low light mode
1Magic Pix
Built-in Mic
Yes
Built-in Speaker
Yes
Built-in Light/Flash
Light – Yes
Flash – Yes
Accessory Shoe
None
Tripod Mount
1/4″
Input/Output Connectors
Inputs
None
Outputs
1x A/V
1x USB 2.0
1x Mini HDMI
1x Component Video (out)
Microphone Input
No
Headphone Jack
No
General
System Requirements
Windows System

  • XP, Vista, Windows 7
Battery
Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
Power Adapter
Battery Charger / Battery Eliminator
Dimensions (WxHxD)
1.87 x 2.48 x 4.51″ / 47.50 x 62.99 x 114.55mm
Weight
0.5 lbs / 226.80g

HDC-SD10

HDC-SD10K Product Information

HDC-SD-10K Support Information

Originally posted 2010-01-09 01:00:28.

The Anti-Green – Catalogs

Decades ago company after company mailed out or otherwise distributed large, printed, mail order catalogs.

The age of print advertising is gone, and the environmental cost of print advertising is horrific.

However, there appears to be many companies that don’t realize the impact of print advertising, nor do they understand that most (if not all) really don’t want (or need) a large mail order catalog.

Several months ago I ordered an item online from B&H Photo Video, and item which I researched online and located the “best” price using search engines.  I never requested to be subscribed to any postal mailing or email mailing lists — nor was there any obvious option to make sure that I was never subscribed to junk mail from B&H.

My feeling is that companies that do not believe that they actually represent a value to consumers are the companies that are quickest to force a subscription to any type of mailing list.  Companies who believe they offer something consumers want understand that consumers will come back and they don’t need to destroy the environment in order to attempt to promote future purchases.

For me, I’ll never purchase something from B&H Photo Video again.  I simply cannot support a business that engages in ravaging the environment [cutting down forests to produce paper, wasting energy to produce a catalog, wasting energy and polluting the environment to distribute that catalog, and further wasting energy to dispose of / recycle that catalog].

Do your part, take simple steps to make the world a better place — adopt more sustainable practices — join me in boycotting companies that don’t have a place in a sustainable world.

Originally posted 2010-05-07 02:00:32.

Amazon Advertising

I’ve removed Amazon advertising from my BLOG and web site.

Why?

Well, it’s not because I don’t shop at Amazon any longer, it’s because apparently Amazon doesn’t pay commissions to sales to the individual hosting the ads, their family, or their friends — and Amazon makes the determination (solely at their discretion) of what transactions fall in that category.

The policy is clearly stated in their agreement, it’s just something I missed (I won’t say it changed — the agreement is long enough that I could have easily missed it skimming through when I signed up).

While I feel Amazon is a reputable retailer, I see no reason why I should provide them with free advertising space when there is simply no guarantee that any link through purchases will every generate a penny to compensate for the (ugly) advertisement that always loads slowly, and uses javascript that seems to cause lags in rendering on most every browser.

I guess I’ll go with Nancy on this one “Just Say No”.

Originally posted 2010-10-01 02:00:15.

Customer Dis-Satisfaction

Last week I placed an order online for pickup at a local Sam’s Club — I’ve done this a number of times in the past, and it’s always worked exactly as advertised.

This time, it wasn’t quite as smooth.

The order process clearly indicates that you’re supposed to get a status on your order within 24-hours; after two days I called (mainly because I was making plans to drive about 60 miles each way to go to this warehouse).

A woman answered, she put me on hold — twenty minutes later (I’m not exaggerating) she came back on the line, seemed surprised that no one had answered, put me back on hold — a few moments later another woman answered the phone and said I’d have to call back tomorrow between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm.

Now, the web site also clearly indicated that I was supposed to be able to call for customer service between the hours of 8:00 am and 8:00 pm (of course — we’d already seen the web site might contain mis-information).

I wrote a “nice” little note to customer service detailing this issue; the reply I got back was a general apology that didn’t address the discrepancy between what the web site indicated was supposed to happen and what happened, or any explanation why a customer would be kept on hold for twenty minutes only to be told to call back the next day.

I’m a total loss to come up with any comment that could possibly make Sam’s Club look more pathetic than their own actions have…

Originally posted 2010-04-30 02:00:04.

Andersen Windows Doors

I decided I wanted a full view storm door for my front door to help reduce the energy loss, and I wanted to buy it this year to take advantage of the Energy Tax Credit… I looked at both Pella (Lowes) and Andersen (Home Depot)… no one in the area carries Peachtree (and I’m not sure they make storm doors).

I liked the Pella, but a couple of the features of the Andersen (screen / glass user interchangeable panel) seemed slightly more appealing.

To say I was disappointed by the perceived quality of the door is an understatement.

Below is a message I posted to Andersen via their web site.

Let me preface this by saying I’ve renovated four homes now; and I’ve always used Peachtree, Pella, or Andersen products in them — and I’ve always been extremely happy with the quality.
When I purchased a storm door for my home in Florida I looked at the Pella product at Lowes as well as the Series 4000 and 3000 at Home Depot; and I elected the Series 3000 since I was price sensitive for resale.
While I cannot complain with the overall appearance of the door I was less than happy with the quality of the construction of the door during the installation — it seemed “cheap” to put it simply.
The way the glass/screen section installs/removes (obviously far superior on the 4000, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t have been happier with the fixed window in the Pella at the same price to avoid the concern in how well the plastic clips are going to hold up in the first hurricane); also I found the door closure mechanism to have too short a throw for the door to open any where near 90 degrees (the travel only allows about 80 degrees).
Additionally, the Home Depot employee informed me that the Kwikset lock set for the door would run around $25 — while I haven’t called either Home Depot to check on a special order or Andersen to confirm the price yet, I just find that price point to be totally ridiculous.
I can’t say I won’t consider Andersen products in the future — but this door doesn’t even slightly resemble the quality I expected (and enjoyed in the past) from Andersen…
The only positive thing I find about the door is the lifetime warranty — something I (unfortunately) expect will be used over and over and over.
I’m sure that disappointing customers isn’t your goal; but I felt it was important to share my experience and my lack of satisfaction.

Andersen Corporation
100 Fourth Avenue North
Bayport, MN 55003-1096

888-888-7020
651-264-5150

http://www.andersenwindows.com/

Originally posted 2010-11-11 02:00:00.