Entries Tagged as 'Shopping'

Green Online… JUST SAY NO

Below is a note I sent to Willis Orchard Co about an order I placed for some tropical plants.


On 19-Mar I placed an order for three Medjool Palms (1.5′-2′) and a Drawf Cavendish Banana Tree with and expected ship date around 1-Apr… yesterday (11-May) I received the FedEx packages containing those items.

Roughly a week after the expected ship date I began calling approximately once a week for an update on the shipping status — to which (other than the last call) I was always told that the product should be shipping within a couple days…

Needless to say, my impression of your “customer service” wasn’t very high; in fact it was so low that I acquired the forty-seven other fruit trees, shrubs, and ornamental trees I used to begin landscaping my yard from local sources…

I understand that your shipping delays were caused by your vendor; however, the failure to realistically appraise me of delays is solely a fault your company and customer service people must bare.

While the shipping delay alone was enough to make me shy away from doing additional business with your company; the condition of the plants I received certainly indicated to me that I shall not put your company high on a list to consider again.

The committed size of the plants is stated to be the overall height; while I’d would have hoped that would be the height from the top of the root ball to the highest vertical point on the plant, it’s obvious that you intend that measurement to be the distance from the top of the root ball to the furthest point on a (stretched) frond of the palms.

In my case that appears to be two just less than 18″ (one of those I’m being generous with the “just less”) and one that isn’t even 16″… further the one closest to 18″ and the one less than 16″ are based on measuring fronds that are brown at the ends (dead) — which most likely didn’t occur in a single day of shipping from Southern Georgia to Northwest Florida.

I can’t say I was the least bit surprised… and certainly I don’t think any of these three specimens would have come home with me had I visually inspected them before purchase (at the prices you charge).

Whether these represent the plants you would normally ship to a customer or simply you feel you’re a victim of the volume of your orders verses the inability of your supplies to fulfill their commitments I can’t say… all I can say is that I’m greatly disappointed.


In retrospect, I’d say ordering plants online should be put in the same category as ordering produce online — what you get might not live up to your standards, and what others are happy with says nothing about the quality.

Originally posted 2010-05-13 02:00:35.

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.

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.

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.

Eye Glasses/Sun Glasses Cleaner

OK — so you can go buy a little spray bottle of cleaner for your glasses at most any optical shop — some will give you lifetime refills (yeah — kinda a hassle to stop by most optical shops), and the initial purchase price is a little high… or you can just mix your own as needed.

You get one of those little spray bottles (probably have one at the dollar store — or you can start out by buying a bottle of the solutions when you get your glasses).

Then you just buy (or you might already have it in your house) Isopropyl alcohol and distilled water — Walgreens puts both on sale fairly often for a very low price.

If you use 70% Isopropyl alcohol, then just mix 1 to 1 (equal parts) of water and alcohol.

If you use 90% Isopropyl alcohol, then you’ll want to mix 2 to 1 (twice as much water) of water and alcohol.

The nice thing about mixing this yourself is that you can also use it to clear your flat panels as well.

The only other thing you need to finish off the cleaning is a clean micro-fibre cloth (or soft cleaning cloth designed for glass).

I’d advise against using strong glass cleaners on glasses or flat panels; you can also just run tap water on the glasses to clean them (not so good for a flat panel), just remember to avoid cleaning your glasses dry.

Oh, yeah, if you really want to throw money away, you can use Zeiss lens cleaning wipes (the individually packaged ones you might have in your camera case)… those are great to carry with your camera to clean your lenses when you need to and you’re away from home (and I certainly am not carrying a bottle of liquid in my camera case)… but a total waste for glasses.

Originally posted 2011-10-02 02:00:28.

New Car

So I purchased a new car today…

A 2011 Hyundai Elantra Limited with premium package; Titanium Gray with Black Interior.  I’ve posted a couple pictures on my gallery — so you can see it; or you can go to http://www.hyundaiusa.com/elantra/ for complete details.

Did I mention it’s rated at 40mpg?

I have several articles I want to post on my experience of car shopping in Northwest Florida — let’s just say for the moment it was an interesting experience; and next time I purchase a car I’m likely to do it on a trip to a real city after I’ve done my research.

I’m also going to post one article on why I chose the Elantra; and after I’ve had it for a month or so I’ll post one giving my feeling on whether or not it has lived up to my expectations or not.

Originally posted 2011-03-11 02:00:05.

Just Say No To Adorama

I wanted to buy a couple filters for my camera, and I’m fairly picky about just what brand of filter goes on my lens.  My preference is Sunpak and Quantaray (Quantaray is made by Hoya) — both Japanese manufactured, and solid glass construction with multi-coats.

I looked up prices, and found that Amazon had a good price on a Sunpak kit with both of the filters I wanted in it; so I looked at the buy options, Amazon was a little more expensive than a couple of the other vendors they listed, but with free shipping it was just about a wash and I prefer to deal with Amazon and avoid Amazon merchants.  The only problem was, Amazon was out of stock, and of course no way to know how long it would take for them to get stock.

I guess I just wanted to be done with it, so I clicked on the link to buy the item I wanted from Adorama

I have to say,  Adorama was fairly quick about shipping out the filters, and their shipping price was fair; but when I opened the bubble envelope inside was a clear plastic bag with an invoice and two Tiffen filters rather than two Sunpak filters.

  • NOTE:  Tiffen is US made, and they may be believe their manufacturing technology is great; but I’ll pass on it.

At first I thought I’d made a mistake and ordered the wrong thing; but then I noticed I could read the itemized invoice through the plastic bag.  First line on the invoice was a Sunpak filter kit with the Sunpak number; the next line said kit consists of (hmm… Sunpak sells the two lens in a package, the vendor doesn’t assemble it — but I’d have no problem taking two individually packaged Sunpak filters for the price of the kit, provided they were the Sunpak filters that were supposed to be in the kit); the next two lines listed out Tiffen filters, descriptions, and part numbers.

So much for even thinking I’d made a mistake, and so much for even thinking it might have been human error on Adorama’s side.

I don’t have a problem with a vendor being out of stock of an item I ordered; and I don’t have any problem with them substituting an equivalent or better item (with my permission — I get to make the call whether it’s equivalent or better); or advising me that there will be a delay; or refunding my money.  The key really is the vendor needs to contact me and advise me of the situation and the options they’re comfortable with. 

What Adorama did was bait-and-switch; only they didn’t have me participate in the switch so it was just out right fraud.

Personally I don’t do business with companies who think so little of their customers that they believe they can do what ever they want when ever they want…

I, of course, contacted Adorama (still no reply — and we’re moving in on a week).  I contacted Amazon, I’ve actually exchanged email with them twice on this matter, and they’ve ask that I wait until after Monday before they will take any action.  And I’ve contacted my credit card company; who were appalled at a merchant doing what I told them they had done, so I don’t expect having any problems getting a favorable resolution to this.

One of the reasons I felt it would be “OK” to purchase from Adorama (breaking my policy of avoiding Amazon merchants when ever possible) was that Ken Rockwell, who maintains a great web site on photography (and other things) had listed Adorma on his site as a vendor, and I had hoped that they had the same high standards as Ken (he also lists Amazon, B&H Photo Video Pro Audio, J&R, and Ritz Camera /Wolf Camera — all of which I tend to trust).

I’ve ordered a set of Sunpak filters from Amazon, and I’ll just be content to wait until they get them in stock, which will probably happen before Adorama sends me a pre-paid return shipping label.

__________
 
For your reference, I’ve include links to the two Japanese filter manufacturers I prefer (again I find Hoya branded filters expensive, and you can get the exact same product at a lower price by buying a store or generic brand that’s made by Hoya). 
 

__________

NOTE:

Please read the complete follow up before making any decisions on Adorama.

Originally posted 2009-01-04 12:00:16.

Vibram FiveFingers

I have to say that the first time I saw Vibram FiveFingers shoes I was less than confident that the would be comfortable (or practical).

I talked with people who wore them and decided it would be worth a try as a replacement for my surf booties I used for kayaking.  A pair of “Flow” (the uppers are Neoprene and have a really good gripping sole) is what I settled on.

I tried on a pair, and it took a little to decide on what size was right (I’ll go into a little detail about my thoughts on sizing, etc as well).

…while I had my doubts, I have to say the first time I wore them out in the water I was sold, far more tactile than surf booties, better grip, and surprisingly comfortable right off.

Now I will say that having something between your toes (and putting them on) takes a little getting used to, but it really is just like going barefoot, and it’s a very natural, very comfortable feel.

I decide that I wanted to get another pair to wear to workout at the gym, the Neoprene is great for aquatic sports, but not really the most comfortable thing to wear when you’re working up a sweat.  So I purchased a pair of Classic — and again found them to be incredibly comfortable.

Currently I think I have six different pairs of Vibram FiveFingers — which should give you an idea of who much I like wearing them (in fact, now I find wearing “regular” shoes to be quite unc0mfortable).

OK, so here’s my idea on sizing them; you can start with suggested size from the charts (or guide), but I found it to be too small — and that’s likely to happen to you because a Vibram will be like a second skin over your foot, so there’s way too many variables to take into account, and a simple length measurement just won’t do.  So do not purchase your first pair online, make sure you go in and try them on (find a local merchant).  Also, be aware that different styles of Vibram FiveFingers will fit slightly differently (so you might need one size larger or smaller).

Once you get a good feel for how the size varies by the particulars of the styles, it’s no problem know what size you’re going to wear.

Now for putting them on… and the diagram in the box and the sales person (unless they’re wearing a pair of Vibram FiveFingers) will probably not be helpful.

First, make sure your foot is clean and the Vibrams are clean (I’ll go over washing them too).  Then push the back of the heal down out of the way, slide your foot in with your big toe angled against the side.  when you slip it as far as you can, wiggle your toes (like you’re inching forward) until they slid into the “fingers” — you may need to guide your little toe (it’s been being pushed inward for years by your shoes, so gently help it).  If you find your toes won’t relax into the “fingers”, take your hand and push the bottom of the Vibrams up to match the curl of the toe, then let it relax (don’t try and push your toes down into the “fingers” — that can be painful).

Once you’ve got the Vibrams on, wiggle your toes a little, see if your foot slips back and forth, and make sure you stand up and put your weight on your foot (my foot “grows” with weight on it — so even though some styles seem a little loose when I’m sitting, that’s not the case when I’m standing).

Cleaning, you could throw your Vibrams in the washing machine if you have one without an agitator — but they’d need to be pretty dirty to consider that.  The first time I washed my Flows I just did it in the shower and tossed them in the sink to dry — it worked fine; and pretty much just rinsing out your Vibram Fivefingers every week or so of wear keeps them fresh and clean.

I give Vibram FiveFingers a glowing recommendation for just walking, running, working out, kayaking (or other aquatic sports), or just lounging around the house or errands around town.

You will notice people stop you to ask about them…

 

http://VirbramFiveFingers.com/


Originally posted 2012-05-13 02:00:52.

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.

A new way to buy…

I’ve been using Amazon.com to buy most goods for years now; and I’ve used Drugstore.com for awhile, their use of coupons and rewards points encourages you to continue to use them every quarter… their prices are good (not always great), but when you consider their rewards and discounts sometimes the prices are very good.

Yesterday I went ahead and used my last quarter rewards to buy something I’ve never purchased online before, something I thought I would likely never purchase online: toilet paper.

Normally I buy toilet paper when I find it at a very good price, and that’s exactly what I found yesterday.

While it’s not earth shattering to buy toilet paper online, for me it shows a definite shift in shopping — anything is a candidate to order online and have delivered to your doorstep rather than drive to a store to pickup.

I think part of what is compelling about buying online is that the simple process of looking for a good deal is really the end of getting a good deal — you don’t have to jump in the car (hopefully schedule it as part of more errands), go to the store, find what ridiculous place they’ve put the sale items in (if they have them in stock at all), stand in line at the checkout, carry it to your car, drive home, and bring it in the house…

Even in the case that you pay the same it just seems that online shopping makes more sense.

The one thing I’m not thrilled about with online shopping is the carbon footprint of the delivery… that’s something Amazon is partially addressing in larger cities (with their dropboxes).

Originally posted 2013-04-16 12:00:31.