Monday, October 30, 2006

Deals at Your Doorstep

Like most addicted shop-a-holics, I spend much of my free time (waaaay too much according to the opinions expressed by those who are close to me) surfing the 'net looking for the latest hot deal. But as my schedule fills up with various chores and duties, I am left seriously deprived of my daily deal seeking enjoyment.

So what to do? Well, the first thing is to get someone else to find deals for me and email them to me. In past blogs, I mentioned places where you can go to find other crazy addicted deal seekers who share their nuggets of information on hot deals with each other (like Fatwallet.com). Not satisfied with that, those places also will email a synopsis of the latest hot deals right to your doorstep - either via email, or via RSS feeds.

Some of my favorite daily or weekly email "hot deal" newsletters are from these websites:

Just sign up using their "free newsletter" links. While most of the deals are for computer and electronic stuff, these are a great way to get snippets of deals that are going on each day.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I'm All Tied Up

One the hardest things for some people to master is tying knots. Whether you're someone trying to learn how to tie their shoes, a young scout trying to earn a badge, or if you're just trying to figure out how to tie a knot on your sailboat so it won't float away, mastering the many different knots can be pretty hard to do. Fortunately for you, there's a great website that shows you how to tie just about every knot there is using animations that you can view at any speed. It's called Animated Knots or www.AnimatedKnots.com.

It's a great website that details the pros and cons of each knot, and is probably more detailed than most people need, but for learning the basics of each knot, it's a great website.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Weird Al does eBay with the Backstreet Boys

Know anyone who loves buying and selling things on eBay (besides me)?

Here's a little ditty by parody singer, Weird Al Yankovic, called E-Bay. It's sung to a tune by the Backstreet Boys called "I Want It That Way".

Just turn up your volume and hit play:





It's amusing, especially if you're into eBay.

eBay is basically a huge online bulletin board or classified ad where anyone in the world can list things for sale. You can find just about anything there. Most things are listed as a "highest bidder wins" auction format, but there are many things for sale at a set price.

eBay is a great place to buy things, but you've got to be really careful about who you're buying from. Because it's an open market like the classified section in your local newspaper, there is potential for fraud.

Because eBay is just a place to list things for sale, you don't know who is selling you the item, so it's extremely important that you check a seller's feedback score. That the eBay rating system used by other individuals who have dealt with the seller in the past. It's far from perfect, but it's a good starting point when you're trying to determine if the person you're dealing with is reliable or not. Just remember, the higher the dollar value of the item you're looking at purchasing, the higher the risk of fraud.

Use common sense when buying on eBay and you can find some great deals.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Lies, Lies and More Half Truths

Urban Legends, Hoaxes, Chain letters - what you don't know will just annoy others.

Whoa, listen up. You MUST FORWARD this bLOg on to ALL of your FRiEnDs and EVERY SINGLE EMAIL ADDRESS YOU CAN GET YOUR HANDS ON. IF you CARE about your [insert favorite subject here: mom, dad, friend, child, earth, country, etc] then you MUST FORWARD THIS BLOG ON, otherwise the CuRsE of the iNteRNet BOOGieMaN will be the stain on your hands forever...

Not.

Ha ha, the jokes on you. I hope you don't fall for any of the gazillions of cursed hooey nonsense emails that fill your up precious email inbox. The advent of cheap, simple and easy to use email has made it possible to just click and ship hundreds of email messages on their way to the ethernet and beyond. The ease of sending emails is inversely proportional to the amount of spam. Don't be a victim of some joker's hoax and pass on fake emails to all your friends and family.

Let me explain. There are many emails that are often forwarded to you from many well meaning friends. Many of these emails are basically very tall tales. They're hoaxes, lies, half-truths that either outright lie or distort the truth to make an interesting or scary story. They are usually recycled stories with the subject or person updated to reflect a current event or subject. Most are harmless, but many are vicious lies that attempt to smear some person, be it a politician or community member, and or try to take advantage of your naivety or kindness.

But It Looks or Sounds Legitimate...

Some of the emails contain pictures that have been doctored to look like real pictures, but are fakes. Some of them sound very logical and seem to make sense, but are not true. They often state quotes made by famous people, but in fact are NOT statements made by them. It's so easy to edit anything to make it seem like it's a fact, when in reality, it's just someone making it up. It's also easy to prey on your heartstrings, with tales of "Timmy's poor plight of misery", when it's actually a fake story.

But don't get your skivvies in a knot over them. Use common sense and always, always first check the urban legends or hoax websites. I've listed some good ones below:


These are great resources to determine if the email message that you received is legitimate or a hoax. 99% of the time, it's probably an urban myth or hoax.

Here are some obvious characteristics of fake emails to help you identify the fakes from reality:
  • 1. EMAILS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS and/or in bold. Supposedly this form of email "yelling" helps you determine that what the author says is legitimate or true. NOT.

  • 2. Emails telling you to "Forward this to everyone you know or care for". A sure sign of desperation of the huckster trying to make it sound urgent.

  • 3. Plans and schemes to "Forward this to a hundred of your closest friends" so that you will reap thousands of dollars from Microsoft or Disney or some company that will track all your forwarded email messages and pay you for "testing" their system. Email does NOT work like that. No one can or will be able to track who you sent an email to. And no company is going to pay beaucoup bucks for this.

  • 4. Emails telling you to forward this to email to ten other people and watch what happens. Again, the only thing that will "happen" is that you will get several emails from your recipients telling you that the email is a hoax. Email is like a postcard. No one is going to track where it's been or where it's going.

  • 5. Email messages begging you to send a gazillion emails to XYZ company so that they will donate a dollar for each email message you send. Again, NO company appreciates all your spam.


Maybe it's True, But Maybe it's a Virus

Don't take a chance. Many times you'll receive an email that "might" be legitimate, so you decide to forward it to all your friends "just in case it's true", but it's better to hit the delete key.

"When in doubt, cut it out"

There is always the possibility that the email message is carrying a virus or trojan, so it's safer to delete it than to infect all your friends. Keep in mind that it clogs up the internet mail servers and wastes people's time in having to download then delete the emails. An estimated 90 % of email internet traffic is junk spam, and someone ends up paying for all that bandwidth and time; and that someone is you and me.

So always first check the hoax buster websites before sending them on. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is a hoax. At the very least, if you know it's not true, make sure the recipients you send it to know this, so that they can get a good laugh at what some huckster is trying to pull.

And don't forget to send this to all of your friends... ;)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Word of the Day

Get smarter, one word at at time.

Here's a great website site where not only can you look up the meaning of words, but you can sign-up for a daily email and receive a new word of the day along with it's definition and example usage. Dictionary.com lets you look up words and also offers a thesaurus and an encyclopedia too.

Use those brain cells before they atrophy away...eh?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Take a Walk on the Moon

To the moon and back...

In honor of man's walk on the moon, Google has added some images of the moon to their Maps feature. You can see where several of the Apollo missions landed, and in Google Map fashion, if you zoom all the way in to see a close-up of what the moon is really made of, you'll be pleasantly surprised. Google Moon. Here's to science and exploration.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Tracfone: Stay in Touch for Less

No commitments, no contracts, no penalties, no high prices, no unlimited calling or texting...

Need a cell phone for the occasional call or text message? Only for emergencies? Want your child to be able to contact you from school at anytime? How about your non-techie parent who doesn't need a phone until their car breaks down?

Don't have a need for mega unlimited minutes or don't want to spend a fortune on a monthly phone plan? How about a plan for less than $8 a month that includes free long distance?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you need to look into a company called Tracfone.

How it works.

Tracfone is a "pre-paid" cell phone company. That means that you get a cellphone, and instead of paying some ridiculous monthly charge, you buy pre-paid phone cards (like those long distance phone cards) and pay only for the minutes that you use.

Most regular cellphone providers charge you over $30 per month, or $360 per year (plus all those bogus nickel and dime charges that they tack on), lock you in for a year or two, and penalize you $150-200 if you decide to cancel their service. To me, that's a scam.

Tracfone doesn't own their own cellphone network, but they buy and resell either Verizon or Cingular services (you don't get a choice, it depends on your area).

Less Money. More flexibility. No Commitments.

The great thing about prepaid cellphone plans is that you don't get "locked-in" for one or two years at some ridiculous high monthly rate plan. You only buy the minutes that you need. There's no unlimited free minutes but that's not what these phones are used for. If you need to yak with your friends, do it at home on your landline.

There are other prepaid plans offered by other companies, but they all require that you buy a new card every 60 days. If you forget to buy and activate a card, you lose all your existing minutes and your phone number. To me, that's a dealbreaker. Tracfone allows you to purchase a one year card which allows you to buy once a year and forget about having to renew your term and minutes every 60 days.

Not For Everyone

This is not a cellphone plan for anyone looking to yak for hours a day on the phone. These minutes cost anywhere from 10 cents to 25 cents per minute. There are limited free minutes, but you only pay for those minutes that you use. And when you buy a new prepaid minutes card, any unused minutes roll-over and you don't lose them.

Right now, if you buy a 1-year prepaid phone card for $100, you get a refurbished phone for free and you get 400 minutes. I have always used their refurbished phones and never had a problem with them. Many of the phones come with "Double Minutes" which basically automatically doubles any minutes you add to the phone. So if you purchase 60 minutes, you get 60 more minutes for free.

If you're frugal with your talking time on the phone, you can get by with the free minutes that you will get each year. Even if you talk more than usual, you could buy many more minutes and still spend less than the $400 that you would have to spend if you signed up under a standard cell phone plan.

Voicemail, call-waiting and Texting is also included, and uses standard Tracfone rates. Texting costs one-half a unit per message, which is comparable to most other standard cellphone plans.

Always a Coupon or Special Deal

There are always coupon codes and specials offered by Tracfone that give you double minutes, free minutes, free phones, etc., so you should never pay full price for anything Tracfone. Just do a search on some deal forum like FatWallet before you buy. You can search for the Official Thread for Tracfone Bonus codes.

Tracfone sells "units" rather than "minutes". They also sell two types of phones. One type of phone is on their "local" or national coverage plan, and the other is their "single-rate" plan. Depending on which phone you buy, they charge you either: one unit per minute and two units per minute if you are "roaming" out of your home area, or, one unit per minute for all calls no matter where you are.

If you travel out of state a lot, I'd get their "single-rate" phone (it's a GSM phone). You can get one for about $35. If not, just get the free refurbished phone with the one-year card.

Tracfone purchases their service from the major cellphone vendors such as AT&T or Verizon, so the coverage you receive is as good as what they offer.

One thing to keep in mind. Tracfone is cheap because they keep their overhead costs low. That means that customer service stinks. You can eventually get help, but it's not the greatest. But you shouldn't have to use their customer service much, if at all.


Need to get in touch with me?

Call me. On my land line. Those who know me know that I spend very little time on my cell phone. Unless it's an emergency or just a short question, I don't yak on a cellphone - especially if I'm driving. Don't get me started on the bozos who think they're paying attention when they (are trying to) drive while they're spewing on the cellphone.

Additionally, since a cellphone is a miniature microwave emitting device, I'm not too keen on frying my brain cells by exposing them to microwaves. Even someone with a little knowledge picked up from high school biology could tell you that living cells and genetic material don't like to get stimulated by microwave radiation.

So for those of you who only need a cell phone for emergencies and/or to occasionally keep in touch with your kids, spouse, or friends, a Tracfone prepaid phone fits the bill to a T.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sleep In First Class Comfort While Traveling Coach

Stuck in Cramped Quarters Beside the Lavatories?

Ever envy those souls lucky enough to fly first class? Sitting in those nice wide leather seats that recline soooo much farther than the mediocre inch that your teeny tiny hard park bench-like seat reclines before it mashes the poor sucker's knees who's sitting behind you?

Well, envy no more. For a measly $45 bucks, you too can sleep like you're in a first class sleeper chair while flying economy cattle class. Well, almost. Kinda like first class. OK, like "simulated" first class.

Designed by an airline pilot who spends countless hours trying to get some sleep while commuting between flights, Bob Duncan came up with an inflatable device that allows you to "lie down" while in your chair and holds your head from flopping around.

Shaped somewhat like an extra tall lumbar cushion, the 1stClassSleeper lies between you and your seat and supports your back, lumbar and head while allowing you to stretch out so that your body lies almost straight in your seat at a 60 degree angle. You can check out the video showing how it works on their website 1stClassSleeper.

While I was somewhat skeptical about how comfortable it would be, and whether I'd get a numb bum from sitting further out on the seat, I must admit that the 1stClassSleeper performed quite well on a recent 20 hour flight. The feeling is almost like that of lying on a waterbed. The head area is shaped like a large "U" that cradles and holds your head upright and prevents it from flopping to the side onto some stranger's shoulder. The lumbar area is wide enough to support and cradle your back so that you don't get a sore back.

It's well designed with a large simple inflation tube that looks like the tubes on the lifevest stored supposedly under your seat. All it takes is about 10 breaths of air to inflate it to the right size. After a little pulling and fiddling, I was able to get pretty comfortable. Even the stewardess commented how comfy I looked. Combined with some cheap noise cancellation headphones, I slept like a baby.

The whole thing rolls up into a relatively small and lightweight package, not unlike a portable collapsible umbrella. It appears to be well made and durable, and should last many years.

Bob Duncan, the pilot inventor, has a website www.1stclasssleeper.com where he offers it shipped free for $45 with a 90 day money back guarantee. While you won't have any additional seat width or legroom because of it, chances are you'll be a whole lot more comfortable than without it. I tried sitting in the airplane seat without it for an hour, then put the 1st Class Sleeper behind me. Just having the lumbar support in the right place made a world of difference in making my flight a lot more comfortable.

From now on, I'll be stuffing my 1st Class Sleeper in my carry-on bag for all trips in the future.

Happy flying :)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Help! How Do I Email a Large File To My Friend?

How to share a large file with your friend.

Oy! Have you ever tried to email a large picture or file to a friend, only to have it come back rejected with an error message, or worse, have it crash your computer?

Is there a large file that you want to share with someone, but don't have a way to transfer to them?

Well fret no more. If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can share any (legal) files with your friends. You don't need to download anything, sign up for anything, or pay for anything (unless you want to make a donatation), and it's really easy to use.

The trouble with sending big files through email is that most Internet Service Providers (e.g. AOL, MSN, Comcast, Adelphia, Earthlink, etc.) restrict the size of files that you can send with email. Typically, you can send a file up to 5MB. Anything over that will choke your email.

A great simple way to get around this size limitation is to use a free website called MyTempDir.com. All you do is upload your file to the website, and it will give you a link to your file. Then you just email the link to your friend and they can download the file from the MyTempDir website. Free and easy as 123.

The only things to keep in mind is that there is a 25MB limit to the size of the files and there is no guarantee that your file is safe from others. Since it's possible for other people to access your file, NEVER upload a confidential or file with sensitive information.

Files are kept for 14 days then automatically deleted. You can delete it faster if you enter your email address when uploading your file, as MyTempDir will send you a link to delete the file. The nice thing is that there is no limit to the number of files that you can upload.

Other Options

If you have a large video or other file that you want to share, you can also try a website called www.streamload.com. They have a basic free account that lets you share up to 100MB of files per month. Other plans start at $4.95 per month and allow you unlimited storage space and allow up to 1GB of downloads/transfers per month.

Jusspress.com lets you share up to ten 2 minute long videos with your friends with their free account, and unlimited amounts for $5 per month.

So, the next time you think about emailing someone a huge file - don't. Upload it to MyTempDir.com or one of the other free file transfer websites.

Happy file/picture sharing :)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hooked on CROCS

Originally designed to be a boat shoe, Crocs are the latest must have shoe.


Ever had a pair of really comfy, ratty ole' slippers that you just couldn't give up? Remember that feeling as you slipped your foot into that nicely aged, buttery soft shoe? Did you wonder if you'd ever find another pair of shoes that would be soooo soft and comfortable again?

Well, torture your feet no more. The latest and greatest footwear phenomenon has arrived. They're called CROCS. And while their makers claim they have ergonomic Italian styling, they're really, really fugly. That is, they're funky and ugly looking. They're so ugly, they could be a fashion statement... But you'll get over it once you slip them on you feet.

Originally designed as a light, waterproof, slip resistant boat shoe, Crocs are cool, super comfortable and weigh almost nothing. They're made of a foam-like material that is anti-microbial and odor resistant. If they get dirty, you can wash them with a little bleach and water, and you can even use some Armor All(tm) protectant to shine 'em up.

They're great for people who are on their feet all day, like chefs, nurses, or boaters, because the shoe softens and molds to your feet for a really custom fit. They make you feel like you're walking on marshmallows.

You can buy them online through their website Crocs.com, and other online stores like Amazon.com, or buy them at your local shoe store. The original Crocs Beach model is full of ventilation holes, and they've spawned several other variations like the Cayman and Metro since then.

More walk, Less talk.

These CROCS are made for walking, and that's what I'm gonna do. There's almost a cult-like following for these things, and after trying on a pair, I must admit that I'm pretty smitten with them as well. I'm actually starting to think that they even look okay. I'm tempted to get a pair just for the house and wear them like slippers, and another pair for going to the pool, beach or just hanging around.

They come in all kinds of wacky colors, and I'm thinking it would be pretty amusing to wear a different color on each foot. Well maybe not. Depends on how nutty I'm feeling. But these things are really, really comfortable. You should give them a try. Just close your eyes until you've got your feet in 'em.

Happy Croc-ing :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mmmmmm, tasty food for less...

If you're up for trying out new restaurants or like getting a bargain at your favorite eating hangout, then you should try out Restaurant.com. They sell gift certificates for various restaurants in your area at up to 60% off the face value. You buy them online and then print them out on your computer right away. No fuss, no muss, no waiting.

I just purchased a $25 gift certificate from Restaurant.com for a local Italian restaurant. The cost for the $25 certificate would have been $10, but I had a 60% off coupon code, so I only paid $4. for it (I used code 51325 but that expires June 30,2005; check Fatwallet.com forums for newer coupon codes).

There are several restrictions so read the fine print. Typically, you can only use one gift certificate per visit, there has to be at least two people eating, and you have to spend a minimun of $35. But even if your total bill came to $40 before taxes (make sure you tip on the total), you would have only spent $19 ($40 - 25 = $15, plus the $4 for the gift certificate). Not too shabby.

You could also use those coupon books that are available like the Entertainment book, but you have to buy those and, unless you eat out a lot, you may not get your money's worth. But those coupon books can be a good deal if you buy them near the end of the year, where typically you'll pay about $10 for a book. Right now they're free if you buy next year's book which is not too bad if you split it with a friend.

So, don't forget to use a coupon to buy a Restaurant.com Gift Certificate, and enjoy good eats, cheap ;)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Find books fast. Find books cheap. Save Money :)

A Book Search and Price Comparison Website

Many of you already use Google to search for stuff, right? Well there's something like that for finding books on sale and finding out the who's got the cheapest price for books. It's a book search and price comparison website called AddALL.com

Like the magazine search engine I mentioned in an earlier blog (here), AddAll.com lets you search for any book from across a whole bunch of websites to help you find the best and lowest price. It's not the most comprehensive search engine out there, but it's still a pretty good place to start.

While it does search books listed on Half.com, it may not always find the most current listings. I always do a search on Half.com and Amazon.com in addition to searching with AddALL.com when you're looking to buy a book.

No need paying more for something when you can get it for less. More stuff, less money.

Happy reading :)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Be frugal like Paul :) Part V - Books, CDs & DVDs

Cheap Books, Textbooks, Videogames, CDs and DVDs for Frugal People.

Looking to buy books for your kids' summer reading lists? Do you love to read books? Do you like owning your own copy of DVD's? Would you rather have your own copy of a music CD instead of just a downloaded file?

Well there's a place where you can get gently used books, videogames, CD's and DVD/videos for typically less than half the retail price (new items are now also available).

Half.com

Before I plunk down my hard earned cash-ola on a new item, I always first check for cheap books, CD's (yes, I sometimes still buy a CD) videogames and movies on a website called Half.com. As its name implies, Half.com was started as a website where people could buy used books, CD's and movies for at least 50% off the retail price from another individual.

It's a marketplace where buyers and sellers come together in a way similar to eBay, but with one big difference - Half.com acts as an intermediary between the buyer and seller.

That intermediary role is a major selling point for buyers that are weary of purchasing something from someone they don't know if they can trust. By acting as a go-between, Half.com protects the buyer from unscrupulous sellers who may try to cheat the buyer.

It works like this:

  • People with something to sell lists the item on Half.com and specify the condition of the item and a price they are asking.


  • The item remains on the website until it sells.


  • There is no auction, bidding or waiting. The price is firm, and the buyer decides if they want to buy the item in the stated condition.


  • Shipping is set by Half.com and added to your order.


  • The buyer pays Half.com who in turn instructs the seller to send the item to the buyer.


  • Once the buyer receives the item, Half.com pays the seller the purchase price minus a commission.



Everybody wins. The seller is able to get rid of their item, and a frugal buyer gets to buy their item at a discounted price.

The website has since been bought by eBay, but it still runs as a separate business. Sellers are now allowed to sell items for more than half of the retail price, and new items can be bought in addition to used items. They've also increased the product selection to include electronics and toys.

But the sweet spot is still for books, CD's, DVD's and video games. These items are typically in great supply, and are typically fine when purchased as a used item. I'm leery of purchasing other items on Half.com since there is a much greater possibility for variation in the quality of the item if it's something other than books and CD's.

A Caveat. There are still scumbags out there who try to cheat users. Always look at their feedback ratings which help you see if the seller has many unsatisfied customers. Keep in mind that their rating is no guarantee of reliability. Watch out for counterfeit or bootleg copies of movies.

I purchased a DVD from a seller who swore that he only sold originals and not fake copies - wrong. I received an obviously poor quality fake DVD. Fortunately, I notified Half.com that I was not happy with my order, and my money was promptly refunded.

With books, getting a gently used copy and paying $2 + shipping (roughly $2.80) for a hardcover is a great deal. When I'm done reading it, I can sell it for about the same price on Half.com or just keep it.

So remember, before you buy a book, CD, videogame or DVD, check out Half.com. You could end up with a much better deal and have some extra change in your pocket as well.

Happy reading :)

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Aaaaggh! I'm being buried in Pictures!

By now, just about everyone and their mother has a digital camera or camera phone. And even if you don't, you still take pictures with that old camera on that brown plastic stuff, what do they call it, film?

Well, it takes no fancy brainwork to realize that, with each passing day, more and more pictures are being taken and there's fewer and fewer places where you can stash 'em. Digital cameras, with their incredible ease of taking pictures on a cheap memory card, fill up quicker than you can shake a stick and poke me in the eye.

But what makes it soooo versatile, is that I can take virually unlimited pictures with my digital camera, then just download and empty out that memory card onto my computer, which, by the way can hold a gazillion pictures of my kids, their friends, their pet sea monkeys and whatever happens to cross my camera lens.

I've got the freedom to take unlimited crappy pictures, 'cause I don't care, it's free! All I gotta do is download them to my computer, and voila! More room for more pictures. Yay!

Well golly day, before you know it, you're running out of storage space on your computer hard drive. Not only that, but what if your computer hard drive were to crash and you lose all those pictures? So what to do? Where are you going to put all those pictures?

All those pictures and no where to go.

So put 'em on the web. Not only can you stick them on a website and share the pictures with the rest of the world (or not), there are websites out there where you can just easily store all of your precious pictures. There are so many competing websites out there that want your pictures and business, many of them virtually free.

What business? Well, after taking your pictures, you'll want to share them with your family and friends. No more sending out your pictures and clogging up everyone's email accounts with megapixels of photos. Just send everyone an email with a link to your pictures, and they can check out your pictures themselves. They can even order prints online. But not just prints. They can order pictures on a Postage Stamp, mug, cards, calendars, t-shirts, and tons of other gifts with your pictures on them. That's a billion dollar business out there.

Snapfish to the Rescue!

While I've had limited experience with other websites like Ofoto (now Kodak Gallery), Shutterfly, and the like, I've had a lot of good experience with Snapfish.com. Not only do they store your digital pictures, they also develop your good 'ole film camera pictures too.

Snapfish is for lovers of 35mm film cameras too.

Just go online, and Snapfish will send you free postage-paid envelopes. Drop your film in the envelope and give it to the mailman. In a few days, not only will your prints and negatives be mailed to you, Snapfish will scan your pictures and make them available for you to view online. Then you can share them with whomever you wish.

You can even get your first roll developed for FREE, or if you don't have film to develop and only want to upload your pictures, you can get 20 FREE prints with your first order by clicking on this link: Snapfish

Share your Photos

It's really easy to share your photos with your friends and families. After copying your pictures from your digital camera to your computer, you just upload your pictures to Snapfish.com. You create virtual albums of photos and then send out emails from Snapfish to all the people that you want to share your photos with.

Once they receive your invitation, your friends sign up for a free account with Snapfish (this ensures only those people you have invited can view your private photos) and then view your pictures. You or anyone you invite can then order prints of any picture for only 12 cents a print (plus postage). That's much cheaper than printing them yourself with a color printer.

The one other bonus of uploading your pictures to a website like Snapfish, is that if for some reason you lose all your pictures, you'll always be able to get a copy of the pictures from the website you uploaded them to. It's like a backup storage facility for your pictures.

With Snapfish, all of this storage is virtually free. All that they ask is that you purchase at least ONE item each year to keep your account active. That one item can be a single print. That's pretty cheap insurance against losing your pictures.

The only caveat to keep in mind is that if you want to get the original high resolution file of your pictures back, you'll have to pay for them. There are three options: 1) you can pay about $20 for a CD with 200 pictures plus $10 for each additional 150 pictures, 2) you can pay 29 cents per picture file, or 3) just get prints for 10 cents each. That's not so bad if this is your last resort for getting your picture files back after losing them elsewhere. If you really just want an online storage facility for your digital prints, there is another option from a website called Flickr that charges $25 per year. I'll discuss it in another blog.

But for now, you can't beat Snapfish for sharing your digital pictures with your friends and family, and getting hard copy prints for only 12 cents a copy. Now that's a way to unload your picture burden on someone else.

Happy snapping :)

It's Tuesday, Do You Know Where Your Update Is?

Well I know Tuesday has come and gone, but the need for updating your computer is still just as critical. Actually, it's not your computer you update, it's your operating system. Windows to be exact.

What's the big deal about updates?

Well, the second Tuesday of every month is when Microsoft releases the latest batch of security and windows patches. While a critical patch isn't necessarily released every month, it's extremely important for you to check the Windows Update website (http://www.microsoft.com/updates) on a regular basis just in case there is a patch available.

Why? Well, because if there is a security hole in Windows or Internet Explorer, then your computer is vulnerable to the nasties (trojans, viruses, etc) out there. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when your computer will get infected. Each day that you surf without the security patch, you're compromising your personal data.

What's a Security Hole?

Windows is made up of a gazillion lines of computer code. Somewhere along the way, there's bound to be a bug, error, or sloppy programming by the developers who put it all together. It's only a matter of time before some hacker is able to probe and discover that bug and exploit it. That's a security hole.

What's a Security Patch?

Once a hole or vulnerability is found, Microsoft must find a way to re-write the code to close the hole while ensuring the rest of the operating system continues to function. That's a patch. Sometimes the patch creates other problems or holes, but lately it's better to patch first then fix later.

Why bother patching if the solution creates more problems?

The problem is that, once a flaw or hole is discovered, scumbag hackers will try to exploit it quickly before the "gateway" or open door to your computer is closed. It's a game of cat and mouse, where unfortunately the mouse's prize is your personal data. It's not worth the risk of going unpatched.

If you have Windows XP, there is a feature where Windows will automatically check for, and download (if selected) the security patches automatically. But you have to turn this feature on. You can do this by clicking on Start, Control Panel, and clicking on the 'Automatic Updates' icon. Select the 'Automatic' item. As long as your computer is left on when the selected time is set, your computer will go out and check for security updates automatically.

If you have an earlier version of Windows, then you must manually go out and check for security updates. You can do this by opening up your Internet Explorer browser, clicking on the 'Tools' menu item, then clicking on 'Windows Update'. Then click on 'Express Install'. Make sure you install any updates labeled as "critical".

Don't go out there unprotected. It only takes a minute to ensure that you cover yourself. It's not only free to get the security patches, but it's common sense to surf safe.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Knock Knock. Who's There?

It's the boogieman! Yes, your favorite childhood creepy 'ole boogieman is at it again. But rather than scare you in person, the boogieman is in your computer now...

Now how do you keep him out? Wouldn't it be nice to have your own personal doorman to monitor who to let into your home, and who to bounce?

Like the big burly guy who acts as a gatekeeper to your favorite hangout, you can have your very own personal doorman for your computer. Actually, it's not so much a can, as it is a must - having a personal doorman that acts as your computer's bouncer to the nasties that are out there is not an option, it's an absolute requirement.

Computer networks and the internet weren't designed with security in mind. The "net" was originally designed to allow you to share information with many people and with as little hassle as possible. Unfortunately, that ease of sharing information brings with it one of the many risks you face whenever you are connected to the internet - the risk of sharing your confidential and private information with all the criminals and scumbags out there.

To oversimplify things, your computer is like a house with 65,000 ports or access "doors" to the outside. To make it more scary, every one of these doors is unlocked and open to the world for anyone, or program to use.

Yiikes! That's like living in a glass house in grand central station. No privacy, no security. Back in the early days of computing, everyone made programs to do all kinds of things and programmers played fast and loose with no proper structure. Microsoft is not completely to blame either, since they're trying not to alienate users of older versions of software. But that doesn't absolve them of blame either.

So why don't I just close and lock every door on my computer? You could, but how would your computer talk to the world? How would you be able to access the internet? What you need is a personal doorman at every door to monitor who can come in and who can leave. That's where a "Firewall" comes in.

What's a Firewall?

A firewall is a either a piece of hardware (a box) that you connect to your computer, or more commonly, a software program that you install on your computer. The Firewall acts as a barrier or "wall" that surrounds and protects your computer from the outside world. It's the bouncer that watches every single one of your computer doors for you automatically. No one comes in or leaves without you knowing.

You should NEVER, EVER connect your computer to the internet without a firewall. Never go anywhere unprotected. It takes literally only minutes before a worm, virus or malicious program comes 'a knocking on your computer. There are thousands of nasties out there just waiting and searching for unprotected computers. As soon as they find an open door - they're in. It's as easy as 1,2,3.

Once a worm or nasty virus finds your computer's open door, they'll load anything from more worms, viruses, trojans or keyloggers on your computer and use your computer to do damage to other computers.

A "trojan" is a program that enters your computer either through an open door in your computer, or through email attachments disguised as a picture or screensaver. Once clicked on, the trojan installs it's secret payload onto your computer and starts to damage your computer and wipe out your files. It can also use your computer as a "zombie" to launch attacks against other computers on the internet.

A "zombie" computer is a computer that has been compromised and is under the secret remote control of some scumbag located someplace else.

Keylogger programs. If the virus or worm has loaded a "keylogger" program on your computer, EVERY keystroke that you type, combined with screenshots of your computer screen will be recorded and silently sent to a scumbag's computer. That means all of your personal information will be sent to the criminals lurking out there. Unless you enjoy having your identity stolen, be wary of "free" programs, phishing emails and email attachments.

Did I mention that you should never, ever click on a link or attachment in an email? Well, I'm gonna say it again - DON'T click on attachments or links in emails. Right click and save attachments to a folder on your harddrive, then use a virus scanning program to scan it first.

Again, research programs on techie websites like PCWorld, CNET, and PCMagazine. Then install a firewall. For most people, you can use the free personal version of a program called ZoneAlarm. It's very highly rated, relatively easy to use, and FREE. I know I mentioned earlier to be cautious of "free" programs, but in this case, you can be confident that this excellent free firewall program is legitimate. Power users may wish to purchase the Pro version.

But I have the Windows XP firewall, I don't need another one you say.

Well, you don't need another one if you only want to do half a job. You see, the firewall that comes with Windows XP (the SP2 version) only works as a doorman for programs trying to get IN to your computer. But it does nothing if a program has sneaked in, either via an email or if you accidentally visit a malicious website. While it's watching the front door, creepy nasty programs are stealing your valuables and walking out the back door, 'cause no one's watching what's going OUT of your computer.

So the firewall built into Windows XP is the absolute bare minimum (and that's a really bare minimum) that you should have.

Do a free computer Security Check at GRC.com.

What you really want, is to have your computer appear to be invisible to the outside world. A firewall helps to hide your computer. You should visit a great website called GRC to check if your computer is visible to the world, and to see if all of your computer "doors" are shut and locked. A guy named Steve Gibson runs this website.

There is a free test he offers called "Shield's UP". Click on the link for ShieldsUP and run the tests that "knock" on all your computer doors. Hopefully you'll find that your computer is "invisible" to the world.

A firewall is only one tool in your arsenal against the scumbags that prey on innocent people like you and me. You are always at risk against all the nasties out there unless you have several tools in your belt. You've got to make sure that you also have an Anti-Spyware, Anti-Virus, and an Anti-Foolishness program loaded on your computer.

OK, I made up the last one, but there really is something like an anti-foolish tool - it's called using your head. Common sense if free, buy only if you use it. Be aware and be safe :)

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Who's That Masked Man?

No, it's not Zorro. It's an evil scumbag with a fraudulent wireless access point masquerading as your favorite wireless connection. Sound far fetched? Not anymore. Just when you figured out how to wirelessly connect your computer to the internet, now you've got to worry about rogue (read: malicious) wireless hotspots, or Evil Twins.

What's an Evil Twin?

For those of you who finally got around to setting up your super convenient wireless router/access point that allows you to surf and roam about your house without wires, someone else has figured out how to setup an identically named access point that fraudulently "spoofs" your access point. By spoofing or copying the name of your access point, they've created an "evil twin".

Spoofing your wireless access point done by setting up another wireless access point that mimics your wireless access point and uses the same "SSID" or name. The SSID is the "name" of your wireless access point that your computer uses to identify who it is connecting to. The goal of this is to get your computer to connect to this evil twin instead of your intended wireless point.

Think of an evil twin like a fake delivery man. Normally you give your outgoing packages to the local delivery man, and receive your packages from the same guy. Now imagine that someone in a fake uniform came to your door to pick up your packages. You'd give him your letters and packages and he'd take them away. Now imagine that before he delivered the packages, he opened them up, copied any personal information, then delivered them or threw them away. You wouldn't know the difference until it was too late. That's sort of what an evil twin wireless access point it like.

By connecting to the evil twin, your computer will then be passing all of your information through this fraudulent access point. By monitoring this evil twin, the scumbag will be able to steal all your personal information such as your username and passwords.

While the likelihood of someone setting up an evil twin near your house is not as great, it's very possible and more common for dirtbags to setup evil twin wireless hotspots near internet cafes, businesses and on campus.

By setting up an evil twin at the local starmucks cafe, your computer could connect to this evil twin site and before you realized it, you would have typed in your username and password at the fake login screen. All information that you send and receive from this point would be available to the thief.

Wireless connections are typically very insecure. Manufacturers are loathe to make their products more secure by using encryption and other basic security measures for fear of making it too difficult for users to properly setup their wireless access points. So, by default, wireless products have all of their security settings off. So now you're vulnerable to phishing, spoofing, evil twins, and everything on your computer is open for the world to access.

So What To Do?

  • At the very least, turn on your basic wireless encryption protocol- WEP, WPA, etc. You'll need to look up how to do this in your router's manuals.
  • Avoid public wireless hotspots unless they utilize some sort of security protocol.
  • Use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network if your company offers it. There are also some services available on the web the offer VPN services for around $5 a month.
  • Be alert for strange or unusual login screens or activity at public hotspots.
  • Use a firewall such as ZoneAlarm that helps detect rogue networks and defaults to the most protective security setting when it detects new networks.

There are still many security products under development, so keep yourself up-to-date, read my blog, and...

Be aware and paranoid ;)

Monday, May 30, 2005

Email Security Part I - Gone "Phishing"

Phishing for your personal info that is.

For those of you who use email, which is practically everyone who actually uses a computer and surfs the internet, "phishing" (pronouced "fishing") is the term used to describe emails that are sent out by individuals, whom I shall politely refer to as scumbags, bottom-feeders and the like, who are trying to steal your personal information.

These dirtbags send out phishing attacks, which are emails that look exactly like legitimate emails that could be sent out from your bank, or businesses that you deal with. Very often, they target users of Citibank, Paypal, or eBay, since there are thousands of people who have accounts with these larger well-known companies. It's incredibly easy for anyone to recreate or copy a legitimate email message, add a bogus link or malicious code and send it out to every single email address they can come up with (also called "spamming").

The intent of a phishing attack is to lure you into clicking on their bogus email links, or filling out a form to steal your username and passwords. If you follow the instructions or links in these phishing emails, they will take you to a bogus or fake website forged to look like the real thing, but exist solely to steal your personal and confidential information.

For this to work, all you need to do is enter your username and password into these bogus forms or follow the link to their websites, click on the submit button, and your personal info will be instantly sent out into the internet for these criminals to use. They will quickly change your passwords, empty out your bank account, steal your identity, and wreak havoc with your life. And no, I'm not exaggerating. Try it if you dare (no, don't - I'm serious).

Phishing emails use social engineering to try to trick you to let your guard down. The email messages try to create a sense of urgency. They will state that your account has been compromised, or that they have experienced a security breach and you need to confirm your credit card info, or SSN or username and password. They may just state that they want you to login to their site to "validate" that you are still a current user. They may state that your account is "frozen" or locked down until you verify your identity.

Just remember: NO legitimate business or website will EVER ask you to confirm your username and password, or any other information through an email link or form.

I cannot overemphasize to you the seriousness of these phishing and other similar attacks. If you let your guard down for just one email, that's all it takes for these scumbags to steal your stuff. NEVER, ever click on email links. Never fill out email forms. If you suspect foul play, open up a web browser and type in the web address of the website you want to check.

"But I have an anti-virus program. Aren't I protected?" Anti-virus programs DO NOT protect you from these phishing attacks because often there isn't any "virus" per-se, only a link or address that takes you to a bogus website.

Since these bogus websites are created every minute of the day and last only weeks, days, and sometimes only hours, there's no way to keep track of them. Your personal info is often sent to a "collecting" email address, where the scumbags accumulate your info. Unlimited free email accounts that can be created in Hotmail, Yahoo or Google, so once a criminal has been sent your personal information, they just abandon that email account, never to be traced.

OK. Now I'm afraid to open my emails. What do I do?

Make sure you have the latest security updates from Microsoft.com. While Windows XP users can turn on automatic update checking, you should still make it a habit to visit Microsoft's Windows Update website to download the latest security patches.

To get to Windows Update: Click on Start, All Programs, Windows Update. Or, if you are using Internet Explorer, you can also get there by clicking on the menu bar "Tools, Update Windows". Once there, just click on "Express Install" and follow the directions. Having the latest security patches is just the bare minimum. There are still many unpatched and unknown vulnerabilities in Windows and Internet Explorer.

Install an anti-virus program and make sure that it regularly loads updated virus definition files.

Install an up-to-date firewall program.

Trend-Micro PC-cillin, and Zonealarm sell highly rated security software suites that are relatively inexpensive, and all have "competitive upgrade" rebates if you own previous versions or a competitor's product. Check techie websites like PCWorld.com, CNET.com, or PCMag.com to read the various reviews on the many different security products.

DO NOT click on any links or attachments in your emails, no matter who it's from. Just delete suspicious emails. If you want to follow a link, open up your browser and type in the internet address instead.

Last of all, use common sense. Never respond to any email that purports to be security related or asks for confirmation of your personal info. Be afraid and be paranoid :)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Use the Farm, Luke - An Amusing Tale

All right, here's an amusing take on our old favorite movie, Star Wars. It's a pretty good parody of the movie, produced by the Organic Trade Association.

It's actually a commercial, but whether or not you buy into their message, it's amusing nonetheless. Store Wars is a pretty clever 5 minute animation that introduces you to Cuke Skywalker and his friends as he battles the fearsome Darth Tater.

Atom Films has a collection of Revenge of the Sith parody videos that you might want to check out as well.

May the farm be with you... :)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Real Hockey Players Shoot Left (if you're right-handed)

Hey, hey. Here's my first rant :)

I figured that, since I say that I'm gonna rant and rave, I better follow through and rant about something - especially since those who know me, know that I like to make "suggestions". I like to think that all of my "words of wisdom" are beneficial to the world around us - or at least around me ;)

As a hockey instructor, there's nothing that irks me more than to see a new hockey player picking up the wrong hockey stick. For those who are not familiar with the fast and intense game of hockey, players use an 'L' shaped stick to propel a hard rubber puck into a net.

Now, here's where newbies go wrong. You see, just about every hockey stick has a curve built into it's blade. Looking down the shaft of a stick, the blade either curves to the right or left. If it curves to the right, it's a LH, or Left Hand stick. If it curves to the left, it's a RH, or Right Hand stick. Clear as mud?

I guess the problem stems from the nomenclature for how the sticks are labeled. Typically, a hockey stick is held with two hands like a shovel, or for want of a better example, a rifle. The hockey stick gets its right or left hand designation from which hand is closest to the "front" of the stick, or blade.

So if a typical right-handed person is holding the hockey stick like a rifle, the right, or "trigger" hand is at the top end of the stick, and the left hand is at the front. Thus this is called a LH Left Hand stick. This does NOT mean that this is a stick for left-handed people!!

Since Canadians basically invented the game of hockey, it makes sense that they're the ones who know how to play the game. If you pay attention to the game, the majority of Canadians, Europeans and professional players "shoot left" using a LeftHand stick, and they are right-handed.

The further south you go into the States where they are newer to the game of hockey, the more you find players thinking that because they are right-handed, they should use a RH stick, or "shooting right". But this is incorrect. The hand on the top end of the stick should be your stronger, or dominant hand. Using a RH stick means that you are using your weaker left hand on the top end to control the stick.

People say to me "but in baseball I swing right-handed, and in golf I swing right handed, shouldn't I use a RH hockey stick?" and I say to that No, No, NO! The key word here is "swing". In baseball and golf, you're hands are together and your entire game is a single "swing". In hockey, we do not swing. We Stick-handle. Get zat through zee head.

Have you ever tried to swing a golf club like you hold a hockey stick - with your hands apart? Do you think you'll get a better, stronger swing? Heck no. They're two totally different sports. Swing right (golf), shoot left (hockey). Key word here - shoot the puck, using a LH left hand stick.

Watch a hockey player and you'll see that 90% of his/her time with a puck is spent stickhandling or passing. The other 10% is spent shooting, typically a wrist shot, or a slap shot; and no, that is not a swing like in golf.

You need to understand that control of the hockey stick comes from the hand at the top of the stick. Thus that needs to be your dominant hand. You hold your hockey stick like you hold your tennis racket or your sword - in your right hand if you're right-handed. That means your left hand is at the front of the stick. That means you use a LH or left hand stick.

When a player is on a breakaway, typically he will use one hand to hold the stick and push the puck forward. It makes sense that the dominant hand is at the top end of the stick. That hand never lets go of the stick. The lower hand is there to provide support and additional power (and to push the opponent away). Watch a right-handed player who uses a RH stick on breakaway, and few of them will be able to control their stick with their left hand. Their speed and agility suffer.

While right handed players who use a RH stick will be able to become proficient at hockey, they are handicapping themselves. Of course, there are a small minority who are more comfortable shooting right, typically, those are the people who snowboard "goofy-foot".

So if you want to learn how to play hockey properly, get the correct hockey stick:

  • If you're Right-handed - get a LH lefthand stick.

  • If you're Left-handed - get a RH righthand stick.
One more thing to think about, if you think hockey is a violent sport, why is it that football players practice smucking into barriers and trying to take down their opponent?

Yeah, there are always some hockey goons who feel they need to check other players into the boards, but the good players are the ones who can finesse the puck into the opponents goal without the violence. Watch a European game of hockey, and you'll see how fast and amazing the game really is.

Hockey players practice stickhandling and skating drills, football players practice trying to hit someone as hard as you can. You know which one I like doing ;)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Be frugal like Paul :) Part IV - Magazines

Hello, My Name is Paul and I have a problem :)

Oh yeah. My postman really hates me. Well, not really. Though I'm sure he curses my name every other day when he stuffs 10 pounds of magazines into my woefully inadequate mailbox. I'm sure one of these days my mailbox is going to topple over from the constant strain of holding so many magazine subscriptions (not to mention all those catalogs too).

Yes, I'm addicted to magazines. I've been addicted for as long as I remember. I must have a magazine wherever I go. I also never pay full retail for my subscriptions. And neither should you.

Just about all of my magazine subscriptions cost me less than $5 per year. There's virtually no reason you need to pay more. Yes, there are the odd magazines that don't go on "sale", but for the most part, you can subscribe to your favorite magazine for less than the cover price of one issue.

How do I do it? Easy.
  1. Go to Fatwallet.com and search their Hot Deal forums for coupon codes for "Best Deal Magazines". Write down the coupon code (e.g. right now there is a code for 27% off your entire order).

  2. Go to XPBargains.com and find the store listing for "Best Deal Magazines". Click on the store name and look in the listings for more coupon codes. Write them down. There is currently a code for saving $5 off a $30 purchase.

  3. Go to eBates.com. Make sure you're signed in (registration is free).

  4. Click on the link for "Best Deal Magazines". That will take you to bestdealmagazines.com (you must use the eBates.com link or you will not get back 10% of your order as cash back).

  5. Click on the "Free Magazines" link on the BestDealMagazines.com website. At the bottom of the next page, you can select "show all" to see all the magazines that are available for "free" - actually, you pay $4.69 "shipping" for each one year magazine subscription.
  6. Pick as many of the magazines as you like. Each one is only $4.69/year.

  7. When you check out, enter in your coupon codes.

Things to keep in mind:
  • The selection changes frequently, so if your favorite magazine is not listed for "free", check back in a week or two. It may show up. Also check the "$5.95" or "Under $10" links for other cheap magazine subscriptions.

  • Be patient. Magazines take anywhere from 6 to 18(!) weeks to start coming depending on the publisher. I have always received my magazine subscriptions.

  • Unlike some other magazine websites, you don't have to worry about receiving spam with Best Deal Magazines. They only email you when your subscription is ready to expire.
One more thing. You can also use this very good Magazine Search and Price Comparison Engine to quickly search various websites that sell magazines. It's called "A Magazine Area" and is found here. It will search multiple websites for the best price on just about all magazines for you.

If you do use the magazine search engine and find another website selling your favorite magazine for less, make sure you read the fine print on the website. Some of the other websites automatically renew your magazine at the "going market rate" at the end of your subscription. This is NOT what you want. Some also say that you agree to receive emails from their sponsors - this is spam. This is NOT what you want.

I've had very good experiences with Best Deal Magazines, and good but limited experience with NetMagazines. So always read the fine print, or stick with these companies.

Soon, you'll quickly find that your mailbox is filling up with cheap magazines too :)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Very Cool Car Gadget Saves You Big Bucks

Ever had that darn annoying little "check engine" light come on in the middle of nowhere? Did you take your car in to the dealership to find out what it meant and/or to turn it off? Did you have a cow and start foaming at the mouth when the dealer told you that it would cost you a ridiculous 75 bucks just to "hook up your car and see what the computer says"? And that the fee doesn't include the cost to fix it?

Arrgh. Are you incredibly annoyed and feel like you're being taken to the cleaners? Again? By the same dealer that sold you this mega thousand dollar car only to have a dumb little light blink at you?

Well, don't get scammed. Get even. At least get informed. There's a very cool little thing-a-ma-jiggy called the CarChip E/X.

All you have to know is that you buy it, plug it into your car, and drive. If that silly little check engine light comes on, just unplug the CarChip E/X, plug it into your computer and, voila! It tells you what the car is trying to tell you. Well, almost. It tells you a ton of things, but the main thing it does is give you a code that indicates what the problem is.

You'll have to do a little research on the web, but it's very easy to find out what that code represents. Nine times out of ten, it indicates a loose gas cap. That would be a very expensive trip to the dealer if you didn't have the CarChip and just went to the dealer.

If the CarChip indicates a different code, you might have a chance to fix whatever the problem is without having to go to the dealer, and save yourself beaucoup bucks. Of course, you could always go to the dealer to have them fix it, but at least you'll be informed when you go in there and less likely get taken for a ride. You know what they say, knowledge is power.

The CarChip is like a little black box for your car. Since 1996, thanks to emission control regulations, just about every car sold in the USA adheres to a protocol called an OBDII. This includes a plug which allows anyone with a computer hookup or scanner (like the CarChip) to plug into the car's computer and download information.

With the CarChip E/X plugged into your car, it records up 300 hours of your driving data. This includes: time and date for each trip, distance, speed, hard accelerations and braking, and engine diagnostic trouble codes. If you happen to have the misfortune of getting into an accident, the CarChip E/X will automatically generate an accident log showing the last critical 20 seconds of speed.

In addition to recording the basic trip data, you can pick four other parameters to record ranging from RPM, engine coolant temperature, throttle position, fuel pressure, battery voltage, etc. Using the included software, you can then graph out the data to show you how your vehicle is performing.

What good is that? It makes it much easier help figure out why your car is behaving or running a certain way. It makes you an informed owner when you need to bring in your vehicle for service. One more great feature is that the CarChip lets you reset your check engine light.

If the problem was an intermittant one, resetting your check engine light might be your solution. But please keep in mind, if the check engine light persistantly comes on, and you can't figure out what the problem is, take your car in for diagnosis - it could be something more serious.

One more big bonus for any of you out there with teenagers of driving age - the CarChip E/X is like a nanny thats always with your driver. Every time the vehicle is driven, CarChip E/X records how your teenager is driving. Every hard acceleration, hard braking, or excessive revving of the engine is recorded for you to download and see. Since the CarChip records every insertion or removal from the vehicle, they can't disconnect it without you knowing.

You can use it on just about any vehicle; share it between vehicles and lend it to your friend. For less than the price to two trips to the dealer, you can get the CarChip E/X (or it's cheaper mate, CarChip, which has a more limited feature set) for about $150. (Sears.com is one place that carries it). There's no better gadget for the automotive nut in this price range.

Trust me, I know. I didn't buy the company, but I did buy their product :)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Skype Me!

What me? I said "skype me". That's the new way of IMing between two or more people.

What's IM? Aw, that's so, like 2004ish already :) OK, for all those non-technogeeks and those above the age of twelve, let's take a step back.

IM, or Instant Messaging and it's close cousin "text-messaging" is the modern day equivalent of the ole' teletype. Ok, well not quite, but Instant Messaging is a versatile program that allows two or more people who are online to "chat" or send text messages to each other in real time.

So why not just use email to shoot messages to each other? There are several reasons why: 1) it's much faster than email, it's virtually instantaneous, 2) you know that the other person is online right now, 3) you can have several people "chatting" at the same time, and 4) did I mention that it's much faster than email?

There are many times when it's more convenient than calling on the phone or emailing someone when you need an answer - since it's less formal than email or a call, the other person can take their time answering the question, or quickly type out a response. It's easy to multitask on your computer and have an IM conversation with someone.

So what is this "Skype" thing? Skype is essentially an internet telephone with free long distance. Skype is like an Instant Messaging program on steroids. You can use it to "chat" with other people, or you can use it to actually talk to other people.

Using a simple microphone, either built into your laptop or a cheap one that you plug into your computer, you can talk to your friends or anyone in the world who has an internet connection for FREE.

That's right. You can call just anyone who has a high speed internet connection (I don't know if it'll work with dialup, though I doubt it) and talk to your heart's content. You can even conference in several people and have a grand 'ole time talking to everyone. For FREE. For frugal people like me, that's the kicker.

For the most part, the quality of the connection is usually pretty darn good. On overseas calls, it's no worse than the typical connection I get with a regular phone. And if the other person doesn't have a computer with a high speed connection, or doesn't even have a computer, you can make phone calls to regular telephone numbers for a small (something like around 2 cent/min) fee.

Now here's the fine print. You can only talk to someone if they're online and signed into Skype. Not online? Can't talk for free. You're gonna have to wait 'til they're online. Or pay a few cents per minute and call/skype their regular old phone. Also, since this is a free internet dot-com service, don't expect any customer service - it's practically non-existant.

BUT - it's FREE, it's clear, and it's fun. There are even people who put up a sign that says "skype me, I'm available for talking". They welcome random phone calls from anyone, anywhere around the world. And I'm sure they have some pretty interesting conversations...

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Security For Your Computer: How-To Videos

Microsoft has some great videos that you can watch online or download for free that explain the top security issues that affect you and your computer.

They're simple enough to understand, and cover things like:
  • 3 things you can do to prevent spyware

  • What you should know about phishing scams

  • Defending against viruses and worms

  • Keeping your computer up to date

  • Dealing with spam e-mail

  • Protecting your privacy and personal information online

  • Teaching your kids about online safety
They're short and aimed at non-technical folks. I highly recommend them for anyone interested in protecting you and your computer.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Geocaching - Hide & Seek with your GPS

There's an adventure game called Geocaching that's a great way to have fun and get some exercise while you're at it. It's like the modern day version of "Hide and Seek". The only requirement is that you have a handheld GPS device (there's a great deal on a nice color one that also holds streetmaps at Amazon.com (Garmin eTrex Legend Color) for $240 after rebate).

It works like this: Someone hides a little trinket somewhere and then records the co-ordinates (latitude and longitude) on a website like GeoCaching. Your job is to use those co-ordinates and track down that trinket.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? But it's harder than it sounds. It's one thing to know where it is, but it's a whole 'nother ballgame to get there. And that's where the fun comes in. Since the accuracy of the GPS units vary by several feet, you won't have an exact match to the location of the 'cache' or hiding place. So you may spend some time finding the exact hiding place. But of course you'll have fun while you're at it.

One other cool tool that you can add to your arsenal is a GPS computer program called ExpertGPS that allows you to see the routes that you took on a map. It pulls satellite aerial images from the internet and allows you to see where you've been or where you can go.

Using the mapping tools in ExpertGPS, you can draw your route directly on a map, search for nearby features from the millions of waypoints in it's database, and transfer your trip directly to your GPS.

ExpertGPS uses your internet connection to retrieve maps as you navigate, and saves the maps to your hard drive. Disconnect your laptop and head out on a trip, and all of your data is available. ExpertGPS keeps track of which maps need to be retrieved from the Internet, so you can quickly define an area to map and let ExpertGPS gather the data later.

So that's it. Happy GeoCaching!