Peed The Fig

I’m always annoyed when that freaky, stern man/pig hybrid rudely interrupts the guy who’s trying to buy a big screen TV in the “Feed The Pig” public service commercial. But that’s a subject for another, much longer post.

Today I’m writing to help you starve your meddling, stick-in-the-mud, party pooping pig. Sure, the poor swine will suffer, but the rest of us normal humans will be wallowing in sloppy new merch. Time to re-memorize those credit card numbers, because today I happened upon the Deal Of The Day Tracker site! It’s simply a great little site that tracks daily deals from all the sources you’d expect.

And if you notice the right-hand sidebar of this blog, I’ve added their RSS feed so you can keep up with the latest deals while “voiding out” here with me.

Does this present more ways to spend, or more ways to save? OINK!, I say.

Wootier Than Woot!?

Woot.com is still the king of the “Deal of the Day” (DOD) sites, but I’ve been unfaithful to them lately by checking out the other sites tracked by the Wootalyzer utility. I’ve purchased items from Stootsi, 1 Sale A Day, Thing Fling, My Daily Steal and Tanga. All have good items every so often and I can recommend each one except for Stootsi (I did win their daily photo caption contest and got $50 worth of stuff for free, but they shipped one wrong item and generally their offerings and humor are lame).

However, one site that has risen to the top of the heap is Thing Fling. Their offerings are the most Woot!-like, the site has a nice feel and the community is rather vibrant. Lately, they’ve been trumping Woot! somewhat with some fun and unpredictable offerings, which include frequent “mystery boxes” that are much easier to score (though more expensive) than the famous $1 Woot! “Bag of Crap”. No only that, but after I signed up and ordered my first item, three coupons were added to my account–2 for $5 off, and one for 10% off.

Thing Fling has also moved away from just a single item per day, so if you keep checking you’ll see a few different things to fling each day. Processing and shipping of orders is a bit slow, but still I recommend giving them a try.

Review: Velodyne VRP-1000 10-in. Rear Port Subwoofer

This is my first subwoofer, and so far I’m extremely happy with it. I don’t have enough experience to compare it to other subs in the same budget category, but it serves my needs perfectly. I have a home theater setup in a 16’x14′ basement room with only 2 front bookshelf speakers (Paradigm Titans), and I simply wanted to punch up the low end a bit.

I hooked the Velodyne sub to the dedicated subwoofer (LFE) connection on my receiver, and though this supposedly isn’t the best way to connect, it seems to work just fine. It adds the rumble I need to DVD movies, and it brings music alive with smooth and natural bass. The auto on/off feature is not always found in lower end subs, but the VRP-1000 thankfully has it. That’s one less thing to remember to turn off.

In lieu of actually listening to subs before buying, I researched them extensively on the Web. Velodyne is a highly respected yet affordable brand, and my experience with this sub has confirmed their reputation. It’s well-built, sounds wonderful and the black ash cabinet matches my other speakers and components nicely.

The VRP-1000 lists for $250, but you can usually find it for much less. Circuit City carries both this 10" sub and the 12" model, and occasionally puts them on sale at 40% off. I bought my mine at Overstock.com for $166 with free shipping (huge savings since subs are heavy and normally cost $30-$40 to ship), so the combination of quality and affordability make the VRP-1000 a fantastic value.

PROS:

  • Smooth, natural sound.
  • Quality construction.
  • Nice finish.
  • Low street price.

CONS:

  • If you’re not familiar with setting up a subwoofer to optimally integrate with your speakers, the manual won’t help.
  • Probably won’t satisfy audiophiles.

www.velodyne.com

Review: Epson PowerLite Home 10+ LCD Projector

[A condensed version of this review can be found at Projector Central]

If you walk into any major retailer these days you’ll see the future of television. Wider. Clearer. More expensive. We’re at the very beginning of the shift to high definition, but not all of us can afford to make that leap today.

However, watching a movie on a 32" TV is painfully bland. The only way I’ve found to spice up the experience is to sit as close as possible and crank up the sound system. That works for a while, until you get a glimpse of the amazing new home entertainment options.

As a film fanatic, the clarity and wide aspect ratio of these HD units are a dream come true. But with prices still in the $3,000+ range for a 60" or larger diagonal image (plus DVD player, cabling, furniture, satellite receiver and programming upgrades), I decided to look for a standard definition solution that I can enjoy today without having to take out a home improvement loan. And why go HD now when my DVD’s are all standard def and the high def versions are still unavailable?

After eliminating the large TV’s above $2,000, the choice came down to HD CRT projection vs. LCD or DLP projector. Taking into account the issues of poor viewing angle, excessive bulkiness and weight and inevitable discontinuation of the CRT units, I realized that a low-end projector would be the best choice. But which one should I get?

This was soon decided for me back in September 2005 while shopping at Sam’s Club. They had the Epson PowerLite Home 10+ LCD projector bundled with a portable 80" diagonal screen for $998. Based on my research, this was an unbeatable price. Positive reviews of this projector were in abundance across the Web, and now after living with it for 4 months I can give my own impressions.

The Epson PowerLite Home 10+ is a very nice entry-level, budget projector. I ceiling-mounted the 10+ in a dark basement family room, and the image is sharp and bright. The 800:1 contrast level is better than I expected from an LCD projector (I read that Epson is conservative about their contrast ratings, and I believe it), though total image quality is dependent on the quality of the source material. Modern, big budget movies shot on high-contrast film or digital look best.

The fan is extremely quiet in the two "Theater" modes. It’s much louder in the modes intended for watching TV in a brightly lit room, though most TV programming is so annoyingly manic and loud that the fan noise is soon forgotten. On the expensive LCD projection HDTV’s I looked at, satellite/cable TV looked horrible. I was pleasantly surprised that satellite TV (Dish Network) looks great even with an S-video connection, but for DVD a component cable is essential. I noticed lots of pixelization in some scenes when I connected my progressive scan DVD player using S-video. The component connection cleared it up.

Though the lower resolution of the 10+ (854 x 480 pixels) causes the "screen door effect", this can be lessened by increasing your viewing distance (or decreasing the image size) and softening the focus slightly. I was bothered quite a lot by the SDE until I figured out these tricks, and now it’s at an acceptable level.

For anyone with limited space, the 10+ will project an 80" image at about 6.5′ from the screen. Keystone correction controls let you square up the image even if the projector is sitting on a low table and pointing upward toward the screen. And the nifty portable screen can be easily stored away after each use if necessary.

Overall, my whole family is pleased with the 10+. We have yet to explore its other uses such as computer display and gaming, though this versatility alone is a good reason to go with a projector. If you’re looking to set up a modest home theater and can find a good deal on this projector, I highly recommend it. [As of this posting, Sam’s Club in Roanoke, VA still has the 10+/screen bundle–now at a low $799!]  But if you can afford an additional $500 or so, you should consider a higher resolution projector.

This certainly ought to serve us well until HDTV’s can boast larger screens for less money, and until HD content gets ramped up over the next few years.

PROS:

  • Provides a bright, clear image with accurate colors.
  • Throws a big picture within a small space.
  • Outstanding for standard satellite TV viewing.
  • Quiet operation in "Theater" modes.
  • Excellent value overall, especially with the inclusion of a portable screen.
  • Replacement bulbs are inexpensive compared to other projectors–only $150 online!

CONS:

  • "Screen door effect" at viewing distances closer than ~14′ with a 60"+ image.
  • 2 dead pixels out-of-the-box, but they’re not distracting.
  • Depending on the quality of the source material, some dark scenes appear muddy and lack detail.
  • Remote is not very useful.

www.epson.com

Some Tried & True Utilities


Search around on sites like CNET Download.com or Tucows and you’ll find hundreds of PC utilities for every imaginable task. All of these programs are designed to help you work more efficiently with your computer, but which ones do you really need? Well, that depends on what kind of work you’re doing or the particular types of computer issues you might need to resolve. The wrong utility for the wrong job can waste more time that it reclaims, and it’s sometimes difficult to sort through all the freeware and shareware available to find the perfect utility.


I’ve downloaded my share of duds over the years, but there are several utilities I use regularly that have enhanced the way I work without being intrusive. So here’s a brief tour of utilities I can recommend from my own experiences:




  • Second Copy 2000 — The home edition of Windows XP doesn’t include a backup software, and other versions only provide a simple, inflexible way to backup. After searching everywhere for a good backup utility, a co-worker recommended Second Copy. I downloaded a trial version and set up separate profiles for backing up my music, photos, email, documents and other files to my external drive. It took a while to get the profiles in place, but I haven’t touched them since. Second Copy quietly runs in the background and only copies over new files or ones that have changed. All I have to do is make sure I store files in the proper folders on my main drive and they’ll get backed up. Second Copy offers a 30-day free trial, then it’s $29.95 for further use. Well worth the price!



  • GetRight — I’m stuck with dial-up Internet access at home, though I’ve learned to live with it for general surfing. But downloads are painfully slow and tie up the phone line for extended periods. The solution? A cell phone in case someone needs to reach us, and a download manager called GetRight. Unlike downloading with a browser, you can set GetRight to queue the files you click and download them later. Better still, it employs a file segmenting trick that speeds downloads slightly. The increase is not dramatic, but with dial-up every little bit helps! GetRight also hangs up when finished downloading, and if disconnected it will automatically reconnect. All this spiffy automation means that I can queue up a huge list of files and let them download overnight. Not only does is this method easier on my patience, it uses a large amount of the 160 hours included in my monthly Internet service. For a measly $25, GetRight feeds my current MP3 obsession while adding value to my old-school dial-up account.



  • Clipomatic — This tiny freeware utility saves gobs of time and frustration by adding a cache to the Windows clipboard. Each time you copy text it’s added to the cache and is available in a list when you use CTRL-ALT-V to paste. With a user-definable setting of up to 64 items in the cache, Clipomatic is very handy for pasting multiple sets of text multiple times or across different apps. It’s also nice to have previously copied text available whenever you paste so you don’t have to locate the text and copy it again. Microsoft Word and Outlook provide their own clipboard caches, but I still prefer the simplicity of Clipomatic.



  • IrfanView — Also freeware, IrfanView is an extremely popular image viewing and editing utility. I’ve been using it for a while now and find it to be quite useful, though a tad quirky. For example, if you edit an image and accidentally exit the program it doesn’t prompt you to save the changes. But IrfanView is a robust and mature bit of freeware with features that are adequate for most consumer-level image manipulations (cropping, resizing, brightness/contrast/color adjustment, basic effects, batch conversion, etc.). I imagine many people have invested $100 or so in Paint Shop or Adobe Photoshop Elements when IrfanView would’ve served their purposes nicely. Lately I’ve been using it for batch resizing of digital camera photos to make them easier to email, and the main banner for Ashamblesburg was created in about 20 minutes using IrfanView!

How I Stole Something I Bought


I hacked my first copy-protected CD tonight! Today I bought Kasabian because I’ve been hearing their stuff on satellite and it sounds good, plus the CD was only $7.99. But I was in a hurry when I bought it and didn’t notice the sticker saying it was copy-protected (“protected against unauthorized duplication”, to be exact). It played in my CD player, but in the computer it popped up a hideous license agreement to accept or decline. I declined and it ejected the CD! I couldn’t even simply play it without accepting the idiotic agreement, which I fortunately didn’t do because I found out that if you accept it installs a driver that checks all CDs for protection and blocks any form of copying.


So I put the CD back in while holding down the SHIFT key, and that prevented the license splash from appearing. Then I tried ripping to MP3 using MusicMatch. It ripped all the songs without a problem, but when I played the files they skipped horrendously. It almost sounded like they were being played backwards. I was almost ready to return the CD when I found postings on the Web from people who had successfully ripped the Kasabian using different software and/or CD-ROM drives. My two freeware CD rippers wouldn’t even recognize the CDA tracks, so I eventually ended up using the Creative MediaSource software that came with my Zen Micro.


I first ripped the tracks to WAV format and they sounded fine, then I converted to MP3. And now after wasting one precious hour of my life, I have the entire album in a format I can transfer to my MP3 player or burn onto a backup CD. Dear RCA/BMG, please explain why this rigmarole was necessary. I’ve been made to feel like a criminal just to reclaim what should reasonably be considered my “fair use”.


I strongly urge everyone to watch out for the copy-protection labels and avoid buying CDs that have them. Eventually it’ll take more than one hour to pick the all the locks that stand between you and your rights as an honest consumer.