Category Archives: Everything Else

Best Money I Ever Spent

They say the best things in life are free. This may be true, but there are some pretty terrific things out there that do cost money. Some things are so good they are life changing. Here are the things that make me happy every time I use them or think about them.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
I could probably fill this article with fantastic books, but Influence stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s the most powerful non-fiction book I’ve ever read. Not only does it explain how you can be influenced, but it uses social psychology to describe various phenomena like coups and revolutions. As Strongbad might say, it can be used for good or for awesome, so even though it’s on every list of the best marketing/business books, I hesitated to suggest it in public like this. Some of the techniques it describes are the closest thing we have to charm spells, so I didn’t want it falling into the wrong hands. But I’m sure I can trust the fine readers of this blog to only use it for good. Or at least not use it directly against me.

Lasko 5429 Oscillating Ceramic Heater
I occasionally suffer from back strain, AKA a pulled muscle. Sometimes it’s just sore and inconvenient, other times I’m taking Advil and the day off from work. I noticed this occasionally happens when I’m drying off after a shower and decided to figure out why. Well, I learned that pulling/straining a muscle happens when you stretch it beyond the limit, and cold muscles get tight and are more susceptible to straining. I surmised that when you get out of a hot shower into a cold bathroom, your muscles can tighten up pretty quickly and get you in the danger zone. I remedied this by buying the Lasko heater to heat my bathroom up while I’m taking a shower. I don’t know conclusively whether this fixed the problem (I also dry off a little more carefully), but every time I step out of the shower into warm bathroom I think, “This is the best $30 I’ve ever spent.” Note that while it isn’t specifically rated for bathroom use, I’ve done so for 2 years without a problem. Just make sure you keep the bathroom fan off!
$200 (but depends on size of move)
I remember from the movie Moving that moving is the third most stressful life event after death in the family and divorce. I used to compensate for this by getting friends and family to help me out, and reciprocate when it was asked of me. But I’m now getting old enough that when I hear someone is moving, I secretly think, “Please don’t ask me to help.” If they do ask I will help out, but I have to sheepishly explain how I’ve screwed up my knees and back in previous moves, so why don’t I just pick up the pizza and beverages?

Because of that, in my last move, I decided it wasn’t fair for me to ask anyone to help. I’d pack myself, but I was going to pay for real movers. That’s where Moving Help came in. It’s got a great rating/feedback system that makes it easy to find the best movers in your area. I hired a tall, wiry gentleman who brought 20 years of experience, 3 helpers, and all the extra crap U-Haul tries to sell (or rent) you: blankets, dollies, tie downs, etc. He even drove the truck! All said and done it cost me $200 and xcept for the packing, I barely lifted a finger. Note that if you’re extra lazy (and trusting) you can hire people to pack your stuff and clean your home as well.

Dell UltraSharp U2410
$500 (Black Friday deal)

When I traded my desktop for a laptop, I decided to upgrade my monitor as well. My previous monitor was a 21″ Hitachi CRT that I paid $1,100 for in 1997 and served me very well for over a decade. I was putting off going to LCD because of issues with color gamut and viewing angles, but the U2410 solves all of this. It features “PremierColor”, which has 110% color is gamut capable of producing over a billion colors (way beyond the traditional 16M colors of 24bit hardware). It is also factory calibrated and comes with a printout in the box that proves the color quality of that individual monitor. Right after connecting it, I was seeing detail in images that I never noticed before. I also love the matte finish, which is very forgiving of random light sources. It’s perfect for photography or graphic design.

There’s more. It has just about every connector you’d need: HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA. It even routes audio from HDMI or DisplayPort to an 1/8″ mini-jack so I can use it to feed my computer speakers. Since this monitor does double duty as a TV, this works out perfectly. I’ve got an HDMI switch that handles both my laptop and my DVR, and changing the source automatically switches both video and sound. It also functions as a USB hub so I can connect the Tivo to it to download listings and software updates. It’s overkill as a television, of course, but I’m not complaining. Unless, of course, my eyes stray to my HP laptop display that I use as a red-headed step-monitor. Ugh, what a dog.

So, tell me, what’s the best money you’ve ever spent?

James Cameron, TV Guardian of the Universe

I procrastinated writing an article on using a cool little device called the  TV Guardian  which allows you to watch TV and DVD with the foul language muted.  You can read more about it here but in short:  it scans the Close-Caption (CC) signal and everytime it detects a “bad word” it mutes the sound and presents a “cleaned-up” version of the dialogue in the close captions area (eg: Let’s have sex !!  became Let’s have hugs.1)

Unfortunately, my delay has cost me dearly.  In the years since I tried out this fantastic new technology, most studios have disabled the Close-Captioning signal opting instead for built-in subtitles.  So TV Guardian has in effect stopped working for 50% of the movies on DVD and all movies on Blu-Ray, which does not carry the CC signal.

Enter James Cameron, my hero.

He is releasing a 3-disc collector’s edition of Avatar,  featuring a family-friendly language track.  In this New York Times article,  he mentions that he was motivated to do this by watching his kids picking up foul language from watching the original movie soundtrack.  He reasons that the clean language track will be made available for airline and network showing, so why not include it now in the Collector’s Edition release.

Continue reading James Cameron, TV Guardian of the Universe

  1. Exclamation points deleted, because nobody gets excited about a hug []

Disney After Dark

J. Scott Campbell has posted images from his Fairy Tale Fantasy calendars on deviantART (admittedly he’s the last to do so). Campbell is the co-creator of Gen 13 and Danger Girl, and stylistically is a pinup artist posing as a comic book artist. Here he draws sexy versions of various fairy tale heroines and villainous babes, kinda like they were going to a Halloween party as themselves. In addition to the babes, I really liked the detail on the steampunk Tin Man and the flying monkeys. While they are comic book illustrations, they might not be considered safe for your workplace.

Transitions Lenses: The Futon of the Optics World

I once watched a comedian do a funny skit on why Futons suck.  The argument went something along the lines of taking a really uncomfortable couch and turning it into a really uncomfortable bed.  It tried to be two things at once and it wasn’t especially good at either of them.  After 5 years and 2 prescription changes I decided it was time for a change of glasses and an upgrade to my prescription.  My doctor recommended transitions lenses and said they had come a long way in functionality.  For those that haven’t heard of them, transitions lenses switch from “clear” to “dark” and are supposed to act like sunglasses when you go outside.  The receptionist who sold me the glasses (not at the same office I get my exams done) said that they switch back and forth in under a minute and that they were good for people with light colored eyes (like me) because they are more sensitive to the sun.  Since I don’t wear contacts and I really didn’t feel like buying new prescription sunglasses due to the cost, I went for it.  I’d always been curious about them anyway so I figured what the heck.  Here is one of those times when not doing my typical level of research made my realize why I usually do so much research before buying things I will be stuck with for a while.

I’ve had them for about 2 weeks now and I have to say I think they are a complete waste of money.  Here are my reasons why:

Continue reading Transitions Lenses: The Futon of the Optics World

Foreign Airline Safety

In response to a Malcom Gladwell book that discussed why foreign airlines are not as safe as major US carriers, pilot and web consulting pioneer Philip Greenspun wrote a detailed rebuttal here. Note that Greenspun disagrees with Gladwell’s logic, but he’s not arguing that foreign airlines are safe. It’s very interesting (and scary) reading, especially if you fly overseas.

Bringing this closer to home, ONN reports on a crash in Guatemala that really details some of the key equipment differences that flight crews on foreign carriers must contend with. Highly recommended. (Click through if your feed reader doesn’t display a video below.)

Sunscreens That Won’t Kill You

The scent of sunscreen is magical for me. Growing up on the Jersey shore, visiting the boardwalk regularly during the summer, the scent of traditional tanning lotion – coconut? cocoa butter? – will forever be etched in my mind as the scent of lithe, scantily clad, nubile young women. Whenever I get a whiff of it in the wild, I immediately go on alert. There be babes, here!

Unfortunately, a recent study suggests that certain additives1 may be attacking our beautiful bikini babes by accelerating cancer cell growth. I want to state on record that I am against this. The Environmental Working Group studies this pretty extensively and offers a list of the best (least lethal) sunscreens. You’ll also want to read their article listing surprising facts on sunscreen. Unless you’re like me and never leave a climate controlled environment.

  1. Mainly vitamin A []

I…am…Kirok, er, Obama !!

You may remember that Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk is stranded on a planet about to be hit by an asteroid.  He is adopted by an American Indian transplanted colony, and made their shaman1.  By the end of the episode, he is able to activate a deflector beam that moves the asteroid away just in the knick of time.   The deflector was hidden inside a cool,  modern-looking obelisk (see below).

There is a similarly-sized asteroid heading our way,  scheduled to make a short pass with Earth in the year 2029.    And President Obama has stated that NASA’s new mission is to intercept this asteroid and deflect it.

obama-nasa meteor-deflector






Yes, it’s officially a White House policy.

The President is wasting our money by sending astrounauts to explore an asteroid, a feat that is wayyyyyyy harder than going to Mars or even returning to the Moon. 

Now, I’m a big proponent of studying Aphophis,  the asteroid that is going to destroy Earth on Friday April 13th, 2029.   But there’s little to learn there, compared to the riches of Mars or even the Moon.  The President is just finding a talking point that does not create any actionable effort during his Presidency

On the other hand,  he may have just opened up a can of worms by calling attention to the asteroid.   Any 2-bit spacefaring country can now send a rocket to intercept Apophis and park itself in close orbit.   The gravity tractor effect over 19 years can ASSURE that we WILL be hit by the asteroid.   This is so typical.   First the liberals outlawed DDT and killed millions and now this Obama is putting the entire Earth in peril.

  1. a medicine man []