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The 200 Dollar PC Christmas

12 Nov

+ 0

It certainly seems to be shaping up to be a Christmas filled with $200 Computers:

  1. OLPC:

    (Although you will have to buy 2 – one for you and one for charity – to own one.)
  2. Walmart Green gPC:
    (Already sold out on Walmart.com)
  3. Asus eee Laptop:
    (Who wouldn’t want a laptop for $200?)

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WebTrends – Official Pricks

30 Oct

+ 0

WebTrends SucksYou may remember WebTrends from 10 years ago when they were just a web log analyzer. They would run reports based on your log files and grind your computer to a halt in the process.

Steadily over the years they increased their costs and we decided to drop them for a stats package that did the exact same thing but for 1/10th the cost.  This was around 2000.

Last week, after making some changes with our current stats provider, I thought about WebTrends and tried to see what new and exciting offerings they had.

Their website had no details on price, so I called.  There weren’t any salespeople around (strange for a large company), so I left a message.  Someone called me back within a day, but she wasn’t a salesperson and couldn’t tell me prices.  For that, she had to refer me to someone else.

That someone never called.  Only after sending an email entitled, “Do you want my business?” did I get an email telling me to call them.

When I called, I had to leave another message, but at least the woman called me back within an hour.

I explained what I needed again, and she danced around the pricing issues.  She even had to take out a calculator at one point.  Take out a calculator?  Seriously?

And then it came…some un-godly number that was about 1000% higher than what I already have.  Like a parent to a two year old, she asked “Does that work within your budget?”  I replied, “Yeah, but I really don’t like the vibe.  I think I will pass”.

It was obvious from the time they found out I didn’t work for a large conglomerate that they didn’t want to work with me.  I was treated like I was a homeless person walking into Neiman Marcus and asking to try on a Prada Suit.

I have a feeling I know why she needed the calculator.  It was to figure out the “f*ck off tax”.

Now playing: J.J. Cale & Eric ClaptonHard To Thrill

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A Lineup Change Has Occurred

19 Oct

+ 0

If this title sounds familiar, then I know you have a Tivo.  That is because Tivo feels it is necessary to let you know that channels have either been deleted or added every time it happens – which means every day.

Every time I turn on my Tivo, another channel I don’t care about has been moved around.  I am forced to delete the message before continuing on.

Tivo, please allow me to turn off these messages!

Now playing: RadioheadWeird Fishes/Arpeggi

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Amazon Subscribe And Save

16 Oct

+ 0

I didn’t know this existed.

With Amazon Subscribe & Save, you can “subscribe” to various items you need on a routine basis – paper towels, laundry soap, diapers.

By doing so, you “save” 15% of the cost, and get free shipping.

They definitely don’t have everything, but if they do, it could seriously save some time.

Now playing: Flight of the ConchordsRobots (Live)

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Flinstone Kids and Halo 3

15 Oct

+ 0

The audio director for the Halo series, Marty O’Donnell, also created the jingle for the commercial, “We are Flinstone Kids…ten million strong and growing.”

Via the Major Nelson podcast.

Now playing: Radiohead15 Step

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Prius Check Gas Light Problem

9 Oct

+ 0

Last week, on my way to work, I got a “low gas” warning.  My commute to work is almost 43 miles, and I knew I could at least make it that distance without running out of gas. (About 25 more miles)

I had made a mental note to get gas when I left work, but that note must of got thrown away because I didn’t remember until I was in my driveway safely at home.  (43 miles later)

“Ok, I gotta get gas tomorrow”, I told myself.

The next two days I left the house only to get lunches and dinners.  Oops.  (4 miles, approx.)

My wife asked me to drive 8 miles in the wrong direction before I go to work the next day.  By this time, I have completely forgotten about my gas issues.

I made her errand, and was about 15 miles into my journey to work when I broke out into a cold sweat, realizing I was WAAAAY past my low gas warnings.  (23 miles)

I got off the freeway and found a gas station.

Eagerly awaiting to see how much gas I needed, I was dumbfounded when the meter showed only “10.41 gallons”.

Huh?  Consulting my owners manual, it said I have an 11 gallon tank, and adding up the miles I drove past the warning light comes to about 90 miles.  And since I get on average 44 miles per gallon, that would mean my check engine light turns on when I have more than 2 gallons left in my tank.

And the weather was 86 degrees out, so there is no argument that the gas tank “bladder” had constricted and hence had a maximum capacity which was less than 11 gallons.

In other words, I can have 20% of my tank left, which gives me about 100 miles, and my Prius gives me a warning.

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Using Windows Live Writer For WordPress Blogs

16 May

+ 0

Here is my quick How-To for my non-technical friends and family so they can blog from Windows.  (This will work for more than just WordPress blogs, but since I am only giving them WordPress…you get the picture.)

  1. Click the big green “Download” button here to download Windows Live Writer.
  2. Find the link to the program in your start menu and click it to open.
  3. Click “Next” once, and on the next screen choose “Another weblog service” and click “Next”.Live Writer
  4. Enter the name of your homepage.  For example, my homepage would be http://scottelkin.com.  Then enter the username and password given to you.
  5. Windows Live Writer will then configure your settings and that is it!  Click Finish, and you’re done.

 

Now playing: Linkin ParkGiven Up

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Myspace Statistics

12 May

+ 3

I am watching a programming presentation from the Myspace tech team right now. They are going over their stats and was blown away by the numbers (as of April 2007):

Myspace

  • 185 Million Registered Users
  • 50.2% Female / 49.8% Male
  • Primary Age Demo: 14 – 34
  • Over the last 5 months, had between 39 and 45 Billion page views per month.
  • The second biggest site was Yahoo around 35 Billion. MSN, Google, Ebay and Facebook are all way behind with under 15 Billion.
  • 350,000 new registrations each day
  • 1 Billion total images on the site, 80 Terabytes of space, 150,000 requests per second
  • Millions of new images/day
  • 25 Million Songs, 142 Terabytes of space, 250,000 concurrent streams
  • With Videos, 60 Terabytes of storage, 15,000 concurrent streams, 60,000 new videos / day
  • 4.5 Million people on site on any one time
  • 7 Datacenters
  • 6000 web servers
  • 650 ad servers
  • 250 database servers
  • 70,000 megabits per second bandwith (I run over 20 sites, some considered “large” and I don’t go above 2 mb/s
  • 80% ASP.NET, 20% Coldfusion

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Home Wireless Security Systems Review

3 May

+ 78

A neighbor was burglarized a few days ago, and although the idea of yet another monthly charge was upsetting to me, I decided to check out what options were available.  I called ADT, Brinks, Metro Guardian, Protection One and Protect America.

I went into this knowing nothing other than a few of the big names, and was very surprised on what I found.

From very early on, most companies wanted to sell me a wireless package.  And since that sounded like the best solution, all my reviews are for each companies wireless package.

Each place I called offered a near identical package:

  1. Keypad
  2. Keyring FOB
  3. 3 Sensors, used on doors or windows
  4. 1 Motion sensor

Where each differs is their up-front cost, the monthly monitoring charge, the length of contract you must sign, and the per item charge for add-ons.

At the end I will discuss what I chose and how much money I landed out saving – and trust me, it will surprise you.

 

ADT

ADT is the most expensive system and they are not ashamed of it.  Talking to ADT was great.  The rep on the phone was paid on commission and sounded like someone I could trust and told it to me straight.  His viewpoint was that yes they were more expensive, but that you get what you pay for, and their products were better.

ADT does not outsource their monitoring like most other do.  They have 5 different monitoring centers around the US, and boast that they have the quickest response times, and smallest amount of false alarms because of their great monitoring and products.

Their “wireless” system has a fully wired brain that could sit in your closet, with all the components then being wireless.  They use an Ademco/Honeywell wireless system.

ADT was also the only one of the group that admitted that their Motion Detectors don’t work too well with pets, no matter what anyone says.  The false alarms, they found, were unacceptably high.

Total Price: $894 up-front, $35.99 per month for 2 years.

Add-ons:

  1. Motion: $165
  2. Glass Break Sensor: $150
  3. Door/Window Sensor: $70

 

Brinks

Brinks will absolutely not quote any prices about their wireless product over the phone.  They will only do so by setting an appointment.  So I can only assume that their wireless product is more expensive.

The woman I spoke to made me feel I was talking to a McDonalds drive through attendant.  She failed at being able to directly answer my questions, and too often would go on long dialogues of reading off a script.  

I was told from another source that Brinks did not offer a fully wireless system, so I asked her “Is your wireless FULLY wireless, or are the brains wired in?”.  She answered, “We offer a Wireless system that gives you…” and she would continue spouting the glories of her system, all not answering my very specific system.  I asked her 3 seperate times, varying my question, all getting pretty much the same, rote answer.

Total Price:  $99 up-front, $29.99 per month for 3 years (for wired product)

Add-ons:

  1. Door/Window Sensor: $70
  2. Didn’t bother asking about other products

 

Protection One

Protection One would not talk about anything over the phone. I met a nice enough guy at my house today and we spoke about their offer.

Protection One sells both the Ademco/Honeywell Wireless Security System and the GE Concord 4; the latter is what they showed me in my house.

The GE Concord 4 is very similar to the GE Simon 3 that Protect America offers, with the major differences being the LCD on the keypad, and the brains wired into your house in a different location.

This is both good and bad.  Having a completely wireless solution like the Simon 3 is easier, but if someone were just rip it off the wall before it had a chance to call the police, it would fail to work.  So having the brains somewhere else protects you against that. 

This problem is also easily fixed with the Simon 3 by just putting the keypad in a more central location which would give you enough time before a burglar could find it.

In order to get the Concord 4 through Protection One, you are forced into buying the GSM Module that allows the system to call your monitoring service over their cellular network.  This adds significantly to the price of the quote, and adds $10 more per month for the monitoring.  Although this is a great option, in every other product I can choose to add this myself; I don’t like being forced into it.  Yes, my phone line could get cut by a burglar, but since the majority of burglaries are done by amateur kids, I don’t think it is necessary.

Other than that, the Concord does everything the Simon 3 does:

  • X-10 Compatible
  • Ability to monitor remotely through web
  • Can arm and disarm by calling the system
  • Can use a Key FOB to arm and disarm system
  • Extremely customizable

Protection One’s pricing almost made me chuckle.  The same door and window contacts I can get here for $18, sell for $81. 

They also do their own monitoring.

Total Price: $398, $42.95 per month for 3 years

Add-ons:

  1. Motion: $139
  2. Glass Break Sensor: $140
  3. Door/Window Sensor: $81
  4. Smoke: $130

 

Protect America

The horribleness that was Protect America cannot be written succinctly enough in a couple paragraphs.  I was lied to many times, the sales woman was pushy but was supposedly, “not on commission”. 

You can view the full scathing review here.

Protect America does offer probably the only fully wireless alarm system, the GE Simon 3.  With this system you get many features you just don’t find in basic packages with the other companies.  It is so customizable, I will devote another article to just this system.  It is a VERY cool system.

Unfortunately, Protect America should be treated like a scary person in an alley.  Just turn around and walk away.

Price:  FREE, $34.95 per month for 2 years

Their add-on’s are much cheaper than everyone elses, but I didn’t bother to break it down.  For example, if I were to get 10 Window/Door sensors and 2 motion detectors, it would be only $300 up-front. 

 

Metro Guardian

Despite a storm taking out their computers, the guy helping me was very nice and as professional as ADT.  I trusted what he said, although everything he said I had heard so many times prior, “we also give you a backup battery, 24 hour monitoring…”, yadda, yadda.  It is amazing how each person tells me the same things and make it sound how they are the ONLY ones that offer it.

All in all, I really liked how I was treated with them, and being a smaller, independant company, I like that they try to earn my business without gauging me with ADT prices.

Metro’s wireless system is made by Honeywell.

Total Price: $49, $32.95 per month for 3 years

Add-ons:

  1. Motion: $99
  2. Glass Break Sensor: $99
  3. Door/Window Sensor: $65
  4. Additional Keypad: $125
  5. Outdoor siren: $125

 

What I decided

After I spoke to Protect America and found out they use the Simon 3, I googled and found a company that not only sold it directly, but pretty much every wireless system I was offered from these companies.  In fact, I found several companies that sold them, but after speaking to SafeMart, I decided to purchase through them.  They have been so nice through each of my 4 phone calls, and I have spoken to a different person 3 of the 4 times.  I also contacted Home Security Store, but the guy seemed more annoyed with me than helpful.

Safemart also recommended the Simon 3 over every other system because of the ease of use and installation.

The other great part of using Safemart, is that they have $9 monitoring through Criticom, who even Metro Guardian uses and charges you $32.95 for. 

Additional accessories are also much, much cheaper, while others aren’t even possible to get with most of the companies I spoke to:

  1. Sensor: $18 – $30 (depending on quantity and type)
  2. Motion: $59 – $100 (depending on the type)
  3. Keychain: $29 – $38
  4. X-10 tranformer: $15
  5. Outdoor sensor: $125 – $145
  6. Smoke: $84.50
  7. Glass break: $69 – $85
  8. Carbon Monoxide: $115
  9. Water sensor: $53
  10. Freeze sensor: $55 

So if I price a basic package like I was offered through each company, it will cost me about $248 plus whatever shipping is.  And when you then factor in the $9 no contract monitoring, it adds up to a big savings.  For three years, this would cost me about $600!!

Now, compare this $600 with every other quote I got (over 3 years):

  1. ADT: $2,189.64
  2. Protection One: $1,658 (without the Cell add-on)
  3. Protect America: $1,258
  4. Metro Guardian: $1,236
  5. Brinks: $1,178

I can also add Smoke, fire, flood, and carbon monoxide monitoring for free, where as that would cost another $3 – $10 per month with each company.

Also worth noting is how much would be saved when you factor in all the additional sensors you actually will need, and the fact that you will probably have the system running for a long, long time.  I would much rather be paying $108 per year, than up to $516, that’s for sure!

In Conclusion

I don’t expect everyone to want to install the system themselves.  And if you are that type of person who would rather pay more to not have to deal with it, then definately go with the company you feel most comfortable with (as long as it isn’t Protect America!).  You will be paying almost 4 times more per year for the benefit, but that is your choice.

Me, I am very happy with my choice, and cannot wait to get my Simon 3 installed and customized.

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Protect America Home Security

2 May

+ 35

In the process of evaluating many home security companies, I found Protect America.  They assert themselves as the, “largest authorized installer of GE Home Security”, and on the phone I was told that they were the, “third largest home security company in the US”.

My initial phone call was pretty good.  The woman, Michelle Scully, was to the point, if a little pushy, but seemed very knowledgable about their products and the industry in general.

She explained that no other company offers a fully wireless system like they did, and she was very proud that they used the GE Simon 3 system.  Their prices were reasonable, although their monthly was one of the highest I found at $34.95.  She boasted how, “98% of their customers could install it themselves”, and trumpeted its ease of use and numerous features.

After telling Michelle I wanted to look around some more, she seemed a little upset and even said to me, “If I may ask, why do you need to talk to your wife?” and “We have the best product and prices, so why do you want to look around?”.  I explained to her my reasons, and this handled her.

She then went out of her way to tell me that if I found any better deal out there, to call her back to let her know so that she could, “better know her competitor’s” and not “tell her customers they have the best deal if in fact they do not”.  These are not word-by-word quotes, but pretty close.

I had called her on the car ride into work, so when I got to my desk, I went looking for other companies to call.  Somehow, I stumbled on some websites that sold the Simon 3 directly to consumers.

Reading specs for the Simon 3 seemed to confirm everything she was telling me about the system.  And the fact that I could buy it for $210 and install it myself blew my mind as to why I would need to buy it through Protect America.  Looking further, I found that I could set it up without monitoring, where it would just call our cell phones for free, or add monitoring for as little as $9 per month.  This was so cheap!

I was very shocked on how easy it was to find such a better deal 10 minutes after talking to Michelle who assured me that $35 a month was THE BEST out there, period, full stop.

The next day I called her back to tell her what I found.

Her first question to me, cutting me off from telling her of my discoveries, was “What warranty are they offering?”.  I replied that I didn’t know since I found no less than 3 sites offering it and hadn’t bothered to read through each site.  She said, “We offer a lifetime guarentee” and that the site I was looking probably only offered a one year. 

When I told her that I found monitoring for $9 a month (I actually rounded it to $10 when I said it), she told me, “Are you O.K with calling outside the country?  Because there are document cases where police officers can’t understand through their thick accent.”

This reeked of lies.  For one, although I didn’t know it at the time, the $9 a month service I had seen was for Criticom, which Metro Guardian also uses and charges you $33 a month for and are based in the US.  Secondly, I didn’t believe that a company would hire people who had to say VERY FEW sentences, but could not speak english understandably.  Rather than argue, I just let it go.

She then went on and told me, “We offer the NEW Simon 3 system.  You can only buy the old version of the Simon 3 on the internet.  It is the difference between Windows 95 and Vista.”  Yes, that is an exact quote.

This is where I stopped her.

I told her I was a Windows programmer, and that Windows 95 and Vista were two COMPLETELY different products, while she was referring to two Simon 3 systems.  I told her that something didn’t sound truthful here.  As soon as the word “truthful” left my lips, she became angry.

“Are you calling me a liar?  It sounds like you just called me a liar.”

“No, I am not calling you a liar, just something doesn’t sound right, because Windows…”

“Sounds like you are calling me a liar, so if you want to insult me..”

“I am not calling you a liar, it is just what you are saying…”

This went on several more times.  I finally got her to calm down and she amended her statement saying, “Fine, Windows 95 to Windows 98”.  I still had a problem with this, but once again, just let it go.

I asked what specifically was different between the two different Simon 3’s and finally got her to concede, “There have been many bug fixes.  And if you buy the one online, you will have to spend more money later upgrading to the newer system.”

I then told her that I was upset that I had been mislead by these websites and wanted to find out what her model number was so I could compare it with the model number offered online, but she was unable to tell me.  She told me I would have to get in touch with the parts department.  She did tell me her model was the “Interlogic Peacekeeper” and she thought the operating system version was up to “version 6” but she wasn’t sure.

After she had been insisting this long that her model was newer than the online stores, yet could not produce a model number, I was pretty sure I was being lied to.  And after telling her that I didn’t want to “trust her” and that this was just “lip service”, she had enough of me and told me how i “have insulted her too many times”.  I hung up on her before she had a chance to.

I then called Safemart.com, one of the sellers of the Simon 3.  The guy even knew that Protect America sold the system.  He also recommended the Simon 3 over any other wireless system and was very pleasant to talk to.

When I asked him if their model was different than the one Protect America offers, he said, “uhhhhh, If anything, I think theirs is older”.  I told him that theirs was the Interlogic Peacekeeper, to which he said, “yeaaah, I am pretty sure that is the older model.”

After being lied to like this, I googled about Protect America and found a LONG list of complaints on the company.  Most of them revolve around deceptive practices when someone tries to cancel their service:

“I called Protect America to cancel a 2 yr commitment. I called 4 business days after the contract end date of April 22, 2007. After a long wait I was told I could not cancel until April 2008 because they had renewed my contract for another year because I did not send them a written cancellation letter 60 days prior to the expiration date…”

http://www.consumeraffairs.com/homeowners/protect_america.html

Even the BBB notes them having an “unsatisfactory record” due to a pattern of complaints going unhandled.

Conclusion:

So it turns out, I was lucky that my research allowed me to see the true colors of the company before I signed a very costly contract.  And hopefully, this information will help others to better evaluate Protect America for themselves, since there are scant reviews about them online.

You would have just have to be OUT OF YOUR MIND to go with Protect America.

Protect America: 

  1. 2 year contract
  2. $35 a month - Required
  3. Hard to reach technical support during install (based on complaints)
  4. Difficult to leave contract (based on complaints)
  5. Hundreds of BBB complaints

Safemart.com

  1. No contract
  2. $189 base system
  3. Free and happy technical support during install
  4. $9 per month monitoring if you want it
  5. Numerious success stories from their happy customers

 

 

Now playing: RushWorkin’ Them Angels

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