Entries from: June 2009

FeedMyTorrents and TVRSS Head for High Ground

It appears that the popular television torrent sources have taken shelter after several Cease and Desist orders.   That and the fact that the plaintiffs in thePirateBay lawsuit continue to seek jail time for the creators.FeedMyTorrents

FeedMyTorrents left the following message at their old IP address which has since been taken down as well.

It’s over. We’ve received several take down requests, and have decided not to test the extents of the law.  We’d like to thank everyone who contributed, and for the fun times we’ve had.

TVRSS has not been live for quite some time, and TVRSSI’m sure I’m not alone in wondering how, and where I will find relevant, high quality sources for my queries.

I just have to figure out how I will break it to my wife…no more Ghost Whisperer. (If I had only thought of this sooner!)

Microsoft Introduces New Search Engine Bing

BingMicrosoft’s newly released search engine Bing is up and running, and it appears to be a hit.

I have several items I keep in a search list that I look for every now and then. I immediately put Bing to the test with the list, and was quite pleased at the results.  I was shown relevant sites, and not one result sent me to an outdated, invalid, or non-existent link.  To be fair to Google, I tried the same searches, and was given a completely different set for each query, of which two were invalid results.

Bing also plays thumbnails live in the search results by simply hovering your pointer over the image and boasts a snappy and clean interface.  I could do without the wallpaper though.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Google fan and they have come up with some of the most innovative ideas in browser and search technology, changing how we all use the Internet.  I’m anxiously awaiting Google Wave, the real-time communication “multi-tool”.

Ironic isn’t it, that Bing is the number one sponsored ad on Google.  Google may be getting paid for the sponsored ads, but Microsoft has a chance each time to convert the user to a “Binger” rather than a “Googler”.

Winning Poker Hand Hierarchy

royal-flush

I can never remember what the best hands are when I play Poker, so here is the list I refer to, along with the explanations of each hand.

Royal Flush
The highest straight flush, five cards in sequence with all five cards of the same suit and a straight from 10, J, Q, K, A

Straight Flush
Any straight with all five cards of the same suit

Four of a Kind
Four cards of the same rank

Full House
Any three cards of one rank plus any two cards of another rank

Flush
Five cards of the same suit

Straight
Five consecutive ranking cards

Three of a Kind
Three cards of the same rank

Two Pair
Two cards of one rank plus two cards of another rank

One Pair
Two cards of the same rank

High Card
Highest ranking cards with no pair

I have a small laminated copy I keep with my cards and chips that I take with me to Poker Nights.

“Outrageous” Saving Tips For a Slumping Economy

Today’s economy is tough.  Even the billion dollar bank businesses are asking for a hand-out, but with some creative thinking there are ways to save even in these rougher financial times.  These 10 tips are meant to be taken half seriously, but could end up saving you a good chunk of change.

Smoking Butts

I saw a man picking butts up off the ground at the park the other day.  Smoking is a gross habit that many people are addicted to, but that doesn’t mean you should be picking butts out of ashtrays or off the ground to save a few bucks.  Depending on where you live, a pack of smokes can cost you upwards of $7,  so it’s easy to understand why the people in the park are picking butts up off the ground.  Then again, maybe they’re just keeping the park clean, but I doubt it.

Car Engine Cooking

If you’re fortunate enough to have a car that is, your engine is a great source of heat that can easily be harnessed for cooking.  When going from point A to Point B, why not go ahead and have your meal prepared by your car just in time for arrival.

Here’s a Car Engine Cookbook called Manifold Destiny, the self-proclaimed One and Only car engine cookbook.

Free Rent…a.k.a. Camping

There are hundreds of campgrounds across the United States where camping with a tent is absolutely free, usually on state or government land.  There are dozens of guides out that do list free campgrounds, but if the economy is slumping, and you can’t find a place to sleep other than in your car/oven, then I doubt you’d be buying a guide, or have the cash to get gas.

Rest Areas

Most states allow sleeping in their rest areas, as long as you are in a vehicle.  I have traveled all across the United States more than once and have been quite content pulling into a rest area for some much needed shut-eye.  Only once have I ever been asked to move by a police officer, and that was in New Jersey when I was parked on a bridge.  I must have been extremely tired.  It looked like a parking space to me.  Don’t leave home without first checking out the Rest Area Guide to the United States and Canada.

Another great place is CouchSurfing.org.  Who says you have to be travelling to hitch a couch for a night?

Bus Tours on the Cheap

If you happen to get bounced out of a town for vagrancy and find yourself in a new locality, why not put some spare change to work and hop on a city bus for a tour of your new found home?  For about fifty cents, you can most likely get a good look at your new digs from the inside of a city bus.  If you’re really interested you can spring for the ten cent transfer and get another slice of the city, possibly scoping out some thrift shops and a soup kitchen or two.

Soup Kitchens

Most towns have a soup kitchen that’s available to anyone at all.  There are probably half a dozen that I can think of within ten miles or so of my home.  I don’t frequent them, but I have seen the gatherings when it’s time for dinner to be served.  If you’re in need of a hot meal, and you can make it to a soup kitchen, I think it’s the way to go.  Most are subsidized by local grocery stores, churches, and local organizations.

Dumpster Diving

Dumpster diving is similar to riding a moped, we’ve all done it but no one wants to admit to it.  There are lots of great treasures to be had in dumpsters.  Try your hand at dumpsters behind department stores, electronics stores, and even furniture stores.  Just one good item that’s been tossed could bring you a pretty penny from a pawn shop.  The pawn broker doesn’t need to know that the printer is broken, or that the chair you brought in isn’t an antique.  Just collect your cash, say have a nice day, I’ll see you when the first payment is due, and head on out.  He’s just going to sell it anyway.

Act the Part

It’s getting warm out now, and in our local park there is no shortage of free entertainment.  There’s a man on a bench daily that plays the banjo, a one-man band that dances a funny jig, and sometimes the city will even hire entertainment for the pedestrians.  If you have a particular flair for music, singing, dancing, or the hot new thing, Live Tweets!, then get yourself an old hat, throw it down next to a banjo-playin’ hobo, and get to it.

After scoring a few dollars, and with a hot meal in your belly from the soup kitchen or from your own cars engine, then you can afford that book on free campgrounds.

Free Entertainment

Now that you’ve been the entertainment, it’s time to get yours.  Libraries and book stores offer a great source of  free entertainment.  Heck, some bookstores even have nice comfy chairs to fall asleep in for hours at a time. Many libraries now offer free internet access, book readings, and even movies are shown once a week.  I would highly recommend you use these free sources of entertainment, but beware their cafe’.  They are extremely overpriced, but you may be able to score a sample if the Barista is in a good mood.  The “I forgot my wallet” should probably work.

Check out HoboModo Daily

Frequent the HoboModo section of  GizModo’s DealzModo Gadget Deals of the Day online.  There is no better source for the locations of free services, products, and eats. Why just yesterday, there was a coupon code for a free 8×10 photo from Walgreens, a free 2-Piece Grilled Chicken Meal at KFC, and a free magazine subscription.  If you don’t care for the magazine, get it anyway.  It could come in handy for kindling, padding for your refrigerator box bed, or to shoo flies away from the dumpster while you dive for goodies.

Do your local hobos a favor and keep a few printed folded up copies of this list in your pocket when you go to the city center or local park and throw one in the hat when you pass by.  You might just be giving them some much needed information.  A dollar or two wouldn’t hurt either.

The Cheapskate’s Manifesto: 11 Ways to Save by Cooking at Home

This is a long overdue follow-up to Mike Panic’s Cheapskate’s Manifesto.  This time, Mike and I focus on saving you money by cooking at home.  Mike already showed you how to get the most from coupon clipping at the grocery store, and hopefully you’ve been able to apply some of his ideas when it comes to buying food.  But what about stretching the food dollars you already spent?

In this article we feature a few tips and tricks that save money by cooking at home with what we already have.   Whether cooking for one, or a family, you will see that there are several ways to get more from what you already have in your pantry.

Larger Quantities, Less Often

Buying food in bulk will save you money, but allowing it to go bad before you use it will cost you even more.  Not everyone is a big fan of leftovers, but for me, it’s a reality.  I’m a single man living alone, so it’s difficult to cook one meal for dinner daily, since I eat lunch at work and rarely eat dinner.  The food I do cook for dinner will often provide me two to three lunches since most recipes will easily serve four.

Grains and Legumes

Take a look outside what might be your normal comfort zone of supersized meals with 64oz Big Gulp soda’s and look at the wealth of foods currently and seasonally available to you.  Most of the US assumes that with dinner they will get a 6-8oz portion of protein, usually in the form of meat, poultry or seafood, while a vast majority of the world makes do by sharing that same 6-8oz portion of protein with their entire family by using grains, legumes, and starches.

grains-and-legumes

Rice and beans will fill you up, provide you with much needed energy, and they store very well.  The same goes for dried pasta.  I’m partial to Basmati rice and buy it in a 10lb burlap bag. The last bag I purchased was right around $18.  Compare that with boxed instant rice or gourmet rices that sell for $6 in a one or two pound box and you’ve got one really good deal.  Store it in an airtight container and it will last you a very long time.  Long grain rice takes a bit longer to cook than instant rice, but it tastes better and is more nutritious.  Buy beans in bulk the same way.

Use A Crock Pot

A good crock pot will cost you around $30, will last for years, and takes minimal effort to cook with.  Search Google for crock pot recipes, sometimes called slow cookers, of which you will find thousands.

One of my more favorite uses is for lentil soup, which has only a handful of ingredients tastes great, and costs only a few dollars to make.  This recipe makes enough to feed eight people, and is freezer-friendly.  I also use my crock pot to make macaroni & cheese, BBQ pulled pork and countless other great eats other than soups.

Eat Seasonal Foods

Local farmers’ markets as well as the grocery stores are packed full of fresh locally-grown foods.  When foods are in season, especially locally grown, it often tends to be the least expensive and best time to buy.  Towards the end of summer my local farmers’ market has incredible deals on yellow flesh peaches.  Last summer I got about 12 pounds of peaches for $6, which is much more than I could eat in a weeks time.  When they were ripe I cleaned them, sliced them up, and placed them in small zip-lock bags and stacked them in my freezer.  They now get used right out of the freezer as part of my smoothie recipe, or I can thaw them out and make a cobbler, pies, or peach turnovers.  Bananas also freeze well.  When they get to be a bit too ripe, freeze them for banana nut breads, banana pancakes, or even smoothies.  This way you will have fresh fruits and vegetables all year long.

Freeze Leftovers

I’ve mentioned freezing a few times.  It’s not a bad word.  Properly sealed food will keep for 2-6 months in your freezer.  Like most people, I get sick of eating the same thing day after day, and I’ll use the previously mentioned lentil soup as an example.

A full crock pot of lentil soup will easily last me for lunch and dinner for nearly 4 days. At the end of those 4 days I’d never want to see another lentil again.  Making less than that in my crock pot isn’t an effecient use of energy, and not eating it all within a few days wastes food, thus throwing money away.  I will often use recycled chinese take out soup containers to put single servings of lentil soup in and freeze about half of the batch.  This allows me to pull a bowl of soup out of the freezer a month from the day I made it and still enjoy it without having to make a whole new batch.  Once you do this with a few items you’ve cooked in bulk, you can easily rotate through your own frozen food selection.  Be aware that certain foods freeze better than others.  Not all fish tastes good frozen and reheated, and the same goes for rice.

Freeze extra breads until you have enough to make homemade croutons for soups or salads.  Make your own seasoned breadcrumbs from extra breads or bagels.  They are much better than in the store and will save you at least a dollar or two.

When making pancakes, I use my electric griddle and make a large batch so I have plenty to freeze for later.  This way, I can just pull out a stack of pancakes and quickly heat them up for breakfast.

Use Substitutes

There are many foods that are fantastic substitutes for their more expensive counterparts, and they are sometimes healthier as well.  A perfect example of this is margarine for butter.  Margarine contains half the calories of butter, and is roughly one third the price.

Make Stocks

My freezer is always “stocked” with stocks.  I will buy five or six whole chickens when they are around 69 cents a pound, and process them at home.  I break down the chickens and make several separate packages of breasts, thighs and drumsticks, and wings.   All of the bones go into my large stockpot with a couple of carrots, an onion, celery, and it all gets covered with water and cooked on low, just enough so I can see a bubble once in a while, and then strained into a delicious chicken stock.  I separate the stock into smaller containers and freeze them for future recipes.  This is not only less expensive than store bought chicken broth or boullion cubes, but there is almost no sodium or preservatives, and I know it’s made of entirely fresh components.  (For you vegans out there, you can make some fantastic vegetable stocks the same way).

Small amounts of vegetables can be frozen for “soup starters”, such as carrots, onions, celery, corn, and even tomatoes.  It’s easier to dice the vegetables first so they can just be thrown right into the pot to cook

For a great tasting rice or pasta, use a vegetable or chicken stock instead of water to cook it in.  You will be amazed at the flavor!

Turn Off the Heat!

It’s a misconception that pasta needs to boil until the second it’s removed from the stove.  This is simply not true.  When I add pasta to boiling water, I stir it until it comes to a boil.  After one full minute of stirring and boiling, I turn off the heat, and don’t even cover it.  Boiling water is roughly 212 degrees.  Maybe one degree different if you live on Mount Everest.

pasta-boiling

In the time it takes for the water to come down to the ambient temperature, it will already be cooked.  This will not only will you save energy, but you will reduce the risk of having the pasta stick to the bottom of the pot.

More Than One Use…And a Little Imagination

Making stocks from chickens is a perfect example of this, but there are dozens of ways to use “by-products” for future dishes.

I went shopping two days ago and bagels were on sale for one dollar.  Most people see toasted bagels with cream cheese when they look at a bagel.  What I see is very inexpensive baked bagel chips, perfect with onion or everything bagels.  I also see bagel pizzas, hearty soup and salad croutons, and breakfast sandwiches.  All of which I make at home for a fraction of the price.

Corn Tortillas are extremely cheap where I shop, so they are a staple in my pantry.  I can buy a stack as long as my arm for less than two dollars.  Cut into triangles and baked or fried, I can make about twenty dollars worth if bought in a bag, and still have enough left over for taquitos, Mexican pizzas, or tacos.

And while i’m on tortillas, throw them in with the chicken stock you just made, and the vegetables you pulled from the freezer, a little cumin, salt and pepper, and you will have an amazing chicken tortilla soup.

Save Some Dough

Making bread at home is easy, cheap and tastes better than store bought.  The smell of bread baking at home is second to none, and the flavor is nothing like store bought.  At home I make cinnamon raisin breads, sourdough, white breads, baguettes, flatbreads, Naan, and even pizza dough and hamburger and hot dog buns.  It takes a little practice to be proficient, but nothing can replace the satisfaction and flavor of any of these homemade bread products.

dough

Yeast is relatively inexpensive.  Rather than buy 1/4 ounce packages for a dollar at the grocery store, you can buy a one pound block of quick-acting yeast at a restaurant supply store for around seven dollars.  Much less than the $64 a pound of yeast will cost if you buy it in small packages.

I’m sure you have flour, salt, and sugar at home. These are all that are needed to start baking breads, and saving you a huge amount at the grocery store.  I use unbleached all purpose flour, but you may also want to  try some whole wheat flours for a more healthy option.  Add some rolled oats, flax seed, sunflower, sesame and poppy seeds, and you can have an Artesian bread that you would pay $6 for in the stores.

Any baked bread or prepared dough can be frozen, so feel free to make a little extra for pizzas, rolls, and even breads.  I cut them into softball size portions, wrap them tightly and pop them in the freezer for later.

Keep Well Stocked

As I look around my kitchen, I see homemade spice blends, several bags of assorted beans for soups, several kinds of rice, a wealth of baking supplies, and seven shapes of dried pastas.

Any of these items, paired with a protein, can easily be stretched to save you cash, while feeding a whole army.

For proteins I have boneless center-cut pork chops I cut from a boneless loin bought for $1.49 a pound, and several bags of chickens that were 69 cents a pound that I broke down and portioned when I got home.

I have a freezer full of dough, homemade pancakes and French Toast, breads for croutons and crumbs, and topping for cobblers and pies.  There are diced vegetables, frozen berries, and even frozen mashed potatoes.

So save those small amounts of food that you would have otherwise thrown away, and soon your pantry and freezer will be well-stocked with foods that can be combined to create delicious dishes with just a little imagination.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making more from what you already have.  Hopefully you will find some of these tips useful, and they will help you stretch your shopping dollar as they have mine.

Summer Barbecue Grilling Tips

I love grilling season.  It’s cooking the way it’s meant to be done, with direct heat and flames kissing succulent meats, fish and poultry, as it was thousands of years ago…minus of course the metal grill and spatula.  The sounds of outdoor picnics and cooking over an open flame are music to my ears each summer.  The crackling skin of just-broken-down chickens, the flare-ups of hamburger juices as they drip onto the blazing coals, and even the clinking of ice cubes against the sides of a glass.

Grilling outdoors can be great fun.  In addition to grilling tips, I have listed a few safety tips that I deem important, as well as those of some prominent organizations.

So have tackle these tips, have a great barbecue season, and be safe.

Fire Safety

Keep in your general vicinity a bucket of sand and some baking soda for extinguishing small fires.  It’s also a good idea to keep your garden hose just a few steps away, especially if you are cooking on a wooden deck.  Always keep the cooking surface or grill at least several feet away from any objects or walls.

Food Safety

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service has put together a series of safety tips for this summers grilling season that are certainly worth a quick read.  The list covers techniques on safe food transportation, thawing, and even a blurb on cancer studies regarding charred foods, although they make no claims either way.

SAFE MINIMUM INTERNAL TEMPERATURES

Poultry, Whole, Ground 165 °F

Hamburger, Beef 160 °F

Beef, Veal, Lamb:

Medium Rare 145 °F

Medium 160 °F

All Pork 160 °F

Source: USDA.gov

Use Good Wood

I like to grill with a combination of coal and wood.  Simply follow the same rules you would if you were burning wood in your fireplace at home.  Do not use pressure treated woods, painted woods, or any manufactured woods that may have been chemically treated.

Stick to natural, dry hardwoods when possible.  I try to use maple, oak if possible, or hardwoods still being sold from local homes for fireplace burning.  Fortunately I live in an area where every few streets it seems have several stacks of wood for sale each winter, with some remaining through summer for camping season.  I can pick up a large bundle of seasoned hardwood for about three dollars.

Keep a Clean Cooking Area

Be sure to use separate dishes for raw and cooked foods.  As soon as the raw food is on the grill, bring the dishes to a cleaning area and douse with hot, soapy water.  Cross-contamination is a huge risk, especially when outdoors in the heat and sun.

Lubricate the Cooking Surface

First of all, “Grease” is something you use on your car.  Oil or fat is what’s used to lubricate cooking surfaces to prevent food from sticking.  If your grilling surface is free from debris and any cooked on foods from the last use, then a small towel with a little oil on it should suffice to rub the grates.  Try not to use paper towels when the grates are hot.  Just a quick rub right before placing the meats on the grill will be enough to keep even the leanest of meats from sticking as long as the grates are hot.

Season Later

It’s best to season your meats just minutes before they are finished.  Salt pulls moisture from foods early in the cooking process, so keep those juices in and salt when done.  Marinades and rubs should be tapped against a bowl to remove anything that might drip when placing on the grill to avoid flare-ups.  Be sure to mob, baste, or brush sauces later in the cooking process.  When used early, charring can occur, and your grates can get gummed up slowing cooking time and causing foods to stick.

Additional Information

If you’re looking for additional information on barbecuing from the professionals, here are some additional sources you may want to consider.

Paul Kirk: The Undisputed Barbecue Champion

Easily the best Barbecue book I have read, this collection of Paul Kirk’s 575 Championship Recipes book is full of tips and ideas for pulling off the most successful Barbecue ever.

TheSmokeRing.com

The Smoke Ring is a list of over 1,000 member barbecue sites with all you ever need to know about barbecue.  From recipes and products, to sauces, rubs, and professional barbecue instruction.

BBQ-Festivals.com

Another site of all-things-barbecue, BBQ-Festivals.com offers a calendar list of barbecue festivals around the United States.

National Barbecue Organization

http://www.nbbqa.org/

Top Five Romantic Picnic Foods

Spring has finally sprung, and picnicking season is upon us.  Picnics are a great way to get away from all the hustle and bustle and day-to-day distractions, or a way to get to know someone new, or to reconnect with friends and loved ones.

Here are some of my favorite romantic picnic foods.

Strawberries, Grapes, and Hand Fruits.

  • Strawberries are a delectable fruit that is synonymous with romance.  Whether chocolate covered, dipped in confectioners sugar, or just plain naked, the strawberry is probably the undisputed romance food.
  • Grapes, seedless red or white, are available almost any time, but for a real romantic treat try champagne grapes.  The fruit is much smaller, comes in tight little bunches, and has a great texture and mouth feel.
  • Apricots, mandarins, kiwi and plums are also small, sweet, and make for fantastic picnic romance fruits.

Cheese
Brie, Gouda, Imported Danish Bleu.  Your local grocery store most likely has an imported cheese section, stocked full of smooth Bries, pungent Bleus, smoky Goudas, and even cave-aged Edams.  Whether you like mild or sharp, cheeses hold great on a hike and are a fantastic accompaniment to any picnic.

Wine, Sparkling Water, and Champagne
Let your palate decide your selection and alcohol content.  I prefer a red and a white, or a blush and a pair of champagne splits.  A bottle of sparkling water is also a good idea.

Most quality picnic sets will come with a wine bottle opener and wine glasses, but I’ve not seen any that come with one of the best inventions ever for a romantic picnic.  Wine glass holders!  There is nothing worse than spilling your wine while on a picnic.

Chocolates
Assorted chocolate truffles, liqueur-infused confections, hand made candies.  Dark chocolates and truffles hold extremely well in higher temperatures.  Stick to higher cocoa chocolates, or dusted truffles to avoid melting or sticking together.

Peasant Breads, Crusty Baguettes, Croissants
The best accompaniment to a quality cheese is a crusty French baguette or wholesome artesian bread.  No knife needed.  Just break and enjoy.  Buttery, flaky croissants are a personal favorite that is best enjoyed with smooth cheeses such as Brie, with a slice of apple.

Picnicking is a great way for a couple or even a family to get away and connect, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.  There are backpack picnic sets available for around $30 that come complete with cutlery, a cheese board and knife, wine glasses and opener, and even a picnic blanket.  Being a hiker, the backpack sets are my preferred way to go.  There is nothing better than heading up a mountain, finding a great lookout point, and breaking out a bottle of wine, a rustic peasant bread or baguette and cheese, and some fresh fruits and berries. If you bring the kids along, bring a bottle of juice or sparkling water, a few apples and oranges, and don’t forget the camera.

Warranty Woes

Call me unlucky.  My late father used to say that if  there were one hundred items on a shelf, and one was defective, then he was surely going to pick that one.  I seem to have inherited that wonderful trait. Although some of the warranties were honored with either a repair, an exchange, or a complete refund, that does still not negate the fact that i’ve the worst luck in consumer history!

Here’s a small list of the many items that I have had to warranty, exchange, or attempt to get a refund on in the last year.

Elliptical Exercise Machine

Last year I purchased an Elliptical from a company through Amazon.  The unit came in about a week.  Within 20 minutes of my wife exercising on it, it made a clicking noise, then a horrendous grinding sound, and finally, before she got off the machine, it started spitting pieces of plastic from the spinning wheel.

Result:  We put it out with the trash.  It cost an extra few dollars for trash removal that month.

Elliptical Exercise Machine #2

Two months ago, we decided to get the same machine.  It had to be an isolated incident right?  Within 10 minutes of assembly, you guessed it, the same clicking noise.  No, my wife does NOT exceed the weight limit of the machine if that’s what you’re thinking.

I immediately got on the phone to the company.  The representative listened as my wife operated the elliptical, and she said  “oh I thought we took care of that problem!”  I explained that we had purchased the same machine last year, and it did the same thing, in just as little time.

Result:  The representative said I would receive another machine within a week.  I tracked the package and saw that indeed it was on its way.  I came home after work and on my porch was a new elliptical machine.  My wife and I were pleased with the prompt replacement.

Two days later, we came home and there is another Elliptical on my porch.  Now I had three ellipticals, two in boxes in my living room, and one assembled that didn’t work and headed for the trash.

I checked the tracking, and noticed that the package was resheduled to be delivered the following week.  What?  That would make FOUR ellipticals!  I called the same representative again and explained the issue.  She canceled the package in transit, sent a call tag to UPS to pickup a damaged item, the first one, and was to issue a calltag for the extra machine.

I still have a broken Elliptical machine and one in a box in my living room, total failure of a company to do anything right.

Coleman Queen Airbed

This was purchased at WalMart last summer.  Within a couple of weeks the mattress didn’t hold air.  No wonder it comes with a patch kit!  I brought it to WalMart to exchange it.  After every customer service employee attempted to figure out a solution, a manager was called over.  I was told that there is a 14 day return policy.  I looked at the receipt.  No such policy there.  I was told it was posted with the mattresses.  I bought it from an endcap with sale items, not in the sports department.  The employee from sports told the manager, in my presence, that yes, there was an endcap a couple weeks before, and that NO, there was NOT a copy of the policy posted with them.  The manager stuck to his guns.  No refund. I said all I wanted was an exchange.  He said no exchanges either.

Result:  I contacted Coleman directly.  They would issue a refund in a couple of weeks if I sent a copy of the receipt, and cut the valve out of the mattress and mail it to them.  I did.  I called about the check four weeks later.  I would have the check in a couple of weeks.  The refund came as promised a few weeks after my follow up call.  Yes, I still shop at WalMart.

Parents Magazine Rubber Blocks

We bought a package of safe rubber blocks for our son.  Two days later, and maybe three minutes of playing with them, a one inch circle on one side of the block came off. Easily small enough for a seven month old to choke on or swallow.

I researched the company and called customer service.  I explained, and was assured I would receive a replacement set in a week.  I was assured this was not a known issue, but they did know that it would not happen again.

I called three weeks later.  I called again the next day, and the next, and the next.  Finally, after hearing that the woman who answers for this small company was away from her desk, I left a message.  I stated how I had the Consumer Affairs Department, the Better Business Bureau local to the company, and that I would pursue these outlets if the woman did not come to her desk in short time to reply to my calls.

Result:  I had a return voicemail within a few hours.  The blocks were back ordered, so the company was waiting for a delivery.  I would have the replacement blocks in a week or so.  They did arrive, but only after feverish follow up.

Apple iPhone

I bought the first generation iPhone two weeks before the 3G came out.  I think it was last May.  Six months later in November, the ringer on/off toggle switch did not toggle anymore.  It just flopped around sort of inside the phone case.  I scheduled an appointment at the Genius Bar at the local Apple Store to get the problem fixed.

Result:  Easiest warranty repair ever!  The man at the Genius Bar asked if I had backed up my data recently, popped out my Sim card, popped it in a new iPhone, and within three minutes I was all set.  I walked out with a brand new iPhone.

Apple iPhone #2

Wednesday, after having about all I could take with the home button working intermittently, I made an appointment at the Genius Bar again.  I started to explain how the button was intermittent, and was interrupted with the same question.  Did I backup my data?  I said I had that morning.

Result:  New iPhone #3 in less than three minutes.  I may have a PC, but I love Apple’s Warranty and Exchange Policy. I am seriously thinking of getting a MacBook next time, but that won’t be any time soon since I just bought this here laptop, but that’s another story.

Sidebar: Unfortunately I backed my phone up to a computer that the next day would bite the dust in more ways than one, so I now have an iPhone with it’s date intact, but a new laptop that won’t sync to it unless I get that backup file on the new laptop.  Who knew?

XBox 360

I was one of the lucky thirteen people to get an XBox 360 in the KMart raffle at midnight the night it was released.  There were over 200 people there, and we each got a ticket.  People were selling their tickets for $20 to $50 for a CHANCE to buy one!  At number thirteen, my number was chosen!  What luck.  There were only about four or five games released that night.  I bought three, the remote, and an extra controller.

Result:  Ever hear of the Red Ring of Death?  KMart saw me the next day.  The games are not returnable.  Can’t I get a break?

Motorola Razr

I bought a pink Razr cell phone for my wife on her birthday from eBay.  The battery cover was a different color.  The battery didn’t hold a charge.  Here we go again.  I DID purchase a SquareTrade Warranty with this item, which I don’t usually do.  I contacted the company I bought the phone from.  They are a Power Seller on eBay.  Great feedback.  I could see why, as they sent me another battery and battery cover.

I also contacted SquareTrade when the phone started to have issues within a couple of months.  I was told to contact Motorola, so I did.  Motorola said to contact the seller, so I did.  The seller said that I got the SquareTrade warranty, so contact SquareTrade.  Geesh!

Result. My wife still uses the phone.  It works.  She has two batteries that hold a charge for a couple of hours each.  At least the battery cover color now matches.

Not all purchases go this way for me, but I have never heard of another person having such terrible luck.  Some purchases have been great, such as the Toshiba Satellite Laptop that lasted me for several years, or the Toyota Camry that ran like a top until someone decided to T-Bone me while going to a Novell class.

As you can see, I don’t usually purchase the extended warranty when I make purchases, but when I do there are a few rules I follow when deciding.

Item Price to Extended Warranty Price Ratio

I know companies have worked on this ratio extensively to make the price acceptable to the widest range of consumers, but there are times when the warranty price is much too close to a complete product replacement.  This is especially true for electronics.

For example, a 5.1 Surround Sound set from Wal-Mart.  I bought the basic DuraBrand set which was drastically reduced in price.  The set was normally around $99.  It was reduced to $39.  The warranty option was still based on the regular retail price of up to $99, so to add the warranty would have cost me $19 at the time.  50% of what the product cost me.  No deal.

Likelihood of the Item Becoming Faulty

I have purchased warranties on my wifes engagement ring and both our wedding rings.  Good idea too because one of my wifes diamonds became loose.  If we did not have the warranty option, we would have had to pay several hundred dollars for a loose diamond, as well as to have it set.  The warranty was not much at all, so under the Price to Warranty Ratio, it was a good buy.

It’s a good idea to get extended warranties on jewelery with rare gemstones that can become loose or fall out.

Warranty Coverage – Repair or Replacement

This is of great importance.  Mail-in service does not interest me in the least.  Dell has such a plan.  I don’t know about you, but i’m not willing to mail in a computer for a repair.  Especially when I could most likely buy the part for less than the postage

Replacement coverage is where I give the option some great thought.  As seen above, I have the Apple iPhone.  I am on my third phone, and have spent all of 10 minutes with a representative getting replacements.  My warranty is up on June 2nd.  For $60 I can add another year of coverage, and I can buy this coverage all the way up to that day.  For me this is a definate no-brainer.  I will most likely in June be buying the new iPhone, and will have a shiny new original iPhone to give to my wife to replace her Motorola Razr.

Warrantying Company

If a warranty is covered by a third party, I never buy it.  If you have ever had to deal with a middle man when it comes to a repair, you know where I am coming from.  The same goes for Authorized Repair Centers.

I had a Kenwood In-Dash Stereo that needed repair once.  I brought it to an authorized service center.  It was to take two weeks.  Two weeks later, I went to pick it up.  I was informed that since they were very busy they had not even diagnosed it yet.  I could still see the stereo with the check-in tag sitting o the shelf.  I brushed off the dust and took it home.  I bought a Clarion Pro Audio later that afternoon.

Authorized repair centers usually do not cover just the product you purchased.  In the case I just mentioned, it was a television and electronic repair center.  For their own service they charged a much higher rate than they would be paid for the warranty repair wich is most likely a flat rate plus parts, so my item under warranty was not a priority.

And the best advice I can give, whether you purchase a warranty or not is to always, always, always save your receipt and paperwork.  I have a filing cabinet for all of my important papers.  In this cabinet are folders with manuals to all products I buy that have a manufacturers warranty, with the purchase receipt either inside the manual or stapled to the cover.

This way when there is an issue, which as you can see with my luck there often is, it is just a matter of opening the folder and finding the products paperwork.

Apple AppleCare Website As long as your Apple product is still under the manufacturer warranty, you can add an AppleCare extended warranty.  Apple warranties are a bit pricey, but after using their warranty first-hand more than once, I am sold.  Great buy if you have an Apple product.

SquareTrade The great thing about SquareTrade is that you can warranty nearly any item, new, used, or refurbished that is purchased through eBay, and for low rates.

The Best Buy 2 year warranty for my new laptop was $79.99.  Through SquareTrade, it costs $59.99 for 3 years.

Consumer Affairs To find the Consumer Affairs Department local to you, just do a search with the locality and “consumer affairs”.  Here you can lodge a complaint about a company, just as you can with the BBB, but Consumer Affairs is a division of government.  If all else fails, a simple mention of this department to a retailer may get their attention.

Better Business Bureau

Pretty much a middle man when it comes to issues between consumers and companies. The Better Business Bureau is a great tool to lodge a complaint, or check a company’s reputation locally before you do business with them.  Businesses do listen to these complaints usually, as you can easily see by doing a local search for a company you might know.  Most issues are resolved in a timely manner.

In memory of a laptop

Three days ago I wrote about cable television, and how at my home we stream content from the internet for our viewing pleasure.  In the article, I mentioned our simple setup, including my trusty Toshiba Satellite laptop.  Not two days after the article was posted, my trusty Toshiba Satellite was no more.

After traveling to a dozen countries, streaming television for several months, and taking the beating of a small boys hands as he zoomed by in his Jeep walker, the poor Satellite threw in the towel. My wife paid just over $800 with tax for the laptop from WalMart in 2005, a great deal at the time.  Equipped with a 60GB Hard Drive, 512MB of RAM, and a HUGE 15″ Display, heck, it even played DVD’s! Cutting edge technology for 4 years ago!

That Toshiba Satellite was such a workhorse, that we decided to buy another one based on our great experience.  I mean, I had a 95 Camry and liked it so much that I bought a 97 Camry after I wrecked the 95.  I bought a 2003 Hyundai Elantra and liked it too so much that I bought a 2007 Hyundai Elantra after the 2003 had front end trouble.  Why not keep the tradition going on? Besides, change is evil.

I know all about how computers get cheaper.  I’m not telling you anything everyone doesn’t already know.  I could tell you how this new Satellite has a 160GB Hard Drive as opposed to the 60GB on the old one.  How this has a 2Ghz Celeron, where the other has a 1.4Ghz.  And the RAM, even after upgrading to the maximum was 1GB, and here I have 2 whopping gigabytes!  And not only does it play DVD’s, it can burn them too!

I’m all about new technology and saving money.  I like both equally, especially when I get more for less each and every time.  This model Satellite I picked up yesterday from Best Buy for $379.  Just over $400 with tax.  That’s almost exactly half the cost of the purchase in 2005, with nearly four times greater specs.  50% savings, four times the value, seems like a no brainer to upgrade.

Are there any other sectors besides technology where a purchase is half the price for twice (or more) the product?  Not automobiles.  Not food.  Definitely not the finance sector.

So, my wife and i are already planning our dream purchase for 2013. We’re going to get the laptop with a 17″ Flexible OLED Display,  500GB SSD, 8GB PC12800 RAM, and a Blu-Ray RW.   Can’t Wait!

Since the majority of the old laptop has died, I’ve parted out what’s useable and listed it on eBay, bid on these relic pieces here.