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Thursday, December 30, 2010

One Last Update Before The End Of The Year

It has been a while since I posted a general update on my blog. I have been busy with work, chores, etc., and life in general, so I have been lax in posting updates on things. Now that it is almost the end of the year, I think I should provide one last update before I start celebrating being off from work until the beginning of next year!

My H&R Block tax course ended the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The final test was not too difficult, and I passed the whole course with a score of about 95%. I then attended an interview at the H&R Block office to be a tax preparer for the next year. This was back on November 22nd. I was told to expect a decision within 10 days, but I have heard nothing back so far. At least I have not been officially rejected so far! But I am not hoping to hear back from them at this point, so my candidacy will be in limbo forever, I guess. Good thing I did not hold my breath for the outcome!

The interview was with 3 different managers. Each of them talked to me for about 10 minutes, and asked me a standard set of questions about how I would handle client relationships, conflicts, and other likely work situations. It is what my company calls a structured interview. The whole thing was quite inane, and at least now I know that my company is not the only one stupid enough to use such an interview technique! I have been on the administering end of many of these interviews at my company, and I have always come away completely unimpressed with what the interview tells about the potential candidate.

At work, my project has lurched from one crisis to another and is now running a couple of months behind. At least, this time, my manager is completely sure it is our IT department that is at fault for the delays. First they gave us a new development server that did not have any development tools on it (no IDE, no debugger, no compiler, not even Emacs!). We had to escalate it all the way to their manager and director before they agreed to provide any of this to us. Their official explanation, believe it or not, was that providing development tools such as the ones we were asking for on a development server was against company policy! How my company continues to operate is quite a surprise me too!!

The next problem was that IT set the project up with a data repository that is made available to us through a product made by TIBCO called Business Events (BE). It turns out that BE is difficult to deal with inside the normal tools we use to develop Java code. So, it required endless running back and forth before IT agreed to pay for a TIBCO consultant to solve the problem for us. All this resulted in a long delay to the project timeline, and the IT manager was adamant that she not be charged with the delay because "the ability to develop and debug code on the development infrastructure" was not in the original requirements submitted to her team! And people wonder why I feel like pulling my hair out and running away to a Tibetan monastery!!

And after all these problems were solved, we found that their code was full of bugs that prevented us from running and testing our code. Every time we spot a bug that stops us from proceeding further, we send them email, and they say they are busy with other projects and will fix this bug in a couple of weeks. So, we sit around twiddling our thumbs until they fix that bug. Then the cycle repeats itself with another bug in their code.

Nobody would believe me when I told them that the timelines for this project were too ambitious given that it was a completely new business area, with new IT infrastructure and tools, data sources that we knew very little about, etc. Now, they have grudgingly accepted my view that this project is going to be more about learnings for the future than about showcasing a successful project that was completed on time and under budget. For projects like this, project planning is highly over-rated, and in fact, is, in my opinion, completely useless.

At least, I had a couple of weeks of vacation to burn up before the end of the year, so I took blocks of days off before Christmas and New Year. That way, at least, I did not have to sit at work uselessly waiting for pieces of the project to be completed in a painfully slow process. Given that I want to get as far away from this project as is humanly possible, my vacation came in pretty handy! Maybe I will take my next year's vacation in January so that I can keep away from this project for some more time!!

As far as my blogging was concerned, I continued to post a reasonably steady stream of posts of various kinds to my blog. In addition to reviews of various products I bought on Black Friday, I also posted a couple of articles with tips on doing various things in Microsoft Access. I have more ideas working their way through my mind, so I should be posting stuff to my blog at a slow but steady state through the next year also.

Since my last update with this information, when the country count for my blog stood at 152, visitors from 9 new countries seem to have visited my blog. They are from Guadeloupe, Antigua and Barbuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cuba, Lichtenstein, Myanmar, Tajikistan, Somalia, Senegal and Benin. There are actually 10 countries in that list, if you paid attention! It turns out that Flagcounter made a change in the way they count countries, and eliminated "Unknown - EU" from the list of countries. So, even though I had new visitors from 10 new countries, I lost "Unknown - EU" from the 152 I had before, leaving me at 161 rather than 162.

The weather has been dreadful, as it usually is this time of the year in the midwest. It has already snowed so heavily where I am that I have had to get the snow shovel out and shovel my driveway of snow twice already. Usually, I don't have to shovel snow until January, but this year appears to be wetter so far. I have lived here for almost 17 years without the need for a snow thrower so far. I have considered it good exercise to just go out and shovel snow when needed with my bare hands. But the process takes a long time, and sometimes, I may need to clear the snow quickly even though I will lose out on the exercise of shoveling the snow. So, I might relent and buy myself a snowblower at some point. Let us just say research is ongoing in this direction.

That is pretty much all the important happenings in my life for this update. I hope you had a wonderful 2010, and I wish you all a very happy, prosperous and even more wonderful 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

To Infinity - And Beyond!

No, I am not talking about becoming Buzz Lightyear and flying across the universe in a space ship. I am talking about a fun way to buy stylish, name-brand shoes and boots such as Miz Mooz and Old Gringo. You can get a vast selection of such famous-name brands in the shoe business by shopping online at stores like Infinity Shoes. Infinity shoes has been selling high-quality shoes to a fashion-conscious clientele for almost 20 years.

Jildor is another online shoe outlet that caters to people who know what a mess it is to go to a real shoe store and walk up and down the aisles trying on different shoes. If you know what you want, it easier to just look for it in an online shoe store and have it shipped to you. Jildor's website is also well-organized allowing you to shop by designer. They have a large selection to choose from such as Amalfi, Saucony and Tony Burch.

Yet another choice for the online shoe shopper is the Shoe Inn. Shoe Inn, in addition to having great prices on a huge selection of shoes, also has a VIP club that allows you to participate in a monthly drawing for a $200 gift certificate to the Shoe Inn. In addition to boots, Shoe Inn also sells accessories like handbags, belts, etc.

As you can see, shopping for shoes has evolved along with most of the rest of the retail industry. The best prices and selections are online, and regular shoe stores can not expand enough to carry the selection of brands, styles and sizes that an online retailer can offer. If you are a savvy shopper, it pays to explore the online possibilities first. To Infinity - And Beyond!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Retargeting Advertising Provides You The Most Bang For Your Advertising Bucks

As the internet, and consumer behavior on the internet evolve, the old methods of advertising (which mostly involved putting your ads in front of a large audience and hoping for a response, the scatter-shot approach) do not provide a good return on your investment. There is statistical evidence mounting that the best people to target with your ad dollars is people who have already visited your website before, and are somewhat familiar with the products and services you offer. Targeting this audience is called retargeting advertising, and it can make your advertising dollars go a lot farther than traditional scatter-shot advertising.

Retargeting companies specialize in running retargeting advertising campaigns. One of the best known of these with a proven track record of delivering high returns on your advertising dollars with innovative retargeting technology is Recrue Media. Recrue Media's unique pixel technology enables advertisers to segment their audience based on the pages they have visited, and then retarget them with different advertisements based on their perceived interests.

Recrue Media's long list of famous-name clients include household names like Jaguar, British Airways, Holland America Cruiselines, etc. The mathematics behind retargeting are quite complicated, and require heavy duty statistical methods to analyze and understand. Recrue Media has shown itself capable of planning, implementation, execution and post-campaign analysis to help your company understand the impact of retargeting advertising, and its advantages over regular advertising.

The customer testimonials on the Recrue Media are the proof in the pudding of retargeting advertising. Companies have seen tremendous spikes in visitor and conversion metrics because of the targeted nature of the ad campaign, and the lower costs associated with retargeting make the increased sales that much more dramatic. If you have been wondering how to fine-tune your internet advertising to increase your return on investment by orders of magnitude, maybe it is time for you to contact Recrue Media and learn more about what retargeting can do for you!

Give Viewers A Unique Perspective By Using Aerial Photography

The right angle and perspective sometimes makes all the difference in photography and cinematography. Professionals are paid a lot of money to visualize and select these aspects of photography. But ground-based photography and video shoots have some inherent limitations that can not be overcome even by the most creative photographers.

Aerial photography by SkyCamUSA can provide viewers with a unique and breathtaking perspective that is not available to ground-based photographers. SkyCamUSA has manned as well as remote-controlled unmanned helicopters fitted out with the latest in camera and video equipment. These flying machines can provide unique points of view for whatever you are trying to highlight, whether it be city landscapes, highways, parks and golf courses or houses, mansions, college campuses, etc.

Aerial videography can be performed by SkyCamUSA using several high-tech cameras such as the Sony EX1. In addition to digital video cameras and still cameras, some regular film-based 16mm and 35mm cameras are also being modified to be used in SkyCamUSA's helicopters. Examples of SkyCamUSA's spectacular aerial photography, including a golf course aerial video tour and college/university aerial video tours featuring Baylor University are available for your viewing pleasure in the gallery page of their website.

As you can see from these videos, aerial photography can put your photographic equipment where no human can normally go. This enables you to capture angles and points of view that no human can normally capture. These unique perspectives can highlight aspects of your subject that people on the ground may not even be able to see normally. This can be a unique tool for people like real estate professionals who can use this kind of photography to highlight features of houses (skylights, for instance) that are difficult to see and appreciate from the ground.

What you can do with aerial photography is limited only by your imagination. Let your imagination run wild, and you will be pleasantly surprised by what you can accomplish. Contact SkyCamUSA and talk to them about your needs. With years of experience in this field, they will make sure they come up with a photo shoot that will knock your socks off!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Quick Review Of ASUS Eee PC 1005HA-EU2X 10.1 Inch Netbook

I bought two of these ASUS Eee PC netbooks on Black Friday for my kids. They cost me $200 each, and are available right now for closer to $300 from Amazon.com and other retailers. It is a slightly older model, and there are newer Eee PC's that have supplanted it in the marketplace. But this older model has an advantage over the newer models, as I will explain in this review.

The package is small and light, and comes with nice pictures of the netbook instead of being generic brown cardboard. It also comes with a carrying handle. Once you open up the package, you find the netbook, a two-piece power cord, the laptop battery, a small user manual and a DVD. The DVD contains a system image that you can restore onto the hard drive to reset the netbook to factory shipped state, and a few utilities and other odds and ends. I have not played around with the DVD, so I am not sure what "utilities" these are.

The specifications of the computer are:
  • Intel Atom N270 processor running at 1.6 GHz (the CPU is capable of hyperthreading, so it is roughly equivalent to having two CPU's in the box. In my personal experience, this CPU is much more powerful and more useful than Intel Celeron processors which are single-threaded, and tend to get choked when you try to multi-task with one program that requires a lot of computing power)
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 160 GB hard drive
  • 1024x600 10.1 inch WSVGA LED-backlit matte screen
  • 0.3 MP webcam and built-in microphone
  • Built-in 802.11 b/g/n wi-fi
  • 3 USB ports, 1 network (LAN) port, 1 VGA port, microphone and headphone jacks
  • No optical drive
  • 1.1 kg weight (less than 2.5 lbs), including the battery, without the power cord
  • 3-cell battery that the user manual claims to provide a 4-hour power supply to the computer
  • Windows XP Home SP3 operating system
That last item is what I consider a big advantage of this computer over the new models that come with Windows 7 Starter rather than Windows XP Home. Why is it an advantage? Because Windows XP is less computationally demanding than even the starter edition of Windows 7. So, more of the CPU power of the computer is available to you, the user, rather than being used up by the operating system just to keep the computer running. Moreover, Windows XP Home provides a lot more control over the user experience than the Starter version of Windows 7 which has most of the operating system's customization features stripped out to try and make it a viable operating system for netbooks (for instance, you can't even change the default desktop background of Windows 7 Starter without third party software).

Setting up the computer was a breeze. You slip the battery into the back of the computer and latch it in place first. Then you hook up the power cord, and switch the computer on. The computer connected to the internet without any issues once it booted up, and I was able to download and install anti-virus and windows updates without any problem.

The computer came loaded with a small amount of junkware (including Microsoft Works), but I got rid of them without any problems. The hard drive is partitioned into one large user partition and a small recovery partition. You can use this recovery partition to reset the computer back to factory shipped state if the hard disk is intact when you want to do it. The DVD shipped with the computer would be needed if the necessity to reset the computer to factory shipped state arises because of a hard disk failure that makes this recovery partition inaccessible or useless.

The user manual is only a few pages long, and explains the basic features of the computer, including the location of all the ports. It also explains in detail how to use the recovery partition on the hard drive if you need to. The computer can boot off an external USB optical drive, and the user manual explains how to use the included DVD in such a drive to reset the computer if necessary.

Gone are the days when computers shipped with manuals that were a couple of hundred pages long. This manual mostly lets the user figure out other details of the computer by trial and error rather than explaining all the features in detail. But it is part of the fun of starting to use a new computer, right?!

The computer itself is quite attractive. It is shiny black on the outside (unfortunately, that was the only color choice that was available in the store when I bought it. My kids would have preferred the blue color), with the front being very thin, and the back being about an inch thick when closed. The case size is big enough to accommodate a complete keyboard which is supposed to be about 95% of full-size. I had some minor trouble adjusting to the change in size initially, but got used to it quite easily. My kids like it much better than full-size keyboards.

The screen is very bright and colorful. It is supposed to be matte, but it still shows fingerprints and other smudges readily, so both the screen and the outside case of the computer attract smudges. Avoid touching the screen with your hands if at all possible. In addition to the default 1024x600 resolution, you can set the computer to 1024x768 resolution in two modes: scroll mode, where the desktop scrolls up and down as you move your mouse pointer to the edges of the visible screen, or compressed mode, where 768 vertical pixels are compressed into the actual 600 pixels available on the screen, making everything look short and squat.

Most of the time, the computer is used in 1024x600 resolution, but some computer games require a minimum resolution of 1024x768. The two 1024x768 modes come in handy at that time to make sure such games can be played on this computer. Quite clever, really.

This laptop does not have any latches to hold the screen down on the keyboard when it is closed. The hinge design provides the necessary force to keep the laptop closed unless you pry the top open with some force.

The power cord plugs into the left side of the laptop, which is also home to one USB port and the VGA port. The right side of the laptop contains 2 USB ports, the LAN port and the microphone and headphone jacks. The right side also has a slot for memory cards. The computer can read SD, SDHC and MMC cards.

The webcam and the built-in microphone sit on top of the screen. The built-in headphones reside above the keyboard. They are quite decent for a computer of this size. The left side of the computer also contains the cooling vents which put out warm air when the CPU gets hot. Usually, I found that the fan either does not run or runs very slowly and silently. Only when the CPU is stressed quite a bit does the fan run hard. Overall, the computer runs quite cool, thanks to the power-efficient CPU used.

The touchpad is not demarcated from the rest of the arm-rest area, but it is distinguishable by the presence of the mouse buttons. The touchpad itself has a different tactile feel than the completely smooth area surrounding it. It is multi-touch capable, so you can scroll by using two fingers, zoom in and out using multi-finger gestures, etc.

The front end of the laptop has a row of small LED's that tell you whether the computer is on or off or in standby mode, whether the wi-fi is on or not, whether the hard disk is being accessed, etc. These LED's are visible whether the computer is open or closed, so you can tell the state of the computer at a glance even if the lid is closed.

The computer does not have any dedicated switches to control any of the functions like volume control, screen brightness, wi-fi on/off etc. Everything is controlled by Fn key combinations. The key presses do show up on screen, confirming that the specified action was completed successfully.

The battery is supposed to keep the computer powered on for 4 hours, but in my tests, it lasts only about three to three and a half hours. Throughout this time, the wireless connection and hard disk were on though, so I am sure when laptop makers test their batteries, they turn off everything except the CPU to come up with their inflated assessments of how long the batteries last. I can live with three hours, and I just wish battery life assessments were more realistic.

I will conclude this review with a brief list of pros and cons.

Pros:
  • Small size, light weight
  • Excellent screen
  • Almost full-sized keyboard that adults can type on with no problems
  • Responsive touchpad with multi-touch gestures that make it easy to accomplish simple things like scrolling, zooming in and out, etc.
  • Large hard drive with built-in recovery partition
  • DVD with system image for use in emergencies
  • Good instructions on the basics such as system recovery
  • Built-in webcam and microphone for video chats
  • Built-in card-reader slot for SD, SDHC and MMC cards
  • Abundant USB slots on both sides of the computer
  • Windows XP Home operating system
  • Hyperthreading CPU that seemed to be capable of handling most tasks like homework, internet surfing, watching videos and listening to music quite well
  • 1024x768 mode to make the computer compatible with games and other programs that were not designed with netbooks in mind
Cons:
  • Smudge-prone case and screen
  • Small user manual that does not even explain things like how to use the multi-touch touchpad
  • No built-in optical drive
  • No USB ports in the back. In fact, having the power cord connection and VGA port in the sides can cause problems with wires stretching across the computer too.
  • No hardware buttons for multimedia functions or volume controls
So, in summary, I like this computer a lot. It is well worth the money I spent on it, and my kids love it to death. It seems strong enough to withstand at least a few years of use, even at the hands of a kid, and seems to be quite capable at what it does. It is tiny and light, making it easy to travel with. The battery life is long enough for most domestic flights in the US (assuming you charge up the battery life while waiting at the gate). I would recommend the computer whole-heartedly to anyone looking for a cheap netbook, either for kids or as a second computer to be used in situations requiring high mobility. A solid four and a half or five stars out of five!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Finance Globe Is Your One-Stop Website For Credit Card Information

The holidays are financially stressful times for many of us. There is so much shopping to do, so many gifts to buy for so many people. You want to be able to enjoy the holidays with friends and family, but if your finances are out of control because of high credit card debt and/or interest rates, that can ruin your enjoyment.

Now, there is a website you can use to cut down on the financial tension in your life. Finance Globe is a comprehensive website that provides consumers with loads of information about consumer finance, particularly credit cards. Let us face it, most of us do not have the time or inclination to keep track of the huge number of credit cards out there and their changing terms. Now, Finance Globe makes sure you don't have to!

Finance Globe enables you to find the best credit cards for your financial situation without having to visit the websites of multiple credit card companies one by one. You can know all about their interest rates, special balance transfer offers and rates, cash back and other reward rates, annual fees, etc., in one convenient location. If you want to apply for a credit card, the site can also give you information about approval rates, and includes a list of cards that offer instant approval!

The Finance Globe website also has a section devoted to credit card reviews. In this section, real credit card holders provide their views and opinions about their credit cards. You can join in the conversation by posting your own opinions about rates, rewards, customer service, policies and procedures and anything else about your credit card that you want to talk about!

If you have a strong financial relationship with a particular credit card issuer and want to find out more about credit cards offered by that issuer, you can go to pages on Finance Globe devoted to specific credit card issuers. There are separate pages listing the myriad Citi credit cards or Chase credit cards, for instance.

You have your hands full doing research on the perfect gift for everyone on your list. You don't want to add research on credit cards to your already full plate. So, leave the research to Finance Globe. Find your ideal credit card without stressing about it. You will have more financial freedom these holidays, and less financial worries in the months to come!

Trust Namada For Your International Telecommunication Needs

If you have an international business with offices outside the US, but want to attract a US clientele, you probably know how important it is to have a toll-free number that US clients can call. Even though it is the age of the internet and email, most people still prefer to conduct important business over the phone. They want to hear a human voice at the other end of the line, interact with that human and conduct business with a person rather than with a computer running an internet website.

Namada is an international telecommunications company that makes it easy for international businesses to get tollfreeforwarding, a service in which your clients call an American toll-free number, and the call is automatically forwarded to any phone in the world. So, even though your call center may be located anywhere in the world, your clients and potential clients don't have to go through the trouble of calling an international phone number to do business with you.

Toll free forwarding is just one of the many telecommunications services provided by Namada. You can also use their international call forwarding services to make sure your phone number moves with you, wherever you may be in the world at any time. And their rates are among the lowest you will find anywhere.

And you don't have to worry about the quality of the service given its cost. Namada has several high-profile clients, and their testimonials on the Namada website convey the high level of satisfaction they experience with Namada's service. Several international companies use Namada's services to provide convenient ways for their clients to get in touch and stay in touch with them. The quality and reliability of this communication channel is very important to these clients. That they have chosen Namada for such a vital service is proof of Namada's high quality.

If your internationally located business would like to expand in the US, trust your telecommunication needs to the experts in the field. Namada has been in the business since 1991, and have developed a complete portfolio of services that you can use to satisfy all your needs. Whatever your needs or problems, there is sure to be a solution in Namada's portfolio!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Find Cheap Wholesale Suppliers Of Goods You Can Sell At Retail For Profit

Have you ever thought of opening a retail store, either online or in a real store? It is one of simplest and easiest ways of making money by following the age-old advice of buying low and selling high. You don't have to invent a new product or think of a unique service to take advantage of this opportunity. But you do have to locate a good wholesale supplier of the products you want to sell at retail so that you can make a profit on each sale.

Ezgoo is a directory with resources for sellers of products. The site allows you to locate cheap, reliable wholesale suppliers of all kinds of products. The directory is a godsend for retailers and would-be retailers who want to get in touch with suppliers of wholesale products. In addition to wholesalers, the site also allows you to locate sellers of wholesale lots at auction sites like Ebay.

The site is easy to navigate, allowing you to find wholesalers by category, such as jewelry, computer products, perfumes, watches, etc. Moreover, there are separate links for locating wholesalers who produce their wholesale products in China. There are also invaluable resources for auction sellers and buyers.

Ezgoo also allows you to list your own business in their directories if you are a wholesale manufacturer or supplier, rather than a retailer. All submissions to this directory are reviewed manually to make sure the addition is of a quality and relevant company so that the directories are not littered with low quality listings. This is what makes Ezgoo even more valuable for retailers and other sellers. So, if you are looking to start your own retail business, find relevant, reliable suppliers to partner with through Ezgoo!

Does Having Your Own Independent Website Make Sense For A Blogger?

In the past few days I have been reading opinions from various people debating whether it makes sense for bloggers to invest in their own domain name and independent hosting solution. The argument is that such a setup shows the world that the blogger is serious about their content. Serious enough to spend their own money to put their content on the web rather than relying on the largesse of companies like Google or Wordpress to do so.

The argument against doing so is that most blogs do not make any money for the blogger. Advertising is not very lucrative for low-volume blogs, and too much advertising distracts from the content on the blog. So, in most cases, the blogger is showing his/her commitment to the blog by producing and publishing content on it with no meaningful remuneration anyway. Does it make sense to then go overboard and spend money to make a statement about the blog?

I had not looked into hosting my blog on an independent hosting provider before. I have always assumed that if my blog had interesting content, people would find it, and not have a negative opinion about the blog just because it is hosted for free on Google's servers. In any case, I decided to do some research.

First, I created a poll for my website that asks visitors whether they think it makes sense for bloggers to have their own domains and independent hosts rather than using free blogging solutions. I have no idea what the results of that poll will be. If the poll shows that most visitors do not care one way or another, then I can breathe a sigh of relief and continue on as before.

But what if a large majority of visitors feel that an independent host and domain name make sense? In preparation for that eventuality, I have started doing research on the best web hosting providers and solutions out there. As they say, I have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst! You can help shape this debate meaningfully by casting your vote in the poll in the left sidebar of this blog. Please take the time to vote and let me (and other bloggers) know what you think!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Don't Let The Holidays Derail Your Weight Loss Goals

Being fit and maintaining your weight in the correct range for your height are important to your overall health. The holidays tend to be a difficult time to focus your attention on these as your time is spent finding the ideal gifts for everyone on your shopping list, planning holiday parties, making travel plans, etc.

ShopBestDiets.com is an online store that specializes in weight-loss products. In addition to selling weight-loss supplements, ShopBestDiets also provides consumers with reviews about weight loss products, weight loss tips, information about weight loss, and motivation to lose weight.

Weight loss pills are a popular way for many people to try and lose weight or keep the extra pounds off. ShopBestDiets.com has reviews of popular weight loss pills to help you choose the best weight loss pills for your needs. Many weight loss supplements and pills have varying degrees of side effects, so it is important to know about all your options.

In addition to knowing about your options, it is also useful to have experts weigh in on the pros and cons of each of the choices. This is where ShopBestDiets.com's panel of weight loss experts gives it a leg up over other weight loss websites. Most weight loss websites take advantage of their customers' ignorance to sell them substandard products that may have deleterious or injurious effects on their health. ShopBestDiets.com tries to educate its customers so that they can make the best decisions for their weight loss needs themselves.

You come into the world with one body. It is the only body you will ever have in this world. It behooves each and every one of us to take care of this one and only body that we have been bestowed with so that it provides long years of reliable service. If you have neglected your health in the past, it is not too late. Take a look at your weight and fitness levels, and take the first step towards better health by considering options to lose weight, be more active, eat a healthier diet, and exercise more.

Firstrade Makes Investments Affordable, Whether You Are A Beginner Or A Seasoned Pro

With the economy beginning to show signs of coming out of a recession, and the stock market showing signs of making meaningful advances in the coming months, putting your money in investments like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. may be quite rewarding going forward.

Whether you are new to investing or you know your way around like an expert, you know that low costs are the key to making the most of your investment dollars. Firstrade is a low-cost online broker who makes it easy for you keep more of your profits instead of paying them to your broker in the form of commissions.

Firstrade not only enables you to invest with low commissions, they also give you a wide choice of investment options to choose from. In addition to stock trading, you can put your money to work by investing in options, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, bonds, certificates of deposit, etc. They also offer free dividend reinvestment plans so that the dividends from your investments are put to work at no cost to you.

Firstrade also gives you multiple options for accessing your account and making trades. In addition to online trading, you can also get to your account through a site devoted to mobile devices like smartphones. This portal enables you to do mobile trading without having to be near a computer whenever inspiration strikes you!

Firstrade makes it easy to save for retirement also. You can open IRA accounts with Firstrade that are completely free, and carry no hidden fees, inactivity fees or any other kind of fees. This enables you to put money away for retirement without having to worry about losing any part of it to unnecessary costs.

Saving and investing money is the quickest way to get rich while staying on the right side of the law. If you have been dreaming about hitting it rich, but have done nothing concrete about accumulating wealth, now is the time to act. A penny saved is a penny earned. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Take that first step with Firstrade, and make sure your dreams turn to reality.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Not All Online Tutoring Services Are The Same

With the advent of cheap communications through the internet and VOIP phone solutions like Skype, tutoring over the internet has become practical. A number of companies have jumped into this space to take advantage of this opportunity. But, when it comes to choosing one of them for use by you or your children, it pays to do a lot of research.

Tutorvista is one company that has been in this space for a long time, and has garnered a lot of independent assessments and reviews. Consumersearch, in its reviews for Tutorvista calls it "Best online tutoring". The site then goes on to list the pros and cons of Tutorvista, and provides a detailed analysis of Tutorvista in its Tutorvista review.

Ed Tech Review is another independent review site aimed at teachers and other educators. In its reviews for Tutorvista, the site calls Tutorvista a "very powerful online tutoring environment". The review goes on to recommend the system to all parents. The reviewer cites Tutorvista's high quality and affordability as primary reasons for this endorsement.

Wikipedia also has reviews of Tutorvista as part of its article on the online tutoring service. The history of Tutorvista as detailed in this article makes for interesting reading. It also gives the reader an idea about the breadth and scope of Tutorvista's activities in the online tutoring world. Wikipedia's Tutorvista review also touches upon the challenges the organization faced during its early days.

There is also a site devoted exclusively to comments about Tutorvista from consumers who have used the service, and want to express their opinions about it. That is site is Tutorvista Review. The comments on this site are arranged by date and subject matter of the tutoring. The layout is similar to that of a blog (it is in fact a Wordpress blog), with navigation links in the sidebars to guide visitors to the comments that they are looking for.

Independent reviews and online discussions are useful tools when it comes to doing research on buying products or services online. Online tutoring services can be expensive, and represent a significant investment in your or your children's future. As such, it makes sense to use these review sites to base your judgment of which tutoring service to use rather than blindly choosing one by the roll of a die.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Short Review Of Toshiba Satellite L655-S5107 Laptop

My mother's old desktop was dying a slow and painful death, so it was decided that she would replace it with a laptop. No more bundles of wires running all over her desk, and in fact, perhaps, no desk to hold the computer at all. After much research, I settled on the Toshiba Satellite L655-S5107 laptop.

The laptop was ordered from Amazon.com and delivered within a few days. It cost $529 when I ordered it, but the price has since gone up to close to $600. I got to open up the package and set the computer up before repacking it and sending it off to my mother. I did not want her to be befuddled by the process of setting the computer up for the first time, hence this arrangement. The review is short because I got to play with the laptop for only a couple of days before it got shipped off again.

The package it came in was quite sturdy and held the laptop securely without any damage. But the power cord was not tucked in securely, so when I tilted the package from side to side, I could hear the power cord move around inside. I was a little concerned about what could have come loose and be rattling around inside the box, but was relieved when I opened the box and found it was just the power cord.

Apart from the laptop itself, the package contains a quick setup card, a 2-piece power cord, lots of promotional material from Toshiba, and a very slim user manual that was sealed in shrink-wrap. Most laptops nowadays seem to come with practically no instructions whatsoever, so the size of the manuals did not surprise me overly. I still remember 3 years back my Dell laptop came with 3 thick manuals that explained every aspect of the working of the laptop. Laptop manufacturers nowadays seem to want the user to figure everything out by trial and error, playing around with the laptop! There is no recovery media of any sort included either.

The laptop is a reasonably powerful 15.6" model. It has a dual core Intel Core i3-370M Processor, running at 2.40 GHz. Since each core of this processor is capable of hyperthreading, the computer effectively has 4 CPU's to spread its computing burden over. The computer also has 4 GB of RAM, 500 GB of hard disk space, and comes preloaded with Windows 7 Home Premium.

The 15.6" screen has a native resolution of 1366 x 768. Laptop screens are becoming flatter and flatter, and this is the latest stop in that process. My 3-year old 15.6" laptop has a 1280 x 800 screen. Eventually, 15.6" screens will be about 3 inches high and 15 inches long! But the shorter, wider screen means that there is enough space to accommodate a full-size keyboard on the machine that includes a numeric keypad on the right. The screen is glossy and gorgeous. It is LED-backlit, so it is bright and vibrant with great contrast.

The outside finish is called a fusion finish, and is black with small grey squares or rectangles in it. It is hard to describe, but the surface is very smooth. Two problems with this: be careful when you carry it around closed. If your fingers slip on the smooth surface, you are looking at a laptop bouncing around on the floor or crushing your foot! Secondly, keeping the surface of this laptop smudge and fingerprint-free is a full-time job. Better to not even try.

The laptop comes with a built-in 1.3MP webcam in addition to the usual stuff like 802.11 b/g/n wi-fi, a fully capable DVD/RW drive that can read and write anything short of blu-ray discs, 3 USB ports, and one e-SATA port that also doubles as a USB port. The battery is rated at 48 Wh (6 cells), and Toshiba claims a battery life of 5 hours and 31 minutes. But at the settings I tested it at (screen at full brightness, wi-fi on, etc.), it lasted only about 3 hours.

The built-in speakers are so-so for laptops. Laptop speakers have been on a downhill slide for the last several years, so I am not surprised by the weak, tinny speakers on this laptop. There are earphone and microphone plugs on the left hand side of the laptop, close to the front edge, so hooking up headphones to listen to stuff from the laptop should be straight-forward. The computer also has a built-in array microphone on either side of the webcam (that is built into the top frame of the screen, which is the usual position for webcams on laptops).

The hard disk does not have a recovery partition built-in. All of the 500 GB (actually the operating system reports about 453 GB for the reasons outlined here) is in one giant partition, fully accessible and useable by the end-user of the laptop. There are instructions on creating a recovery disk when you start using the laptop, but I did not have time to do so before the laptop got shipped out again. Oh well, if it crashes, I am sure Toshiba will be happy to ship out a recovery disk for some outrageous price!

Setup was quite easy with Windows 7 guiding me through the steps. The first time I turned the laptop on, the wi-fi did not come on for some reason. After fiddling with the settings for some time with no success, I rebooted the computer, and the wi-fi came on with no problems. I have not had any problems after that with the wi-fi, but I still do not know why it did not turn on the first time. The laptop is quick and responsive, and programs ran snappily and crisply.

There was a little bit of junkware on the computer when I set it up initially, but not as much as I expected. Toshiba has a bunch of utilities of questionable value pre-loaded on the laptop, but most are not intrusive, and do not nag about anything. The laptop already has Adobe Reader installed, ready to deal with PDF files. I cleaned out the rest of the junkware (such as Norton Internet Security suite) quickly and easily.

The rest of the laptop was pretty much standard as far as laptops go nowadays. Do not look for any hardware buttons to control things like speaker volumes, media playback, etc. Everything is controlled by function keys and software. The front of the laptop has a series of LED's that indicate things like whether it is on or off or in standby mode, whether the wi-fi is turned on, whether the hard disk is being accessed, the charge state of the battery, etc. These LED's are arranged so that they can be seen whether the laptop is closed or not. The laptop has no latches: the hinges are designed so that the laptop closes snugly after you close it beyond a certain point.

There is no clear demarcation of the touchpad from the rest of the case. You can tell where it is by the presence of the mouse buttons below it. I prefer some tactile boundary for the touchpad so that I can keep my eye on the screen while moving fingers on it without having to shift my eyes back and forth, but I was not overly put off by the design. There is a middle mouse button above the touchpad that provides a scroll-lock like functionality. The touchpad is multi-touch capable, so you can zoom in on images and webpages by using movements with multiple fingers at the same time. You can also scroll up and down without the presence of any specific scroll area on the touchpad, simply by moving up and down the touchpad with more than one finger.

So, overall, I liked the laptop quite a bit. Fast processor, lots of memory and hard disk space. Beautiful screen, wi-fi, lots of USB ports, built-in webcam and microphone, etc. Extras like the eSATA port. Quite a small amount of junk and bloatware on the hard disk as shipped, and what is there is easy to get rid of. The build seems solid, and if the computer is handled with care, I don't see any reason why it can't last for several years.

There were a few minor annoyances though. The main things I did not like about the computer, to summarize are:
  • Fingerprint-magnet finish
  • Weak speakers
  • The power cord plugs into the left side of the laptop rather than at the back. This means that the wires run all around the laptop if the power supply is not on the correct side of the laptop
  • No USB ports in the back of the laptop. Again a minor annoyance that could have you stringing wires all around the laptop to reach a useable port. But there are USB ports on either side of the laptop, so this is mitigated to a large extent
  • No recovery media or detailed user manual
  • No hardware control buttons for speaker volume, media playback, etc.
I would say it is well worth the price paid for it. Probably worth at least 4 stars out of 5.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

You Don't Have To Pay Sky-High Prices Just To Get Access To The Internet

Internet access has become almost as basic as food, water, clothing and shelter. Not having access to the internet is to be cut off from the fastest and most up-to-date source of news that is happening in your neighborhood, the country and around the world. It is also becoming an important source of entertainment and opportunities to socialize with people around the world. And you can't shop at some of the biggest retailers in the world, like Amazon.com, if you don't have internet access.

What if you want to get on the internet, but can not afford the high rates charged by your local phone company or cable provider? That is where Copper.net comes into the picture. They are an affordable and reliable provider of internet service, serving most of the US and Canada. They have a variety of internet access services to suit everyone's need for speed as well as affordability.

At the low end of their offerings is their cheap dial-up service. Starting at less than $10 per month, it is one of the most inexpensive ways to get on the information superhighway. Dial-up internet was the norm a few years back. At that time, most computers also came up with dial-up modems built-in as part of the standard set of equipment included in computers.

But nowadays, dial-up is inconvenient for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, most new computers do not have built-in dial-up modems. So, you have to buy a dial-up modem separately to get your computer hooked up to dial-up internet service. Moreover, it is slow and ties up your phone line, preventing you from receiving or making regular phone calls unless you have a second phone line dedicated to web-surfing.

So, Copper.net also has several plans for accessing the internet via DSL service. Copper.net's DSL service starts at as little as $19.95/month, and includes 5 free email addresses. Their plans can satisfy your need for speed with download speeds as high as 6 Mbps. They also provide satellite-based internet access through their partnership with Hughesnet Satellite service.

Getting started with Copper.net is very easy. You can call them over the phone toll-free, or you can head on over to their site if you already have internet access and are looking to switch. They have a convenient online form into which you can enter your address and phone number to see what plans are available for you to choose from. You can then sign up for your choice of service online, and start enjoying their service right away.

Don't let high costs strand you off the information superhighway. Get Copper.net's affordable internet access, and find your way to a world of adventure, entertainment, news, sports, shopping, and whatever else catches your fancy! You don't have to wonder what you are missing out on anymore. With Copper.net internet access, you won't miss out on anything happening on the internet.

Choose An Award-Winning Hosting Provider For Your Needs

If you own a website, and rely on it for your income, then you know the importance of having the website up and running 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. That means that the site has to be hosted with a reliable provider that can guarantee that your site will be up come what may. And the hosting provider should be able to handle any amount of traffic your site may attract because traffic is money in the web-selling business.

It makes sense, therefore, to rely on a hosting provider who has been evaluated independently, and awarded several awards and accolades based on their commitment to quality, reliability, customer focus and value. Ultra Web Hosting is such a provider who is committed to supporting their clients with the best value around while providing quality that is second to none.

Ultra Web Hosting provides your website with several advantages. Superior hardware and internet connectivity provide faster load times for your website. Your site is backed up remotely as part of every hosting plan for no additional fee. Your site is hosted on servers that are located in secure facilities with redundant power power supplies and on-site technicians who monitor your website continuously.

Ultra Web Hosting has several hosting plans that will suit every budget. Hosting plans start at as little as $2.95/month, and include unlimited hosting space, unlimited websites, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited email accounts and unlimited MySQL databases. As if that weren't enough, you also get free domain registration, and Ultra Web Hosting's 110% low price guarantee. And if you are still wondering if it is a good idea to sign up with them, they also have a 45-day money back guarantee for your peace of mind.

In addition to all these goodies and good reasons to sign up with Ultra Web Hosting, they also offer two free site-builders with every hosting plan. These builders are ideal for creating your website with easy to use pieces that you can pick and choose interactively. You don't have to know any HTML coding at all! And you get to choose from over 300 professional templates. Whatever the target of your website is, you are sure to find a template and color scheme that suits you ideally!

So, what are you waiting for? Ultra Web Hosting is the best provider out there, whatever your hosting needs are. You don't have to take my word for it. Take the word of independent evaluators who have awarded Ultra Web Hosting their long list of accolades and testimonials over the years!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Get A High Quality Ecco Mailbox For Long-Lasting Value

High quality mailboxes can sometimes be hard to find. The ones you find in home improvement stores are usually small, and may not have all the features you need in a mailbox. They may not be capable of being locked, or they may not be fully weather-proof, for instance. Moreover, they are usually not built to last, made from cheap materials that will need replacement every few years.

Ecco is the manufacturer of high quality Ecco mailboxes. And now, you can get their full line of mailboxes through EccoMailbox.com. The prices on this website are guaranteed cheaper than what you can get elsewhere, and EccoMailbox.com does not charge any shipping or handling on any order placed through the website.

In addition to their satisfaction guarantee, every Ecco Mailbox you buy at this website comes with an unconditional 30-day return period. EccoMailbox.com does not charge any restocking fees on any mailboxes returned during this return period, so you can go ahead and buy any Ecco mailbox with full confidence. And all of Ecco's mailboxes are USPS approved.

All Ecco mailboxes are made of metal, not plastic or resin, and come in a variety of colors and sizes. They also come in multiple styles and placement possibilities. For instance, the Ecco E4 mailbox and Ecco E7 mailbox are modern wall mount mailboxes. If you are looking for a different style of Ecco wall mount mailbox, you can try out their Ecco E6 mailbox for a Victorian look. And if you are looking for a tower-style mailbox with a Victorian look, you can choose the Ecco E8 mailbox.

Whichever Ecco mailbox you choose, you can be sure you are getting a mailbox that is constructed to look good and last a long time. EccoMailbox.com's peace of mind guarantee means that you have nothing to lose by trying out an Ecco mailbox. You pay no shipping charges, and in the off-chance that you don't like it, you can return it for a full refund. But, once you get one of these, the thought of returning it probably won't enter your mind: you will only wonder how you managed for so long without it!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Get All The Sports Equipment You Need Under One Roof

If you are into various sports, and have a big list of sports equipment to buy for yourself or as gifts, you know the frustration that results when you have to visit multiple stores trying to find all the items on your list. No brick and mortar store seems to have enough space to hold all the sports equipment on the market anymore.

Well, now you can save yourself the frustration and just head online to begin with. Global Sports Store is a sports equipment retailer that stocks and sells a wide variety of sporting equipment at competitive prices. The site makes it easy to find what you are looking for by having categories and sub-categories to slot products into. You can also shop by brand name if the item you are looking for defies easy categorization.

Some of the different categories of sports equipment offered by Global Sports Store include fishing, cycling & wheel sports, martial arts, team sports, and exercise & fitness. The sub-categorization within each category is equally intuitive, so finding the right page for the kind of equipment you are looking for is usually very easy and straightforward.

But if you are not sure how the particular item you are looking for might be categorized, or the item has multiple uses and you don't want to try all the category possibilities before hitting the right one, you can also navigate the site by brand name. Some of the popular brands on the site include Garmin, Bianchi, Raymarine, etc.

The store has a large selection of GPS devices by Garmin for different uses. There are GPS devices for use in hiking and trekking as well as automotive GPS units. There are also fishfinders, chartplotters and other marine-use GPS devices for sale at Global Sports.

You can buy with confidence at Global Sports because all items come with a satisfaction guarantee, and can be returned for a full refund within 30 days if you are not satisfied. Global Sports can ship most items to any address in the world. And, if you have that really hard-to-satisfy relative or friend for whom you never know what to purchase, don't panic: you can't go wrong with a Global Sports Store gift certificate!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday Burns A Big Hole In My Wallet

My kids had been asking for their own computers for some time now, so I had promised them they would get it when the price was right. Throughout the summer and most of fall, the prices were not right. In fact, I could not find a good replacement computer for my own at a good price, so I did not get them computers either.

Once the black Friday sales information became public, I combed through the ads (both online as well as in a newspaper I bought on Thanksgiving day). I identified a couple of netbooks by Compaq that were going to be on sale at Best Buy as part of their door-buster sale starting at 5 AM on black Friday (CQ10-405DX and CQ10-525DX). They had the features I needed at the right price (I had decided I would not pay over $200 for one of these netbooks).

I also identified an eMachines laptop on sale at Walmart, which also opens at 5 AM. This computer was a full-sized laptop, not a netbook, and I was not sure my kids were going to have enough room on their desks for such a laptop, so it was going to be my second choice. Also, it had a Celeron processor, so I was not too keen on it, given my bad experience with another Celeron-based laptop I have at home right now. I also scanned the ads for a decent laptop with a good processor, lots of disk space and a decent amount of RAM, but nothing much in my budget (under $500) appealed to me. So, my black Friday strategy was pretty much finalized: I would get up as early as I could, go to the nearest Best Buy and try to snag a couple of the netbooks for my kids. And after the inevitable failure at Best Buy, I would go over to Walmart and taste more defeat there!

The problem is that I am not desperate enough to camp out in front of stores from the day before or whatever to get something, whether it is the new release of a hot new product (like the Apple worshipers do) or a sale event like black Friday. So, I went to bed as usual, and managed to get up just before 4 AM on Friday.

I managed to reach Best Buy at about 4:10 in the morning. There was already a pretty long line of people there, as I expected. The line stretched all along the front of the big box store, but had not grown long enough to curve around the building yet. I joined the queue and waited.

Soon enough, Best Buy employees came around asking people in the queue whether anyone was there for cell phones. Another one was canvassing people for stereo systems, and yet another was looking for people looking for cameras. None of these people could tell me whether the netbooks I wanted were available or not.

Things were getting pretty uncomfortable in the line anyways. The temperature was in the low teens, and combined with a brisk breeze from the west, the windchill was in the single digits or negative. I was completely covered up in my thick down jacket, with the hood pulled up over my head, and my hands stuck deep in my pockets, but the cold was definitely winning anyways. Everybody in the line was trying to walk around and do other stuff to stay warm.

Best Buy folks brought out some hot coffee for people in line, but I never got any because they were always gone before I could get my hands on some. Finally around 4:45, a Best Buy employee walked around asking if anybody in the queue wanted a desktop computer bundle advertised for about $600. I asked him about the netbooks, and he said all the laptops in the sale sheet were already gone. Oh well, it was worth a try, I guess.

Finally, the doors opened at 5 AM, and the entire line surged forward in one unruly mass rather than going through single-file in the order they had lined up in. It took me 5 minutes to get in, but they were not even allowing people without vouchers into the laptop aisles, so I was there more to warm myself up rather than to pick anything up.

I did look at some blu-ray players they had on sale, but I decided not to pick any of them up. I do not watch TV at all, so I still have a 20-year old CRT-based TV at home. Hooking up a blu-ray player to that TV may or may not even be possible given the advances in available connections. And really, hooking a high-definition blu-ray player to that TV would be akin to observing the heavens with the hubble space telescope with its lens covered with a plastic cover! Once my hands and other extremities were defrosted, I left Best Buy and headed to Walmart.

The story was not much different at Walmart. There was no queue in front of the store, so I could get in right away. And there were people milling about in the laptop area of the store, but the eMachines laptop on sale was long gone by that time. I loitered around the store for a little while once again, then decided to head back home.

As I neared my home, I suddenly remembered that there was a CompUSA store near my home whose black Friday ad I had not seen either online or in print. So, I decided to take a small detour to visit that store before going home.
Black Friday Computer purchases
The black Friday sale at CompUSA was being called the pink Friday sale because they were donating a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer research. The sale paper was only 2 sheets long, but listed quite a few goodies. In particular, they had ASUS EEE 10.1" netbooks for sale at $199. Just within my budget. Pretty similar to the Compaq netbooks I had struck out on at Best Buy (an Intel Atom N270 processor instead of an N455 processor, and $50 more), but it would serve my purpose and was within my budget, so I joined the line of people buying laptops.

The CompUSA store did not have laptops out in the open (except the ones on display). They had the boxed ones behind a counter, and people had to point out what they wanted on the sale sheet. An associate would then fetch them that laptop. They would then pay for it at that counter rather than at the front of the store where the general checkout lines were.

The laptop line initially got stuck because the checkout computer they were using crashed. Finally they got the line moving. By this time, while perusing the sale sheet, I had also noticed a $799 Lenovo laptop for sale at $399. That sounded like too good a deal to pass up, so I decided to get one of those too. Its hard drive size was not to my liking (I have no idea why laptop manufacturers skimp on the really cheap stuff like webcams and hard drive capacity, but they do anyways), but it would be a pretty good replacement for the 6 year old laptop my wife used to watch movies at night.

My only question was whether they were going to allow me to get two of the netbooks I wanted since the sale sheet mentioned a limit of one per customer for all items on the sale sheet. But that turned out not to be a problem. When I got to the head of the line, there were lots of the netbooks left, and 3 of the Lenovo laptops left. They allowed me to buy two of the netbooks without any arguments and one of the laptops also. Total damage: almost $900 including taxes.

So, my day was not entirely wasted running from store to store and returning home empty-handed. I did get the kids what I had promised them over the summer, and I managed to get a pretty good laptop so that I can start the process of getting rid of the real dogs at home pretty soon. It turns out the deal on the Lenovo laptop is not as good as the sale sheet led me to believe because it is available for $550 online (not $800 as the sale sheet claimed), but a deal is a deal anyways. My budget for a laptop to replace my wife's was about $400. Initially, I had wanted to upgrade to a computer with a much bigger hard drive for about $500 and pass my current computer down to her, but I have now decided to live with my laptop for a few more months or years until I am convinced I was getting a good deal. In the meantime, this new laptop should serve my wife's light computing needs admirably for the next several years.

So, yes, I did not return home empty-handed. And I did not return home with an empty wallet either. My wallet still has all the cards in it that I had taken with me on my shopping trip. It is just that one of them now has a much bigger balance on it than before. But, hey, I will be paying the credit card bill only at the end of next month, so who knows, I might win the lottery of something like that before then. Or get hit by lightning while being abducted by aliens. The likelihood of either scenario coming true is about the same . . .

Internet Slots Are Entertaining And Fun

Slot machines are one of the most entertaining fixtures in a casino. They are easy to understand and easy to play. And they usually don't cost much money, so it is possible to play on them for a longer time than at a table with a fixed bankroll.

With the advent of the internet, everything has moved to the internet. Casinos and slot games are no exception. But the proliferation of online casinos can lead to confusion. In addition to legitimate businesses, the internet is home to several shady operators who stand ready to take advantage of trusting patrons. So, how does one determine which slots on the internet are reliable and which ones are not?

Internet Slots is a website devoted to doing this research, and presenting only legitimate, reliable online slots to their customers. All of the casinos listed on their site are guaranteed to be safe and secure. In fact, you will be able to try all of them out for free even before you make your first cash deposit. Now, that is real peace of mind for you!

If you are into other casino games like blackjack and poker, there are sites out there that will allow you to play such games online or allow you to download a blackjack or poker game to your own computer for you to play on. Once again, the problem of what is legitimate and what is not can be difficult for the individual consumer to determine because of the research required.

But there are sites out there that guide you through the thicket when it comes to such gaming software and sites also. Blackjack Download has made available through its website a great variety of downloadable blackjack games that are certified to be safe and secure. You can play these games with either real money or fun money. Similarly, Poker Flash provides you a list of legitimate sites that offer poker games that work through flash technology that makes them compatible with all kinds of hardware including Windows PC's, Mac's, Linux computers and so on.

If you enjoy gambling for fun and entertainment, now there is no reason not to indulge in your hobby from the comfort of your own home. You can play slot games, blackjack, poker and other games sitting on your couch in your pajamas instead of having to dress up and drive all over town to do so. Use the research provided by the sites in this post to choose a reliable online gaming solution that you can enjoy with peace of mind!

Modular Construction Saves Time And Money On Projects Of Any Size

Building projects can be complicated and expensive. Putting up buildings requires specialized labor and expertise. Now, instead of traditional building techniques, there is a way to cut the cost, labor and time involved with construction projects using modular building techniques. And one of the leaders in this space is Modular Space Systems.

Modular Space Systems has been an innovator in putting up structures using modular building techniques and prefabrication for the past 14 years. Their leadership position has enabled them to advance modular building to include concepts of sustainability into their design and techniques. They offer Mod5, an advanced sustainable modular building system that makes it easy to put up green buildings suitable for many different climate conditions.

In addition to advances in green modular building, MSS also offers solutions for many other building problems faced by different customers. They can put up office buildings, guard booths, fabric structures, facilities suitable for military and government use, classrooms and educational facilities, etc. They can also construct in-plant wall systems and warehouse mezzanine systems quickly and safely.

MSS has the expertise to walk you through all aspects of modular construction from design to plan, implementation, testing and occupancy. MSS building specialists are on call by phone, email or through the web to help you with your next construction project, however small or large it may be. Take advantage of their expertise to put your next building project in capable hands that won't let you down!

Let Your Fingers Take Over The Shopping!

If your day-after-Thanksgiving was like mine, you are tired from all the running around and shopping at various stores to get the best deals on your Christmas shopping. It is no fun standing in lines in the freezing weather, running around frantically once inside the store to see if what you want is still available, then standing in line once again to check out - all this only to repeat the whole process at another store out there. I know, because that is what I did to try to get my hands on a pair of Timberland pro boots in my size, in the style I want!

If you are shopping for all-American outdoor and casual clothing like jeans, let your fingers take over from here and give your feet a rest. Head on over to Dave's New York for a complete selection of iconic American brands in all lines of workwear, jeans, work pants, military-style clothing, workboots, etc.

Dave's was founded over 45 years back, and is still family-owned. They have a store in Manhattan that is open to customers, but all their merchandise can be ordered online through their website without you having to make the trek to New York.

Don't expect fancy partywear at Dave's though. What they are known for is down-to-earth, practical clothing and footwear that will get you through a workday comfortably and safely. If it is jeans you are interested in, for example, you can get most famous brands like Levi's, Carhartt, Dockers, etc. at Dave's. Within the Levi's brand, for instance, you get all their famous lines of jeans like the Levis 501 and the Levis 514.

Dave's New York was featured in BBC's rough guide to New York, and honored by Maxim magazine by inclusion in their list of 80 greatest shops in the world. They are also rated by Zagat as an outstanding value in New York. Now, you can take advantage of their outstanding value and service without having to set foot in New York! Happy shopping to everyone out there!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

High Speed Rail Is An Expensive And Unnecessary Boondoggle

If you believe the hype coming out of Washington, D.C., about high-speed rail and its potential, you can be forgiven for thinking that it would bring world peace, solve world hunger, and put man on every planet in the solar system to boot!

The reality, the way I see it, just doesn't add up though. Rail ceased being a transportation solution in this country a long time ago, except in isolated areas like the northeast corridor. The rest of the country simply does not have the population density to support much rail traffic. I don't know the exact figures (and I don't know if anybody has access to such figures), but I doubt that Amtrak makes any money even on the heavily trafficked northeast corridor. Most rail systems in the world make no money on passenger traffic, making up for it by carrying freight at a profit. I doubt the economics are somehow different in the US. That is one of the reasons why private rail companies do nothing except freight in the US! There is simply no money to be made in passenger rail service.

Let us see what it would take to run passenger rail service that can actually make money: Viable rail travel requires that trains make few stops between the origin and destination. Each stop requires deceleration and acceleration, creating a huge impact on the average speed of the journey. So, trains have to run between hubs that can support trainfuls of travelers without having to make intermediate stops to pick up or drop off passengers. Most rail hubs in the country today do not support that kind of traffic.

At the very least, rail stations have to be laid out like airports are today: they should provide for vast amounts of parking so that they can collect traffic from all over the place and funnel it to the trains at the station. The downtown location of most train stations preclude this from likely ever happening. Train stations like the Union Station in Chicago have absolutely no long-term parking, so they fail this test right away.

Assuming that the parking problem is solved, and trains actually run non-stop most of the time, the next issue to resolve is that of speed. Long distance train service usually can not compete with air traffic because of the time taken to make the journey. Most of the high-speed rail projects being floated right now in the US are high-speed in name only. I am not going to say that my grandmama can run faster than some of the proposed trains, but they are certainly not high-speed trains even by some third-world standards, leave alone comparisons to trains in places like Europe and Japan. A train with a maximum speed of 110 mph is simply not going to attract a lot of passengers who want to travel more than a couple of hundred miles at most.

So, now you can see why this thing stinks so strongly of boondoggle! The system is likely to bleed money at astonishing rates. The hole in the federal budget is already big enough for every train in the world to pass through side by side. This will make it only that much bigger.

And the amounts being thrown around for constructing this system are truly astronomical. In some cases, each mile of high-speed rail is projected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Given the state of budgeting for big projects in this country, the most expensive lines will easily end up costing over a billion dollars per mile when actually implemented. At a time of gaping budget deficits, only complete economics ignoramuses or lunatics would consider this a good investment. And remember, there is no way to make any of this money back once the system is in place. In fact, it will take throwing a lot of good money after bad into this blackhole just to keep it operational!

So, is there some sort of silver lining to this? What about claims that rail travel pollutes less than other forms of travel? On the surface, this seems true, but I am not completely convinced of this. Obviously, they would be less polluting than everyone getting in their cars and driving to wherever they need to go.

But rail lines don't construct themselves out of thin air. It takes a lot of manpower, movement of men and machines and materials to construct rail lines. In fact, one of the reasons high-speed rail is being touted right now is to serve as a government jobs program, much like the interstate highway system was in the 1940's and 50's. When the government has a lot of extra money to spend, such a program may have been good public policy. But when the country is broke, with crushing debt, and expenses vastly in excess of income, it is sheer lunacy.

In any case, once you take the pollution that is created during the construction into account, I am not so sure that rail travel is as pollution free as it is touted to be. It will probably take several years of absolutely pollution-free operation for the pollution created during construction to be offset. Also, remember that there is no such thing as a pollution-free train: even trains running on electricity need that electricity produced somewhere. Given that we have not switched over entirely to nuclear or hydroelectric power, producing that electricity still creates pollution, just not along the rail track.

And putting rail tracks through urban areas causes other problems too. They are eyesores if they are on the ground or above ground. They also cause traffic problems if they are on the ground. They become even more expensive than they already are if they need to be underground. And underground rail terminals are not the most inviting places for passengers either. This is not pollution per se, but add to the problems facing construction and operation of a viable passenger high-speed rail network in the US.

So, what is the solution? Well, it is actually hiding in plain sight. We already know that air travel is the most preferred mode of travel for most people, especially over long distances. Why not expand on the success of something that already works? Expand airports to relieve congestion at the ones that are congested. Hire more people to modernize the air traffic control system so that air travel delays are reduced. Invest in new technologies to make air travel more secure. Encourage invention of new technologies that will make security queues shorter and less painful.

Think about it, and it makes perfect sense. Air travel is already run by private companies. So, profitable passenger transportation is a reality for air travel, unlike for train travel. Yes, in bad years, airlines do lose money, but when the economy is good, they do make money. And whether they make money or not, it is none of the government's concern, and it does not impact the government's budget deficit one way or the other, unlike Amtrak whose losses take money directly out of the federal budget.

In fact, by making improvements to the air travel infrastructure of the country, the government can make airlines more profitable, thus having them contribute more tax dollars to the government coffers. Rather than spending billions of dollars now, only to have to support the system down the road with more billions of dollars every year, the government can spend the same few billion dollars now, and actually stand a chance of making that money back in extra tax revenue in the coming years.

And when it comes to pollution, air travel is actually much cleaner than it would appear on the surface. The actual infrastructure for air travel consists of just airports, which are localized structures. The actual pollution created during construction does not depend on the distance between two cities, only the sizes of the airports at the two cities. This is in contrast to rail and road travel, where the pollution created during construction increases directly with the distance to be bridged. And you don't have to worry about physical features like mountains, canyons, rivers, or even seas and oceans between the origin and destination! In fact, these physical features are untouched and pristine with air travel, which can not be said about road or rail travel which are likely to have serious environmental consequences on sensitive areas that lie on the path between two cities.

The pollution during operation is higher than with trains, but still much lower (on a passenger-mile basis) than with cars and other individual road vehicles. But, given the much higher speed, and the resultant convenience of air travel, the small amount of extra pollution over train travel during operation would seem acceptable to most people.

So, here is my idea: take the money that the government is hell-bent on spending on high-speed rail. Use it to make air travel much more convenient and secure. Expand airports (there come your construction jobs). Invest in new air traffic control systems (there come your information technology jobs). Invest in new security devices for the airports that make the pre-departure screening less intrusive and faster (there come your science and technology jobs). Encourage air travel over long-distance driving by raising gas taxes (there comes your extra revenue too).

At the very least, make airports transportation hubs by bringing rail connections, mass transit and air transportation together in one convenient location. Get rid of the petty politics that have made airports isolated from the cities they serve unless you have a car or other private transportation. Instead have a mass transit and rail hub in each major airport like they do in Europe. This will enable people to save time by taking air travel for the long distance travel and then connect seamlessly to train and other modes of travel for the last (hopefully short) leg of the journey to their final destination.

Mobility is one of the keys to wealth creation. Mobility reduces the friction of distance in commerce. Increased mobility, and higher speed of mobility, make for faster economic growth. As air travel and the airline industry expand, they create jobs that can not be easily exported. And none of these jobs will require constant government subsidies, unlike the jobs that are likely to be created by an expansion of Amtrak with high-speed rail. It is a win-win all around. Which probably means it is doomed in Washington, D.C.!

Comparison Shopping For Car Insurance Couldn't Be Easier Than iSelect

Thanks to guest blogger, Mariam Galleghan, for this post.

Buying auto insurance always seems like such a chore. Every time my auto insurance is up for renewal, it is time for me to make a bunch of phone calls to get quotes from various companies for my insurance needs. It has become a habit for me, but it is a chore because it takes up time, and you have to fend off calls from pushy insurance brokers who won't take no for an answer after I have already made up my mind to go with a competitor.

The internet has made this job much easier now. I don't have to do the comparison shopping by phone anymore. All I have to do is plug in my details into a good comparison site, and I get several quotes for car insurance instantly!

iSelect is a one-stop shop for all your auto insurance needs in Australia. Once you provide your details on their website, they will obtain you quotes from their large panel of competitive insurance providers. They will help you compare the features and price of each quote, and help you make the right choice.

Now, I don't have to look up insurance brokers and agents in the telephone book. I don't have to call each of them and repeat myself over and over again giving them details about my car or my driving record. I don't have to write down the detailed price quotes from each agent, or make sure the coverage includes everything I wanted, but not things I did not ask for. All I have to do is head on over to iSelect. I am in charge there, and the only thing I have do is select!

Valuable Scholarship Information For Free At Your Fingertips

A college education is one of the best ways to ensure a good future for yourself. But college education is expensive, and becoming more and more expensive every year. College expenses have risen at a rate higher than the rate of inflation for many years now, and show no signs of slowing down.

Scholarships are good way to bring down the cost of a college education. There are several thousand different scholarships available for students in the US. Depending on your personal situation, the college you want to attend, and the course of study you want to pursue, you could be eligible for hundreds of scholarships.

How do you find out about these scholarships, how to apply for them, what the benefits are, and other details? There are scholarship consultants who can help you navigate this maze for a hefty price. But there are websites like SchoolScholarships.org that can give you the same information, completely for free!

SchoolScholarships.org makes finding information about the scholarships you may be eligible for easy and straightforward. You can navigate the website by looking for different kinds of scholarships such as athletic scholarships, family scholarships, minority scholarships and scholarships targeting students who want to pursue specific courses and subjects.

For instance, if you are African-American and you are looking for African American scholarships, you can hone in on those by looking specifically for such scholarships. You can then narrow the list down by institution, course of study, and various other factors.

If you already know what course of study you want to pursue, you can search by that too. If you are interested in pre-med scholarships, for instance, head directly over to the page for such scholarships. You can then narrow down your choices based on the institution you want to attend or the geographical parameters of where you want to go to school.

The website is very comprehensive, and has some unusual scholarships you might have never even considered. One of the more unusual is scholarships for left-handed people! Believe it or not, such a scholarship does exist, with only left-handed students eligible to apply for it.

Now, you can see why hunting for a scholarship can be so daunting. But with a site like SchoolScholarships.org to help you out, you have a much better chance of being able to navigate it successfully than those who do not. And it is completely free to use. So, you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by taking advantage of this resource. And the sooner you start, the farther you can go!

Get The Krome Treatment On 25 Of Your Photographs Absolutely Free!

If you are like most people, the advent of digital photography has been a decidedly mixed blessing for you. Photography has become much more accessible and inexpensive now, but on the other hand, because of the ability to take lots of pictures without any extra cost, your camera and computer are cluttered with photographs that you will probably never see in your life again!

You don't have time to organize the photographs or share them with others. Sometimes, you don't even know when or where certain photographs were taken. And even thought digital photographs can be edited to make them look better even if they were taken in less than ideal conditions (red-eye, backlighting, etc.), you have probably never taken it upon yourself to do that to your photographs.

What can you do about this state of affairs when people are busier and busier, and nobody has the time to deal with these kinds of problems? Now, there is a solution to the problem, in the form of Krome Photos. This is not just another of those sites that allow you to upload your photographs so that anyone can come and see your photographs. Krome goes far beyond that.

Krome's professional editors will spend time on your photographs to edit them to look their best. They will sort the photographs, tag and caption them so that the photographs are memorable and bring back memories. They will then allow you to share them directly through the Krome website or your choice of photo-sharing websites like Facebook, Shutterfly, etc.

The Krome treatment of your photographs does not require you to know anything about digital photographs and how to edit them or retouch them. Real humans will do all the work for you. They will color correct your photos, remove blemishes like red-eye from the photographs, crop the photographs for better composition, and retouch the photographs to make them more artistic. The Krome website has before and after samples of real photographs to show you what is possible.

And all this can be yours for much less than you think it should cost. Krome has several subscription and one-time purchase options that make the cost of Krome services per photograph as little as 2.5 cents per image! And if you change your mind, you can always turn in your credits for a full refund, or cancel your subscription without anything more to buy or pay. But once you see how Krome transforms your photographs into artistic masterpieces that your friends can not get enough of, you will realize that your subscription to Krome's services is worth far more than what you are paying for it.

If you don't believe me, Krome is making their services available to you for free right now. That's right: completely free. Upload 25 photographs from your collection right now and see what Krome is capable of doing with them. If you are not convinced about the value of Krome after that, you don't have to do anything. There is no obligation to buy anything else, ever again, from them. But they are offering the free sample because they know you will see the value of the service, and want them as your partners in making your photographic memories special!

Don't Trust Your Company's Cabling Needs To Just Anybody!

The world has changed a lot since the days when telegraphs were invented, or even when telephones were first invented. Now, with new technologies springing up all the time, wiring and cabling of office buildings has taken on new levels of complexity not seen before.

Gone are the days when an office just had a bunch of electrical and telephone wires. Now, there is data cabling to bring in internet traffic. And then there is cabling that takes advantage of this internet connectivity to provide voice-over-IP (VOIP) telephone service. And now, the world has gone mobile with laptops, kindles, Ipads and other wi-fi enabled devices. Which means that your cabling has to be flexible enough to support wireless access in addition to a wired connection for every device that needs it.

All this means that cabling is not an after-thought anymore. Cabling needs have to be taken into account in the design of office buildings from the ground up. And the cabling can not be left up to anybody who can drag wire through a conduit. Cabling has to be done correctly, with a master plan and design in mind. You need a cabling contractor who can design, plan, implement, test and support your business's cabling needs. Which is where Mason Technologies enters the picture.

Mason Technologies is a structured cabling contractor. Structured cabling takes cabling to the next level by setting rigorous standards for how an office, data center or other commercial building is to be wired with network cable (cat 5 or cat6 cables) to meet the establishment's need for voice and data communications.

Changing the cabling layout of a building is one of the most difficult things to do. It is almost worse than tearing the building down and constructing a new one. It is therefore imperative that the cabling is done right the first time. That is why it is wise not to trust that important job to amateurs. Instead, get it done right the first time by hiring professional data cabling installers like Mason Technologies.

Not only is Mason registered with and certified by several state, county and municipal governments, their employees are trained and certified by prestigious national organizations that have been involved with setting the standards for fiber optic installation. This makes Mason your ideal partner to involve in all stages of a project's lifetime starting with planning, all the way through to installation and support. Mason can also help you make moves, additions and changes to your cabling after the original installation as conditions change. These are made much simpler because of the structured way in which the cabling is laid the first time around, making changes possible without having to start from scratch or compromising on quality and bandwidth.

When it comes to the lifeline of your business, trust a professional cable contractor to do the job right the first time. It is money well spent that will save you from headaches down the road. Imagine your business disconnected from the internet because of a cabling problem that leads to downtime. Why take the risk? Partner up with Mason and buy peace of mind for yourself!

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