Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Streaming Movies on TV - What to Expect in 2011

Streaming movies to the largest screen available in any household - TV - has been a hot field lately. This is really good news for consumers as it means competition, here is a brief review of them:

Netflix - the most famous one. It recently even started offering streaming only plan for access to its vast online video library for only $8 a month.

Vudu (bought by Walmart in March 2010) - a competitor of Netflix looks to differentiate with the quality of its streams (HDX movies with 1080p streaming format and optimized for screens 40 inches or larger) and the newness of its releases (many titles arrive at the same time they are released in video stores).

Comcast - it offers free streaming for most shows on its network to paid subscribers through its Xfinity program. Those who get HBO, for example, can stream this season's episodes of "Boardwalk Empire" at no additional charge; some complete back episodes for series like "Dexter" are similarly available. Further offerings can be had on an a la carte basis for rental.

GreenCine - it focuses on independent, international and documentary films. (Its sex-oriented division, AdultCine, is self-explanatory.)

VOD - it sells minutes of viewing time, which can then be spent on its catalog.

Crackle - it streams Sony movies and some TV shows free, with commercial interruption.

Hulu - it offers both free and paid plans. With the paid plan, for a monthly fee, users can watch every episode from the current season of a host of shows and offers increased access to older shows.

Time Warner - it recently announced a plan to stream HD and 3-D movies shortly after they hit theaters. You bet other companies have similar plans.

Amazon on Demand - it offers individual rentals, but users download the movies instead of streaming them. (For example, you can own the classical "White Christmas" for only $4.99)

For consumers holding off on streaming movies because the desired selection or quality isn't available yet, give it a minute. It'll be here in 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

iPad - My Love and Hate to It

I’ve been using iPad for a while by now, and some people asked me why I spend hundreds of dollars on a gadget with functions that could be performed by a lot other less expensive gadgets. Well, you know for a deal junkie, I only spend money when I see absolute value.

First of all, my iPad has replaced my Kindle. The Kindle App for the iPad makes all of my Kindle books available and even synchronizes where I am in each book between my Kindle and my iPad. Since I’m already taking my iPad with me anywhere I go, there’s no longer a need to take the Kindle as well.

Next, for e-mail connectivity when traveling, the iPad has replaced my laptop. iPad is certainly much better than even the best smartphones when it comes to messaging services. The iPad mail application is a beautiful thing, making it easy to connect to all of my e-mail accounts and show all of my emails with the right formats. Composing and replying to messages is certainly a breeze for me as well - when compared with smartphones.

Third, the iPad has replaced my paper notebook and pen. I now take the iPad into meetings where I previously would always take an ink and paper notebook. I use the Notes application and thumb type notes from the meeting. I then can e-mail the notes to myself very easily.

Lastly, the calendar on the iPad is also great, with reliable connectivity to my Exchange calendar for work and Google calendar for personal use. I no longer use my smartphone's calendar anymore.

Am I perfectly happy with iPad? Probably not. I have to admit I am still not used to the on-screen virtual keyboards. I am interested in the built in Bluetooth keyboard that could overcome this limitation, but I’m concerned whether that will make the totoal package too bulky or not.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Great Holiday Book Gift

I have provided a list of great holiday book gift ideas a couple of days ago in one of my blog posts, but I canot wait to share another great book I just bought today as a gift to an old friend.

This book is "Art & Nature: Three Centuries of Natural History Art from Around the World". It's writen by Judith Magee who managed the Library of the Natural History Museum, London for over a decade. It is truly an elegant and vibrantly illustrated book, it provides natural history images painstakingly rendered by artists over centuries.

A great gift item. Available at Amazon.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Build Your Own Hot Google App Game, Without Coding At All

This Cnet article describes an amateur's attempt to build a Google app without any programming skills, just use Google's App Inventor Tool.

It's fun, and I am going to build one or two. How about you?

Get Clear Spot for Only $20, No Commitment Required

Clear is having the best Clear Spot sale ever - just for today and tomorrow - for only $20, there is no term commitment.

You can use it as a mobile hotspot service to any Apple mobile devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) or any other mobile devices. Service contract starts at $25/month, no term commitment.

You need to visit www.clear.com/holiday-sale to get it.

If you also want to add a Clear Spot Mobile Router, Amazon has it on sale too (but just a small discount).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010's Hottest Toys for Kids are Tiny and Cute

They are cute, they are cool, they are HOT, and they are Squikies!

Each holiday season has its unique hot selling toys, 2009 is Zhu Zhu pets, 2010 is Squikies!

Fortunately they are not that expensive, but if your kids want to collect the whole family of Squikies, it could still cost you a small fortune!

Check out the variety of Squikies from Amazon.

Gift Ideas for Colleagues and Supervisors

I know office gifting is always a headache for everyone, but, what else can you do? Still got to do it, here are a few things to note when it comes to office gifting and some recommendations.

a. Make sure your gifts will bring enjoyment to the recipient.
b. Be sensitive to your recipients' religions and traditions.
c. Do not spend excessive amount of money on a gift.

Here are some tried and true inexpensive office gifting items:

1. Picture Frames and the like
Glance around the intended recipient's cubicle/office and see if anything stands out missing, such as picture frames, calendars, journals, datebooks, etc.

2. Mugs, Thermoses or Cup Holders
An agreeable present that’s good for the environment. It’s a win-win situation.

3. Gift Certificates
A coworker once got three of us in the office gift cards from three separate coffee shops. She recognized our favorite places, and it resonated. However, right now, my favorite gift cards are Amazon gift cards, they have free one-day delivery and can have customized notes.

4. Homemade Treats
If you are good at cooking, it's great to bring those brownies over to the office, please!

5. Key Chains
Everyone has keys, making this a simple, but effective gift. Steer clear of anything too tacky or too cheap. Be creative.

Phone-Wielding Shoppers Strike Fear Into Retailers

The following article appeared on today's WSJ, it's a bit long, but lots of insightful information for deal hunters.

Phone-Wielding Shoppers Strike Fear Into Retailers


Tang, a 25-year-old marketer, walked into a Best Buy Co. store in Sunnyvale, Calif., this past weekend and spotted the perfect gift for his girlfriend.

Last year, he might have just dropped the $184.85 Garmin global positioning system into his cart. This time, he took out his Android phone and typed the model number into an app that instantly compared the Best Buy price to those of other retailers. He found that he could get the same item on Amazon.com Inc.'s website for only $106.75, no shipping, no tax.

Mr. Tang's smartphone reckoning represents a revolution in retailing—what Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Chief Executive Mike Duke has dubbed a "new era of price transparency"—and its arrival is threatening to upend the business models of the biggest store chains in America.

Until recently, retailers could reasonably assume that if they just lured shoppers to stores with enticing specials, the customers could be coaxed into buying more profitable stuff, too.

Now, marketers must contend with shoppers who can use their smartphones inside stores to check whether the specials are really so special, and if the rest of the merchandise is reasonably priced.

While many holiday consumers refuse to pay full price, retailers are trying to outdo one another by encouraging shoppers to spend more, but without giving away the store. Elizabeth Holmes discusses some of retailers' most popular discount tactics.

"The retailer's advantage has been eroded," says Greg Girard of consultancy IDC Retail Insights, which recently found that roughly 45% of customers with smartphones had used them to perform due diligence on a store's prices. "The four walls of the store have become porous."

Some of the most vulnerable merchants: sellers of branded, big-ticket items like electronics and appliances, which often prompt buyers to comparison shop. Best Buy, the nation's largest electronics chain, said Tuesday that it may lose market share this year, a downward trend that some analysts are attributing in part to pressure from price comparison apps.

Smartphone fans such as Mr. Tang are still a small subset of shoppers. It remains unclear whether large numbers of Americans will be willing to take the extra time to compare offers with mobile programs. Some consumers may want to deploy the technology only when buying expensive or unusual items.

Still, store chains are increasingly concerned about the ability of mobile-equipped shoppers to tilt the balance of power in retailing toward consumers—in part because their numbers are quickly rising.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving a year ago, consumers using mobile devices accounted for just 0.1% of visits to retail websites, according to Coremetrics, a division of International Business Machines Corp. that estimates e-commerce activity. This Black Friday, they accounted for 5.6%, for a 50-fold increase.

E-commerce experts expect use of shopping apps to mushroom as more Americans purchase smartphones.

Dozens of mobile shopping apps are already available through Apple Inc.'s
iTunes, and programmers are busy developing many more to transform smartphones into shopping weapons. Many of them use phone cameras to photograph bar codes and QR codes, or simply let users speak a product's name into their devices.

TheFind app has been out for four weeks and has been downloaded 400,000 times, according to the company. RedLaser, an app that allows shoppers to use mobile-phone cameras to scan bar codes to compare products and prices, has now been downloaded six million times since it was introduced in May 2009, says parent eBay Inc.

Although store executives publicly welcome a price-transparent world, retail experts don't expect all chains to measure up to the harsh judgment of mobile price comparisons. Some will need to find new ways to survive.
."Only a couple of retailers can play the lowest-price game," says Noam Paransky, senior manager at consultancy Kurt Salmon Associates. "This is going to accelerate the demise of retailers who do not have either competitive pricing" or a standout store experience.

Because consumers made more frugal by the economic downturn are flocking to the cheapest offers they can find, comparison shopping via smartphones is making it harder for many retailers to charge higher prices in stores than on their websites.

"Those days are over," says Laura Conrad, president of comparison site PriceGrabber.com. Despite the higher costs associated with a bricks-and-mortar store, "The line between offline and online has been blurred."
This week, Best Buy settled a lawsuit by the Connecticut attorney general alleging that it showed web prices at in-store kiosks that were higher than those customers saw on home computers.

For diehard deal-hunters such as Mary Saunders, a Virginia mother of two, the phone is fast becoming the weapon of choice in the battle for the best bargain. Hunting for Christmas gifts on a recent afternoon, Ms. Saunders used her iPhone at several stores to scan bar codes on every item on her children's Christmas wish lists, saving $2 here and $3 there.

Ms. Saunders still gathers newspaper circulars and visits all the big stores near her home in Stephens City, Va., to scrutinize specials. But her phone gives her a new sense of empowerment.

"I am slightly obsessed with getting the best deal," says Ms. Saunders, a substitute teacher. "So to me, the bar code scanner is the coolest thing in the world."

While e-commerce experts say many U.S. retailers have been slow to react to the mobile trend, some are starting to see that there is upside as well as disruption: Now retailers can virtually target customers inside competitors' stores.

Through a partnership with TheFind, Best Buy now targets personalized advertisements to shoppers when the program detects that they are in stores such as Wal-Mart.

If shoppers use TheFind's free app to compare prices on TVs at Wal-Mart, for example, the phone gleans the particulars from their recent search and shows them ads of similar electronics for sale at Best Buy. The items aren't always identical, and the prices aren't always better, but it is an attempt by Best Buy to enter the competition, similar to the way that marketers now target special offers to consumers based on what they are searching for on home computers.

"That is an opportunity to steal a sale right when someone is in the throes of making a decision. That is what makes mobile so powerful," says Best Buy Chief Marketing Officer Barry Judge, who believes retailers must "dive in headlong" into the new environment.

The hard sell doesn't stop there. If a customer inside a Best Buy compares prices through TheFind and discovers a better deal elsewhere, the retailer also makes one last pitch for the sale with ads showing them deals on other products at the store, such as a similar Blu-ray player that comes with a free movie disc.

"Instead of letting that person walk out, you are telling the customer, 'Look, we know you're already here, let's make a deal,'" says TheFind's Chief Executive, Siva Kumar. "It is not a consumer-only game. Retailers can use it to their advantage."

While Best Buy is aggressively entering the stores of rivals, it still refuses to match competitors' prices shown on comparison programs. Best Buy's guarantee applies only to deals in print advertisements by neighboring competitors, a policy Mr. Judge admits Best Buy may have to change.

Wal-Mart plans its own countermeasures to capture mobile sales, says Gibu Thomas, the company's senior vice president of mobile and digital strategy.

But the company, which doesn't see mobile-phone apps as a threat to its discount model, says it is wary of moving too rapidly and frets about being seen as Big Brother by following customers' movements as they shop.
"We continue to believe that we are the best-positioned global retailer for now and the years ahead," a Wal-Mart spokesman says.

Pure online sellers are also venturing into stores—virtually, that is—with mobile programs meant to steal away sales from bricks-and-mortar rivals.
Amazon.com released a new comparison app last month that allows iPhone users to scan bar codes, take pictures of items on shelves or describe products by speaking into their devices, to see whether the online giant can beat the store's prices.

"We want customers to feel confident in their purchases, and by allowing them access to Amazon's information wherever they are, they will be," says Sam Hall, director of Amazon Mobile.

The hassle of multiple store visits still outweighs the allure of small savings for smartphone warriors such as Matt Binder, a 24-year-old employee of a startup web company in New York City. But when presented with an option to click a button to save a few dollars, he gladly complied.
Armed with an iPhone loaded with Amazon's Price Check app, he was searching for holiday gifts on a recent Sunday in a Westbury, N.Y., Best Buy when he spotted a stocking stuffer, a two-gigabyte USB drive, for $11.99. He snapped a picture of it, and learned from the app that Amazon had it with more memory for $9.99.

"I wouldn't drive somewhere else to save $2," he says, but he made a mental note to buy it from Amazon later when he got home, to save precious battery power on his shopping tool.

At Wal-Mart, he saw the same flash drive, beside a big display boasting "Every Day Low Prices." But thanks to his smartphone, Mr. Binder knew better. The advertised price was $6 higher than Amazon's.

Indeed, the mobile phone threatens to undercut Wal-Mart's once novel strategy: promising to save consumers money on their overall shopping baskets instead of promoting individual items.

"The whole notion of going to one place to buy everything in one fell swoop because you are sure of a total market-basket savings may go away," says Leon Nicholas of consultancy Kantar Retail.

Toys "R" Us nearly went under six years ago when Wal-Mart brutally slashed prices on popular toys in a successful bid for market share. So the toy merchant is trying to insulate itself from direct price comparisons with a strategy that focuses in part on exclusive items.

"The most successful retailers have great product," says Toys "R" Us Chief Executive Gerald Storch. "That always wins over everything else. Unless you're selling coal."

In practice, such a strategy has limitations, however. Many shoppers, especially children, want the same thing their friends got, not something else.

A day of shopping with Ms. Saunders in Virginia shows what retailers are up against.

She was approached repeatedly by shop clerks who offered to help, but rebuffed them in case they tried to talk her into buying more. Her smartphone told her a DSi game on her list goes for $10 less at Best Buy and that Target has Barbie's Fashionista dolls for the cheapest price around—by $3.

One way stores attempt to beat this price-comparison game is by stocking products that manufacturers have slightly modified exclusively for them, signaling the phone that no other store has the product.

Ms. Saunders used her iPhone to scan the bar code on a case for the Nintendo DSi handheld gaming system at Wal-Mart, but it didn't show up at other stores. A worker informed her that it is a special Wal-Mart bundle: the case plus earphones and a plug for $19.99.

But Ms. Saunders was undeterred. She typed the item's description on TheFind and discovered that Walmart.com, the retailer's website, offers a better bundle including a car adapter—for $5 less.

"It's like, 'gotcha,'" she said. "I feel so good when that happens."

The Perfect Christmas Gifts to Teachers (and a Little Secret)

We are blessed by our lovely children, but during the X'mas time, one headache always comes up - give what Christmas gifts valued at how much to how many of their teachers?

Personally, based on my informal chat with a few friends who are also teachers, one thing they all desire - cash! (Many people told me they had headaches dealing with the many many packages of chocolates and candies they received during this time of the year. If you hold those chocolates and candies till spring time, they will melt!)

Obviously cash gift is not appropriate, the easy alternative are gift cards, not any gift cards, but Target gift cards. Again, based on my informal survey, Target is a favoriate choice when it comes to shopping.

So this year, while I was ordering the Amazon gift cards from Amazon, I also added Target gift cards to my order.

Finally, I want to reveal a little secret that will guarantee your daughter or son's favorite teachers like her or him more - while you are sending them the gift cards, write a Thank You letter to the principal, praising the teacher for the extra efforts she or he has put to your child, make sure to cite a specific example. Principals will love such feedbacks from parents, teachers certainly will be delighted too!

One thing, just not to abuse such personalized Thank You letters!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Gifts Ideas - What If I Don't Even Know Them?

My last blog discussed my X'mas gifts for our family members, this blog I will reveal how I easily (although after much thought work) solved challenge of deciding what to buy for how much for the 9 people that I don't even know, but I certaily truly appreciate their services!

These 9 people are:

My postal delivery lady
My region's premier newspaper delivery person (I actually got a holiday card from this lady - showing me her lovely family members)
My local newspaper delivery person (I got a card from this guy too - reminding me how hard he has been working for readers like me)
3 trash collection amigos (not an easy job during cold weather)
3 recycle stuff collection amigos (again, tough outdoor job in the winter)

In the past, we always struggled with what kinds of gifts for them - can't be too expensive, can't be too cheap, so we always used the coupons we found around this time of year and spent countless hours to go to the stores to buy the various stuff.

Not anymore this year!

I decided and have subsequently ordered 9 Amazon gift cards from Amazon, each with face value of $10. Three key factors brought me to Amazon:

a. Free 1-day delivery (actually it took them 2 days to deliver the cards to my hand, but still OK).

b. I can add tailored messages for each card recipient.

c. Each gift card comes with a FREE holiday card and envelop.

Amazon has many different designs, with over 350 positive reviews (4.5 stars), make sure to check it out yourself!

Samsung Galaxy Tab Price Cut by $50

If you have been waiting to buy Samsung Galaxy Tab at a lower than $400 price, now you have it - T-mobile just lowered it to $350, with 2-year contract required.

Note that a 2-year contract won't be cheap, this website has some good comparisons of various carriers' tablet pricings.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Gift Shopping is Finally Done!!!

Finally, my family's Christmas presents shopping is done! I don't know about you, but I have a mixed love/hate feelings towards this time of year! Thanks God, the booming ecommerce business is gradually making my life easier (in terms of gift choices and price shoppings).

I don't think privacy is a big concern here, so let me tell you how much we spent on what for whom, if you are in the last minute shopping mode, hopefully my list gives you some good hints.

For our kids (the family rule is each kid no more than 3 gifts with total no more than $100):

For the boy:
PokePark Wii game: pikachu adventure wii ($46.54)

Play and learn: Scrabble Flash Cubes ($23.86)

Game again: Smart Ass ($18.65)

Total: $89.05 (less than $100, yeah!)

For the young girl:

Learn and play: Melissa & Doug Wooden Shape Sorting Clock ($11.86)

Learn and play: LeapFrog Scribble and Write ($18.36)

(More) Learn than play: The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition with Blue Eyed North Pole Pixie-Elf ($24.50)

Total: $54.72 (our goal is not to exceed $100, it doesn't have to be anywhere near that amount!)

For the older girl:

Game fun: Apples to Apples Party Box ($18.34)

The shoe she has been dying for: UGG Australia Women's Bailey Button Triplet Boots Footwear ($178)

Total: $196.34 (I know, UGG killed us!)

For the adults:

Health is # 1 concern and we are already using the X'mas gift I bought earlier: Waterpik Ultra Water Flosser ($44.50) (see my review blog post here)

Adult toy: Apple iPad MB292LL/A Tablet (16GB, Wifi) ($540)

In my next blog post, I will share with you what we have bought for friends, teachers, and people we don't know but we want to appreciate! Stay tuned!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The #1 Most Gifted, #1 Most Wanted, #1 Best Selling Item on Amazon?

Based on Amazon results, it's Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 3G Works Globally, Graphite, 6" Display with New E Ink Pearl Technology.

Is it even more popular than iPad? Well, only Amazon knows, but given that Kindle's price is lower, it's entirely possible that the new Kindle outshines iPad.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Time Magazine's Rank of Best of 2010 Books

If you are looking for holiday books ideas either as gifts or as additions to your family library, here is a list of the top 5 Fictions and Non-fictions based on Time magazine's ranking:

1. Freedom (Jonathan Franzen)

2. A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan)

3. Skippy Dies (Paul Murray)

4. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (David Mitchell)

5. Lord of Misrule (Jaimy Gordon)

The following are top 5 Non-fictions:

1. Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

2. The Emperor of All Maladies (Siddhartha Mukherjee)

3. Let's Take the Long Way Home (Gail Caldwell)

4. The Last Boy (Jane Leavy)

5. Brillant (Jane Brox)

Who Is Smarter - Retailers or Consumers?

Do you know how Retailers trying to outsmart us consumers? The answer is: Dynamic Pricing!

It's a common practice for airline tickets etc. (perishable goods) pricing. But more and more online retailers are using this tactic to outsmart consumers. They will utilize the cookies on your computer to analyze your shopping behaviors. One finding is that Chrome users tend to pay less than Firefox users for the same item.

Once the retailers recognize your shopping pattern, they will adjust prices instantly. For example, you clicked an item shown as $20.05 and put it on your shopping cart. But you got distracted, when you came back later to check out, you could find the price jumped to $25.02!

Is it legal? Perfectly so because the T&C's of any online retailer always says "prices are subject to change without notice".

What can a consumer do? One thing, price shop. Always compare prices between different online sites. My rule of thumb in online shopping is always use Amazon as the last check, due to its wide range of product offerings, excellent reputation, and the fact that there are always deals going on (Amazon has a marketplace that many sellers could sell at different prices for the same product).

To make it easier, I bookmark its Today's Hot Deals page, and always go from there. I highly recommend you doing the same by checking it out.

My Home Phone System Upgrade Deal Finding

Believe it or not, we still use fixed line phones in my household (on VoIP though in order to save money). We decided to upgrade our household phone systems in this holiday season to take advantage some great prices out there, our requirements are:

a. Multiple phones on one system so one phone for kitchen, one phone for living room, one phone for bedroom, one phone for basement.
b. A few rooms don’t have a phone jack, so we need a phone system with extensions that do not require phone jacks.
c. Dialing pad has backlit, I have found this a huge benefit from time to time in occasions I can never imagine.
d. Hopefully I can still use the phone while I am on my driveway. Maybe not 200+ feet, but a decent talking quality while outside the house.
e. This phone should not interfere with my home Wi-Fi set up, cellphones, etc.

After spending several days and my trademark “junky research” on it, I have came to the conclusion that in terms of cordless phones, Panasonic is top of the line – period! So the next question is, which Panasonic model to pick? After considering price (what else), # of handsets come with it, features, my “junky research” led me to Panasonic KX-TG9344 which has 4 handsets (actually 5 if I include the one on the base unit – which could act as a hands-free phone) with the following great features that I really need:

- Handsets are lightweight and feel well balanced and ergonomically well designed.

- Display is very bright and readable with large letters and excellent contrast, so no squinting or getting out the glasses necessary.

- Handsets can be given individual names such as "Office", "Living Room" etc. No more confusing which handset belongs where when several are out of their holders at the same time.

- Great sound quality is great, even on a VOIP service.

- No more getting wrong calls in the middle of the night with this phone system's Silent Mode: It enables individual handsets to not ring during a specified period of time, e.g. at night.

Oh, the price. I researched everywhere, it seems every retailer is slashing prices. I almost bought from Staples based on its ads on my local Sunday newspapers: original price $129.99 minus $10 instant savings minus the annoying $30 rebate with net price $89.99, plus tax.

But the wise decision I made was at the last minute I checked again the Amazon price, as its price was hidden, you have to place it in your shopping cart to see the actual price (the reason Amazon explains is that its price is too low compared with manufacturer’s suggested prices, it can’t show online in order to avoid disrupting the market price, given how many deal search engines are hard at work right now). Amazon is selling at the same price $89.99, but free of shipping and TAX, and no more rebate mailing (or forgetting)!

If you are also thinking of upgrading your home phone system, I highly recommend the Panasoic KX-TG9344T model with 4 sets from Amaon, check it out by yourself and see great reviews from other users like me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Scan Before You Buy

If you have a smartphone, this holiday shopping season Scanbuy should be one of your powerful weapons. It alows you to download its ScanLife mobile barcode scanning application on a smartphone that could obtain information about products (price, coupon, etc.).

What's the most scanned product category? You guessed, toys!

Of those products scanned by shoppers, what's the most purchased category? Books!

Of course, I would suggest you still check the giant online bookseller Amazon before you buy anything offline. Amazon has a free reading app that you can download and then you can read everywhere on any device. Check it out!

Blackberry 8530 Price Dropped Below $199

While Boost Mobile recently dropped Blackberry 8530 price to $199, I just found that Amazon actually has it for $174. Of course it's brand new and non-contract binding on Boost.

You might wonder why you want to pay $174 for a Blackberry. Remember, you get $60 UNlimited talk/data/text/web everything on Boost Mobile, plus there is no contract.

I wonder why every Blackberry lover doesn't get it from Amazon and activate on Boost Mobile!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Can You Get the $50,000 Free Money?

Who says there is no FREE money in the U.S.? If you know uncle Sam well, you might get one.

In early October of 2010, HUD started an Emergency Homeowner Loan Program in 32 states. The goal is to hand out up to $50,000 declining balance, deferred payment, nonrecourse, and zeor interest loans to each needy family. Of course, not all families are eligible. As you can expect, there are many restrictions, some of the key ones include:

a. Income eligibility: not higher than 120% of area median income

b. Primary residence

c. Lost of income at least 15%

d. Able to recover lost income in 2 years

e. Expense to income ratio limit

Check out http://www.hud.com/ to find more details. Congratulates if you fit the profile!

85% Off Lightning Deal

As I revealed in my previous blog post, my rule of thumb for holiday gift shopping is - if it ain't 50% or more off, I ain't open my wallet.

The second thing I always do is I keep a close eye on Amazon's lightning deals page, so whenever something I am looking for is available there, I act in lightning speed :)

Well, here is an 85% off great gift item, I won't tell you it's for myself or whomelse, that's not your biz, but you should check it out yourself!

Don't Buy A Holiday Present Unless It's 50% Or More Off

In my family, we have an inexplicit rule in terms of holiday gift shopping - if it's not 50% or more off from an item's regular price, either keep on watching it or get another one that meets the criteria.

Because of this rule, I have become a huge fan of Amazon's lightning deals and I watch it seveal times each day.

I hope you like this idea and make it your holiday shopping habit too.

To follow those lightning deals, click here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How to Get a Notebook - Absolutely Free

Google is giving away a limited number of to be introduced Chrome OS notebook, try your luck here -


Amazon Kindle Goes to the Web

I think this could be a game changer - up until now, you can only sample book pages online, but Amazon just announced it will introduce Kindle for the Web browser-based reader so anyone can read a book on any browser, not just a Kindle!

Cell Phone for Kids? Not If But When

National surveys found 70% of 11-14 year olds now have a cell phone. Kids as young as 7 might bug you for his or her own phone. It is not a question of IF but WHEN to get your young kid a cell phone. Below are some considerations.

a. It's like buying an insurance for the safety of your child. If you ever had a flat tire experience before, you know what I mean here.

b. It's no longer costly to have a cell phone. My blog the other day had a list of great inexpensive cellphones most suited for kids.

c. You can also subscribe to your carrier's parental control if you are worried their web surfing experience.

d. You must set a rule first on occassions when their violate your rule and what will happen. You don't want their cellphone becomes a distraction after all.

If you are determined this holiday season to get a cell phone as a gift to your child, investigate what I found out the other day in my blog or visit online sites such as Amazon for customer reviews and price shopping.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Great Christmas Gift For The Entire Family

Tonight, I just ordered one Christmas gift for my entire family - Waterpik Ultra Water Flosser.

I bought it for several considerations:

a) It is ideal for people who don't like to floss, as well as for anyone with braces, implants, crowns, bridges or periodontal pockets. Guess what, this list covers pretty much all my family members!

b) It comes with 6 unique color-coded tips, good enough for everyone in my family! What an inexpensive Christmas gift for the entire family!!!

c) Speaking of cost, I recently made an extra regular cleaning appointment with my dentist in Feb. next year (in addition to the 2 regular ones covered by Insurance). After checking with my dentist again, she already OKed that I could cancel that extra appointment as long as I use my new water flosser everyday. Talk about 100% Return on Investment!

d) Finally, the price, Amazon is running a promotion for $44.99, 25% off regular price. Of course, I paid no tax and no shipping cost!

If my considerations don't resonate with you, check out the thousands of great reviews people left on Amazon. Thousands of regular consumers like you and I can't go wrong. I have never seen such an enthusiastic user base of a flosser!

If this gift is not for you, you probably want to check out Amazon's Cyber Week Lightning Deals where you can find hidden treasures at greatly discounted prices.

Great Gift Ideas for Your Child's School Teachers

If you are struggling with what gift items to send to your child' school teachers, Amazon.com's gift card is a great solution, many of my friends use it year after year, it saves time and achieves great effects.

Here are what makes the Amazon.com Gift Cards great gift items:

1) They are redeemable for millions of items available at its website.
2) They never, ever expire.
3) You can buy them to send instantly, or schedule gift card delivery in advance.
4) You can send gift cards by e-mail, Facebook, print-at-home, or mail with free shipping.
5) Wide selection of designs that fit for any occassions you can imagine.
6) The gift card amounts range from $1 to $5,000.

To take a look, click here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Complete Guide for Best Cellphones for Kids

If you are on the market shopping for a cellphone for your children, you can find a complete list of the best prepaid cellphones for kids in this review.

Droid Pro On Sale For Only $19.99

Droid Pro was marketed as the "first Android based smartphone targeted to business users". It is available at Verizon Wireless for $179 after $100 mail-in rebate.

Now you can get from Amazon for only $19.99.

The Droid Pro comes with a 1Ghz processor, 4GB of storage and a QWERTY keyboard, Quickoffice Mobile Suite is pre-loaded. The display is 3.1" and the OS is Android 2.2. Flash player 10.1 functionality is in at launch, along with 3G Mobile HotSpot features. The camera is a 5MP shooter with auto-focus and a dual LED flash. In addition to Quickoffice, the Pro features Exchange support and Gmail for Business, along with a corporate directory look-up and a unified Enterprise calendar that syncs with Google Calendar.

Using the Pro, you can view, share and edit Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word documents. AuthenTec IPSec multi-headed VPN integration comes standard, along with remote device and SD card wipe and complex password support. Device/SD encryption launches in early 2011.

The Pro is a world-phone, capable of handling wireless voice service in 220+ different countries, while data coverage extends to over 200 countries, including 120 with 3G.

At only $19.99, this Droid Pro is a great bargain at Amazon.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

iPad or Not, That's Not a Question

This holiday season, many consumers are pondering the following questions: should I get a Tab or not? If yes, should it be iPad or else? Here is a brief pros and cons for each viable gadgets on the market:


Pros: 9.7 inch screen, easy to use (especially for current iPhone and iPod users), an enormous and growing list of applications

Cons: price tag (starting from $499), no camera, n flash support

The best choice is the entry-level, Wi-Fi-only, 16GB model. Don't bother with the 3G version, chances are you will use your iPad only at places where Wi-Fi is available.

Galaxy Tab

Pros: smaller, lighter, has front and back camera, support Adobe Flash content, enormous and growing list of Android Market applications

Cons: price not cheaper (especially after factoring in the monthly 3G service prices, see a good Tab pricing comparison here)

Blackberry Playbook

Based on what known, it's a very promising competitor to iPad, but it won't be available until 2011.

iPad alternatives

Barnes & Noble's NookColor

Pros: lower price, more than just a e-book reader, it also serves as a good web access tool

Cons: 7 inch LCD screen not good, no access to Android Market

Amazon Kindle

Pros: great price, only $139, e-ink display is great to read books anywhere, indoors or outdoors

Cons: not a tablet

The Bottomline

If you really need a Tablet, get an iPad

Otherwise, wait till next year when you have more choices

2010 AMC8 Solutions and More


How to prepare for AMC 8?  The following books are highly recommended for serious minds ...

Throughout the years, I had many friends asked "what are good materials to prepare kids for math competitions?" Depending on the level of your kids, here are some good ones for your reference that should cover your child from elementary school to high school (all used by the Math Clubs I was/am involved in).

Elementary School Level
These three are highly recommended:

Creative Problem Solving in School Mathematics

Math Olympiad Contest Problems for Elementary and Middle Schools Vol I

Math Olympiad Contest Problems for Elementary and Middle Schools Vol II

These three books were praised by every parent who used them. The authors are terrific. You can use them together for your child, if you child can finish just half of the books, he or she will be called a Math Whiz by every school, I can guarantee that.

Middle School Level
This one is quite new but already receive rave reviews and quickly becomes a must have for every middle school's math team -

Math Competition for Middle School

I cannot over emphasize that it's a must have for any kids who are serious about middle school level math competitions, such as AMC 8.

Another excellent one for middle school students:

Hard Math for Middle School: IMLEM Plus Edition

High School Level
While the above middle school level book could be used by some lower level high school kids, these three books will definitely keep your kids busy and get them well prepared for AMC 10 and AMC 12:

The Contest Problem Book VIII

It covers AMC 10 problems from 2001 to 2007, the authors were joint directors of AMC 10 and AMC 12 of that period. This is probably the best book to prepare for AMC 10 and 12.

The Contest Problem Book IX

It covers problems for AMC 12 from 2001 to 2007. The authors were joint directors of AMC 10 and 12 during that period.

The Contest Problems Book VII

It covers AMC 10 and AMC 12 problems from 1995 to 2000.

You may have noticed that these three books above are just the recent volumes, if your child has more time, of course you could try the earlier volumes, starting from Vol I (great AHSME problems).

The above books should have your child's math education from elementary to high school level well covered and make to the top national levels, you shouldn't have to spend extra money on anything else.

Finally, this blog is a good source of information about math education, including some more recent AMC 8 problems and answers, you can check it out -


Friday, December 3, 2010

The Most Popular CellPhones Based on Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sales

If you are still undecided about which cell phone to get this holiday season, hope the following list gives you a clue. It's ranked based on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales figures.

Note that iPhone 4 is not on the list, well, it's simply above the pack!

1. DROID Incredible by HTC (Verizon Wireless)
2. HTC EVO 4G (Sprint)
3. Samsung Captivate (AT&T)
4. BlackBerry Torch 9e BlackBerry Torch 9800 (AT&T)
5. DROID X by Motorola (Verizon Wireless)
6. DROID 2 by Motorola (Verizon Wireless)
7. Samsung Intercept (Sprint)
8. Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 (AT&T)
9. HTC Aria - (AT&T)
10. myTouch 4G (T-Mobile)

The Best and Cheap Prepaid Smartphones

If you are shopping for a prepaid smartphone, here is a great recommendation list for you.

Search Amazon.com for smartphones

Best Buy Will Feature 4 FREE Smartphones Each Day in December

The holiday spirit at Best Buy is definitely free spirit, as it is going to offer 1 FREE smartphone (mostly Android phones) from 1 major carrier free each day in December.

Droid Incredible, Xperia X10, LG Optimus T, and Optimus S are said to be on the free list.

If you are shopping for a smartphone, you have a job to do in December ...

Xbox 360 Kinect vs. PlayStation 3 Move, Move Out

I just did a review of Xbox 360 Kinect, and explained why Microsoft got it right this time and gave every holiday game shopping something to cheer for.

For details, you can visit here.

The bottomline is that Kinect is far more advanced than Wii and PS3 Move, and its unique capabilities make playing games fun much more fun too!

I got my Kinect bundle at Amazon for $150, but such great deals are not always available. My advice is to get one right now for the X'mas time, so you can avoid paying a higher price later, remember the shortage of Wii controller a few years ago at X'mas time and its subsequent price run?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

2010 AMC8 Contest Questions and Answers

MAA/AMC has published answers to 2010 AMC8 contest here.

How to prepare for AMC 8?

I highly recommended

Competition Math for Middle School 

it's a book by Jason Batterson from Art of Problem Solving for any parents with gifted students. You can buy it from Amazon for only $21.95. It is perfect for AMC8 or AMC10 or Mathcounts contest preparation. My child's school's Math club uses it, everyone LOVES it.

I also recommend the following blog post which has some past actual AMC 8 questions and answers posted, plus recommended books to help educate your child's math, at all levels - from elementary to high school -


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Complete List of Books for Holiday Gifts

What if someone stops by out of nowhere and gives you a holiday gift? Here is an idea to help you deal with that situation - keep a few books handy as your gifts to them.

Books are affordable, compact, and can be personalized for almost any person. See a recommended list below.

For your favorite niece/nephew under 12 years old

"Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott O'Dell, paperback, $6.99

In 1961, this book was awarded the Newberry Medal, which recognizes excellence in children's literature. 50 years later, the book is being reprinted and introduced to a whole new generation of readers. It follows the story of a 12-year old girl surviving on an island by herself for almost two decades - think Robinson Cursoe only female and a teenager and no Friday!

For the teenager that only reads the Twilight series

"The Best American Non-required Reading 2010" edited by David Eggers and David Sedaris, paperback, list price $14.99, selling online at $10.

Such non-required reading edition comes out every year, it is full of short stories, non-fiction, and graphic art. This is the wonderful way to introduce new authors, ideas, and genres to your favorite teenager. The contents are so varied that even the most hard-to-please reader will find something to enjoy!

For the budding Iron Chef

"The Flavor Theasurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes adn Ideas for the Creative Cook" by Niki Segnit. Hardcover, list price $28, online price only $17.

For any cook, the trick is to know what flavors that naturally go together. This book goes into the science of the flavor and look at what combinations we might have overlooked. It's not a recipe book, so you don't have to worry about your recipient's diet restrictions. Instead, it's a book that your favorite kitchen wizard might take up to bed to read until the wee hours - and then come back down to whip up a fantastic breakfast!

For your favorite fiction lover

"Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen. Hardcover, list price $28, online only $14.

Jonathan Franzen won the National Book Award for The Correction in 2001. The literary community has been waiting anxiously for his follow up to see if he was the real thing or just a on-book-wonder. After 9 years, he has proven he is not that one-trick pony and most reviewers have quickly added this book to their best of 2010 lists.

For the person who has just about everything

"40: A Doonesbury Retrospective" by G. B. Trudeau. List price $100, but online price is only $59.

No matter what your political leanings, you just can't overlook the influence Doonesbury has had over the last four decades - and it's really fun. This hardcover tome weights in at over 10 pounds and includes every Doonesbury comic strip from Thudeau's first scribblings while a student at Yale to the modern day. It also makes a great gift for your local columnist!

For the history fanatic (you will find them everywhere)

"Tories: Fighting for the King in America's First Civil War" by Thomas B. Allen. Hardcover, list price $27, online price $18.

For history books, there is this rule of thumb - the more obscure the topic, the better. After all, your historian friend probably knows all about George Washington and Henry VIII, but maybe not so much about the Tories (those loyal to Britain during the American Revolution). This relatively unexplored aspect of the revolution will be sure to pique the interest of American and European history enthusiasts alike - so it's a safe bet!

For the person whose literary tastes elude you

"Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert. List price $28, online price $18.

When you are not sure what they like, you will always be safe with a literary classic. Even if they don't like it, they will feel they shoudl liek it and complimented that you think that they will like it. For this to work, you will need to go a little off the beaten path, so no Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. Madame Bovary has the theme that is timeless, the writing is beautiful, and it's not one of the classics you had ot read in high school!

Amazon Cyber Monday Smartphone Deals Extended

If you are shopping for a smartphone, here is your opportunity:

HTC Droid Incredible for only $0.01 (vs. Original price of $599.99 or Best Buy online at $99.99).

HTC Evo 4G for only $99 (vs. original price of $499.99 or Best Buy online at $199.990.