Monday, May 24, 2010

Shiny: Epson Artisan Printers and All-in-Ones

These are small, inexpensive printers and all-in-ones which use Epson's Claria six-color inkset. The quality of photographic prints from these printers is quite high; Adrian Buckmaster reviewed them at Boing Boing:
I was very impressed with print quality; the image referenced above would have shown up any deficiencies straight away. A close comparison showed a slight posterisation in the mid-tone skin areas which was corroborated by the gray test strip which showed magenta cast in the mid tone areas. Sharpness was excellent; there were no tram lines or banding, and the gray areas, with the exception of the above caveat, showed clean tones. ***
The Epson Artisan 800 also works well as an all-in-one, with the scanner and fax facilities simple, reliable, and of good quality. The device has a relatively straightforward touch-panel interface and less-straightforward but usable drivers. Supplies...ah, there's the rub.

The Artisan line comprises three units: the Artisan 50 printer ($100), the Artisan 710 print+scanner (all-in-one) combination ($180), and the Artisan 810 print+scanner+ fax modem combination ($300, currently discounted to $200.) One might reasonably wonder why it is that such high-quality devices are so moderately priced. One might however, find ones question answered when one realizes that a set of the printers six ink cartridges lists for $90 (Artisan 50 printer) or $80 (Artisan 700, 710, 800, 810 all-in-one) and that the cartridges contain at most two teaspoons of ink. Yes, Epson is making money on the ink, not the printer.

Still, excellent photographic printers, and useful in other ways too. Just don't do bulk printing with them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

www.annualcreditreport.com

As of this writing, this is the only web site to use for free annual credit reports. Accept no substitutes--all others are not actually free, or are actual scams run by identity theives. Expect to be confused by the site (this is apparently by design), & bring a temporary e-mail account, which will be collected and placed in your credit file.

Translating CNET reviews

Review: "Call quality is only so-so." (cnet.com)
Experience: most user speech was unintelligible to called party in a moderately noisy store.

Product: Sony DR-BT160AS wireless stereo headset, which has very good stereo listening quality & probably works sort-of ok for talking in a quiet room or stopped car.

Shop: Sony Outlet Store in Tualip Washington, about an hour from Seattle. A very nice shop & worth returning to for good deals on electronics.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Depths of Corporate Evil

Google, the not-so-evil empire. Google provides real high-quality  services at the cost of viewing unobtrusive advertising. The corporate motto is "Don't Be Evil" and the Google employees I know take it seriously. They're not saints, but you can do business, and not need to count your fingers afterwards. They are still a commercial empire, however, and they are rather snoopy.

Amazon and Apple, medium-evil empires. Commercial empires of a more evil sort. Both do genuinely valuable things. Unfortunately, every now and again they try to take over the world.

Microsoft, cell phone companies, Facebook, evil empires.The are price-gougers, monopolists, oligopolists, spies, intellectual property thieves, sellers of your time and attention. Microsoft charges hugely more than anything reasonable for their products; cell companies are probably making gross profits of 500-1000%. In dealing with cell companies, expect to feel like a chump; get the best deal you can & don't worry about it. Shorter Facebook: "You are the product" and "You have no privacy, get over it."

Exxon-Mobile the eeeeeevil empire. Destroy human civilization, lie about it, and make a profit at it.

Haliburton and Xe (Blackwater) the spawn of hell. Provide overpriced contracting services and undersea oil wellheads that don't do the job. Hire out mercenaries and security personnel who make their own law.

Croak!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Shinycroak Blog: On Online Shopping

This is where I put up occasionally shopping and finance advice--things I decided would be worth publishing that don't belong in my political blog. So! I'll start out with the post that persuaded me to start this blog: on evaluating online shopping services.

Does the store:
  • Let you just buy what you want? Once you've finished looking for your product, does the store let you just buy it, or does it keep offering you alternatives--that is, trying to sell you something else? This a bad sign because it tells you that the store doesn't care about your time. Exception: "you might also like..." can be a reasonable thing for books, CDs, DVDs, and so on.
  • Ask a price comparable to market, or does it seem low? If the price is substantially lower than most other places, chances are there's a catch. Perhaps many customers return the product, and the store charges a fee for this. Perhaps the product is counterfeit, stolen, or imported to the USA without the manufacturer's permission and has no useful warranty ("gray market").
  • File your credit card numbers? This is a risk to you, and also a sign that the store is trying to promote impulse buying.
  • Link its return policies up front? Can you locate their return policies on their web site at all?
  • State shipping prices up front, or do you have to go all the way to the end of the purchase process before you find out what the prices of the shipping options are? Concealing the shipping price until late in the sale is an indication that part of the store's profit is made by padding the shipping price.
  • Does the store tell you where they will ship from, so you can estimate ground shipping times?
  • Does the store try to offer you an expensive loyalty plan as part of the deal?

Some general warnings; these apply everywhere, but are especially significant in online shopping.
  • Never buy unbranded high-power (Li-Ion or NiMH) batteries--poor quality control can make these explosive. There was a recent luggage fire that involved a laptop battery.
  • The lifetime of a battery is reliably predictable by the manufacturer; in batteries, cheap is expensive, a theme I will be croaking about in the future.
  • Most extended warranties are far more expensive than they are worth. Unless you can't sustain the financial risk of a failure, or need the higher level of service that some manufacturers offer to extended warranty customers, don't go there. (Consumer Reports on extended warranties.)
[Edited to correct minor copy errors and add Consumer Reports link. 2010.07.31 to get rid of some unnecessary words.]