Posts Tagged ‘Consumer Research’

November 20, 2013

Preserving Memories

A long time ago I was taking a train ride from college to visit my parents for the holidays. I was traveling alone, and with my laptop bag. At one point I got up to use restroom and brought my laptop bag with me. As I passed the conductor he couldn’t suppress a laugh and asked why I would bring that into the little lavatory. Here’s the thing: while my laptop was barely functional and borderline useless (a running theme with my computers, I really need to change that), the data is irreplaceable.

I have been living in fear of data loss.

Domingo and I have been exploring options for backup, particularly off-site backup. The benefit of off-site backup is that should something happen to one copy (fire!, earthquake!, theft!) the second copy is likely far enough away from the event to be safe.

Here is the list of options we considered:

Option 1: External Hard Drive in a Safety Deposit Box
The idea is to store an external hard drive full of data in your safety deposit box. Every couple of months or so you replace the current hard drive with one that contains a more recent copy of the data.

At first I thought this option would work well for us. I live in fear mostly of losing Nicki’s newborn photos, her milestones and ‘firsts’. If I lose last week’s coloring photos I will be upset, but I can take more. I can always make an additional trip to the bank if there’s something I want to be extra sure I don’t leave. Since hard drives come in rather compact sizes these days, you can get a tiny safety deposit box. At my bank that runs about $40-50 a year.

I had pretty much settled on this option, but when I went to the bank they had such a long waiting list I wasn’t left with much hope. In fact, the teller whom I talked to had asked for a box for herself when she transferred to that location and was still waiting. Her advice was to call daily and see if a safety deposit box was newly available, thus attempting to bypass the line.

Option 2: Cloud Storage
Cloud storage is more convenient (no trips to the bank!) but is typically much more costly. Most places charge by disk space, and can get extremely pricey. Historically they’ve only accommodated a couple hundred gigabytes. I want to back up photos, and photos take up a lot of space. My brother in law suggested crashplan which has no cap on how much data you can backup.

There’s a secondary cap to be concerned about – broadband. Our internet provider will only allow us to transfer 250 GB a month. I have over 500 GB of Nicki Photos (and roughly 2 TB between Domingo and I). If I don’t use the internet for anything other than creating an off site backup it will take me 8 months.

Lurking behind that 500 GB of Nicki photos is another potential problem. That’s 500 GB of photos collected in just one year. Prior to Nicki’s birth I had about 600 GB total of photos. I nearly doubled the amount of photo data I had last year. Doubled. Part of that is because I bought a nicer camera with more mega pixels, and another part of that is because I don’t know what I’m doing so I take a lot of photos hoping something will turn out decent. (And I refuse to delete any photos, ever.) Even taking consideration that my rate of taking photos is slowing down, I’m going to continue chewing threw bandwidth going forward. In that 8 months it would take for the initial backup I would probably generate enough data to require another 5 months to back up. Extrapolating out I wouldn’t be completely backed up until 15 months from now – and that’s assuming I don’t use the internet during this time!

Crash plan is also the most expensive of the options at $150 a year. They do have a ‘seed’ option where you can seed your backup by sending them a hard drive, thus sparing some bandwidth, but it’s a bit too pricey for my blood.

Option 3: Store a hard drive somewhere we have access to
Previously this meant the glove compartment of my car. Alas, hard drives are not meant to be stored in glove compartments and the contestant bumping will almost certainly accelerate it’s inevitable death. The major problem with a dead backup hard drive is that you don’t tend to know it’s dead until you need it. At least it’s a free option?

We’re going with option 2. I’m using an iterative approach to backing up everything. Each cycle I select one or two small (< 30 GB) directories to back, starting with the most important. That way if I don’t make it to 15 months I should at least have the most important stuff I could possibly have.

None of this changes the fact that I’m still considering a raided hard drive. Recovering from crashplan will be as painful (or alternatively expensive) as uploading to it. I view crashplan as a worst case scenario defense. I expect to have to recover from a crash some day, but I hope I will not need to recover from crashplan.

When we were sorting through the office to make it a comfortable sleep spot for my parents, I couldn’t get over how much stuff we had and didn’t use. Given how hard it is for me to part with things that in working order (hey, I paid good money for that doodad, maybe I’ll use it some day!) I am determine to not stock up on things we’ll rarely, if ever, use. As we continue to gear up for baby, and the day of our registry completion code nears, I’ve run across a few more popular baby gear items that I think we’ll pass on. At least initially.

Baby Care Timers – I’m thinking specifically about the little electronic devices that keep track of how long it’s been since the last feeding/changing/nap. They typically run around $25, but you can get them for as low as $17 if you shop around. They aren’t really necessary (a pen and paper will do) but they can make life easier, especially when you’re sleep deprived. Still, Domingo and I are leaning towards using a mobile app instead. At one of our baby classes the instructor said she really liked Baby Connect App for it’s ease of use. It’s cross platform, so I should be able to use my iPhone and Domingo can use his droid and we can both update information on the same baby. The cost of two Baby Connect apps for two different phones? $10. We’re also likely to have our mobile phones with us at all times, and I could see my absent minded self forgetting the baby care timer at home. It’s also one less item to lose!

Baby Detergent – Okay, this is technically not “gear”, but it is something many new parents consider purchasing. Domingo and I discussed it, but after reading that most detergents are fine for baby (and confirming it at our pregnancy/newborn care classes), it seems a bit excessive. Domingo and I already use the perfume and dye free detergents anyway, which is what our doctor recommends switching to if our baby has sensitive skin.

Swings/Bouncers – I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gone back and forth on these. At first I thought I would get a swing and skip the bouncer. Then I thought I would get both. Now I’m thinking of just getting a bouncer. The big question in my mind is ‘do they provide something extra that baby will want?’ Yes, there’s a motorized component to the swing which gives mama a break. And there’s toys to distract and entertain baby. But I keep coming back to the fact that neither my sister nor I liked the swing. (We didn’t take pacifiers either, my weirdness clearly started in infantdome.) Unlike a pacifier, though, swings are awfully expensive waste if the baby doesn’t take to them. So I pretty much change my mind every couple of days. Given the indecisiveness I think I will hold off on purchases for now. The daycare Zippy will go to has swings, so I can find out from them whether she likes it.

By the way, when undecided about a baby item I general ponder two points:
* What else I could buy for the same money. Sure that diaper wipe warmer is only $20, but for that same $20 I could also get 2 Dr. Suess books. Which would I rather have for baby?
* Is there something I can use instead and would I miss it. Wipes can easily be warmed by holding them in your hand for a few seconds, so I probably wouldn’t miss the wipe warmer.

When I previously mentioned our baby gear strategy, I alluded to the fact that not every type of gear is needed by everyone. What you will need will depend on your life style, what kind of home you have, and even where you live. Babies are also very different, and what works for one baby does not necessarily work for another.

Of course, my opinion is just that. Worse, it’s a bre-baby, inexperienced first time mom opinion. I feel it’s also important to emphasize that I am in no means a baby product expert, and certainty not a safety expert. You should visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission and not take my, or any other blogger’s, word for it when it comes to safety.

So without further ado, here’s my current thoughts. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind when Zippy gets here, and I realize all my preconceived notions are completely off.

Popular Items We’re Passing On

Pack N’ Play. I have had several friends recommend this to me as a place for baby to sleep in our room. However, there’s no room in our bedroom. The closest spot for a Pack N Play is about three feet in front of the nursery. If I already have to get out of bed to walk that far, why not just use the crib?

We do want to keep the baby with us for the first couple of weeks at least. I’m considering a Rock N’ Play for this, as it’s advertised as a “safe place for baby to sleep overnight” and small enough to fit easily next to the bed. I’m not completely sold on the Rock N’ Play as a night time sleeping spot for a newborn. According to amazon it’s “the only infant seat that meets industry safety standards for bassinets” but I haven’t been able to back up the claim anywhere, and I’m a nervous first time mom.

Bumbo Seat. This is another one that’s been recommended by many people, but I just can’t get past the safety concerns. In fact, there’s even a push to have these seats recalled. Admittedly the number of safety incidents are small, and mostly in cases were the seat may not be being used correctly, but it seems like an awfully expensive seat when it’s the same price as many bouncers and seats with harnesses. A when you consider a report that the seat offers no developmental benefits, and could potentially be harmful, it really doesn’t seem worth it to me.

Breathable Crib Bumpers/Sheet Savers/etc. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends no bumpers in the crib, even breathable ones. I’ve also seen similar concerns over sheet savors. We’ll have a waterproof mattress cover under the fitted crib sheet to protect the mattress. If baby has a diaper blow out, we are going to need to wash her sleeper and swaddle blanket anyway. Looks like we’ll be running the washing machine frequently anyway. If we’re already doing the wash, it won’t cost us anything extra to throw in the crib sheet as well. Is there a real suffocation danger behind these items? Like the bumbo the number of incidents is also small, but I’d just assume pass on them. Like with pregnancy, I’d rather be over cautious and not risk it.

Bottle Sterilizer. We are planning on breastfeeding. Zippy may have a few bottles early on, but she’ll mostly get them when she goes to day care. By that point she’ll be at the age where she’s putting anything that’s within reach into her mouth, and a bottle cleaned in the dishwasher will be the least of my fears.

Diaper Bag. Well, at least not right away. Why? I have lots of tote bags in all sorts of sizes already that can easily double as a diaper bag. Baby Bargains’s recommendation is to choose a diaper bag based on the changing pad. Personally I really like the Skip Hop Pronto Changing Pad a friend showed me. It’s small and compact, with a pocket to hold diapers and wipes. I imagine if we’re out and about somewhere I can leave the bulky diaper bag with all the extra soothing toys, pacifiers, change of clothes, etc with Domingo and take the SkipHop with zippy and I to the restroom to change her diaper. Baby Bargains also pointed out most first time moms start with giant diaper bags that hold everything and the kitchen sink, and then migrate to ones that are smaller when they learn what they truly need for their baby. I figure by starting with bags I already own I can get a better sense of what size is right for me before I make a purchase.

Where We’re Going Overboard On.

Rock N’ Play. Okay, here’s the stupidest reason ever for wanting to upgrade the Rock N’ Play – I dislike the colors of the standard Rock N’ Plays. I justified the purchase to myself that the extra padding would make for a better sleeping experience for baby. After all, she may inherent my taste for only super soft things. (I opt for comfort rather than style in all my fabrics. If it doesn’t pass the touch test, it doesn’t come home with me, no matter how good it looks or how good the sale is.) Since we got a deal on it, I don’t feel too guilty about buying the deluxe. We ended up with the Snugabunny.

Video Baby Monitor. We have a rather compact, small house, so we could get away with a small audio monitor with limited range. We may even be able to get away without a monitor at all, since the nursery shares a wall with the master bedroom, and we’re planning on keeping both doors open with a baby gate to keep the cat out. But I want the video capability. A video monitor can show whether a baby is fussing and self soothing, or truly awake. It can also be useful to see if a toddler is in bed asleep, or playing quietly. Besides, I’m an obsessive worry wart and the ability to see my baby should calm my nervous. Domingo is also into gadgets, so the high end video monitors really appeal to him, double win. We’re considering the Motorola.

Nursing Chair. At first I thought I’d want a nice glider, but after much consideration we’re leaning towards an upholstered armchair that rocks and reclines. We can get one with free shipping and 20% off if we open a store credit card, which actually makes the recliner cheaper, and the recliner will be useful post baby in the office, living room or den (if we’re fortunate to have a house with a den some day). It’ll also recline which gives me a comfortable place to sleep close to baby, should I feel the need.

So the things we’re going overboard are typically the most expensive baby items, and we’re passing on some of the popular cheaper items. Does this mean I can no longer consider myself frugal?

September 8, 2011

Re-Thinking 3D

Now that we’re considering a 3D TV, it seems like every other day there’s a new article about them. Domingo found one about a commercially available 55 inch 3D TV in Europe. This is much sooner (and bigger) than the previous article we found, and making me question whether now is the right time to get any 3D TV. The Toshiba is listed at $11,400, and only available in Europe. My guess is it will be available in the states for the same price as the first flat panels by 2012’s holiday season. My concern is that if we buy a TV that requires glasses, and glasses become passé within a year, we’ll be stuck if the glasses break. Our rear projection TV lasted 10 years. Yes, it’s antiquated, but it still works! I want our next TV to function for at a while too.

There’s no way we’re not spending $11,000 on a new TV. Not even close. I can already find 3D ready TVs for under a thousand before the shopping season really gets under way. Then there are the periphery costs to consider. In order to utilize the 3D we’ll need a 3d ready DVD player (an extra $150-200), 3d glasses ($300) we’ll want to upgrade our cable and DVR capabilities to support at least HD, ($10-25 per month). We’re talking about an extra $600-750 the first year alone. In fairness, we’ll need many of those things if we get an HDTV anyway. I have been thinking of canceling Cable in favor of Netflix and Hulu, but it looks like Comcast is the only player in town with 3D content. At least for now.

Of course, the HDTV deals have already started this past labor day, 2.5 months before black Friday. And it’s no wonder. According to one report, only 13% of households are considering a new TV in the next 12 months. Yet, retailers don’t seem to be able to make up their mind whether this is going to be a boom or bust shopping year. Extra stock and fewer customers usually means better deals.

We still have time to make up our mind. Given the amount of money we’re going to have to spend on the “extras” in order to utilize the 3D technology, it’s going to have to be a really good deal to get me to pull the trigger.

We’re going to get a HDTV. Really. Honest. We’ve been talking about it for a few years, we’ve just yet to pull the trigger. We’re talking about getting a 3D HDTV.

The issue that’s holding us back is our real projection TV still works. The frugal-ista in me doesn’t want to spend money I don’t have to, so if it still works, why replace it? Well, rear projection TVs have an aspect ratio of 4:3, meaning the height is approximately 3/4ths the width. HDTVs have an aspect ratio of 16:9, meaning they are much wider. These days, most cable providers assume everyone has an HDTV, so they’re broadcasting more and more in the 16:9 aspect ratio. Sometimes this means the image is shrunk so it fits the width of the TV, and some of the screen is blank. More often, however, it means the ends of the image are being chopped off. It’s surprising how often something important is in that chopped off corner and I end up not knowing know who John Stewart was making fun of in the daily show. So I think it’s finally time to buckle down and get a new TV.

Last year we discussed getting a 3D HDTV. I was amused at the notion of completely skipping the 2D HDTV generation. But they were expensive, too expensive. I missed the 2D TVs I wanted for black Friday so I thought I’d wait another year rather than settle for a mediocre sale. Today I’ve found a article in the economist that 3Ds are starting to become worth it. There’s still not a lot of 3D content, but the 3D technology comes on TVs that have better HDTV capabilities. So the economist argued a 3D TV was worth it, for the better HDTV. There seems to only be a $100 difference between comparable 3D and 2Ds from the same manufacture, so 3D TVs are no longer “premium” priced. Score!

The trouble is, I still don’t know much about HDTVs. We talked to one sales man who said Plasmas still have the burn-in issue. (Consumer reports appears to back this up). Bummer. There also seems to be a difference in quality. Some TVs have a ghosting effect, some don’t.

Ghosting occurs when the images for the left eye and right eye aren’t filtered 100% correctly. It’s also the reason I try not to watch 3D movies in the movie theater. The movie theater uses polarizing filters to filter the right image from the left image, because the glasses are cheaper to produce and needed in bulk. But anyone who works with polarizing filters for photography can tell you, cheap polarizing filters won’t completely separate the image. Some 3D TVs use polarizing filters, but many use the active shuttering technology. It makes for more expensive glasses, but for the headache prone like me, it seems like the way to go.

The store we were in was playing two different movies on two different TVs, so I’m not sure if the one had ghosting was because of the movie, the TV, or the glasses. Each 3D TV manufacture appears to make multiple different glasses, presumably of different quality. I don’t even know if the TVs were active shuttering or polarizing technologies. We’ll be doing a lot of research between now and Black Friday (because I still refuse to pay a lot!) I need to firm up an idea of what size TV we want, and what would be a good deal.

Oh, and if you like the idea of a 3D TV, but don’t want glasses, you may only have to wait a few more years. Think I can convince Domingo to keep the rear projection TV until 2015?

July 16, 2011


We made the plunge and bought an iPad this weekend. We also bought a nifty keyboard case for an additional $100, which basically turns our iPad into a $600 (+ tax) computer. That’s more expensive than the laptop I’m currently typing on, with less functionality, that we’ll only use occasionally. I think I’ve lost my marbles.

We decided to get the tablet for travel. Between the two of us, we travel a fair amount for work and visiting family. In a few weeks we’re off to China and Las Vegas, and the following month it’s off to the east coast for my family reunion. Confession time, I really don’t like the iPhone or android phones. I find the menus cluttered and it annoys me that I can’t find what I’m looking for. I guess in this respect I’m a bit of a phone luddite. I also don’t like the price. But with travel coming up, we couldn’t wait around for a good deal, and we wanted to go with the brand that already had an extensive collection of apps and games to keep us entertained on 10 hours plane flights.

I hate having to take the laptop out of the my carry-on. I’m always worried someone will walk off with it by mistake, or (more likely) I’ll leave it somewhere by mistake. It’s not like the laptop is expensive, but the data is irreplaceable. Photos from our honeymoon, the source files for flash videos, my research code – they are all irreplaceable. While I try to remember to back it up before ever trip, I’m inevitably running ten minutes late to catch my flight, pleading with the computer to finish the data transfer. I’m always pulling the plug and hoping I got all the important stuff. One of these days I’ll discover the hard way that the back up wasn’t complete.

The other reason we decided to go with the iPad as a travel device is for added internet security. A rouge wireless access point is an excellent place for a man-in-the middle attack. When traveling, we tend to plug into a many different wifi points, and it only takes one compromised point to put a virus on a computer. It’s not a bad idea to wipe a computer and give it a fresh install when returning home from travel. However, that’s much less practical if you haven’t backed up your hard drive. The iPad will never be a primary device, and so it will never have important data. We can wipe it before and after each trip without a second thought.

At least that’s how we justified the purchase. I still look at that price tag. Here’s hoping I still think it’s worth it in a month…