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10 things not to buy in 2010

typewriterIf you told somebody in the 70th that typewriters will soon disappear they would probably laugh at you. It was however their inevitable fate just a few years later as personal computers grew more popular.

As technology advances entire classes of products get replaced and the process is well under way right now. In this blog post I will try to identify several consumer products that are about to go extinct. Don’t make a mistake investing in one of them in 2010.

Music CD

Just as audio tapes replaced vinyls and CD’s replaced the cassettes, downloads and live streaming is bound to replace music CD’s. Some may argue that the compact disk has tangible value and they will be right. The value however quickly gets overshadowed by the many benefits offered by the new generations of the music players. Free personalized music? Check out Pandora Radio. Free music on demand? It is already available in Europe with Spotify

Video DVD

The fate of DVD’s is even more certain than the fate of music CD’s. We don’t watch the same movie many times a day like we listen to the same favorite tune. The only thing in my opinion that holds video streaming from replacing DVD’s completely is the technological limitations, and we all know how that story goes. While Internet speeds catch up with the new demand - DVD rental companies are filling up the gap

Desktop computers

Laptops started as an expensive portable alternative to the personal computer. 2005 was the first year that laptops outsold desktop computers in the US. As volumes went up, prices went down. Anyone buying a desktop computer now should have a very strong incentive to not consider a laptop instead. Need a really cheap portable computer? Consider a Netbook.

Cable TV

We bought our house in 2003 and even back then I managed not to get hooked on an expensive plan from our cable company and instead enjoyed free (or cheaper) alternatives for entertainment online. Granted, to do so I had to connect a PC to my TV but you may not have to do it now. Many modern TV’s come already connected to the net and have built in interface to watch Netflix and YouTube.

Home phone service

As cell phone providers grow their networks, they are betting more on revenue from data usage while the voice plans get cheaper and soon may follow the way of SMS. The latest announcement came from Verizon who now offer $70 a month unlimited plans. The plan was $99 when it was first announced a year ago. Not surprising that many Americans choose to ditch their home phone. The only thing that keeps my phone number is the legacy and the last drop that is going to kill it is number portability for Google Voice.

Compact digital cameras

Convergence is the name of the game in portable gadgets this year. You will be hard pressed to find a cell phone without a camera these days. Recent models come with built in flash cameras boasting 5 Megapixel resolution. On the other hand SLR cameras are getting cheaper too which doesn’t really leave a place for yet another device to carry around when you already have a decent camera in your cell phone.

(Non-smart) cell phones

A lot of my friends have recently got themselves an iPhone or Droid and the first impression - ‘Gosh, I didn’t know this phone could do so many things!’. The applications that come with these phones offer such utilitarian advantage that anyone who tried them once will never want to go back. Give it another year and this list will have Nintendo DS and GPS Navigators in it among other things, all thanks to smart phones.

Newspaper subscriptions

Wide range of new online sources have made news more personal and interactive. Blogging, social sites, Twitter are working their way to replace the newspapers the way we know them. Small local outlets have been the most affected but the big guys are feeling the heat as well. Free online access to the Wall Street Journal? Here you go! Information today is as open as it has never been before.

Inexpensive men’s watches

A nice stylish watch will probably stay an important part of men’s outfit for a while however the cheap kind, the one you actually use to check time, is dead. I can see what time it is pretty much wherever I go. It is on my laptop, it is in my car dashboard, it is on my cell phone. Carrying another useless gadget on me? Thank you, no!

New college textbooks

College textbooks are similar to DVD’s, you use them once and you no longer need them. On one hand, websites like Chegg have made it easy to reuse these expensive books, on the other hand, college students are among the best adopters of new technology. Open-sourcing textbooks? Why not! Take a look at what Flat World Knowledge is doing.

Free days at Chicago museums in 2010

Yesterday I took my kids to Adler Planetarium. It was a week day and normally I would be at work, however being unemployed has its benefits and so I took advantage of one of the many free admission days offered by the planetarium.

Below is the 2010 free days schedule for the major Chicago museums. Since these dates can change over time, I strongly suggest you to use the links at the end of each section to verify them before you actually go. Enjoy!

Shedd Aquarium

Jan. 4, 5, 11,12, 1621, 25, 26
Feb. 1, 2, 8, 9, 1519, 22, 23
June 1418
Sept. 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28
Oct. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26
Nov. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30

More info at this page

The Art Institute of Chicago

Admission is free every Thursday from 5pm till 8pm

More info at this page

Museum of Science and Industry

Jan. 4-8, 11-15, 18-22, 25-29
Feb. 8, 14
Mar. 18
Apr. 19-23
May 3
June 7-11
Aug. 30
Sept. 7-14, 20, 21, 27, 28
Oct. 4-6
Nov. 11
Dec. 6

More info at this page

Museum of Contemporary Art

Admission is free every Tuesdays from 10am till 8pm

More info at this page

Adler Planetarium

Jan. 5, 11-15, 19, 26
Feb. 2, 8-12, 16, 23
Mar. 2, 9, 16, 23
Apr. 20, 27
May 4, 11, 12, 18, 25
June 7-11
Sept. 7, 13-17, 21, 28
Oct. 5, 12, 19, 26
Nov. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
Dec. 7, 14, 21

More info at this page

Field Museum

Jan. 11, 13, 14, 19, 20, 26, 27
Feb. 2, 3, 8, 10, 11, 16, 17, 23, 24
Mar. 2, 3, 8
Apr. 12
May. 10
Jun. 2, 3, 14
Jul. 12
Aug. 9, 24
Sept. 13, 15, 16, 21, 22
Oct. 5, 6, 8, 11, 13, 14, 19, 20
Nov. 2, 3, 10, 16, 17, 30
Dec. 1, 7, 8, 13, 15, 16

More info at this page

What airline charges less additional fees

The price comparison site Kayak ran a very useful roundup of additional fees charged by airlines. These are the checked in luggage fees, snack fees, pet fees, etc. I don’t usually fly with pets but I do care about luggage, and I love to have a snack as well. When I fly I usually check in one bag and buy the least expensive snack. When I check in luggage, I do it online since many airlines offer a discount. Considering all these specifics, I figured I needs to compile a quick reference table for some of the most popular US airlines and total overhead I should expect for one checked in bag and a small snack. So here it goes (sorted by total fees). For more details, go to the Kayak roundup I mentioned above.

1st Luggage Min Snack Total Fees
JetBlue $0 $0 $0
Southwest $0 $0 $0
AirTran $15 $0 $15
Northwest $15 $2 $17
Continental $18 $0 $18
United $15 $3 $18
Spirit $19 $2 $21
American $20 $3 $23
Midwest $20 $3 $23
US Airways $20 $3 $23

Simple home made bread on a budget

Ever since I got laid off from my full time job I suddenly have more time for things I always wanted to do. One of them is home made bread. I wrote about making kefir in November of last year. I guess the DIY bug in me has annual cycle. :-)

We always buy our bread freshly baked at the local Jewel store. Costco also sells very nice whole grain bread but you have to buy two loafs and it is too much for our family of 4. A loaf of fresh bread in Jewel is $4 which can be a burden considering we eat a loaf a week (and sometimes more). Guess what, the $4 can buy you 20 loafs if you are willing to invest a little bit of time. Here are the precise steps you need to follow if you want to start with a simple “no frills” bread recipe.

Prepare the starter

starterBread needs yeast to ferment and turn puffy. Usually recipes ask for dry yeast as one of the ingredients. A 3-pack costs around $1-2 in the grocery store. The good news is you can pretty much avoid it if you bake regularly. What you need to do is prepare a starter by mixing 1/2 cup of water, 2/3 cup of flour and adding just a pinch of dry yeast. Use a 32 ounce clear plastic container with a tight lid. Cover it with a towel and keep overnight. Next day add another 1/2 cup of water and 2/3 cup of flour. Mix thoroughly, close the lid and keep it for another night. On the third day the starter will expand noticeably and you will see a lot of small bubbles through the clear plastic container. The starter is ready.

Mix the dough

doughMix 6 ounces of starter (appx. 1/5 of the container) with 1 cup of water and 3 cups of flour. Then add 1 teaspoon of salt and mix everything thoroughly. You will now need to knead the dough. You can do it by hand or if you like myself have a bread machine then put it in the “dough” mode and have it knead the dough for you instead. If you do use a machine, don’t let it heat the dough, stop the machine as soon as it stops kneading.

Maintaining the starter

Add 1/2 cup of water and 2/3 cup of flour into the container with the starter and mix thoroughly. The starter will be ready again the next day. If you don’t plan to bake bread tomorrow then put the container into the refrigerator. It can stay there dormant for up to a week. If you for some reason don’t bake in a week then just discard a part of the starter and add 1/2 cup of water and 2/3 cup of flour. Mix and place back to the fridge.

Ferment the dough

dough-risenPrepare a container (I use 1.5 liter Pyrex) by slightly oiling its walls. Shape the dough into a small ball and put it into the container. Turn it once to coat with oil. Cover with damp towel and leave in a moderately warm (74-80F) place until it doubles in volume. Fermentation usually takes a few hours and a good strategy is to leave the bread overnight to ferment and bake it in the morning, but it of course depends on your schedule. If you need it to ferment sooner then consider placing the dough in a warm place. Don’t place by a heater vent, the dough doesn’t like draft.

Bake the bread

bread-readyPre-heat the oven to 450F. Gently invert the dough from the container into a floured board. Place the board in the center of the oven. This will ensure that the bottom and the top crust bake evenly. Once the dough is in the oven, open the oven door and quickly spray the oven walls with water using a spritzer bottle. Repeat the procedure one more time in a couple minutes. If there is an electric bulb in the oven, avoid spraying directly on it. Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 400F and bake another 15-20 minutes or until it is rich caramel color. To test if the bread is ready, remove it from the oven and hold up side down. Strike the bottom firmly with your finger. If the sound is hollow, the bread is done. Bake for another 5 minutes if not.

Treat your tastebuds

There is no tastier bread than the one you yourself just baked. We ate two loaves this week and my kids are asking for more. Once I perfect this simple recipe I am going to start experimenting with the ingredients, e.g. by adding different grains, switching starter flour from wheat to ray, and maybe adding a bit of molasses. For now however I simply enjoy freshly baked bread and the savings!

bread-final

How reading Amazon fine print can save you money

Elizabeth Sanberg at Wisebread, the blog I read daily, writes about her experience with ordering a GPS from Amazon. The deal was that she gets a free Wired magazine subscription and Amazon Music store credit with the purchase. Free music is fine but the magazine wasn’t what she wanted.

Guess what, a week later she receives an email that lays out the complete terms for the free Wired subscription promotion. Among other things the fine print contains this disclaimer:

If you do not wish to receive the subscription, you may receive a refund for the stated value ($10.00). To obtain this refund, please print and send a completed copy of the Online Form with a copy of your Amazon.com order confirmation to the address noted on the form. Please mail within 4 weeks from the date you received this e-mail.

The most interesting part however is that the same email states that Elizabeth would not have received this useful tip should she have opted out of Amazon marketing emails! It is great that Amazon offers this option to swap the magazine you don’t want with cash, but why in the world hide the terms in the (optional) marketing email?!?! Does anybody smell conspiracy? :-)




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