Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How Persuasive Are Your Product Pages?

Tim Ash | April 1, 2014 | Comments

Your homepage - especially if you have an online catalog site - is basically a glorified street sign. Consumers don't read it so much as glance at it in the hopes that it will tell them how to find what they are looking for. Its job is to get people out of there, onto whatever it is they're looking for. And usually what they're looking for on your site isn't your seasonal promotion, flash sale, or news releases - it's your products.

But what is it that makes a product page successful?

Obviously, focus helps, but why is it that Online Deals's product pages - which break almost all the conventional rules by having dozens of links, a ton of clutter, and pushing useful features buried several screens below the fold - survive years of tests and tuning? Evidently, putting useful information about the product helps, but why is it that large companies like Walmart get away with putting so little information about the product?

Hopes, Fears, and Your Product Page

B.J. Fogg, author of Persuasive Technology, might have part of the answer. His research into motivation sheds some light on technology, in this case, the product page. He organizes motivation this way: pleasure and pain, hopes and fears, social acceptance and rejection. Obviously, that's useful for the product page, the last point before the purchase, the point where you convince your visitor to shake on the deal.

Let's start with Amazon. The online giant has tons of usability issues. It's difficult to cite a better example of clutter than more than a dozen pages worth of scrolling on one page, especially when research says that about 80 percent of visitors never see anything below the fold.

And yet Amazon delivers just that. For a Nexus 7 page, the site has 17 pages worth of scrolls.

So is it a bad product page? It certainly deprioritizes useful features like "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought," for starters. It also looks like it takes the spaghetti-to-the-wall approach to Web design.

But let's take a look at the elements above the fold:

The higher price is there so the visitor can see the reward of purchasing. It's available, so there's hope of acquiring the item, but you can clearly see (in prominent text) that there are only eight left, so you better act soon. It has social trust elements, it states the reward, and has a prominent, established call to action.

What Amazon is using above the fold is rooted heavily in persuasive design; e-commerce product pages use this to varying degrees of effectiveness.

If you search for a Nexus 7 on HSN or Staples, you'll encounter many of the same elements, although neither one has the entire set.

Rewards, Anchoring, and the Use of Free

Anchoring is prescribed for product pages because we have an irrational brain. We perceive the first thing we're shown and we anchor expectations against that. It's a reflex; we hardly think about doing it. That's very useful when showing price points.

Free items like shipping further capitalize on that work on pleasure and delight.

If you have pleasure and pain taken care of, if you have hopes and fears down, that just leaves social acceptance and rejection on the Fogg model for motivation.

If you've ever taken a look at Walmart's product pages and wondered how it can get away with putting so little information about the product off the bat, this partly explains why. For the same product, here's what Walmart has:

Social Proof

Now try and answer these questions: What's the resolution of the screen? How much does it weigh? How powerful is the processor?

If you can't answer any of that with a quick glance, that's an issue. But this is exactly the trade-off Walmart is making. The price, call to action, and store availability get all the focus, and the other elements (except social proof) are de-emphasized.

The examples here, without exception, have serious usability flaws. None of them can answer everything you need about the product at a glance, while working with pleasures and hopes, pain and fears, social acceptance and rejection. But it's a difficult balance to strike.

If you use anchoring, rewards, and scarcity while keeping the high-level information available and the call to action clear, you're that much closer to having a more persuasive - and usable - product page.

Getting It Right

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Discounts on shoes from Nike, Timberland and Steve Madden

Check out these latest discounts gathered up by Dealnews.com, including savings on Nike men's running shoes, Timberland women's boots and more.

By Marcy Bonebright, Guest blogger / March 22, 2014

Everyone needs a little retail therapy now and then, so you might as well buy something you'll get a lot of miles out of. But because we list a shockingly small amount of cars on DealNews, we decided to round up shoes instead! (Also, who buys cars on a whim? Don't do that.) The week's best shoe deals include five Editors' Choice offers from Steve Madden, Nike, Timberland, and more!

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Steve Madden Men's Ditmars Shoes
Store: Steve Madden
Price: $49.99 with free shipping via Super Sale "SMFREE50" with padding over $50
Lowest By: $80

Is It Worth It?: Leather driving shoes are so comfortable, so easy to slip on and off ... so incredibly hot on warmer days. That is, unless the leather is perforated for maximum breathability, as is the case with the Steve Madden Ditmars. Available in five colors for just $49.99, these drivers also feature a textured sole for stability. At $80 off, we're pretty sure you just found your go-to summer shoe. Be sure to pad your order over $50 and apply coupon code "SMFREE50" to dodge the $7.95 shipping.

Steve Madden's got your back when it comes to stocking your shoe closet on the cheap. The site has cut an extra 50% off select clearance shoes, with prices starting at around $10. (Prices are as marked.) That's tied as the best extra discount we've seen on clearance merch from Steve Madden, yielding some huge price lows. Shipping adds $7.95, or bag free shipping on orders of $50 or more via coupon code "SMFREE50".

Nike Men's Roshe Running Shoes
Store: 6pm
Price: $45.99 with free shipping
Lowest By: $6

Is It Worth It?: These days, running shoes seem to have an inversely proportional weight-to-price ratio: the lighter they are, the more they cost. But that's not the case with the Nike Roshe running shoes, which weigh in at just 10oz. and are available in six colors for $46. That's the best price we've seen for these trainers outside of our Black Friday mention, which was for one color only.

Delli Aldo Men's Dragon Print Pull-On Boots
Store: Meritline
Price: $10.75 via coupon code "MLCDNEWS1403B" with $8.09
Lowest By: $22
Expires: March 23

Is It Worth It?: You don't need wild colors or uncomfortable construction to make a statement with your shoes. These Delli Aldo pull-on boots feature a unique dragon design on the toe, ideal for dragon-slayers who can't wear their chain mail to the office. Coupon code "MLCDNEWS1403B" drops them to just $11, making this the cheapest pair of Delli Aldo men's boots we've ever seen.

Timberland Women's Earthkeepers Savin Hill Tall Boots
Store: Journeys
Price: $99.99 with free shipping
Lowest By: $32

Is It Worth It?: It may not be boot season anymore, but that doesn't mean you should turn down a great pair of tall boots on sale. Available in Black or Tobacco, the Timberland Earthkeepers Savin Hill boots have dropped $6 since our previous mention to the all-time-low price of $100. That's $32 under what you'd pay elsewhere and a very good price for these full-grain leather riding boots, which feature a removable anti-fatigue insole. They come in sizes 6 to 10.

Body Central Women's Flat Shoes
Store: Body Central
Price: From $5.24 via coupon code "SPRINGFREE" with free shipping Expires: March 24

Is It Worth It?: Always comfy regardless of whether they're dressy or casual, a great pair of flats can also cost a ton. Not so with the styles in this shoe sale at Body Central, where you can get select pairs for as little as $5.24 via coupon code "SPRINGFREE". The same coupon bags free shipping, making this tied as the best sale we've ever seen on these styles. For example, you can get the Body Central Women's Knot Front Ballet Flats in 12 colors for $7.48 after the coupon above, a $3 savings. Act fast though, because sizes are severely limited.

Marcy Bonebright is a features writer for Dealnews.com, where this article first appeared.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pensacola company offers discount caskets for the masses

<Online Dealsp>It's hard to budget for misfortune.

Unexpected car repairs and medical bills often are an unpleasant fact of life, but at least in a pinch the costs can be worked around or put off.

The funeral of a lost loved one can't wait, however, and families often end up digging themselves into debt to provide a decent burial. The staff of a new business, Pensacola Caskets, says it wants to make funeral costs more manageable by offering discounted coffins.

"A lot of people don't have $20,000 and $30,000 insurance policies to cover funeral services," said Ellison Bennett, a spokesman for the company. "We try to ease that burden a little bit."

Partners Bennett and businessman Jay Patel held the grand opening for Pensacola Caskets on Monday, and about two dozen people took a tour of the showroom at 3848 N. Davis Hwy.

The aim of the company was less about making money, and more about offering a service, Patel said.

Patel and Bennett smiled when someone at the grand opening asked the age-old question of smart shoppers everywhere, "So what's the catch?"

"There is no catch," Bennett said. "We came together because we want to give a service. ...We're telling the customers that even after you bury your loved one, you still have to keep living. We want people to put money back in their pockets, instead of in the ground."

There were about a dozen different caskets on display recently in a variety of colors, styles and thicknesses, with even more available online. The caskets are the same quality as those sold at funeral homes, but a fraction of the price, Bennett said.

"Normally, this casket would sell for $3,600," Bennett said, laying his hand on an 18-gauge, pink-and-white metal casket with pink roses. "We sell it for $1,795, which is basically our cost for the casket and shipping it here."

The caskets in the showroom range from about $1,000 to $3,500, with the majority falling between $1,500 and $2,000. All are metal and sealable with adjustable beds. They range from 16-gauge, the thickest, to 20-gauge, the thinnest.

Most of the caskets cost between a half and a third of what a customer would pay at a funeral home, Bennett said. Some online wholesalers offer prices comparable to Pensacola Caskets, but shipping costs often negate most of the savings.

The company accepts calls 24/7 and will deliver for free anywhere within 100 miles, including funeral homes. The business also offers payment plans.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Daily Troll

Met steals SAM superstar

Shocking announcement Friday morning from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met just stole Sandra Jackson-Dumont from the Seattle Art Museum. Jackson-Dumont has been with SAM since 2006 as its well-loved and well-respected Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs and adjunct curator for modern and contemporary art. "This is huge news and a huge loss for the city's cultural scene," says Crosscut's contributing arts editor Florangela Davila. "Facebook is going bonkers." More later. - M.B.

State budget deal

Lawmakers reached a budget agreement Thursday, paving the way for the Legislature to adjourn on time close to midnight. The agreement represents considerable compromise, adding extra money for schools but not nearly what Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee wanted. Crosscut's John Stang will have full details on the budget and other last-day action. With the budget settled, no worries about the Legislature having to come back repeatedly like it did last year. We think. - J.C.

More time to fight over issues

With the budget deal out of the way, lawmakers left themselves a full half-day to fight over other issues. Among some of the ones that could provoke showdowns during the evening and night hours: controls on oil trains, preserving a fee on home-sale documents to help the homeless and requiring teacher evaluations to be partly based on student test scores. The test score measure is the state's last chance to prevent the loss of $40 million in federal education assistance. There's also a measure that could close medical marijuana dispensaries - forcing them to become part of the new state retail system. If that happens, expect plenty of smoke in the Legislature - and beyond. - J.C.

Bertha digs history

The state Department of Transportation says it has begun digging archeological holes to check for historical objects that could lie underground where workers will repair the stuck Bertha tunnel-boring machine. As Knute Berger wrote recently, the area near South Main Street conceivably holds considerable historical material. Crosscut's Bill Lucia has that story here. - J.C.

Promo Codes Prime gets exclusive

A price hike for Amazon Prime users is causing a stir in their members, Wall Street and Amazon's competitors. Amazon previously warned consumers of the rise in price, and ended up raising the new fee $20 to $99 a year, rather than an anticipated fee of as high as $119. According to GeekWire, there are mixed but fairly muted reactions among Prime members; competitor ShopRunner says it will offer a free shipping for a year to unhappy Amazon customers. GeekWire noted that at least one analyst predicts Amazon will have to add additional content to the service, with a streaming music service as one possibility. - H.W.

California lessons on wages?

The debate over the $15 minimum wage rages on. To many economists, the 61 percent increase in Seattle's minimum wage is unprecedented and unwise: it might force smaller businesses and non-profits to cut budgets/employees. Seattle Times' Lynn Thompson looks to other cities to inform the debate, finding that San Francisco and Santa Fe tell a different story. Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, holds that "you do not see a net decline in employment as a result of [their] minimum-wage ordinances." Such comparisons are undoubtedly complicated, which is why Mayor Ed Murray has assembled a 23-member committee of business, labor, and civic leaders to research the consequences of a $15 minimum wage in Seattle. The committee is expected to deliver a proposal to Murray by the end of April. - K.H.

2 media departures

After two and a half years at Seattle-based eco media source Grist, editor-in-chief Scott Rosenberg says that he is leaving the organization. The founder of Mediabugs.com and cofounder of Salon.com, Rosenberg spent most of his time at Grist as an executive editor; he will return to his Bay Area base and plans to write regularly on his blog Wordyard.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Be Wary of Online Deals for Over-the-Counter Drugs

Sounds like a great online deal - over the counter drugs at deeply discounted prices. But buying those pills might be dangerous to your health.

Pepcid... Tylenol... Advil... these piles of pill boxes look like they belong in the stock room of your local drug store.

In reality all of these over the counter drugs were stolen in an elaborate shoplifting ring.

David Arminio, US Postal Inspector, said, "Shop lifters will go into stores. They will steal the product. Ultimately they will sell it to a middle man..."

That person will then try to sell the product online. Sometimes for 30-percent less than retail stores.

But this is a crime that poses a real physical danger.

"A lot of these products have temperature requirements, they have to be stored within a certain degree, when they are stolen they are either stored in big warehouses, cars in hot weather," explained Arminio.

Postal inspectors say the criminals involved in these schemes are focused on money-- not temperatures or expiration dates.

"If someone consumes a product that is possibly spoiled they can get sick and one of our main concerns was a lot of products in this scheme were baby formula," said Arminio.

Some advice--be wary of Deal Now with price tags far below typical market value.

"When it is that much cheaper than the store, you kind of have to wonder 'where is that product from?' No one has more buying power than the National Retail chain," Arminio said.

The suspect in this case were discovered from leads provided by some retail stores and then developed with undercover purchases made by postal inspectors.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

NFL rookies who got short end of new CBA deal now close to payday

By Dave Campbell, Associated Press

Posted: 03/07/2014 05:06:53 PM PST

Updated: 03/07/2014 05:07:02 PM PST

With 36 1/2 sacks over his first three seasons, plus five more over four playoff games, Houston defensive end J.J. Watt has quickly become one of the NFL's premier pass rushers.

The mega-contract to match his market value likely won't materialize as fast.

At the quarter mark of the new collective bargaining agreement the financial picture for both sides is still forming, but Watt's case is a sign of one potentially significant advantage for the owners.

At not quite 25 years old, Watt would probably prompt offers of $100 million deals on the open market this month if he were eligible for it, and become the NFL's richest defensive player. Watt has exhibited the work ethic of an overachieving former walk-on at Wisconsin, the speed to match his prototypical size, and the durability to maximize his never-more-important skill of pressuring the quarterback. He has not missed a game as a pro.

Timing is everything, though, for the first draft class of the current CBA. Watt isn't even in the top 30 money makers at his position. While the Texans can now negotiate an extension with the 11th overall pick from 2011, the only obvious immediate motivation to do so would be for good will toward a vital player.

[ 2011 NFL Draft board]

Texans general manager Rick Smith, asked last month at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis about Watt's status, said no such contract talks have begun.

"This being first year that those deals can open up, I think you will see any number of positions that clubs will take," Smith said. "Again, we are in the process of determining how we are going to handle that as well. It's an important piece. It's an element that obviously needs to be thought through and carefully considered."

Owners sought to stem the soar of signing bonuses for high draft picks, and their allies in those labor talks were veterans bothered by staggering contracts given to guys yet to play an NFL game.

"The biggest part is getting those rookie contracts under control, and that's why you see so much movement in the first round," Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman said, adding: "No one ever wanted to get into the top five because of the financial commitment. You were just stuck."

Players approved the rookie wage scale to allocate more money under the salary cap for veterans. They received unrestricted free agency after four years in return and got the league to agree to minimum annual spending. For first-round picks, however, the owners secured a big win with this portion of Article 7, Section 7, of the CBA:

"A club has the unilateral right to extend from four years to five years the term of any Rookie Contract of a player selected in the first round of the Draft (the "Fifth-Year Option"). To do so, the Club must give written notice to the player after the final regular-season game of the player's third season but prior to May 3 of the following League Year (i.e., year four of the contract)."

Under the fifth-year salary formula, Watt would make about $5.5 million, an under-market salary for his resume. Teams also can use the franchise tag to further stave off free agency should a player balk at an extension offer. No renegotiations are allowed for the first three years of any rookie Discount.

The fifth-year options are guaranteed only in case of injury, so a team could pick that up now and still cut the player before the 2015 season without owing him any more money. This will make for an intriguing dynamic over the next few months around the league as teams weigh their options.

Publicly, nobody has griped yet. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been a bargain for the Panthers with a contract worth half as much as the top pick in the 2010 draft, quarterback Sam Bradford, whose career in St. Louis has been beset by injuries. Newton has said he's not worried about the extension.

Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green, the fourth selection in 2011, has acknowledged he's not in a rush.

"It'll be interesting to see," Spielman said. "If you do just do the option, why not? Potentially, what does it hurt? You've got a guy under contract, and then you go from there."

That means even the Vikings, who plan to add a veteran quarterback and draft a rookie, too, with Christian Ponder no longer in the long-term plans, could still pick up the option on Ponder, one of the biggest busts from that 2011 first round.

Seattle general manager John Schneider's ability to maintain the roster of the Super Bowl champions will be boosted by cap-friendly salaries carried by several Seahawks stars drafted in the last three years. Shrewd mid-round drafting was a gold mine in the old CBA, too. But while quarterback Russell Wilson is eligible for unrestricted free agency sooner than a third-round pick would've been previously, the Seahawks aren't even allowed to touch his contract until after his third year.

"It's a big deal for us. We've been able to acquire other players, and they were definitely players we were able to acquire that helped us get over the top this year," Schneider said. "It really is what it is. Those are the rules that are set up, and we have to abide by them."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Internet radio services: iTunes Radio v Pandora

Digital Life News

Fresh but frustrating: iTunes Radio.

Online radio stations, tailored for you, could forever change the way you listen to music.

Neither Apple's iTunes Radio nor pandora app let you listen to an album from start to end. Instead you nominate an artist, track or genre and they generate a mixed playlist of similar artists.

iTunes Radio is hand-curated by Apple staff, while Pandora relies on music-matching algorithms. As a result iTunes Radio features a range of Australian stations such as Hot Today, Hot Alternative, Workout and Unwind. You'll also find the iTunes Top 40 and a hit list drawn from Australian Twitter feeds. Dig through Pandora and you'll find Australian custom playlists, but they're not quite as fresh and dynamic.

Matchmaker: Pandora.

The tables turn when it comes to creating stations based on artists, tracks or genres. Apple's hand-picked recommendations offer an eclectic mix of similar artists, fine if you're looking for a general playlist, but frustrating if you're trying to home in. Too many songs feel out of place and you'll spend a long time approving and discarding before you find a good balance.

Pandora also lets you give tracks the thumbs up or down, but its music-matching does a better job of style matching. Choose a song such as The Doors' Roadhouse Blues and iTunes Radio plays a range of '60s classics such as Creedence Clearwater Revival. Meanwhile, Pandora studies the song and goes in search of more Blues tracks from the likes of John Lee Hooker.

iTunes radio comes via the iTunes mobile or desktop app. Pandora plays in any desktop browser with apps for Apple iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry.

The verdict

iTunes Radio does a good job of creating mixed playlists of songs you love, but Pandora does a better job of paring down a playlist when chasing a certain sound or feel.

iTunes Radio
Free ($35 per year removes ads)
Free ($US36 per year removes ads)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

U.S. automakers extend discount wars through March

Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

2014 Chevrolet Silverado pick up trucks are pictured in Thurmont, Maryland February 6, 2014.

Some of the heaviest discounts are being offered by Ford and Chevrolet dealers on full-size pickups - $8,000 and more on the 2014 Ford F-150 and $9,000 and more on the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, according to Internet listings posted Thursday.

But U.S. dealers also are sweetening deals on a wider range of vehicles, from low-priced economy cars such as the Chevrolet Sonic to popular crossovers such as the Ford Escape, fueling fears of an escalating "Printable Coupons war" among the bigger manufacturers.

The latest offers come as the Detroit automakers and a number of their competitors appear to have been slammed by a third straight month of extreme weather in many parts of the United States, causing inventories of unsold vehicles to remain at unseasonably high levels.

"We believe short-term pent-up demand is building, but it's difficult to know when it will be released," said analyst Joseph Spak of RBC Capital Markets. "It could be March or spread out over a few months (and) is also likely dependent on the weather."

Analysts polled by Reuters estimated U.S. vehicle sales in February will be relatively flat from a year ago, at around 1,196,000, representing an annualized rate of 15.4 million. After dismal sales in January, analysts had predicted an uptick in February.


The challenge for GM and Ford has been to maintain a delicate balance between pricing and discounts, one of the key incentives offered by the industry. This task is made a bit easier with big pickups, high-margin vehicles that traditionally provide the lion's share of pretax profit in Detroit.

Automakers were able to maintain record transaction prices in February, with the industry average topping $29,000, according to research firm J.D. Power.

GM, which introduced its redesigned Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups last summer, has seen the biggest gain - around $5,000 per vehicle - in truck prices from a year ago, according to research firm Kelley Blue Book.

Because it has been spending relatively less on incentives this year than Ford, GM's share of full-size truck sales has dropped several points to less than 35 percent.

GM spent an estimated $3,204 per vehicle in incentives in February, compared with $3,305 for Ford, according to research firm TrueCar.

That could change as GM phases out heavy-duty versions of the Silverado and Sierra this spring while building up production of redesigned editions.

Analyst Brian Johnson of Barclays Capital said U.S. vehicle inventories are down slightly from January, but so far the automakers have maintained relatively strong first-quarter production schedules.

"Should inventory levels remain elevated through April, we could see the issue addressed" via higher incentives or production cuts, Johnson said.


At the retail level, discounting continues at a furious pace, judging from dealer websites reviewed Thursday by Reuters.

Chevrolet dealers were offering promotional deals on a wide range of models as the GM brand wrapped up a nationwide Presidents Day sale and prepared for two new March promotions.

The new promotions are dubbed Chevy Truck Month and Chevy Open House, according to trade publication Automotive News. The March incentive programs are expected to provide discounts of up to $7,000 or more per vehicle, according to a GM source who declined to be named because the programs have not been formally announced.

A number of Chevrolet dealers in the meantime are offering even better deals, many of them over the Internet.

On Thursday, David Stanley Chevrolet in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, advertised a 2014 Silverado for $27,900, or $9,260 off the sticker price.

In Chandler, Arizona, Thoroughbred Chevrolet advertised a 2014 Malibu sedan at $17,395, or $5,860 off sticker, and a 2014 Sonic hatchback for $10,495, or $4,500 off.

Ford has boosted and extended discounts on many of its U.S. models through March 31. The company now is offering rebates of up to $4,000 on the full-size 2014 F-150 pickup and as much as $6,000 on selected models such as the 2014 Focus Electric.

But Ford dealers across the United States continue to advertise even steeper discounts on the Web.

Hall Ford Lincoln in Newport News, Virginia, on Thursday was offering a 2014 Ford Taurus Limited sedan for $34,000, a discount of $6,090 off the suggested retail price, and a 2014 Escape SEL crossover for $29,000, a discount of $5,600.

Brandon Ford in Tampa, Florida offered deep discounts of up to $7,200 on the 2014 F-150 pickup and $8,360 on the heavy-duty F-150.

Will the discount wars continue beyond March? That depends on the weather and on whether a "bounceback" in demand materializes, analysts said. As RBC analyst Spak noted: "Incentives, once introduced, can be hard to pull back."

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Finding coupons with no dumpster diving

Short of Dumpster diving, as seen on the popular TV series "Extreme Couponing," I have discovered that coupons may be found in some of the most unusual places.

Have you ever thought about finding coupons in places like hotel lobbies, local restaurants, or in airport waiting areas? Yes, it's true! Any place that people gather to read a newspaper to pass the time is a great place to find a jackpot of savings in the form of coupons. Many hotels offer complimentary newspapers to their guests, even on Sundays, and Sunday newspapers are full of Promotional Codes inserts.

Patrons at restaurants and passengers at airports will often leave behind their newspapers when they are finished with them, which means free coupons for those in search of savings.

Your local doctor or dentist's offices have complimentary magazines with educational materials that specialize in the area of the doctor's practice for their patients to read. For instance, the last time I visited my dentist, I found a pamphlet that instructed patients on how to brush their teeth. On the back of the pamphlet were three coupons, one for toothpaste, one for a toothbrush and one for dental floss. Savings like that are sure to make you smile.

Do you plan to do some online shopping? Many companies are now offering the assistance of "Chat Operators" to help answer questions about placing your online order. What a perfect time to ask your chat operator about specials, free shipping or online coupon codes to save even more money at checkout. Retailers are more than happy to offer a little savings in order to maintain your business and make you a repeat customer.

Social media is a great way to follow your favorite retailers and find out what items they are promoting for the up-and-coming season. Like your favorite companies on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Many retailers are now using their Twitter feeds as a way to stay in touch with their loyal customers. Find coupon links on your favorite Facebook pages that will allow you to print coupons right at home.

And lastly, a great way to save money when you can't find a coupon, is just to ask! I hate to pay full price for anything. Never be afraid to as your cashier or waiter if there are any discounts or specials that you may not be aware of. Be polite and courteous and you may just find that your efforts will be rewarded with savings!

Join me on Facebook, search Coupon Clippin' Cuties and add yourself to our group. Discover how collecting coupons in unusual places can result in super savings!

Sandra Dulakis is a nurse, mother, wife and founder of Coupon

Clippin' Cuties.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Argyle Police Blotter

The following is a summary of incident reports recently made to the Argyle Police Department as compiled by the staff of The Cross Timbers Gazette:

A resident on Old Justin Road had his gate vandalized and reported that five trash cans were missing from his property.

Police took a theft report concerning a stolen handgun from a resident on FM 407.

An officer patrolling Country Lakes discovered nine vehicles that had been shot with a paintball gun. The officer contacted the vehicles owners to see if they wished to file police reports.

Police received a call from a motorist who said that he saw a strobe light go off when he drove through the intersection of Hwy 377 and Frenchtown Road. He wanted to know if there were cameras at the intersection and if he was going to receive a traffic citation in the mail. The motorist was advised by police that there were no cameras at the intersection.

A woman living near Liberty Christian School called police one Saturday at 10 a.m. to complain that loud music coming from the football field awoke her children. An officer went to the stadium to listen for the noise and noted that it did not sound too loud.

Police visited a residence in the 500 block of Charyl Lynn Drive several times to quell a dispute between neighbors over a right-of-way issue.

An officer patrolling FM 407 after dark noted a suspicious male standing on the side of the road. Upon investigation he learned that the man had been left stranded by his girlfriend and was waiting for someone to pick him up.

A resident on Stonecrest Road called police to report that their neighbor behind them has a deceased horse on their property and wanted to know if there was any ordinance addressing bad odors. The caller requested that an officer come to his house and smell it for himself. The animal control officer was contacted to remove the horse.

An employee of a business on FM 407 asked police to closely patrol her building after a Hispanic male was seen hanging around the business for four hours before someone came to pick him up.

Police assisted the Double Oak Police Department after two men got into an argument and one man hit the other one with a vase.

An officer investigated a suspicious vehicle report on Frenchtown Road at Hwy 377 described as a blue Ford van parked on the side of the road with an unkempt looking male occupant. A citizen who called police was concerned that the man was watching the high school girls cross country team run in the area. An officer responded and the motorist explained that he ran out of the furnace trailer of gas and was waiting for his wife to arrive with a gas can.

Police took a call from a concerned motorist about a reckless school bus driver who pulled out in front of his vehicle and ran him off the road. An officer spoke with the school district and they agreed to investigate the incident.

A woman called police from Paradise Foods who reported a semi-truck driver beating his dog. She said she witnessed the driver punch the dog after he followed him into the cab of his truck. The woman was told to call police when the suspect came back to retrieve his trailer.

Argyle Police and Denton County Deputies were dispatched to Old Alton and Hilltop Road for a dispute between two motorists. A man stated he was pulling out of his driveway when another man began tailgating him, threatening him and making obscene gestures. The caller said that he pulled over to discuss the situation with the other motorist and told him that if he had a gun this would be a perfect time to use it. The man told police that he did not have a weapon and was advised to stay in his vehicle and wait for police to show up.

A man said that someone called him and tried to get him to send $1900 to the Mexican Consulate to get his grandson out of jail. He did not fall for the scam but wanted to report it to the police.

Police were called to the Argyle Church of Christ about two longhorns that were roaming the parking lot. They left before an officer arrived but police were called back to the area several times after more longhorn sightings were reported. An officer checked the fence and found a hole where the cows were escaping. The longhorns' owner said he believed the best thing to do was send them to "the sale" due to the ongoing problems he was having with them.

A resident on Old Justin Road reported that her driveway lights were shot out sometime during the night.

Police responded to a rehabilitation center after an employee said an intoxicated patient was acting in a threatening manner and it appeared that he was about to hit another patient and a staff member.

A motorist on I-35W reported that someone dropped an unknown object from an overpass near FM 407, causing minor damage to both sides of his truck. Police were unable to locate the culprit.

Someone stole solar lights from a flower bed in front a residence on Old Justin Road.

A Country Lakes man reported that someone fraudulently charged over $5,500 on his credit card at a home improvement store in Oklahoma City.

Police investigated an illegal dumping report on John's Well Court after a resident complained about debris on the side of the road. An officer investigating the report noticed that someone had dragged container carts into the woods at that location.

A concerned motorist reported seeing four black males dressed in black carrying buckets and soliciting donations for an unspecified charity at the intersection of Hwy 377 and FM 407. An officer arrived and advised them of the town's soliciting laws. The men left the area.

An officer investigating a noise complaint on Redbud Street discovered that a washing machine had fallen through the floor of a residence and a family friend was at the home helping to repair it.

Police responded to a security alarm at a model home in Country Lakes where a witness reported seeing juveniles running from the home and said that the kids had flipped over a Porta-Potty.

An Argyle High School official reported that someone kicked in the door of the concession stand but nothing was taken. This was the second time the incident had occurred in the past couple of months.

A resident on East Hickory Ridge Circle reported fraudulent charges on her Fry's Electronics account after someone hacked into her account and made two unauthorized purchases.

A resident on Sunset Court complained about skateboarders congregating on the street in front of his house and said two of them "mouthed off" to him.

Someone flattened all four tires on a vehicle and removed a tire's valve stem core on another vehicle parked at a residence on West Front Street. The day before someone had put a nail into a pickup truck tire at the same residence. The victim told police that she believed her son was the culprit because he was angry after a family argument that resulted in his father being arrested for assault.

Police responded to a disturbance on Redbud Street after a man suspected his aunt was in possession of a stolen cell phone and debit card, but said that she was being uncooperative and locked herself into a bedroom.

A woman stopped by the police station to file a fraud report and stated that her bank debit card was used at a Walmart in Spring, TX on five separate occasions for a total of $963 in fraudulent charges.

Police took a call from a man on I-35W who was concerned about the mental state of a female hitchhiker he had picked up. He stated that the woman began referring to herself by different names and asked to be let out on the highway so the man complied. An officer located the woman walking along I-35W and she asked him how to get to Dallas. The officer noted that she did not make any odd statements or show any signs of mental illness.

A solicitor selling books would not take no for an answer, visiting a Knob Hill Court home twice in one day after being told no the first time. The second visit after dark prompted a call to police by the homeowner.

Missing checks expected in the mail made a woman suspect her new mail carrier may be at fault. She told police that she contacted the post office, but the mail carrier was not responding to their inquiry. She was given the contact information for the Postal Inspector.

A resident in the 300 block of Crawford Road reported hearing three gunshots. An officer responded and spoke with neighbors who said that their children were riding four wheelers that were backfiring.

An officer on patrol in Country Lakes observed a roofing crew working after permitted hours. The crew leader told the officer they had to finish the job because they were afraid the shingles would be stolen. After further conversation they agreed to stop for the evening.

Police responded to a report to a couple arguing in a drainage ditch on Chisholm Trail. An officer responded to the scene and determined that no assault had occurred.

A woman called police to report unauthorized charges on her business credit card to an online clothing store totaling over $4,000. The items were shipped to an address in California.

An officer spotted a man on FM 407 selling ribeye steaks without a solicitors permit and advised him of the town's regulations.

Police took a report from a caller who said that five juveniles in an SUV left the high school parking lot at a high rate of speed and crashed into a ditch on Harpole Road. The responding officer found the vehicle abandoned in the ditch and issued a citation.

A restaurant employee on Hwy 377 called police for help with an intoxicated customer who refused to leave. The man, in his mid-20's and an ex-employee of the establishment, became irate after the bartender refused to serve him.

A homeowner in the 1400 block of Rolling Acres reported seeing a suspicious vehicle back out of her driveway as she was looking out the window. She was concerned because her husband was out of town and she was not expecting visitors. She later discovered it was a friend who stopped by and didn't ring the doorbell.

Police took a call from a man who claimed he saw a mountain lion casually walking around near the intersection of Hwy 377 and FM 407 and it looked like it was about ready to attack somebody. An officer responded and could not locate the animal.

A Country Lakes homeowner saw smoke coming from his attic shortly after turning his furnace on. The fire department responded and authorities determined the smoke was actually steam rising from a vent stack as a result of the unit being turned on for the first time this season.

The principal of an elementary school called police to report one of her teachers had received a handwritten letter at the school berating her and the principal herself had received a typed letter concerning the teacher.

A Subway employee became concerned about an African-American man in his sixties acting erratic in the parking lot. He was described as getting in and out of his car over and over again and had left his windshield wipers on.

Police assisted Flower Mound Police with apprehending an auto theft suspect. The suspect was described as bipolar with a history of making threats to police officers and setting a mattress on fire while his mother was lying on it. A female passenger in the stolen vehicle had warrants out for her arrest from four different police departments. The pair was arrested in the Paradise Liquors parking lot.

A woman in the 900 block of East FM 407 called for help after her 51-year-old ex-boyfriend refused to leave her house. She said he stated that he will not leave until he receives a letter that is supposed to be mailed there and will sleep in his car if he needs to. An officer responded and the man agreed to leave the residence.

Originally published in the December 2013, January 2014 and February 2014 issues of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Weather: Winter storm winds down in Central New York; snow totals ahead of last year

Syracuse, N.Y. -- The worst of the winter storm has passed through Central New York and should be completely gone by early evening.

"You still have one more blossom of snow going through between now and 5 o'clock," said Mark Pellerito, a National weather radar Service meteorologist, about 3:30 p.m. today. "The heaviest of the snow will start diminishing by then."

The winter storm warning issued by the weather service expires at 7 p.m.

The final total for the storm in Syracuse will be about 8 inches, he said. That would make it the snowiest day so far this winter. We had 7.7 inches on Jan. 2.

The weather service had forecast 8 to 14 inches of snow across Central New York for this storm. The higher amounts fell farther south, in Binghamton and along the Southern Tier.

The original forecast had been for heavy snow in the morning in Central New York that would diminish by early afternoon. The storm hit drier air than meteorologists expected in the morning, Pellerito said, splitting the storm into two.

"The first portion of the storm didn't turn out to be quite so bad, but then this afternoon it was worse," he said. "The end result is the same even though the play-by-play changed."

Snow totals at the Syracuse airport are ahead of last year at this time, Pellerito said. So far this season, 76 inches of snow have fallen. By Feb. 5 last year, we had 61.6 inches. An average year is about 80 inches by this time.

Here's the 4 p.m. National Weather Service radar map showing the storm heading out of Central New York.

  • Tonight: Scattered flurries before 4 a.m. Cloudy, with a low around 9. Wind chill values as low as zero. Northwest wind 6 to 13 mph.
  • Friday: Partly sunny, with a high near 18. West wind 13 to 16 mph.
  • Saturday: Partly sunny, with a high near 18.
  • Sunday:A 40 percent chance of snow. Cloudy, with a high near 25.
  • Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    Review: George Clooney's 'Monuments Men' Is Important But Mediocre

    Here's a fun little fact: Barring some kind of added value, George Clooney star-vehicles tend to open to around $13 million. I'm not talking about the all-star Ocean's trilogy or blockbusters like Batman & Robin, The Perfect Storm, or Gravity. I'm talking about the old-school star vehicles that Clooney has consistently used his star power to get made for the last 15 years. Those films, the ones Clooney is arguably best known for, generally open to around $11-$13m on their wide-release opening weekend. It happens almost every time, and every time we get pundits asking "Is George Clooney still a movie star?", ignoring this very consistent pattern.

    Be it Up In The Air ($11.2m), Men Who Stare At Goats ($12m), Michael Clayton ($10.3m), Intolerable Cruelty ($12.5m), Syriana ($11m), or The American ($13m), Leatherheads ($12.5m), or The Ides of March, Clooney's long list of "movies they just don't make anymore" are usually cheap enough not to need blockbuster grosses in order to make money, which is good since the biggest opening for a film like this is Burn After Reading (also starring Brad Pitt among others), which opened to $19m. As such, anything approaching $20m for Monuments Men has to be considered a solid win. After that, well, that's the open question, isn't it? Monuments Men cost around $50 million, and was co-financed by Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox . Sony distributes the film domestically while Fox handles the overseas distribution.

    As such, it basically only has to perform like one of the "better" Clooney vehicles in order to eventually make a profit. Point being, some of those Clooney vehicle hover around $50m domestic and $90m worldwide ( Michael Clayton, Syriana, One Fine Day, etc.). Others are in the $30-$40m domestic range but hang around the over/under $70m worldwide range ( The Ides of March, The American, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Ides of March). As long as Monuments Men doesn't completely crap out overseas ( Leatherheads), it should eventually qualify as a mostly worthwhile investment after all revenue streams are counted.

    The film is of course being sold as a proverbial Ocean's 11 in World War II, highlighting the film's strong cast (Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, etc.) and light tone. With better buzz, it would almost qualify as an event picture, a would-be "big" movie dropping at the beginning of February. But thanks to Clooney-and-pals' usual "we worked for peanuts" budgeting, the film doesn't have to be a blockbuster to succeed. Heck, with a light PG-13, it may well become a staple in classrooms. Even if it "underwhelms", studios generally like being in the mostly prestigious Clooney business, partially because he brings his movie star pals to play and gives them a $100m movie for $50m.

    The Promotional Codes:

    The story behind Monuments Men, about a team of soldiers sent into the European war zone towards the end of World War II to protect and retrieve art, is an interesting one. But it is not necessarily a story that lends itself to a movie. To writer/producer/director/star George Clooney and writer/producer Grant Heslov's credit, they don't add extraneous action scenes or near-escapes in order to enliven the proceedings. But truth (or apparent truth, I won't vouch for the film's utter historical accuracy) is no substitute for bad drama. And aside from some worthwhile Clooney monologues, there is very little drama to be found.

    The film is generally lacking in both incident and urgency. Even with the proverbial ticking clock, whereby the end of the war may mean the mass destruction of various stolen and/or precious artifacts and cultural landmarks, the pace feels not just episodic but arbitrary. There is little sense of what the Monuments Mens' plans are or what their long term or short term strategy is for their art scavenger hunt. Without going into details, the men seemingly wander around and occasionally stumble upon a location with lots of art to be loaded into a truck. Again, this may be true, but it's not very compelling.

    In order to kill time during this long period of non-action, we get a subplot involving the film's lone female character. Cate Blanchett's French art historian is technically supposed to represent the dozen or so real-life women who participated in the effort (in real life there were around 300 people attempting to save European culture after the war ended), but she is there frankly more as a would-be love interest for Matt Damon (who, like in Ocean's 13, is away from the gang seemingly in a different movie for most of the running time). Blanchett is fine, but her role is a prime example of how much time explicitly male-centric movies waste merely so they can put a girl, any girl at all, on the poster.

    The best thing about the film isn't anything that happens during its 115 minute running time, but rather the ideas under the surface. We get plenty of lectures about whether or not a soldier's life is worth risking (and losing) over a painting or a statute, and the film makes a strong case for the idea that saving the world is about more than just saving its people. At its heart, the picture is a study of how Pavlov's Hierarchy of Human Needs applies during a time when the only priority perhaps should be on the physiological. And the film dances around the tricky subject of soldiers running around rescuing paintings while the Holocaust was still occurring.

    The film implies that the men used in the Monuments Men project were not people who otherwise would have been sent into combat to more quickly end the war. The Holocaust is under-the-surface of its best sequences, including a recovered painting being returned to an empty house, and a discovery of a barrel of gold bits extracted from teeth. The film argues that it shouldn't be an either/or proposition, that a successful campaign should include saving the people and their culture. In an era when the city of Detroit may be forced to sell off its art collections in order to dig itself out of bankruptcy, the themes in Monuments Men are sadly more relevant than perhaps intended.

    If you've noticed that I've spent far more time discussing what the film is about rather than how it's about it, you've honed in on the film's core problem. Monuments Men is full of important ideas and worthwhile debate but is relatively un-engaging as a film. It shuffles from moment to moment, with little connective tissue and no real narrative drive. The actors are enjoying themselves, there are a handful of strong individual moments, and the picture looks terrific. Clooney clearly set out to make an explicitly old-fashioned movie, and there is artistry to its lack of pretension or film-making razzle-dazzle.

    But aside from the film's themes, often explicitly stated in monologue (which feels like a post-production connective device), there isn't much to keep the viewer's interest. It is the kind of story that probably made a great book and a fine documentary, but doesn't necessarily lend itself to a feature film. Monuments Men is arguably an important movie, but that doesn't make it a good one.

    Friday, January 31, 2014

    Winter Storm Leon: When Will Roads Thaw Out?

    <weather undergroundp>Winter Storm Leon delivered a long swath of snow and ice from parts of Texas to the coastal Southeast, coastal Mid-Atlantic and Northeast early Tuesday morning into Wednesday.

    If you're stuck at home, or away from home, due to ice-packed, untreated roads, there's one question you'd like to know above all others: When will temperatures rise above freezing to begin melting the accumulated mess?

    While some melting and drying did occur on roads Wednesday, it appears that the melting will accelerate as we close out the week.

    After waking up to temperatures well below freezing Thursday, highs should rise into the 40s over much of Alabama, north Georgia, and South Carolina including Atlanta and Charleston, S.C., allowing some significant melting to begin by late morning or early afternoon in these areas.

    Highs Thursday along the Gulf Coast should make it into at least the low 50s, helping to put an end to the icy misery there.

    Once again, however, low temperatures early Friday morning will bottom out in the 20s from the Carolinas to the Deep South, meaning there may be some refreezing of untreated roads and bridges where lingering meltwater was left standing by Thursday's warmth.

    , however, should bring widespread highs in the 50s in the Carolinas, north Georgia and Alabama, with 60s along the northern Gulf Coast. With lows Saturday morning forecast to remain primarily above freezing, Friday should spell the end of this long, aggravating snow and ice jam for parts of the Southeast.

    MORE: Winter Storm Leon Photos

    Thursday, January 30, 2014

    China's Lenovo steps into ring against Samsung with Motorola deal

    By Paul Carsten and Matthew Miller

    BEIJING (Reuters) - Lenovo Group, the Chinese technology company that earns about 80 percent of its revenue from personal computers, is betting it can also be a challenger to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Apple Inc in the smartphone market.

    On Wednesday, Lenovo said it would buy Google Inc's Motorola Mobility handset unit for $2.91 billion in the fourth-largest U.S. acquisition by a Chinese or Hong Kong company ever.

    "We are not only the number one PC company in the world but with this agreement we will become a much stronger number three smartphone company," said Wong Waiming, Lenovo's chief financial officer, on a conference call on Thursday.

    Investors, however, took a dim view of the Promo Code, which came less than a week after the company announced it was buying IBM Corp's low-end server unit for $2.3 billion. The stock fell 8.2 percent on concerns Lenovo might have overpaid for a loss-making business and would dilute the value of shares by issuing new ones to help pay for the purchases.

    Together with the IBM agreement, Lenovo has agreed in the last week to fork over as many as 800 million shares, representing about 7.7 percent of its outstanding stock.

    With its acquisition of Motorola, Lenovo is emerging as the most viable contender to global smartphone leaders Apple and Samsung - albeit still a distant third-place player.

    The deal will allow Lenovo to step outside its China comfort zone and firmly into other regions, including the United States, where Chinese smartphone makers have struggled, and Latin America, where Motorola remains a strong brand.

    Google has the opposite problem. China is one place its presence is barely felt since it left the market in 2010 because of network security concerns.

    Its search engine, which dominates in most of the world, recorded China market share by usage of just 1.6 percent in December, according to Beijing-based data firm CNZZ. Before 2010, its share reached 29 percent, according to Analysys Mason.

    Even Google's Android operating system, which Samsung also uses, has struggled in China. Only 3.5 percent of Android devices in China have its Google Play app store installed, limiting its profit potential.

    Whether the Lenovo partnership might reopen the door to China remains to be seen. Programs such as Google Maps and Google Plus, which is blocked by censors, would still be unavailable to most mobile users.


    Lenovo's global smartphone market share following the acquisition will be more than 6 percent, compared with Samsung's 28.8 percent and Apple's 17.9 percent as of December 31, according to Lenovo and IDC.

    For Motorola, Lenovo will pay $660 million in cash, $750 million in Lenovo ordinary shares, and another $1.5 billion in the form of a three-year promissory note, Lenovo and Google said in a joint statement.

    Lenovo will receive more than 2,000 "patent assets" as part of the transaction, the companies said, but it remains unknown which will change hands and whether they might be subject to extra scrutiny from regulators.

    "This has a huge impact not only to the smartphone market but also the Android ecosystem," said CK Lu, a Taipei-based tech analyst with Gartner. "Samsung dominates in the Android ecosystem but now they have a new challenger which is Lenovo."

    China would like to see a home-grown competitor to both Android and Apple's iOS. Earlier this month, it launched its own "China Operating System".


    Wong said Lenovo has no "urgent need" to raise additional funds to pay for the IBM or Motorola acquisitions. The deals together require capital outlays of $2.8 billion, while Lenovo has on-hand cash of more than $3 billion, Wong said. Lenovo also raised $1.2 billion in loans in December.

    Motorola Mobility lost more than $1.5 billion, after taxes and extraordinary items, since Google acquired the unit in May, 2012, according to a Lenovo filing on Thursday. Google will report its fourth quarter and annual earnings later on Thursday.

    "It looks like Lenovo is acquiring the Motorola unit at a premium," said Linus Yip, a Hong Kong-based strategist at First Shanghai Securities.

    But Wong said he was "very confident" Lenovo can return the business to profitability. He declined to give a time frame.

    Lenovo's smartphone business generates about $4 billion in annual sales, said Wong, and with the addition of Motorola the company should approach $10 billion in revenues "within a reasonable time".

    "That actually gives us a much bigger scale platform for us to grow further," Wong said.

    The deal may not be about market share so much as markets.

    "It's not about entering the U.S. but about stepping outside of China," said Gartner's Lu. "They have the chance to compete with Samsung and Apple."

    (Additional reporting by Clement Tan in Hong Kong and Jeremy Wagstaff in Singapore; Editing by Emily Kaiser and Alex Richardson)

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    Nine-game Husker diamond deal now available

    LINCOLN - Nebraska baseball fans will again be able to purchase the nine-game Diamond Promo Codes for the 2014 season starting this week. Fans can either purchase reserved tickets for nine games in the lower grandstand (sections 110 or 112), in the Homerun Terrace (behind right field) and in the upper grandstand (section 210 or 2012).

    Fans are able to choose nine games from any of the Huskers' 27 home games in 2014. The non-conference season includes games with Kansas State, St. John's, Northern Colorado, UC Irvine, Creighton, UNLV and UNO. The Huskers open Big Ten play on Friday, April 4, with the Ohio State Buckeyes, before also hosting Northwestern, Penn State and Illinois.

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    Sunday, January 26, 2014

    LongHorn Steakhouse $4 off 2 adult entrees mobile or printable coupon


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    Saturday, January 18, 2014

    Review: The Toshiba Q Series Pro SSD delivers top performance at a discount

    <Deal Newsp>Many capable SSDs are out there, but don't overlook a relative newcomer: Toshiba's Q Series Pro. Toshiba's drives are among the very fastest we've tested, and in an unusual development, we saw no drop in performance in its smaller capacities. Throw in heavy online discounts, and you have an excellent bargain in a top-performing drive.

    The Q Series Pro drives are only 7mm thick, so they'll fit in just about any laptop that supports a 2.5-inch drive. The controller is Toshiba's own TC358790XBG, as is the 19nm Toggle-mode MLC NAND. In our tests reading and writing a single 10GB file (using a 16GB RAM drive on our test bed), each of the three capacities Toshiba sent us-128GB, 256GB, and 512GB-proved excellent performers.

    Toshiba's drive delivered very high performance when reading and writing a single 10GB file (click to enlarge).

    Until now, the rule as been that the smaller the capacity, the slower the drive (because of fewer chips and fewer channels), but the Q Series blew that up and then some. The 128GB drive actually ended up being the fastest capacity we tested, although the difference was so small as to be statistically irrelevant.

    The 128GB Q Series Pro wrote our 10GB mix of files and folders at 409.9 MBps and read it at 412.25 MBps. With a single large 10GB file, that jumped to 635.4 MBps writing and 481.4 MBps reading. No single result was fast enough for first place, but where many drives shine at either reading or writing, the Q Series Pro is top-notch at both.

    Toshiba's Q Pro Series SSD also delivered excellent performance when reading and writing 20GB of folders and small files.

    As mentioned, the larger capacities were slower, but only by very slight margins. Overall, the 128GB finished third among all the unaided drives (no software on the PC) that we've tested of any capacity, and it finished far ahead of other 128GB drives we've tested.

    The 256GB and 512GB drives placed fifth and sixth respectively; you should note, however, that first and sixth place are separated in performance by just 3 percent.

    The bottom line

    The Toshiba Q Series Pro drives carry some rather hefty suggested retail pricing: $160 for the 128GB, $310 for the 256GB, and a sky-high $740 for the 512GB model. But a quick trip online revealed stunning discounts that drop the price below 80 cents per gigabyte. That's a bargain in a drive this fast. The only downside is that the Q Series Pro is warrantied for just three years, while its Samsung 840 Pro and OCZ Vector competitors carry five-year warranties.

    Friday, January 17, 2014

    Carnival Cruise Lines launches new shore excursions best price guarantee

    Shore excursions are part of the fun of cruising. Going ashore and taking a tour is an exciting option on cruises. And, almost always, there are more tour options than I can do. Makes for hard choices.

    But Carnival Cruise Lines has now come up with a cruise industry first to be sure passengers get the Price Compare shore excursions possible. Carnival just announced a guarantee that guests who book a Carnival shore excursion and find a comparable tour at a lower price will receive an onboard credit of 110 percent of the difference.

    "Many of our repeat guests who have booked Carnival shore tours previously are already knowledgeable on the outstanding value our tours provide," said Mico Cascais, vice president of tour operations for Carnival Cruise Lines.

    "However, our research indicates that many others, particularly first-time cruisers, are interested yet concerned as to whether or not they are getting the best deal,. The best price guarantee program will assure our guests they are getting both the highest quality and the best value on all of our tours."

    I've long known that the shore excursions offered by a cruise company are the best way to go. The excursions have to be well organized, reasonably priced, safe and interesting or the cruise line would not keep offering them.

    I once saw a couple returning to our cruise ship shaking their heads and vowing never TO take a Jamaica tour again. The problem was not Jamaica and it was not the tour, it was the tour company. The poor couple had booked it with a tour company after they got off the ship and saw a cheap tour offered in Jamaica. Never ever do that.


    Stick with the cruise company excursions. They offer the best protection and now the best price. I was very pleased with my Bob Marley tour when the Carnival Breeze docked in Jamaica. But I don't think I would have wanted to take the tour with any company other than the one backed by the Carnival company.

    Of course, with Carnival's new excursion protection plan, cruisers are guaranteed to get the best deal from a Carnival excursion. Sounds like a great program.

    Guests sailing on a Carnival cruise who book a shore excursion through the cruise line can be completely confident they are getting the best price and best value with the introduction of a new shore excursion best price guarantee.

    The only guarantee of its kind in the cruise industry, the program is now available fleet wide for all Carnival Cruise Lines shore tours on ships sailing from North America.

    Under the best price guarantee, guests who find the same tour offered by another operator at a lower price than their booked excursion either before or during their cruise can complete a claim form to receive 110 percent of the difference in the form of a shipboard credit.

    The guarantee is available for excursions booked prior to or during a cruise. If guests pre-book an excursion, then find a comparable tour advertised online at a lower price, they can complete an online form up to seven days prior to the cruise to invoke the guarantee. Guests can also complete a form during the cruise either before or after their excursion has taken place. Claims are typically processed within 24-48 hours.


    Guests who book their excursion through Carnival enjoy the convenience of having shore excursion tickets delivered to their stateroom, 24/7 access to shipboard staff to answer questions and obtain assistance, and an assurance that they will receive a refund or the excursion time will be adjusted as needed based on weather or other issues affecting a ship's scheduled port of call visit.

    I heard a faint gasp during my Carnival Magic orientation meeting in December when Magic Cruise Director James Dunn told cruisers what would happen if they booked a shore excursion not offered by Carnival and didn't return to the ship in time for its sailing.

    "We will leave you," Dunn said. "We've done it before and we will do it again."

    Of course, that is no problem when you book a shore excursion with Carnival. I've never been late getting back to the ship on a ship-arranged tour excursion. But if something were to happen with a Carnival tour, Dunn said, the ship would wait.

    Ongoing communication between tour operators and shipboard staff ensures that the cruise line is aware and can make necessary changes to a ship's departure time when a tour is running late or unexpected circumstances arise, Dunn said.

    Sure worth the peace of mind to me.

    The online and onboard claim forms require guests to provide the name of the competitor offering the comparable tour, excursion name, where the tour was advertised and the duration, price and any items included in the tour such as lunch, drinks, transportation or admission fees.

    The best price guarantee is applicable to shore excursion matches on the same date as the tour purchased from Carnival.

    For more information about Carnival's new shore excursion best price guarantee: Visit www.carnival.com/shoreexcursionbpg.

    Thursday, January 16, 2014

    The Best Offer: movie review

    <Amazon Deal Onlineimg src="http://www.timeoutchicago.com/sites/timeoutchicago.com/files/imagecache/timeout_492x330/0114.chi.fi.TheBestOffer.jpg">

    Want to know whether that 18th-century painting you bought for a few million is actually a fake? Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is your guy, a fussily observant assessor and auctioneer who prefers the company of heirlooms to human beings. In this initially intriguing, ultimately very silly romantic thriller from Cinema Paradiso' s Giuseppe Tornatore, our eccentric, hypochondriac hero-who can't even hold a cell phone without wrapping it in a handkerchief-is hired by an unseen, agoraphobic young woman (Sylvia Hoeks) to sell off her sizable estate. Trouble is, he's slowly falling in love with his silky-voiced client, who-as he tells his ladies'-man colleague, Robert (Jim Sturgess)-he's forbidden to lay eyes on.

    It's a promising premise, and give writer-director Tornatore credit for laying out plenty of tantalizing, Hitchcockian narrative bread crumbs. There's a secret vault filled with ill-gotten paintings, an antique automaton that may hold the key to a shadowy secret, even an autistic little person whose seemingly random obsession with numerical patterns might not be so random after all. None of it comes together in any satisfying way, unfortunately, because Tornatore telegraphs every revelation with head-slapping amateurishness. But the fully committed Rush, at least, commands our constant attention, and no movie with a kookier-than-usual Ennio Morricone score (dig those staccato-chanting chorines!) could ever be a total waste of canvas.