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Black Friday: Worth the Wait?

Electronics, Special Deals, TechnologyNancy Woo25 November 2011

Every year it seems like the Black Friday madness gets crazier and crazier. Since the U.S. economy took a nosedive in 2008, holiday shoppers may be on an even more constrained budget than usual, making the drop-down prices of Black Friday even more appealing. What are the crowds like this year?

While the economy is still struggling after the crash of 2008, Black Friday sales are expected to rise 2.8% from last year, as 150 million people try and snag the best soon-to-be-expired bargains.[1] Since the U.S. Census Bureau currently calculates the U.S. population to be 312 million[2], that means about half the country will be partaking in the mad holiday dash, and to the tune of roughly $465 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.[3] This year, even Apple, a company infamous for never having any deals, offered certain meager holiday discounts.

 

2011 is a year of many firsts – it marks the first year that many retail stores across the country opened their doors at midnight, instead of opening early in the morning as usual, while some stores simply never closed. How soon until people forego their Thanksgiving meal altogether in order to wait in line for a half-priced toy?

The term Black Friday was supposedly coined in the 1960s after Philadelphia police officers had to deal with massive traffic jams on the weekend after Thanksgiving, but the term solidified in the 1980s, when the popular theory became that people were taking their checkbooks out of the red and into the black.

Black Friday could have another meaning as well. The ferocity and violence that possess many consumers on the Friday after Thanksgiving has given many a crazed shopper a black eye – or worse. Perhaps the worst case of shopping violence occurred in 2008, when a retail worker at Wal-Mart, 34-year old Jdimytai Damour (weighing in at 270 pounds, 6 feet 5 inches), was trampled to death by the savings-hungry mob.[4] Has the economic meltdown taught the U.S. consumer base nothing about balancing our bank accounts, other than to become more and more vicious?

Half the country is out shopping ‘til they start dropping, but is it really worth it? Some truly think so, and for families on a budget, this may be the one day of the year when they feel they actually have a chance to buy Timmy the video game system he really wanted or embellish the home with a new TV. Some people have even been reported to have started waiting in line for Black Friday deals since Monday.

There may be solid reasons for struggling families to endure the biting cold and banality of waiting in line for days, just to grab a limited-time only deal, but there may also be other ways to save the pocketbook while ensuring a happy holiday season.

In 2005, Cyber Monday was born. Whether it is complementary or competitive with Black Friday, Cyber Monday marks another holiday bargain-busting day, this time bringing Internet retailers into the mix. Cyber Monday refers to the Monday after Thanksgiving when most people return to work, and when a massive number of Internet retailers offer their special holiday deals.

The advantage of Cyber Monday is that no one risks serious injury, no one has to wait in line for days, and no one is wearily shopping up and down the aisles at 3 in the morning, a time when some bad shopping decisions might be made. Cyber Monday allows shoppers to browse deals from the comfort of their home or office, and while there may be a limited amount of items or an expiration date to the deals, the stressful frenzy is not nearly as present.

So far, the Internet hasn’t seemed to change things too much on Black Friday, since this year already shows 150 million people out shopping, but it is nice to know that some great deals can be found online without having to battle through barbarous crowds.


[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2011/nov/25/black-friday-sales-stampede

[2] http://www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2011/nov/25/black-friday-sales-stampede

[4] Ibid.

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How Important is Presentation?

This one’s a no-brainer: a good presentation is key to success.

First impressions may not be the absolute be-all, end-all, but a first impression lasts, and a bad one certainly stinks. No interviewer in his or her right mind is going to hire the sloppy Joe with grease stains covering his slacks, that is, unless he happens to have a genius IQ or just invented a time machine. But even if he fits both of those criteria, he may not even get the chance to make his case since he might be dismissed based on an unprofessional appearance. Initial judgments may not always be correct, but few busy people have time to waste looking at something that seems like it was thrown together at the last minute. Professional folders, packages, resumes and portfolios all endure a higher likelihood of survival on the cutting block when presented neatly, thoughtfully and professionally.

A professional-looking disc label is sure to impress.

When presenting a CD or DVD (which may contain anything from a resume to statistical data to music and videos) to a high-level executive, a job interviewer, potential clients or even possible fans, it is vital to spend a little extra time and money on its appearance. Once the CD changes hands, its first task is to entice the receiver to open it and give it her full attention.

Nothing labeled in Sharpie is going to impress anyone. There are many options for professional disc labeling, such as using specialized software, specialized disc labelers or contracting professionals to mass-produce a design of your choice. Because the options for customizing are many, it is important to keep in mind a few things when designing a professional CD label:

•    Be succinct and descriptive – CDs have limited space, so the title should be clear and explicitly about the topic at hand, i.e. the company’s name and project, artist’s name and album, etc.
•    Use enticing language – If, after including the name and title, there is a good amount of space leftover on the CD, consider including a snappy tagline, quote or list of items that might arouse interest in the receiver
•    Use easy to read fonts – Don’t make your audience work hard to uncover the secrets of the CD, especially if you are trying to sell something or persuade someone to open the files. Also, make it easy to read so that later on down the road, the receiver doesn’t forget the relevance of the file and toss it out
•    Use high-quality pictures – If customizing the CD with artwork, make the sure the picture chosen is not pixilated, blurry or otherwise indistinguishable. Keep it simple. Doing a sloppy job with artwork may even be worse than not using any at all. That being said, appropriate, original and topical artwork may be the very thing to grab your receiver’s attention

If using any sort of disc publishing software or online publisher, make sure to test the design before printing hundreds of copies. There are many templates online, or included in purchased software, that can assist in the design process.

Also, including a disc sleeve or sturdy case is highly recommended. Don’t let your CD flop about!

With these simple tips in mind, your professional CD or DVD is sure to be a hit, and at least impress the receiver enough to slide it into their computer. Keeping their attention after that is up to you.

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Epson Unveils Moverio: A Sci-Fi Dream Turned Reality

EpsonNancy Woo10 November 2011

Moverio is the first of its kind, though it hasn’t gone undreamed of in the imaginative worlds of science fiction. Like the robotic multiple field vision of the Terminator or the overlapped visual fields in Minority Report, Moverio is a headpiece that allows for multiple fields of vision to be seen at the same time.

Moverio isn't quite so violent...

Wearing the headpiece, which looks like a futuristic black eye band, allows the user to see the field of vision directly in front of them, as they would normally, while also showing them a 3-D (or 2-D) video from an 80 inch screen in front of them.

The question becomes: can our brains really comprehend two complex, detailed pictures at the same time, overlapped on top of each other? Epson sure hopes so, because the company expects to sell 10,000 of these bad boys upon the initial release date, which is just around the corner. The product will first hit the marketplace in Japan on November 25, 2011, going for about $770 U.S. dollars.

The world’s first 3-D head-mounted display unit (HMD), as it is called, uses software powered by Android 2.2 and it supports MPEG-4/MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video files. The product comes with a tethered controller for user control and 1 GB of onboard storage, as well as a MicroSD slot for expanded memory. The HMD unit can connect to Wifi, for example, to watch YouTube videos, and weighs in at only a half pound.

Simultaneously experiencing a 3-D video file while also experiencing the real 3-D world may take some getting used to at first, but once mastered may actually enable the human brain to process things more quickly and efficiently. Who knows? Plus, it must be outrageous fun.

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DVD Vs. Blu-Ray: All Factors Considered

Blu-ray Media, DVD-R, ElectronicsNancy Woo03 November 2011

For those out there who still boggle over what Blu-Ray actually means, this short little VS. battle will help clarify some of the main features of a Blu-Ray disc, compared side by side to the familiar DVD. Price, picture, sound, accessibility and future changes to technology will all be taken into account to give a fairly full picture of which disc trumps the other in which ways. The true winner is whichever one you decide to buy.

For those with a “classic DVD” collection, the thought of Blu-Ray may be as foreign as eating upside down. Why bother upgrading when I can let my classic DVD library augment my classic vinyl collection? I already have it, so why would I switch over to something new?

But for those sitting on the edge of their seats anticipating the best and brightest new gadgets to hit the market, a Blu-ray player is probably already a permanent fixture within the HDTV home entertainment system. Owning a Blu-Ray system doesn’t mean DVDs are dinosaurs, but it does mean that Blu-Ray will be able to do certain things DVDs cannot.

Let’s take a look at the differences:

VS.

Affordability

DVD: A physical DVD now costs around $10 to $15 a pop, sometimes even less for “bargain” films (which are usually a bad idea in the first place, but oh so tempting at $6.99). DVD players are so common these days that any number of them will go for under $50.

Vs.

Blu-Ray: Films on Blu-Ray typically cost about $10 more than its counterpart in DVD. So that’s more like $20 to $25 per movie, a significant increase. That’s a quarter of a Benjamin. And in order to play that sucker, you must have a Blu-Ray player, which costs around $250-$300, though they can go up into the thousands.

Winner: DVD

Picture Quality

DVD: We all know what a DVD picture looks like. Pretty good, much better than VHS, right? No more fuzzy skipping or snow. The picture is fairly clear at 420p sharpness.

Vs.

Blu-Ray: At 1080p, Blu-Ray picture is more than twice as sharp as DVD. The higher pixel number means that two and a half times more information is being shown on the screen, giving a sharper, cleaner, more detailed picture. As most films are being shot in High Definition digital, the higher quality appears much more obviously on the screen.

Winner: Blu-Ray

Audio Quality

DVD: The DVD sound is as good as can be… for 1995. For typical singe television, the DVD sound is fine, matching the picture quality. No complaints.

Vs.

Blu-Ray: With a home entertainment system, Blu-Ray discs provide stunning sound, most equipped with 7.1 channel surround sound. This means the Blu-Ray disc was built with the capability to distribute its sound through various different channels, i.e. the many speakers surrounding a home theater. The sound comes from all around, specifically the way the movie was made, mimicking true theaters.

Winner: Blu-Ray

Content Selection

DVD: Pretty much anything you want to watch comes on DVD. VHS? Not so much. Basically, every movie ever made has been converted from VHS or its original version to DVD. DVD is the standard for all movies, and you will be hard pressed to find a movie that does not have a DVD form. Plus, your movie collection is probably already in DVD form in the first place.

Vs.

Blu-Ray: Simply put, there’s no guarantee that the movie you want will be made on Blu-Ray. Because Blu-Ray serves a smaller consumer base, only the really popular or in demand movies will be converted to Blu-Ray.

Winner: DVD

Ease of use

DVD: Most people are familiar with the way DVD players work. They’re not that different from the old VHS players, and they’ve been around so long that the technology is reliable. Play, pause, stop, skip ahead, skip backwards, eject. It’s easy, simple and the hook ups are usually straightforward.

Vs.

Blu-Ray: Since Blu-Ray is a still-developing technology, there are sometimes kink in playback, skipping or longer load times. The newer technology means the first few generations are not as reliable as tried-and-true DVDs.

Winner: DVD

Extra Features

DVD: As most people know, DVDs offer many more features than the ancient VHS, such as scene selection, deleted scenes, director’s commentary, trailers etc. The main menu offers some extra goodies after the movie is over.

Vs.

Blu-Ray: Blu-Ray goes a few steps further. On top of all the extra features that DVD offers, Blu-Ray allows the user to bookmark favorite scenes and access the menu without leaving the current scene. There is better capacity for special features like commentary, animated menus and pop-up tracks. Plus, BD-Live allows the user to access the Internet straight from the screen and even play video games associated with the film. The Blu-Ray system can act as a multi-purpose Internet and gaming console, and it is a great piece for a thoroughly constructed home entertainment system.

Winner: Blu-Ray

Playback Capacity

DVD: Typical DVDs hold between 5 and 10 GB of data, or enough for one film and extras. DVD players can play CDs and DVDs.

Vs.

Blu-Ray: Blu-Ray discs are made with technology much newer than DVD, and as we know, things keep getting smaller, faster and full of more room for data. Dual layer Blu-Ray discs can generally hold about 50 GB of data, or 5-10 times as much as DVD. Blu-Ray discs are also smaller, easier on packing and less cumbersome. Furthermore, a Blu-Ray player can play all media types: CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray.

Winner: Blu-Ray

Outlook for the Future

DVD: DVDs have been around for a decade now, and they are still going strong. Most films come in DVD format, and it’s much easier to build up a DVD collection than trying to begin anew with Blu-Ray. As technology advances, media will either eventually move to a mostly digital format or there will be something even better to replace Blu-Ray. In that respect, it makes more sense to stick with the DVD system until the next widespread format takes over.

Vs.

Blu-Ray: Blu-Ray is technologically superior to DVD, but what happens when movies become completely digital, or a new format hits the mainstream market? Blu-Ray may be a treat for the time being, but plainly put, it’s a niche market and probably will not become widespread. The majority of people will be looking back on today fondly remembering the days of DVD, not Blu-Ray. Once all media becomes digital, both DVD and Blu-Ray will be obsolete. So why not just stick with DVD until then? Blu-Ray may just be a minor stopping point before the next big wave.

Winner: DVD

Who will triumph in the battle between DVD and Blu-Ray?

Final Tally

DVD wins: 4

Blu-Ray wins: 4

Well, there you have it. Each media format comes with its pros and cons, evening out so that the real winner is the one that fits you best. DVD is more affordable, more reliable, has a greater selection and makes more sense to hang onto until the next technological revolution. Blu-Ray has picture and audio quality that is significantly superior to DVD, a greater selection of features and the capacity to store much more data on the disc. Hopefully this side-by-side comparison laid out some of the major advantages and disadvantages to each. Now it’s just up to you to pick your poison.

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