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Tag: Staples

Diary of a Frustrated Black Friday Cyber Shopper

Hitting the malls to purchase your favorite doorbusters is so yesteryear. This time, all I needed was my cup of Joe and my computer. Or so I thought…

Hitting the malls to purchase your favorite doorbusters is so yesteryear. This time, all I needed was my cup of Joe and my computer. Or so I thought…

10:00pm, Thanksgiving evening-
Go to sleep early.
(too much tryptophan)
Must be frosty for Black Friday!

6:00am, Black Friday-
Wake up. Make coffee. Sit down and boot up iMac.

Navigate to Apple’s big one-day sale.
No real discounts anywhere in sight.
Deep sigh…

This year, Apple only offered gift cards towards future Apple Store purchases… Their previous Black Friday discounts were never that great to begin with, but this ‘evolution’ was even less inspiring.

Next stop – Amazon
Review list of Lightning Sales. Nothing electrifies.

Out of frustration I did put an $11 Rayovac ‘head lamp’ into my cart.
(My old geeky REI head-mountable flashlight had stopped working recently.)
It’s useful to have one of these flashlights around when you need an extra directional light source in front of you, and you can’t hold it in your hands.

Great deal on a Blu-ray Disc of ‘Star Trek into Darkness’ for just $7.99 on Amazon.
(Complete with digital download for Road Warrior’s iPhone.)

I said to myself, “Make it so!”
But then I noticed a review warning the universe this version didn’t contain enough of the fun bonus material.

Delay purchase.

Up further research, I uncovered a raging Star Trek fan controversy a few months back when four different Blu-ray Disc versions were released to separate retailers.
This sales tactic effectively split up all the extra content outside of the movie itself.  So no one version contained it all.

And Amazon’s Blu-ray package seemed especially lacking…
So I put away my phaser and cancelled the mission.

Rayovac deal on Amazon expires in cart.

Head over to Target.
See the fans’ ‘preferred’ Star Trek Blu-ray version with more goodies.
Only $9!

After I completed my little happy dance, I took a closer look.
The online purchase button was grayed out.
You could only buy it in the store.


Little Lester wakes up.

Frustrated with all my shopping roadblocks, I put my computer to sleep and headed off to the family breakfast table…

Hunting and Gathering like our Ancestors
Later that morning, I ventured out of my cyber bubble to do a little brick and mortar shopping, and ironically found my old-school experience much more satisfying.

At Staples, I picked up a 32 GB SanDisk USB Flash Drive for just $10.
(not available online)

And I found a couple of good deals on Thomas Train Set accessories for my three year old at Toys”R”Us.
(also not online)

Yes, I know the day is called Black Friday and not Cyber Monday for a reason.
But I figured with all the cyber creep going on, there really wasn’t much of a difference anymore.

Apparently, the stores still want you to get off your tushies on Friday….
It seemed their best deals were still only available on sight.
(not on site)

Following my shopping adventure in the wild like my ancestors, I headed out to a family lunch gathering.
Additional cyber shopping would have to wait…

The Discount Gift Card Illusion
Later that night, I found one last window of opportunity to distribute some of my hard-earned money back to the Black Friday economy.

A few minutes in, I ran across what I thought was a genius idea:

  • Discount gift cards…for myself!

It was the inspired moment I’d been waiting for all day.

If I couldn’t find any online deals, why not buy discount gift cards to use at those very same stores…?

It’s like engineering your own discounted purchase.

So I checked out the usual suspects:

They claimed to offer deals up to 35% off store gift cards.
But the harsh reality was the discounts were substantially smaller for the better-known cards I was interested in.

More like 2%-9%.

Yes, that’s technically a savings, but it wasn’t enough of an incentive to keep me interested…
So I chalked up the wasted research to my ongoing education towards tech nirvana and moved on…

Canon to the Rescue
Wait! There’s a sale on the Canon PowerShot Elph 330 HS!

All along, I’ve been looking for a deal on a small pocket camera for my wife and me.

I’ve used the older Elph 300 and found it to be a fabulous little workhorse of a camera. The Elph 330 has been upgraded with a nifty 10X zoom and has been selling this year at a $179 price point..

And now I saw that Best Buy was selling it for only $129!!
(Including an 8 GB memory card and camera case)


Truthfully, I’m not sure how much of a Black Friday moment this was.
Multiple retailers were selling it at the same price point, because Canon was offering the $50 discount.

So the only real deal was how many ‘extras’ the retailers would throw in on top of the Canon mark down.

I did a little more research and noticed that Adorama had a slightly sweeter offer.
They included a larger 16 GB memory card along with the camera case.

So I took the Adorama deal.

Shopping Endorphins Released
I had finally found my Black Friday moment!
(I would not be denied my annual Black Friday endorphin surge.
Though I have to admit this time around, I had my eyes wide shut.)

Honestly, this annual ‘hunt’ is a lot of work, and I’m not sure if the payoff justified the effort this year.

What does all this say about me?

Coincidentally, The New York Times just ran a Black Friday story
talking about how retail marketers are targeting ‘self-gifters.’

The article identified this shopping group as a ‘special demographic niche’ and then identified a poster child by featuring an ‘incurable self-gifting’ man from North Carolina.

They included a photo of him happily sitting in his living room, working his laptop while his wife stood by.
As I looked at the smile on his face, his hyper-focused eyes looking for bargains…
…he actually appeared a bit maniacal.

Could that be me?

Should I be worried?
(pregnant pause)

I say, “NO!!!”

Look, we all end up buying ourselves things from time to time.
Is it so wrong to buy yourself a gift or two on Black Friday?

And isn’t that the day you’re supposed to find better prices?

Why should all this be such a surprise?

So I’m a self-gifter from time to time…
I know I’m low-hanging fruit.
I’m good with that.

The Truth is Out There
So another disappointing Black Friday has come and gone.
Yes, I bought a cheap flash drive and got a couple train deals for my son.
And, I’m relatively happy with my Canon Elph purchase.

But it’s hard for Black Friday to live up to all the hype.
Especially if you’re not heading out to the malls at 12am to stalk your ‘doorbusters.’
(This year, stores actually opened on Thursday!)

The good news is you get to avoid all that madness if you stay close to home.

And if you can distance yourself a bit, a simple truth permeates through all the holiday advertising Kool-Aid.

The act of pounding the pavement may still be the way retailers reward you on Black Friday.
But finding all your holiday shopping deals is not a one-day sprint.
It never was…

It’s more like a marathon.
You’ve got Cyber Monday,
and then most of December ahead of you.

Take a breath.
Pace yourself.

Then you may find your Tech Zen.

Good luck!
I’ll see you at the finish line.
(or somewhere close!)

You’re Going to Need a Bigger External Hard Drive

Even if you have faith your hard drives can withstand the forces of fate, they’ll eventually weaken under the load of all those home videos you’re shooting.

Even if you have faith your hard drives can withstand the forces of fate, they’ll eventually weaken under the load of all those home videos you’re shooting.

I was at Staples recently, trying to handle a work-related emergency that required the immediate acquisition of a 2 terabyte external hard drive for a video project.

It was such a crisis, I didn’t have the time to schlep to the nearest Apple Store to pick up one of my preferred brands of hard drives. (more on that later)

But I figured the Easy Button shouldn’t be too hard to find.

I just needed a drive to transport some extremely large video files.
The drive wasn’t destined for workhorse service in an edit suite.
So I figured most any brand would probably do.

I mean, most new drives should work for at least a few days, right?
(Heck, they should last for a few years!)
This drive needed to live for twenty-four hours.

After that, it could self-destruct into a gelatinous mass of green ooze.
(It would still be forever known as the drive that saved my project.)

But I couldn’t bring myself to simply grab any drive off the shelf and join the charge of the Light Brigade.

I’ve got the mutant ‘shopping-for-tech’ gene hard-wired into my ‘techdentity.’
So it forced me to review my options in a quick but orderly attempt to identify the best drive available.

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish
I stared through the locked panes of impenetrable plexiglass, guarding the legions of hard drive boxes. I struggled to read the fine print.
(Like when you’re shopping for jewelry… The price tag always frustratingly turned just out of view!)

Then I noticed a guy in his 30’s standing next to me, staring at the same pane of plexi as he gripped a frayed sales circular.

We both spent a few minutes in silent solidarity, confused by the choices in front of us.

He finally picked out a box after Cerberus came by and opened the locked fortress. My fellow nerd held up his new box and stared at it.
I looked at him. He looked at me.

“What do you think?” he asked.

It was a 500 GB drive.

“Why such a small drive?” I responded.

“Well, it’s on sale.”

“You can get a drive four times the size for just a little bit more.”

“I don’t need much. I’ve just got some photos to store.
And this one is on sale. What do you think?”

I didn’t know what to say, because explaining the facts usually takes more than a few minutes when it comes to At Home with Tech.
(inside joke)

He continued his confessional.
“My wife sent me out to get a hard drive, and I’m not sure which one to buy.”

I really felt for the fellow.
He was the family IT guy, and he didn’t even know it.

I smiled and nodded.
“You’ll be fine.”
There was nothing more to do.

He returned the smile, unconsciously recognizing our ‘IT Guy Solidarity’ and walked away.

Like Greek Mythology, All Stories Don’t Have Happy Endings
I hope my friend had good luck with his tiny drive when he got home.
However, I suspect it will eventually turn into a Medusa when it runs out of storage space.
No one ever has just a ‘few’ photos to back up.
(If that were all he really had to worry about, a $9.99 thumb drive would have done very nicely.)

As for me, I made my selection between two lesser known drive manufacturers used by Apple geeks, and then sped off on my rescue mission.

I delivered my precious package in time, but there was one little problem.
Hades must have tried it out first and then returned it.

My shining drive was dead right out of the box.
When plugged in, it was just a hockey puck.

Fortunately, my project ended up surviving this little setback.
It’s a long story, but fate simply gave me a pass that day.
(deus ex machina)

And Staples provided a refund on the hockey puck too.
(I declined the replacement offer.)

One Way or Another, You Will Pay
So what can we learn from these two connected tales of tech woe?
Well, I think we can glean two truths:

  1. Don’t mess around when it comes to buying hard drives to back up your precious digital content. All drives are not created equal.
  2. And don’t think you’re doing yourself a favor saving twenty bucks for a drive on sale. If its storage capacity is so small, nobody else probably wants it.  In time, neither will you.

Video – There’s the Rub
My friend doesn’t know it yet, but he really should have supersized his purchase.
Sure, his 500 GB drive will handle lots of photos, but I predict there will also be some home videos to back up in his future.

Come on…
Everyone takes digital home videos these days.
Smartphones. Digital cameras. Camcorders… they’re everywhere!
I bet one day soon you’ll find a device that can record video in the bottom of a cereal box!!

Even if you only occasionally take videos on your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, it’s just a matter of time till you’ll need a big hard drive to store them on.

Video files are huge!
And most home tech gadgets today can shoot video in glorious HD.
A short 4K video clip can easily grow larger than 1 gigabyte.

Whenever I shoot some video, I usually shoot several clips ranging from one to three minutes each.
For example:

  • My boy is doing something cute
  • My father tells a story from the old days
  • A family event requires a little documenting

That’s 3 GB right there.

A sub-terabyte external hard drive just isn’t going to cut it for long.
You do the math.

“Wait a minute!” you say.
“My computer’s hard drive has plenty of memory to handle my videos.
Why all the fuss?”

Yes, but you’ve got to back them up somewhere, right?
(You do back up your computer’s hard drive. Hmmm?)

Barrett’s Home Tech Rule #1:

No matter how big your external hard drive is right now, you’re always going to need a larger one.

G-Technology or LaCie?
Even though we’re all locked in an inevitable hard drive upgrade cycle, it still makes sense to buy the best drive you can afford.

You don’t want to wake up one day, and all your precious home videos and photos are suddenly trapped in a hockey puck.

There’s no shortage of opinion out there on the best hard drives to buy.
For me, the main criteria for a good hard drive is reliability.

I started buying LaCie hard drives years ago.
I never had one crash on me.
(though one did start acting kind of funky)
I still happily use my portable LaCie “Rugged” drive with its telltale orange rubber bumper.

But enough video editors I’ve spoken with over the years have shared their LaCie horror stories. Plus the web is filled with angry LaCie owners.

That said, since every hard drive has its own unknown expiration date, you’ll find ugly stories about every drive manufacturer.

Then, I heard a lot of good press on a company called
Their G-Tech drives are more expensive than LaCie’s, but the consensus
(if one can call it that) is they’re better.
So I made the switch.

Since then I’ve been a G-Tech man.
And I’ve been very happy.

I own a 6 TB G-DRIVE for my Time Machine backups and a G-RAID to store and edit all my home video files.

RAID Drives
Though every hard drive will eventually die on you one day, there’s one general exception.

They’re called RAID drives, which stands for ‘redundant array of independent disks.’
A RAID is essentially one big hard drive made up of linked, smaller disks.

If one of the hard drives in your RAID fails, the others have enough redundant data to maintain the integrity of all your files.
The downside to this solution is it shrinks the effective size of your hard drive with all that duplicated data.

So your overall hard drive ‘unit’ can theoretically live forever.
(Assuming you replace the expired individual drives)

There are many complicated ways a RAID drive can be formatted or ‘striped.’

The one essential rule to remember is RAID 0 doesn’t provide any back up security.
It does give your drive a big performance boost for video editing, but that’s not what we’re looking for right now.

You’ll need at least a RAID 1.
For more detail on RAID technology, this is a good article from Gizmodo.

Be forewarned…
RAID drives are a lot more expensive.
(Are you sitting down?)

The G-Technology 8 TB G-RAID with Thunderbolt 3 (with two drives)
goes for $599 on Amazon.


But if you could afford it, wouldn’t you pay more for a little peace of mind on the home tech front?

You Don’t Always Need a Bigger Piggy Bank
Of course not everyone will jump at the opportunity to drop six hundred clams on their home video projects.
You could easily go to Staples and buy a basic 8 TB drive for only $199.99.
But it’s an apples and oranges comparison.

The good news is the ongoing forward march of technology makes heartier hard drives cheaper by the day.

Plus, you may never need a RAID.
I needed to raid my piggy bank to buy a RAID, specifically because I wanted it to safely house my ever-bulging collection of HD home video clips.
They would otherwise max out my iMac’s hard drive.

If you’re able to simply store all your video files on your computer’s internal drive and only need a Time Machine back-up drive,
I recommend G-Technology’s ‘G-DRIVE.”

You can pick up a 6 TB G-DRIVE USB 3.0 for just $169.98 on Amazon.

Now, that’s not so painful, is it?

Release the Kraken!
These days, there are any number of ways to summon the wrath of the tech titans.
A hockey puck could be the least of your problems.

If Perseus were around today, I bet he’d have a large G-Tech drive in his bag of tricks.

Epson Multifunction Printer vs. Multi-Talented Toddler

My two-year-old son with a shiny penny approached my two-year-old Epson printer and said, “Gagel Flagel!” Translation: “Time to meet your doom!”

If you think a penny is worthless these days, here’s a cautionary tech tale.
Yet another example that demonstrates how fragile your Tech Zen can be…

Today’s Target: My Epson Artisan Printer
So my wonderful toddler likes to press buttons. All buttons.

They call out to him.
“Please press me.”

He’s especially obliging when the buttons are attached to my home tech.
“On” and “off’ are very persuasive commands.
He’s become quite adept at finding these buttons.

Last week, my toddler mastered the functionality of my 2010 Epson multifunction printer/scanner/fax machine. (Artisan 810). I bought it right after he was born, and it’s proven to be a great workhorse for handling my photos, faxes, and copies.

For months, Baby McGyver had been happily turning the Artisan on and off, taking about the amount of time it takes me to run over and applaud his achievement before he does any real damage.
He once had a bit more time at his disposal and quickly reset the Artisan’s language mode to French. For weeks, I had to rely on all my remaining grade school French (Je ne comprends pas) until I had the time to dig into the machine’s menu and return it to our home language.

The Power of the Penny
By now, he’d graduated into the AP class and was working on understanding the Epson’s more advanced functionality. Plus, he brought some tools to the job.

He secretly had a penny he’d found.

He walked up to the printer, while I was happily at my desk, working on my blog.
I wanted to finish up a thought and felt I easily had another five seconds.

Then, he successfully ejected the CD/DVD tray. (Yes, it can print DVD labels.)
At that point, I decided it actually wouldn’t be a bad idea to forget the thought and rescue my printer.

The Epson is located behind my desk and requires a five second journey from my chair. Maybe three seconds at top warp.

I made my move.
But he was quicker.

He had already placed the penny in the tray. And then he pressed the close button.
My Epson ate the penny.

The Artisan began grinding away, attempting to avoid the little intruder. Every illuminated element on the machine blinked in unison to protest.
Finally, my Epson declared that it could proceed no further and needed to be shut down.

My son looked up at me and gleamed with his amazing accomplishment.
(How can you really be mad in that kind of moment?)

Fix or No Fix
But repeated reboots failed to eject the poison, as the penny was securely jammed deep inside my Epson.

After a quick diagnostic, I realized I would need to take much of the printer apart to even locate the area of distress. I decided my odds of successfully repairing my Epson were not promising.

Prognosis: Cancel the surgery; my Epson is a goner.

And paying someone else to repair it was a “no-go” option. Too expensive.

The Easy Button
I am not proud admitting this, but my next move was to open the Staples circular (my favorite place to buy a lot of my home tech).
As if it were waiting for me, there it was… the next generation of my very printer, (the Artisan 837) and it was on sale!

I decided to take the hit and pressed the easy button.

Even though I would have preferred to do the fix myself, I took the easy way out and supported our disposable culture.
Not a good day for the green movement, but I hoped the planet would forgive me this one time.

Warp Drive Restored
I was quickly back in business.
With the exception of a few minor enhancements and menu layout differences, you wouldn’t even know the new unit had taken over.

I even reduced the financial sting by using a few Staples gift cards I had through my Discover credit card rewards program.
For every $20 dollars I earn in cash back, I receive a $25 Staples gift card.
(A very nifty deal!)

So the $199 Epson (originally $299) ended up costing me only $15 out of pocket.
And this included an extra $25 for a year-long product protection plan.
Though I usually don’t buy extended protection plans, I figured in this particular case, a future assault against my new Epson was not out of the question.

Bad Luck Comes in Threes?
So a puny penny literally felled my mighty all-in-one printer.
And it got me thinking…

What could be next?
Not to be paranoid, but this year, I’ve already had the Cup of Joe scare.
Now, the evil power of the penny.

This near tech-death experience dredged back up a longstanding concern I’ve had about the safety and proper long-term storage of my digital files.
(And this goes beyond the normal risk of damage from any child’s curiosity.)

Sure, I have a back up G-Tech external drive using Apple’s Time Machine. Sure, I’ve got other portable drives where I store other backups of my family’s photo and video history.

But is it enough? (Is it ever enough?)
Still, everything is here at home.
Common tech wisdom suggests I’m supposed to spread the risk around.
But I don’t think I’m about to stash drives around the countryside in friends’ and relatives’ closets.
That seems a bit absurd. (though not entirely illogical)

The Cloud to the Rescue
Hey, what about Cloud storage?
Yes… I could see it now.
All my precious media files sitting safely out of harms way in the Cloud.

So I did a little research.
And of course, the more I read, the more confusing it got.

But I slowly came to the realization that for only about $50/year, you could conceivably safeguard your priceless files offsite in the Cloud.

That’s a $1,000 investment over the next twenty years.
On the other hand, that also works out to less than fourteen cents a day.

Can you think of a better use for your spare change over the next twenty years?

Yes, the power of the penny.
Think about it.

Next time on At Home with Tech-
We’re putting our pennies to work and blasting our big media files off to the Cloud!

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