Saturday, December 28, 2013

Learn How to Be a Great eBay Sniper, Plus a Few Other Tricks.

eBay, What Is It Good For?
I love eBay! I loved it even more when it was younger since people try to sell new items for more now... But nevertheless, there is still practical purposes for eBay. Looking for that item that's been recently discontinued? How about something made decades ago? And yes, you can still get a great deal on many items with enough patience and persistence.

Lately, I have been getting a lot of things off eBay. My wife was kind enough to pay for a Panasonic Lumix GH2 for my birthday, and in the video-hacker realm, this is a gem! So I have been purchasing accessories, most of which are much cheaper on eBay. But some things I would not have acquired without knowing how the game is played...

Just want to learn to be a sniper? Click here!

The Game
eBay buyers can be ruthless, by this I mean if they have an abundance of funds to spend, they can easily dominate an auction without worry. Fortunately, this seems to be a "poor man's" game, and those who do spend large sums are usually bidding on rare and unique items.

The game is winning. A common and popular game with different rules for eBay. From what I have learned there are three ways to get what you want:

(1) Buy It Now
This can accompany an auction, but is largely used to sell items without the risk of an auction. When an item is listed under "Buy It Now" there is no need to wait for the item's due date to end. Simply purchase the item.

Bad - There bad things about this are that it can act like an impulse item where you see it and just buy it. Another negative aspect is that people can list something for a high price that the lay person (a person who does not research) does not realize is too expensive for a good deal.

Good - The good things are that, in my experience, if there are enough of that item in circulation, then you can often find it cheaper and still listed under "Buy It Now" (if you can ignore your initial impulse reaction). There is no wait time to pay for an item and get it shipped. Some items are sold in bulk, so if you have to wait for payday, there is still a chance you can get what you want at a later date.

RISK: None.

(2) Ad-Hoc Auctions
No, you cannot find an explanation on eBay's website for an "ad-hoc auction". I am trying to coin the term, but it is a situation not uncommon to eBay enthusiasts. An ad-hoc auction is when an auction has taken place but there were no bidders. The would-be bidder then contacts the seller and asks to purchase the item at its minimum possible bid or lower. This can include Buy It Now auctions since they can be combined, and is only possible if the bidder was a "Watcher" of the auction (otherwise you better remember the seller's exact name!).

I feel that this was a much more popular technique in the past as many things have changed since (e.g. not paying an auction fee unless a bid was made, offers, automatic re-listings, etc.). Yet, it still works today and can have advantages.

In Practice - An example of this would be a lens I bought recently. I bought a Vivitar 17mm F3.5 lens made for the Canon FD mount. I had been yelling at Amazon on the phone for some stupid ordeal they should have fixed, but have still yet to do (check that here). So I missed out on this auction. I later wrote the seller asking if I could purchase the item for the minimum bid of $100. I later re-read the auction and realized that there was a reserve of $130 stated. The seller's item was re-listed but they responded with a counteroffer of $140. They did have an option to Buy It Now at $180. I ignored the counteroffer not to be rude, but to wait out a few other similar auctions and then decide if I wanted the lens at $140. Two days later the seller sent me another message. They were willing to take the offer, and considering that my other auctions were much too high for what I was willing to pay, I bought the lens for $100, shipping included!

Holidays & Students - There are a couple things to note here. This was just before Christmas and it seems that this was a student selling the item. In other words, holidays put people in financial situations with a need to sell quickly; and students are usually without great financial resources that make that need even greater.

Safety - As a side note, be sure that if you do something like this they still start up an eBay auction just for your deal, or that you receive an invoice from PayPal with the details of the arrangement. This will allow you to still be covered in case some type of fraud is being committed. (The seller in my example created a separate eBay auction.)

RISK: Risk on Buyer [if not using eBay auction or PayPal].

(3) Sniping
Sniping is (now) very common in eBay auctions. Sniping is when a person bids at the last moments of an auction getting in the last highest bid, and thus becoming the winner. This is the most common way to win an auction of a sought after item.

Automatic Snipes - There are automated ways to do this. There are many methods that would have you pay for this service, or you can use a free program like JBidwatcher. While this can be practical, I would recommend against it if for nothing else than if you decide you want to bid a higher amount. Say I want something and decide I would be willing to pay $200 at the most. Forgetting about the auction, I later find out that the item was sold for $201.50. I realize that if I had been watching that item I would have been happy to up my bid by $10-$20. Maybe I would have still been outbid, but if not, I would have won! I would only use these services if I knew I was going to be unable to watch the auction end.

Rules To Abide By - Sniping is rather simple in method, but sniping properly is a whole different game. Because of this, I believe there are certain (easy) things that should be done in order to get the best deal:
  1. RESEARCH - The first thing you should always do before bidding is thorough research. Check for other auctions to see if they are any better deals. You should refine and sort your results to get only what you need to look at, otherwise, depending on your search criteria, you may have hundreds of unnecessary auctions to go through.
  2. COMPETITORS - This falls in line with research. When I find an item I want I always check out Amazon (and others if possible) before I decide to use eBay. Amazon will normally be higher in price, but once in a while they will be on par, and I trust Amazon far more than eBay sellers.
  3. BUDGET - This falls in line with competitors. Another reason I use Amazon is so I can see what the cheapest price is of the item I want. Considering many used items are available from Amazon as well, this helps me gauge if an eBay seller is on par, better, or worse at pricing an item. The cheapest price that Amazon offers on an item provides me with a maximum price for what I am willing to pay on eBay.
  4. NO BIDDING - There are people who are willing to bid on an item immediately, even when it has days or weeks before it ends. I hate these people! Think of an eBay auction as a poker game: Great poker players play with other great poker players because they truly know how to play the game. When they get a novice that starts using up good cards, it ruins the hands of everyone else. Bidding only increases the current amount, and if you want to be seen as the high bidder you have to bid at least slightly higher than the last bidder. This is the point of the auction for the seller, but for a buyer, we should want to get items at the cheapest price possible. So, do not bid until it is near the end of an auction. True snipers, like myself, will wait until 60 seconds or less to place bids.
  5. NUMBERS - Even if you bid in the last 60 seconds, there may be other snipers waiting to pounce as well. I try to slightly manipulate numbers for would-be winners who close in on my maximum price. I never bid in .25, .50, .75, .99, or .00, because this is what everyone else will bid. Why? It is just something we have been conditioned to do when numbers are concerned. I often bid two cents above those values. Why? Because if I were thinking along the same lines I would likely bid .26, .51, .76, .01. So, instead, I bid above that with .27, .52, .77, .02 so that I get a better chance of thwarting a bidder using similar tactics. Three or four cents work too. Chances are this tactic will not hold a buyer at bay, but in the seldom chance it does, you will be happy you did it!
  6. BIDDING ACTION - Most people who are going to snipe - and do it well - seem to put a reasonable amount per bid. Not enough to go overboard, but enough to sift out the junk bids. This is the way it should be. You should bid your maximum price (from #3) and use that. If you are looking for a great deal, do not expect to get something for more than 30% off the cheapest price you can find with Buy It Now. You can, but that would be more luck than anything.
Example 1 - If we put this in action, we can see it work. I recently won a set of rubber hoods for lenses where I had bid $21.52, but someone had bumped my original bid (and original bid price) of $17.99 to $18.99, $19.99, and then $20.99 before giving up in the last few seconds. In this instance I did not follow all the rules. I had been unable find the items being sold somewhere else to determine a maximum bid, and I had to bid in the last hour because my Internet went down [I used my mobile data] and then came back in the last 10 minutes.

Example 2 - Another example is when I purchased my GH2 a week ago. I checked amazon and the price for just the camera body had been about $515. I made a bid within the last 10 seconds for $515. I won the camera at $456, including shipping. The camera currently can be found used on Amazon for $461.49, including shipping. However, the eBay auction also included a lens that I found for a Buy It Now price of $112 on eBay (at its cheapest), and two additional batteries, which seem to go for around $20 brand new. In addition, the eBay seller stated he was a professional videographer, which puts my mind at ease that it will not be defective or have been handled improperly. The Amazon seller states the camera has been babied, but that the original strap is missing and replaced with a GH1 strap.

RISK: None (unless you count losing out on an item too expensive to acquire).

Breaking The Rules
There are times when the rules can be broken, and usually this just takes common sense to understand. Example 1 shows that I could not even perform the first three rules because this was a special item. Although I did not intend for another buyer to try to even bid, I did make a guess as to what could be paid and used the rest of the rules as best I could.

Another reason to break the rules might be funds. Maybe I cannot afford the amount Amazon or another retailer has for an item, so I would of course use a smaller, affordable price.

What if the item is so rare it is unlikely to be sold again anytime soon? This could be a reason to rebid, but in all honesty, you should have already bid the highest amount you are willing to spend. So, in a sense, you would not just be breaking the rule to bid only once, but breaking the rule of setting up your budget as well.

No Guarantee
While these tips and tricks can certainly help you snipe, this does not mean you will be unstoppable. I have used eBay for a long time, and to get the feel of these tactics could take some getting used to. But I believe anyone who takes them up will see their success and savings quite quickly.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Amazon: The Good, The Bad & The 3rd Party

What is Amazon?
Amazon is the world's largest online retailer. It provides thousands of products at competitive prices, including pre-owned items. Their support is the best I have ever dealt with. They have also started trends like their special Amazon-only credit line, and 2-day shipping through their Prime membership for $79 annually (which includes a growing free library of movies and shows!). Despite these benefits, Amazon still has their own shortcomings to deal with, many of which are not well-known because what retailer giant fesses up to their downsides before being caught?

Click to skip to: The Good, The Bad, or The 3rd Party.

The Past
Amazon was in hot water last year around this time for removing numerous reviews, many without a true just cause. People had long been complaining about the way reviews were done in Amazon. A majority of those complaints centered around fake reviews. Amazon finally got around to doing something about them, but not without taking down numerous reviews that were real.

Authors Be Damned!
Some of those reviews were of author's reviewing other authors. Amazon had changed their policy so that reviews could not be done on behalf of a person or company that had a competing product, including authors. It's a bit ridiculous but its easier for Amazon to do that then setup a special set of rules and measures to allow authors to write reviews for one another.

Amazon In Context
Beyond the authors fiasco, it seemed that Amazon had done more good than harm. Besides fake reviews, paid reviewers, and friends-reviewing-friends, there were numerous top-reviewers who were not doing their "job". Top-reviewers create the most "helpful" reviews. A review is designated as "helpful" if a person with an Amazon account has clicked the respective button to make it "helpful".

These top-reviewers get the benefit of having free products sent to them to try and then review. However, many top-reviewers, who are meant to just be normal buyers (like you or me) were carefully calculating what to review in terms of what product and what content to write, as this would determine what free products they could get next.

The Bad
Just when everything had settled down, it looks like Amazon is looking to start riling people up again. Deleting reviews is one matter, but Amazon has now changed their tactics to be even sneakier!

Amazon Is Self-Aware!
So the reason people knew that their reviews were being deleted is that they could look at the number of reviews they had written and easily notice a drop in their total. Amazon has likely realized this and does not want any more flack, so they have altered their methods.

Sneaky, Sneaky
Someone had posted a comment to one of my reviews for the Cellulon Epic, which I have gone into greater detail here. The comment was a point I had not fully addressed so I went back to my review to answer. What I found was that parts of my review were missing! I remember it because I was going to mention one part in my post from my review and re-read a part of my review unable to find it. I dismissed it and mentioned a different part of my review that would have been near the end. I decided to re-read the rest of my review and found that part missing as well. In all, I could recall three parts that had suddenly gone missing!

I ignored it and began reading through some reviews of products I was interested in. Before long I noticed that people's links were replaced with [...] instead of the URL. Yet, it seems there were some links left, not as URL's, but as clickable names which I am unaware of how to actually create... I ended up on a review I had done sometime last year and noticed the exact same thing. However, according to Amazon's rules, Amazon can make these edits.

Here is a link to their rules, some of which are quite vague, obviously to give Amazon leeway to do whatever they want. One of the sections is:

Objectionable material:
• Obscene or distasteful content
• Profanity or spiteful remarks
• Promotion of illegal or immoral conduct

This is under things not permitted in a review, but without details it can be used however they like. Profanity and illegal conduct is straightforward, but what about everything else which is left to the interpretation of Amazon? If I start talking about nude people in the sense of art, is that obscene? What if I mention abortion, is that distasteful? What if I say something that is spiteful but not directly related to the seller or product in question?

The Cellulon Epic Example
Maybe it seems obsessive to focus on these rules because they should be rather obvious to the lay person, right? Wrong. I'll give you my example which has to do with the Cellulon Epic. If you do not know what the Cellulon Epic is, here is my article on it and why I do not recommend it to anyone. In short, it is a portable lazer keyboard. Pause for oohs and aahs...

I had wrote a review explaining that the device was nothing special, why their support sucked, that it was not compatible with all Bluetooth devices, and that it used annoying beeps to indicate a touch of a button. The gist of my review is still available, but pieces I consider important have been cut out.

Here are things that were cut from my review:
  1. I wrote details about the calls I made to support. I included that there was support from either Korea or the US and that I chose the US because I only speak English. This is not significant, but why the need to delete it?
  2. I wrote about how my Bluetooth device works with the Wii controller and a generic PS3 controller. There is a rule about how promotional material should not appear repeatedly, I mentioned these two controllers once!
  3. I ended my review by telling readers that it would be better to get a flexible, roll-up keyboard because it would be cheaper and more accurate. This I remember adding specifically so that people had an alternative if they were looking for a unique, portable keyboard. Was I promoting something? No. I was not giving a specific product recommendation, nor was I mentioning it in excess. Was I doing this on behalf of a company or product? No. Again, a specific product was not specified.
The review is not considered "helpful" by the Amazon community, which I contribute to people wanting to believe that this is more than just a toy. It is a lazer keyboard that is best suited for people who type slow, as the answer to the first Amazon question states you can not type too fast. Or for those who want it strictly for novelty purposes.

Smarter, Secret Censorship
A more important question remains: Did Amazon ever make me aware of this censorship? No. Which leads me to believe that they know that people will make a large fuss about it, and rightfully so. If you want to make people aware they have done wrong, you notify them. Hiding the censorship just makes it look like what Amazon is doing is wrong, and I do believe it is.

How is this smarter on Amazon's part? Well, instead of deleting the reviews, they censor them. You can no longer look at the amount of reviews and determine something is wrong, you actually have to review your reviews, which can be a pain if you have a lot of them. 

Reviews Open To All
I wanted to note that you do not have to buy the product from Amazon that you want to review. All you need is an Amazon account and you can write as many reviews as you want. This can be good for items that are old and discontinued, but it can be bad if someone got a "dud" product and just wants to tell everyone about how much they hate that product.

This would not be as bad as it seems if this did not have the 5-star rating system that accompanies the reviews and directly affects the product being sold. However, much like deleting authors' reviews of other authors, I think this does more good than harm.

Shoot The Messenger, Not The Manufacturer
The reviews are only connected to a product, not the party selling the product. And sometimes that review is incorrectly posted to a similar but different product. While there are products sold on behalf of the the manufacturer by Amazon, there are much more third-party sellers selling the same products.

While there are numerous reasons to blame the manufacturer (shoddy workmanship, a missing piece, etc.), many times the faults are because of the seller. Even when not, the seller should still be made aware that they are selling a bad product. A smart seller would then inspect their stock to avoid the same problem with future sales of that product.

Instead, Amazon gives them a feedback system, but that feedback system is not viewed from the product page, only the 5-star rating of the product is. What is worse is if you end up finding the feedback system, negative reviews can go unseen if there are tons of positive feedback piled on top (more on this below in 3rd Party Seller).

The Good
As I said before, Amazon has the best support I have ever dealt with. If you check my previous article on how to cheat them out of sales tax, you'll see one very huge reason why. I stated many of the great things in the first paragraph, so I won't reiterate. Instead, I'd rather give two more examples of their amazing support...

The Callings
About a day ago I purchased a few items from Amazon, all computer parts for a new build. There was a big issue that occurred with two of my items (more on this below in 3rd Party Seller) that I was irate over. I called Amazon to complain and have something done about it.

India Support 
I presume the person I reached was from India (the accent is what makes me presume, and the fact that outsourcing is most common to give to India or Asian countries). I talked for an hour explaining that I was not going to get off the phone until I was either given some sort of compensation, or the seller of the items was given harsh consequences. The support ended up giving me a $30 credit (for two items) since if I now bought the items from a different seller would cost me at least $100 (apparently they can only give up to $30...).

US Support - Part I
I called back a day later in regards to a motherboard I had purchased the day before. Amazon had a few left before I had purchased it, but ran out when I did try to make the purchase. It would've been with my Prime membership, so I instead had to buy from a third-party seller and pay an extra $5-6 for regular shipping. I asked about a credit for the difference after giving the circumstances as to why and the lady I was speaking to gave me a $16 credit! However, the credit amount may have had to do more with the 3rd Party Seller...

How do I know the lady was from the US? Well, her accent was a dead giveaway, and I even mentioned that to her in which she agreed that she was. I have to admit that while the support is always good - or at least I consider it good by the end of the call - I always find it easier to communicate with people from the US. It took me about 20 minutes, which included going over everything from my last call.

Not only that, the Indian support did not even bother to do as they had said in terms of filing a claim or starting an investigation. Does that mean that they are bad at support? No, you just can not assume that things will get done (and should call back to make sure as I did). In addition, Indian support gave me $30 credit for two items, while the US support gave me $16 credit for one item. In all fairness though, the latter item was already shipped...

3rd Party Seller
While Amazon sells many products for other companies and people, there are third-party sellers. I would say that most of them seem to be on the up-and-up, but there are a few that should not be allowed to operate on Amazon or anywhere else.

I had gone onto Amazon looking for the best deal on at least two Radeon graphics cards. Anyone who is a Radeon graphics card fan, or who is into Bitcoin (or alternative coin) mining, will tell you that this line of graphic cards are becoming impossible to get at decent prices. (BEWARE!)
I ended up finding an Asus Direct CUII R9 280X (which is arguably better than most of the other 280x variants) from a third-party seller named, "antonline" for $345 shipped! This was an amazing find considering that most other sellers were selling 280X's for about $400. (Keep in mind that when these cards were first introduced to the market a couple months ago they retailed for about $300-$320 depending on the variant.)

I immediately bought the card, proud of my find. As luck would have it, 20 minutes later the seller listed same exact card at the same price! I had been snooping around on Amazon trying to find the best deal for a second 280X so I again immediately purchased it.

The Scam 
I can't really say it was a scam from my own experience because nothing truly negative happened to me. However, there are many indicators that some very shady business practices were going on...

I received an email the day after my purchase from antonline which began with an apology. Already a bad start. It continued by stating that they no longer had stock of the item so it wouldn't be shipped until after Christmas. Okay, not so bad. The email concluded by telling me that they would not likely get anymore stock, and if they didn't by the end of the month (10 days), they would cancel my order. What...

What To Know
There are a few things of note, some I gathered on my own, some from the support calls, and some from the email:
  • The email stated that Amazon sometimes holds orders to the seller from 2 hours to 2 days! I confirmed that Amazon never does that.
  • I was curious if companies manually listed their items, or had a way to automate inventory through Amazon. I confirmed that sellers must manually input new items, which means that antonline put up a listing 20 minutes later even though they didn't even have enough stock to fulfill my previous order...
  • As of right now, the site does not come up. When Amazon support tried to pull up the site it blocked them from doing so because that website's reputation is to poor to allow Amazon employees access...
  • Knowing that antonline put up a listing 20 minutes later without having knowledge about their stock prior to doing so shows me that they are probably using one inventory for their Amazon and website business (and maybe more?). A smart and trustworthy business model would have two separate inventories for each business.
  • On the same day that I received the email I checked their feedback from their Amazon store page. They sell a lot of random (you-can-get-anywhere) items, so there was positive feedback. About 3-4 "next" clicks away a buyer by the name of George T. had experienced the exact same situation as me for a XFX 280X from them. They even had the audacity to re-list the 280X a couple days later, which George spotted and mentioned along with his 1/5 feedback score.
  • George's feedback post had been made the same day I received antonline's email, which means that this was not something happening few-and-far between.
US Support - Part 2
On my call I explained the situation that I had already gone through with India support, but it seems nothing had been done. Hooray for outsourcing! Anyways, the lady seemed much more helpful in the matter.

We got through everything and did a little bit of our own investigating. She began the claim that was meant to be started by India support, and agreed that this third-party seller seemed "shady". We parted ways at that point.

The Vow
I had already requested my payment be canceled due to obvious reasons, and had explained to the seller that I would be contacting Amazon frequently about the investigation and what was being done to reprimand them.

I am going to continue contacing Amazon about this incident because it is important that sellers like this don't dictate how they get to operate, it should be Amazon, and more importantly buyers, who dictate how they properly operate.

What really gets my goat are three things:
  1. During the day it took for antonline to contact me I had already missed at least one other deal on the same card (albeit for a slightly price).
  2. I had bought the aforementioned motherboard, a power supply unit, and a hard drive after the graphic cards purchases because I had already paid for them.
  3. On antonline's Amazon page it states that a 15% restocking fee is charged to people who return brand new, unopened items. So, I have to pay a 15% restocking fee if I do a return, but they do not have to give me a 15% fee for the time wasted lying to me; which led me to buying other related items? Or for screwing me out of deals that went by while I was left to think I was (rightfully) getting an item I already paid for? I prefer to censor my swears in my articles, but that is bullshit!
I really wanted those 280X cards, but I ended up getting two Powercolor R9 290 OC cards for about $100 more. A great deal, especially if the 290X hack works (possibly more on this in a future article).

If anything, you should learn the following from this article:
  • Do your own research when buying a product, never rely solely on Amazon reviews.
  • If using Amazon support, be sure to always follow up if there is anything important they are meant to do.
  • Buy directly from Amazon whenever possible.
  • If you must use a third-party seller, check their feedback first for any important information that a buyer may have left.
This whole situation has not deterred me from using Amazon and it should not deter anyone else either. The real point here is that no company is perfect, so know and avoid their flaws if you want to be a happy customer!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Legally Cheat Amazon/Newegg out of Sales Tax - A Tax Evasion Story

I have used Amazon for years, and with my Amazon Prime account, I get most of my items in 2 days! Sure, there have been some cruddy items that needed to be returned, and even some mistakes on Amazon side (as the other mistakes were from Amazon sellers). But they have always been great on support and I've been able to get what I needed or wanted.

To find out how to cheat the system legally, click here.

Across the Ocean
I have been working overseas for the last couple years. The last time I was in California there was no Amazon sales tax worries. While I have been overseas most of my purchases went to a friend in Florida, so no sales tax. It hasn't been until now that the sales tax is going to start affecting me. I no longer have my connection in Florida, and I found that the other states I might ship to would still be charged.

Why I Even Bothered
When I go to Amazon or Newegg, or any of the other reputable places to purchase products, it is because I am looking for the lowest deal. Furthermore, I tend to buy PC parts or technological devices and these places are the best for competitive pricing.

This time it was for the AMD FX 9-series. I have been wanting one since I heard about it, but I do have restraint, so I've been biding my time until the price has dropped to something more affordable. Well, it finally did and the hour it did I thought I would go ahead and buy the AMD FX 9590 from NewEgg since it was cheapest. I wouldn't even get the CPU until next year when I flew back to the states, but what really bothered me was I was being charged sales tax, which I wasn't used to. I started searching for promo codes to help alleviate the additional cost from sales tax. I tried a few things before giving up and going to bed.

The next day I checked Amazon's prices, and sure enough, they had dropped to match NewEgg. However, the harsh reality of sales tax was still present. I then found a NewEgg discount for MasterPass (a special Mastercard checkout option) that would make the item even cheaper than if there were no sales tax! Overnight, NewEgg being the *******s they are, decided to add a free (unwanted) game when purchasing the AMD FX 9590. Because of this I would get the message that the promo code was invalid as it could not be used on special deals...

NewEgg BS
The title might suggest I have taken a liking to NewEgg. This could not be farther from the truth as I presently refrain from typing obscenities to explain my hate towards them. I have bought from them in the past, but an incident last year made me decide there was no reason to buy from them anymore.

There had been this great deal from NewEgg where they were selling the Samsung 840 500GB SSD (new at the time) for about $175!!! Of course I wanted it, and my father wanted one as well to upgrade his new Alienware laptop. I signed up for their special credit line and went ahead and attempted to make us an order. But my attempts kept getting rejected...

I later called NewEgg and a lady gave me an excuse that I can't recall. When she told me there was no hesitation to think, so I believed her. The deal was still available at this time. A little bit later I called the credit line company to cancel, since I seldom used NewEgg. I mentioned the excuse to the lady and she explained that it was completely untrue. It was just a matter of me being in a different country, which a call to them would've fixed! Of course, by this time, the deal was over, and I still have yet to find a deal even remotely close for the Samsung 840 500GB. Needless to say, I said **** you to NewEgg that day, and stuck with Amazon.

Amazon Goodness
Again, the title would mislead you to believe that I no longer like Amazon. Far from it. I love Amazon and find them to almost always have the best deals available. I still use them, and they still give great deals! Here is one reason why I'll stick with them:

Last year I purchased a Verizon Galaxy S4 while overseas. I didn't want to wait for the international version to drop in price, and found a decent deal from Amazon. I ordered it, waited for it, and immediately began to play with it when it arrived. A week later, it died. I was livid. I talked with Amazon for a refund from the seller because it was under the 30-day return policy. They wanted me to pay for shipping, which is about $100 from a reputable carrier (and the safest way to go), but with a raised voice and obvious logic I got them to agree to reimburse my shipping costs in writing. Let me repeat that, Amazon ignored their policy of only paying for shipping within the USA and reimbursed my shipping costs from a different country!

That is why I love Amazon and will continue to use them.

Tax Evasion
So, the trick here requires a few things:

  • eBay Account
  • Reside (or know someone) in a state that is not CA, NJ or TN

NewEgg is one company, it does not sell for others or people, unlike Amazon. This is probably why they are an eBay seller. That's right, they sell the same products on eBay! I am able to buy the same AMD FX 9590 from their website for the same price. I don't get the free game, but I also don't get the sales tax!

What about free shipping? They offer that too! Of course, right now I can get free 3-day shipping from their website, but considering I won't be picking up this product until next year, it doesn't matter.

CA, NJ or TN Customers
If you can't wait for someone in a different state to bring over your eBay purchases, you can still save money by shipping to someone in a different state and have them ship to CA, NJ, or TJ.

There are really only two situations where it would be better to just bite the sales tax bullet:
  1. You buy an inexpensive item.
  2. You buy a heavy or bulky item that will have high shipping costs.

Techno Matter or Techno Fodder?
If you managed to get through this article you might wonder how this relates to technology? Specifically, not so much, but broadly I would say that we are talking about three companies that are purely digital in interaction. A cheat, indeed, but so is the point of this article!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I am a huge AMD fan when it comes to their CPUs! One big disappointment for me this year was reading that AMD would no longer keep the FX line alive...

Click here to skip to the proof on why FX WILL SURVIVE!

FX Line
For those of you who don't know, the FX line is the AMD equivalent of the Intel Extreme processors, which are unlocked and ready to be overclocked! The difference, about $700+ or so. That was until the FX 9xxx series came out.

AMD fans have already been waiting for a new chipset since the 990FX came out a couple years ago, but AMD seemed to be concentrating on their APUs, a smart strategy given it is their edge against Intel. Even their graphics cards were (and are) amazing, giving NVIDIA a run for their money! But instead of a new chipset, AMD thought it would crank out another generation of CPUs.

FX 9xxx
When the FX 9370 and FX 9590 were released, it was a big win for AMD. If for nothing else but that AMD was the first to reach 5.0GHz with a CPU! That is big news. Intel has yet to release a CPU that will match that speed. Granted, both AMD and Intel CPUs had already been overclocked to 5.0GHz and beyond by enthusiasts, but neither manufacturer had attempted that jump until now.

Kick In The Pants
The kicker was that the FX 9590 was about $1,000 USD! The FX 9370 was considerably lower, but were still talking hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. I believe that many AMD fans are fans because we can buy a top-of-the-line (FX) CPU at a fraction of the price of an Intel Extreme, and still compete moderately well. I'm not sure if AMD was just trying to squeeze as much money out of Vishera - which was also the foundation of the previous AMD FX generation - or if they really wanted to make Intel sit up and take notice, but this was a tragedy in my eyes. It was the first time I saw forum threads where AMD fans turned on themselves.

In addition, these CPUs draw up to 220W of power, which meant you could only use these if you had a compatible (top-of-the-line) motherboard. In all fairness, if you did have the appropriate motherboard, you didn't have to do a BIOS (UEFI for many of us) update in order to get it to work like most CPUs prior. The AMD FX series is not how AMD makes their bread and butter, but with the 9-series it really makes one think if the publicity they got for breaking the 5.0GHz barrier was worth turning away AMD fans...

Modern Times
Months have gone by, benchmarks have surfaced, and people have settled down (somewhat). What we now know is that the FX 9590 can be quite formidable to Intel (Ivy or Haswell) depending on its use. And now that they have been out for sometime, prices have dropped considerably for the 9-series. I have been eying either one since Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and just watched the FX 9590 drop to $300 on NewEgg, where many outlets like Amazon and TigerDirect followed hours later. This makes these chips quite a bargain, despite their power draw.

Okay, here's what you've been waiting for. If you're like me then you've kept tabs on the FX for their next generation. Why? Probably because you're hoping for a cheaper 10-series with less power consumption while still retaining all the benefits of the 9-series. Or maybe you're just a true AMD nut!

Whatever the case, you have seen countless roadmaps paraded around claiming that AMD is getting rid of FX. It is believable, considering the lack of a new chipset, the failure (success?) of the 9-series, and that it's not where they make their money. However, these timelines are not to be trusted...

I came across an article with a timeline spanning a few years proclaiming that the FX line would not even get an update through 2015! I am not one to believe in anything so easily, even when all hope seems utterly lost. This is a good thing because I found proof to the contrary!

Apparently, AMD Manager of APU/CPU Product Reviews, James Prior, stated to Gamers Nexus that the roadmap was nothing but a fake! He added that FX parts aren't being phased out! James continued by saying that it was highly uncommon for such companies to create a roadmap more than a year long, giving many news outlet no credence that their "leaked" roadmaps were valid.

To Sum It Up
This is amazing news for many AMD fans, but how will they find out? Through my small blog? Through the minute article in Fudzilla? In Gamers Nexus (whatever that is...)? However they do, I hope they find it soon before jumping ship and shelling out thousands of dollars for a new rig...

I feel that I should also note that there were other CPUs released from AMD along with the 9-series, the 9-series was just the star of that show. And that I am not much of a fan for AMD's graphic cards, yet, I do see the importance of AMD's acquisition of ATI. While the timing of the purchase may have been poor, there is no doubt that their successful APU venture would not have been as fruitful without ATI's knowledge.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cellulon EPIC, the Virtual Keyboard. Or, The Little Laser That Could, Sort of...

If you need an immediate reason not to buy this (and what to buy instead), click here!

Cellulon Epic
The Cellulon Epic is a small device that shoots out a laser keyboard on flat surfaces. It is meant to eliminate the need for a real keyboard. The aim of the Epic is more for mobile devices since a laptop or home computer would undoubtedly already have a keyboard.

I first found out about the Cellulon Epic while I was in our new mall. Someone handed me a flyer, which I would normally ignore, but I was in good spirits so I took it. The only item of interest was the first item on the flyer, the Cellulon Epic.

I later went back to the store the flyer was from and asked to see the item, but it was not stocked at this store. I had to wait until the following weekend when I was at a different mall where another store from the same chain was selling the device.

The box was small, definitely meant for portable needs. It claimed to work on all devices, including computers. It was also the last (or maybe only) one they had left. For $100, I could test it. I intended to give it to my father as a gift anyways.

The Gumption!
Now, for those of you saying, "open someone else's gift? How rude!" Where I am located, you have two days to check the purchase, or you need to deal with the manufacturer. So, it is best to check than be out a C-note!

Anyways, I got home a few hours later and immediately began testing. I first tried it on my self-built PC with my small USB Bluetooth dongle that works perfectly with Microsoft's Bluetooth Stack. My results were far from satisfying.

The PC would recognize the Epic and want to connect. However, instead of just pairing as the device is meant to, my PC would continue to ask for a pairing code. I did a lot of research and the only time a pairing code is needed is for the iPad. I tried several different methods, but it was a no-go.

I then tried it on one of my Android devices. There were no issues and it paired flawlessly, not asking for a pairing code once. It worked like a charm!

I then tried on my Alienware laptop since it has Bluetooth built-in. It too paired without a problem and worked.

There are two places for support, Korea (where the device seems to originate), and the US (which I can only assume is where they focus most of their marketing). I don't speak Korean, so I called up the US line.

There was a sweet young girl who stepped through scripted questions, like what version of Windows I was using. (This works on Windows XP or later, but not on a Windows phone at all.) None of the answers she gave helped solve or aid my situation for my PC.

She asked me if I wanted to leave a note as the support team was all out to lunch and they could get in contact with me to provide a solution sometime later. I did and as we were about to hang up I asked if she would like my email because she had not asked for a means to get a hold of me. She took my email address and I waited...

I ended up calling back two more times. The girl remembered me and stated she would pass along the message again. The second time was about a week later, and there was still no help.

Needless to reiterate, the support is horrible. The girl is nice, but seems to be more of a front. I don't believe she is to blame, but the company sorely lacks the attention to customers necessary to be successful. A smart company makes a good product, a genius company makes a good product with excellent support. Cellulon falls into the former category.

The Dirty
The Cellulon Epic is a great device, for novelty purposes only. In addition to the issue of support - or rather the lacking of - there are a couple other issues they need to really address.

New & NOT Improved
The first is that this is not old technology. There is nothing technologically impressive about the product. They are not the first to utilize this technology, maybe just the best known. That being said, it still has some kinks to be worked out. It is not quite accurate as far as touch, it does not use a full keyboard, and it can have trouble with surfaces that a second try may suddenly fix.

I would be willing to overlook this if they didn't already have a previous product called the Magic Cube, which is essentially the same product, just older. As a company, I would be hesitant to release a successor product with these flaws, as these problems seemed to have existed in the Magic Cube as well.

Bluetooth Incompatibility
As evident from my situation above, the device is not compatible with all Bluetooth devices. One could argue that my Bluetooth device is to blame, and in a way it is (despite running my Wii and PS3 controllers perfectly).

But Cellulon is responsible for compatibility, not the Bluetooth dongle. It would be like buying a car cover meant to work on all sedans, but after buying it you realize it doesn't fit your sedan. Would you blame your sedan, or the company who made the cover?

The Stupidest Feature
This is harsh, and it's meant to be. Stupidity is not something excusable in a product, especially when it is so blatant!

The creators obviously wanted the user to be able to have some sort of confirmation when a button was "pressed". One intelligent way to go about this would be to have the LED quickly flash. Instead, the device makes a loud, annoying beep every time a button is "pressed"!

Why would that matter? Because this device is meant to be portable! If I go to a coffee shop, a restaurant, an airport, etc., and decide I want to use this device, how many "presses" do I have before I get kicked out? It is truly an annoying feature with no rational thought behind it. It defeats the whole purpose of buying this. If there was a way to turn off the sound, then it would be fine (except for the accuracy aspect).

Don't Waste Money
Don't bother buying this, it is just a waste of money. You'd be better off buying a small flexible keyboard that connects by USB and rolls up to save space. They're extremely cheap and much more accurate.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

4.3 Rollouts for Samsung Galaxy S3, S4 & Sony Xperia Z Ultra! 4.2 For Sony Xperia L! Get them while their hot!

Still hanging on to that Samsung Galaxy S3? Or tired of being second fiddle to the Note 3? Well if you're a Galaxy S3 or S4 owner, today may be your lucky day!

KitKat - Android 4.3

AT&T Galaxy S3 (i747)
If you have a Galaxy S3 and you're using the US AT&T carrier, you're can now download an official leaked version of KitKat, Android 4.3! Get it here. If you are on a different carrier you'll still have to wait until November, unless the Samsung leaks that have been frequent as of late continue...

Verizon Galaxy S4 (VRUEMJ7)
If you have a Galaxy S4 from Verizon then you too now have an official leaked KitKat version! Be careful though, this is a 4.3 OTA for build VRUEMJ7. If you're on the older build, you might want to stay away if treasure the ability to use custom ROMs... Get it here.

SAMSUNG USERS: Upgrading to 4.3 will install the Knox security feature, which will let Samsung know you "rooted" and more (if you do that sort of thing) if you try to send it in under warranty, essentially voiding your warranty. It is advised to wait until a "fix" is available...

Sony Xperia Z Ultra
There is no official leak of KitKat for the Xperia Z (yet), but if you like Cyanogenmod, they are now making nightlies of CM10.2 (Android 4.3)! Get CM10.2 here, and don't forget to flash Gapps immediately afterwards!

Jelly Bean - Android 4.2

Sony Xperia L
If you picked up the Xperia L (acclaimed for it's features and budget price), then you'll be happy to know you can now upgrade to Jelly Bean, Android 4.2! Why get it? It boasts improvements over Jelly Bean 4.1 including an improved camera, better UI, and apps! Get it here.

This is just a quick post I wanted to get out to the masses before my life gets too hectic, or, more hectic than it already is. I know I have been posting quite a bit on smartphones lately, but I will come out with some other technological material very soon.

Monday, October 28, 2013

LG G2 vs. LG Flex! A Battle of Non-Existent Proportions!

If you're a true Android fan, then your bound to know about the LG G2. If your a Sammy fan boy, then, in a sense, you too know about the LG G2. And if you know about the LG Flex, you definitely should know about the LG G2.

A little history...
The LG G2 comes from the Optimus G, LG's flagship line. The Optimus G was the beginning of a great smartphone line that already has two successors within less than year's time! When the Optimus G came out, people flocked to it due to its price and top-of-the-line specs. The Optimus G Pro soon (real soon, we're talking a matter of months) followed and made a few tweaks here-and-there to improve on their previous flagship model. And in even less time, the LG G2 has come out and has rightfully made itself a top Android smartphone contender with the likes of Samsung.

LG Flex
The LG Flex was announced soon after Samsung announced their Galaxy Round. The LG Flex is named so because of its flexible screen. Such flexibility insinuates a smartphone less prone to damage from falls. Furthermore, the idea is perpetuated by the fact that the LG Flex will supposedly incorporate a "self-healing" technology. Apparently, when the LG Flex is scratched in can heal itself, not unlike a gecko and a lost tail, or Wolverine (X-Men reference for all you old folk) and a bullet to the forehead.

The lowdown
While it is hard to not be intrigued and want the LG Flex, with the amount of smartphone flagships LG has been spitting out, my foot has to come down somewhere. And that somewhere is here!

LG G2 Specifications
  • Display: 5.2-inch 1080p
  • Thickness: 8.9mm
  • Weight: 143g
  • Camera: 13MP
  • CPU: Quad-Core Snapdragon 800 (2.26GHz)
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Battery: 3000mAh
LG Flex Specifications 
  • Display: 6-inch 720p (Flexible)
  • Thickness: 7.9mm-8.7mm
  • Weight: 177g
  • Camera: 13MP
  • CPU: Quad-Core Snapdragon 800 (2.26GHz)
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Battery: 3500mAh
Now that we have that all in the open, let's throw out some pros and cons...

Pros & Cons (point system)

  1. The display is always a preference game, however 5.2 inches is not that far from 6 inches. No points awarded. The LG G2 sports a 1080p display compared to a 720p display for the LG Flex. LG G2 awarded 1 point. But we're not done quite yet. The surprise advantage is obviously the "self-healing" flexible screen for the LG Flex. LG Flex awarded 1 point.
  2. The thickness of both the LG G2 and the LG Flex are almost identical. No points awarded.
  3. The LG G2 is the clear winner when it comes to weight. While phone weight would never seem like a big issue, it is often touted as a great spec to be aware of. Notice how many reviews on numerous smartphones will note how "light" a phone is. LG G2 awarded 1 point.
  4. There is not much information on the camera for the LG Flex. The LG G2 has a revolutionary camera and it is assumed that the same camera sensor will be used in the LG Flex given the speculated amount of time we will have between the launching of the LG G2 and the LG Flex. No points awarded.
  5. The CPU and the RAM are identical. No points awarded.
  6. The LG Flex is a seemingly clear winner here. As long as LG continues to use their step-design in their batteries, the LG Flex should outlast the LG G2. However, what kind of power needs do these new flexible screens have? Because I can only speculate, I will logically assume that the power needs are similar to current smartphones of the same size. LG Flex awarded 1 point.
LG G2   vs.  LG Flex
2                  2 
After thoughts...
The game is tied, love-all, but one has to be hated on! While secretly I want the LG Flex, I hate that it had to come out after I bought a G2. Putting those feelings aside, either smartphone would be a great choice. If your accident-prone, maybe the LG Flex is more your speed. If your about the best resolution, maybe the LG G2 will quench your thirst. But there are two more things thing to be mentioned...

Here are some significant items that may sway you to the LG G2 side:
  1. The LG G2 price is phenomenal when it comes to its competitors! The LG Flex's price is still unknown. But if the Galaxy Round is any indicator, it could be almost twice the retail price of when the LG G2!
  2. It is undetermined if the LG Flex will make it out of Korea. I believe the chances seem better than seeing the Galaxy J internationally, but it is still unknown. This may turn people to the Galaxy Round just because it will be available.
So, in summation, the LG G2 may be the horse - or the only horse - to bet on if you're planning on picking up a new smartphone any time soon.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why Being a Jack of All Trades Is Better than A Master of One. Or, A Crash Course on How Video Works for Lighting and Quality.

Video. The technical name of digital film. It's something very near and dear to me heart. I have worked with video for the majority of my life and have thus learned more than enough to know the ins-and-outs of what's important when making a video.

Click here or Scroll down to read some important basics about video lighting and quality.

I am a big Android fan. I like to "hack" my smartphone and enjoy frequenting the XDA community for new tricks, mods, ROMs, and Kernels. I'm not well-known in the community, but I do try to contribute as much as possible since I appreciate how everything is (mostly) free. But sometimes, I notice things that disgust me, and I wonder if it happens to other people for other situations.

My favorite mod for any Android smartphone is increasing the quality of my camera by changing certain values and testing accordingly. This is great to get the best out of your camera. I have been able to do this with every Android smartphone I have - save a Chinese Galaxy S4 Clone I couldn't get rooted.

Our adventure begins with yours truly browsing the community and finding a camera mod for my current smartphone. I was disappointed because I was just about to make my own, but had been preoccupied helping recoveries get created for my model. I flashed the mod and while it seemed better, I found that the mod I performed was fiddled with, but not at its full potential. So, I created my mod. Even luckier for the public, my mod could work with the preexisting camera mod to get the best of both worlds.

I then saw one of the posts on the preexisting camera mod where a user had asked if decreasing the bitrates video would decrease quality? The original poster (OP) replied no. That, to me, was an outrage. How could someone say that? This is where my title comes in.

Jack of all trades, master to none.

While most find this to be an insult, I find it to be a compliment. The way I see it, if I don't know at least something all the aspects of one subject, then I shouldn't be a part of it. The best way I see this is if you spent all your time learning a skill but one day that skill becomes obsolete, or the competition to saturated. Because I have no other skills, I'm essentially screwed.

Back to the story. I made a reply to the OP and disagreed. The OP responded by wondering why I cared and stating his was "better". I replied that he has "more" stuff, but then went into an explanation of bitrates.

Bitrates: Bitrates determines one major part of the quality of your video. Other parts involve lenses, audio, etc. As far as an Android smartphone is concerned, bitrate is key. The higher the bitrate the less compression artifacts noticeable in a video. Thus, higher bitrate equals better quality. Additionally, bitrate modes and codecs can also be vital in determining quality, but again, we're talking about an Android phone (and we're not going to bother with 3GP vs. MP4 here).

I also had to do a quick explanation of bitrates and 4K as the OP implied that they could be the same thing.

4K: 4K is a resolution that is a the rage for prosumer video cameras. To illustrate the size of 4K know that it is double the size of 2K, and that 2K is just a tad bit bigger than 1080P. So, 4K is a little bit bigger than twice the size of 1080P.

That being stated, bitrates and resolution do not go hand-in-hand. You can have a 4K video with a high bitrate, or a 4K video with a low bitrate. The bitrate does not determine resolution.

The OP had made some changes to how light worked which would help make the video look better when in great lighting, but come out dark (horrible) in low-lit areas. There are three areas to lighting:

  • FPS: Frames-per-second will determine the smoothness of a video, as well as how much light comes into the camera. A lower frame rate means more light but with choppier video.
  • ISO: This is known as ASA for film. ISO allows more light into the camera the higher it is, but higher values produces and increases "noise" in the video.
  • Aperture: The aperture will be ultimately determine by the lens being used. The lower the lens, the more light allowed into the camera. However, the aperture will also blur part of an image depending on if that image is near or far.
Aperture is not important to Android, or almost any smartphone, as it cannot be changed.

The OP was limiting ISO from 1600 to 1200, and the minimum frame rate for 1080P from 15fps to 30fps (and just recently 720P to 60fps only!). In adequate light, these settings would make gratifying shots, but the reason Android sets these rates are because people like to take pictures in low-lit areas without a flash. You might consider a low-lit area to be dark and gloomy, but a well-lit area for our eyes may still be considered low-lit by our cameras.

The OP wanted to due a comparison of his videos by another member, but I explained that it would be unfair. His method for using such low bitrates (lower than factory settings) was to use something similar to soft focus.

Soft Focus: Is a defect of lenses where an image seems somewhat blurry, but still has sharp edges.

The OP wasn't at an extreme with this, but what is troubling is that Android smartphone manufacturers already employee this technique on a very small scale to make photos seem better. You can normally see this when zooming in very close on a picture. The OP, moreorless, was just pulling back bitrates and making this effect more intense. To someone like myself, they are just ruining quality rather than improving it.

The main difference between their mod and mine was that I increased bitrates and they decreased bitrates. This also means that my mod increased file sizes of images and video, while his decreased sizes of images and video.

While I can rest easy knowing that I am obtaining true quality, I find it sad that people will think that somehow his mod is making their camera better when it isn't. I am a Jack of all trades. I know a bit about Android and I know a bit about video.