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Archive for February, 2007

New Costco Electronics Return Policy

February 27th, 2007, 11:34am by Mike

From today’s WSJ (sub. req’d): Over the next 5 weeks, Costco will be rolling out a new policy on electronics returns.

Costco Wholesale Corp. has altered its return policy, aiming to alleviate the squeeze put on its profit margins by customers bringing back consumer electronics for full refunds. […] The change limits to 90 days the time frame in which customers can return various consumer electronics for a full refund. […] electronics goods bought before the implementation of the new 90-day policy still can be returned at any time.
Merchandise that will be subject to the 90-day limit includes televisions, computers, cameras, camcorders, iPods, other MP3 players and cellphones. In turn, Costco will extend the manufacturers’ warranties on TVs and computers to two years from one. Those products represented about 5% — or roughly $3 billion — of Costco’s $59 billion in sales for its fiscal year ended Sept. 3.

This change will certainly affect some pyslent readers. In particular:

Returns of consumer electronics — flat-panel TVs, in particular — squeezed Costco’s profit margins in its latest fiscal year. Costco has posted strong sales of the TVs, including a 50% rise in November at stores open for at least a year, but many have been returned as customers encountered difficulty installing them at home. As well, the policy of giving a full refund of the purchase price allowed for some opportunism, as prices on flat-panel TVs have fallen precipitously in the past year.

CallWave – Visual Voicemail Now

February 26th, 2007, 6:52pm by Mike

Saw this today on The Apple Blog — it’s a service that (sorta) gives you the “visual voicemail” feature of the iPhone. For those of you who haven’t committed the iPhone Stevenote to memory, visual voicemail is the feature that shows you who you have messages from in your voicemail inbox, so you can pick and choose which to listen to, and erase, for instance.
So there’s a company out there called CallWave who has set up something similar. The gist of it is that you change your cell phone’s voicemail to their service (from your cell phone provider’s), you can get voicemails by e-mail (including e-mail notification on your phone), SMS, and/or using a widget on your desktop computer.
So I took the plunge (it’s easy enough to switch back, and it’s free!). Here’s how I tried to make it walled off so I could just can the whole thing if I needed to:

  • Figured out my T-Mobile voicemail number and wrote it down.
  • Set up an e-mail address at gmail specifically for CallWave. Set the Treo to check it.
  • Signed up for the free account. When you do, you’re given a code to dial into your phone, which is supposed to change your voicemail provider settings. That didn’t work for me, but looking at the code, it was easy enough to decipher that there was a phone number embedded in it, so I manually changed the rollover numbers on my Treo to that number, and fired it up. Worked like a charm.
  • Followed the voice prompts and set up an outgoing message. On the computer, set up my account — there are options for not sending a SMS or e-mail (settable separately) if there is no caller ID, if there is no message, or even for if you screen the call on your cell phone (in other words, you hit “ignore” instead of answering). On e-mail, you can choose to send the voicemails as attachments.
  • Changed the “call Voicemail” shortcut on the Treo to call the new number.
  • Downloaded the widget — of course I got the Apple one, but they also have Yahoo Widgets and Google Gadgets.

So I’m all set. When somebody calls, and there’s a caller ID, and I didn’t “ignore” it and they actually left a message, I get a text message with their name (through some reverse-lookup service, I’m guessing — it correctly identified where I work), and the length of the message. I also get an e-mail, with a clickable phone number to call them back. I really psyched about this.
So where does this leave Apple and the iPhone? Well, it’s still pretty cool to have a nice interface for all this on your phone — and I still can’t selectively listen to messages from the phone (only from the computer). But it’s interesting — I thought that this “visual voicemail” was a really big deal for Cingular to commit to doing, and that it was one of the reasons that Apple went with a single carrier to launch. Turns out that it isn’t that hard to implement, it seems. Also, it makes me wonder just how Apple is allowing the selective listening to messages — I had thought before that it must be downloading the audio file, but it might actually be connecting and playing over the internet, too (I’m still betting on the first).

Blood & Volume

February 25th, 2007, 7:11pm by Jake

So one of my old friends from Camp Lawrence is a writer named Dave Copeland. He used to work for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, but he’s been freelancing, blogging & writing books for the last couple of years, and he also ran his first marathon last year (which I evidently helped advise). If you ever met him, you’d understand how improbable that whole endeavor was. But this post is actually about Cope’s first book, Blood & Volume, due out next month and already available for pre-order at Amazon. The book is about one figure in New York’s Israeli Mafia, Ron Gonen. I actually haven’t read too much more about it, since I’m mostly looking forward to reading the finished product. One interesting part of the story is that Cope found Gonen through a Craig’s List ad, of all places. Another interesting tidbit– Gonen was recently booted from the Witness Protection Program for being the subject of the book. Even though the book supposedly goes to great pains to avoid identifying Gonen in any way. So, if any of you are interested in one man’s story in the Israeli Mafia, definitely pick up a copy. There’s a book release party on March 8 in Boston, and Cope’s scheduled to make other appearances in the northeast. I’ll be picking up a copy as soon as it goes officially on sale (maybe if enough folks order on the release date his Amazon ranking will surge!), and I’m sure it will be an excellent book.

New Ride

February 24th, 2007, 4:31pm by Derrick

Our transformation into suburbia is now officially complete.
Anyone looking for a used Honda? We’ll give you a good deal!

20″ Monitor for $200 or Less

February 23rd, 2007, 6:35pm by Jake

Via Slickdeals.net, Office Max is selling a 20-inch monitor with 1680×1050 resolution for $199, maybe less with a coupon. Great deal for anyone in the market.

iMechanica & Drupal

February 21st, 2007, 1:53am by Jake

I discovered the iMechanica website last week while searching for more structures conferences in exotic locations. This site is not quite that, but a whole lot more, too. Lots of researchers posting about upcoming conferences, taking part in discussion and maintaining blogs on the site. The featured article this week (pictured) is Computational Mechanics of Biomembranes.
Digging a little deeper, I found that the site was run on a platform built by Drupal, which looks like an effective way to quickly build an integrated site with user forums, blogs, profiles, and more. Not sure how it compares to MovableType or WordPress, but there’s a whole range of sites, from simple ones dedicated to British Football to slick ones like this Belgian site to downright bewildering sites.

Pyslent Leaves Its Mark

February 12th, 2007, 12:32am by Jake

Pyslent Leaves Its Mark

Great weekend guys! It’s nice to know that after years of hard work and many years of useless fun, we’ve really left out our mark at UCSD. One days, these shoes will be worth millions! Many more pictures are in this set, and remember to add your own pictures to the Pyslent group on Flickr.

On Our Way

February 9th, 2007, 10:41am by Kelvin

Hey gang, we’re on the flight to SD for the meeting! See you all soon.

80’s podcast

February 7th, 2007, 3:55pm by Kelvin

I don’t want this to be construed as a well-researched recommendation, but I’ve been amused by the half-episode I’ve heard so far of the “80’s Movie and Music Fest Cafe” Podcast. It’s hosted by some British chaps and the show is like Spinal Tap sitting around talking about 80’s movies. I’m currently listening to the Rocky IV episode, and I find that they have some pretty keen insight into the movie. Pyslent readers might want to start off with the Star Trek II episode.

Amazon Unbox Teams Up with TiVo

February 7th, 2007, 1:33am by Jake

The LA Times is reporting that Amazon is teaming up with TiVo on a video store. You’ll be able to order Unbox videos on your computer & send them directly to your TiVo for viewing. It’s supposedly going into testing tomorrow, so it’s already further along than the ill-fated TiVo/ Netflix combo. Here’s a thread at TiVo Community discussing this deal. Here’s hoping that Apple TV, Vista Media Center & TiVo/Unbox can create a thriving market for downloaded movies. With rentals starting at $1.99 on Unbox, it could be quite compelling for TiVo owners. Especially if it’s DVD quality or better.

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