Sep 1

Meet the First Plant That Requires Facebook Fans to Survive

Well this is interesting…

Most plants require sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to survive. We’ve found one that requires Facebook fans and wall posts.

Meet Eater is a “real garden that feeds on social interaction.” It is an experiment in human interaction and design, focused on rebuilding the connection between human being and plants.

Here’s how it works, according to its creator:

“Meet Eater is rigged up with a system to register physical contact and social media interaction. Watering is triggered by human contact and nutrients are delivered when you start hanging out with it on Facebook (Facebook). Of course the novelty of such a project could draw more attention than is desired. If the plant becomes over loved it will call for quiet time via the Facebook page, just as you or I would.”

Technically, this garden (which you can visit at The Edge in the State Library of Queensland) requires food, water and nutrients, just like any other plant. However, those elements entirely depend on people becoming Facebook fans of Meet Eater and talking to the garden via Facebook wall posts. Meet Eater even replies to wall posts with its own distinctive (and definitely human) voice.


Aug 31

Gmail’s New Mind-Reading Inbox

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Google is adding a new feature in Gmail that will automatically spotlight important e-mails and separate out the ones you can wait to read later.

The tool, called “priority inbox,” works like a spam filter, except instead of filtering e-mails that you definitely don’t want to see, it moves the ones you really want to the top. Google said the feature will help users sort through inboxes that fill up with hundreds of automated e-mails that don’t need immediate attention.

"It used to be that people just wanted to separate spam from non-spam, but increasingly the non-spam has been varying in quality," said Keith Coleman, Gmail’s product director. "We want to help people get through their mailboxes much more quickly and spend more time on what’s really important to them."

The feature is automated, and determines whether an e-mail is important by seeing whether a user has opened or replied to e-mails like it in the past. Users can also train Gmail on which e-mails are more important than others with new “+” and “-” buttons that set priorities.

Google tested the new inbox with more than 10,000 employees, and found that the amount of time users spent in Gmail fell by 13%.

Few companies want to minimize the time users spend with their products, and Google makes money by getting users to click on the advertisements that show up in the margins and in a banner on top of the Gmail screen. But Coleman said less time spent in Gmail isn’t a worry, since the unit’s “first priority is always making users happy.”

What should worry Google is a strong series of updates to Microsoft’s Office suite, including improvements to the company’s e-mail client Outlook 2010. The new Outlook incorporates many of the features that once helped Gmail lead the pack, including linked conversations, quick search, instant messaging and the ability to ignore entire conversations with one click of a button.

via CNNmoney


How to Save on Last-Minute Travel

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Hit the road (on the cheap). If booking a plane ticket is too pricey, try taking the bus. (Yes, you heard us right.) New “premium” coach companies, like Megabus.com and BoltBus (boltbus.com), combine low prices with amenities such as onboard Wi-Fi. Travelers can land fares for as low as $1 (!) for a one-way ticket from New York City to Boston or Washington, D.C., though $15 to $20 is the average.

Embrace the new. Recently opened hotels typically reduce their rates to attract customers. Check out Hotelchatter.com, a daily webzine, for information on the latest bargains.

Go where the deals take you. Want to take off somewhere—really, anywhere—next weekend? Go to farecompare.com/dealfinder (a ticketing and travel-advice site) and choose your departure city, the month, and how much you want to spend. The site will show you where you can fly in that price range. A couple of hints: For the biggest savings, leave on a Saturday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. And do your booking midweek. Airlines often announce sales Tuesday morning that must be reserved by Thursday.

Search for vacancies. Cruise lines insist on being solidly booked before setting sail, so they usually offer steep discounts (as much as 60 percent off) starting as early as three months before the departure date and up until two weeks before sailing. Check lastminutecruises.com for specials.

by Susan Stellin


Aug 18

Save Money All Year Long

The Savings Plan 

Things always seem to be expensive exactly when you need them. A bikini in May? Zero percent off. A tank of gas before your Saturday errands? Not cheap. That January vacation in the Caribbean? No one would call it a bargain. American women spend trillions on consumer goods and services every year, and a lot of them pay full price simply because it’s convenient.
But by planning ahead, you can get great deals. Wait for the right day or month instead of shopping on the fly, and you’ll see the annual savings start to add up.

Coupons

Groceries

The estimated average weekly grocery bill for an American household is $90, according to the Food Marketing Institute, a food retailer and wholesaler trade association in Washington, D.C. By using a store’s discount card, you can shave about 18 percent off that cost. Try not to bring along the kids, who may ask for treats you weren’t planning to buy. You can also save with coupons: Check sites like CoolSavings and shop on double-coupon days if possible. Avoid buying prepared and packaged goods (e.g., Consumer Reports found that two pounds of carrots cost $1.29, compared with $7.16 for the same amount of precut carrot sticks). And stock up on freezable foods after their peak times. Gary Foreman, publisher of the Dollar Stretcher website, notes that prices for turkeys are slashed after Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Bag of groceries

Books

Wait for the paperback (which typically comes out six to nine months after the hardcover, at about half the price), or check sites like Powell’s Books, Strand Book Store, Amazon.com, and Overstock.com for used and overstock books. If you buy a lot, consider an annual membership card from a chain like Barnes & Noble ($25) or Books-A-Million ($20), which will give you 10 percent off most in-store purchases. Remember, though, that you have to spend plenty of money on books annually (at least $250 at Barnes & Noble and $200 at Books-A-Million) to break even. Of course, the library offers the best deal: It’s free, as long as you remember to return the book before those 20-cents-a-day fines start piling up.

Stack of books with coupon

Dry Cleaning

Americans spend nearly $7.8 billion on dry cleaning each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, much of it for low-priced orders (like shirts) and must-haves (suits for work). For expensive projects, like drapes, which run about $200 in a typical cleaning order, or bed linens, which can cost several hundred dollars, it’s best to have them cleaned in January, July, or August. Those are slow times for cleaners, when many offer discounts of about 15 percent on large items. If your local cleaner doesn’t advertise discounts during those times, try negotiating one.

Dry cleaned garment with coupon

Movies

For a family of four, going to the movies even just once a month can be a big expense. Cut your costs by buying corporate bulk tickets, like those offered by Regal Entertainment Group, the biggest theater chain in the country. Regal sells blocks of 50 “VIP Super Saver” tickets that let you see films that have been showing for at least 12 days. At $6 each, these tickets are up to 40 percent less than regular tickets (depending on the region). You can also find price breaks through Working Advantage, which offers discounts of up to 46 percent on movie tickets and DVD rentals through more than 4,000 companies and organizations, or through Entertainment, which charges $25 to $51 for books of coupons for movies and live events.

Popcorn with coupon

Vacations

Only 5 to 10 percent of an airline’s seats are reserved for frequent fliers, so if you want to get restricted frequent-flier tickets―the ones that eat the fewest miles―book about 11 months before your trip, says Tim Winship, founder of Travelocity, a site that provides information on mileage award programs. If you are paying for your seats and are willing to risk bad weather, it’s much cheaper to travel to popular destinations during “shoulder” seasons (just before and after peak travel times). Shoulder trips―February in Europe, April in the Caribbean and ski country―can save up to $400 per person for a one-week vacation. Check sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and SkyAuction for deals. And you can save if you book your hotel and flight as a package. Kari Swartz, a travel expert at Expedia.com, says that customers who book a package to one of its top 50 domestic and international destinations save an average of $193. You may also be able to get discounted tickets through your company’s corporate-travel program or through SideStep, which compares prices on different travel and airline sites.

Yellow suitcase with coupon

Summer Camp

Four weeks at a typical sleepaway summer camp costs $3,200, and an average camp raises its price 5 to 10 percent a year, according to Jeff Solomon, executive director of the National Camp Association, a New York City–based organization that offers guidance in choosing a camp. To lower costs, lock in your rate the year before. For a month or two after the end of each summer session, many camps offer early-bird specials, letting you sign up for next year’s camp at current prices. (This deal generally doesn’t apply to one-week specialty sports camps.) Some camps may even let you lock in a lifetime rate if you’re willing to commit to―and pay for―several years in advance.

Roasted marshmallows with coupon


The Best Mac and Cheese

Best White Cheddar: Rising Moon Organics Organic Shells & White Cheddar
No clumps here: Kids and adults found this mild, not-too-salty sauce irresistible. A tasty white-cheese alternative for those who don’t cotton to a bright orange dinner.
To buy: $3 for 6 ounces, Whole Foods Market. Rising Moon Organics Organic Shells & White Cheddar

Best Frozen: Trader Joe’s Mac ’n Cheese
The good-enough-for–grown-ups blend of Gouda, Havarti, Swiss, and Cheddar might just allow you to pass this dish off as homemade.
To buy: $3 for 14 ounces, Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joes Mac n Cheese

Best Multigrain: Annie’s Homegrown Organic 5-Grain Elbows & White Cheddar
Want to sneak in some extra fiber? Fans were so focused on this pick’s rich, delicious sauce that they hardly noticed the nutritious multigrain noodles.
To buy: $2.50 for 6 ounces, at supermarkets.

Annies Homegrown Organic 5-Grain Elbows & White Cheddar

Best Fun Shapes: Kraft Toy Story Macaroni & Cheese Dinner
Cute characters—Buzz, Woody, and the gang—and pasta that cooks through evenly (a rarity with novelty shapes) guarantee that kids won’t just play with their food.
To buy: $1.30 for 5.5 ounces, at supermarkets.

Kraft Toy Story Macaroni & Cheese Dinner


Aug 11

How to Negotiate Anything

Medical Bills

Consider this: To maintain cash flow, “many doctors will knock 5 or 10 percent off if you pay up front,” says Rocky Fredrickson, M.D., a former chief medical officer for Providence Health and Services. Uninsured patients can get even bigger discounts (“50 percent or more,” says Martin Bashir, M.D., a gastroenterologist in Washington, D.C.) for procedures that doctors and dentists usually bill to health plans, because medical practitioners are used to getting less than full price from insurance companies. “The discounted rate doctors give a patient is still far better than what an insurance company pays,” Bashir says.

Uncovered Repairs

Consider this: “Companies don’t always charge for repairs after the warranty has expired,” says Patrick Griffin, a senior manager of services for Dell, in Round Rock, Texas. Common problems might not require a recall but may be so prevalent that a company will fix the glitch for free.
 
Try this: Enter the full name of the product (“Brand X digital camera M16”) and the problem (“cracked view screen”) into a search engine to find chat rooms where people have discussed similar troubles and learn what the company has done for them. Call the returns department, not customer service, to talk to someone who can authorize a free repair or a replacement. Tell them you’re loyal to the brand, but that you’ve seen online evidence of widespread issues with the product.

Home Repairs and Improvements

Consider this: Comparing bids from several contractors will give you some leverage with the one you’d like to hire.
 
Try this: Get three to five bids, and be clear about the products you want to use. If your preferred contractor is at the high end, say so and offer to show him the other bids. He may adjust his price. When hiring a plumber or a tradesman for a small job, ask him to break down his price into labor and materials. About 35 percent should be materials and 65 percent labor, says Al Paxton, a construction estimator in Malibu, California. If the ratio seems wrong, say so. But be diplomatic. “If you squeeze him too hard, he might give you less than first-class workmanship and use less expensive materials,” Paxton says.

Online Purchases

Consider this: You can’t haggle online. But there are websites (such as shopzilla.com, froogle.com, and nextag.com that track and compare Internet prices for products and direct you to the best bargains. They also rate the sellers based on customer reviews.

Try this: To squeeze the price even further, call a regular store that stocks the product and ask that store to match the best price you saw advertised online. “We are very likely going to drop our price to beat another reputable dealer,” says Abe Brown, director of advertising for J&R Music and Computer World, in New York City. (You can find a list of authorized dealers by contacting the product’s manufacturer or going to its website.)

Chain-Store Items

Consider this: The salesclerks at chain stores generally don’t have the authority to give you a discount, but a manager does.
 
Try this: If you’re buying a big-ticket item ($200 or more), ask a manager for a discount, says Eugene Fram, a professor of marketing at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, New York. If you’ve seen the item in the store for a while, say so. Some stores have codes on price tags that will show the manager how long the product has been on the floor. “The longer it has been hanging around, the better the deal you can get,” says Fram. For smaller purchases, ask a clerk if she knows when the item is likely to go on sale, or ask her to call you when it is marked down. You could also tell the cashier you forgot the coupon from the weekly circular. He will probably have an extra.

Mom-and-Pop Store Items

Consider this: Whenever you’re buying from the owner―or someone with direct access to the owner―discounts are easier to get than in chain stores. “The boss has the power to make decisions, he knows his bottom line, and he knows the value of making a sale and establishing good rapport with a customer,” says Fram.

Try this: Explain to the store’s owner that you’re a local customer (if you are) and that you like shopping at independent retailers and coming back to a merchant you know. Mention what the big-box stores are charging for the same item and ask the independent retailer if he will match the price―or at least come close. If the owner can’t budge on price, ask for free delivery for bigger items.

A Cell Phone

Consider this: Your opportunity to haggle over cell-phone minutes and features isn’t when you’re signing up for a new plan. “You’ll start getting sales calls a couple of months before your contract runs out, but don’t bite,” says telecommunications attorney Art Neill.
 
Try this: Wait until your contract is about to run out, then call the company’s customer-service department. “Their job is to keep you in the fold, and they’ll probably throw some extras your way to do it,” says Neill. Tell them exactly what you want in terms of a new phone, minutes, and features, based on research you’ve done about what other companies are offering, and they may stretch the rules to get you to renew. It’s always worth talking to a supervisor if others can’t help.


Aug 9

New Uses for Old Things (Summer Edition)

Aluminum foil on grill

Aluminum Foil

Really hot grill bars equal dramatic grill marks on your meat. To concentrate the heat and keep it from escaping, lay a sheet of foil over the grill for 10 minutes. Peel the foil off just before cooking, scrunch it into a ball (it cools fast), and use it later to scrape any residue or ash from the bars.

Glass of water with antacid tablet

Antacid Tablets

To soothe a bug bite, dissolve two tablets in a glass of water, then dab the solution on the itchy spot.

Baby Oil

Baby Oil

Bare feet left with tar after a day on the beach? Lift it off with a dose of baby oil.

0708johnson-baby-powder

Baby Powder

Prevent sweat stains on white shirts: Sprinkle powder on the underarms and the collar, then iron. The powder acts as a barrier.

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda

Baking Soda

Need a deodorant in a pinch? Dust baking soda under your arms to absorb body odor.

a glass of iced coffee and a cocktail shaker

Cocktail Shaker

Upgrade your iced coffee. Pour in milk, sugar, and flavoring (if you want), add ice, and shake for a frothy, evenly blended caffeine fix.

Coffee filters

Coffee Filter

Protect hands from a drippy Popsicle or ice cream bar by pushing the stick through the middle of a filter.

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Grater

Keep pits out of your fresh lemonade by squeezing the fruit over a grater.


Aug 5

Organizing Your Digital Photos

Digital photography

Online Albums

If You Want Prints

Kodak EasyShare consistently turns out high print quality and excellent color, and you can retouch under- and overexposed shots. The online albums are pretty basic: a collection of pictures against a white background.
Bear in mind: The EasyShare Gallery lives up to its name. The site is clean-looking and easy to navigate.  

If You Like Slide Shows

The DotPhoto site provides the best tools for showing off photos. In addition to displaying picture collections, DotPhoto lets you create elaborate online slide shows set to music.
Bear in mind: The print-ordering process is a bit clunky (you select the same size for every photograph, then go to your shopping cart to change the measurements).
Go to: dotphoto.com.

If You Like to Share

As Kodak does, Shutterfly provides only basic albums and slide shows, but it offers handy tools for sharing. You can set up a custom, password-protected Web page (at no extra cost) where friends can view your albums and add photos or comments.
Bear in mind: With its simple design, the site is easy to navigate. Shutterfly also offers handy, free photo-organizing and advanced-editing software (for Windows). 

Phoning It In

Photo-sharing sites let you move photos directly from your cell phone to your online album. Upload a picture of your daughter’s first day of school, for example, and her grandmother can see it online within minutes. Kodak Gallery is the easiest service, and it offers a free membership. If you enroll in a paid membership, you can view and order prints of all the photos in your online collection directly from your phone. Other services are priced à la carte.

Jul 28

It’s That Time Of Year!

Makes 12 muffins Hands-On Time: 10m Total Time: 40m

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or coat with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, butter, milk, and eggs; add to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Fold in the blueberries (do not overmix).
  3. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar, if desired.
  4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely or serve warm.

Jul 20

5 Money Saving Fans

Vornado Zippi Fan

Zippi Fan by Vornado

At nine inches high, this pint-size model features cloth blades and is ideal for cooling off tight areas, such as a desk or a kitchen counter. Plus, it collapses for handy storage. Available in seven colors, including raindrop (shown).

To buy: $17, vornado.com

Carlo Borer Otto Fan

Otto Fan by Carlo Borer

Made of strong steel and fine-grain African sapele (a durable mahogany-like wood), this modern Swiss-designed beauty offers three speeds and two height-adjustable feet.

To buy: $200, swizz-style.com

Ecco Fan

Fan by Ecco

This handcrafted heavy-duty desktop fan features sleek chrome plating and aluminum blades―and its timeless design is charmingly retro.

To buy: $117, mailboxworks.com

Vornado Under-Cabinet Fan

Under-Cabinet Fan by Vornado

A boon for space-challenged areas, this slim fan can be installed under virtually any cabinet and flips up out of the way when not in use. The powerful 360-degree pivoting head pushes air up to 25 feet.

To buy: $40, gracioushome.com

Casablanca Zephair Floor Fan

Zephair Floor Fan by Casablanca

Satin brass accents and a cloth-covered cord give this standing fan old-fashioned appeal, but its quiet three-speed motor and 90-degree oscillating sweep are state-of-the-art.

To buy: $300, lampsplus.com


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