Angie's Leap

My dive into blogging: music, technology, saving money


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‘Doing it well: Gymwrap stands up to sweat

Editor’s note: Today’s guest blogger, Diane Hawkins, reviews a product aimed at saving women time and money by preserving their dos after a workout.

Actress Nicole Ari Parker released the “Save Your Do” gymwrap which has been featured by Channel 7 WLS-ChicagoEbony magazineThe Root and other media outlets. The gymwrap promises to wick away moisture, allow heat to escape, keep your hair flat and save your hairstyle.

Mission accomplished, somewhat.

After a few extremely sweaty workouts, which included 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer and 30 minutes on the treadmill, the wrap was satisfactory. It did wick away some of the moisture, but I wouldn’t suggest going to an “America’s Next Top Model” photo shoot after your workout. Similar to an elliptical trainer, the gymwrap has its ups and downs.

"Save Your Do" Gymwrap

I found that the key is to wear it comfortably — not too tight — during the workout and for an additional 15 minutes after your workout, allowing the gymwrap to absorb more of your hard-earned sweat. After using the gymwrap, my hair wasn’t completely dry, but I believe that the wrap prevented me from having to drag out my blow dryer as I have done in the past.

I bought the narrow gymwrap because I wear my hair in a ponytail most days. When I untied the wrap, the ribbons in the back were dripping with sweat — but my hair was not. The gymwrap definitely isn’t a guarantee that you will have beautiful, flowing hair after your workout, but it did succeed in preventing sweat from dripping in my eyes and keeping my hair manageable.

Parker’s hair-saving material ranges from $24.95 for the narrow gymband and wide gymband to $29.95 for the full triangle. You can purchase it at saveyourdo.com and receive a $5 discount if you “like” the product’s Facebook page. Also, the payment includes 10 percent of the proceeds benefiting Sophie’s Voice Foundation, an organization that brings attention to children and adults diagnosed with spina bifida.

My rating: 3-1/2 stars out of 5.

Diane Hawkins is a copy editor with the Louisville Courier-Journal and an adjunct journalism instructor at Jefferson Community and Technical College. She also has contributed to Rebellious Magazine and Soul In Stereo, among other blogs. You can find her at HeyDMH.com.

 

Convert DVDs to play on iPad for free

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A  friend recently asked me how to convert DVDs to digital formats so that her daughter could watch them on her iPad during a road trip. I remember when some DVDs would come with free digital copies. Now I see Walmart and others are charging for the service.

Following is a tutorial on how to install the open-source application HandBrake and get those digital copies free.

1. Use the link provided above to download the software. There are other links using HandBrake in their URLs, but they’re ads for other paid programs, and some of them may contain malware. This tutorial focuses on the Mac installation, but Windows is available as well.

2. Give your computer permission to download the app. This may mean temporarily turning your firewall off under System Preferences. When you’re done with the installation, remember to turn your firewall back on.

3. After unpackaging the software, you’ll get a screen like the one below. Now you just have to show the app the movie you want to encode. Click “Source” and find your DVD.

4. I select my DVD, “Cooley High,” from the source pane to the left of the window that appears after I click “Source.” :

Locate your DVD (source)

5. Next, click on the Video_TS file. Click “Open” in the lower right corner of the window after the Video_TS file is opened.

Open Video_TS folder

6. A bump in the road: My older DVD is 32-bit, while the current version of HandBrake is 64-bit.  I click on the button to the far right, download a software package, and in three minutes, I’m back in business.

7. I click “Start,” and the DVD encoding begins.

8. The flyout menu to the right shows my encoding options. I set them for my iPad. Settings are available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple TV and Android devices as well.

9. A cute alert that my digital copy is ready. The 1-hour, 47-minute, 27-second flick took 38 minutes to convert.

10.  “Cooley High” is ready to transfer to the iPad.

11. Whoomp! There it is…

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scattered pennies


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Chipotle’s penny antics and customer (diss)service

The hubbub this week about Chipotle “rounding up” customer bills, in effect cheating customers by pennies at a time, reminded me of a savings fundamental as well as my own similar experience. One lesson is clear: count your change. Yet I can understand how easily this basic savings no-brainer can be ignored in our hustle-and-bustle society.

The whole incident also made me think about the level of poor customer service I’m willing to accept and where I draw the line. (Yeah, downright ripping me off will get me off your customer list for sure.)

During the time I was taking classes downtown I had two choices for my morning java jolt if I was unable to grab a cup at home: Mickey D’s and a doughnut/coffee chain which shall remain unnamed. Mickey D’s offered the better deal: $1 for a  cup of Joe, any size. I usually kept a bottle of my favorite coffee flavoring in the fridge at school to spice it up, and I’d be good. But I liked the doughnut chain’s coffee better, and they had more flavor additions as well. My point is that I was willing to spend a little more for something I like more — even though this doughnut chain’s line sometimes stretched outside the door.

Then I noticed my receipts and changed weren’t jibing at the doughnut shop. At first I thought it was accidental. After it happened more than once, I knew it was no accident. So one morning I called the cashier on it, showing her the receipt and the change in my hand. I didn’t care how many people were standing outside in line; as a person in the NJ.com story said, it was the principle of the thing.

The cashier told me they didn’t have any pennies. Right. I shook my head and told her I needed her to get my money right. This chick, who claimed to have no pennies, then proceeded to give me about 32 cents worth of Abe Lincolns. And I proceeded to count them out on the counter, one by one.

I won’t be back to that shop again. I thought about all those people they probably were getting away with ripping off daily, all because folks are too busy to pay attention. Haste makes waste, indeed. It can also  make a nice profit for an unscrupulous business/cashier. A friend back in high school told me he worked at a store where cashiers worked a similar scam.

I had contemplated crossing this doughnut shop off my list before because a shop at another location wasn’t getting the coffee flavors right. Maybe it was skimping, just putting a drop in when a large cup needed more; I just knew I wasn’t tasting any flavor. The second time this happened I stopped going there.

I could go on with more poor customer service stories, but I really wonder if businesses are losing out as a result of such practices. Do they care about how many good customers are lost, or are these casualties just factored into the cost of doing business? More important, where do you, as a consumer, draw the line and stop patronizing an establishment with poor customer service?

Read offline, pocket the savings

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Being able to read my saved Web pages offline has been invaluable, especially since I’ve suspended my iPad data plan. If my tablet’s 3G connection ever becomes reliable, perhaps I’ll reactivate, but for now I’m saving that $15 a month.  My Pocket app has really come through in the clutch when I’ve been stuck in boring places with nothing good to read and no Internet connection. Yes, my cell phone data connection is horrible, too.

Previously called Read It Later,  Pocket has been on my iPad for a while, but I never used it much since Safari’s Reading List popped up in my toolbar. What I didn’t learn till after I shut down my data plan was that the reading list isn’t available offline. Pocket is the perfect workaround.

My only criticism is that it’s a pain installing Pocket’s “bookmarklet” into iPad’s Safari browser. As you’ll see in the screen shots below, Safari’s bookmark dropdown menu covers up Pocket’s installation directions. This might not be an issue with other iPad browsers, but Safari is the one I use most often.  I’ve included a screen shot of the unobscured directions. By contrast, installing the bookmark into your laptop or desktop browser is a snap.

Once installed in your browsers, the app shines. Click on the “Save to Pocket” icon on your iPad, laptop or desktop and start saving your pages. Pocket boasts integration with more than 300 user-created apps, including two of my favorites, Flipboard and Twitter.  One important note: You can’t view your Favorites list offline. Keep stuff you want to read offline in the Home queue.

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My ringtones are back . . . Yesss!

I’ve mentioned before that I love music, and one of the little ways I enjoy it is by making my own ringtones.  This is no big deal for iPhone users, who now can make ringtones in a snap, but back in the Dark Ages we BlackBerry users didn’t have a place to shop for ringtones, let alone an easy means to make our own.

So I was stuck with canned sounds, while it seemed everybody else had cool ringtones. Until I discovered Audacity, free open-source software for recording and editing sounds.

For non-techie types, making tones on Audacity is a bit much, especially since there are probably easier tools to work with now. But back when I started doing this, the ends more than justified the means. I used the songs I wanted from my music collection, got the snippets I wanted from them, and I didn’t have to pay a dime.

Even though I no longer have my BlackBerry (still like it better than the iPhone, but that’s another story), I still enjoy making my own tones and adding them to whatever no-contract phone I’m carrying at the moment.  Now that my son makes beats, I tote them around on my phone and turn them into tones, too.

I’ve established that a sister will go to some lengths to have her music how she wants it, when she wants it.  So let’s just say I was a little annoyed when out of the blue I started hearing “Verizon Airwaves” instead of Bobby Caldwell when my mom called, perplexed at hearing those same “Airwaves” instead of  Usher when my daughter rang,  and downright angry when my son’s hot beat was replaced with “Airwaves” for all incoming calls.  A disaster, I tell ya.

An investigation revealed that the tones were on my memory card, but the phone just wasn’t reading them. A little Googling  showed me that I could format my card (basically, restore it to factory specs), but that would  also mean erasing all my data. Since my contacts are automatically backed up through an app, and I have copies of my pictures and tones on my computer, I thought this might be the answer.

Then I read that Windows users could format their cards via computer, and I Googled to find out how Mac users could do the same.  That’s when I discovered another wonderful use for Mac’s Disk Utility application.  Here’s what I did: 1) Took the micro SD memory card out of the phone;  2)  Inserted the memory card into a micro SD adapter and inserted the adapter into my Targus card reader/writer; 3)  Inserted the card reader into my laptop’s USB slot; 4) Started up Disk Utility , selected the card reader disk and clicked “Repair Disk”

Et voila!  When I put the memory card back in the phone, the tones were recognized, “Airwaves” were banished, and all was right with my world.


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Net savings on phone bill

Going through my email this morning, I came across a promotion to refer friends to my home phone service, Ooma. Well friends, consider yourselves referred.

In a nutshell, you spend $160 to $200 up front in exchange for what’s currently a $6 monthly phone bill (pour moi). It’s a VoIP  service, allowing you to make phone calls over the Internet. So you cut the landline cord, but not the Internet one.

I’ve been using VoIP for years now, thanks to a recommendation from a former newspaper colleague (Thanks, Craig). I started off with Vonage, but ditched it after my bill started climbing with an alphabet soup full of government and other surcharges. I came to Vonage after complaining about a $24.99 phone bill that was up to $65 with various taxes and surcharges. I think it’s almost inevitable that sooner or later some taxing body is going to start feasting on your phone bill, so you may as well get in some savings while you can. My Ooma bill was only about $3 when I started the service a couple of years ago (Thanks, Keith). When I signed up, there was a menu on Ooma’s website that let me see what my state’s taxes and other surcharges would be.

“Why bother with a second phone bill at all?” you may ask. I just like having a back-up number. And the cost is definitely cheaper than a traditional landline. I have to say I almost consider traditional phone service a rip-off now, though I do have friends that insist they need a landline (for that fax machine?). Seriously, you can now hook up your home security system to a VoIP service.

Yes, you will lose service if your Internet goes down. With Vonage, I just had my calls forwarded to my cell. Not sure if Ooma offers this service, but it does push an upgrade package that likely offers call forwarding.

Not trying to sound like those Westwood College ads, but what are you waiting for?