May 27, 2006

Timberline

Chances are if you ask a bunch of people to recommend a solid tent for a couple people to go camping, several of them are going to recommend the tried-and-true Eureka Timberline. It's ugly, but it's been in production forever and it's insanely solid and well-built. Whatever you can throw at it, it will handle.

That, along with memories of using them in the Boy Scouts, is the reason so many people recommend them.

But I loathe the damn things. Though they were okay once you got them together, it was getting them together that was the bane of every early Scouting trip our troop went on. If you got it up in one go, you were a god among men. And I can't recall one trip where the fly pole didn't pop out right after you got it in. Those things were hell.

They did stand up to the elements and a bunch of young rambunctious guys, though, so it's no wonder they were and still are the choice of many BSA troops everywhere.

It didn't take but a couple years, though, for my old troop to have moved almost exclusively to everyone supplying their own tents. A fair amount of our trips were car camping or short backpacking trips, so many people loaded up on inexpensive recreational tents that were easy to assemble and more comfortable (the discount Popular Outdoor Outfitters offered to all BSA members didn't hurt either). Even a large tent not intended for backpacking became reasonable—clear space willing—when you split up the pieces among multiple people's packs.

To be honest, the trips got a lot more fun once the Timberlines fell by the wayside because you could pack your entire clique into one tent and raise hell. You couldn't even play cards in the Timberlines, really.

Of course, the larger tents also brought with them homoeroticism in the case of my troop, which I'm sure the BSA higher-ups would have blanched at, buy hey... that's life. I'm sure they also would have taken issue with the attractive woman in charge of the older boys. And a couple officially unofficial trips we took... And the off-color jokes that always made the Mormons glare at us at scout camp... And the showering naked (speaking of aghast Mormons)...

Really, the best kind of Boy Scout troop for your children is the kind that flies in the face of as many of the BSA's rules as they deem fit, come to think of it.

Posted by Colin at 4:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 24, 2006

Discontinued!

Figures. I'm about to run out of room in the second of my Kåxas wall cabinets, and it turns out Ikea has discontinued the entire Kåxas line.

Not that they'd be terribly hard to duplicate myself so long as I could find appropriately-colored Formica...

Posted by Colin at 1:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2006

Buying Computers for College

Since I field the same questions over and over, I figure I'd start posting answers on the blog from time to time. Let's begin with one that's sure to crop up repeatedly as seniors around the country graduate.

I just graduated from high school and I'm heading off to college next fall. What kind of computer do I need? Desktop or laptop? I've heard I can get student discounts; How?

Desktop or Notebook
This answer's easy: get a notebook. If you're living in the dorms, you'll thank me when you have the extra space and lack of another heat-belching device. If you're living at home, you'll thank me when you can take it to class. And no matter where you're living, a notebook will come in damn handy when you're in the library at midnight finishing up a paper and can actually do it right in the library.

There is a trade-off, of course; notebooks are more expensive than desktops.

And because you're moving them around constantly, there is a higher chance for damage (though they're also built from more rugged components). My golden rule is to always recommend people buy the extended warranty.

And a big secret for the starving student set: Most manufacturers will let you buy the extended warranty until the original warranty expires. So save your pennies until the warranty's about to expire and then extend it.

Student Discounts
There are two varieties of student discount in the marketplace: Dell's, and everyone else's.

As I general rule, I recommend never to buy from Dell Education, for the simple reason that they're almost always more expensive than the home and small business prices for the same product. It also means you have to go through the hassle of the student verification process. In the end, you're essentially paying Dell for inconveniencing yourself. Don't bother.

For most manufacturers, you will have to buy from them directly (online or phone), through your campus computer store, or from an authorized education reseller to get a student discount on hardware or software. A notable exception is Microsoft Office, which is available in just about every store on the planet in a "Student and Teacher Edition" for considerably less. But... don't buy Office until you get to school.

If you're purchasing a Mac, any Apple Store can offer you the discount on hardware. You will need a valid student ID. Apple Retail cannot, however, offer the student discounts on software. For that, you'll need to use the Apple Online Store or visit your campus computer store.

A Word on Repairs
Having your computer break down sucks. Especially if you didn't spring for Dell's more expensive warranty, and have to mail it in for service.

But fear not, there are two things many people aren't aware of:
1. Many campuses have on-site repair depots authorized by the manufacturers to do warranty work. Find out if yours has one before mailing it in.
2. If you're near an Apple Retail Store and using a Mac, often you can have your system serviced in-store if you ask. The turnaround time won't be instant unless you've got a ProCare card, but it's still faster than depot repairs (since it doesn't have to be couriered anywhere).

Moreover, though, be prepared for your computer to barf. Buy a thumbdrive or an external hard drive and keep important things like copies of your in-progress papers on it. You'll thank me when you can finish that term paper in a computer lab instead of crying yourself to sleep and then begging the professor for an extension.

Buy Before or Wait 'til I'm There?
Without a doubt, wait until you get to college to buy any new software or hardware.

Almost all university campuses these days have their own computer store, where everything is sold at a discount to students, staff, and faculty. By waiting until you get to your school, you can comparison shop the campus store and whatever other avenues you have. Campus stores also often run blowout sales on the last generation's merchandise when new products come out -- and since they're not open to the general public, it's much easier to save a few bucks by buying older product.

Coming back to Microsoft Office, though, most universities have some sort of program set up with Microsoft where you can acquire Office either incredibly cheap (anywhere from $5 on up) or, for some schools, entirely for free. If you don't need to buy the Student and Teacher Edition at a retail store, don't. It's also worth noting that many campus bookstores still carry the boxed editions of Office (for what reason, I don't know), so you may have to ask a salesperson if they offer a discounted version for students.

Posted by Colin at 12:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pier 1

Analyzing the poor financial standing of GAP, Hot Topic, and Pier 1, CNN says:

Said Johnson, "This is a brand that's very much stuck in the 90s. It sorely needs to reinvent itself with a wholesale rethinking of the brand. I think the existing management is challenged on this front. I think a private equity buyout is a possibility for Pier 1."

[...]

Morningstar analyst Anthony Chukumba said Pier 1 is stuck in a "perfect storm." The merchandise is "just bad," he said. It has too many stores and has saturated its domestic market. It's [sic] advertising lacks direction and its [sic] facing competition from newer players.

Amen.

Kirstie Alley and Mr. Queer Eye Tom couldn't help it because the merchandise sucked. I've moseyed through Pier 1 a couple times when I've been in the neighborhood of one, but there's been very little in the store I'd actually buy. Distressed wooden elephants? Gigantic wicker giraffes? Faux bamboo made of metal tubing? An armoire the size of a '57 Chevy?

I'm not living in Africa nor am I Hemingway, trying to re-create Cuba in my own backyard. I will never have faux elephants or wicker facsimiles of animals in my home. Ever. And I prefer my furniture to be airy and clean, not massive and Baroque.

Now, on the other hand, if I was shopping for a spa or a resort, I'd totally shop at Pier 1. Seeing as how most people live in houses or apartments, though, yeah—Pier 1 was in trouble. They do have a nice selection of candles, and a wide variety of attractive gay cashiers, but I don't think you can run a nationwide retailer on those two products alone.


CNN's story is a little less than timely, however, as Pier 1 has just announced a massive overhaul of their product line. They're selling less imposing, more modern furniture that fits in with what's popular today. And combined with the candles and the gay cashiers? They'll totally make it.

That goes doubly if they start selling the cashiers too.

Posted by Colin at 2:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 3, 2006

Summer's Here

Some people follow the change of the seasons with silly things like celestial bodies or the occurrence of equinoxes. Fie on them!

I already know it's summer. My Jeep told me so: Every year, when that damned "CHECK ANTILOCK" light comes on while I'm running the A/C, I know summer is truly here, regardless of what date it may be.

Now if anyone could figure out why that light comes on, I could actually wait for celestial bodies to do their thing like everyone else. C'est la vie; I'll just continue tooling around without ABS whenever my vehicle feels the need to protest being out in the summer heat.

Posted by Colin at 9:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack