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Archive for the ‘Lifestyle’ Category

Tips for Buying A Digital Camera

January 11th, 2010 No comments

In this post I give you a very short primer on how to choose a digital camera.

I bought a digital camera in the past year, a Nikon D40. It’s been a while since I owned a camera, the last one was a film camera, plus numerous throw-away cameras. I can say that I got lucky, I bought a camera that in retrospect was a good choice based upon my own opinion and followup research. 

For research, I mainly read the excellent site  In an age of social websites, community generated content, video and everything Web 2.0, this site may seem like an antique from 1998. It is, but the content is excellent. There’s a lot there (really too much), so I have culled the most important information that will be useful to you as well as added some other good links. 

  1. 90% of getting a good photograph is being there when the opportunity arises and having a camera in your hand to take the photo. Buy a camera that you find easy to use and that matches your expectations in size and portability. A fancy camera that sits at home because its too bulky or hard to use isn’t going to get you good pictures. 
  2. Forget about Megapixels. Any camera you buy today will have many more Mexgapixels than you need. A 4MP camera (if you can even find one) is good enough to print quality 4X6 photos, a 6-10MP camera can print photos larger than what most people need. For more information on this, read Breaking the Myth of Megapixels, by David Pogue of the NYT.
  3. Digital cameras for amateurs come in (2) types: point/shoot, Single Lens Reflex (SLR).
  4. Point/Shoot cameras are excellent for landscapes, portraits, or images where the subject is otherwise not moving. There’s no reason to buy anything more expensive if you mostly shoot these kinds of photos. See the great images Ken Rockwell shot with a point/shoot camera.
  5. SLR cameras can shoot action shots and have the most upgradability. The downside to these cameras is that they are missing consumer friendly features such as great portability, filming video and being able to preview the picture live.  
  6. If you want a quick recommendation of some cameras to buy, read what David Pogue recommends. The best point/shoot camera he suggests is the same one that Ken Rockwell recommends
  7. Buy a camera (or in some cases, a lense, for SLRs) with a feature that helps to eliminate the blurring effects of camera shake, it really works. This feature will be called ‘Image Stabilization’ or ‘Vibration Reduction’. 
  8. To get a picture sized within your view, you either need to move or the camera can move using zoom. Buy a camera with some amount of optical zoom, the digital zoom that some cameras offer is inferior since it uses software instead of physically adjusting the lens. Some expensive point/shoot cameras have lots of zoom, but their price puts them in SLR territory which overall are superior cameras. These point/shoot cameras also lose their size advantage. 

It’s never been easier to take photographs with all the great digital cameras available. Happy shopping.

Categories: Lifestyle Tags: ,

Automaker Success

January 4th, 2010 No comments

There has been a lot of press on the state of the Big Three automakers, before and after the Federal Government decided to offer load guarantees.  The press has not been shy about coming up with reasons why the automakers are in the predicament they are in. I can’t help but think that many of these journalists have never run a business.

An often mentioned theory, repeated too many times to count, is that the Big Three should have invested in and built more fuel efficient vehicles. This theory has made it to the committee hearings, where legislators want the loans guarantees to be met with requirements to invest in the new technology.

Sorry, but this isn’t the reason why the automakers are failing and it won’t be the salvation for them, at least in the short to medium term. They are failing because they don’t make a profit on the vehicles they sell today. It’s that simple. Currently, new technology vehicles powered by hybrid technology or natural gas still make up a very small percentage of vehicle sales today.  Toyota is the leader in this area, and they invested in this technology using the profits of vehicles based on the existing technology; yes, even from the gas guzzling trucks.



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Marginal Utility…or should you upgrade your Coke?

January 3rd, 2010 No comments

Economics theory can help to provide some assistance in our finances. No, this won’t be a post about some academic theory of no practical use, this phrase can help your finances a lot. Today, this post will cover the economic concept of Marginal Utility, which is simply the expected improvement of a product when we spend more to buy the ‘deluxe’ version versus the ‘basic’ version, or however the marketing team decided to differentiate the product versions. This will not be a post imploring you to never spend more to get upgrades. There are cases where you should. However, marketing has become so sophisticated with creative ways to get you to spend more for a product/service. In this post I provide some real examples where I faced the upgrade quandary. There are many cases where you can pay more and actually get no extra benefit at all, get a benefit without paying anything additional, as well as cases where an upgrade is necessary to get a functioning product. The following are examples of upgrading decisions that have occurred recently to me that I hope will help you to consider your choices carefully when shopping.

Upgrading A Hotel Room 

Reserving a hotel room has been made very easy with the various booking services that are online. I wouldn’t give up the convenience of online booking, but keep in mind that hotels are all about service, and with some persistence and planning you can often times get upgrades for free simply by asking (instead of just paying more through your online booking). I once upgraded a Caribbean hotel room to a water view simply by calling and asking the hotel ahead of time (I also provided a small gift when I arrived as thanks). The hotel room upgrade above was provided at no cost.

In a more recent example, I paid for an upgrade of a hotel room in Provincetown, MA that didn’t provide any extra benefit at all. I reserved the room online and unfortunately due to time constraints, I didn’t contact the hotel directly before I made the reservation. I purchased an upgrade that provided wireless internet access to the hotel room.  If I had simply called the hotel ahead of time, I would have found out that the wireless access was unsecure, no extra payment for the network access would have been required. 

Upgrading A Car

Automobile companies work very hard to tailor their products/marketing to entice new car buyers to buy upgrades. It makes sense, a new car buyer typically is looking for that experience that can only come with a new car – the new car smell, the shiny sheen of the paint, the knowledge that you are the first driver. These buyers are ripe for unnecessary upgrades. 

The easiest way to thwart the upgrade bug is to simply buy a used car. Buying a used car will force you to make decisions about what you actually need, since these vehicles can’t be upgraded on the lot.   

If you do decide to buy a new car, first answer the large questions about what you really need, such as:

  • How much passenger capacity is required.
  • How much utility is required to carry goods/large items/etc.
  • What special features are important to you – quietness, luxury, off road ability, special electronics, high mileage, etc.

Once you have determined what you need, stick to the list of vehicles/models on your short list. Resist the temptation to upgrade – take a hard look at what the benefits will be. Do you really need an engine with 50 extra horsepower? In most cases you really don’t.

Upgrading Your Beverage

In an Atlantic City, NJ restaurant recently, I was faced with a beverage decision – small or large? Unless I just came off the volleyball court, I don’t see why I or anyone else would need a beverage the size of a large – but something else had occurred to me that spawned the thought for this tip. This upgrade tip may seem trivial and not worth mentioning, but it is nonetheless a very clear example of an unnecessary upgrade.

In the past most restaurants would pour fountain drinks for you. Many establishments have converted to self-serve fountains where you pour your own drink – and in many cases – you can pour yourself a refill if you like. It probably makes sense from the restaurants point of view – they save a lot on labor costs while they likely don’t lose much money in overfilling. Though the restaurant has changed their delivery method, the size choices are still available. So the question is, why would anyone buy a large size when you can simply refill a small one? This is an unnecessary upgrade. 

Upgrade Your Camera

Cameras come in two basic types: point/shoot, and SLR. For photos of landscapes, fixed people and other stationary objects, low cost point/shoot cameras are excellent. When I bought a camera last year, I upgraded to an SLR because it has the ability to freeze action, whether it’s fireworks, sports, or simply people or objects moving anywhere. The point/shoot cameras can’t do this well so this was a necessary upgrade.   

Once that decision was made and I entered into the SLR camera world, now I am faced with choosing from the dozens of offerings in the SLR family of cameras.  The sky is the limit in cost, you can spend many thousands of dollars on SLR camera bodies. After doing some research, I determined that camera bodies come and go, but lenses are forever. So, I resisted the upgrade and bought a low end SLR camera body.

Categories: Lifestyle, Personal Finance Tags:

Buy A Car…Get A Check

February 7th, 2009 No comments

No, this is not Lee Iacocca with a check in hand luring you to buy a Chrysler. (For those of you TYTK – too young to know – Lee Iacocca was the CEO of Chrysler about 25 years ago).

There is a proposal that passed as an amendment to the stimulus bill (so called ‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ‘) in the U.S Senate. It would provide an income tax deduction to taxpayers who purchase a new car. The deduction would allow the taxpayer to deduct from their income sales taxes paid and the interest paid on any car loan.

The tax deduction would apply to single filers who earn less than $125,000 per year and married couples who earn less than $250,000 per year. How can you determine if you qualify? It’s not as easy of a question to answer as you might think. Here’s how to determine if you qualify, or at least what you need to consider to find out.

This question often comes up about legislation, and the media do not often provide the details in their stories.

First, this isn’t the yearly income your earn from your job. For many people, the actual reported income from your job is less than your stated salary due to top line deductions that your employer takes to pay for some benefits. Also, when you file your tax return, you would have to also add any passive income, which may include bank interest, dividends, or any gains you had, e.g. selling stocks.

The press release for the amendment also left out exactly what type of income they mean. To put this in IRS speak, we need to know which line number on the 1040 tax form the bill is referring to. The two important ones that came to mind are: Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and Modified Gross Adjusted Income (MAGI). AGI is reported in line #37 while MAGI is calculated by adding back deductions from AGI in numerous ways depending on its context (Confused, yet?). After checking the amendent itself, they are referring to AGI for almost everyone unless you have foreign income. So just use your AGI.

So, if you need to estimate if you would qualify, calculate your AGI. A good starting point is to look at line #37 on last years tax return.

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