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Sony Camcorders – Once the King, Now the Jester

In the early 2000's I worked at Best Buy and was impressed how much better Sony camcorders were than the competition. Faster focus, better zoom, better durability, Nightvision, and so on. They were the only brand I've ever bought: a few 8mm ones, a miniDV, and finally an HDR thingy in 2013. That's where the problems started.

First, I was pretty annoyed that nightshot was no longer a feature on the cameras. If you didn't already know, taking video in darkness tends to make videos of darkness and that's not very useful. Still, by now we have good cellphones with lights on them so it wasn't too much trouble to use them together I suppose. But the main issue wasn't a missing feature; it's durability.

Sony HDR #1 - Cause of death - tiny splash
(See online!)

A few years back, I went to a water park with my family. I'm not a moron – I know this camcorder isn't an underwater version, but it was a water park and I couldn't avoid every errant splash. Because I've never had to treat my Sony equipment daintily before, I didn't think much of it and wiped the water off, but was surprised to find the screen go dark after a few minutes.

I did a little testing and realized the screen still works, but the backlight burnt out. There's no way it would be cost effective to repair so I just bought a new one instead:

Sony HDR #2 - Cause of death - tiny splash
(See online!)

Granted, the camera lasted for many years (mostly because I barely use it since phone cams are so good now), but every now and then you want to make sure you're capturing in the best light and have a solid zoom. That was the case when I went to the beach this summer. Once again, an errant splash and, one again, the camera is dead. This time, it's telling me that the battery has to be the "right kind" which brings up two problems:

  1. The camcorder broke again with a tiny splash of water
  2. Sony is using some kind of "DRM" brand management to force you to buy only their brand of batteries

DRM is often useless, overbearing, and downright offensive. Coupled with the absurd fragility of modern Sony camcorders, I can see that times have changed and the faith that I once had is clearly misplaced. Assuming I don't just stick with my cellphone (which somehow seems to know how to make better video devices than a company who's made cameras and camcorders since the 1980's), maybe I'll try Canon. They were always #2, but it seems that Sony has voluntarily flushed themselves into that position.

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Finally Found a Comfortable Pillow Solution – Shredded Memory Foam Chimera!

Shredded memory foam! Finally something that works!
(See online!)

When you can put enough aside to afford it, a key purchase is your pillow. It's something you use every night and affects how sore and damaged you become during the weirdly dangerous act of sleeping (being over 40, yay!)

So I put my money to the test and, after research, bought each option in the "Cervical Pillow" series:

A cervical pillow. It definitely had support!
(See online!)

Though the pillows have a removable strip in the center in case they're too high for you, none of them (queen, queen soft, or standard soft) were low enough. I felt like my chin was scraping my ribcage the entire time and returned them all. It was disappointing, but the foam did seem comfortable – if only too high/stiff.

With a little more looking around, SHREDDED memory foam seemed a good option so that was my next buy:

This isn't the exact one I bought (that one's gone for some reason), but it's close
(See online!)

The first one I bought was MAJORLY comfortable. The kind of pillow you lay down on and can't get back up again because your body deactivates like a deflated pudgy robot. The two problems were that it was STILL too full AND it deflates very soon after buying (as it warns in the comments and reviews).

The first problem was easy to solve because all of the shredded foam pillows I found came with zipper-cases so you could pull out as much foam as you like. In one case, I had so much fluff, I was able to make two pillows out of it (I had another zipping pillow case lying around).

The second problem is based on them shredding too thoroughly. The foam was randomly sized even down to "cotton candy" shreds in some cases which meant that it compressed too much in a short time. They tell you to low-heat dry the pillows when they arrive to get rid of the chemical smell and to fluff them and also tell you to re-fluff them now and then the same way, but I lost structural integrity after only a night or two. Luckily, there's a simple solution:

Pillow #3!
(See online!)

I did not return the first shredded pillow because it was crazy comfortable; I bought the third pillow for one reason: cubes. The foam was evenly cut and not likely to compress easily which is exactly what I'd need if I was going to make an unholy meld of SOFT and SUPPORT. And that's exactly what I did… I grabbed a 32 gallon garbage bag and dumped the contents of both pillows together. I mixed them vigerously by hand and then started filling every zipping pillow case I had. Because they give you enough foam in these things you'd be licking your toes if you left them alone, I was able to fill probably 5 pillows to a degree that made everyone in the family happy (and I have some left over).

My final ratio didn't mix the cubes and other foam evenly so I ended up with a lot of the cubes left over. I'll just hang onto them for now or I could use them to fill other pillows for guests or something. Either way, much better than normal pillow

So it takes a little more effort, but basically:

  1. Buy an overly shredded memory foam pillow
  2. Buy an almost obnoxiously uniform shredded foam pillow as well. I looked for cubes
  3. Mix them together in a big bag
  4. Refill your pillowcases to whatever degree is comfortable for you
  5. .
I've been so comfortable recently that my pain is lower, my sleep is better, and I have to adjust my rear-view mirror every morning because of how decompressed I've been.
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Blair’s Jalapeno Death Sauce – Who knew hotsauce could be good?

Not just good; the best I've every tasted
(See online!)

With the weird macho BS surrounding hot sauces, it took me well into my thirties to finally realize that it's all silly bluster. When they say "hot enough to burn the hair off your future descendents", it's just juvenile posing. Grr! Death! Kill! Murder! RAR!

I can't even remember what led me to try this, but Blair's Jalapeno (complete with SKULL KEYCHAIN!!! RAR!! WE'RE SO EDGY!) is by far the best Jalepeno sauce I've ever had. Far from the promised pain and death that I can't see anyone actually wanting, this has actual FLAVOR. It's a bit spendy so you'll want to use sparingly, but in almost 10 years, I've yet to find anything even close to as good.

Bottom line, it's pretty hard to tell when a hot sauce is going to keep it's uncomfortable sadism-kink of hurting you versus just being a tasty condiment so I figure it's important to share when we find a winner. Blair's might be just one of the many emo posers in the market, but at least it has good flavor (and in the case of the Jalapeno, little to no actual pain).

2020.08 – UPDATE – The newest bottle I tried was actually fairly spicy. I can't tell if the flavor is as good because of the numbness, but it's still better than average even if they've recently erred on the side of pain over flavor.

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Razer DeathAdder Chroma Review – Should have been great but wasn’t

Razer, a name that you should be able to trust.
(See online!)

I've used a Microsoft Intellimouse for about 10 years but it finally gave up the ghost. I researched and posted in various forums to determine some good mice that were simple, comfortable, had good performance, and weren't LOUD. The Razer DeathAdder Chroma fits all those requirements well. It's good performance, has a smooth scrollwheel, fairly quiet operation, and a thumb button for going back in my browser. I also like the LED color option because, hey, pretty glowy yay!

I guess I can forgive that you need custom drivers to control the color options, but why do I have to SIGN UP FOR AN ONLINE ACCOUNT to download and use the drivers!? Let me say that again in case you missed it: you can't even CHANGE the settings later if you don't log in first.

It's bad enough that they forced me into a relationship with them to download drivers, but to block my access and force me to ask for permission to change from blue to cyan is just creepy. I didn't ask for this. I don't want it. Get out of my life.

I expected better from a company with such a solid reputation. I was able to make it work by using a fake email and information, but I won't be able to change my settings unless I remember my login information later. Good luck if you want to change a setting when you're not in an area with free wifi.

Bottom line, spruce up the guest bedroom because Razer is moving in.

EDIT: I should also point out that the right-click button was broken when it arrived. I gave it a chance because it seemed to resolve itself (still wasn't perfect, but enough that I didn't want to bother sending it back). When I tried playing a game where stealth needed me to hold the right mouse button, it clearly wasn't going to work. I discovered this outside the 30 day window so had to go to Razer for warranty. Luckily they didn't fight me, but add a sour note to an already abusive experience.

Edit 2: I realize I've had this mouse for two years now, but I still have PS2-port mice with balls that work just fine from the 90s. One without moving parts shouldn't have parts falling off of it this soon. All in all, I am more disappointed than I can say and definitely won't be buying from them again if they don't raise their standards significantly.

Razer - 2 years later, and stuff is falling right off

Beware the Targus XL 617 Backpack – It’s not what it used to be

don't believe their lies... this post shows the old (awesome) backpack, but they ship you the new (lame) one instead
(See online!)

When I had some extra cash for the first time in basically ever, I splurged and bought myself a big, honking gaming laptop (whee!). The main problem with it was finding something to carry it in, but at the time there was a pretty rocking Targus backpack made for exactly this kind of problem. I think it's been almost 10 years now and it's stood up to quite a few trips across the states and out of country. It's sturdy, roomy, and boy does it last. There might be one or two tiny frays or broken bits, but that's pretty danged good for its age.

You go, you ancient, everlasting backpack!

Fast forward to today (last year actually, but close enough). I got a bonus and start eyeing the new laptops. At the same time, I figure my old one would be a great hand-me down for the kids, but they'd need a backpack too. I figure, why not get a brand new Targus XL 617 for me and give them the still-sturdy old one (since they don't travel near as much anyway). It was a perfect plan… until I got this garbage instead:

Who are you! What did you do with my REAL backpack!?

I'm exaggerating calling it "garbage" of course, but it was a nasty surprise. Not that I hadn't seen a few reviews warning that there's a new model and it's inferior to the old ones, but the pictures on the website still show the old model and not the new one.

Here's an updated post with the CORRECT new backpack clearly displayed
(See online!)

It's not that the new backpack is really all that bad, but it's going to be a huge disappointment when you compare it to the old design when they knew what quality looked like. That's why I tried two separate times to get the real backpack and was fairly irked when I ended up with bait-and-switch for the new, stinky one. Apparently Targus used the exact same model number, but completely changed the quality which might not be intentional tomfoolery, but it does create confusion and disappointment regardless. When you see this backpack around, don't just assume you're getting the right one:

Are they real? Are they the fakes? There's no way to know.

Just be sure if you order one, check for the nice, solid, tubular handle and not the hand-destroying flat one. If you've got it, you're good. If not, return it or do a credit card chargeback for goods not as described.

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Adventures in splurging for a “nice” vacuum cleaner – The Shark that melted

Our Shark NV803 Duoclean -- I call him "Melty"

If I were to describe my history with vacuum cleaners, it would be "struggle". We have no long-haired pets (unless you count children) and we don't have a ton of carpets. If I'm being honest, we don't use the vacuum near as often as we probably should. What I mean to say is that we're not really putting these things through their paces or performing stress tests so there's no reason it should be such a struggle.

Still, you get what you pay for and all the ~100 vacuum cleaners and used models and Goodwill castoffs were a pain. They jam up easily and have varying levels of poor performance that my wife and I were sick of. We did our research and found what seemed to be a good model that came highly recommended, had tons of great ratings, and a good set of features. At the least, I hoped that spending more than double the price of our most expensive vacuum to date would be a win.

TL;DR – Nope!

The bits that look like dirt buildup are actually deformed plastic
Is that a gill?
Nah, just the roller belt popping out to say hello

Look, I'm sure they're great most of the time. The reviews sure seem to suggest so after all… but in the end having a vacuum cleaner eat itself in less than a year is a tad bit concerning. None of the cheap-o ones I've ever owned had problems with melting themselves, but I suppose I should give the Shark points for style: it started by melting the internal plastics of the roller and THEN it melted its way right out of the side casing (that belt is still in great shape though, so props for that!).

Let's be fair: stuff is defective sometimes and there's no point in getting bent out of shape if you get a lemon… assuming they actually take care responsibility for it.

7-year warranty!

The one I bought: a Shark NV803 DuoClean
(See online!)

I'm new to Shark and didn't know what to expect, but the "7 year warranty – OMG!" was reassuring. I went through the trouble of registering (I normally wouldn't, but it was required) and called the phone number (that's suspicious… why couldn't I do this online?) and the very polite lady took my information and quoted me $89 to send a replacement part.

Wait, what?

Long-story short, the warranty only applies to the motor apparently – self consuming rollers is not their problem.

There were several things on the table at this point: going to my credit card for the auto-extended warranty, send a complaint letter to Shark directly, see if it's too late to do a credit card chargeback, etc. Instead, I contacted Amazon support to see what options they provided and it paid off! They offered a full refund and gave me a shipping label to send the unit back.

To be clear, Amazon didn't have to do this and I would never suggest you can expect the same, but credit to them for handling the situation. The bottom line and the point that I'm trying to make is that you might want to think twice about Shark vacuums. Maybe I got a lemon or maybe they're not made as nicely as people claim, but one thing that's for sure, their warranty isn't going to help you if something goes wrong (unless it's the very specific part of the vacuum they actually cover I suppose).

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Q: How does my first Pizza Hut pizza rate after a six-year haitus? A: Not good.

Well... that's no good.
(Image copyright Jeremy Duffy)

Several years back, we noticed that my son was having an adverse reaction to Pizza Hut pizza (he puked every night after eating their food) so we stopped buying it. Since then we've been primarily a Domino's family and it's been fine, but I remember really liking Pizza Hut once and when a new store moved into the shopping center across the street, I figured it was time to try again.

To make it a fair test, I got the same pizza I always order (with pineapple of course) and a side of garlic knots (just to make the test complete). I figured even if it wasn't the same, at least I had pizza and there's no bad pizza…

(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC])

So I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

The regular crust is basically some kind of sweet and fluffy white bread baked on one side in a thick layer of oil. There was almost no sauce on it and what was there thin and lacking in flavor. Basically, it tasted like an oily tomato-cheese donut.

As for the garlic knots, the bread is the same donut-texture and I could barely taste any garlic. The "marinara" sauce (and I can't stress the finger-quotes enough here) was a soupy ketchup-like substance with a few tiny leaves of basil or oregano in it (for authenticity I suppose).

I hoping to eat part of it for dinner and save some for the next day's lunch, but I ended up giving it to the kids instead (it does rate a little higher than the pizza they serve for school lunches… though that's not a high bar to exceed). Thinking back, their pizza has always been this way, but having taken a break for so long made the difference much clearer. There was a time I could tolerate it; I might have even liked it, but from now on I'll go with someone else… anyone else – I think that might be the last Pizza Hut I eat.

Note: This is not a paid review, I just legitimately tried Pizza Hut again after a long break and regretted my choice.
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