Category Archives: Cool

The new iCloud

I just logged into iCloud today and I must say, I like the changes.  It now reflects the new iOS 7 theme.  Gone are the skeuomorphs for Calendar, Contacts, etc. and in is the new flat theme of iOS 7.  The other thing that’s nice is that iWorks (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) are now in the cloud.  The other thing is that once you go full screen, your computer now looks like a Mac, even if you’re on Windows or a Chromebook.  The changes are drastic for some but in the whole I like what I’m seeing.

500 miles with the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

I’ve lived with the new Camry Hybrid for a week now and have put about 500 miles on it, including a trip to Los Angeles and back for work. Since I’ve taken delivery, I’ve managed to get an average of almost 42 MPG on a full size sedan. The Los Angeles trip clocked in at a crazy 46 MPG! I’m not driving much differently except that I make sure I’m accelerating smoothly, anticipate when I need to stop for lights, etc. and coasting appropriately and using cruise control more on the freeways. It’s pretty much what everyone else tries to do when gas prices go through the roof.

Overall I’m pretty happy with it and it should serve me well for years. I plan to drive this car as long as possible. I’ll keep reporting periodically on the driving experience and what it’s like to own a hybrid, cost wise. I was a bit worried that perhaps I made my decision too hasty to go with a hybrid compared to say a diesel, like the Volkswagen Passat diesel that gets almost 40 MPG in real life. But what swayed me ultimately was Toyota’s reliability, slightly cheaper gas prices compared to diesel and that in the real world the hybrid Camry gets more miles per gallon than a comparable diesel sedan.

New car buying guide

Are you in the market for a new car? Here’s my easy, new car buying guide to help you get a great price. Way better than the price you can get through Costco’s Car Buying program (because I’ve tried it). There’s almost no haggling or hassle involved in this but you must follow these steps.

1. The cardinal rule: Be firm. Always. An example: When you visit a dealer to look at a car, sit in it, test the headroom, test drive, etc. and then leave, they’re going to pressure you to make an offer then and there. Don’t. This is but one example but there are many along the process and if you’re not firm, you’ll waste your time.

2. Get the name of 4-5 dealers within a 50 mile radius from you.

3. Decide what car you are going to buy, down to the trim level & options as much as you can. Only you know what you can live with or without. Do as much research as you can from the car review sites. Test drive at any dealer you choose but leave as soon as you’re done. Thank them and tell them you’ll email them with your offer when you’re ready. BE FIRM!

4. Decide on a few acceptable colors. There’s more than a good chance that the dealer willing to give you the best price might not have the exact color you want. Again, decide on how important this is to you and work accordingly.

5. Go to http://amexnetwork.zag.com and enter your car model & zip code on the left side for new car. Select your options and price it out. Click on the bell curve looking graph that’s labeled “See what others really paid.” You’ll get a pop that looks like the picture below. This part only works on Flash enabled devices so sorry, no iPhones/iPads. I’ve found this is the BEST site for new car values. I’ve compared these prices to Edmunds’ True Market Value, CarDirect, ec. and they’re all significantly higher. You do not need to be an American Express member to use this site.

6. Average the Factory Invoice price and the Dealer Cost price. This will be the price you will offer and pay for the car. No more, no less. Your only adjustments will be to move up or down accordingly if certain options are not specifically available on the car a dealer might have on their lot.

TrueCar Value

TrueCar Value

7. Go to your bank or credit union and arrange your own financing and get pre-approved based on the value you get in step #6 (add to that tax & licensing fees). DO NOT GO THROUGH THE DEALER FOR FINANCING UNLESS THEY HAVE A RIDICULOUS OFFER (like 0% for 60 months or something). I got 1.79% on a 60 month term through my credit union. If your credit is only so so, you should still go this route. The bank/credit union you have an existing relationship with will almost always give you better rates than the dealer. If you’re paying cash, even better.

8. Wait until the last day of the month. Better yet, last day of the quarter. Email the dealers in your area with vehicles that closely match your criteria. Make them an offer on the price you got in Step #6 + tax/license. Tell them you have your own financing (or cash) and can close the deal quickly. Make sure you say in your email that you are emailing several dealers with the same offer. Tell them that you’ve done your research and know what the true cost to them are and that your offer is lower than the so called “factory invoice” but that’s your price. Tell them all you require is a “YES” or “NO” that they can do a deal at your price and that you will not accept any counteroffers from the dealer and that there’s no working with you on the price. Don’t be afraid to talk to them but repeat the mantra. You only need a Yes or No and you’ll move on. You won’t work with them, you won’t take counteroffers, you don’t care that it’s below the “factory invoice”… it’s simply can they sell the car to you at that price or not. That’s it.

9. When the responses come in, you can decide what your favorite colors are from the YES and go from there. Say no to GAP, extended maintenance, dealer security system, LoJack, under body coating and all that crap. Tell them you have very little time to do the paperwork and watch how fast they can go… it does not need to be a half day ordeal.

GOOD LUCK!

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE

So I did something this weekend that I said I wouldn’t do and that’s to buy a new car. The car I ended up with was the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid. Yes, I know, a boring family car. But this one gets 43 MPG! I was also looking at the much more stylish Lexus CT 200h. That car gets the same mileage but had a lot less room inside. Ultimately I went with the bigger car.

Normally I would have preferred to get a 2-3 year old car but a 2010/11 Toyota Camry Hybrid gets about 9 miles less per gallon… that’s pretty significant. The price different on the 2011 or even the 2010 was minimal. On top of that, Saturday was the end of the month and the end of the quarter. Pitting four dealers against each other, I got this brand new car for $24,950 + tax. It’s a very good deal I think. So far I like this new boring car! :-)

In the future I’ll give a more thorough review of the Camry and hybrids in general, but for now, I just wanted to let you all know!

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE

Making the switch to Schwab Bank

I recently made the switch from Chase Bank to Schwab Bank. After having use of the account for almost 1 month now, I feel I can make a report to all that might be interested.

First off, it was a pain to switch all of my bills over. That really isn’t Schwab fault though. The fault lies with the companies I’m doing business with. They don’t have a convenient way of switching banks online. Some want you to call them. Others want you to go through their agents. Others have outdated paper requirements. And on and on. But I can finally say that that’s all over with now. So that was Step #1.

Step #2 was to get my company to switch direct deposits over to the new bank. That was easier but may require me to accept a live paper check for one pay period. Not a big deal. I set it up so that most of the money goes directly into my Schwab account. I have $1 from every paycheck being direct deposited to Chase. Just so I can keep the account open for free as a back and to screw with them.

All of that was relatively painless. When it comes to using my new bank, I’m extremely happy. I did a cash withdrawal from a Chase ATM (!) where Chase charged me $3 for the privilege. Greedy bastards. Well, wouldn’t you know it? Schwab Bank promptly refunded me that charge. Nice. Then I headed over to Paris and made a cash withdrawal at the airport. No $5 foreign ATM fee. And the ATM owner didn’t charge me a fee either… that was HSBC… see that Chase? But that’s not even the cool thing. Schwab Bank gave me a great exchange rate. Almost as good as the going exchange rate that you can find on OANDA for example. And absolutely no foreign transaction fees! None. With Chase, I was out $5 for the actual foreign withdrawal, regardless if I took out $5 or $500. On top of that, their exchange rates sucked. And then they charged a 3% foreign transaction fee… that’s $3 for every $100 of spend. Those add up quickly. That was not the case with Schwab Bank at all.

The icing on the cake? I got $0.17 interest for a pretty low balance for the partial month in February. Yeah, it’s a pittance but better than $0 I’ve been getting since forever.

Overall I’m extremely happy with my experience and would whole heartedly recommend it. Aside from all of the startup housekeeping you have to do whenever you switch banks, it’s been a joy. And that’s worth sharing.

iOS 5.1 Update

iOS 5.1 update – If you haven’t updated your iDevice yet, this one’s worth it. The main feature that I love aside from the Retina Display support for the new iPad is that you can delete photos from your Photostream! Yay!

Ok, so it only affects the device you’ve deleted from but it’s still a welcome addition! I’ve been waiting for that for a while… sometimes you take a photo of temporary information (Internet hotel code, menus, etc.) and you don’t really want that clogging up your Photostream. The way it works also tells me that each device keeps a local copy of the stream at all times… which is cool since it means you can view them even without an Internet connection. A welcomed feature indeed!

iPad 3 ordered!

Well, now I’ve made it official.  I pre-ordered the iPad 3 this morning.  It’s a white, 64GB WiFi only model.  I should have it at home by next Friday and I’ll get to lay my hands on it when I come back to San Diego a week later.  Exciting!

iPad 3 pre-order receipt

iPad 3 pre-order receipt

Amazon’s Cloud Reader

I just tried out the new Amazon’s Cloud Reader (https://reader.amazon.com) built entirely on HTML5.  I have to say, I’m quite impressed.  All of your items are available on the Cloud Reader, save for the new lending program; that still has to be accessed via a Kindle device.  But aside from that, everything else is there.  The reading experience is very pleasant and more importantly, all of your bookmarks are carried between devices.  They definitely have a winner here and a nice way to skirt Apple’s restrictions for in app purchases.

Of course, there are some concerns but they have nothing to do with the Cloud Reader itself but rather how Amazon is slowly but surely locking their users into their content world.  Aside from this though, this is an admirable effort in really putting new technologies to work.

Canon 5D Mark II vs iPhone 4S 1080p Video

Nice… check this out to see how the iPhone 4S 1080p video compares to a high end dSLR. It’s not the same obviously but the conclusion is that it gives consumer end dSLR a run for the money!

Download the video to appreciate the quality. The lens they’re using on the Canon 5D Mark II is no slouch… it’s the 50mm EF f/1.4 – a very nice lens so the video quality of the iPhone 4S is even that much more impressive.