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chriso1

Chris O.

6
Level 6 Contributor

Contributor Level

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About Me

I last made serious contributions here in 2010 - please note the dates before commenting on anything I wrote back then.

654 Reviews by Chris

11/5/10

See the following blog posting about this guy's previous business. I have to say I also agree with the comment there about NexTag, I know there are scammers listed there and would be very, very careful.

http://bogusware.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/the-violent-squirrel-removed-from-pricegrabber-com/

34.3K Views
11/5/10

I so wanted to find that this site was thriving, and worth promoting (the two things not necessarily going together). But it's not, and it isn't, and that's a shame.

It's a forum in which all postings are in the form of podcasts, using the posters' own voices. An exciting, and dare I say, sound idea. But something's gone wrong here.

At first I puzzled over the length of time that had passed since conversations had started, and about why there were no further contributions. Then I thought I'd listen to some of the contributors, and that's when I discovered that after several minutes, nothing was happening or apparently going to happen. The connection to the audio server simply hung, and eventually apparently did connect, but there was nothing to hear and no clue why. Something seemed to have been up at the Melbourne-based server at audio.chinswing.com (the site was initially named "chinswing". What were they thinking?) and that was that.

But being nosy I looked a little further and 'pinged' the server, which resulted in a timeout at an Amazon Cloudfront machine, instead. This is Amazon's web service to developers, and I'm assuming that the audio files are all being stored here for streaming back to clients. And at the time I was trying the service out, it was dead as the proverbial Monty Python parrot.

Although I got nowhere, and I did try a few times, I really hope to go back and take a listen if and when everything is working. I think it's an idea worth the attempt, although I can also see why the extroverts that would want to use it might prefer to go the distance and join a webcam community instead, while the rest of us would be too shy to try. It might be a touch ahead of its time, but for people who can't type or have limited vision, as well as for those of us who enjoy the podcast concept, it has some serious potential.

11/5/10

"My sister used to be afraid to go to the bathroom because she thought that leprechauns were going to come out of the toilet and take over the world."

Well, that's to say, someone's sister was, not mine. I don't have a sister. But crazy as that sounded, you've got that story and more to read in this sometimes hilarious and sometimes puzzling collection of childhood reminiscences. Anyone can post about those fears and subsequently-unbelievable misunderstandings that made the world a very, very strange place when they were little, and you'll probably recognize a few, yourself. Yep, you truly were not the only kid who believed there were monsters under the bed.

Not all of these tales are necessarily true, of course. But I'd like to believe that kids really do fear that men in bowler hats are coming for them, for no reason whatsoever. It makes me feel less jealous of the young.

Oh, and the leprechauns? Still working on the world domination angle.

33.9K Views
11/4/10

Here's a nifty tool. You may already be aware of apps that turn your documents into PDF files, but here's one that turns them into Adobe Flash applets instead.

The advantages of a document saved in this way are that it may be viewed on any platform, mobile or otherwise, that has the Flash player. It doesn't matter what the device is, and since Flash may be viewed at almost any resolution, it doesn't matter how big or small it is.

Flash applets may be embedded in web pages, or sent in email, where they typically take up a small amount of space. They may be stored and viewed online directly, without the need to embed them, by simply calling the SWF file in a URL. This is a very flexible way to publish to a wide audience, especially when the viewing devices aren't known.

The app works as a virtual printer in Windows, which means that it appears as an option in the Print dialog you select from the File menu of a Windows application. Windows thinks it's sending the document to a real physical printer, but it's not. Instead, an SWF file is created which includes your document and a built-in file viewer.

There are two versions, a free one and a paid one. The free one is going to do most of what you're likely to need for everyday purposes, but be warned - you'll be stuck with an ad for the commercial version at the bottom of every page. It's unnecessary because people are going to choose the commercial version if they need the functionality anyway, and it definitely discourages me from using the free version as well.

The commercial version is expensive. To get rid of the ad message, but get no more benefits, will cost you $60. To go Pro will cost you $100, and the server edition, which allows multiple users, costs $500. So you'll need to look carefully and decide which you really need.

If you want another way to remove that ad message, there is a facility to upload your document to the web and have it converted up there in the Cloud. The result seems to be the same as for the free version, but without that message. And you can save the resulting SWF to your own computer, which is a bonus.

Just about everything you can print to a physical printer can be used, including the following file formats:
Doc, ppt, xls, rtf, htm, html, pdf, jpg, jpeg, tif, tiff, bmp, gif, png, txt, odt, odg, odp, odf

A good idea and with potential to be useful, but too expensive in its basic form, I think. It's going to get a MEH for that, from me, though the app itself is impressive and the ability to convert files online is handy too.

11/4/10

Online file storage doesn't get easier than this, in my experience anyway. Unlimited uploading and downloading are available for free, and you don't even need to create an account. Plus as long as you use the same computer, your files are remembered and you can save them in folders even if you have no account.

If you want something more than a 200mb per file limit, any of three pro packs will give you 10Gb per file, with increasing hotlinking and other bonuses as you buy bigger and better. Top of the line facilities include enough space to store and manipulate a couple of million documents or at least a half million mp3 files - a terabyte of storage, in fact. This doesn't come without a deluxe price - $70 gets you all the bells and whistles, but you can still get onto the pro ladder and get that 10gb file size limit for as little as $9 a month.

If you want to keep your money but also want more convenience, even a free account allows you to handle your files from any computer, anywhere. The only major restrictions are that free users have to get their downloads via the mediafire site, and the file size is lower. Paid users of any flavor can share direct hotlinks and get that chunky 10gb file option.

In practice, using the service as a free and account-less user is perfect for occasional needs. 200mb isn't huge, but still isn't stingy either and unless you're uploading movies or entire CDs or big graphics, it will serve for many uses. You remain anonymous and yet can still find and organize your files as long as you use the same device to upload, and don't delete your cookies.

If you want to pass along files that are too large for email, but not above that 200mb limit, this is as easy as it gets. Recommended.

174K Views
11/3/10

Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote, "if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." It's something I only had a vague understanding of, until now.

This appears, on the surface, to be a community for people who've tried Twitter but found that the 140-character limitation exceeds their attention span. So where do you go, when MySpace is too intellectually challenging and Facebook is filled with people who can write?

It's claimed that eleven million socially-challenged people armed only with smartphones and a yearning for love and understanding have made mocospace.com their home. The smartphones aren't essential, since the interface can be used from a laptop or home computer, but I assume that given the length of some of the postings, which could be anywhere from one to as many as ten or a dozen characters long, most people here have difficulty switching from texting conventions to real language even at home.

What I did find remarkable, was that there are members here who are well out of puberty, by at least a couple of generations. It's not just another venue for teenage angst and the pangs of unrequited juvenile lust, anyone of any age can join in and clearly they do. There are many 50+ and even 60+ age members, rubbing shoulders, if I may use that expression, with chatters and texters at least forty years their juniors.

There are chatrooms here, with topics ranging from "Latinos" (1098 online) through "Emo" (645) and even "Christian" (88). When I visited, there was a total of around three thousand people in the chatrooms, which is pretty impressive. And there are other types of messaging, and games, which aren't accessible without joining up as a member, which I didn't feel like doing.

There's also a music section, with predominantly black artists on the front page and hip-hop and rap in precedence in the song listings. The artists pages are basically clones of MySpace, from what I could see.

Other things I could see, were the listings and photographs of people in search of friends, and being male I naturally took a peek at the females on offer, so to speak. I have to say that there's a refreshing level of honesty in the choice of photos here, the majority in the first few pages being mainly the somewhat-to-seriously overweight and occasionally tattooed, with ladies of color occupying pride of place. One thing going for this site as a social venue, is that traditionally built people are clearly being honest about themselves instead of posting faked images of the rich and glamorous.

There are naturally many concerns about this sort of a community, making it easy, as it does, for the innocent to be preyed upon and the despairing to become suicidal. Sadly, the more barriers to easy communications you break down, the more dangerous those communications may become. So it's good to see that the site offers a page of warnings and advice about these dangers, and a very long, considerate and comprehensive page it is, too. And it's also good to see that members have all sorts of ways to limit access to their accounts, by strangers for example, or to prevent friend requests from others unless they can prove they know the person they are seeking to befriend, already. It's a well thought out policy, although we know that hardly anyone will read it and even then there will be those who read it but like to live dangerously, anyway. A community can only make so many rules, before it becomes too repressive to remain a community, and ultimately people have to make some choices of their own.

Frankly this is not a social network I feel like joining, at this time in my life anyway, but millions have and more will certainly follow. It's unusually easy to look around, even as a non-member, and get a good impression of the types of people that make up this community and thrive in it. You'll know almost at once whether this one is for you.

As for me, I still feel like I've gazed into the abyss, but I think I got away before anyone noticed.

11/3/10

Gary McKinnon is an Asperger's sufferer who hacked into the US Department of Defense computers in 2002, looking for proof of a UFO cover-up. He didn't find it too challenging - some of the top-secret systems didn't even have passwords, something that real terrorists hadn't thought to check. Well, it's not what you'd expect, is it. He was so astonished by the lack of protection he even left a message pointing out how useless their security was.

Being an Asperger's sufferer means that not only did he innocently leave clues to his identity, but when questioned, immediately confessed to everything he was charged with. Asperger's sufferers can't lie.

Since then, the US government has been trying to extradite him as a terrorist, under the special arrangement with the UK that allows them to do so without having to prove their case.

Read more here, and decide if you would like to help the campaign to keep Gary in the UK. There is also a good article from the Daily Mail here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1197190/They-let-terrorists-stay-send-boy--whos-timid-use-Tube--terrible-U-S-jail.html

33.7K Views
11/3/10

There have been a few attempts to produce a three dimensional environmental effect from headphones over the years, but even though they sometimes hit the spot and in some cases even worked on speakers if you got your head in the right place, nothing made a big enough impression or worked reliably enough to become commonplace. But the drive to create true surround sound has never diminished. There was quadraphonic sound, which was heavily dependent on equipment, and there has always been a very cheap pseudo-3d effect brought about simply by having the stereo channels out of phase with each other, achieved by reversing the polarity of one set of speaker wires. There is five-channel and seven-channel Dolby sound, and more, but all of these techniques only work with speakers. Attempts to create a four, five or seven channel sound field in headphones haven't been hugely successful, and entirely new concepts, however much patented and closely-guarded the technology, haven't broken through to the iPod audience.

The best I ever heard was Qsound, which is still with us though I haven't come across it in use, to my knowledge, for quite a while (http://www.qsound.com/). That company has advanced into many related fields since I last heard the 3d product, which as far as I recall was on the KLF album "Chill Out". Ahh, good times.

Now, a new contender has risen in the form of 3d60, a headphones-only experience that claims to create a genuine all-around experience even from remixed stereo tracks. Amongst the first to put the technology to commercial use is long-time ambient dub duo, The Orb, whose co-founder, Alex Paterson, has been the The Orb along with various collaborators for more than twenty years. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the other co-founder of The Orb was Jimmy Cauty, who was also a member of the KLF and who achieved a certain fame for burning a million pounds, for reasons nobody can now recall.

Currently The Orb is Alex and Killing Joke's Martin "Youth" Glover, and they've now got together with some old singer-guitarist called David Gilmour, whom you might possibly have heard of too, to create an album called Metallic Spheres, which is at least as good as expected if not more so, in my opinion anyway. But I'm not reviewing the album (did I mention it's really good?), I'm just bringing the subject up because along with the standard stereo CD, download, and vinyl LP (yes, you did read that correctly), there will also be a double-CD version in which one disc is recorded using 3d60.

So, does it work? I have mixed responses. I do have a good set of headphones, but not all the demo tracks worked for me. The music seemed rather more like over-processed enhanced stereo, though there were some effects in there that I couldn't entirely locate in space and which I was probably intended to experience as being in front or behind me. It is an unique sound, but I am not convinced at all that it's an advance on a well-mixed stereo image. I'd recommend you go check out the demos on this site and see what you make of them, and post comment. I am probably going deaf anyway, so I may need a little help here.

33.8K Views
11/3/10

Well this is something new. A cool social networking plus music track app that only works in the UK (quick - cue Rule Brittania, just the one chorus) instead of the USA, for a change. Mflow is clearly about to be known as twitter for music, so I might as well go with that, it's as good a description as any.

It's a free downloadable app, that allows you and your friends and followers to share music tracks, each share being called a "flow" because... well, anyway, the only restriction on the free service is that you get to listen to each flow, just the once. If you buy a track recommended by a friend, they get a 20% bonus. And purchased tracks are DRM-free and can be burned or copied to mp3 players. Quality varies but peaks at 320kbps so it's fair to average, which will suit most mp3 players but not please audiophiles by a long way.

It looks like a neat combination of social networking and a free music-sharing app, and should do well even among the Brits, who as the rest of the world knows, are normally far too stuffy for this sort of cool innovation.

33.7K Views
11/2/10

Zoom.it is a Microsoft project which does exactly what you'd think. It zooms an image in and out. It runs on the Windows Azure cloud computing framework and the client-based Silverlight, which you should probably download from Microsoft if you don't already have it installed.

The primary idea here is to allow massive enlargement of HD images, to view very fine details in small areas. Microsoft claims successful processing of images of 2Gpx (two thousand megapixels), though apparently there's no guarantee that images beyond 500Mpx will process satisfactorily and you'll have to experiment. For most people, that should be enough, I'd think.

The operation of the application is simple, and requires you only to enter a URL and let the app do the rest. The URL may be a link to any image in a format that Windows would normally recognize, plus SVG, and even PDF files. The app then displays an image rebuilt into its own "deep zoom" format, and some clicking and mouse scrolling on your part does the rest. As the image is zoomed, it's redrawn to the new size, and you can move it around, map style, to isolate small areas.

OK, that's cool enough. But you can also feed it the address of a webpage, which it will go fetch and convert into its own format, and then allow you to treat in exactly the same way as you would had the file been saved as a standard bitmap image originally. Of course a webpage isn't going to be as finely detailed as an HD image of many hundreds of megapixels, but you'll still be able to blow it up quite considerably.

Here's the SJ front page captured from my browser. It began at only 1024 x 768 resolution, so there's no very deep magnification, but you get the idea. http://zoom.it/5Z2k

A second and cooler method is to set up the provided bookmarklet, which allows one-click translation of whatever's in your browser window, into an image, including the parts of the page that aren't currently visible.

Aside from the opportunities offered by the combination of zoom.it and your favorite p*rn site, anyone working with large panoramic images, maps, or geological imagery will find this to be an interesting toy. It does a better job than simply using the zoom function in an image manipulation program, assuming you have the capacity to load a 2gigapixel image into Photoshop anyway, and needs no further software. I zoomed a 2mm area of a sample image up to 100mm, a 50x magnification, and it was still sharp. Mind you, that was a 400+ megapixel image to start with, but it's still pretty impressive. Try the sample images to the right of the home page to see what I mean.

The first downside is that Zoom.it will not recognize Photoshop PSD images, nor, I assume, Paintshop Pro files or any other proprietary image format. These will all have to be converted to a format Windows will recognize, though at least you aren't confined to using lossy JPG files which aren't going to get any better when you zoom them. And secondly, it will not accept files from your own hard drive since all addresses have to be preceded by 'http' or 'https'. So you will need to upload images to Flickr or some other online repository, first. If this develops into a desktop app that does allow you to view files locally, it will become a lot more interesting.

Not bad, Microsoft.

33.7K Views
11/2/10

Feed Fflick your Twitter screen name, and it will return all the movie-related tweets that any of your friends have made. You'll be able to tweet love/hate votes for your own favorite movies to Twitter from the Fflick site too, so you and your friends can immediately see what you all think about movies that you've seen or that are upcoming. And you can find other tweeters who share your movie interests and follow them if you aren't already doing so. Do you love the same movies as Justin Beiber? Of course you do.

Alternatively you may browse all the movies in Fflick's extensive database and see what their positive ratings are as percentages of the total vote. The movie '2012' has only 9% in its favor at the time of writing, although more than 170,000 people have tweeted it; on the other hand, Jackass 3D has a healthy 97%, from an only slightly smaller audience. Very surprisingly, Avatar, while being tweeted almost half a million times, only manages a 25% positive vote; personally I'd be concerned about the world if Jackass really was more than three times as successful as Avatar or indeed any other movie, so I hope this is a statistical anomaly. What almost certainly isn't, is the excitement over the upcoming Harry Potter movie, which already has an 85% positive rating even though nobody's seen it yet.

The development team behind this project include people who previously had a hand in the development of Digg and Yahoo, which ironically isn't such a big selling point right now, but in any case they all look sufficiently geeky to do the job and no doubt raise the venture capital to be on to a winner with this one. There's always great interest in movies and combining that with the potentially eight-figure audience from Twitter seems a plan almost certain to succeed.

33.6K Views
11/2/10

Flisti is one of the world's simplest Web 2.0 projects I've seen to date. It allows anyone to create a poll, which they may then add to their blog or web page, while a copy remains on the Flisti site so that visitors there may vote, or copy your poll to their own website or blog so that their friends can see it.

The potentials for abuse and spam are awesome, but you never know. It might work out. And there's always a demand for polls, even though there's no practical way to make the results mean anything.

That's it. Here's mine: http://flisti.com/7871

40.3K Views
11/2/10

Don't you hate being labeled? I know I do. And labeling websites isn't always easy either. In this case, damn near impossible. I wasn't at all sure what I was looking at when I arrived, and hunted in vain for the clues that would be on offer at the "about us" page that turned out not to be there. And that left me puzzling over how to set about describing this in some race-neutral, gender-neutral, politically correct way, which I am led to understand is what the American audience expects in these enlightened days.

Nope, it can't be done. So I might as well tell it straight. This is a collection of embarrassing photos of black women, no doubt largely sourced from Facebook and everyone's least memorable party shoots. It's not racist, being obviously run as a black site for black people. But "No way, girl" has no pretense to sexual equality, being as it is, entirely aimed at ridiculing women who should never have been found in these situations, never mind being photographed in them. How do I describe this in words? Nope, images speak louder. Try pasting this into your browser, for a solid example: http://bit.ly/brQ4xK

The site is the child of another, similar project at www.ghettopolice.com, which is slightly easier to label but not by much, and which I might have reviewed next had I not felt the need to recover from nowaygirl.com for a while.

This is one of those - in fact the epitome of those - that have you balancing your desire to be thoughtful and socially sensitive with your more base urge to roll around on the floor laughing your ass off. I imagine a decent psychotherapist could plumb the depths of black and white people's responses to this one for long enough to get a PhD out of it. In fact I can kick that one off now, with a comment I found on another site, by a black person, who observed that it's holding up a mirror to show how blacks are presenting themselves to our society and the reflected image isn't one they should be aspiring to. Still darn funny though, even though the laughs may be guilty ones.

11/2/10

According to the promotion, Now Relevant (curiously not "relevant now") is a search engine with a difference, allowing you to confine your search to the last couple of weeks, and choose a specific number of days to search within that timeframe. To ensure that you realize it's a search engine, the logo comes in blue, red, yellow and green lettering, though to establish that it's not borrowing the idea, it has advanced the concept to include two completely different shades of blue.

Testing the search using "giants", since the San Francisco team won a world series game today and the news is burning up the fibre-optic cables worldwide, the engine returned several relevant links, but from blogs I'd never heard of. You can imagine the returns I got for the keyword "uggs". And the returns on the front page weren't even in date order.

I would have expected to see the major news networks represented here, or at the very least, the home sites of the teams involved. In fact, there wasn't a single mainstream site on the first page and as we all know, nobody ever looks beyond that. This is a significant point, because search engine returns are not just about relevance to a key phrase. If it were that simple, Google and the others wouldn't have teams of engineers constantly trying to outclass each others' complex search algorithms.

Search users have priorities. They want and expect to see the latest news and opinions from trusted and established sources, first, and maybe only. They may also be interested to see what Joe Soap thinks in his blog, but as dessert, not for the main course.

This is a marketing project, aimed at encouraging advertisers to use the site's pay-per-click engine. Which, they believe, is better than others because you can guarantee your advertising will not be associated with millions of older links that people aren't interested in seeing anyway.

The database being used for this project is called the "internet time machine", of which there is a lengthy explanation at the site. Beyond my understanding, but anyway it begins thus:

"Enter The Internet Time Machine. The Internet Time Machine is a series of high powered cloud computer networks that linked together, study internet keyword trends. It was a project that started 8 years ago cost over $125,000 to put together. Why only two years? It was taken that long to gather the data we need to spot million dollar market movers."

The rest and more is here:
http://www.nowrelevant.com/nrbeta/index.php/main/about_us

I went straight over to take a look at the internet time machine website, which turned out to be no more, as far as I could see, than a bunch of oh-God-please-not-again marketing ideas featuring "Quinoa Is Here - Acai is so 2008!" and "Cell Phone Radiation - HUGE GROWING NICHE!"

I think Eric, Sergey and Larry can relax. Nothing to see here.

32.8K Views
10/31/10

Even an Englishman baffled by American politics as much as I am can't help but observe that the voters and supporters of the Tea Party are polarizing opinion in a way that professional politicians dream of. They're the darlings of both sides of the media, at a time when the major news channels would otherwise have to focus on natural disasters in distant countries where there are relatively few American voters and almost no advertising opportunities. While the impending elections here would still be news without them, the Tea Party campaigners have added a frisson of patriotism that threatens to overshadow the predictable soundbites and flag-waving that accompany party political campaigns.

Honestly I couldn't tell you, even after watching this movie, whether this movement is as important to American politics as it appears or will become as influential as it believes it deserves to be. The movie is a promotional tool made by and for the Tea Party supporters, so don't expect to hear anything other than self-serving opinions and don't expect to see anything other than a united front comprised of caring patriots who genuinely believe with all their hearts that they alone represent the values that made America the great nation and supreme world power that it is today.

Clocking in at a hundred minutes the movie is a touch overlong, given that you aren't going to be hearing any new points of view or meeting many new characters, and there are no surprise plot developments to be found here. You aren't going to see any of these people challenged to defend their positions, nor are you going to meet anyone who isn't articulate and charismatic. This is pure propaganda from start to finish, and if it presents a truth, it's a very carefully tailored one.

"Liberty's march has a new generation of patriots" declares the front cover, and an online movie reviewer wants you to know that it "Inspires any red-blooded American to action". A banner ad reads "Get The Truth". Publicity blurb claims it has been "cheered by audiences across our great nation". "The Tea Party rescues America".

The Tea Party wants you to know that it isn't racist and abhors the very idea. So you will see black supporters enlightening other blacks about the campaign message. It wants you to know that it isn't sexist, so you'll see strong female characters aplenty. It wants you to know that it's strong on family values, so you'll see mom explaining to her little daughter that dad is fighting to keep America just the way it is today, and just like in the Boston Tea Party that she was being taught about at school today. Dad will tell you he has to do something to protect his little children from growing up with nationalized health care.

There is a message here, though we may well differ over what it is, and I don't think anyone will come away from the movie entirely unaffected by it. That is, of course, the purpose of propaganda.

Disappointingly, one person is very conspicuous by her absence. Where is Sarah Palin in all this? She doesn't even get a mention. Could it be that the Tea Party, which is anti-racist and anti-extremist, wants to disassociate from some of the more unpleasant of Palin's supporters? In any event the absence of such a major political hottie is bound to disappoint the male audience, especially here in California, where the only other political pin-up right now is Meg Whitman. Oh Sarah, where were you?

36.8K Views
10/29/10

## UPDATED Please also read this: ##
http://www.sitejabber.com/reviews/www.reelhd.com?mode=talk

Train wreck of an attempt to convince that there's actual content here, which there isn't. One of several such associated sites, which you should also stay away from, I really only wanted to add this so that I'd have the pleasure of quoting some of the text.

So here's a selection from the review of the movie 'Twilight':

"The most promoted film on the site to watch online at this moment is New Moon, which is not aside from Oscar bait at all..."

"Eclipse movie, is also one of them releasing in the upcoming year along with many others. Eclipse movie hope they will be as best as like the other movie done."

"The triumph tale of Hollywood blockbusters mainly owes to the technique of the film that is used. The hit formula of the Hollywood movies is the double track line used. The double track line that is used is a story line and an action line. The character sketch of the characters is very effective with worth watching action scenes."

Absolutely, I couldn't have said it better myself. And even more awesome, this site features streaming movies that aren't even in the cinema yet, which is really, well, awesome. Beware, there are many sites such as this one, which will take your money for nothing or at best, link to poor quality pirated material. Most of them make more of an effort than this one, which even invites visitors to submit links to pirated movie files. Don't be fooled by sites like this, you don't get to see next year's movies online.

33.3K Views
10/29/10

How did we miss this one? It seems to be an almost unbelievable attempt to create a scamming community on a large scale, and I was able to set up my own phony storefront selling fake goods within minutes. Yes, I am currently the proud owner of www.phonystuff.com, though I didn't get as far as choosing any content since the personal details I used were phony and they have to be verified before access to the catalog of millions of fake items may be achieved.

What's created here is a Wordpress blog using a ready-made and suspiciously-Chinese looking template. The URL is chosen by the user and is immediately available. I wish some genuine webhosts were this easy to use.

Whether this has fully taken off or not, I don't know. It doesn't look like it, as several pages on the site are missing, and the latest updates seem to be from last year. But in any event, it's one to note for no other reason than to demonstrate how clever the scammers are trying to be.

And it's a warning, should you still need one, to be extremely careful in choosing to trade with sites that may look good, but which you have never heard of and which offer you no validated proof of ownership or address. Be very careful out there.

My thanks to Jan B. For spotting this one first.
http://www.sitejabber.com/users/79dd0efe2fbed8575c53a63d19e96da1

10/28/10

I'd lay odds this is a basic online store template with a few custom bits dropped in, and not very successfully at that. A store that tells you it's "five star rated" but not by whom, is immediately suspicious. It's all very cheaply put together, with many blank pages for goods categories provided by the template, but not used by the site, and doesn't look remotely like the sort of place that stocks expensive cameras and audio goods. It looks a lot more like a front for an individual using a dropshipper, I don't get the sense that there's a real company behind this. Given the number of reputable stores dealing in cameras and electronics, I can't see any reason to choose this one.

10/28/10

The Starving Musician is a northern California business with stores in Santa Clara, Berkeley and Santa Cruz. It sells a mixture of new and used gear, in proportions varying from store to store, and usually has a fair range of gear which is recycled around short-lived rock bands in the area. It offers a three-month guarantee on used gear, which is generous, considering how old some of it is. But it also sells bright, shiny new guitars, both electric and acoustic, keyboards and mics and PA gear, and brass band and woodwind instruments, and a range of drums and drumming supplies. School band rentals, tuition and repair services are also available.

Customers can also buy used and new gear direct from the website, and they'll ship free for anything under 50lbs.

The big shiny guitar shop down the road a way in San Jose is probably tough competition in some areas of trade, but it lacks the atmosphere of the SM and used gear there is limited. And anyway, no respectable local musician can go out to a gig without the immediately recognizable Starving Musician sticker on his guitar case. Well worth checking out if you're in the area.

10/28/10

I can endorse what the other reviewers have written, Musicians Friend has been a reliable provider for most of the time. On one occasion, though, I'd ordered an instrument as a birthday present and it didn't turn up at all. When I called, I was told that they didn't have it in stock and had no idea why they'd accepted payment for it and not told me that it was unavailable. I did get a prompt refund, but it still left me with no present to give and naturally I was unhappy about it. That was maybe one transaction out of half a dozen, though, so I can put it down to chance and just knock a star off the rating for it.

Although it's great to be able to save money, I will add that the company is big enough and popular enough to undercut smaller businesses, sometimes quite drastically. And that's a pity. So I'm inclined to say that if you really can afford to pay a bit more - not to be overcharged, just pay a bit more - then you might at least consider supporting a local business that doesn't have the advantage of a mail-order company's buying power.

But if you're just starting out and need to put the gear together for a band, this has to be the first place to look for a good deal. Then in a year or two when the band folds up and you have to sell the gear again, the local business will probably get it anyway. Maybe what goes around comes around.

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