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CrunchyCookie RSS Feed (Palo Alto, CA)

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ASICS Men's GEL-Contend 4E Running Shoe
ASICS Men's GEL-Contend 4E Running Shoe
Price: $39.99 - $75.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Half of a great shoe, April 15, 2014
Asics calls the Contend an "entry-level" shoe for new runners, which sounds about right. It's perfectly decent and well-made, but the plush, luxurious feeling in some higher-end Asics (like the Kahana) just isn't there. It seems like they only put the "Gel" stuff in the back half of the shoe; the front of your feet sort of feel like they're barefoot. Still, they're light, breathe well, and are comfortable enough for long-distance walking.

I bought mine in 2013 when they were a new model; 11 months later now, they're starting to fall apart -- a decent lifespan. They were born with a retail price of $60; I got them on a $50 sale, and can easily recommend them at the $40 clearance price that Amazon, Big 5, and Sports Authority all seem to be promoting now that the sequel (the Contend 2) has come out.

PS - Asics tend to run narrow. Consider buying this 4E size even if your feet aren't wide.

Metra 99-7506 Single DIN/Double DIN Installation Kit for 2006-2008 Mazda Miata MX-5 Vehicles (Black)
Metra 99-7506 Single DIN/Double DIN Installation Kit for 2006-2008 Mazda Miata MX-5 Vehicles (Black)
Price: $17.98
41 used & new from $15.00

2.0 out of 5 stars Inspect the contents carefully, February 14, 2014
Much like the first reviewer, I got a packet that was missing pieces -- in my case, the two side brackets that attach to the sides of the radio. Metra seems to frequently have issues with shoddy workmanship, missing parts, and incorrect item numbers on their website. Expect to be ignored if you call in for help.

So if you buy one of these kits, be sure to do the install before your return window closes.

Lubriderm Daily Moisture Lotion for Normal to Dry Skin, Fragrance Free, 16 Ounce (Packaging May Vary)
Lubriderm Daily Moisture Lotion for Normal to Dry Skin, Fragrance Free, 16 Ounce (Packaging May Vary)
Offered by AmericaRx
Price: $11.75
43 used & new from $4.43

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Watch out for allergies, February 1, 2014
After a lifetime of using Vaseline, I spontaneously thought I'd give Lubriderm a try. Big mistake: within a week or two I developed a rash on every inch of my face and body -- redness, uncontrollable itching, etc. I've never had a physical allergic reaction to anything in my life (I'm 33), and it took three visits to a dermatologist, experimentation with three exotic prescription creams, and 4+ months of sleepless nights before I finally got things under control. Apparently I solved the problem too late, because here I am a year later with permanent scars and discolorations throughout my face and body. Needless to say, I am not a satisfied customer.

My reaction seems to be common. Just Google "Lubriderm rash" or "Lubriderm allergy" and check out the boatload of victims on the first link alone (the MedHelp message boards).

Your mileage may vary, but my advice is to try another brand first. Vaseline seems like a safe bet, and right now I'm having a good experience with Curel.

ZTE Valet Android Prepaid Phone (TracFone)
ZTE Valet Android Prepaid Phone (TracFone)
Offered by shopcelldeals
Price: $69.99
13 used & new from $48.77

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent enough if you don't need Wi-Fi, January 5, 2014
I was a TracFone customer for years, but feeling the need to drag myself into the whole smartphone thing, jumped ship on them in 2013. Funny timing: mere weeks after I switched, they spontaneously joined the fray with 4 Android phones that all hit the market around last October (all featuring low-end hardware and 3G, but also low prices). Still being a minimalist who places high priority on rock-bottom bills, I decided to jump back in.

I decided on the ZTE by way of elimination. From what I've read, the other 3 phones are all deal-breakingly bad:
-The LG Optimus Dynamic ($80) is an anachronism with an ancient version of Android (2.3 Gingerbread) and a small 3.2" screen. Worse, it only has ~150 MB of internal memory, so it can only fit like 4 apps before the phone's full.
-The Samsung Galaxy Centura ($130) has decent specs (Android Ice Cream Sandwich, 1 GHz processor, more memory) but everyone says it's prone to randomly crashing, freezing, and forgetting what time it is. Having recently owned a Samsung that did the same stuff, I believe it.
-The Huawei Glory ($100), which sucks because it's a Huawei, no further explanation needed, though there are plenty on Amazon.

On paper, this ZTE matches/beats the others on all counts: it has one of the freshest version of Android (4.1 Jelly Bean), a 1 GHz processor, 4 GB of internal storage, 3 MP camera with flash (and is the only one that lets you turn off the shutter sound), 3.5" screen, not too much bloatware, and a competitive price of $100. But it has a couple flaws of its own, just not the kind that show up on paper:
-The touch screen kind of sucks -- it's spontaneously sensitive, sometimes registering your button presses and sometimes ignoring you.
-The Wi-Fi is an abomination -- unless you're in the exact same room as your router, it probably won't work. My bedroom is one room away from where the router sits, yet this phone is blind to it 80% of the time. Every other Wi-Fi device used in this house can get reception at the end of the driveway and beyond. Since you pay for every megabyte of data, a flaw like this kind of defeats the point of going with TracFone in the first place.

In theory, TracFone's still the best deal in town for super-light users. Example: if every 3 months you buy one of their "120-minute" (actually 360) cards for $30 + a 2 GB pure data card for $50, then every month you'll be paying $27 for 120 minutes of talk time, 120 texts, and 787 MB of data -- not too stifling.

The good news is that the LG Optimus Dynamic 2 is supposedly right around the corner, which supposedly solves the problems of the first version (more memory, faster processor, bigger screen) and so has a chance of becoming TracFone's first good smartphone. Wait for it.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 6, 2014 5:07 PM PST

The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of Practical Counsel (Revised Edition)
The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of Practical Counsel (Revised Edition)
by Benjamin Graham
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.98
195 used & new from $10.88

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two books in one, and I prefer the second, January 5, 2014
The Intelligent Investor is basically two books in one: the original by Benjamin Graham, interspersed with a ton of commentary/reinterpretation by some CNN writer named Jason Zweig (written in 2003) that forms a story of nearly the same length. Most of the high-rated Amazon reviews have been praising the original material while dismissing the updates as annoying or distasteful, likening Zweig's contributions to that old Microsoft paperclip that springs up when you're trying to write a Word document.

I'm gonna go against the crowd here by proclaiming Zweig's stuff the main attraction. It's hard to explain why exactly, but I found Graham's writing to be a bit dense and uninvolving. And while his foundational advice may be timeless, it's also outdated at the detail level, having been written in 1949 and last updated in 1973. As a result, I found myself kind of skimming over his stuff and only half-absorbing it.

Zweig, on the other hand, is a talented storyteller. There's a flair in his writing and he's an easier personality to relate to. These qualities also come with no sacrifice, since I found his advice equally sensible and his examples just as meaty. The simple fact that it was written in this century also helps quite a bit, since aside from the business world changing quite a bit in the past half-century, it's nice when the discussion involves companies we can actually relate to. The difference is so pronounced that after the first 10 chapters (there are 20 in all), I just stopped reading the old stuff and went straight to the new. They cover the same material anyway.

I agree that Zweig's eternal footnotes can get annoying (they often take up half a page or spill over onto the next one), but other than that minor issue, I enjoyed The Intelligent Investor quite a bit.

JVC HAS650 Black Series High Quality Headphones
JVC HAS650 Black Series High Quality Headphones
Offered by Direct Distributor
Price: $28.85
13 used & new from $23.85

5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to ask for more, December 26, 2013
It's hard to choose a pair of headphones going on looks, specs, or reviews. This pair taught me you can't go on brand, either. I recently owned a lower-end model in the same family, the JVC "Flats", and found them a little too true to their name, with flat, boring sound throughout the dynamic range that took all joy out of listening (it's probably a Japanese thing -- they seem to like things plain). But just a few bucks more buys these HA-S650s, JVC's top-of-the-line "on-ear" headphones that post better specs and a more vibrant personality: the trebles have more crispness, the bass has punch, and the presentation of sound is just more pleasing all-around.

Sound quality is of course subjective, so FYI my personal bias is about halfway between that of an audiophile and a typical modern-day American kid: I like that "power" sound but don't want to sacrifice accuracy. The objective part is that these JVCs blow away those pathetic $200 Dr. Dre headphones on both counts.

These headphones get the details right, too. Specs are impressive (8-26,000 Hz range, 112 dB sensitivity), thanks in part to bigger-than-average 36 mm drivers. They look good, and at 3.6 oz they're light. They use a high-quality steel headband and the earpieces fold flat. They clamp around your ears with just the right amount of force (certain Sennheisers, Pioneers, and Yamahas suffer from excessive tightness, if you read the reviews). Finally, they have an MSRP of $70 -- pretty reasonable considering Pioneer/Yamaha/Onkyo/Denon/TDK think they can charge ~$150 for something similar -- and as a gigantic bonus, the actual Internet street price seems to be half that amount. Better headphones do exist in this world, but you will not find them for under $50.

When a product flat-out nails every category you can think of and then underprices the competition by a matter of multiples, you can't NOT give it five stars.

T-mobile Samsung Sidekick 4g
T-mobile Samsung Sidekick 4g
10 used & new from $85.00

2.0 out of 5 stars A one-trick pony, October 20, 2013
I bought this phone because I was set on having an QWERTY keyboarded Android smartphone, and it looked like the best choice on T-Mobile (which I was drawn to for having the cheapest plan in the cellular world: $30/month for 100 voice minutes + unlimited data). Even by today's standards, the specs sound decent (aside from having Android 2.2, aka Froyo) -- 4G, 1 GHz processor, 3 MP camera, 3.5" screen -- and every review gave accolades to the keyboard.

Well, the keyboard really is probably the best in the world -- firm, clicky, roomy, and a full 5 rows (though it could use directional keys) -- but aside from that and the pretty sharp camera, this phone sucks. First, the ergonomics are a throwback to the Sidekick's non-Android predecessor, and placing the 4 physical buttons in the corners ends up being kind of weird ergonomically, and with so many buttons throughout the phone, it's easy to accidentally press the wrong one at the wrong time. Battery life is mediocre: basically, if you use this smartphone as a smartphone, it'll be dead by dinnertime. But the real downer, noted by at least 10 other reviewers, is the phone's tendency to freeze/crash about 3 times a day. Whether surfing Firefox, opening an e-mail, loading Google Maps, or even switching from Portrait to Landscape mode, the phone will lock up, then vibrate intermittently in despair, and finally make you yank out the battery and boot it back up. It's constant, it's random, and it's a pain-in-the-ass dealbreaker. So yeah, I recommend buying something else.

Given the pace of smartphones, you should try to buy a fairly recent model; the Sidekick came out in April 2011. According to my research, only four other QWERTYs have come out on T-Mobile since then. Here they are, and the notes I took from reading reviews:
1. HTC MyTouch 4G Slide (July 2011, $200 originally) - 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, actually HSPA+ 3G, Gingerbread, 3.7" screen, 4 GB storage + an 8 GB MicroSD card, claims of having the "most advanced camera" (8 MP wide-angle autofocus dual LED with 2-stage button, fast 0.6 sec auto-focus, 1080p video, front camera), mushy keys, feels like a heavy brick, comes in black or khaki
2. LG MyTouch Q (Nov 2011, $80 budget phone) - 1 GHz, 3G, Gingerbread, 3.5" screen, 5.6 oz, 5 MP camera with flash and 720p video; criticized for sluggish CPU, crappy display, bloatware, slow camera, no camera button
3. Huawei MyTouch Q (August 2012, $50) - 1.4 GHz, 3G, Gingerbread, 4" screen, 6.5 oz, 5 MP camera with flash + 0.3 MP front camera, stiff clicky keys, Wired magazine called "a hardware bottom-feeder among tech enthusiasts"
4. Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G (September 2012, $150) - 1.5 GHz dual-core, 3G, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, 4" screen, 5.3 oz, 5 MP camera with flash, 720p video, 1.3 MP front camera (average performance, 1.2 sec shutter delay, no camera button), stiff keyboard

I'd probably go with #1 again if I had to, but my trial run with this phone also taught me that T-Mobile sucks anyway. At both home and work, I usually have a whopping 1 bar out of 4 (sometimes 0, sometimes 2 if I'm really lucky), and in normal conversations, the other person's voice cuts out with unacceptable frequency. Before choosing a carrier, check cellreception dotcom; T-Mobile and AT&T seem to score lowest in almost every city near where I live (the Bay Area), a result that happens to mirror the national findings of Consumer Reports.

So I've decided to jump ship on both the Sidekick and T-Mobile, instead paying the extra $5/month and going with the next-cheapest carrier, Virgin Mobile (300 voice minutes + unlimited Internet, though throttled after 2.5 GB), which is owned by Sprint and runs on their network. Over there, the only recent QWERTY smartphones are the LG Optimus Slider and Kyocera Rise (the latter still available in stores for the moment).

Hope this helped!

Eucerin Skin Calming Daily Moisturizing Creme, 14 Ounce Tubes (Pack of 2)
Eucerin Skin Calming Daily Moisturizing Creme, 14 Ounce Tubes (Pack of 2)
Offered by AmericaRx
Price: $25.15
13 used & new from $17.80

4.0 out of 5 stars Works about as well as hydrocortisone, August 19, 2013
Ever since a few months ago, I've been cursed with a bad case of eczema, a.k.a. atopic dermatitis, a.k.a. a really annoying rash (the lesson: don't ever buy bedsheets from Target's "Threshold" brand). A couple of powerful creams prescribed by a dermatologist (Triamcinolone Acetonide + Clobetasol Propionate) took care of matters on my body, but that stuff's too strong for the face, so I was told to get something called Desonide, since Hydrocortisone (the common over-the-counter solution) wasn't cutting it.

Even though Desonide is prescription-only, I searched for it on Amazon just for fun and stumbled upon this Eucerin Skin Calming Cream (ok, "Creme"). I don't see the connection, but I can report that it works well as a moisturizer, calms itching at least as well as Hydrocortisone ever did, and even smells decent despite being fragrance-free (can't say that about Vaseline Men, to name one example). The price is fair ($7 at Wal-Mart in case you want to try a single tube) and it doesn't seem to have any direct competitors, so I say bravo for working as advertised and for filling a niche that needed filling.

The only downside is that it increases breakouts on my face, but I was told to expect that with lotion in general.

A Perfect Ending
A Perfect Ending
DVD ~ Barbara Niven
Price: $19.55
35 used & new from $14.95

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just a tip, May 23, 2013
This review is from: A Perfect Ending (DVD)
If you're a straight male watching this movie for straight male reasons, start the movie at 1:01.
Just sayin... :)

American Turnaround: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA
American Turnaround: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA
by Edward E. Whitacre
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.46
75 used & new from $2.21

11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An easy read, but low on content, February 25, 2013
I read this book last weekend and sort of enjoyed it, though it's mostly evaporated from my mind already.

This is basically a condensed diary of a guy who spent four decades as AT&T's CEO, then ten months as GM's (if you're a car person like me and mainly interested in the second part, you can skip chapters 4 through 11). He spends a lot of time talking about himself, his Texas upbringing, his parents and engineering education, etc, then jumps into the chronology of his time at each company. Assuming this is all honest, he seems like a pretty decent, logical guy who writes well -- which makes the reading go down easy. He speaks of some fundamental problems at GM like the "matrix structure" that made every decision take a million times longer than it had to and absolved everyone of responsibility, and of how the temporary CEO he replaced wasn't doing anything to change the culture. I wish he'd expanded on more points like these; most of the pages were dedicated to retelling the basic events of 2009-10 (already familiar to anyone who follows the news) or his opinions about people management, so in the end, you don't learn much.

Also, despite explicit statements crediting the employees under him, the book's very title kind of implies he was the one who saved GM. Uh, not quite: GM's turnaround started in 2007, the year they suddenly started making good cars, and also the year they negotiated a far more advantageous labor/wage deal with the United Auto Workers (starting new hires at $14/hour instead of $28). The decision to hack off their four most useless brands (Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer, Saab), the $50 billion in loans+bailouts, and the bankruptcy thing deserve most of the rest of the credit. Seems to me like the foundations for GM's turnaround were well in place by the time he set foot in the door at the end of 2009.

Oh well, skim through it if you're bored.

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