Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Web Secret #221: Tech Shopping Tips

In a recent issue of the New York Times, tech writer Sam Grobart wrote a somewhat lengthy (but excellent) article offering his system for buying tech gear.

He begins his story with the following introduction:
Think about all the variables you have to account for when buying a new TV, printer or laptop. First, you have to figure out what it is you want to buy — which is often no easy task, given the plethora of brands out there.

Some brands even have their own plethora of models. Have you ever looked at Panasonic’s site for TVs? It has seven different 65-inch TVs for sale. Not three, not even five — seven.
Yes, shopping for gear is a nightmare. Here is my shortened and simplified "Reader's Digest Condensed Book" version of "Clearing Away the Clutter From Tech Shopping":

1. CONFIRM YOUR CHOICE. Go to Its independent reviewers just tell you which product is the best in a given category. If you are looking for, say, a laptop, you will find a well-annotated shortlist of laptops organized like this: “best laptop,” “best gaming laptop,” “best cheap laptop.”

Great, I can handle that. (Can someone do this for cars? Hotels? Life in general?)

You want to know that what you want to buy is the most current version — and will stay that way for a while. Visit This is what they do: "Buy Now or Wait? We predict if prices will drop or a newer model is coming soon." Armed with that data, you can either move ahead, or lie low for a little while.

3. FIND THE RIGHT RETAILER. I almost always check if whatever I am looking for is available on I often find the item for less there AND I get free two day shipping because I am an Amazon Prime customer. (Since I buy just about anything on Amazon, from laptop locks to toothbrushes, I cheerfully pay the $75 to achieve Amazon Prime status.) Also, the absolute lowest price may be from some sketchy website. In fact, the more expensive the item, the more I am concerned with buying it from a reliable source. And if the warranty is at all important, I will gleefully pay extra. (eg I only buy Apple laptops, iPads and iPhones from the Apple store.)

4. CHECK FOR ANY COUPONS. I do not buy anything online without checking for a promotional code. My favorite site for this is There you can find codes for free shipping, 20 percent off and other discounts and deals that might otherwise have eluded you.

Happy shopping.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Web Secret #220: 2012 Social Media Facts and Stats

Time for some hot off the press social media marketing facts and stats:

70% of local businesses use Facebook. The U.S. has the largest number of Facebook users.

There are now roughly 100 million active Twitter users (those who log in at least once per day).

Google’s search engine is used by 85% of global Internet users every month.

Pinterest has grown 4,000% in the past six months, and now boasts more than 4 million users.

4.8 billion people now own mobile phones. One-third of smartphones globally use the Android OS. The number of tablets in use in the U.S. rose from 34 million in 2011 to 55 million this year and is expected to reach 108 million by 2015.

Social media sites and blogs reach 80% of all U.S. internet users. Social networks and blogs account for 23% of all time spent online — twice as much as gaming.

On social networking sites, men and women are about equally willing to share their real names (both about 87%), political and religious affiliation, and the brands they like (77%), but men are far more likely than women to share their physical address (11% vs. 4%), their current location (35% vs. 20%), their phone number 15% vs. 4%), and their income level (16% vs. 5%).

There is still time to jump on this bandwagon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Web Secret #219: Buying a Laptop

Recently, I finally came across a succinct, easy to understand article that explained how to buy a laptop.

The article's author, Sam Grobart believes, (as do I,) that worrying about most laptop features is a waste of time, unless you're managing your airport's traffic control system or rendering 3-D graphics.

Most people are merely looking for a portable computer to get you online, maybe watch some movies, answer some e-mails and work on a document, spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation. And if you fall into that category, this is all you need to worry about:

WEIGHT - Don't buy anything that weighs more than six pounds. Any number of laptops weigh far less than that (down to around two and a half pounds), so there’s no reason to get anything heavier.

SCREEN SIZE - For most of us, 13 inches is big enough, but still portable. And you can always hook your laptop to an external monitor when you are home.

PROCESSOR - Doesn’t matter. Even an entry level processor is ridiculously more powerful than anything you used 5 years ago.

BATTERY LIFE - “Battery life will vary depending on the product configuration, product model, applications loaded on the product, power management setting of the product, and product features used by the customer.” In other words, battery-life specs don't mean a thing. Get to know your battery's life in the context of your individual computer usage.

MEMORY - Unlike the processor, RAM (random access memory) does matter. You want 4 gigabytes of RAM. A laptop with less than that will seem sluggish, with annoying delays between the time you click on a menu command or hit a key and something actually happens.

STORAGE - This used to matter a lot, but with the rise of streaming services and cloud computing, the amount of storage on your computer has become a lot less important. Today, almost any laptop north of $300 has 500GB of storage, which could hold nearly 500 hours of video, or around 8,300 hours of music. For some perspective, an application like Microsoft Office requires three gigabytes of space. (Remember when it took an hour to download Microsoft Office? I downloaded the entire thing on my son's new laptop in 5 minutes.)

GRAPHICS CARD - See “Processor.” For regular use, any graphics processor is going to do the trick.

WIRELESS - Get the Wi-Fi-only model.

OPTICAL DRIVE - This is that slot or tray you have been using for DVDs or recordable CDs and it is falling by the wayside. Music has gone largely digital, forgoing physical media. Video seems next. Applications are increasingly downloaded from online stores. So you don’t need the optical drive.

PRICE - Spending $500 or so will get you a PC. You will need to spend twice as much to get the entry level MacBook Pro. See "MAC or PC" below.

MAC OR PC - Get a Mac, get a Mac, get a Mac. I know what I am talking about. I worked for a company that was entirely Mac, I worked for a company that was entirely PC. At one point my family was entirely PC, and now we are almost entirely Mac. Macs don't require endless calls to tech support, or anti-virus protection. Pick up a $1,000 PC and compare it to a $1,000 Mac. You can feel the difference. My husband's expensive Sony Vaio is always on the fritz. Besides, odds are that you have an iPhone, and it is lovely to have all of your gadgets seamlessly integrate with each other.

TRY IT OUT - All the specs in the world won’t tell you if the keyboard’s too cramped, the screen is not to your liking or the speakers are tinny. To figure that out, you need to go to a brick-and-mortar store.

Then go out an buy an entry level Mac laptop. That is all you need.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Web Secret #218: New Media Medicine

I have moved to a new home, and will be looking for all new physicians and allied health professionals close to my new location. All except for my internist, Joon Lee MD.

There are a number of reasons for this decision. First and foremost, in addition to her excellent training and knowledge, Dr. Lee is the only doctor I have ever seen who practices medicine in a collaborative manner. She is actually interested in what I think, and open to my feedback about her recommendations. She also is willing to tackle problems from multiple perspectives, including traditional Western medicine, as well as alternative therapies such as acupuncture. And she is an exemplar of New Media Medicine at its best.

New Media Medicine is a concept being extensively studied at MIT. To quote:
"The Internet has all but destroyed the information asymmetry, [between doctors and patients], but the inequality remains... We believe that people, working together in creative new ways, can succeed where the medical establishment has failed. As a society, we have dramatically underestimated the power of ordinary people to transform the system, to take care of their own health, to help develop therapies and to help solve massive public health problems. It’s time for a powershift in health care. We are pioneering new media technologies that will enable radical new collaborations between doctors, patients and communities, to catalyze a revolution in human health"
Now that I have moved, I will join Dr. Lee's patient portal. It will allow me to:
  • view my medical records
  • arrange for a telephonic or a video consultation
  • schedule an office appointment
  • send her a message
  • renew a prescription
If I need to travel to her office, I will. But at other times, I will be able to have a virtual consultation with her, which will save me time and money, and provide me with much more immediate care. Dr. Lee is practicing the medicine of the future - today. And beyond today - this is what's coming:

Count me in.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Web Secret #217: the 100,000 Student Classroom

Do you sometimes forget that you have advanced technology at your fingertips? I do it all the time, it's just not native to me.

I was apartment hunting recently. Did I remember that I can use my iPhone to film an apartment, so that I can show my kids where we might be moving? No.

When my oldest was involved in a disputed fender bender, did I remember to take photos of the incident with my smartphone immediately after it happened, so I could make my case with the insurance company? No.

When I forgot to DVR a pivotal episode of Game of Thrones, did I immediately remember I could watch it streaming on HBO to go? No.

Because of advances in computer and Internet technologies, we are in the midst of a major paradigm shift. But we don't always remember to use what we already have.

Peter Norvig is a prominent professor at Stanford University, where he teaches a famous course on Artificial Intelligence. But it wasn't until the fall of 2011, that he realized he could make his class available to thousands of students across the world.

Peter didn't just make a video of the course he was used to giving. Instead, he completely reinvented it, breaking it down into 2-6 minute segments, followed by a question that allowed participants to check if they actually understood the concept that had just been taught.

He transformed his course so that it was accessible online. 160,000 people in 209 countries signed up. All watched at least one class, and 20,000 actually handed in all the homework and completed the course.

The potential he unleashed makes me shiver.

Now, if I could only remember.