Use your imagination

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Buying discounted gift cards

In a recent post I detailed a way to get higher priced items cheaper and one tactic I mentioned was to buy gift cards on eBay cheaper than the value of the card. I was doing some surfing today and stumbled across this site: http://www.getcash4giftcards.com. It looks like you can actually buy discounted gift cards directly from them for all kinds of stores. I haven't tried this yet so if anyone has or does please let me know how the experience is. I saw on the front of their "Buy" page they have a $400 Best Buy card listed for $378, which would be a nice savings if combined with the 10%-20% off coupon that they often have.

The gift card site has that "Not so fresh" feel, so I would be cautious with it. However, I'd love to know if anyone knows of any other sites like it that seem more legit?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

collective: Radiospire: HDTV with no wires

collective: Radiospire: HDTV with no wires

I saw this post via a link from one of my readers. I could use something like this. My LCD TV is currently mounted to the wall via a dual arm mount and I have a tied cylinder of wires going to it, each wire about 6 to ten feet in length. I'd love to be able to reduce the amount of wires going to it. This would be even greater if they built it as a signal switcher so you could feed all of your components into a single box located where your equipment is sitting and then the remote box would still only need a single feed to your TV HDMI port eliminating all of the wires going up to the TV, except the power cable of course. Don't know how I missed this at CES?

Friday, February 10, 2006

How to get higher priced stuff cheaper

My family and I recently moved and in the process we sold most of our furniture and bulky items to make the move easier. We also had a lot of older furniture that we figured we'd just replace with new furniture after the move.

I had my own office in our old house in which I built my own "executive" computer desk. I designed the desk just for the space that it was placed and therefore left it when we moved. While I very much enjoyed creating my custom desk in our old house I didn't have the time to design and build another in our new house. I was now faced with buying all new furniture for my new office.

We looked around for about a week trying to find something nice, but everything that was somewhat nice (not particle board) was priced higher than we wanted to pay. While surfing the net one day I somehow stumbled across gift cards up for sale on eBay. I had also been looking at a specific desk at Office Depot that I was thinking might work. This lead me to my mission to see how much I could save on decking out my office on the cheap.

My first step in getting discounted furniture was to check the online deal/coupon sites to see if anyone was offering percentage or money off coupon codes. I was in luck. I found a coupon code at Techbargains for $30 off of $150 at Office Depot. Along with that I found another coupon code for a free five piece luggage set with any purchase over $300. Hey, it made a nice Christmas present for someone;) Another place I checked for coupon codes was xpCoupons.com and they had a lot of the same, but also had a couple that weren't on Techbargains.com. I suggest always checking for coupon codes online first before purchasing any big ticket item.

The desk I wanted to purchase along with three book cases originally came to a total of $509.96 without tax. Now minus the $30 coupon and we're at $479.96.

The next step I took was to go onto eBay and search for large dollar amount Office Depot gift cards on auction. The timeframe for this was just before Christmas, so I think I found a lot more than usual. I am attributing this to people buying gifts and getting promotional deals, like free gift cards, along with it or receiving the gift card as a gift, but they don't want anything at the store where the gift card must be used. They then decide to turn into cash they can use anywhere and post it on eBay.

I found that it is usually better to get the higher dollar value cards because you end up saving a larger percentage. I was looking for two $200 gift cards for at most $180 in order to save a total of $40 more. The only way to get what you want on eBay at the price you want is to use sniping software. In case you don't know what this is, it is software that runs on you're system and watches auctions that you specify. You can enter the maximum bid amount that you are willing to pay as a "Snipe" bid, meaning the software will wait until a user defined time before the auction is about to end, like 10 seconds, and then will "snipe" your bid into the auction for you. This is good because by not placing your bid onto the auction site until the auction end you don't drive the bid price up any more than it already is, which in turn increases your chances for winning the auction at the price you want.

There is a lot of good free and pay for bid sniping software out there. Just Google for "ebay sniping" or something along those lines. One of the features I suggest looking for is the ability to "group" or "multisnipe" auction bids. This will allow you to queue bids on a number of same item auctions and the software will place your max bids on each auction until you win one. One free package that I've used is JBidWatcher. I like this one again because it is written in Java which is what I know, and it has worked like a charm for many auction wins for me. Using this software I was able to score two $200 gift cards for $180 a piece. Note that I got free shipping on both, which is something you should always consider before bidding on an auction. One of the auctions originally stated $5.00 shipping, but after I won the auction I e-mailed the seller and asked them to just e-mail me the coupon code and requested a return for the shipping cost. The seller agreed to this, as I expect most will. Also, always buy from reputable sellers!

Now I had my two gift cards valuing $400 total and costing me only $360. That's another $40 saved bringing my total to $439.96, about 14% saved so far. I noticed there were more x dollars off of a certain dollar amount coupons on the coupon code sites, so I wondered if I could stack those on. The next coupon down was $20 off of $100. The Office Depot web site would not allow me to stack the dollar off coupons in a single order, so I ordered the desk in one order and the book cases in a second order. The book case costs added up to just over $100 and sure enough the $20 off coupon code worked for them. This now brings my savings to $90 off or $419.96, 17.5% saved.

I was happy with these savings, but then two days after ording it all I get a flyer in the mail and the desk is on sale for $65 less. I immediately called them up and requested a refund for the difference. Office Depot gave me no problems and sent a $65 check for the difference. Bringing my total saved now to $155 or 30%! It always pays to watch the sales flyers, even after you've already purchased something.

To sum up, check for coupon codes, check for gift cards on eBay, watch sales flyers. Another good tip if you ever buy anything from Dell, they always have coupon codes that anyone can get for free and sometimes codes that people have gotten in the mail and then sell on eBay on the cheap. I used this tactic to purchase my 37 inch Dell LCD TV that I mentioned in my last post and got about a $600 savings on it. You can often purchase Dell coupon codes on eBay for under a $1.00 and if it ends up saving you $20.00 I'd say it is worth it. However always check the coupon code sites first to make sure you aren't buying a freely available code.

Now go get a really nice dinner with that money you saved, or maybe a cheap burrito;)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How to get your missed TV shows with Azureus and Bittorrent

I'll start by saying that I am a paying cable subscriber. Often times there are multiple shows on at the same time that I would like to watch and I wanted a way to be able to watch those other shows.

I have a 37 inch Dell LCD TV and enjoy watching as much HD content on it as I can. Hooked up to it via one of the HDMI ports I have a PC which I am using as a media center. It currently has two hard drives in it, a 120GB and a 250GB along with an ATI Theater 550 TV card. I use the TV card to record shows that are not generally in HD content or we don't care that they are in SD, like soaps for my wife. The rest of the shows that we'd like to watch in HD or missed recording we download from the internet using a Bittorrent client as I'll describe now.

My client of choice is Azureus, simply for its ease of use plus I like all the features it has along with the plugins available for it. I also have done quite a bit of Java development in the past which steers me more towards this client since I know I could write my own plugins or make modifications to it if I wanted.

The client alone will get you the ability to download torrents either by clicking on the torrent link in a browser or by copying a torrent download link and opening it within Azureus. My goal was to get an automated package set up where I don't need to manually go and download the shows we enjoy. To do this I took advantage of some plugins for the Azureus client.

The first plugin I got was the RSSFeed plugin. This plugin will watch a set of user defined RSS feeds, from the torrent sites that make them available, and download files based on user defined filters. The filters can be specified as regular expressions. For the basic user that may not understand regular expressions it is probably easiest to first find the RSS feeds you want and then after setting up the feed you can right-click on a torrent in the feed listing and choose "Create Filter" to create a filter based on that torrent. The plugin does a pretty good job at coming up with a regular expression that should pick up future occurrences of that show. Another nice feature of the plugin is the "Smart History" option which will help to keep duplicate episodes from being downloaded. You can also specify season and episode ranges for a filter (See: Regular Expressions for the Azureus RSS Feed Plugin). A good place to start for a torrent site RSS feeed is www.tvtorrent.info. This is the first step in automating your TV show capturing experience.

I found the easiest way to look for shows to download is to just browse the data returned from your RSS feeds for the first week or so and create filters when you find something you like. Another step I took, so as not to miss new shows, was to set up a filter that will download all first season, first episodes of a any show. This way we can watch a new show when it comes out and decide if we want to get future episodes if we liked it.

I have my filters setup to download to the same directory that my TV shows are recorded to via my TV card. This makes it easier on my wife when she wants to look for something to watch. As a side note, I am using GB-PVR as our media center software. I am also using a task bar tray icon plugin with it which makes it easier for my wife to get to all the shows. It also displays what is currently recording or is scheduled to record without opening the full blown interface. I found the full blown interface to still be a bit buggy in parts which is why I like the little icon better.

My next dilemma came from the fact that I don't use the media center PC as my main workstation. I found that I sometimes would be surfing the web on my laptop, which is in a different level and room of our house, and I would come across a torrent that I wanted to download, but not on my laptop. To solve this problem I am making use of another Azureus plugin, the HTML Web UI plugin. I should note that my house is wired with a network connection in every room, so every system in my home is connected to each other and the internet. With the web ui plugin you can upload torrent links to Azureus through a web page served up by the plugin. This also works great for checking the status of Azureus through a browser on any system in my house. I submitted torrent urls via this interface a few times when I came across torrents while on my laptop. It works, but I'm lazy and thought there were still too many steps to get a torrent download link from a page to Azureus through the web ui.

I noticed that the upload form in the web UI is quite simple, only consisting of two fields that need to be sent to the plugin for it to accept a download request. This is the link itself and an action parameter. What I really wanted was to be able to right click a torrent download link in my browser on my laptop, which is Mozilla Firefox, and have an option to send the link to my Azureus client on my media center PC. After some testing with different Mozilla extensions I finally found the one that works easiest. I installed the ConQuery extension. This extension allows you to submit different data found on the currently viewed web page to another page. It was mainly created for selecting terms on a page and submitting those terms to a search engine like Google. I had a different plan in mind. I am using it to right-click a torrent download link and submit it to my media center PC to begin downloading the file. To do this I created a simple search plugin file that you place into your "\Mozilla Firefox\searchplugins" directory. Here is the code for that file. Simply copy and paste the code and save to the previously specified directory in a file called something like Azureus.cqr, making sure to replace the [azureuspc] with the name or IP of your PC that is running Azureus with the HTML web UI plugin installed:

# Status: Working Full
# ConQuery plugin
# by WhoopJack
# Language: en
# Created: Feb 8, 2006
# Last updated: Feb 8, 2006
# Known issues:
# works from 0.8 and higher

name="Send to Azureus"
description="Send a torrent link to an Azureus server"
category="net services"

<input name="d" value="u" label="Upload">
<input name="upurl" value="[:linkurl]" label="Torrent URL">


Now after restarting Firefox you should be able to go to a page that contains a torrent download link and right-click the link and choose "Query to..." --> "Send to Azureus".

Ah, I love being lazy;)