Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ziinga : Not Recommended and here's why

Scenario: You buy a product at a Best Buy and the clerk tells you "give us your email and you may win xxxx, we're giving away one a month" - sounds good so you give away your email or phone or whatever.

Months go by and eventually you get an email or text message saying "you've won our prize for this month...click here" and it actually refers to Best Buy.

Then you get redirected to Ziinga which offers "7 day free registration".

Ziinga's offer is very deceptive - here's why.

To use Ziinga, you have to buy "bid credits" - which sounds like a great day - $1 a bid but for $50, they'll give you 40 free. Awesome, right? No. When you purchase the credits, you are also signing into their terms of service which says (but only on the receipt AFTER you purchase).

"Please be informed that the 7 days free Platinum membership included with this offer gives you exclusive Bid-for-Free auctions, an additional 10% on all bid package purchases, Daily Bid Agent, FREE shipping on all products, 7 free bid added to your account daily and another 8 free bid on each calendar day you log on to Ziinga.com. The subscription cost is $ 89.99 per month. You can choose to cancel your subscription at any time by contacting our Customer Service by email at info@ziinga.com. Platinum membership is binding for the first 3 months. "

The cancellation on a Platinum membership is $49.99. So regardless, when you have to cancel, you will be charged $49.99. 

How can they afford to give away an iPad for $29? 100 subscribers means over $4900 just in cancellation fees. Easy money.

Can you win something with Zinga? Absolutely but it requires a lot of effort. An auction will be open for "10 days" so you wait for the very last day to bid, if it's still in your price range. EXCEPT that at the end of the countdown, someone else can bid and that gives the auction a few more minutes, that time goes down, then someone else bids higher. While you only pay for what you win, you can easily go through your bid credits in no time at all (because every time you BID, you give up a credit). So it's easy to burn through all of your bid credits and still not win anything.

Definitely, NOT recommended unless you have a good eye for auctions and don't mind waiting around for a possible discount.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Titanic 3-D: Wow

When James Cameron's Titanic first came out in December 1997, my wife and I joked to our daughter "why are you going to see this movie? it sinks!!!!". Then we finally went to see it in a theatre in May of 1998 (yes, the movie was in theatres that long) and loved it.

Since then, of course, the movie has been the subject of Oscars, adoration, commentary and criticism, much of which was directed at James Cameron's dialog and story-telling ability. This is likely because any other faults are just too minor to be serious. Cameron, known for the Terminator franchise, simply can't write good movies, so the argument goes. The same criticism was put to him when he released Avatar. That may be true but he can write a movie people want to see. Cameron's writing is similar to those movies that are cliched, predictable, cheesy but are so well done it makes people want to see movies. This is the reason why Michael Bay may make movies that makes several million dollars with cheesier dialog but they come nowhere close to Cameron's successes. The man knows how to make a movie. This is why, perhaps, he has the two top movies of all time (in money made) by a huge margin. He also knows how to do 3-D well. Given an estimated budget of $200 million, Avatar made good 3-D possible - incredible for a technology that was cheesy at best in the 1980's. The rush of movies that were converted into 3-D after being shot started with most results being fairly lacklustre (Clash of the Titans, etc). Most of those movies are fantasy-based.

I was slightly concerned about how Cameron could add 3-D to a movie that is 15 years old, let alone a movie that isn't fantasy but tied to the real world. I shouldn't have worried. While many critics have said he did 3-D right with Titanic, I still wanted to see it for myself. This is similar to a film-maker adding colour to a black and white movie. Could it really measure up?

It does. For an estimated budget of $18 million, all I can say is wow. It makes this movie feel like it was just made for 3-D. Certain scenes such as the actual Titanic going over the ocean don't need 3-D; other scenes are typical (subtitles appear floating over movie itself); but the overall impact is just tremendous. Can a love story benefit from 3-D? It can, when done right and those individual scenes were done subtly enough, they were near perfect. When the camera moves through the water, looking at remnants of the ship, the depth contrast is amazing. But as expected, the real fun comes with the action sequences.

I saw this movie in one of Cineplex's new AVX theatres with bouncy chairs. It was a great experience but I'm glad I didn't see it in a full IMAX 3-D. At the end of the movie, I left the theatre actually feeling queasy, not just because I sat through a full hour of watching a ship sink, but because I felt like I was actually in the water, bobbing up and down while waiting for lifeboats.  During scenes where depth is important, such as when looking over the rails at the water, you actually feel the grandeur of this ship, much like being at the Grand Canyon - it's simply incredible.

It's only in theatres for a few more days (having grossed an additional $50 million since its re-release - not bad for a 15 year old movie) - but if you have the opportunity, see it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Gmail Meter - email pattern statistics - definitely recommended

If you are using gMail and ever wondered what your usage is really like, check out gMail Meter.

What does this do? Well, it may help you change your email habits by showing your patterns.

The link from LifeHacker is here

You create a new spreadsheet in Google Docs, name it Gmail Meter and then run a script from the Script Gallery.

Then let the script run. It can take a while to run but you can just let it go, it will send you an email when it's done with all of the stats. What kind of stats? Here's just a smattering of the stats:

Very cool!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jason Mraz: Love Is A Four Letter Word

After trying different songs and styles over the past 4 years, Jason Mraz comes up with an album that is very different from his previous offerings yet still succeeds in delivering a satisfying sound.

If you're looking for the upbeat and fast-paced funk of We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things, you won't find it here. That may be the biggest problem for his thousands of fans. This album is definitely more subdued than his other efforts.  The risqué lyrics and fun wordplay that many fans have come to love aren't on this album - yet the song writing on this album seems more focused on its goal.

The production on Love Is a Four Letter Word is very smooth - lush strings come in to add those touches, the horns are not in your face (with the exception of The Freedom Song) and the harmonies are light and airy.  With the exception of voice, guitar and drums, every instrument comes and goes very discreetly, adding their touches when needed but without fanfare. This can both be a blessing and a curse, as it sometimes sounds like the soul of a song has been smothered by the production. Here we find an album about Love that talks about love but never quite hits the emotional peaks and lows that love brings about.

This is typical of most Mraz albums however - songs on a Mraz album rarely sound like they do when performed live. This is perhaps the curse of being an artist who can pull lyrics out of thin air with a melody that lingers - a produced album never sounds "live".

Fans who want to know that Jason hasn't lost his fun live style should buy the Deluxe version which features live tracks of songs that didn't make the album: You F*cking Did It, a song reminiscent of Dynamo of Volition and Like I Never Knew You. That version also includes a demo version of "I Won't Give Up", the first single.

Certain songs do feel like they were "required" by the label: Living In The Moment sounds like a throw-away to I'm Yours, Mraz' biggest hit from the last album; Everything Is Sound also sounds like it was based on some of his earlier music, yet toned down. The songs all carry a positive message - it's better to write about love and positivity than hate and negativity - yet a lot of the lyrics show a sincere earnestness that comes with knowing, getting and losing love.

At some times, the album takes on a country feel (Living in the Moment and Frank D Fixer); at other times, it sounds like the roots-rock of the 70s (Who's Thinking About You Now, Be Honest) and sometimes like jazz (5/6). A hidden track "I'm Coming Over" sounds like Paul Simon. Rather than a "party" album, it's a "cruising" album, the kind of album you want to put on for a relaxing afternoon or a dinner party. In fact, the album may garner more fans from the over-30 audience than from the younger generation.

This album doesn't have hits written all over it. While most songs can stand on their own, none sound like break-away hits.
This is a more mature-sounding Mraz, grappling with a universal topic, expressed in a harmless, uneventful way.  Yet the album grows stronger and stronger on every listen, with something for everyone. In the end, to borrow a phrase from I Won't Give Up, the album knows "it's worth it".