Archive for November 27, 2009

Online tips for Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday

Consumer Reports Holiday Headstart

As you troll the Internet for holiday deals this weekend, on so-called CyberMonday, and beyond, be on the lookout for nasty cybercriminals who can empty your wallet faster than a successful holiday shopping trip.

(For help with that trip, check out our guide to Black Friday deals and shopping advice.)

If ever there was a time to play to your heartstrings, it’s the holiday season. Don’t fall for those fake charity pleas that pop up in your e-mail.

Beware of any e-mail that asks for financial information, passwords, or other personal data. Some common phonies have pretended to come from PayPal, eBay, the Better Business Bureau, and the IRS.

Be careful what you click on when searching for popular trends or products. Security software company F-Secure provided a list of search terms it predicts will be popular with cybercriminals this season: The video game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2"; Michael Jackson; the Flip UltraHD camcorder; the iPod; the Wii; and Chuck My Talking Truck from Playskool.

Don’t be fooled into joining the type of "member rewards clubs" we talked about in an earlier blog post about an online shopping scam that cost consumers $1.4 billion, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

You’ll probably run into deals that seem too good to be true from retailers you’re not familiar with. Check our advice on choosing a retailer, and our Ratings of places to buy major electronics items and computers (available to subscribers). If you’re suspicious, skip it, or at least check the Better Business Bureau’s online reports. Make sure the BBB’s report on an online company has a physical address and phone number. Review shipping, return, and restocking policies.

There are also easy steps you can take to protect yourself.

  • Enter your credit card information only on Web sites that are secure. Look for a lock icon in the bar at the bottom of your browser (not on the actual browser page), and make sure the URL is an https:// site.
  • Use a single credit card for all your online purchases, or get a "virtual" one-time-only card from your credit-card company.
  • Create secure passwords, and don’t use the same one on every site. To make them easier to remember, use the first letters of a favorite song or phrase, then add a simple identifier unique to each Web site, advises Mark Risher, Yahoo’s senior director of product development Yahoo Mail’s "spam czar." If possible, throw in a number or two as well.

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LCD TV buying advice: Check the viewing angle

The single most important tip for anyone shopping for an LCD TV over Black Friday is this: Check the viewing angle.

Viewing angle is likely to be one of the biggest differentiators among the LCD TVs you'll see in the stores. Even TVs that have excellent picture quality—with great brightness, detail, black levels, and color—can look mediocre or worse when viewed from an angle. The picture can become washed out, hazy, or dim as you step off to the side, or move up and down (to simulate standin, sitting, and lying on the floor, for instance).

About one-third of the LCD TVs we tested recently showed at least some deterioration in the picture quality from off-angle, and on another one-third of the sets the picture deteriorated markedly. We're not talking extreme angles here, just a few steps off to the side, or up and down. Our Ratings of LCD TVs (available to subscribers) include a viewing angle score to show how each TV did. Unless everyone watching the TV will be close to front and center, we'd strongly recommend that you avoid models judged only fair for viewing angle. Sets scoring good might be suitable if there aren't big variations in viewing position, but a very good viewing angle is your best bet.

You can test viewing angle to some extent in the store. Try what I call "the couch test."

Stand 4 or 5 feet away from a 40- to 50-inch TV and move several feet to the left or right of center. That's comparable to sitting at the end of a couch in front of the TV. See if the images start to look more faded, if the screen darkens a bit, or if the colors lose vibrancy. Move a little farther away from center to see what the picture would look like from a chair off to the side of the couch.

This very informal test could give you some idea of the impact of viewing angle on the picture quality, though the very bright picture settings and vividly colored programs retailers usually display tend to minimize the problem. It's most noticeable in normal programming with indoor scenes featuring people. See if you can get the salesperson to change channels.

Incidentally, try the same thing with a plasma TV. You'll notice that the picture doesn't change at all. (For more help on choosing an LCD or plasma TV, see my recent post: Plasma or LCD TV? I vote for plasma.)

Hope this helps. Happy shopping! —Eileen McCooey

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Daily Dispatch: Black Friday iPhone apps; Google’s new look

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The Daily Dispatch is a collection of interesting news about computing,
consumer electronics, and other technology gathered from around the Web
by Dirk Klingner, our technology-trend watcher, and other staffers. If
you have a tip on news you want to share, leave a comment below.


How to Prepare Your iPhone for Black Friday (ReadWriteWeb)

…You can have all the deals at your fingertips, thanks to new iPhone applications that list everything on sale. And that's not all, either. Read on for our guide to preparing your iPhone for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season beyond.

Google Tests A New Look For Its Search Pages (paidContent.org)

…And the results pages now features a left hand column by default, which includes related searches as well as a colorful way to quickly navigate to other Google properties, including news. Search Engine Land reported last week that the changes could go live to all users next year—if the tests are successful.

Sidebar Delivers Personalized Mobile Apps And Content To Android (TechCrunch)

…Sidebar will ask you a series of demographic questions (gender, age, location) and a series of questions to determine your interests and content preferences (i.e. what type of news do you prefer, do you play online games, what types of outdoor activities are you interested in). Once Sidebar figures out a rough sketch of who you are, the app will begin to recommend mobile content to you.

Google Search by voice: Now in Times Square! (Google Mobile Blog)
On Black Friday, Google's Times Square demo is scheduled to run for 20 hours straight:

If you've been to Times Square in New York City over the past couple weeks, on any day from 12:30-2:00pm or 6:30-8:00pm, you may have noticed that Google Search by voice is powering Times Square's largest combined displays — the Reuters Sign and the NASDAQ sign. Anyone can call 888-376-4336 and say the name of a business or a location that they want to search for, like "museum of modern art" or "pizza". Then, the query and local search results from Google will appear on one of the two electronic billboards.

Paint-Free Coke Can Saves Energy, Reduces Pollution (inhabit)

Designer Harc Lee has created a “naked” Coca Cola can that forfeits Coke’s typical bold red and white stripes in favor of au naturale silver. The aluminum can is created without using any paints or dyes, and stands to greatly reduce pollution and energy use associated with producing and recycling soda cans.

Scientists give grubby children a clean bill of health (guardian.co.uk)

…Researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of California found that being too clean could impair the skin's ability to heal. The San Diego-based team discovered that normal bacteria that live on the skin trigger a pathway that helps prevent inflammation when we get hurt.

Lighter Side: A cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" by the Muppets has become an instant YouTube hit with 3.7 million views since being posted on November 23rd.

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