My Flypaper Mind Brenden Schaaf's opinions, ideas, comments, rantings, & minutiae

22Dec/100

My Review of Pricing Books

The concept of pricing and using it strategically has caught my fancy of late. Enough that I read four books on the subject while on vacation in August and wrote up my analysis for the current issue of the MNCPA Footnote. See my thoughts online at this link: A CPAs review of pricing books.

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17Nov/100

Easily (and cheaply) hang a flat-panel TV

This is one of those posts that has been sitting in the back of my brain for a few months now, but I've just been too busy with other things to actually sit down for 30 minutes and bang it out.

I stumbled upon a deal on a plasma TV back in July and I decided that was a sign that I needed to replace the hulking 32" CRT that was taking up space in our bedroom.  Nevermind the fact that I had only recently lugged the behemoth upstairs when we bought a new LCD for the living room -- there was no mistaking the wisdom of purchasing a new TV for upstairs and ditching our old TV and the armoire in which it sits (both of which are still sitting in our upstairs hallway several months later).

Perhaps, like me, you have been relatively ignorant to the new TV technology and associated hardware and requirements.  I was surprised to learn, for example, that hanging a TV on a wall requires a wall mount that comes at a cost that is a large percentage of what I paid for the TV in the first place.  For example, the first mount I studied was at Costco and it was over $100.  Even basic, non-swiveling mounts at Costco can be expensive.  It turns out this is not unusual.  I was quickly able to determine that I could do without the swiveling/rotating features that allow the TV to extend from the wall and that doing so could save a bit of money, but I still wasn't prepared to spend $100 for a mount, but I'd prefer to do that than have my TV crash to the ground I reasoned.

Another issue with hanging a TV was cord management.  It does little aesthetically speaking to hang your shiny new TV on the wall and then run power, cable, DVD, etc. cords down or across the wall.  Plus taking some time to tuck the cords away goes a long way to keeping the marital peace I've found.  So I set off researching how to hide the cords in the wall and I was lucky enough to stumble upon a solution at monoprice.com.  A nice bonus is that they also sell  deals on sturdy wall mounts...at prices that look ridiculously cheap when compared to those offered elsewhere.

This, then, is the story of the solution I went with to successfully (it hasn't fallen yet) mount my 42" plasma TV to the bedroom wall keeping things looking nice and neat.

Wall mount

View of the bracket that screws to the TV. Once hung on the wall bracket, the small part at the bottom slides up and is screwed into a locked position to securely hold the two together. (click to enlarge)

As I mentioned above, I decided that I needed a stationary wall mount that allowed for slight tilting.  For barely over $20 I ordered product #3900 at MonoPrice.  In addition to being inexpensive, this is an extremely sturdy mount and the installation process was a snap.  Once I located the studs (relatively easy because of the outlets beneath my hanging area that I knew to be hung on a stud) I just had to bolt one side of the bracket to the wall and two other pieces screwed into the back of the TV.  Then it was like hanging a picture to put the TV onto the bracket.  All of this was a one-person job.  Before I could hang the TV, however, I needed to make sure that the cables would not be visible once the TV was in place.

Behind-set power and wall plate for low voltage cable passage

MonoPrice conveniently recommended product #4006 to me as an accessory to the wall mount bracket.  This is a recessed power outlet coupled with a tunnel that allowed the threading of low voltage cable through the wall.  Note that it is a code violation to thread power cords through the wall so that is the purpose of the power outlet on this device.  Simply mount it above an existing outlet and piggy-back on the power to that outlet by running sheathed electric cable between the locations.  If you aren't comfortable with this you can hire an electrician, though it is not very difficult.  For safety's sake turn the power off before you begin.

View of the wall plate and power/low-voltage outlet.

As can be seen in this photo, the wall plate has swivel tabs that allow for installation without an electrical box on the side that allows for low-votage cable passage.  This is needed because installing a box would block the passage of cables through the wall.  The side with the power outlet does require a single-gang box, which can be purchased at your local hardware store.

Like the MonoPrice wall plate, the electrical box will have tabs that screw out and then tighten to the back of the drywall until secure.  Tools needed for this are a small drywall saw and a couple screwdrivers.  You probably also will find a box cutter and/or wire stripping tool to be handy.

Second low voltage wall plate for cable passage

A second wall plate needs to be installed toward the bottom of the wall.  This is where HDMI, coax, and other audio/visual cable will enter the wall before exiting behind the TV.  Since this is a low voltage installation, the "box" is really just a bracket (get this at the hardware store as well) that allows for the installation of something like product #3997 from MonoPrice.  I chose this because it matched the outlet I ordered for behind the TV (mentioned above) and it was under $3.  I have no idea if these things are also sold locally, but for $3 it wasn't worth my time to find out. Like the wall plate above, a drywall saw and a couple screwdrivers are all that is needed for this part of the installation.

Cables

2nd wall plate for low voltage wiring pass-through. Note the yellow and green HDMI cables.

One of my big frustrations even when I can see all of my cables is trying to figure out what is plugged in where.  Hiding the cables behind the wall was sure to make this chore even more difficult.  Thankfully MonoPrice has the answer to this issue as well.  They sell HDMI cables in a variety of colors so I ordered several 10-foot cables in a variety of colors such as this yellow one.  That way I could easily know which cable was for the satellite box and which was for the DVD player.  I used a steel fish tape to thread the cables through the wall, but it would be possible to do this by unbending a coat hanger or with a string and weight if the holes in your wall are lined up fairly straight given that the distance between them isn't too big.  Wall studs are typically 16" apart and the cables need to run vertically within the same wall cavity to avoid having to travel through studs.  This means that the likely distance between the hole is limited to 3-4 feet.

Once you have installed the wall plates and the run the cables, simply screw things into place and hang up the TV.  In my experience, the entire installation took about 30 minutes, though time will vary depending on how many trips to the hardware store you need to make!  When all was completed, I had a solidly mounted TV on the wall with no wiring visible.  I consider this a job well done!

3Jul/100

Firefox Add-on: Shareaholic

The customized Shareaholic menu from my Firefox address bar.

If you find that you constantly share links with friends through Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. then this add-on is for you.  There are literally dozens of services in Shareaholic that can be turned on or off so you can set up only the ones that you use.  Chances are that just the act of going through the setup will introduce you to some services that you didn't even know about before.

The ones I have set up, for example, are Facebook, Twitter, bit.ly, Google Mail, Google Reader, LinkedIn, and Microsoft Outlook.  Sharing the current page or a link on the current page using any of these methods is just a click away.

Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/5457/

3Jul/100

Firefox Add-on: Extended Copy Menu

Normally when you copy text in Firefox it retains the original formatting when you paste it elsewhere (such as into

New choices available from the right-click menu after installing this Firefox add-on.

Word or into a blog post).  This is not always desired.

The workaround to lose the formatting that I used to use involved opening Notepad, pasting the text into there, copying from Notepad (Notepad is only capable of using plain text), and then pasting to whatever my destination was in the first place. This add-on puts additional choices such as "Copy as Plain Text" to the right-click context menu to make it as easy to copy text without formatting as it is to copy the text with the formatting.

Download Link: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4554/

12Jun/100

Got a 2nd HDTV = more decisions than I bargained for

Is anyone using DirecTV Whole-Home DVR service? I'd like to hear how/if it works.

http://www.directv.com/DTVAPP/content/directv/technology/wholehome

Here's the situation: we got a new flat panel for the bedroom and are looking at options where we can have HD service there but also watch shows in the bedroom that are on the DVR in our living room in HD quality.

Currently we have Dish Network and our current DVR (722) can output only SD signal to TV2. So a 2nd option (other than switching to DirecTV) is that we could upgrade to Dish 922k DVR and hope they release the "HDTV Multi-Room Extender" (which is really an HD SlingCatcher) soon also. I like Dish's receivers better than DirecTV's because it can record from over-the-air sources in addition to satellite sources so +1 to Dish for this as an option.

http://www.dishnetwork.com/tveverywhere/default.aspx

A 3rd option is to build a over-the-air DVR/PC for the bedroom. I could put a blu-ray player in that and it would do double-duty but, of course, we'd be limited to watching recorded shows in HD that came from over-the-air sources (which is probably 80% of what we record to be honest).  This idea is gaining favor in my mind now that I've written it, actually. A minor annoyance is that we would have some shows recorded in both places (on the PC in the bedroom and on the DVR in the living room) so it would be harder to manage what we have watched and not watched.

Every option has advantages/disadvantages to the point where I'm spinning in circles trying to decide what to do. Seeking advice!!

One final item of note is that my wife claims to not be able to tell the difference between SD and HD so this is only a big deal to me 🙂

19May/100

Readability Bookmarklet – declutter the screen to read what’s important

Hat tip to my friend Brian for sending along a message he received about this great, simple tool. Readability is nothing more than a script that runs as the result of you loading a bookmark. The simplest way to use it is to put the Readability bookmarklet on your "Bookmarks Toolbar" or "Links" bar in your web browser. When you are on a site with an article that is worth reading, simply click the button up on your toolbar and all of the ads, sidebars, banners, etc. will disappear leaving you with only the text you want to read.

There are several options that you tweak at the Readability website before dragging the bookmarklet up to your browser toolbar (or right-clicking and choosing "Add to Favorites" if you use IE).  I find that eBook | Medium | Extra Wide works best for me in most situations.  Especially with wide-screen monitors it is nice to have the resulting text column fairly thin when reading so that is why I choose the largest margin possible.

Below  is a comparison of a news story as originally presented and after activating Readability.  An added bonus is that the resulting article appears all on one page and not spread out over several pages so there is no longer a  requirement to click "next page" several times.  This can be done with Greasemonkey (at least on StarTribune) but it would probably require a specific Greasemonkey script for each site you visit whereas Readability handles it very cleanly and simply.

Standard display of article. Click image to see it full-size.

Article after Readability is used. Click image to see it full-size.

23Apr/100

One more birthday freebie!

I got another birthday deal in my email today.  So that brings to 10, when combined with my earlier post, the total number of free deals I received just by turning another year older.

  1. AMC Theatres: Free large soft drink coupon arrived today by email just for being an AMC Moviewatcher member (and having a birthday).  The coupon is good for 30 days so it stands a good chance of being used.  Being a Moviewatcher is beneficial for other reasons like free popcorn on Wednesdays and various coupons throughout the year, but a free soda for my birthday is a nice treat.
19Apr/100

Have a birthday? Get a dining deal!

It's my birthday this Friday. No, this isn't an attempt to garner well-wishes from the couple of people that still read these posts...rather it is a place to post all of the great birthday bargains I've received by email this month.  Having a birthday at my age perhaps isn't as much fun as it was when I was 7, but when there are deals to be had I still get pretty excited.

Here now, in the order I received them via email, are the deals I've received this month:

  1. Benihana: For the second year, the gift of a free meal (up to $30 value) at Benihana has been my favorite and most valuable dining deal.  To qualify, just sign up for the Chef's Table email list and you should see your coupon in your birthday month (mine came April 1st).
  2. Let's Dish: I guess because I've set up sessions on the Let's Dish website they knew about my upcoming birthday.  An email arrived on April 1st promising "an order of our amazing Decadent Molten-Chocolate Cakes - FREE!"  No purchase necessary (which is good because we our freezer is well stocked with the last load of meals).
  3. TGI Friday's: I'm not a big fan of Friday's and I haven't been to one in years, but that didn't stop them from sending me a coupon for a free birthday dessert with purchase of a dinner.  Truth be told this deal isn't likely to persuade me to change my dining habits anytime soon (see Benihana deal above compared to this).  Still if I were near a Friday's I might kick it in for my Vanilla Bean Cheesecake fix.  I'm pretty sure I signed up for the "Give Me More Stripes" program to earn this deal.
  4. Houlihan's: I love Houlihan's.  Their food is fresh and made from scratch (or it sure seems like it is) so that's already a leg up on other casual dining restaurants.  Then to top it off they spring for an entrée and not just dessert like Friday's does.  I'm pretty sure I just belong to their email club to get this deal.  Plus I get deals every Tuesday and at other random times as well.  Houlihan's sent this email on April 16th, a week before the big day.
  5. Dairy Queen: Another deal arriving on the 16th was a coupon for a free 16oz. Blizzard Treat.  Even this beats the Friday's deal because no other purchase is required and DQ has a drive-through. Membership in the Blizzard Fan Club is all that is required to earn this deal.
  6. Buca di Beppo: Similar to Friday's, this deal is for a free dessert with purchase of an entrée.  I won't be knocking myself out to cash in on this, but if I happen to venture near a Buca when I'm hungry I might pay a visit.  This coupon is good until the 16th of May (a month after I received it) so that may extend my birthday celebration another few weeks.
  7. Buffalo Wild Wings: Free dessert at BWW for some reason seems like a better deal than it does from Friday's or Buca.  I'm not sure why that is.  It certainly isn't because the normal bill is any lower at BWW than those places but BWW is a place that I don't necessarily visit for the food so anything free and edible seems good.  Quite honestly we normally hit the DQ on the way home from the BWW in Champlin so I'll probably actually use this deal and save my Blizzard deal for another day.
  8. Caribou Coffee: Arriving on the 16th like a few other deals posted above, this is the only one that is restricted to being valid "on your birthday."  Most of the others are good for the whole month or even into May.  Still a free drink on my birthday is pretty cool and I'll probably satisfy a craving for a Northern Light Cooler on my way to work on Friday.  We'll see if they really do check ID.
  9. Old Country Buffet: This email just came today and is a deal that probably won't even get printed.  A free buffet meal with purchase of an adult buffet meal just isn't in the cards because there isn't a single person I know other than my dad that would actually willingly visit OCB.  Plus I already missed the nurse-in at the Maplewood location.

As of today those are all the deals I've received by email.  By far Benihana is the most generous (and the most delicious) but there's something for everyone it seems.  We'll see if more freebies grace my inbox between now and Friday...if something shows up I'll be sure to post an update here.

21Mar/100

Change your bookmarks!

The URL for this blog has changed to www.myflypapermind.com (from schaaf.me) to match its title.  Simply put, it is much cheaper to use a .com domain name than a .me domain name.  Those of you that know me (or if you've read some of my earlier posts) know how cheap I am!!

Also I already owned the myflypapermind.com name so this change allows me to save $20/year.  The RSS feeds and email subscriptions should not be changing for those of you that use those to track new posts on this site.

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31Jan/100

SyncBackSE = my choice for managing flash drive sync

I, like many people, carry a flash drive with me at all times.  This allows me to work on files, primarily for a class teach at Metropolitan State University, wherever I am on any computer I can find.  When I'm at home, though, I prefer to not hunt for my keychain (where my flash drive is located) and I like to make changes to my files on the hard drive of the computer that I'm using.  Windows Live Sync does a great job keeping all of my computer hard drives synchronized, but then I'm still left with the task of keeping the flash drive that I carry mirrored to my computers as well.

I posted before about a Microsoft tool called SyncToy.  It worked great with WindowsXP at managing the files I had on my flash drive and replicating additions/changes/deletions between my laptop and flash drive.  Sadly, though, once I installed the Windows 7 Beta on my laptop I started to have issues with SyncToy.

Files that were identical on my hard drive and flash drive were copied back and forth as if they were different (usually due to an issue with the time zone offset it seemed).  Other times it just seemed that certain files were overlooked in the synchronization process.  These issues did not disappear when I installed the final release of Windows 7 in October so I started to look for alternatives. I see now that SyncToy was upgraded to version 2.1 in November, but I'm not willing to risk the integrity of my data given my recent experience with the product so I set off to find a product that did what I needed.

The program that does everything I need it to do (and then some) is SyncBackSE from 2BbrightSparks.  Unlike SyncToy it is not free, but it is well worth the $30 for a task that is so vital to me.  There is a free version of SyncBack but I found that it doesn't manage deletions well.  When a file was deleted on my flash drive, for example, the free version of SyncBack would identify that the file was on the hard drive and not the flash drive and it would copy the file back to the flash drive to keep the two identical.  SyncBackSE version instead will note that the file was deleted on one side and then delete it on the other side of the folder pair.  That is exactly the behavior I was looking for.  SyncBackSE offers a host of other settings to fine tune the file management process to be exactly what you want it to be depending on your needs (see screenshot).

In short, I use a combination of Windows Live Sync (to keep files mirrorred between three different computers) and SyncBackSE (to manage files between one of those machines and my flash drive -- changes that are then passed to the other computers through Windows Live Sync).  It is great to once again have complete confidence that changes I make to files will be available everywhere each time I make them.