Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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December 2007, Week 3   


INTERNET RADIO

We've been playing with the Phoenix Wi-Fi Radio recently, and it's a lot of fun. It's also expensive: around $200 from discounters. That's pretty darned pricey dogfor a radio, but it can pull in stations from all over the world and no heavy breathing.

The only thing it needs is access to a wireless Internet connection. These days, wireless hubs are all over the place, from coffee shops to some neighbor down the block.

Once the radio recognizes a Wi-Fi connection, you can start tuning in. The company claims you can bring in over 7,000 stations, from Afghanistan toWi-Fi Radio Zimbabwe, but we could find only a couple of thousand. Maybe the others are down for repairs.

Internet radio has a major difference from regular radio because you can listen to podcasts and small, very local stations. It turns out there are lots of broadcasts you can get only through the Internet, and many of those are pretty darned interesting.

The New York Times, for example, has a daily podcast of front-page news and a weekly one called "Tech Talk." We also found the president's weekly radio address and business news podcasts from The Wall Street Journal and Business Week magazine. Coming down the road: audio books. A particularly neat feature is that you can fast-forward through a podcast if you're bored with a part of it.

The sound quality on the Phoenix was excellent. There was none of the static you frequently get with regular broadcast radio and as we said, it was a lot of fun going through the dial. There are eight preset buttons you can use for going to your favorite stations.

It's best to use the present buttons for music or talk radio, not podcasts, which have a specific date. For example, if you set a preset button for The New York Times news show, the button will forever link to that day's (or week's) news.

We found just one other problem: There's no on/off switch. The radio runs on batteries or an adapter. When we wanted to turn it off, we had to pull out the adapter and (or ) detach the battery cover to break the circuit. Tech support told us it's supposed to be always on, and when you're not listening, it's on stand-by. OK, but we like to have a switch. More info at: WiFi-Radio.biz.

NOTE: You can also listen to radio stations from all over the world through your computer, using AOL's radio service, Yahoo, Google and many other services. Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia also lets you tune in stations from all over the world. The difference with all this is that you have to listen though your computer, whereas the Phoenix radio is a stand-alone.

COUPONS ONLINE

 DealLocker.com has online discount coupons for 4,500 retailers and 18,000 products and services. For instance, there's a coupon for free gift wrapping at Nordstrom upscale department stores. A PR guy we know told us he saved $365 on 21 baskets of goodies from Mrs. Beasley's using coupons from DealLocker. This was a much better deal than we found going directly to Mrs. Beasley's site.

We have been pitched coupon sites before, but they didn't work well; this one seems OK. Not every coupon is a good deal, however. When we looked at Dell laptops, the coupon savings from DealLocker wasn't quite as good as the discount being offered by Dell itself on its Web site.

SEWING CLASS

A sewing machine that embroiders clip art from your computer is a pretty cool way to jazz up pillows, children's clothing and T-shirts for the holidays.

We used a Singer sewing machine model CE 150, since we figured this is an Embroidery Machineestablished brand found worldwide. The unit costs around $600 from discounters online, and that includes the special attachment for doing embroidery and a set of tools.

It sounds like a way to make money, selling things such as specialty clothing, towels, napkins, etc. Because of the costs involved, we don't think this is feasible, but it's an entertaining hobby.

The Singer machine came with a CD of basic designs, but you have to buy extra AutoPunch software to convert your own images -- such as those you get off the Web -- to embroidery. The conversion software costs $299, which is an absurd price. How they can charge this is beyond us since the software is so old it calls for saving things to a floppy disk. Most people haven't seen a floppy disk in years.

To get a clean image, it helps to convert your images to WMF format. We used an older version of Ulead Photo Impact that we bought on the Web for $5, and it handled the conversion.

Machine set-up was difficult, and making sure everything was locked down before embroidering also proved to be a problem. Unlike hand embroidering, which can be tied off for each section and then begun again, the computer-controlled machine keeps right on sewing, and you're left with a lot of cross-over threads to cut out and clean up.

Next problem: You can use only one color at a time. Each new color requires a new spool of thread and winding a new bobbin. This turned out to be more trouble than we would have believed before we started.

Bottom line: If you're really interested in an embroidery machine, buy one that's dedicated to that purpose. These run from $400 up to $3,000 for units that can handle 20 spools of thread, changing colors automatically without stopping. Bob says he would pay any price rather than go through this again.

 


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