Thursday, December 28, 2006

Slingbox - what?

We got a new toy for Christmas. A slingbox. Let's backtrack for a minute. We went to LA on vacation. We had a nice hotel except for the lack of TV stations. No cartoon network - my 3 year old is saying she wants Dora or Scooby Doo - sorry no TiVo here... So, when I read about the slingbox, I thought this would be a good solution. Imagine this - where ever you are, you can watch YOUR TV - all the shows you taped on your DVR, your live TV - you would be taking YOUR TV with you wherever you go. The catch? You will need a PC with windows and be able to connect to the internet. The slingbox allows you to connect (stream the data) to your personal TV to the computer. Your remote sits on the screen next to the TV monitor - so you access your TV the same way you would at home - you can tape shows, watch live TV, watch taped shows, set up Season Passes - anything that you would do on your home computer. It is really a cool device. It costs about $180.00 although I found mine on sale for $108.00. You can buy it here at:

It also works on mobile devices (an extra $30 for the software) - our phones are not that advanced so I haven't tried it. Overall, I would rate the slingbox with 4.5 stars out of 5. It streams well and being able to have my home TV available to the kids while on trips (works anywhere in the world) is a big convenience.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Quest for a Wii

Searching for a Wii for Christmas

Late in the game, we decided to get the kids a Wii for Christmas. If we had given this thought earlier, we would have pre-ordered the system and avoided a lot of hassle. We also foolishly thought that after the initial rush on launch day, there would be systems to buy prior to Christmas. We didn’t need it on launch day; we just wanted it as a Christmas gift. Once we made the decision, I started to call stores. Everyone was sold out. Stores never seemed to even know what day more might arrive. They didn’t know what time of day to call. Basically, they said – if you happen to be here when they come in, you will be able to get one. I started calling more frequently and EB games told me thatthey had just gotten some in and it would be a week before they got anymore. I waited just shy of a week and called again – guess what ? Three days after I had called last, they had got a shipment of 10 in! So, much for believing what they say.

I started calling everyday. I started asking online. We got emails saying that another shipment was coming Dec. 17 to stores. I called EB games – they would not even commit to knowing that – “maybe they will come in,” they said. There was buzz everywhere that the 17th was THE day (and maybe the last shipment before Christmas). We decided that we would go at 6:00 am and wait before Target opened. The day before THE day, Joe went to Target to buy food at 5:00 pm – he called to say that there were already 20 people in line camping out! It became clear that waiting until 6:00 am was not going to work.

We drove to other stores, EB games was still saying they didn’t know if they would get any. Circuit City said they would be getting in 10 consoles. At 7:00 pm, there were already 8 people in line for 10 systems at Circuit City. I made the spur-of-the-moment choice to consider sleeping on the sidewalk outside Circuit City. I spent some time talking with the people in line.

First in line was a woman who was about my age. She had been there since 3:00 in the afternoon. She was really nice and encouraged me to join their group. She said that that they were a great group of people that were all looking out for each other, saving spots, and bringing food and supplies for each other. We agreed to wait. My 12-year-old son, Christopher, was with me. He was dressed like he always is, regardless of season or temperature, in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts. It was getting cold – probably in the high 40’s and he was cold as we sat on the cold sidewalk at the end of the line. Almost immediately, we were offered 2 chairs and 2 blankets. We sat down and began to chat with the group. Out of the 9 people (including us), about half worked for IBM, including Joe. Everyone there was a parent about our age, wanting to get one for their kids. Person, 10, who eventually showed up was the only one who didn’t fit in that category.

I stayed there for about 90 minutes, chatting with the group. It was a lot of fun. This group was a BIG reason why we chose to do this crazy thing. It was like being at a party and hanging out with friends. Eventually Joe came and took over, spending the night. He had a great time!

A few more notes – I was surprised at a couple of things – 1) Everyone who walked by asked what we were camping out for – most thought it was a PS3 – we said, No – Wii want the Wii. Even as we were waiting, someone came by with a PS-3 and was returning it to the store! No, we did not want a PS-3. 2) The difference in the group of people who waited for PS-3’s during launch from the group of Wii campers was surprising. Much of the older generation thought – you will get hurt or mugged if you camp out for a game system – after all – stories on the news show much violence associated with the PS-3 launch! The PS-3 fans are a different group from the Wii fans. The Wii folks are more likely to be families – adults waiting to get a system for their kids. Not only was there no violence, the group of 9 that we waited with were for the most part, just like us, very nice, and great fun to hang out with.

The end of my story is that wii are now proud owners of a longed for Wii system. Since we do the 12 days of Christmas at our house (opening gifts over 12 days instead of saving them all for Christmas day) – the kids have gotten their Wii. All we have played is Wii Sports – as we have no other games yet. Wii love it. Even Reilly, 6, who really has had very little interest in gaming (Gamecube) loves it and plays it often. My 3-year-old tries to hit the balls in baseball or will pitch the ball to her older brothers! I can’t wait to play more.

Thanks to Nintendo for breaking out of the mold and creating something different – pushing buttons to game was getting old!
VOIP - Voice over IP

What is it all about?
Is it worth it?
What are the pros?
What are the cons?

After rising phone costs - especially for all the "fancy" stuff such as caller ID, call forwarding, etc. etc. We decided to try VOIP. I researched all the providers and ViaTalk was ranked #1. My friend had Vonage and it was really lousy so I was skeptical. The problem I ran into was that we used Bellsouth DSL - so we had to have a Bellsouth phone line to get our DSL. I calculated a savings of at least $25 per month if I kept my Bellsouth line with only call forwarding on it and put it on the most basic plan there was. I signed up for ViaTalk's 2 years for $199 deal that they often have. If you divide by 24 months, you get a cost of $8.30 per month! On top of that I have FREE UNLIMITED LONG DISTANCE - which I did not have with my bellsouth line - I always had to make long distance calls with my cell phone. I also have *many* more features with ViaTalk than I had with my Bellsouth line - and I am still saving $25 per month when I keep BOTH my lines! I have my Bellsouth line forward all my calls to my ViaTalk line. So - what are the drawbacks? I will say that is not perfect - but I have had *very* few problems - once my voice sounded like a robot to someone for about 10 minutes during one of my calls - only has happened one time - don't know why. Occassionally I have to enter my password in more than one time to get to my voicemail, it doesn't always seem to recognize it the first time. If my internet is down, I can only used my Bellsouth line (but at least I still have a phone). The cons are few and far between and I will say that for the savings and the increased features plus free unlimited long distance, it has been a great choice for us. Check out ViaTalk and see all the great features - like taking your phone with you, all the online information about all your calls, getting voicemail over the internet as well as on your phone, caller hunt (if no one answers at your homephone, it will ring your cell for you if you would like), and many many more. So - is it worth it? Most definately, Yes! - The husband insists that I tell you that I have signed up for the affliate program on Via Talk - so if you decide to join Via Talk and do it through my link - they will throw a few pennies (okay, maybe $50) at me...