Archive for October, 2008

Philam, co-ops form special mutual fund

October 31, 2008

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: October 31, 2008

Philam Asset Management Inc. (PAMI) has teamed up with eight cooperatives to create a pioneering mutual fund for cooperatives.Called the National Cooperative Mutual Fund of the Philippines, the new fund would likely be launched in a month’s time, PAMI president Karen Liza Roa said Thursday at the signing of a memorandum of agreement with the founding cooperatives.

The mutual fund will have an authorized capital of P400 million, said Isfani Daba, chairperson of the First Community Cooperative (Fico), which will have a 45-percent stake in the fund.

The other cooperatives investing in the mutual fund are Amkor Technology Philippines Employees Cooperative, Peace and Equity Foundation, Coop Life Insurance and Mutual Benefit Services, Cebu CFI Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Novaliches Development Cooperative, San Dionisio Credit Cooperative and the United Sugar Cane Planters of Davao.

Although local financial markets are in the doldrums, Daba said the mutual fund offered a good opportunity for cooperatives to participate in a fund that could pick up securities at bargain prices.

The minimum investment in the cooperative mutual fund has been set at P100,000.

Roa said the new mutual fund will be a balanced fund or invested in a combination of stocks and bonds.

“Many people still view investing as the province of financially well-off individuals. Nothing could be farther from the truth—individuals, both the high net-worth and the regular Juan dela Cruz, must be able to maximize opportunities in the financial markets, and mutual funds certainly assist in leveling the playing field for all client types,” said Jose Cuisia Jr., president of PAMI’s parent company, Philippine American Life and General Insurance Co. (Philamlife).

Through its partnership with the National Cooperative Movement, Cuisia said the Philam group would like to encourage larger investments in mutual funds.

“We hope this will be the beginning of a long lasting relationship, irrespective of Philamlife and its affiliates’ future owners,” Cuisia said.

Nokia N85

October 30, 2008
Oct 30, 2008

If there is one thing Nokia has gotten right with the N85, it would be the look and feel of this Nseries handset. But let’s face it. The first N95 made an impact on the expectations of what high-end phones should have and, typical of the Nseries range, the current N85 is chock full with connectivity features. While the design front has seen little change, it has gotten better with each revision.

Design

If you’ve held the N95, N95 (8GB) or N96 previously, you’d notice the N85 (103 x 50 x 16mm; 128g) has a significantly smaller footprint in the hand. The curved edges help to accentuate that impression, too. There’s a 2.6-inch QVGA screen, with the key difference being an OLED panel. OLED displays, which have better screen legibility while consuming less power, have been used before on Nokia’s S40 models. So it’s good that the company is now implementing this in the higher-end Nseries, too.

Text is crisp, colors are juicy and the display is brilliant. If anything, it felt like we were looking through a glass pane and we didn’t even notice the fingerprint smudges until the display went into power-saver mode. The light sensor that is beside the front-facing camera also did a great job in adjusting the brightness to suit the ambient light.

The micro-USB port, 3.5mm audio jack and power button on the N85 are along the top edge. Note that the N85 doesn’t have a 2mm charging port like previous models. Instead, it uses the micro-USB head for both charging (with separate adapter) and syncing with the PC. On the right, you’ll find the volume control, a dedicated keylock button and a pair of speakers flanking both ends. We did find the camera shutter a little too spongy. It would have been better if there was a distinct feel between half-pressing and depressing the button all the way.

Most sliders with a numeric keypad suffer from the same problem. The top row keys are usually too close to the edge of the slider. It’s the same with the N85, although it wasn’t as bad as we thought in actual use. In close slider mode, the button symbols on the control panel disappear giving the impression that the N85 has touch-sensitive keys when they are, in fact, conventional buttons.

Our nitpicks are with the controls on the navigation which were a notch too stiff, and when we slid open the phone to reveal the multimedia keys, we had to force the action a little, rather than simply nudging it. The multimedia keys, as we’ve seen before on other Nokia dual-sliders morphs to the relevant controls when listening to music or playing a game.

Features

The N85 is no slouch when it comes to features, with support for tri-band HSDPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth stereo, GPS with Assisted-GPS, a 5-megapixel camera with a pair of LED flash and an integrated FM transmitter. It doesn’t have onboard DVB-H, but that’s a miss we can live with since the service has to be available in the country of use. Other than the differences in the screen size, you are getting almost every feature that is available on the N95 (8GB) or N96. In terms of memory, the N85 comes with a hot-swappable microSD expansion card slot and ships with an 8GB flash media in the box.

On the user interface, you get the standard S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 fare. Needless to say, those who have used a Nokia S60 phone before will be able to pick this up to use right away. Our review unit was bundled with a three-month license for live navigation in Singapore and Malaysia, eight songs or an album from the Nokia music store in Singapore, and an activation voucher for one N-Gage game. A total of 15 games are preinstalled on the 8GB microSD card in the package. These include Asphalt 3: Street Rules, Block Breaker Deluxe, Bounce, Brain Challenge, EA SPORTS FIFA 08, Hooked On: Creatures of the Deep, Midnight Pool, Mile High Pinball, Reset Generation, Snakes Subsonic, The Sims 2 Pets, Space Impact: Kappa Base, System Rush: Evolution, Tetris, and World Series of Poker Pro Challenge.

Sharing is one of the features that plays a huge role in Nokia’s push for its multimedia-rich devices. Three services are currently available out-of-the box–Ovi, Flickr and Vox. We managed to log on to our Ovi and Flickr accounts without any hassle during our review. But while these readily accessible upload services let users share images, videos and multimedia, one has to bear in mind that they will need to be on a sizeable data plan to fully utilize the features. Otherwise, there might be a shocking bill at the end of the month. Strangely, the N85 isn’t among the list of supported devices for the broader Ovi platform to manage contacts and calendar.

Other applications that came preinstalled on our unit included Search (search app for both in-device content and on the Web), Maps (for navigation), QuickOffice (read-only version), PDF reader, Zip manager and Application updater.

Performance

The 1,200mAh cell is rated for about 7 hours of talktime and approximately 15 days on standby. On average, we managed to get about two days of use. This included making calls, sending messages, listening to music, surfing the Web and using the phone’s navigational features. Connecting the handset to the PC via the data cable trickle charges the device, so that’s a plus.

In use, there’s probably nothing to gripe about. We managed to zip between menus with ease, the GPS worked without a hitch, audio quality was sufficiently loud via the onboard speakers and we got decent-looking pictures with the camera in daylight conditions. The flash was a little underpowered in our Lab tests, though. For a clearer picture of how it compares with other competitors in the market, refer to our Xenon vs. LED feature here.

Conclusion

The N85 has a lot going for it. In fact, we’d even go as far to say that we’d recommend this over the N96, unless you need the larger 2.8-inch screen and DVB-H connectivity from the latter. If you are in the market for a stylish, feature-packed yet pocketable device, the N85 should be on your list for consideration.

Specs

Physical design
Phone type Slider
Dimensions (W x D x H) 103 x 50 x 16 mm
Weight w/battery 128 g
Primary display type OLED
Secondary display resolution x pixels
Phone
Network Quadband
Network type(s) GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
Connectivity options 3G, GPS, HSDPA, Bluetooth, A2DP, USB, WLAN
Calling Features Video calls
General
LCD display size 2.6-inch AM OLED QVGA
Color LCD? Yes
Performance
Operating system Symbian OS
Max. standby time (in hours) 360 hours
Internal memory 74 MB
Expansion slot(s) TransFlash / microSD
Included accessories 8GB microSD card
Other Features
Additional functions TV-out
MMS? Yes
Predictive text input? Yes
Polyphonic? Yes
Multimedia
Built-in digital camera? Yes
Maximum camera resolution 5 megapixels

MSI Wind vs. Asus Eee PC 1000H: The nitpicker’s guide

October 26, 2008

As the netbook market has matured, a number of companies have put out cheap ultraportable computers with remarkably similar specifications. And that’s left a lot of folks scratching their heads trying to figure out which netbook is the best bargain. The answer? There is no one-size fits all answer. Odds are if you’re in the market for a $400 – $500 notebook with a 9 or 10 inch screen and an Intel Atom CPU you’ll be happy with whatever you pick up. But for the nitpickers out there, Kevin Tofel of jkOnTheRun and I bring you this semi-comprehensive nitpicker’s guide to the MSI Wind and the Eee PC 1000H.

Kevin and I have been meaning to get together to compare netbooks since last month. But a series of events kept that from happening until yesterday. And since we’re both obsessive tweakers, that means we can’t present you a completely apples to apples comparison. Kevin upgraded his MSI WInd to it has 2GB of RAM instead of 1, while my Eee PC 1000H triple boots Windows XP, Mandriva 2009, and Ubuntu Eee 8.04.1.

That said, these two netbooks are remarkably similar. Each has the following specs which make them look virtually identical on paper:

  • Display: 10.2 inch, 1024 x 600 pixels
  • CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Atom
  • RAM: 1GB (upgradable to 2GB)
  • Storage: 5400rpm hard drives (Kevin’s Wind has 120GB, my Eee PC 1000H has 80GB, but both companies are releasing even higher capacity models)
  • Battery: 6 cell
  • Connectivity: 802.11b/g WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth
  • Expansion: 3 USB ports, SD card slot, VGA output, mic-input, headphone out
So what are the differences? And how do they stack up against one another in person? Read on to find out. We’ve got a bunch of pictures and two mildly unfair apples to oranges videos to show you after the break.
Dimensions
First up, there are a few minor hardware differences. The Eee PC 1000H has 802.11n support, plus a multi-touch touchpad. The MSI Wind U100 does not. The MSI Wind’s card reader accepts Sony Memory Stick media, the Eee PC 1000H’s does not.
MSI Wind U100

Left: Asus Eee PC 1000H / Right: MSI Wind U100

And there is a bit of a size and weight difference. The Eee PC 1000H measures 10.5″ x 7.5″ x 1.2″, while the MSI Wind is 10.2″ x 7.1″ x 1.2″. For the most part the difference is negligable, but since the MSI Wind screen sits lower than the Eee PC 1000H screen, it gives the illusion that the 1000H is much taller.
The Eee PC 1000H also weighs a bit more, at 3.2 pounds, while the MSI Wind weighs just 2.6. The difference is noticable, but just barely. Kevin and I took turns holding each netbook in our hands and came to the conclusion that they’re both so much lighter than your typical 5.5 pound laptop that the weight difference is virtually unnoticable.
Keyboards

Another area where the hardware differs a bit is the keyboard. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the MSI Wind keyboard, so I was excited to check it out in person. As it turns out, it’s all a matter of taste.

MSI Wind U100

Left: Asus Eee PC 1000H / Right: MSI Wind U100

The MSI WInd has a shift key that’s placed to the left of the right up arrow, making it much easier to hit. The right shift key is also much wider than the right shift key on the Eee PC 1000H. The right Ctrl key on the Wind is also larger than the right Ctrl key on the Eee PC 1000H. But to make up for the extra width, MSI shrunk the size of the period, comma, and slash/question mark keys so that they’re actually smaller than most other keys on the keyboard. I found this more annoying than the tiny right shift key on the 1000H because I use the . and , keys much more frequently than the right shift.

The two netbooks also have the Fn and Ctrl keys in different positions. On the Wind, the key on the far left is the Fn key followed by the Ctrl key. The 1000H has the Ctrl key on the outside, followed by the Fn key.

If the shift key matters to you, as it does to Kevin, the Wind is the clear winner here. But if not, Kevin and I agreed that the Eee PC seems to have a slightly more reponsive feel to its keyboard. The best word we could come up with is that it has a more “bouncy” feel to it, which makes the keyboard feel a bit more like a keyboard you would find on a full sized laptop. The keys are pretty much exactly the same size, but I find typing a tiny bit easier on the 1000H. On the other hand, and I know this is hard to tell from the image, the MSI Wind keys had slightly brighter labels. We think MSI might have used white paint while Asus chose gray.

The Eee PC 1000H also has a few user customizable buttons for launchign applications, as well as a button for toggling the display on and off, which can come in handy if you want to save power without putting the netbook to sleep. On the flip side, those buttons are thin and difficult to press properly, as is the power button. As you’ll see in the video below, I sometimes thing I’ve hit the power button when I haven’t. The Wind has a more typical power button that’s easy to press to turn your PC on and off.

Speakers and Mics

Let me start by saying this. No netbook I have ever seen (or heard) has good speakers. That said, the Eee PC 1000H clearly has better sounding speakers than the MSI Wind. They both output sound at about the same volume, which is to say, loud enough to listen to music or watch a movie in a quiet room. But the MSI Wind speakers have a tinnier sound to them. The Eee PC 1000H provides slightly fuller sound when listening through the speakers. Both netbooks palce the speakers on the bottom of the unit.

The 1000H has stereo microphnes at the base of the screen, while the MSI Wind has a mono mic at the top of the screen. The top placement is better suited for recording audio notes or talking over Skype, if you ask me. But neither mic is particularly good.

Touchpad

The Eee PC 1000H has a wider touchpad with two distinct buttons for right and left clicks. The MSI Wind has a single button that tilts left or right. The touchpad is a bit more narrow. Both are usable, and certainly better than the tiny trackpad on the first generation Eee PC 701. The 1000H trackpad also supports multi-touch gestures. For example, you can scroll up and down by placing two fingers on the touchpad and sliding them up and down at the same time.

Build

Both netbooks have shiny exteriors and matte displays. The Eee PC also has a glossy wrist wrest, which is a bit of a fingerprint magnet. The Wind has more status LEDs, which in theory lets you see what your computer is up to at a glance. But I honestly found the sheer number of LEDs to be confusing.

MSI Wind U100

Left: Asus Eee PC 1000H / Right: MSI Wind U100

It’s also easier to upgrade the RAM and hard drive on the Eee PC 1000H, thanks to a panel on the bottom of the netbook that can be accessed by removing two screws. You need to undo 8 screws to disassemble the MSI Wind case so that you can perform even the most basic upgrade like increasing the amount of RAM.

Battery Life

Kevin and I did our best to resolve this issue nearly a month ago by running a series of battery tests on our respective computers. Both have similar specs, and both have 6 cell batteries. With the CPU running at 1.6GHz, and the display and WiFi on, the Wind bested the 1000H by about 20 minutes. The Eee PC 1000H ran for about 3 hours and 19 minutes, while the MSi Wind ran for 3 hours and 39 minutes.

In power saving mode, the difference is even more noticable. The Eee PC 1000H comes with software that lets you toggle the CPU speed between 1.2GHz, 1.6GHz, and 1.7GHz, depending on whether you want to conserve your battery or boost performance. The MSI WInd has just two settings: 800Mhz and 1.6GHz. So in power saving mode, you may see more of a performance hit on the Wind than the 1000H, but it’s not difficult to perform basic tasks like surfing the web or composing documents at 800MHz.

Overall, in power saving mode, the MSI WInd U100 lasted for 4 hours and 59 minutes while the Asus Eee PC 1000H ran for 4 hours and 25 minutes.

It’s worth noting here that all of these results were obtained by running the Battery Eater test, which is designed to put some stress on your processor. In daily use, I’ve gotten close to 5 hours out of my 1000H. But based on these benchmarks, I suspect you could get as much as 5.5 hours from an MSI Wind.

Both netbooks get good battery life. But if a long-lasting battery is your top priority, it looks like the Wind is the winner in this category.

Webcam

Finally, we decided to compare the webcams. This test was a bit tricky, because we lined up the netbooks side by side and then called each other on Skype.

Asus Eee PC 1000H

Left: MSI Wind U100 / Right: Asus Eee PC 1000H

We saw a better picture on the Wind, but was it because the Wind had a better display, or because the 1000H had a better webcam? Since we’d already decided the displays were similar, we ruled in favor of the 1000H’s webcam. But just by a hair. The truth is, neither webcam was spectacular, but the 1000H webcam seems to provide a slightly sharper picture with slightly more accurate colors. Either one is good enough for making Skype video calls. I wouldn’t record my video resume on either.

Boot times and sleep performance

And finally, we ran a few completely unfair comparisons. As I mentioned, Kevin’s MSI Wind has 2GB of RAM, which is twice what my Eee PC 1000H has. And the 1000H has Mandriva 2009, Ubuntu 8.04, and Windows XP loaded, while Kevin did a fresh install of Windows yesterday. So my Windows boot would probably be slower anyway, but things were made worse by the fact that I have to wait for the GRUB bootloader to run as well.

With that in mind, here’s an unfair video comparing the boot times of the two netbooks:

Financial crisis? ‘Slow down’, says Slow Food founder

October 25, 2008

AFP – Sunday, October 26

TURIN, Italy (AFP) – – The best response to the global financial crisis is to “slow down” and return to local economies that offer better food and help protect the environment, said the founder of the Slow Food movement.

“We are tired of the policy of growth at any price, and of this greed-driven financial world that has destroyed real values,” Carlo Petrini told AFP at the movement’s biennial gathering in Turin, northern Italy.

“This consumer society creates waste, people have been reduced to the role of consumers. We need to slow down,” he said.

“It’s criminal that governments have succeeded in finding two trillion euros for the banks while they can’t find any money to save millions of people from famine,” he said.

“Thanks to this crisis, we can finally find ourselves once again with our feet on the ground and respect the real economy,” added Petrini, who joined a fight in the 1980s against McDonald’s opening a restaurant near Rome’s Spanish Steps.

Founded in 1989 with a snail as its logo, the Slow Food movement campaigns against fast food, the homogenisation of taste and the erosion of local gastronomic traditions.

The movement today counts more than 100,000 members in 132 countries, most of which are represented here every two years at the Salone del Gusto (Taste Salon).

The five-day event, which ends on Monday, is staged jointly with the Terra Madre (Mother Earth) festival bringing together 8,000 farmers and businesses committed to responsible, sustainable food production.

Tens of thousands of visitors flock to the event to savour homegrown products and sample unique taste thrills.

The variety is endless, from the black pork of Bigorre in the French Pyrenees, to raisins from Herat, Afghanistan, to Italy’s handmade buffalo milk mozzarella, to blue chicken eggs from Chile.

Eating well however is far from the sole concern of these “gastronomic activists,” as Petrini describes them.

Stefano Nocetti, a graduate student at Slow Food’s gastronomic sciences university, said: “Slow Food is a way to do politics. For us, the solution is to return to the local, the concrete, to go back to our roots. The current crisis is not palpable, people don’t understand what has happened.”

A shepherd from Sardinia, Michele Cuscusa, agreed: “This crisis is virtual, it’s not something tangible.”

Cuscusa, who makes organic goat cheese, added: “I don’t think it will affect us producers, because you have to eat.”

An oyster farmer from Thau, southern France, echoed Petrini’s urging to slow down. “We have enough to live, we don’t have to run after profits. What’s the point?” asked Annie Castaldo.

For all the anti-capitalist ethos of the event, big Italian companies such as Lavazza coffee and the Coop supermarket chain have stands here, and banking giant Intesa Sanpaolo is a sponsor.

“We are in a transition phase towards a new mode of production, and this shift also has moments of contradiction,” Petrini admitted. “We must be visionaries but pragmatic at the same time.”

As Yard Sales Boom, Sentiment Is First Thing to Go

October 25, 2008
October 25, 2008

MANTECA, Calif. — As the classified ads put it, everything must go. Socks. Christmas ornaments. Microwave ovens. Three-year-old Marita Duarte’s tricycle was sold by her mother, Beatriz, to a stranger for $3 even as her daughter was riding it.

On Mission Ridge Drive and other avenues, lanes and ways in this formerly booming community, even birthday celebrations must go. “It was no money, no birthday,” said Ms. Duarte, who lost her job as a floral designer two months ago. The family commemorated Marita’s third birthday without presents last week, the occasion marked by a small cake with Cinderella on the vanilla frosting. They will move into a rental apartment next month.

An eternity ago, people in this city in northern San Joaquin County braved four-hour round-trip commutes to the San Francisco Bay Area for a toehold on the dream. Today, Manteca’s lawns and driveways are storefronts of the new garage-sale economy — the telltale yellow signs plastered in the rear windows of parked cars Friday through Sunday directing traffic to yet another sale, yet another family.

“You can get great deals,” said Sharrell Johnson, 32, who was scouting for toys in the Indian summer heat last Friday amid boxes of tools and DVDs and forests of little skirts and shirts dangling from plastic hangers on suspended rope. “Sad to say, you’re finding really good things. Because everybody’s losing their homes.”

The garage-sale economy is flourishing here and in many other regions of the country, so much so that some cities have begun cracking down. With more residents trying to increase their income, the city of Weymouth, Mass., limited yard sales to just three a year per address. Detective Sgt. Richard Fuller said it was now common to see 15 cars parked in front of a house.

Richmond, Ind., has had such an onslaught of garage sale signs posted in the right of way that the city has placed stickers on prominent light poles warning of violations and fines.

But it is a Sisyphean task: Manteca’s ordinance, restricting residents to two sales a year, is widely ignored.

The sales are part of the once-underground “thrift economy,” as a team of Brigham Young University sociologists have called it, which includes thrift stores, pawn shops and so-called recessionistas name-brand shopping at Goodwill.

“This is the perfect storm for garage sales,” said Gregg Kettles, a visiting professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who studies outdoor commerce. “We’re coming off a 20-year boom in which consumers filled ever-bigger houses. Now people need cash because of the bust.”

And so the garages and yards of Manteca, some tinder-dry from neglect, offer a crash course in kitchen-table economics each weekend. On Klondike Way: “Tools, various household items, & much more!” On Virginia Street: “Moving Sale! Fridge, washer & dryer, men’s clothing, bike, BBQ, dinette, dresser, fans, microwaves, recliner, DVD player. Everything must go!”

When life’s daily trappings and keepsakes are laid out for sale on a collapsible table, sentiment is the first thing to go. “The cash helps a lot,” Constantino Gonzalez, Ms. Duarte’s neighbor, said of the family’s second sale in two weeks, in which he and his wife, Julia, were reluctantly selling their children’s inflatable bounce house for $650, with pump.

Since losing his construction job, Mr. Gonzalez, 43, has been economizing, disconnecting the family’s Internet and long-distance telephone service, and barely using his truck and the Jeep, strewn with leaves in the driveway. He has taken to picking up his children from school on his bicycle, with 6-year-old Daniel on the handlebars, cushioned by a terry-cloth towel.

The inflatable bounce house is the children’s favorite toy, but the family’s $1,800 mortgage payment is coming. So it sits propped up in its bright blue case, awaiting customers, many of them desperate themselves. Customers are searching for bargains on necessities so they might chip away at the rent, the truck payment, the remodeling bill on the credit card.

“We need to eat,” Mr. Gonzalez tells his children about selling off their toys. “I can’t cover the sun with my finger. So why lie?”

As he spoke, he watched his neighbor across the street pull out of her driveway with her family for the last time, their pickup truck piled high with chairs, firewood and other belongings, like modern Joads from Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.” “Bad loan,” explained the neighbor, Alex Martinez, who works nights at an automobile assembly plant in faraway Fremont. The garage sale she had held the week earlier barely made a dent.

As the family drove off, a woman with frosted hair wearing high heels got out of a parked car and placed a sign in the window of the former Martinez place: “Coming Soon: Innovative Realty.”

This is McCain-Palin placard country, where signs for the anti-gay-marriage state ballot measure, “Yes on 8,” pepper the landscape and billboards advertising “Buy Now/Low Rates” seem like grim fossils of a bygone age. Manteca lies at an epicenter of the foreclosure crisis, with median home values having fallen by nearly half since 2006, from $440,000 to the current $225,000. In San Joaquin County, Moody’s has estimated that more than 1 in 10 houses with mortgages have a payment that is more than 30 days late. Unemployment rates have increased by a third, from 7.6 percent in September 2007 to 10.2 percent this fall, said Hans Johnson, a demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California.

Before the downturn, Manteca, population 67,700, and other towns in the northern San Joaquin Valley were on the leading edge of growth, with stucco subdivisions carved out of almond orchards. Today some 1,500 to 2,000 homes in Manteca, which is 32.7 percent Hispanic, are in various stages of foreclosure.

Paul Farnsworth’s garage on Widgeon Way was a latter-day five and dime, his driveway an eclectic assortment of artificial flowers, cookie jars, decanters, spotlights, radar detectors, Hot Wheels miniature cars, a Dirt Devil. Mr. Farnsworth’s recent garage sales supplement his income as a manager for a beverage distributor, which pays about half of what he made as an apricot and cherry farmer in nearby Tracy. (He was laid off when the farm was sold.) Neither he nor his wife Ann, a beautician, can afford to retire.

“People want things for half, and I don’t blame them,” observed Mr. Farnsworth, 65, adding that only one couple that morning had not dickered on the price. His own house, appraised at $375,000 three years ago, is worth $200,000 today. He has resorted to holding garage sales “to help make payments on a house that’s worth less than what I owe,” he said, the irony not lost on him.

Ebi Yeri’s yard held big-ticket items: beds, a smoked-glass and black lacquer dinette set and — the pièce de résistance — a 51-inch Hitachi projection television that he had replaced with a plasma flat screen. Still, it pained Mr. Yeri to sell. He had it set thematically to the HGTV channel, figuring that “a judge show might offend somebody.”

Mr. Yeri, 35, was decluttering to offset losses in his 401(k), which he described as “in the tank.” He said he also cut costs by being “lighter on the foot,” driving 10 miles an hour slower than the speed limit on his 156-mile commute to and from his software job in San Jose.

On Chenin Blanc Drive, Robert Dadey, a car salesman, was holding his 20th garage sale. “I need money,” he said simply about selling the Oakland Raiders memorabilia, teddy bears and $40 brown ultrasuede recliner in his midst on the lawn. “It’s bad times.”

W902 – Phone summary

October 20, 2008

Size 110.0 x 49.0 x 11.7 mm / 4.3 x 1.9 x 0.5 inches
Weight 99.8 g / 3.5 oz
Available colours Volcanic Black Wine Red Earth Green
Screen
Memory Phone memory 25MB* Memory Stick Micro™ (M2™) support (up to 8 GB)
Actual free memory may vary due to phone pre-configuration
Networks GSM 850 GSM 900 GSM 1800 GSM 1900 EDGE UMTS 2100 HSDPA
Performance

GSM 850
GSM 900
GSM 1800
GSM 1900
EDGE
UMTS 2100
HSDPA

Talk time (up to)
9 hours
9 hours
9 hours
9 hours

4 hours
Standby time (up to)
380 hours
380 hours
380 hours
380 hours

360 hours
Video call
(up to)





2 hours 30 min
Camera

  • Photo fix
  • Picture blogging
  • BestPic™
  • Camera
  • Video record
Music

  • Shake control
  • TrackID™
  • PlayNow™
Internet

  • Web browser
  • RSS feeds
Connectivity

  • PictBridge
  • Synchronisation PC
  • USB support
  • Modem
  • Bluetooth™ technology
Messaging

  • SMS long (Text Messaging)
  • MMS (Multimedia Messaging)
  • Email:
  • Predictive text input
Communication

  • Video call
  • Speaker phone
Organiser

  • Phone book
  • Flight mode
  • Alarm clock
  • Contacts
  • Calendar

8GB Walkman® Video MP3 Player

October 19, 2008

Sony NWZ-E438 8GB Walkman MP4 Video Player & FM tuner

Sony NWZ-E436F Walkman

October 19, 2008

What you need to know

We like:

Cheap; easy to use; desirable extras such as an FM tuner, user-customisable EQ and support for Rhapsody To Go and Amazon Video On Demand; great sound quality

We don’t like:

No memory expansion; no integrated podcast support; subscription-content syncing is slow

CNET.co.uk judgement:

The Sony E-Series Walkman is an excellent option for anyone looking for an easy-to-use MP3 player with a pocketable design, a long battery life, handy features, and solid sound quality

Score:

7.5 Very good

Full Review

Reviewed 17 October 2008

It can’t be avoided: any new MP3 player is in direct competition with the Apple iPod, and manufacturers are well aware of this fact. Some pack their players with boatloads of extras, while others create unique and purportedly useful design elements.

The Sony E-Series Walkman, on the other hand, is just as easy to use as the iPod nano, offers a similar array of features and delivers great sound quality — but costs less. Unfortunately this flash player doesn’t come in a 16GB model, but the 4GB version is going for around £65.

Design
The Sony E-Series has a fairly standard design, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it makes the player very straightforward to operate. Below the 51mm (2-inch) screen are the main playback controls: a five-way control pad, a back/home button and an option key that brings up various contextual menus. Sony includes a dedicated volume rocker on the right spine — always a nice touch — as well as a hold switch.

The bottom of the unit houses the standard 3.5mm headphone jack and a proprietary USB port. The E-Series measures a compact 64mm tall by 43mm wide by 8mm deep, so it’s definitely pocket-friendly and would not be an unreasonable thing to strap to your arm or waistband at the gym. It comes in a variety of colours to suit most tastes: black, red, pink or blue.

Features
The menus on the E-Series are typical of most recent Walkman lines. The main menu features a grid of icons that indicate the player’s principle functions. Sadly, there’s no option to change the wallpaper or theme for this Walkman: white font on a black background is what you get. In the music submenu, items are sorted by ID3 tag into playlists, artists, albums and so on, or you may navigate by folder (as it is arranged on your desktop). Tracks are split into sections of letters (A-B, C-E, and so forth) for speedy navigation, and you may browse albums by album art for a more visual experience. Album art can also be magnified on the playback screen, though not to full screen.

Getting music and other content onto the player is an easy process — it works with a variety of jukeboxes (such as Windows Media Player or Rhapsody), or you can use the fabulously light Sony Content Transfer app, which allows for drag and drop from your hard drive or from the iTunes interface.

The E-Series Walkman’s features are slightly different than those offered by the Apple iPod nano — it’s a matter of personal preference which you find more suitable. The E-Series supports MP3, WMA, unprotected AAC and LPCM (lossless) audio, and has Rhapsody DNA, so you can transfer Rhapsody Channels and other subscription content. The device also plays photos (JPEG) and video (MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, and WMV), though the latter often requires conversion for the screen — a 262K colour TFT number with a 240×320 resolution (QVGA).

The player supports videos purchased and rented from Amazon Video On Demand, as well. When you get sick of digital, you can tune into the integrated FM radio, which offers an autoscan function and 30 preset slots. Notably absent from this Walkman is any support for podcasts.

Performance
The E-Series Walkman is excellent nearly across the board. Music sounds exceptionally clean, clear and balanced, with good presence on the low-end, warm, rich mids and detailed highs. Sony includes a variety of sound-enhancement options, including four presets and two five-band custom EQs. So if the flat setting doesn’t do it for you, you should have no problem tweaking the sound to your liking.

We recommend swapping in your favourite pair of headphones, as the stock earbuds sound just decent and may not be comfortable for everyone. Videos and photos look bright and crisp on the small screen, and viewing angles are good, though the screen is susceptible to glare. Of course, the show-stealer for some is the stellar rated battery life of 45 hours for audio and 8 hours for video. The one issue we had during testing concerned some transfer hang-ups while syncing Rhapsody To Go content — drag and drop was much speedier.

Conclusion
The Sony E-Series Walkman is an excellent option for anyone looking for an easy-to-use MP3 player with a pocketable design, a long battery life, handy features, and solid sound quality. Its good value makes it competitive against the likes of the popular Apple iPod nano.

Your lifestyle of new poverty

October 19, 2008

Posted date: October 18, 2008

LONDON—I’m frightfully scared, aren’t you?Last rites have yet to be administered, but Lenin, who said “capitalists will sell the very rope from which we will hang them,” must be laughing in his sarcophagus.

After injecting sums with gazillion zeroes into the sclerotic global financial system, European-style socialism and communist China’s capitalism are sounding the death knell for unfettered capitalism.

While financial meltdown seems to have been temporarily staved off, the global recession, which every pundit says will be profound, painful and prolonged, has become frighteningly personal. We are swimming, or sinking, in uncharted waters. The usually bland Ernst & Young Item Club declared the outlook to resemble a “horror movie.”

The UK jobless total is expected to top two million by Christmas. The cost of living—winter fuel, petrol, food—is punishingly Himalayan.

Normally cool, I’m not given to panic, but the real prospect of my hard-earned savings disappearing into the plughole spooked me. Until I secured them, I was in fits of wild despair.

It’s said that we have a pessimism that makes us take our umbrellas to the beach on a fine summer day, but the portents aren’t good and without money. Honey, you’re up the creek without a lifesaving paddle!

You wish we didn’t need money so much, but as Guy de Rothschild (and he should know) said: “Everybody has some, nobody has enough. It’s the lifeblood of economy, the all-purpose tool, the instrument of success. It heals, saves, kills. It circulates, disappears and corrupts. We dream about it, hide and lose it, waste, disdain and adore it. People use it to reflect their desires, frustrations and ambitions. It’s a universal commodity, embellished with the whole range of human emotions. It’s the measure of our existence.”

As the wheels come off the economy, extravagances are falling by the wayside, except for petrodollar-rich emirs, Russian oligarchs and billionaire tycoons who have incredibly grand homes in this hugely attractive country, still enjoying douceur de vivre.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s continue to command record prices for art. Multimillion-pound yachts that are the envy of navies around the world are moored off the Solent. And, feeling flush, you could still blow the entire GDP of a small African state on lunch at Le Gavroche.

It could be we’re entering the tunnel at the end of the light. The sky hasn’t fallen, but we question our lifestyle and material greed, and now have to trim our sails to suit prevailing winds.

A barrister friend, who charges thousands of pounds just to clear his throat, said the Hail Mary every time he filled up his SUV with petrol. He has ditched it for a Mini. Cycling is in vogue; people are walking more.

Frugalistas are cutting up credit cards, paying off mountains of debt and loving second-hand frocks from eBay and Oxfam.

Instead of takeouts and restaurant meals, we’re cooking and entertaining at home, playing Scrabble, amusing ourselves with bodice-ripping TV dramas and Guy Ritchie’s and Madonna’s divorce.

Nesting, cocooning and growing your own vegetables are in. So are vacations at home, where museums, concert halls and theaters are bursting with art and culture, instead of in Barcelona or Prague.

Once a famously energetic throwaway society, we’re mending socks and things, being inventive with leftovers. Swapping clothes, goods and services on Freecycle. We’re saying “no” to some of the world’s most indulged and spoilt children, teaching them grit, gumption and delayed gratification, as befits the generation that will inherit the most humongous of national debts.

Readying ourselves for hard times, we’re budgeting and scrimping, because crass consumption is no longer aspirational—being thrifty is.

We’re tightening our belts, hunkering down and battening down the hatches, installing wood-burning stoves, wearing layers of socks, scarves and sweaters to ward off the autumnal chill and big fuel bills.

A New Yorker cartoon has the man saying to his wife: “If we take a late retirement and an early death, we’ll just squeak by.”

In these straitened times, we’ll dread one day at a time. But despite the brutal necessity of economizing, we have, as Keynes exhorted, a sovereign duty to spend, to keep the global economy moving, creating goods that create wealth.

We may be powerless to pump muscularity back into the markets, but we’re free to restore some measure of hope in this new world of simple and austere content.

So, stiffen the sinew; this cloud, too, has a silver lining. This may yet be our finest hour.

Still True: Live Within Your Means

October 18, 2008
October 18, 2008
Cost of Living

AS devastating as it is to hear about the global financial crisis, to watch institutions collapse and investors panic, it’s not exactly a picnic out here on the sidelines.

Countless ordinary Americans are now dealing with a crisis of a personal nature. They’re stunned by how quickly the turmoil on Wall Street is spilling over to their own lives and wallets. And few have the slightest idea how to cope, now that normal remedies don’t seem to apply.

“It’s frightening,” said Andrew Hamersley, an Episcopal priest based in Westfield, N.J. “I’m hearing a lot of people say that they can’t retire when they want to.” He worries about congregants who are losing their jobs, and people who have withdrawn tens of thousands of dollars from the bank and stashed it at home.

The anxiety is at a peak — and it seems to be contagious. “I’m consciously not opening the mail,” Mr. Hamersley admitted, referring to his own retirement statements. “I don’t want to look.”

In small doses, anxiety can act as a jolt, a wake-up call that prompts people to overcome inertia and take action. But this crisis is so complex and overwhelming that it seems to have pushed many people over a line, into a state akin to helplessness. “It’s like September 12th,” said Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist based in New York. “People know the world has changed, but no one knows exactly how.”

“I feel unnerved,” said Robin Bruck-Tanner, a former assistant principal with the New York City Department of Education. Ms. Bruck-Tanner, who is 55, was planning to draw upon her pension next year, but now she questions whether that is the right move.

She and her husband took an early retirement to move upstate. They started a pottery business, Loving Earth Studio in Arkville. Their investments were such that the move seemed viable, as long as they lived modestly.

“Now we’re wondering, were we stupid to have left our jobs so early?” Ms. Bruck-Tanner said.

She said that they were trying to restore their previous financial stability, but she was not sure it was worthwhile to build up a bigger savings cushion — a personal finance standby. “I’m stocking up on food and other things,” she said. “I feel like cash is losing its value. I’d rather use our money to buy things we need.”

IT’S strange that during a time of such emotional and fiscal chaos, some of the golden rules of personal finance — save more, spend less, invest for the long haul — may seem undervalued.

John Hoina, a podiatrist in Bethpage, N.Y., said he couldn’t see any reason to save. “You wish you had more in reserves. But I look at my investments and think, my God, all that savings — lost.”

Although he would like to take his money out of the market, that seems even more pointless. “If I take it out, I get hit with a loss and I’m penalized on top of it. So you have to sit with it.”

I sympathize. I feel as frozen (and cynical) as anyone else right now — and I’ve battled some unholy impulses to cash out my Roth I.R.A. and open a line of credit on my house while I can still get one. But I’m worried about the apparent decline of those basic guidelines.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that when any sort of fiscal-emotional fog descends, you may be your own worst enemy.

There is far too much evidence, behaviorally and even neurologically, that we humans are the most irrational of economic agents, a fact that is not helping anyone right now.

So if you’re sitting on the sidelines enduring the Big Wait, as a friend calls this market limbo, do yourself and your money a favor. Ignore fear; it doesn’t help. Re-examine the financial basics; there’s a reason “Live within your means” has lasted.

Become a better steward of your money. It is still yours, isn’t it?