Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Snow is Here! Top 10 Ice and Snow Driving Tips!

It has finally snowed!  The roads are a bit slick, but no worries I have been driving on slick roads every winter for the past 14 years.   Recently, I took a drive from Cleveland to Baltimore in the middle of a snowstorm, passed at least 50 cars off the road and it took me double the time it normally takes.  During this drive, I came up with the following list:

Top 10 Ice and Snow Driving Tips!


  1. Slow Down! – #1 tip, drive significantly slower than if the roads were clear.
  2. Appropriate Tires – have all-season (or better yet snow tires) on your car; a BMW M3 with high performance tires is not going to make it up a hill, stay at home!
  3. Check your Tread Depth – if the tires are low on tread be extra careful, if they are bald and the core is visible, stay at home!
  4. Relax and Stay Calm – Sudden braking, accelerating and/or turning is problematic; slowly take your foot off the gas if you start to slide until you regain control.  See #5.
  5. Turn into a Slide – If the back end is going right, turn the wheel right.  This is not necessarily instinctive, practice putting your car into a slide (at your own risk!) in an open parking lot and removing from it to learn.
  6. Anticipate Stopping – it’s going to take longer to stop, especially if you start sliding
  7. Do Not Pump Your Brakes – let ABS do the work, unless of course you do not have ABS…
  8. Leave Room – keep plenty of distance between vehicles, see #6.
  9. 4 Wheel Drive/All Wheel Drive – Just because you have it, doesn’t mean you will not slide.  It only helps in accelerating and climbing hills.
  10. Slow Down! – See #1.


Are there any other important ones I missed?  Please post in the comments!

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01 2013

Editing Videos With Windows Movie Maker

This is a follow up to my post on Open Source Video Editing as I was not able to find an adequate open source program that would accomplish transitions and title screens.  Eventually, I discovered that Windows includes Windows Movie Maker with Windows XP SP2 or later.  At first glance, it looks like it will accomplish everything I need.  One problem, it will not directly open my DVD video files.  After further research, it appears that Avidemux will convert DVD to AVI or MPEG2.  Windows Movie Maker does not appear to support MPEG4, DiVX or Xvid.  This is fine as I want the final movie I create to be playable on any computer without having to download a codec.

Windows Movie Maker was very successful and easy to use to complete my quick project by allowing me to add a title screen, remove the background audio, add music, sequence everything correctly and add some credits at the end.  The whole project took less than 30 minutes and had the ability to save the file in the WMA format which was easy to play on any Windows based computer.

Update:  Windows Movie Maker is now part of the Windows Live Essentials 2011 pack and is available for download for free from Microsoft.

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01 2010

Open Source Movie Editing Software

Screen Shot of Avidemux

The goal of this project is to figure out how to take multiple  DVD video files (*.VOB) from a Sony Handy Cam and compile them all into one video with various transitions, effects and title screens.  The program I use does not have to be anything fancy, but should have the basics mentioned above.  I am by no means an expert in this subject, but I have previously used Adobe Premiere Pro with digital video (DV), capturing the video over Firewire.  I am not able to use this same method as the Sony Handy Cam I am currently using records to a mini DVD.   I also no longer have legal access to Adobe Premiere Pro.

The first software package I tried was VirtualDub, but I got the following error when trying to open the VOB file;  “MPEG Import Filter: invalid pack at position 3: marker bit not set; possibly MPEG-2 stream.”  Okay, so this tells me I need to convert the video file before editing it with this program.  After further investigation, it does not appear that VirtualDub is going to allow me to do transitions and title screens.  It is time to search for another open source/free program.

The List of free and open source software packages on Wikipedia seems like a good place to start.  The first one on the list, Avidemux is able to convert my DVD based files into various file types (AVI, DVD compatible MPEG files, MP4, ASF, etc) , but still does not provide transitions or title screens.  It also provides simple cutting, encoding and various filters, but not quite what I need.

None of the other programs on the Wikipedia list seem to fit my needs.  However, it does seem that there are few awesome video editors for Linux/Unix platform.  I am unable to use any of these as I am limited to Windows XP.  I have come to the conclusion that a good open source alternative to Adobe Premiere or Final Cut for Windows does not exist right now.  Does anyone else know of one?

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01 2010

K-Lite Codec Pack is Awesome

If one has ever experienced a problem with playing an audio or video file on a Windows based computer with Windows Media Player or any other player then a codec might need to be installed.  A codec allows encoding or decoding of digital data (video, audio, etc). Currently, the K-Lite Codec Pack  is in version 4.8.2 available at It provides all the different codecs available in six different configuration packages from Basic, Standard, Full, Mega, Corporate to 64-bit.


The basic package contains all of the general codecs and will not install a seperate player onto your system.  It will use Windows Media Player to play most of the standard types of files.  This might be a useful package to install on a business oriented computer that contains only the essential programs to perform the task.


The standard package includes a copy of  Media Player Classic – Homecinema, MPEG-2 for DVD playback, FLAC and Wavpack audio files.  It is an extremely useful media player with many different options for playback, but is very minimilistic in design and most importantly on system resources.  It is modeled after Windows Media Player v6.4.  This version is fairly complete and useful for users wanting most of the features in a relatively small package.


The full package contains  more codecs for audio and video decoding and encoding including the lossless audio formats for any audiophiles out there.   However, the only real advantage to installing the Full Package over the Mega package is if  Real Alternative is not needed.  Real Alternative allows the playback of all  RealMedia formats without having to install RealPlayer and tying up even more system resources with another media player.


Mega includes even more codecs to play or encode any sort of audio or video formats and includes RealPlayer.  This is the package that most PC  power users, like myself, would want to install.  On top of this, it is also useful to install Quicktime Alternative to avoid having to install iTunes and any other Appleware to be able to play the Quicktime format.


The corporate package is similar in contents to the full package, but has a strong focus on open source software.


The 64-bit package provides the codecs that have been optimized to run on 64-bit versions of Windows.  However, since a good majority of programs are still 32-bit versions running on 64-bit versions of Windows it is recommended to also install one of the 32-bit packages from above.

VLC Player

Cannot install anything?  Do not have administrative privleges? Then VLC Player is the correct player to use.  It includes its own plugins for playing most movie and audio formats so it does not need any codecs to be installed.  It is even packaged in a Portable App for easy download and “installation” to a portable USB drive.

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05 2009

Earning 3% back at CostCo Wholesale

Most people that know me, know that I am a huge fan of CostCo.  I love everything about them from the product selection to customer service to the way they treat their employees.  I have never really had a bad experience shopping at a location.  However, I do try to avoid the store on the weekends at all cost as the crowds can be overwhelming.

I just recently renewed my membership and upgraded to the Executive Level which gives me 2% back (pre-tax) on all purchases.  It also gives me a nice fancy black card that sets me apart from the rest.  The cost of this membership level is $100 upfront, but even if you don’t spend enough to get the 2% back they will send you a check to make up the difference to the basic $50 membership level.  So the membership never costs more than $50 a year. (Edit: They told me this at the counter, but I have not seen this stipulation in writing.)  The only downside is you are giving CostCo $50 of your dollars to invest.  However, I plan on spending more than enough to recover my $50 and then some.  Between myself and the other card holding member I would expect to spend a conservative $3000.

$3000 * .02 = $60 check

$60 – $50 Executive Costs = $10 earned over the regular membership

Even if you only make $10 on the deal, that works out to be a 20% return on the extra $50 investment.  Granted you did have to spend $2500 at CostCo before obtaining this award.  This is similar to a rewards credit card that has variable tiered reward payouts and will only offer a reward after the $2500 mark.  Keep in mind that the maximum reward payable by CostCo is $500… if you just happen to be a family or business spending more than $25,000 there a year.

Now, if you also get the American Express TrueEarnings Card you get 3% back on gasoline, 3% back at restaurants, 2% back on travel and 1% back on everything else, including CostCo.  Add this to the 2% back from the Executive membership and you are accumulating 3% back at CostCo after you spend $2500 there.  This is a pretty good rate and works out to be:

$3000 * .01 = $30 + $10 = $40 back for that year.  This comes out to be 1.3%.  Of course this rate increases the more you spend because of the need to spend $2500 to cover the extra membership cost.  If you did spend the maximum of $25000 the rate would be:

$25000-$2500 = $22500 * .02 = $450 net earned (not counting the $50 for the regular membership)

$25000 * .01 = $250

Total = $700 back for the year or 2.8% overall of your total spent.

Who ever said shopping does not pay?

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02 2009

Circuit City from Good to Great to Gone

Circuit City Closed

Circuit City Closed

It is a sad day to see Circuit City finally close their doors.  There was a small hope that they could close a few stores, make well with their creditors, and continue doing business after filing Chapter 11 last year.  The problem is the chances of this happening are next to none.  In fact, this has never happened with a big box electronics retailer.

After all, who would loan money to a failing business?  Who would allow products to be sold on credit and hope that the company would be able to pay their bills next month?  A company with a great status and credit rating is able to have all of this.  In fact, they were proclaimed in 2001as a great company by Jim Collins in his book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t.” They apparently could not be great forever.

“The study began with a field of 1,435 companies and emerged with a list of 11 good-to-great companies: Abbott Laboratories, Circuit City, Fannie Mae, Gillette Co., Kimberly-Clark Corp., the Kroger Co., Nucor Corp., Philip Morris Cos. Inc., Pitney Bowes Inc., Walgreens, and Wells Fargo.”  The book stresses the need for great companies to have great people to propel it forward and all of the previous companies had this at the time of publishing.  It is deemed the flywheel effect – as long as great people are continuously propelling the wheel forward it will not completely stall.  The momentum from the wheel moving forward drives innovation, development, sales and eventually profit.

Most people would agree that the majority of the problems started occurring when Phil Schoonover took over as CEO on March 1st, 2006.  Exactly a year later, in March 2007 he decided to layoff 3,400 of its highest paid sales people.  The exact thing that Jim Collins said makes a great company he just got rid of because they were “too expensive”. The good sales people were at the front of the wheel, pushing the product out the door and when that slowed so did everything else behind it. This effectively slowed the motion of the flywheel and less than a two years later it came to a complete stop.   Did Phil Schoonover not read this book or even hear about it?  Did he not realize that people mainly shopped at Circuit City for the customer service and knowledgeable sales staff?

Probably not.  After all, what is personal in your face customer service in a big box retailer anymore?  It is one of the only things that they have above online retailers.  The other thing that they have is the physical product on display.  They have the ability for the consumer to inspect, hold, try out and instantly take home the product.  They need to exaggerate this, have their best salesmen trying to convince you to purchase and make the shopping experience phenomenal.  If not, why not go home, purchase the product for cheaper online and wait 3-5 days for it to arrive?

Even with the the liquidation sales at the remaining Circuit City stores, do not expect to find an amazing deal.  This was noticed at their first round of closing during the end of last year.  It was typical to find an item marked up to Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) or higher and then the discount taken from that.  This means that the same item whether laptop, flat panel TV, or speakers could usually be found at a competing big box retailer for significantly cheaper.  It was always cheaper through an online retailer. The only time that a deal might be found is in the last week or two of the liquidation sale when the percentages are 40-50% off, but by then not much worthwhile could be had.

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02 2009

Saving Money with a Programmable Thermostat

Yesterday, I installed a Honeywell programmable thermostat to automatically regulate the temperature in my house. It will work well as my schedule is pretty typical for the work week. It was relatively easy and only involved disconnecting the old thermostat and reconnecting 4 wires.  Fortunately, all of the wires were correctly labeled Yellow, White, Red, and Green so it made installation a breeze!  Follow the instructions that are included with your unit.

Now, I need to work out the details as far as the programming.  Here are the factory defaults for the work week.


  • 6:00 AM – 70° F
  • 8:00 AM – 62° F
  • 6:00 PM – 70° F
  • 10:00 PM – 62° F

  • 6:00 AM – 78° F
  • 8:00 AM – 85° F
  • 6:00 PM – 78° F
  • 10:00 PM – 82° F

Now, I won’t be talking about the summer settings as I am not able to figure those out at the moment.  I tried the default settings for this morning and it seemed like the furnace was running the whole two hours to try to get the house back up to 70° F.  This can’t be good.  I never kept the house this warm with the old thermostat. So here’s my first attempt at a modified schedule.  I’ll update this post after I let it run through a bit.


  • 6:00 AM – 66° F – I’ll keep it a bit warmer for waking up in the morning.
  • 8:00 AM – 60° F – This seems like the minimum I should go for right now.
  • 6:00 PM – 65° F – I used to keep it at 65° whenever we were home with the old one.
  • 11:00 PM – 62° F – Turning the heat down at night will be new to me to help save money.

I do not feel like our house is well insulated, so I wanted to keep the temperature swings a bit less to prevent the furnace from running for hours to heat the house back up to a reasonable temperature.  I have also seen other sites recommend turning it back 10-15 degrees, but I have tropical fish tanks in the house so I do not feel comfortable going much lower than 60°.  The fish tank heaters will only compensate 15-20 degrees of ambient temperature.  The fish like to be at least 75°.

Here are two other websites with more information on using a programmable thermostat.

1/21/2009 Update:  The temperature settings seem to be working well.  I just hope it ends up lowering my gas bill!

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01 2009