A couple of Xmas shopping deals

Found out about an Amazon deal on their Amazon Prime Shipping. Until the end of the year, it’s discounted 20 bucks, but only if you go through this special link. Apparently it’s some kind of tie in with Ellen Degeneres or something. This is a good deal for regular Amazon customers, as it gets you free two day shipping on pretty much everything you order.

Also found this site called Free Shipping Day. A bunch of stores are banding together and offering free shipping this Thursday, the 18th. That’s the last day you can order anything and get guaranteed delivery by Xmas. So if you need to get that last minute shopping done, check out those sites on Thursday.

Snacks are good!

Found this deal today while messing around on my daily reads: $20 off $50 at Amazon Grocery.

The gist of it is if you buy $50 worth of various Kellogg’s and other brand products from Amazon, then use the code KELLOGG1 at check out, they’ll cut $20 off the order. It’s also eligible for free shipping.

Now, Amazon’s bulk prices are not the best, but they’re not bad either. Plus there’s a lot of good stuff on this deal, such as various cereals and breakfast foods, assorted crackers, various types of cookies, etc. I bought some Mini Wheats (I love these in the morning), couple types of cookies, and Rice Krispie treats, for a total of $30.

The problem is Amazon’s organization. Finding what you want in smaller amounts (instead of gianormous bulk quanities) can be tricky. I suggest going to this page, clicking through to the type of thing you want, then sorting the resulting list by price (low to high). The smaller quantities are at the lower prices as well.

Amazon Price Drops and You

I found a site a while back that has a rather interesting concept to it. So I used it when I had the chance, and today it paid off in a very nice way…

See, Amazon guarantees their prices for 30 days. So if you buy something from them and the price drops within 30 days, they’ll refund you the difference. Proof of this is right on Amazon’s Customer Service pages. Very cool, but many retailers will do much the same thing.

Slight problem with this is that you have to notice the price drop and then request the refund. So the most likely scenario is that you get no refund. Which is presumably fine with Amazon. And why not?

Anyway, NukePrice is really clever. When you buy something from Amazon, you go there and put in the link to the item you just bought and your email address. Then, for 30 days, it will check the price of the item and if it drops, it emails you. Not just emails you, but gives you a link to the Amazon refund request page and instructions on how to get your refund.

I used it back on the 31st when I bought my new Samsung 4642H. Today, it emails me and tells me that the price has now dropped $100. So, woo hoo! Free $100. Very cool.

They also have a downloadable tool which can do price watching for you automatically, on all your Amazon purchases. Very clever. I haven’t tried it yet, but if you do a lot of buying, then it’s probably worth the trouble.

Finally bought a TV

So, I finally caved and bought a big HDTV.

I talked about getting one before, but I’m essentially broke at the moment, having spent so much on moving and such. However, I finally compromised my inherent desire for “the best” and decided to get one that “will work for now”. But, everybody that commented there, and most people I talked to, told me that Samsung has the current best LCD panels. They got the highest reviews pretty much everywhere, so I satisfied the inherent need to have the best that way instead. 🙂

On the plus side, I was able to get a powered wall mount for free through my American Express rewards points, so that’s pretty cool. It’ll let the Samsung TV be wall mounted and movable with the remote, so I can tilt and angle the thing easily. It also makes it mount flush to the wall when the set is off, but allows it to come out from the wall 4-5 inches when the set is on. Neat.

The set and wall mount should arrive sometime next week. Amazon has pretty awesome shipping policies with regard to their higher end items: Free white-glove shipping. Very nice. I highly recommend buying your next set from them, unless you know somebody who can hook you up with wholesale price. Even then, the sales tax costs might make it a better deal to go online. It did in my case.

Fun with a Roomba

So I purchased a Roomba at the Woot off the other day. After I bought the condo, a good friend of mine (who also lives here) mentioned the device, but didn’t know the name. Being the consummate geek that I am, I knew he was talking about the Roomba, and furthermore knew that they had several flavors of it now. And the fact of the matter is that he was right, it seems perfectly suited for this place. So when I saw one at the Woot off for only $120 (+$5 shipping), it seemed like a good idea. In fact, I think it turned out to be one of the best bargains ever.

The one I got is a “Discovery 4296” which is nothing more than a word with a number, really. The thing is basically an automatic sweeper. With hardwood or low carpets/rugs (not shag) it’s clearly perfect. Basically it sweeps the floor with rotating brushes and sweeps the crap into a bin, whereupon you dump it. It’s particularly good with hair and other small debris, like the weird pebbles that keep falling out of my ceiling. It also does a decent job of dust in general, although it tends to throw it about a bit. But it seems to get it after a few passes.

One thing I do not like is the bin. It’s too small, and it’s positioned wrong. The upshot of this is that you have to use it every other day, and you have to be *extremely* careful when emptying it. The first time I emptied it, I dumped a large amount of crap onto the floor. Takes some practice, so expect it.

Naturally, being a geek, I’m interested in the algorithms involved. It has a few. They probably have technical names, but here’s the lowdown:
1. Roaming – It roams off in some random direction for a long distance. This is the primary way that it cleans the center of rooms. However, when you consider it, the center areas of rooms don’t tend to be the dirty ones.. It’s the edges that build up the mess. So it has…
2. Edge finding – I think the manual calls this wall roaming. It tends to do this a lot, however I’ve seen it walking the edge of my rug as well. Which is actually a good thing, as those edges tend to pick up debris too. Finally, it has:
3. Spot cleaning – This is an interesting mode. You can force it by placing it somewhere and hitting the “spot” button, but in normal “clean” mode, it will wander around and occasionally switch into this mode. A blue light labeled “dirt detector” comes on, and it runs around in circles for a while, eventually heading off in some random direction.

Few other things:
– Home base – If you get the model with the home base charger, then after it’s satisfied with the area or low enough on battery, it will go home and dock for charging. This can be forced as well with the remote (if you have one). Watching it dock is a lot of fun for your average geek, because the way it does it is clearly via two infrared beams on either side of the dock. It hits them, and turns away from them, back and forth, hunting, until it finds the home point. Very clever.
– Virtual Walls – These are similar, just infrared transmitters (each takes 2 D-cell batteries!) that shoot out a beam which cause the thing to act like it hit a wall and turn. It will follow the beam just like it follows walls. The beams are a bit wide, so put them back a bit inside doorways and such.

The primary way it knows about things is hitting them. The whole front piece, about 140-150 degrees or so, is a movable bump mechanism. When it hits something, this pushes in and the thing stops and turns around some seemingly random amount, or just a bit in edge finding mode. It also appears to be able to sense distance from any wall, because in edge finding, it will follow a wall very precisely without touching it at all, which is weird, because I can’t find any obvious sensors there.

As far as cleaning goes, the one I got is basically a sweeper/vacuum. Works great on hardwood, decent on low cut rug/carpet, probably would not work on shag or similar. The gist of it is that it has a side sweeper to pull in things, a front sweeper to push things up, a rotor brush to pull things in, and a ramp to force things into the bin. There’s also a spinning mechanism inside which might produce some very minor vacuum effect, to get things “over the hump” of the bin and keep dust inside. The bin is on the back, and it sucks. Pick the thing upright before removing the bin. You’ll see the method after 1 spill, trust me.

The docking station does not work particularly well on hardwood floors. It slides, and the Roomba drags it around while trying to disengage. Put it on rug or carpet. I ended up putting it on some carpet samples underneath my bar area. Speaking of which, the dock *MUST* be in an area where it has a pretty good view of the room. Otherwise the Roomba will not find it. So forget a closet or something, it must be in the main area, somewhere.

The cat is completely freaked out by the thing, but the Roomba does not appear to mind his presence. 😀

It’s loud. Not as loud as an actual vacuum cleaner, but the Roomba takes longer. However, given that mine has a scheduling feature, I can set it to work when I’m not here. Haven’t tried that yet, might try it later this week. The scheduler is cool, built into the remote. You program the times, and then send the schedule to the Roomba and to the virtual wall units. It runs for that time and the wall units turn on at the same moment. Very conservative on battery power that way.

One thing that bugs me is that the remote doesn’t offer any easy way to really remote control the thing. You can send it commands, but they’re really more like suggestions as far as I can tell. Which is frankly too much work. It covered my living room and kitchen by itself twice before running out of power, and since I didn’t follow the charging directions, it didn’t find home base when it did so. Follow the damn directions, charge it for 16 hours before the first use. Trust me on this one.

Hacking: There are myriad abilities to hack the thing. It has a serial port, and can accept commands to move around and such, as well as provide feedback of all the sensors on it. Worth a look if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m considering building a bluetooth serial link to it and hacking it a bit. With some minor effort (okay, maybe not so minor), I could control the thing and make it work much better for my specific space. Given that the unit’s more or less “random” method works pretty well, it does seem to take a while to accomplish anything. I mean, it works, but seems inefficient. I could improve that. I browsed through the documentation on irobot.com while it was working, and it’s pretty comprehensive. Worth a look if you’re the hackish type.

All in all, I’d say it’s worth the $125. Maybe $170. But not the default $220 price. Find the bargains on it, stick with those. Amazon has the remanufactured ones on the cheap (this is the same one I got). And if you’re all hardwood with no rugs/carpets, look for the one that actually mops instead of just sweeps and vacuums.

Great Amazon Deals

Found a neat post a while back that described how to mess with Amazon’s URLs to find the best deals, like everything in a category that was 90% off and such. Then this morning I found a post with all the URLs pre-made for you. Very neat.

So, here you go:

Apparel & Accessories : 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Beauty: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Bed & Bath: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Books: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Camera & Photo: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Cell Phones & Service: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Computers & PC Hardware: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Computers & Video Games: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

DVD: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Electronics: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Furniture & Decor: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Gourmet Food: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

GPS and Navigation: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Grocery: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Health & Personal Care: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Home & Garden: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Jewelry & Watches: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Kitchen & Housewares: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Magazines & Newspapers: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Musical Instruments: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Office Products: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Outdoor Living: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Pet Supplies: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Shoes: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Software: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Sports & Outdoors: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Tools & Hardware: 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Toys & Games : 90%80%70%60%50%40%30%20%10%

Grocery Shopping Online

I know that I’ve talked about Amazon Grocery before, last year in fact, but I got an email this morning from them basically trying to drum up interest in it again, and so I had another look.

They have really expanded their product line. Plus, with the addition of their “Subscribe and Save” thing, the prices are basically the same as you’d find at the store. It’s a neat idea, to have a regular order of the crap you always have to remember to buy anyway on an automatic order basis. Simple stuff like laundry detergent, toothpaste, cereal, and yes, even toilet paper. 🙂

So I set up a few automatic orders for various items. The automatic orders get 20% off their normal price, and they’re all free shipping, so it’s a pretty good deal. Definitely worth checking out.

I also found that somebody had made a Bonnaroo Wish List while I was browsing around over there. I thought that was quite clever.

Google Checkout Prime!

You know what would be very cool?

If Google rigged up their new Google Checkout service with something like Amazon Prime, but for multiple sites.

Amazon prime is pretty cool. I signed up for it for a while, and getting free 2-day shipping for virtually everything you buy really rocks. You can order stuff without thinking about it too much. It’s a hell of a lot more convenient than hitting the store. And I ordered a lot of stuff through Amazon while I had Prime. Mostly books, but basically it lets those impulse purchases be extremely easy to satisfy. And that’s cool with me, because if I suddenly need Pocky, then I can satisfy that urge. Pocky rules.

But what sucks is that a) it’s like $80 a year and b) it only works with Amazon.com’s stuff, not all their partner’s stuff. When you search for stuff at Amazon, and get a list of products back, you have no idea whether or not it’s sold by Amazon and thus prime eligible. So you still kinda have to pay attention to some degree.

Google’s searching for products, on the other hand, is great. Google for it, then at the top of the page you get some products and prices and such. Hit the button to show all Google Checkout results for that product, sort by price, and bam, you’re right there. Go straight to the site and buy it. Since you use Google Checkout, no account setup crap is generally involved, it’s easy and painless.

If Google Checkout had something similar to prime, where the individual vendors didn’t charge for shipping, then it would be perfect. I don’t know how that would work, as the only way Amazon can do it is because of bulk or something. Maybe Fedex would be willing to cut Google a deal for all its partners with the Checkout service. I dunno. But still, it would rock a lot more than Amazon Prime would.

More about Amazon Grocery

Back when I wrote about Amazon Grocery the first time, I also placed a couple orders.

I’d been wanting a particular book, and my Amazon Prime trial membership had just expired (and I didn’t feel that “free” shipping was worth $70+ a year), so I started looking for stuff I needed which they had.

What I found I was running low on was toilet paper.

A bit of searching and I ran across some TP on Amazon. Plus the price was just right to make both my book and the TP get free shipping. Perfect.

So off my order went, for my book and for Scott Toilet Paper. Excellent.

It took it about 10 days to get here. Good thing I was only running low and not out of the stuff. But the book is good, and the TP.. Well… It’s paper. I don’t expect much out of my TP.

Scott TP

Nice handy dispenser box, I must say. Although I did get some odd looks from the apartment people when I picked up my shipment of what was clearly a bulk box of toilet paper. Hey, I looked right back at ‘em. A man’s gotta wipe.

Plus, this is rapid-dissolving, supposedly, so no more damn clogged up toilets. ;)

I still don’t see myself using this Amazon Grocery stuff for anything more than filler items for when I order books and such, to get up to the free shipping amount, but still, at least now those filler items will be useful stuff that I happen to need. Not sure where I’ll put these bulk items though.