Game Changer ESPN Universal Remote Control Manual (PDF Scan) Remote Codes

March 29th, 2015 No comments

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Years ago I bought a couple of Game Changer ESPN branded Universal Remotes. The website for this remote control is no longer online and therefore the instruction manual and remote codes are very difficult to find. And without the device codes… you’ll have trouble getting this to work with your VCR, PVR, DVD player, or TV / HDTV. Thankfully once programmed the remote works well, despite it’s quirky design, so I can understand why people are still using them.

I have found my manual for this remote control and have scanned it in and uploaded it to this website. You may download this manual freely. However, please consider donating a dollar or two to the House Rabbit Society of California. This wonderful non-proft helps rescues, rehabilitates, and homes rabbits. So if you find this manual useful please consider a donation.

The PDF is only 3.7 MB in size so the image resolution isn’t great, but it’s legible so you can read the remote codes. Enjoy!

Download this PDF Manual (3.7 MB in size)

download-pdf

Choosing a digital camera, point and shoot or DSLR?

February 20th, 2015 No comments
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My first digital camera (HP, front left) and my second (Canon, front right).

 

Recently a friend asked me on a recommendation on camera, which lead me to write this post. Now I’ll be clear, this will not tell you what camera to buy, that’s almost impossible, but it will give you an insight in the difference between the cameras out there and what you should be aware of. I’m no pro, let me get that out of the way. I’m I guess what you can call an amateur photographer. I don’t pretend to know what all the buttons and settings on my camera do, but I’m learning, and I’m very interested doing so.

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Remember film cameras? Today’s digital cameras use the same principals.

 

First, for this article to make sense, we have to remember how cameras work. Let’s go back to film cameras. Film cameras work by exposing a very quick burst of light through the shutter of a lens to a section of light-sensitive film. When you press the button to take a photo the shutter opens very quickly, allowing light into the lens, which then exposes the film loaded in the camera. This creates a negative photo the film which must go through a chemical process before you can see the final (positive) photo, usually in the form of prints on paper. Digital cameras work in a similar way, however instead of light shining onto film, it shines onto a digital sensor. This sensor is part of a mini-computer inside your camera which processes and displays this image on the screen. So in the simplest form, the better the lens and the sensor of your camera, the better results you’ll have with your photos.

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The Canonet, a film point and shoot camera.

 

Introduction
Now, back to my friend. They wanted a quick shutter speed to capture crisp photos, something which their current camera didn’t do so well. This made me think a lot, there are hundreds of options to choose from. Simple “point and shoot” (P&S) cameras all the way to DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex) models. What is the right one? Would a Point and shoot be best, or a DSLR? Well this post will go into some of my thoughts. Granted these are simply my thoughts and you should always do your own research when buying a big purchase, which a camera can be. Talk to friends, relatives, or even post on your Facebook page – gather some information and see what works best for you.

Take things slow and research. The internet makes it easy, but start locally. Does a friend have a newer camera? Take it for a test drive! Like shopping for a car, it’s best to try it before you buy it. See if anyone you know has a digital camera. If nobody has a camera that you let most electronic stores, like Best Buy (or even Target or Walmart), will let you play around with a camera in-store (even if it’s tethered to a display stand). Places like Best Buy may even open up a camera from the box and hand it to you for some thether-free, hands on experience. Something I learned, some in-store models do not have a memory card, so if you have an SD card, bring it yourself to try it out (copy all your photos off and erase it before you do!).

Make a mental list or jot down some notes. What camera did you try? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like. This may seem like something you can skip, however, shopping for cameras can be confusing. With so many similar models and styles, you can easily confuse yourself.

No matter what camera you choose remember this… if you don’t learn how to use it properly, your results will suffer! Things like lighting, the type of lens you are using, the camera’s settings and the speed of your memory card are all factors in getting the perfect shot. Yes you can spend $1,000 on a new DSLR camera and lens, but if you leave it on “Auto” mode you’re kind of only using half the camera.

An obsolete memory card. A 16MB Compact Flash card. Today memory cards are gigabytes in size, often 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, or higher.

 

A brief history of my experience with Digital Cameras

My first digital camera was a fixed-focus-lens (which is thankfully a thing of the past) HP photosmart camera in the early 2000’s. Comparing that camera to today’s tech I can say (without exaggerating) that most cameras in a cell phone would blow it out of the water. My next camera was a big step up, a Canon PowerShot A620, which I loved! It required four AA batteries and had a memory card limit of 2GB, however, it had a nice 4X Optical Zoom and took some beautiful photos due to it’s oversized image sensor. I would use this camera for many, many years to come.

Eventually I yearned for higher quality photos and high definition video recording capabilities, (and one that didn’t have the limitations of my old camera… like bulky batteries and a memory card size limit) this led me to the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS. While not a DSLR, this camera had a massive 35X lens and was pretty good all around, especially when on sale. However, what I realized was that while the SX40 HS was nice, comparing my photos to photos taken by a friend’s DSLR there was a big difference in quality. Maybe not in all of the shots, but you can tell if you look closely.

Fast forward last year when I purchased my current camera, a Canon 60 DSLR. I got it used, but wow, what a camera! You can tell by picking it up that it means business. It was a learning experience and I still haven’t touched all of the settings, but it’s a great camera.

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My newest camera, the Canon 60D (left) next to my point and shoot Canon SX40 HS (right). Both may look similar, but are completely different inside and out.

 

So what’s the big difference between a Point & Shoot camera and a DSLR camera?

To explain the difference we’re going to have to dive into some details. In short Point and Shoot cameras are meant for consumers to easily take photos without touching too many buttons or settings. DSLR cameras are meant for advanced users who want more control in their photos and aren’t afraid of learning about their camera or reading the manual. There is one other type of camera that I won’t cover too much, and that is the “pro-sumer” cameras. These are basically point and shoot cameras on steroids, designed to try and steal away some marketshare from people looking to buy DSLR cameras. They may offer some options that a DSLR does, but they may lack the ability to change lenses and skimp on a lot of features. Unless you’re on a tight budget, I would avoid them, in the long run a DSLR will give you more for your money.

IMG_5057 This is a photo taken with my old Canon A620 point and shoot camera.

Observations on Point and Shoots

Point and shoot cameras can almost be compared to the camera in your smartphone. They have a lot of features and rely on hardware and software tricks to give you a good photo. Where a DSLR may have a lot of manual controls and settings, some point and shoots have very limited settings, restricting you on lighting options and photo settings. Most decent point and shoot cameras will beat a smartphone of course. For example, smarphones often don’t have the ability to use optical zoom and often don’t have a good flash.

But the big difference is the lens and the sensor. The lens of a point and shoot is not removable. You may think “big whoop I don’t need another lens”, well that’s not all of it. Because the lens can’t be removed, the camera can compromise on how the photo is actually taken. The process is very technical, however, in short the image is taken by a digital sensor. This sensor may have a lot of megapixels (which is how many dots make up the image), but that doesn’t make up for a lower quality lens or sensor. Most point and shoot models have a sensor that is 5% or less than a full-frame DSLR sensor. This isn’t to say a point and shoot cant’ take a good photo however. (See the image above, taken with my old Canon A620 point and shoot camera)

Speaking of zoom, if you are going with a point and shoot camera, avoid Digital Zoom-only models. Some digital cameras without an optical zoom will have an outrageous claim on their box like “10 x zoom!” on the box where in fact it’s actually a digital zoom. The difference? A HUGE one! An optical zoom is a true zoom where as digital zoom is a cheap trick. If the camera offers an optical zoom and a digital zoom that’s okay (for example a camera may offer a 4x optical and 10x digital zoom), you can usually disable the digital zoom in the settings.

Think of an optical zoom like looking through binoculars, the image is enlarged optically via glass lenses. Where as digital zoom is like opening an image on your PC and clicking the “zoom in” or “magnify” button. Digital zoom just artificially zooms in and shows you every blocky pixel of your image. One actually gives you an actual zoom which is handy to use, while the other is almost useless. You’ll never find this feature on any self-respecting DSLR.

 

IMG_0363 A photo taken with my Canon SX40 HS, still considered a point and shoot camera, but with a nicer lens and a bigger price tag.

Observations on DSLRs

A DSLR camera is composed of two parts, the body and the lens. Not a lot has changed from film SLRs, except instead of film the camera uses a memory card thanks to a digital image sensor. The body is the camera itself with the lens removed. Most companies will sell the camera body itself and/or bundled with a lens. This is because a lot of photographers may prefer to use existing compatible lens or purchase their own. This is a cost saver. For example, if you have a Canon 35mm SLR, chances are the lenses are compatible with a DSLR like the Canon 60D. Therefore, you only need to purchase the Canon 60D body, since you will be supplying your own lenses. This also makes it less painless to upgrade cameras in the future. The downside is lenses are usually very expensive, with the cheapest usually being around $100-200. But you get what you pay for, these are seriously nice lenses. The one disadvantage of a DSLR is that you need to stop and change lenses if you want a different type of shot.

Focus and speed are king with a DSLR. They generally focus very quickly and can take multiple shots per second. Some cameras can exceed taking up to 10 photos per second. Think of the sports photos you may see on TV or in the newspaper, that’s taken by a DSLR, the only camera capable of capturing some quick action with minimal blurring.

_MG_5923This photo was taken with a 2006 Canon Rebel XT DSLR camera. Although the rabbits are in motion (they’re quick!), notice how sharp and in-focus the photo is. It would be difficult to capture this shot with a point and shot camera due to the amount of motion.

A JPEG is a digital file that digital cameras use to store the photos you take. JPEGs aren’t bad, but they also aren’t the best. DSLR cameras (and some prosumer P&S cameras) gain the important ability of taking photos in JPEG as well as a superior format called RAW. RAW images are uncompressed high-quailty files which are known for their editing capabilities and color accuracy. They are not compressed like JPEG images, which leads to better quality, but also larger file sizes. You can always convert a RAW image to a JPEG, and most DSLR cameras have a neat feature that shoots in a “dual” format. Giving you two files for each shot, one high-quality RAW file, and one compressed JPEG image ready for Facebook or email.

A DSLR is also different because of the way you view photos. Point and shoot cameras may have a see-through viewfinder or solely rely on a digital screen which may not be a 100% accurate representation of the photo you want to snap. With a DSLR the viewfinder is always looking directly through the lens, so what you see is what you get.

Options, options and more options! While today’s DSLRs try to be more consumer friendly with an “Easy” or “Auto” mode, the real power of the DSRL is options. You will want to review the camera manual for some basics and understand what buttons do what before going on a photo session. You should get serious about learning some photography skills, because you have a great camera at your disposal capable of great things just waiting to be unlocked.

What camera should you choose?
If you’re in the market for a camera, and can afford it, a DSLR is a better choice – by far. Yes the initial cost is more expensive, but it’s a better investment and will last longer. Point and shoot cameras are consumer-focused products and are not meant to last forever. DSLR cameras are more rugged, designed to last, and retain their resale value well.

The next decision is harder. What model camera do I get, what brand? I can’t tell you what camera to buy, but I can help you in your search. There are a few popular brands that have a good reputation in the camera world, Canon and Nikon are probably the most vocal. Then Sony, Olympus, FujiFilm and Panasonic (in no particular order). This is where you have to do your research. Look up reviews on Amazon, Google the camera model with the words “problem” or “defect” or “recall”. See what people are saying. Search for the camera model on DPreview (a great camera review site). It will take you a few days or weeks, but it’ll be worth it. Remember to keep track of what year the camera was released, if it’s an older model you may be able to find it on sale, or used. In addition, new models may be on the verge of coming out, which will usually send older model prices down. My Canon 60D came out in 2010, but I bought in 2014 simply because it was still an awesome camera.

Some Canon DSLR Models Available

I like my Canon 60D DSLR camera, so I would recommend it, but it may not be the best for your needs. There are tons of models out there, so do your research. The chart at the bottom of this Wikipedia page is embeded below as an image. My Camera is the Canon 60D. By looking at the chart  you can see it’s in the Enthusiast class, and was introduced in the 2nd quarter of 2010. Why did I get such an old camera last year? Because it’s a great camera, even if it is 5 years old. Often new camera models will add features, but that doesn’t mean the old ones should be ignored. Not at all!

Some popular Canon models, as shown below are the Rebel T4i, Rebel T5i, and 70D. Of course the T3i and 60D are older models, but still are great choices depending on your needs. Wikipedia in general is a great resource for looking up camera models and their features.

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Wikipedia’s Canon DSLR comparison chart. Click for a larger view!

 

Important Things to Remember When Buying a Camera:
You’ll need a few accessories with your camera. Today most cameras will not come with a memory card, so you’ll have to buy your own.

  • Memory Cards – You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you can get a good sized card for under $20. Most DSLR cameras take the “SD” memory card formats. These cards sometimes use a class rating system that can be a bit misleading. You’re better off reading the reviews than relying on packaging. However, here is a PNY 32GB SD memory card which is enhanced for high-speed DSLR cameras. I use this card and I love it, in fact I bought a second, and then bought a 3rd, but this time in a larger size. Either way, this card will let you store thousands of photos and a lot of video. [Amazon Link]
  • Lenses – If you are buying a “body-only” camera you will need to supply your own lens. Do your research, not all Canon lens work on all Canon cameras. Also, different brand lenses won’t work on other manufacture’s cameras (A Sony lens won’t work on a Nikon camera, etc). I’m not an expert, but usually a good zoom lens is a good place to start. This will give you some range and options to play around with. As always do your research and see what people are saying.
  • Carrying Case – If you’re spending a few hundred dollars on a nice camera, you’re going to want to have a good case to protect it as well.  Here is an example of a small DSLR case by CaseLogic [Amazon Link]. Keep in mind, if you’re going to be carrying around accessories, spare batteries, and lenses, you’ll want a bigger bag, or maybe a padded backpack.
  • Battery Charger and Additional Batteries – A DSLR camera will come with a battery charger and a rechargeable battery, but what happens when your battery dies just as you’re lining up the perfect shot? Having a spare battery is essential! Order a second battery as soon as you can, it won’t hurt to get a 2nd charger too. While some people may disagree with me, I use non-OEM/ Third Party batteries and they work great. Canon and other camera companies may warn you and say the batteries may harm your camera, but as long as you don’t get a cheap knock-off brand, you should be fine. Part of me thinks they just want to sell their own overpriced batteries. I’ve had good luck with batteries from third party companies such as Wasabi and Opteka, you can find them being sold on Amazon. Be the judge and read the reviews yourself before purchasing.
  • Cleaning Cloth or Lens Cleaning Kit – Especially with the large lens of a DSLR you’re going to need to take care of it and clean it. Amazon has plenty of cleaning kits available.
  • Please Remember to Backup your photos! – I can’t let you go without saying this. Do this from the start, don’t be lazy! I lost a memory card and lost photos before, it’s not fun! With film cameras there was always the negative if you lost your prints. But with digital cameras, it’s all on a memory card, or then your computer. Everything breaks, even memory cards and hard drives. They can get lost or damaged. Use an external hard drive to backup your photos to. Or better yet, use an online backup service like BackBlaze or CrashPlan to backup your previous memories. Because its likely only you will have the original copies. Another idea is to burn CDs or DVDs and share them with family and friends as a backup. Set a calendar reminder on your email or smartphone and backup at least one a month or so.

 

Further reading and resources:
I don’t know it all, these are some awesome sites and resource for you to review!

Categories: General Tags: ,

GE Wink Hub Firmware Update Issues

February 18th, 2015 No comments

I was just starting to enjoy and get used to my Wink Hub and GE Lights when a firmware update was forced down my throat. Upon launching the Wink App on my iPhone (running iOS 8) to control a light an “Hub Update Required” button popped up. Little did I know starting this update would cause me so much frustration… but down the rabbit hole I went.

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I tapped update and the dialog box warned me that the process could take up to 30 minutes. I clicked OK and continued. 30-min later nothing happened… the hub’s LED status light changes colors and my phone still thinks it’s updating. So I wait another 30 min. Still… nothing. I unplug it, reset it, and try again  – still nothing! So I give up for the day and manually switch off my lights.

A few days later I went to try again. I noted that when the Wink Hub is offline (or in this case not behaving properly) the connected lights will blink every few hours. It’s quick, only a second or two, but you’ll be in the dark for half a second before you remember… oh yeah… the lights. Having attempted to contact Technical Support before, and reaching nobody, I decided not to bother with them. I read online that some people had the same issue. However, one user suggested to try an Android tablet or phone to update the hub. I had an Android 4.2 tablet lying around (a hacked HP TouchPad) so I decided to try that, but no luck. I tried my iPad Mini and my iPhone, still no luck. I even tried three different Wi-Fi networks, including a simple unencrypted connection I setup temporarily. I gave up once again.

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Weeks go by, now it’s today. I finally try this again. I try the iPhone method first, no dice. I then try the Android tablet… no dice. I unplug the hub and hold down the reset button as I plug it into the wall, after 30-seconds I let go and let it start up. I use the Android tablet to set it up as a new hub. As soon as it’s done my iPad dings, saying the Wink Hub needs to have it’s firmware updated. Pressing my luck, I try to perform the update on the Android tablet. First I told the tablet to not sleep for 30 minutes, to try and not interrupt the process. Now back to the Wink App, I had to press “Update” a few times, since it seemed to not listen to me. But eventually the update process began.

I timed the process and here is what happened. 3 minutes into the process the hub’s status light goes from white to blinking red. I believe this means it is downloading the update from the Wink servers. Then 2 minutes later the hub turns solid red. I believe this means it is installing the software. 5 minutes later the hub’s light turns blue, telling me it’s ready. I didn’t hold my breath, but to my surprise the hub finally updated! And it only took about 10 minutes total. The Android tablet still said “Updating” so I had to force close the app… (3 times!), before it corrected itself. Either on Android or iOS the software for this stuff is still pretty funky and wonky.

I can’t count how many times I had tried to update it, restart it, reset it, and use different devices. Thankfully after all this my light bulbs are connected once again. The first bulb didn’t work initially, but after force-quitting the mobile app a few times I was able to connect my 5 bulbs (one at a time, with only 1 bulb turned on at once) without issue. So if you’re having trouble with your Wink Hub updating just keep trying, it’s tiring, but it’ll work eventually (hopefully). The new firmware seems more stable (I’m on 00.56) and apparently this big update should help keep things working smother next time there is an update. Here’s hoping!

Categories: General Tags: , , , , ,

GE’s Wireless Link Bulbs & Wink Hub: A (somewhat) Dim Experience in Home Automation

December 9th, 2014 2 comments

I’m a geeky guy, so when I heard that there were affordable lightbulbs that you could control via your smartphone I was interested. Not only are they name-brand lightbulbs, they were LED, energy efficient lightbulbs! The catch? You have to buy a “hub”. Basically these special lightbulbs talk to a product called a Wink Hub, that’s where the magic happens. This hub then connects to your wireless router and therefore your smartphone. Allowing you to control the bulbs from your smartphone or tablet.

I was skeptical, the reviews on places like Amazon weren’t too great. Although I have to admit the hilarious TV ad with Jeff Goldblum may have pushed me over the edge. The Home Depot had a deal around Labor Day where you could buy two bulbs and a hub for a hair under $50 altogether. Basically saving $20 off the regular cost of the setup if you purchase the items alone. It seems that for the 2014 Holiday Season this deal is back. I noticed this while on a recent trip to the store where a sales associate demoed the product. So I took the bait and figured I’d give it a shot. 

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I got home and opened the Wink hub box. There are no instructions, no papers… nothing! GE claims this is because they want to give the most up-to-date instructions possible (via the app on your smartphone). Fair enough, the box has a simple sentence that tells you to download the app from your device’s app store / marketplace. At this time the app is only available for Apple iOS users running iOS 7.0 or higher or Android users running version 2.3 or higher . So if you have an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or recent Android device you should be okay.  Sadly there is no web-based app for incompatible devices, or a dedicated app for Mac or Windows user. I understand why, as the setup process requires your phone to send Bluetooth signals to the Wink Hub, which is how you connect it to your home Wi-Fi network.

But anyway, the Wink Hub box contains the hub and underneath it, the hub’s power cord. My cord was wrapped with a rubber band… maybe someone returned this hub before? The box’s tape was sealed however.

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Blink-blink…boom.
Anyway, I plugged in the Wink hub and watched the colored light blink around while I downloaded the app on my iPhone 6. Once downloaded I followed the instructions to create an account. I then took the 60w GE Link bulb out of the box and pressed the “Add a product” button. I taped the Wink Hub icon and was prompted to enter in my network password (for my wireless router). I tapped Next and waited. “Connecting to the WinkHub…” it said. I waited for about a minute before an “Uh-Oh” message came up. Little did I know this message would be plaguing me for the next half hour. It apparently could not connect to the hub. Weird, maybe I typed the password wrong? Nope, I tried again – still nothing. What was odd was the hub followed the correct color indications to say it was trying to connect. Eventually it would even turn blue (meaning it was successfully connected), however the app still gave me an error and would not connect.

Maybe it was my iPhone? I got out my older iPad and downloaded the Wink app. Nope, same problem! Some reviewers noted bombarding the Wink Hub with multiple devices sometimes got it to work. Sadly this did not seem to resolve the issue. So I unplugged the Wink Hub and waited 5 minutes before trying again. Still no luck. I did notice a “Reset” button on the back of the hub. The kind you need a paperclip to press. Again, there are no instructions in the Wink Hub box. Would it have killed them to put a sticker on the back of the Wink Hub letting you know what the Reset button does? I’m serious – for example some wireless routers have a reset button, but they only work if you hold it down for 15 or 30 seconds. Adding a simple piece of documentation (or a sticker) would be a good idea GE. Anyway I pressed the reset button, nothing.

The Uh-Oh message taunted me again and again. So I finally called GE’s Tech Support. Unfortunately I didn’t get to speak to a person! I was on hold for over 25 minutes (while I played with the Wink Hub and bulb some more). As soon as you dial up there is an up-beat voice joking that my call will be recorded “But not in a creepy way”. Okay who cares, just help me out. The voice says they’ll try to connect me to a real person as quickly as possible. 40 seconds go by and she comes on again “Man! This is taking a long time. We’re sorry and we appreciate your patience.” This repeats itself dozens of times as I’m on hold.

So after trying again and again (while I’m on hold) with my iPhone and iPad I gave up! I hung up, got in the car, drove to Home Depot and exchanged the Wink Hub for another. Maybe it was a previously opened model that didn’t work? I was going to try once more. At the store I noticed there were only 2 Hubs on the shelf. Both of the boxes had their plastic tape/seals broken. Maybe someone had a similar problem and returned the rest? I made sure to tell the cashier that the product was defective and not working properly.

Round 2… light!
I get home and plug in the new Wink Hub, this box was not sealed, but the power cord had a white twist-tie around the cable. Maybe this one wasn’t previously returned? So I plug it in and try again. My first attempt failed, but I switched to the iPad right away. On the 2nd try… it worked! The Wink Hub connected correctly and was now working. I then plugged in my 60w Link Bulb. After an attempt or two I got that working as well. With the bulb connected I was now able to control it from my iPhone. I could turn the bulb on and off or dim it. The default control to dim the bulb is a bit odd, you need to tap the bulb (kinda) and then slide your finger. It’s odd because the whole screen may slide around or you may turn the entire bulb off. Thankfully if you tap on the bulb a different horizontal slider comes up. I personally would prefer this over the odd button. Maybe they should make this an option in the future.

Now time for the second bulb. I follow the same instructions. But this time the app can’t find the bulb. Hmm. I play with this again for 10 minutes and then call support. Now 30 minutes go by, still no answer. Just the same little tune and the automated message. I understand it’s the holidays, and with these on sale you probably are getting a bunch of people calling for help… but they need to fix their support line. You put no manual in the box and you ask people to call up, you better have enough people there! At the least you should have an option to “hold” your place in line and request a call-back like some places. Unfortunately I was tired of waiting and hung-up. I would have run-out to Home Depot again, but they don’t have any more of these bulbs in stock. Looks like I got an unlucky draw two times in a row. I want to like this system, I do. It’s an interesting concept. But their quality assurance / quality testing department area needs to look into these products closer. I can now understand all the frustrated users online. Maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ll work out of the box. As for now I have a working hub with one lonely bulb.

Pros:
The 60W bulbs are $15, making it easy to expand your lighting system
The Wink Hub (at a discounted price) makes getting into home automation a bit less painful
No monthly fees or additional service costs to use the service or the products
The 60W LED bulb is bright and dim-able via any outlet. And is quoted to last 22+ years (rated if used for 3 hours per day)

Cons:
Phone support is lacking. This is unacceptable, especially since GE wants you to call them instead of including a manual.
Zero documentation with the Wink Hub or Link Bulbs, I understand being minimal but come on. Not even a single piece of paper?
Either I’m unlucky or someone is taking a snooze at the GE quality control department
The bulbs get hot quickly at the base, but the top part remains cool to the touch.

Conclusion:
These are cool, but GE has to revamp their phone support and quality assurance areas. Also the way to control these bulbs are lacking. Sure iOS and Android are dominant devices, but why not enable you to control the lights via your laptop or desktop? I see there is an API section of the website for software developers to take advantage of. I for one would love to use my Raspberry Pi to control the lights. Or even recycle an old iPhone as a remote for the lights (sadly the GE Wink app is only for iOS 7 or higher).

I want to like these, I really do. But if me, a technology geek, is having to jump-through hoops to get this to work… your average Joe or Jane isn’t going to be too pleased about it. Unless they get a lucky batch and it works without a hitch. I hope if you purchase these products you have a better experience than I did. I won’t be returning these (except for the defective bulb), but GE has a way to go before these can really shine.

 

Categories: General Tags: , , , ,

Developing film in a digital age. Go local or online?

May 22nd, 2013 6 comments

film-rolls-web

Why film?
Today you may think everything is digital these days, and for the most part, you would be correct. Digital phones, digital TV, digital movies and music. However sometimes it’s fun to look back and do things “the old way”. Not for greater convenience or for a cheaper cost, but just for fun.

Recently my friend and I have gotten into using 35mm film cameras. Earlier this year on a trip to Europe I brought along a Sears KS Super II 35mm film camera. It had a manual focus ring so before every shot you had to stop, think, focus, and be steady before taking a photo. This required me to re-wire the photo-taking part of my brain. See, my current digital camera is a nice Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, it boasts a 35x zoom and the ability to record 1080p videos. But one of my favorite features of this camera, and my previous digital cameras, was the burst mode. I love holding down the shutter button and taking a continuous burst of photos. Why? Well sometimes I want to capture a moment and try not to miss something. Or I may be trying to capture something in motion very quickly.

But, on the digital camera I have a massive memory card where I can take an endless stream of photos. On my 35mm camera? I have just 24 exposures (photos) that I can take before I need to use up another roll of film. So I have to be more careful, more selective, it makes me more conscious of what I’m photographing. With an analog film camera I am much less prone to taking a photo just for the sake of taking a photo. So because of this, I have taken some interesting shots and have had a lot of fun so far.

Developing

So after all the fun of shooting photos now comes the slow part… the waiting game. Today less and less stores offer on-site 35mm film development. Most pharmacy stores will process film for you at a relatively cheap price. However, just in the past few months, two CVS Pharmacy locations have removed their photo machines. Their reasoning being, the chemicals used in developing photos usually ends up going to waste due to not a lot of customers using their machine. This of course is wasted money on their end.

It’s kind of a shame really. For months I’ve been going to two local CVS stores, one was a 24 hour location and one was not. However rarely were my film rolls actually developed within the quoted ‘1 hour’ period. I would often wait a day or so for it to be processed. Thankfully the processing fee is standard, and you aren’t paying for a 1 hour rush service. Still, it seemed that whoever was working at the store at the time didn’t feel the need to rush. I turned to Walgreens to see if I could get a better photo experience, unfortunately my first roll of film was forgotten about and when I finally received my film the negative was scratched from improper handling and the photo CD was useless due to a bad job on part of the scanner.

The bright side?  This forced me to look into alternatives. CVS charged me about $6 and change to have one 35mm film roll developed and to have JPEG scans put on a CD. Not bad really. Walgreens was a bit more expensive at about $8 to have the same 1 roll and 1 CD service. There are tons of mail-in and online processing services today. Thankfully you have plenty of options. So far I have tried Mpix, Lomography and TheDarkroom.com

Developing film with Mpix (www.mpix.com)

Mpix seems to offer a lot of photo products, meaning they will slap any photo on a mug, t-shirt, card, calendar, frame, etc. In fact, when visiting their site, you may be confused as to if they actually offer film developing. They do, but the ‘Film’ link is hidden on the bottom of their website under ‘Products’.

Mpix offers film processing and development by mail. To start, go to the Mpix website and create a free account with your email address. You can request free film mailers directly on your website. These are special pre-paid envelopes that will mailed out to you. You’ll receive a welcome envelope from Mpix in a few days, enclosed are the special film envelopes and some instructions. You can place up to 4 rolls of 35mm film inside each envelope. (They mail you 3 or 4 envelopes so you don’t have plenty to start with). The envelopes are pre-paid so when you drop in your film, simply seal the envelop and drop it off at the post office (or have it collected at your home). In a few days they will arrive at the Mpix offices and you’ll get an email notification once your photo thumbnails are ready to be reviewed and “unlocked”.

Unfortunately their film processing webpage is limited to one single page with not a lot of detailed pricing information on it. I wouldn’t call it misleading, but it’s a bit hard to figure out exactly how much you’re going to pay. Is it worth the price? Let’s see.

For example, under  film pricing it mentions that you are charged $0.19 per exposure (this would be $4.56 for a roll of 35mm film with 24 exposures), not bad, that’s fine. However under ‘Scanning’ it only lists the resolution and size of the scanned files. Afterwards it mentions that full resolution scans are available to purchase via an archive DVD. That’s fine, but it reads as if the lower-resolution (72dpi) scans are available at no charge or at a different rate. Here they also fail to mention that the DVD archive disc has a hefty shipping charge (it was $8 for me at the lowest rate), not including the $10 charge to house 50 photos on the DVD (a 100 photo DVD is $15).

So let’s add this up… If you had one roll of film mailed in that would be $4.56 for development of 24 exposures, $10 for a DVD disc for housing up to 50 photos, and $8 for shipping. That’s a whopping $22.56 to have one roll developed and have the negatives and DVD mailed back to you.

Now this isn’t as bad if you have multiple rolls processed at the same time, or if you saved up your good photos to put on a DVD later on. If you had four film rolls sent in that would be, $23 for a DVD with 96 photos (from the 4 rolls) isn’t too bad, but that’s not counting the processing (another $18.24). For a total just under $42.

Thankfully nobody is forcing you to buy the DVD. However Mpix currently doesn’t offer a digital download of your scanned in film either. To me it seems like they’re missing out on a market. While I wouldn’t gladly pay another $10 to download my scanned in photos, at least I would save on the $8 shipping charge, and if the download fee was reasonable, I’d probably go ahead and buy it. It would save me plenty of time and trouble scanning in the negatives myself at home.

Included in the development cost you can see a thumbnail preview of your processed photos and they will mail back your negatives to you at no additional cost. Since I’m located in New Jersey and Mpix is located in New York, I didn’t have to wait long for my negatives to be returned to me. The negatives were returned double-boxed, inside the 2nd box was a spiral of two rolls of film protected in plastic negative sleeves. The negatives weren’t cut, but they were clean and unwound.

The photos themselves came out great. They did a wonderful job on the processing of the photos. I enjoyed seeing the thumbnails on their website, and the negatives arrived in great shape. I then proceeded to scan in the negatives myself, since I did not purchase a DVD from their website.

However, it’s interesting to note that the Mpix website states that to avoid damage the DVD is mailed separately from the negatives. However I can easily fit in a plastic jewel case, with a DVD, inside the box I received. Now maybe they did tests and found out the DVD would arrive damaged, but to me (at least when only returning one roll and one DVD) it could have fit in just fine.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary: While their photo DVD price is a bit high and they don’t offer digital downloads of your photos, they do process the film nicely and affordably. They offer free mailer envelops to send your film rolls in, and they send the negatives back for free in a protective sleeve. Mpix could be a bit better, I would like to see the developing part of their website have a few more details added to it. But at least least the quality of their developing seems pretty good.

Developing film with Lomography (shop.lomography.com)

If you’re into 35mm film you have probably heard of Lomography. They offer a large selection of not only film, but cameras, accessories and much more. They even offer fun services like a film subscription plan, including a random assortment if you’re feeing lucky. So right off the bat Lomography’s website differs from Mpix’s greatly. It’s clear that here at Lomography it’s all about analog film. ThLomography also has a set of shops around the globe. These Lomography Gallery Stores offer a place to buy cameras, film and accessories, some of the shops even offer film processing or film drop off centers.

The one thing I noticed right away was a bit confusing. Lomography has two websites, it’s main site, and it’s Store site. Each have a very similar navigation menu and setup, however it can be a bit confusing at first.

Lomography.com is more of a community site where you can join in discussions or events and share photos. Lomography’s store site is where you can purchase cameras, film, or film processing. So to get things started you have to visit shop.lomography.com and click on ‘Services’ and then select ‘LomoLAB Development Service – USA’. Once you find your way there you’ll have a selection of services that Lomography offers. If you are using some of their special film or products they have you covered. However for me I simply chose the ‘Standard Photo Development’ and selected the ‘Create Bundle’ button.

On the next screen you are given quite a lot of options and information. This package includes development, prints and a CD of your photos. So right away it seems like you’re getting quite a good package. On this page simply select the Film Format and Development options. You should visit their website to look at their piecing, print sizes and other important features & details, but it’s pretty easy to understand. For example if I select 35mm as my film format I can then choose my development type. If you have special film or requirements (like Slide Film or Black & White processing) you can select the option here. There are additional charges, for example Slide Film is an extra $4 to process.

In my case however things were a bit strange. I found a roll of 110 film at my parents house that must have been used in 1998. So I was working with a 15 year old roll of film. Thankfully via the Standard Photo Development plan they support 35mm, 110 and 120 film formats. The latter two carrying a $1 additional fee. So for one roll of my special 110 film at standard color negative film processing my total was $13. It may seem expensive, however you get quite a lot, development, prints, and a CD of your photos.

When you continue through checkout you are brought to a page of shipping methods. Keep in mind, this is the return shipping cost. FedEx was the cheapest a a mere $3. You are responsible for shipping your film to Lomography separately on your own. In my experience this was another $5 via USPS online (I already had a mailing envelope handy).

So the total cost for sending in one roll of film (including processing, prints, a CD, and shipping both ways) comes to a grand total of: $21 (subtract $1 for plain 35mm film). You can not deselect prints and a CD to make the package cheaper however.

So I packaged up and mailed in my special 110 film. Then I waited… and waited… and waited. Due to USPS screwing up, my confirmation number said “Out for Delivery” and then “Unknown”. Basically USPS had no idea where my package was. Thankfully I called the Lomography Store in NY, and they confirmed that my film had arrived safe and sound, this was May 1st. Now the serious waiting began. The original estimate was that my film would be processed within 2-3 days. Maybe this was a mistake, because my film would not be ready until 2-3 weeks! I started to question if my film even arrived. I tried reaching out to Lomography via the phone, but unlike my previous attempts I would only end up leaving a message on voicemail. Nobody returned my call and I tried to reach out via Twitter as well, once again hearing no response.

Thankfully on May 20th I gave them another call and FINALLY got through! I was transferred to the lab to say they just received the film on May 16th. (My guess is that the NY Lomography store shipped them to the Lab? Or maybe there was just a huge amount of photos to process) I was then disconnected and I had to call back. They noted my film should be done in 2-3 days. Thankfully on the evening of the 21st I received an email from Lomography (note this was the FIRST email I ever received about my film processing). It said my photos were ready to view online.

So I logged in and there I saw my photos! What was left of them. For whatever reason there were only 13 photos online. I’m pretty sure the roll I sent in was for 24 exposures. However due to the age of the film there are numerous things that could have gone wrong. Or the remaining photos could have simply been too poor quality to process. Whatever the reason I may find out when my negatives are returned to me soon.

Anyway despite the hiccup of the long wait, Lomography’s online photo website is quite nice. Via email you are given a link to review your photos. You can click on each thumbnail for a large version. Since you already paid for everything, this is all free and you don’t have to “unlock” any thumbnails to view them. You even get a nice option to create one .Zip archive of your photos (they email you a link to download this).

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Overall Lomography seemed pretty good. I was worried for a bit, and things took much longer than I expected. But the quality of the photos were nice. The only downside is if you don’t want prints and a CD you should look elsewhere, as you’re paying for them no matter what.

So I received Lomography’s package not long ago. The package I received was a white bubble mailer envelope sent via USPS first class. Inside there was a standard photography envelope you may have seen if you went to pickup your photos in the mid-1990’s. I was pleased with the quality of prints, printed on Fujifilm photo paper, along with a handy index (thumbnail) sheet. I can only describe prints as semi-glossy (at best), but still good quality, especially for the price. The photos taken weren’t the best but that was the fault of the photographer (me at the age of 12 or so). Inside the negatives were cut well and were protected in a nice clear plastic sleeve. Since the negatives were cut, the sleeve was folded nicely, allowing you to take a quick look at the photos without unrolling a massive roll of film (unlike Mpix). I was satisfied with the overall quality of the product.

Note: I don’t see a CD in the package of photos I received, however I most likely removed it and misplaced it.

Developing film with The Dark Room (www.thedarkroom.com)

I found the Dark Room through an internet search when I was looking up other film processing places. On their website I requested film mailers to be sent to me, like Mpix they will mail you some special pre-paid envelopes. Alternatively, The Dark Room gives you an option to use your home printer to print out a pre-paid postage label, and then you just supply your own envelope.

Either way the process is pretty simple. You can either go through the checkout process online and select your film type and your options, then print out a confirmation page to include with your mail in order. Or you can fill out the paper form, select your film type, your other options, and write down your credit card number. It depends on how legible you think your handwriting is. Either way you can include multiple film rolls per envelope, which is handy.

For me I chose their ‘Enhanced Scan’ development service. This includes a nice higher-res scan of your photos, a CD of your photos, a web upload of them (to allow you to download them), and your original negatives back. I opted for the better (enhanced) scan for $5 more than the standard scan. I figure the $5 per roll is worth it, I’ve scanned in my own negatives before and it’s very time consuming. They have samples and comparisons online of their standard, enhanced and super scan (professional grade) scans. For me, I liked the quality of the enhanced.

The Dark Room is located in California and they boast that they are very close to the local post office and that they make multiple trips a day. I’m a bit impatient when it comes to my film, so this made me happy. I mailed my photos out on June 24th 2013 via First Class Mail though the U.S.P.S. To my surprise, at about 3:30 pm on the 26th I got an email saying they have received my order. They mention it could take another 1-3 days for them to start processing my order.

Even further to my surprise, on the 27th at around 12:30 pm I get another email from them with a login ID and password to access their website. Maybe it was a slow processing week, but I didn’t mind! It didn’t mention anything about my photos being ready… but since they setup my account I decided to login and look anyway. Sure enough as soon as I log in I see two photos. A few minutes later I refresh the page… 5 photos! It seems that slowly but surely they were being updated on the website. How exciting! It was very fun to be able to preview the photos as they were being upload live (again I’m impatient, so this was great).

While waiting I decided to poke around the website, the website is LifePics.com, the Dark Room uses their services to host photos. While the website has some nice features, it is a bit confusing to navigate. I ended up using the Live Chat feature for some help, as I couldn’t find out how to download the hi-res versions of my photos. It turns out the website is only fully functional on Internet Explorer (for Windows). As I’m on a Mac, this doesn’t help me. I vented my frustration to the poor Live Chat lady and she said she agreed, and that they are aware of the problem and hope to have a new version of their site later this year. Thankfully I could still get my photos, but only 1 photo at a time. While I was talking to her I asked if she knew if these photo downloads (simply labeled ‘small’ and ‘large’) were the Enhanced scan quality images I paid for. She didn’t know and pointed me to the Dark Room’s email address to ask them. Fair enough, but just another example of how outsourcing part of your service to another site can prove problematic or confusing for your customers. (As of July 2014 this has gotten a bit better for Mac users, but there is still no way to mass-download all the photos)

Anyway I fired up a virtual machine of Windows XP, opened Internet Explorer and quickly downloaded all of  my photos. One annoying issue is that all of my photos (from my two film rolls) were dumped into one folder. As new photos were uploaded the photos also shifted around. I thought I was missing photos and having them disappear until I noticed the Page # and ‘Show All’ options on the bottom of the page.

Overall I am happy with the picture quality of my photos. I’m not 100% sure if these are the enhance scanned files I paid for. But they look pretty good. If they had sorted the photos into folders (by roll) and if there was a non-IE / Mac friendly option to download all the photos, I would be happier. But still, no huge problems, just inconveniences.

I expect to receive my photo negatives and CD in a few days. But I’m very happy to be able to login and view my photos instantly. That is a great feature that I wish the Mpix website would have.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Darkroom was exactly what I was looking for. If it wasn’t for their website which tends to be a bit incompatible with non-Windows systems at times, they would have earned a perfect score. Their results were fantastic, their prices were affordable, and their service was top-notch. They are truly film fanatics and I feel very safe sending my film off to them for developing.

Conclusion:

The Darkroom wins!

In some areas it could be closer to a draw, each service offers some great features, but some aren’t as convenient as others. Mpix, Lomography and The Dark Room do great processing. I had minor issues with each service. Mpix didn’t offer online downloads of your prints and only offered a pricey DVD option. While Lomography didn’t allow you to not choose prints and a CD and took much longer to process the film than I thought (however this may have been due to the special type of the film or due to their popularity). The Dark Room seems pretty great, but their online photo website could use an upgrade (which apparently is coming in late 2013). All are fine choices and depending on your needs, you should be happy with your results. But for me, I think The Darkroom comes out as a winner.

So in the end, while CVS and Walgreens may continue to offer budget photo processing options, you get what you pay for. Sometimes you’ll get great results, and sometimes you’ll get back a disappointing product. Both pharmacies seem to touch-up their photos (when they put them on a CD), often auto-sharpening the photos instead of leaving them how they appear on the original negative. I’d say they’re good in a pinch, but unless you have a friend working at one of these stores, I’d wait the extra few days and get it professionally done. Also, both stores seem to be phasing out their photo processing services.

So online development may be your best bet. Yes it will cost more, but if your photos are important to you – it’s well worth it.  So unless you have to have it by the next day (and can handle the risk of a non-photo-savvy person developing your film) I’d strongly consider online film development. Short of doing it yourself in your own darkroom, they offer the best value and services.

Note: I will try and upload photo samples soon. Post was last updated on July 10th, 2014.

 

Categories: General Tags: , , , , ,

A brand new scratched record… not fun!

July 12th, 2012 No comments

In April 2011 on Record Store Day my girlfriend and I picked up The Flaming lips album Heavy Fwends. Unfortunetly we just opened it (after getting a new turntable) to find that one of the sides of the two LP set was badly scratched! I’m not talking about a tiny scratch, but this thing has 12-15 heavy scratches on it.

Certainly not the condition I’d expect a brand new record to have. It looks to me like it was a factory error, besides the scratches there seems to have been some dirt or dust in the sleeve. This is a limited edition, and Warner Bros. Records has no public email or help line for Quality Assurance, just a mailing address. I wouldn’t even think of mailing them this blindly without any hope of resolution.

So while I figure out how to actually contact them, here are photos of the record in question… be careful, the following images may be disturbing to record fans…

 

Categories: General Tags: ,

Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Supplemental Material LaserDisc

July 3rd, 2012 No comments

Another one of Disney’s fine CAV deluxe edition releases. I got this on eBay, it was only the Supplemental Material Disc, the film was not included. But that’s okay, I have the film on DVD. But the film on LaserDisc did have a commentary track, however I think this is the same commentary track that’s on the DVD. But on eBay this is all that was listed. You can read more about this release on the LaserDisc Database website.

I wanted this disc because it’s special. It includes a wealth of bonus features unavailable anywhere else. The first side has 58 minutes of material, and the second side has 27 minutes of material. The second side is in CAV format, offering step frames options (for use on photo galleries, slideshows, etc) and the option to pause live video an examine it frame-by-frame. Animation enthusiasts loved LaserDiscs in CAV format, because they made the act of studying animation frame-by-frame easy. And I still love them currently because of this as well!

I’ve scanned in and made a composite of the back of this LaserDisc, which lists the Chapter Index and contents of the disc. The LaserDisc jacket was too large to fit in my scanner, so I had to scan it in a few times and combine them in Photoshop. It’s not perfect, but it allows you to read everything and take a look at the back. Enjoy!

 

Click on the image to see a larger version!

Click here to view my LaserDisc collection from the awesome LaserDisc Database website. It’s mostly up-to-date.

Categories: General Tags: ,

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Vinyl Record Promotional Flyer

July 3rd, 2012 No comments

My Dad was looking through some of his vinyl records and came across this. It’s looks like a standard ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade‘ Soundtrack vinyl record, but as you can see the cover has some label on the front which stats it’s lent for Promotional Use Only. He recalls this may have been a sample he was given to at work or something along those lines.

But what was inside the record was also equally as interesting. An old double-sided flyer for the Lucasfilm Fanclub, and on the reverse, a full page of Indiana Jones related merchandise to shop for! I’ve scanned in this wonderful double-sided flyer for you to enjoy. It’s quite awesome, I hope you enjoy it! :)

Color Lucasfilm Fan Club (Front Side) of Flyer – Click to see the large hi-resolution image!

Black & White Order Form (Back Side) of Flyer – Click to see the large hi-resolution image!

Categories: General Tags: , , , ,

Tron LaserDisc (Exclusive Archive Collection)

June 11th, 2012 No comments

So I got an awesome LaserDiscs in the mail today, one that I’ve wanted for a while… TRON! This is one of Disney’s CAV boxsets. The original price tag, still on the package, reads $99.99. This title is part of the Exclusive Archive Collection Series, a total of 14 different films were released for this collection, 7 in the United States, and 7 in Japan with some overlapping of titles.

This exclusive edition of Tron, only to appear on LaserDisc, contains a full double-sided CAV disc full of extras. Since I was lucky enough to get this set in very good condition, I have the nice booklet that came along with it. However, some of you may have not been so lucky. So I have scanned in the back of the booklet, which lists all the chapter stops where the supplementary features are. I hope this comes in handy for you! :)

 

Tron LaserDisc Booklet – Click for Full-Size Scan

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A Rotten Egg: My experience with Newegg.com

June 8th, 2012 No comments

Come read the story of my terrible customer experience with Newegg. I will be updating it daily until the issue is resolved.

I love technology, I really do. I’m a tech savvy guy that loves electronics and computers. So naturally I’ve used the site Newegg.com. Since 2006 I’ve been a loyal paying customer. Over these past six years I’ve purchased quite a few of electronics and parts, in 2008 I looked to Newegg’s website and built a high-end PC that still shines to this day. So I was very surprised on what happened next and what I would soon be dealing with from a company I thought I knew so well. Their customer service center says they’ll “Give you the best service possible.”, there is obviously something wrong here…

On June 6th 2012 I was talking to my friend Todd. We were talking about SSD products (Solid State Drives, like a hard drive but much faster). He pointed me to Newegg’s site to show me a deal they had on a Crucial 256GB SSD drive, the price was pretty good, $199 with an additional $20 off promo code. I had a $69.99 gift card that my brother had given me. He recently had a “fun” experience with Newegg’s ServiceNet department which gave him a measly $70 in exchange for a broken hard drive. Since it was not enough to buy a comparable product, I bought the card from him and he shopped elsewhere. So using the gift card and my credit card I completed my purchase. I heard my iPhone chime that I had received a new email, followed a few minutes later by another chime. Usually Newegg sense out a confirmation email and such, so I assumed all was well.

But all was not well – I check my email to see a cancellation notice. “We do our very best to give you the best possible shopping experience.” the email starts out,  “However we’re sending this note to let you know that your order has, which was recently placed under your account, been voiced”. The email proceeds to tell me contact Customer Service Department. So I pickup the phone and call, after jumping through an automated menu system I get an automated message telling me their customer service center is closed. Closed? Really? Most places have at least one person to answer the phones 24/7. Realizing that nobody is going to answer my call, I hop over to the Newegg website. I log in to take a look at my recent order, hoping that maybe the website has some details the generic email didn’t. At this moment I get a notice telling me that my account has been suspended. I can no longer log in and that I need to contact customer service. Now I’m even more frustrated. How can I talk to customer service when the phone lines are closed and I can’t log into the website?!

Sure enough I find the help option and I start the ‘Chat with Us’ feature without being logged in. I inform the person I’m speaking with about my issue. I ask why my account was suspended. Their responses tip-toe around the issue. They can’t tell me what’s going on, only the “Verification Department” can do that. Since they are closed too, I’m out of luck. They advise me to call back in the morning. The chat ends.

On June 7th 2012 I patiently wait at my desk, I try to login to my Newegg account again, to see if anything has been fixed, but it’s still blocked. It’s now 11:00 AM, keeping in mind Newegg’s offices are located in California it’s about 8:00 AM local time here. I call up the main Newegg number and speak to Eileen. I explain the whole ordeal to her and ask to speak to the ‘Verification Department’. She tells me they don’t open for another 30 minutes (8:30 AM) and that she can’t tell me why my order was canceled, or any reason why my account was suspended. She promises to call me back as soon as they open, and she’ll pass them my information.

I return to my desk even more frustrated and upset. The transparency between departments seems to be non-existent.  Nobody can tell me what is going on, or why I can’t simply place a new order. Looking at my computer I notice my Twitter feed. I get the idea to reply to @NewEgg about the issue. After I tweet to them they reply back telling me to email them at twitter@newegg.com about my issue. I send a long email to them at 12:04PM detailing my issue. Explaining that I want my account unblocked and I want to know what the issue at hand is. Why was my order canclend, why was my account blocked? Nobody has told me at this point.

After sending the email I keep a good eye on my phone and my inbox. I receive no calls or notice from Newegg, that is until 2:59 PM. I get an email from a Mr. Angel, his email signature says he’s a Newegg Public Image Professional. He informs me that he’s on a way to a quick meeting and gives me some information. He tells me that he has confirmed with the verification department that my account was now unblocked. He says he’s happy to discount my gift card amount and the promotional code amount off of the final price that I pay for the item when I re-order it. He explains once the purchase is complete I will have the refunded amount within 3-5 business days. He says he looks forward to my response and that he will follow up with the rest of my email afterwards.

So now I’m excited. I jump back to Newegg.com and login. I find the item that I tried to purchase on Wednesday and add it to my cart. I enter in my address and billing information. I triple check everything to ensure there is not an issue. I finish the process and an “Order confirmation” email from Newegg arrives in my inbox at 3:08 PM. I’m happy, I got the item I wanted, at the original price I intended. The shipping may be a bit delayed, but it’s on it’s way. This happiness is soon shattered, because at 3:14 PM I receive another message titled “Newegg.com – Order Cancelled”. I refresh my email to make sure this is not an old message.  No, it’s new. My 2nd order has now been canceled. I quickly go to the Newegg site to check the status of my order, hoping there is some explanation. Guess what? My account is again suspended. At this point I am beyond upset. I forward the cancellation email to Mr. Angel and tell him that my account is again suspended. I again demand to know what the verification department found out the first time around. Was my address bad? Was my credit card to blame? Do they not like my name? What’s exactly going on here. This information should have been sent to me earlier to prevent the same issue from happening again.

3 hours later and I hear nothing. Finally an email comes through from my good friend Mr. Angel. He thanks me for my patience and informs me he had a meeting that was followed up by another incident, at that time he had to take his mandatory lunch for the day. He tells me he’s passing my information over to the verification department (again) for review. He says, and I quote “This is ridiculous and I do not see why these orders are void. I am going to be looking into this further. It may be that your credit card number has been used before in a “fraudulent order”.” Wow… so now, for the first time, I am hearing that this whole issue is because of my Credit Card? It would have been nice for them to hint to me, or even suggest “Hey maybe use another card this time, see if that works.” But no – that’s too hard I guess. He finishes the email saying that he’s doing everything he can to get this fixed and that he appreciates my patience.

I pickup the phone, hoping to speak to Mr. Angle himself, by calling the phone number in his signature. However, not to my surprise, this number directs me to Newegg’s general customer service line. Since it’s about closing time at the office I head home, planning to call when I arrive home. After stopping to run some errands I arrive home. I place a call a bit before 6PM. During this 22 minute call I hoped that something would be resolved. But not quite. After explaining the information in-depth to another representative we find a cause of the problem. My name, and credit card, has been used on another account. My business account, I have used Newegg to order items for my business, I created a separate email account in order to keep things split off from my personal account.  I would be refunded the amount from my company, but not having a company credit card I had to use my own. The representative (who is not even from the verification team) says “Ohh… well that explains the problem. There seems to be a charge-back against your credit card. The system is showing you owe Newegg.” I paused… “This was resolved months ago.” I tell him… and I explain…

Back in November 2011 I tried to order some items via Newegg’s Black Friday sale – I placed an order and my account was suspended. The reason for this was a previous order that I had returned. In late 2011 I ordered an OCZ SSD for my MacBook Pro computer. The item arrived and seemed okay, but I could not get it to work. System speeds were amazingly slow, it took over 20 minutes to boot on a new install of Mac OS X. I called the OCZ company and they explained that there is a known issue with the product on my system, and all they can do is replace my SATA III drive with an SATA II drive – esensially giving me a slower model in exchange for my faster one. I told them that I didn’t think this was acceptable. They told me to talk to Newegg for a return. So I contact Newegg. Their policy for this item was “Exchange Only”, meaning all they can do is replace the item with the same exact item – which is no good since this item (despite OCZ’s specs and details) does not work on my computer correctly. After fighting with Newegg they waive the restocking fee and I ship back the defective unit to them. I note the tracking number and wait a few days. Newegg refunds me the $90 of the item on my credit card. But something goes wrong. I notice shortly after there is a new $90 charge against me. I call up my credit card company and explain, my credit card company opens a dispute, I proceed to call up Newegg and explain. Nobody believes me at first. I give them the RMA number and they look it up. They claim they never received the item. I pull up the UPS tracking number and prove them wrong. Suddenly they’re apologizing, but they can’t do anything yet. They must pass the information froward to someone else, and they will “get back to me” when it’s resolved. So the next day I have another call with them. We iron out all the details, they inform me they have reversed the charge and that they have the returned item. They apologize and the call ends. I then call up my credit card company, they verify Newegg has reversed the charge, and I have no charges against me. The credit card operator is happy that the issue is resolved and I hang up.

So now (back in June 7th 2012) I explain this as briefly as possible to the Newegg customer support representative. He doesn’t seem to deny or accept my reasoning. He explains that he can’t unblock the account. At this point I demand to speak to Mr. Angel, I explain that he has been involved and knows what the issue is and how to fix it. The representative takes my phone number and says Mr. Angel will call me soon. I proceed to make dinner and 15-20 minutes later Mr. Angel calls me. He apologizes and says that he has passed the issue onto the verification team, and that I will get a call tonight or tomorrow. He says that even if I did place an order that night, the item wouldn’t ship until tomorrow (Friday, 6/8). I tell him that I expect to be called as soon as he gets in tomorrow, he doesn’t commit to an exact time. I end the call.

June 8th 2012:  My patience is wearing thin. So far (except once) everytime Newegg says they’re going to call me back, they fail to. So I check my inbox and my phone, no emals from Newegg and no missed calls or voicemail. I wait until 11:54 AM (again waiting for their offices to open in California) to give them a call. The call doesn’t last more than a few minutes – the call gets dropped. Assuming it’s my cell phone, I dial back in…”Thank you for calling NewEgg. We’re sorry but our call system is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Please use our online chat feature…”. I don’t believe it. Just my luck, the call center is down! Following their suggestion I use the online chat service again. This time I know a bit more information, and I hope that they’ll be able to at least unblock my account.

I speak to Claire, I explain the situation and she transfers me to “a related team” to help me out. A person named Jackle is added to the chat. He apologizes for the inconvenience and asks me if I’m placing the order using an international credit card, or if I’m placing the order outside the United States. Obviously (even though they have my order number and my customer number) they have no idea what my issue was or the status of it. So I’m blunt with them. I tell them this is my 3rd day without resolution and that I would like to speak to Mr. Angel. They tell me what I already know, the phone line is down and they will have him call me when it’s back up. I remind them that I’ve been promised many times from their service center that people will call me and they never do. I ask to be transferred to the Verification Department. Jackle tells me that they do not take contacts directly, all interactions must be forwarded by Customer Service. (But aren’t they customer service?!). He tells me to “please just wait for us to contact you”. I again remind him I’ve been waiting for 3 days, and I don’t trust Newegg to call me back. I tell him I want this resolved now. Jackle says “I can have the verification team look into it, but it’s going to take a few hours. We wouldn’t be able to resolve it immediately.” I tell them that Mr. Angel has already talked to the verification team and that I would like to avoid confusion by them not entering a second ticket into the mess. I tell them that Mr. Angel has passed along my information to the ‘Verification Department’ last night and that the processing time of  “a few hours” should have been enough by now to solve the issue. I explain that the issue is my credit card and that I would need to place a new order with a different card. Jackle responses “Due to security reasons, we might not have the exact reason why the account was suspended.” … “There should be an update by the end of today. I’ll be sure to have Mr. Angel follow up on it.” – I again tell Jackle that I’ve been hearing the same promises for a while now. Obviously this chat isn’t moving forward. I give Jackle my cell phone number and tell him that I will be expecting a call from them ASAP. The chat ends at about 12:15 PM.

At 12:22 PM I get an email from Mr. Angel. He says he just “walked in 20 minutes ago” and that there was a blackout in the area. He mentions that all the phones are down and they currently have limited functions. He says he’ll get back to me ASAP.

As of 1:30 PM I have not heard back from Newegg or Mr. Angel. I doubt even if I placed an order, if the product would arrive tomorrow, before I leave on a short trip.

1:53 PM – Mr. Angel emails me and tells me he’s trying everything he can to get this expedited. He says the verification department is being very strict about my situation. I replied to Mr. Angel (again giving him my cell phone number) tell him I am expecting everything to be finished by today (as he promised) and to not hesitate to have himself or the verification department call me.

2:34 PM – Another response, that was quick. Mr. Angel informs me that the issue has been escalated and corporate is now involved directly. He says he is working on the issue to prevent further delays. Again this is no estimated time of my product being ordered or shipped. I replied to him inviting anyone at Newegg to call me to hear my side of the story, or to receive my previous RMA / UPS tracking numbers from November 2011.

2:51 PM – In another email Mr. Angel informs me that he does not believe the issue will be resolved in time for a delivery of the item on Saturday as promised. Wonderful.

Later on this evening I was able to finally re-place my order. My package should arrive Tuesday…