Saturday, October 31, 2009

Business Cards: Staples vs. Avery Print-Your-Own

I use a lot of business cards. I have them for all my blogs, my videography business, and I created some for my (someday...maybe) special education advocacy practice.

I usually make them myself using Avery Clean-Edge Business Cards. Recently I decided to try Staples Copy & Print to make some more professional looking cards for my new blog, AutMont.

The photo above shows cards I made with Avery on the left and the Staples-produced cards on the right.

I have to say, I was not impressed with Staples. First, here is the cost breakdown for each of the above options:

A box of 400 Avery Ink Jet, Two-Side, Clean-Edge Business Cards costs $33.21. Plus you have to add in the cost of ink, and you have to be able to design and format them yourself. I use Photoshop and Quark to do that, although they have free templates you can use as well.

My order for 300 one-sided business cards on basic stock from Staples Copy & Print coast me a total of $44.51. I created my design in Photoshop, although they also have online templates. BUT! If you want to upload your own art and you use a Mac, you are going to have to call the customer service line and get the email address of a customer service rep and send the design to him or her because the Copy & Print website doesn't support Macs.

I have a long story full of sadness, anger, and woe about my Staples business card order. I won't go into the whole story, but here are the highlights: I got my order turned in (through email to a customer service rep) and asked for it to be ready at a nearby Staples store. The website promises same-day pick-up, but I gave them an extra day. When I went in, they said the cards weren't ready, but they would be ready late the next day. I went in two days later to have them tell me they lost my order. So then, I had to wait until Monday when the customer service line was open again, have the guy resubmit my order (to a different Staples), and picked them up the following day.

It was quite a hassle for a "same-day" order.

Once I got them, I still wasn't impressed. I suppose I should have asked for the pricier paper because the basic stock wasn't what I had hoped. I guess I assumed that because they were produced by a print shop that they would be of business card quality. They weren't. Honestly, they looked cheaper and were thinner than the ones I produced at home by myself.

Here I compare a stack of the Avery cards I made (on the left) with an equal number of my Staples Copy & Print cards (on the right).

You may notice that the Staples card stack is shorter, indicating thinner paper.

Then there is the fact that they were inconsistently printed. Here you can see that the cards are not uniformly produced:

The cards I make at home are often like that too, but I make and format the page myself, so I'm okay with it. I sort of figured that Staples would be able to produce a uniform card.

The image quality was pretty good on the Staples cards, however. Here, you can compare cards I made with the same image on Avery blanks (on the left) and the Staples cards (on the right).

After all of this, I will say that I won't be ordering business cards from Staples Copy & Print ever again. Comparing quality, ease, and expense, it makes so much more sense for me to just make them myself.

There are many other options to make business cards that you don't have to print yourself. Just make sure to give yourself plenty of time to design, upload, and have them shipped to you. Let me know in the comments what is your favorite source for business cards.

Honesty Clause: I paid for both my Staples business cards and the Avery cards. After an irate letter to Staples, they did sent me a $25 store credit (yeah, thanks a lot). When they sent it to me they were all, "Per our conversation..." We never had a conversation—they never got in touch with me prior to emailing the credit. You should probably also know that I am highly pissed at Staples Copy & Print.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm Enthused About Nintendo!

I wanted to take some time here to let you know that I've joined with Brand About Town to be a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast for the next year or so, so you'll likely be seeing some Nintendo reviews and chatter around these parts in the coming months.

When Brand About Town contacted me, I was thrilled, and not just because of the possibility of free stuff and parties (of which there will be), but because I honest to god love the Nintendo brand.

See, my family are gamers, and we have been for as long as we can remember. I actually started out with the Atari 400, of which I have very fond memories. Alex evidently had the first Nintendo system, the name of which I can't even remember. But our "as a family" gaming journey began together waaaay back in the 90s when I bought Alex a Nintendo 64 as a gift. I cannot tell you how many hours we spent playing on that thing together, especially Mario Kart. (I raced as Bowser, Alex as Donkey Kong.)

When the Nintendo GameCube came out, it was a natural progression for us to buy that and spend hours playing it, which we did.

Since we've had kids, we've had less time to play video games, but as my kids have gotten older, they have started to enjoy them. Last year for Christmas, Alex blew my mind by buying me a Wii and Wii Fit. And I love them. But you know who loves them more? My kids. And you know what I love about them loving the Wii? Unlike with other video game systems (and, yes, we own others), this one actively engages more than their thumbs.

The games my kids really love on the Wii are the ones that get them moving. They love Outdoor Challenge, they love Wii Sports, and Jack has started asking for Wii Sports Resort, which his occupational therapist uses as a reward and a teaching tool. Jack is also super obsessed with the tank shooting game on Wii Play, spending hours drawing pictures of tanks and maps of their environments.

I think that means we own the entire Nintendo line, which is a little shocking now that I look back on this post. Oh, wait! We didn't own the DSi. But now we do. Brand About Town sent me a DSi AND the very game that has made me covet the DS for ages—Brain Age (2). I just about flipped my lid when I opened that package.

Although I might have flipped my lid more had I opened it two weeks ago, when we bought Sam a DSi for his birthday. (But now I have my own as well, and get to mess with Sam who thinks I'm stealing his game to play.) Sam is a good kid and spends a fair amount of his time in waiting rooms because Jack has therapy twice a week, so it seemed like a nice thing to surprise him with the game system that he always drools at when other kids have it.

He had never asked for one (I don't think he was bold enough to think we would agree to buy him one) and was NOT expecting it. After he opened the birthday present, his mind went into overload and he was completely unable to react:

He sat like that for a solid two or three minutes. For a second, I thought Nintendo had flat-out killed him.

All of this is to say that, as a family, we really love Nintendo. And apparently we are a little spoiled as well. But I also wanted to let you know why you would be reading about Nintendo products and events here for the next little while. No, I'm not being paid to write these posts or to host parties, but, yes, there are perks. But, you will still always get my honest opinion about the products. I just happen to really like the products. I think that just may be why they chose me.

So, carry on and happy gaming!

Honesty Clause: To welcome me to their program, Brand About Town sent me a Nintendo DSi, the DS game Brain Age 2, and a copy of Wii Fit Plus. You'll be hearing about the Wii Fit Plus soon. All the other games and equipment mentioned above have been purchased by me or members of my family.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Torchwood: Seasons 1 and 2

Stimey is watching seasons one and two of the British series Torchwood. To my terrible embarrassment, I'm really enjoying it. It's a lovely mix of science fiction, humor, quirk, adventure, and some actual, honest-to-God diversity, including a gay male lead, who is played for zilch shock value. Love it.

Lighting Their Fires by Rafe Esquith

As far as great teachers go, Rafe Esquith seems to fit the bill. He's a teacher in an urban Los Angeles school who has found ways to help many of his students excel in academia, the arts, and life itself.

Even Sir Ian McKellen is a fan, and, frankly, I could probably end this review right there, because seriously, what more do you want?

Esquith's latest book, Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children is less about Esquith and his kids, who put on well-received annual Shakespeare productions and more about laying out a gameplan of how you can help your kids reach their highest potential.

He presents important ideas to pack in your child's metaphorical backpack. All of his ideas are simple and seem obvious, starting with "be on time." As someone who is perpetually and chronically early, I agree with this and his other tenets, including, watch less (or no) TV, focus and pay attention, and learn to make the right decisions for yourself and not because others expect you to.

All these are lovely ideas and this book is full of great advice. I do have to say that the book and the writing style didn't entirely resonate with me. I felt a little bit preached to, and the tone seemed a little judgy. That's not to say that this isn't a book with great ideas and an important message. I was just hoping for more personal stories about the kids, a la Phil Done.

Even so, there was a lot of food for thought in this book. There are a lot of big ideas, and based on Esquith's success with the kids in his classes, those ideas work.

Honesty Clause: I received a free review copy of this book. "Lighting Their Fires" sells for $24.95, but you can find it for cheaper on places such as Amazon.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stimey's Sister's Top iPhone Apps!

You've now spent four days reading about my favorite apps. But enough about me, what do other people like? I checked in with my sister, Ann, (who technically isn't me), who uses her iPhone to do pretty much anything she needs in her personal life and in her professional life as a doctor. She didn't name all the medical apps she uses, but here are her other favorites! (My snarky comments follow in brackets.)

Shazam (Free)

Cool app that you can hold up to the radio—it analyzes the song and tells you what it is. [I think there is more to this app, but I didn't bother to check as I ran to get my iPhone and test it out. Way cool.]

Safe Note ($0.99 or Free)

This is a notebook app with password protection. I use it for passwords and financial information. [But where do you keep the password for the app?]

Pandora (Free)

Radio app where you put in lists of people you like and it comes up with stations for you to listen to based on that. [I have Pandora on my iPhone as well, but I rarely use it. I need to remember to use it, because everyone who does loves it.]

PocketMoney ($4.99 or Free)

Budgeting app—I use it as a checkbook. It keeps track of what you have in your accounts, plus you can clear things that the bank has cleared so you know where the bank thinks you stand too. It's really easy to add notations when you're buying something at a store so you don't have to save receipts. [Plus, its little pig icon is adorable.]

Formula Pro ($4.99)

This is an app with tons of mathematical and other formulas. The neat thing is that you can define and save your own formulas, plus it's really easy to enter info and get an answer (versus having to use a calculator where there's more chance for error). [Neeeeeeerrrrrdddddd!!!! Also, I feel kinda dumb now, because I would never have a use for this in my sad little illiterate life.]

Boxed In ($0.99 or Free)

A simple but very addictive game. Move boxes around to get out of the maze. [Well, I'm glad to see that Ms. Mathematical Formula plays dumb games too. I'm going to go download this now.]

NYTimes, MSNBC, and TimeMobile (Free)

News apps. [Yeah, I wish I had something to add to this, but "news apps" pretty much covers it. However, I can add that I feel kind of embarrassed now that I don't have any news apps on my iPhone as I get most of my news from twitter.]

Apparently no one has any App suggestions for me. Hellooooooo!!!! Is this thing on? Well, if you do have app suggestions, leave them in the comments here so others can read them. And so I can download them.

Earlier on App Week: Scholastic Game Apps, Stimey's Top 10 Utilities, Social Media and More, Simple Games

Honesty Clause: All of these apps were downloaded by my sister and paid for (if there was a charge) by her.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stimey's Top Twelve Simple iPhone Game Apps

When I got my iPhone, I was convinced that I would not be filling it up with games. Furthermore, I was convinced that I would never just hand it over to my kids and say, "Here. Keep busy." But I did and I do. The iPhone is a life saver when you're out with your kids and need to keep them entertained. I've found some great games—some for my kids and some for me—and most of them have been free. Read on!

Crosswords ($9.99)

This is quite possibly the app I use more than any other on my iPhone. This app downloads new puzzles everyday, so you will never run out (unless you spent a LOT of time doing crosswords). This has been well-worth the $9.99 it cost. If you want to give it a test run, download the free lite version first.

Sol Free (Free)

This is a great app for some mindless solitaire action, with enough variations to keep you busy. I only use the Klondike Deal 3 version, but there are several other games as well. Maybe the only bad thing about this app is that it keeps track of the amount of time you spend playing it. Oy.

Spazzle Free (Free)

This is a fast-paced Whack-a-Mole game that gets my kids giggling until they can barely breathe. Whack the moles with your finger, but don't get the cats!

Chicks on the Loose ($1.99)

Another make your kids laugh until they gasp game. None of my kids are very good at this game, but they love it. Fair warning: if you download the free version first, your kids will continually touch the "upgrade to full version" button until you give in and just upgrade already.

JellyCar (Free)

Tap the screen and rotate the iPhone to make your Jelly Car do silly things as it navigates a crazy course. I thought it would be hard for my kids to pick this up, but they got it in a snap, and they love it.

BrainTeaser (Free)

The object of this game is to match the pattern in the corner by tapping squares in the upper part. When you tap a square, all the adjoining squares flip as well. I got bored with this game almost immediately, but my husband loves it and will sneak away with my phone to play it.

Trace (Free)

This was my first iPhone game, and it holds a special place in my heart. My six-year-old was obsessed with it for a while, as was I. However, once you've done each puzzle once, it loses much of its appeal. I'm waiting for a sequel.

Pac Man Lite (Free)

The classic arcade game comes back in iPhone form. It's a little hard to navigate using the arrow buttons, but it still keeps my young kids busy and happy.

Lightsaber Unleashed (Free)

This app is stupid and useless. But my kids love it. It makes whooshing lightsaber noises and lets them build different color weapons on the screen.

Pole Position: Remix Lite (Free)

I loved Pole Position when I was a kid, but I had to go to an arcade and cough up a quarter. My kids just have to grab my iPhone and turn it this way and that to drive the race course. I don't think any of them have raced a qualifying time EVER, but they don't care.

Air Hockey Free (Free)

Again, I love air hockey, and while this free game doesn't compare to a big table, it does manage to get some of the flavor of the game in a fingertip version. You can choose from one player, two player, one puck, two puck, kiddie level, easy get the point.

Doodle Buddy (Free)

This isn't technically a game, but I added it here because it is a fun app that keeps my kids busy, and is creative at the same time. You use your finger to draw whatever you want. Why bother downloading tic-tac-toe or hangman? Just draw it yourself with Doodle Buddy.

Tomorrow my sister guest posts with her favorite apps.

I'd like to have my last day of reviews be reader-suggested apps. Let me know in the comments or via email what your favorite apps are and why. Also let me know what apps you tried that were not worth the time.

Earlier on App Week: Scholastic Game Apps, Stimey's Top 10 Utilities, Social Media and More

Honesty Clause: All of these apps were downloaded by me and paid for (if there was a charge) by me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stimey's Top iPhone Apps—Social Media and More

Yesterday, I listed my top ten iPhone utility apps. Today, I'm going to tell you about my favorite apps that I use for social media purposes. (And a couple you can use when you're actually socializing in real life!)

Tweetdeck (Free)

If you know me, you know I love to tweet. And you also might know that my Tweetdeck is always open on my computer at home. So when Tweetdeck came out with their mobile version, I was quick to scoop it up. I love it. I've only used this and Twitterfon (now Echofon), and I like TweetDeck much better.

Whrrl (Free)

Whrrl is a great little social network that lets you create "stories" made up of photos and little blurbs. It's a great way to document an event or an outing. I haven't used Whrrl much, but I did create a story once. Then Alex yelled at me for hanging out with my iPhone instead of participating with the family, and since then I've been afraid to Whrrl in front of him. But some day I'll do it again. It's lots of fun!

BlogPress ($2.99)

When I was on vacation over the summer, I didn't have any internet connections, so I was entirely reliant on my iPhone to update my Blogger blog. I've only used BlogPress once to toss a short post up to my blog, but it was easy to use and seemed reliable. Just prior to downloading BlogPress, I'd tried to use BlogWriter, and I couldn't even get it to log into my account. BlogPress was a breath of fresh air after that.

Flickr (Free)

I don't use Flickr a whole lot, but I like having the option of uploading my photos from my iPhone camera to Flickr. If you are a serious Flickr user, I would consider this to be a must-have app.

Facebook (Free)

I kind of hate Facebook and I'm angry that I use it at all, but it does have its charm. And if you want to use Facebook from your phone, you've gotta have this free app. Easy to use and a fun way to pass time.

Movie Must-Haves: PhoneFlicks and Fandango (Both free)

Whether you're going to the movies or adjusting your Netflix queue for home viewing, these two apps will make sure that you never miss a movie you want to see again.

OpenTable (Free)

And as long as you're out on the town seeing a movie, you might as well used OpenTable to reserve a table at your favorite restaurant. I haven't been able to use this app yet because, frankly, the McDonald's drive thru doesn't use OpenTable, but someday I'll be out with my husband or my friends and I am going to look like a superhero for busting out this restaurant reservation app.

Tomorrow: Game reviews!!

I'd like to have my last day of reviews be reader-suggested apps. Let me know in the comments or via email what your favorite apps are and why. Also let me know what apps you tried that were not worth the time.

Earlier on App Week: Scholastic Game Apps, Stimey's Top 10 Utilities

Honesty Clause: All of these apps were downloaded by me and paid for (if there was a charge) by me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Stimey's Fave iPhone Apps: Top 10 Utilities

It's still iPhone Apps Week here at Things. And Stuff. Today I'll be reviewing my favorite utilities and not-just-for-fun apps. I love my iPhone because it lets me do pretty much anything I want to do from wherever I am. Here are some of the apps that help me do that.

mBoxMail ($9.99)

I am one of the last sixteen people on the planet to use Hotmail as my main email account. I mean, I have a gajillion other email accounts, most of them through Gmail, but they all forward into my Hotmail account. So I was pretty sad to discover that the email app that comes with the iPhone doesn't sync up Hotmail. mBoxMail was the first app that I actually paid money for it. It's been worth it.

textPlus (Free)

A free app that lets you send free text messages? Great! I don't text very much—I could probably count my lifetime number of texts sent on my two hands—but every once in a while, it is the best and most efficient way to get in touch with someone. This app takes a little jimmying with to get it the right way, and if the person you're texting doesn't also have textPlus, your message arrives with a little bit of extra baggage. Still. Free texts.

Skype (Free)

I've used Skype from my computer for a while now because my mom lives overseas. You can't beat a free Skype-to-Skype call to Australia. I'm not sure if Skype still requires a WiFi connection to make calls (instead of just using a 3G network), but either way, it still beats landline-to-landline.

Yelp (Free)

Of all the "find a business and give me directions on how to get there" apps, Yelp is my favorite. You can search by category, location, or store name and then get quick and easy directions through the iPhone's map application. I will say that had I written this prior to having Yelp send me to two nonexistent Sears stores the other day, I would have been a little happier with it.

Lose It! (Free)

Studies show that if you write down what you eat, you are more likely to lose weight. This is a great little food tracker that lets you set a calorie goal and helps you search for and list all the foods you eat. It has a lot of options and ways to customize and save your settings. Great app! The only problem actually have to use it to lose your weight.

iXpenseIt ($4.99)

This is an app that you can use in many ways to track your budget. I use it to keep track of the money that I spend day to day. It can generate reports and lets you customize different categories and settings. There is a free version (iXpenseit Lite) that only holds a certain number of records. So you can try it out and, if you like it, transfer your information over to the full version.

Kindle (Free)

My mother was an early adopter of the Kindle, and it nearly threw her over the edge when she saw that I could download a Kindle app for free on my phone. As far as I can tell, it does pretty much the same thing as the stand-alone Kindle. And it's free. I don't use it very much, but I always keep a book on there in case I'm stuck somewhere and need something to read.

iReward ($2.99)

The other day I was in a hardware store and my oldest child was being a pill. So I searched the App Store for a sticker chart app that would let me track his behavior on the go. iReward lets me mark his bad behavior. When he gets a certain number of stars, he loses a privilege. I use it for another son in a different way: every time he finishes a page of homework, he gets to award himself a star. At the end, he gets to play. This is a cool, easy way to track good and bad behavior even when you're out of the house and away from the stickers.

Recorder Pro ($0.99)

Use the iPhone's built-in microphone to record literally hours of audio. You can use this to record lectures, events, or notes. I particularly like this app because you can record in different formats, depending on what you're going to use it for. I recently recorded more than an hour on this app with no problem at all. Here's a tip though: put your phone on Airplane Mode so your recording doesn't get interrupted by a phone call.

NPR News (Free)

I get a lot of my news from NPR, and as far as I can tell, this just might be the best NPR app out there. You can use it to get live streaming of NPR, to create a playlist of stories to listen to when you want to, and find NPR stations by your GPS location or zip code, plus so much more. Never miss Car Talk again!

That's it for now. Tomorrow I'll be back with my favorite social media and social apps!

I'd like to have my last day of reviews be reader-suggested apps. Let me know in the comments or via email what your favorite apps are and why. Also let me know what apps you tried that were not worth the time.

Earlier on App Week: Scholastic Game Apps

Honesty Clause: All of these apps were downloaded by me and paid for (if there was a charge) by me.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

iPhone Apps: Scholastic Games

It's iPhone Apps Week here at Things. And Stuff. Over the course of the next few days, I'll be posting lists of my favorites games, utilities, and more. I'd like to have my last day of reviews be reader-suggested apps. Let me know in the comments or via email what your favorite apps are and why.

I'm kicking off Apps Week with a group of Apps from Scholastic. I'm grouping these separately, because Scholastic gave these to me for free. Plus, because they're cool because they're all based on books.

Clifford's BE BIG with Words ($1.99)

This is a simple app that has young kids build three letter words all by themselves. They are guided toward spelling the words by choosing letters from Jetta the Poodle's paint palette. Once it's spelled, a picture is painted to show its meaning.

Honestly, I wasn't sure how much this would hold my kids' attention. Quinn, my four-year-old, is the only one of my kids that this game was age-appropriate for, but I swear, every time I turned around, he was playing this thing. There is definitely limited action on this, and your kid won't play it for hours and hours, but it's a fun little game—especially if your kid loves Clifford and his buddies.

I SPY Spooky Mansion ($0.99) and I SPY Riddle Race ($3.99)

My family loves the I SPY books, so it was natural for me to want to try these two apps. I thought my kids would like these games, but they've mostly ignored them. I, on the other hand, have really been enjoying them.

Each of the games has its own twist, but basically you need to find certain things in the pictures, just as in the books.

You can enlarge the screen in order to look more closely for your items. I gotta say, these game are tough. I didn't imagine it would be, but it is. Some of the puzzles totally stumped me. They're a fun way to while away some time. As you might expect based on the price, the Riddle Race has substantially more puzzles (60) than the Spooky Mansion game (21).

The 39 Clues Madrigal Maze ($3.99)

This maze game is definitely my oldest (8 years old) son's favorite new game. He loves mazes, so this is a perfect fit for him. The mazes get progressively harder, with more obstacles and time limits, as you proceed farther in the game.

We have a couple of the 39 Clues books, but haven't started reading them yet. I'm hoping that playing this game will get my son interested in them. But regardless of whether it makes him reads books, it does keep him happy while we're waiting for my other kids at swim class, so thumbs up in my book. Of the four apps we tried out, this one is our favorite.

Scholastic has a bunch of other apps based on their books, including Goosebumps and Word Girl.

Honesty Clause: Scholastic gave me codes to download these four apps for free.