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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Timeshares? Just a bad investment

A bad idea, bad investment and too much baggage...read on

Owners find they can't unload timeshare vacation baggage

MINNEAPOLIS -- Timeshares are tough to sell, even in the best of times. Now a perfect storm of trouble has turned some of those slices of paradise into albatrosses, making the shared vacation properties and their hefty annual fees nearly impossible to unload and breeding a horde of scam artists preying on motivated sellers.
Nearly 8 million people -- about 7 percent of U.S. households -- own a timeshare, which is basically a vacation property owned by many people who take turns using it.
The down economy and the fact that the first generation to buy timeshares 35 years ago has been retiring means many people are looking to sell. Craigslist, eBay and specialized listing service RedWeek are chock-full of offerings.
But how much they're worth is a different issue. One Florida listing service estimates that most timeshares are selling for no more than 10 percent of the original price. Some owners are lucky to get pennies.
"We've never seen the resale market where it is now," said Brian Rogers, head of the Timeshare Users Group, a consumer advocacy group in Jacksonville, Fla., that runs the listing service. Most owners "huff away mad" when told their timeshare has depreciated like a Yugo, he said.
Then there are the scams.
Resale scammers feeding on desperation have run so rampant that the Better Business Bureau last month named timeshare resale swindles one of the top rip-offs of 2010.
Rampant resale fraud
Generally, the swindles go like this. In one, someone tells you they have a buyer lined up, just pay a flat fee. In another, some company says they'll take your unwanted timeshare off your hands and sell it for an upfront fee that can be thousands of dollars. Many like to advertise by postcard.
Florida has launched a statewide crackdown on timeshare resale fraud. Its attorney general's office has investigations open on at least a dozen companies.
Even the top industry group, the American Resort Development Association in Washington, has issued five consumer advisories on resale scams in the last six months. "In a down market they come out of the woodwork," said CEO and President Howard Nusbaum.
Indeed, timeshare sales plunged 35 percent to $6.3 billion in 2009, the latest year for which data are available, according to the resort association. Sales have dropped 40 percent from the 2007 peak.
Owners continue to fall behind on timeshare loans, although overall default rates are down from their peak in January 2010, when one in 10 timeshare owners was in default, according to Fitch Ratings, which tracks securitized timeshare loans that are bundled up an resold to investors. The annualized default rate was 8.51 percent in December.
Nusbaum blames the current trouble on the recession and credit freeze, as well as the demographics of retiring baby boomers. Not only have cash-strapped consumers cut back on luxuries, but resort developers have found it harder to line up the credit to offer consumers. Most new timeshares are sold directly by resort developers such as Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham and Starwood, who provide their own financing.
"All of those lines kind of collided to kind of make this a little noisier than it used to be," Nusbaum said.
There are just not as many consumer protections in the secondary market, where timeshares get resold, he said. "We're kind of where the used car industry was in 1962," he said.
Poor investment
Some desperate owners try to hand timeshares back to the resort developer under a so-called quit claim deed. But resorts won't take them unless they think they can resell the property, experts say.
Not all timeshares are equal. The cream -- say a Disney resort -- holds its value better than the rest. "If you bought a converted motel room in 1982 in Gatlinburg, Tenn., for the first week of December ... I don't think it has a whole lot of economic life," Nusbaum said.
People have to give up thinking that timeshares are a financial or real estate investment, he added. It's a lifestyle investment, and its real value is the use owners get out of it.
But Bernie Wiklund hasn't been to his Cape Cod timeshare in nearly seven years. The retired engineer who lives in Ramsey, Minn., is working as a security guard to make ends meet, and can't afford to fly out to Cape Cod, or fork out $1,000 a year in fees.
He's advertised his two-week timeshare on Craigslist for nearly six years and marked it down to $5,000, a fraction of the more than $14,000 he paid in the 1980s. He's gotten responses, but only people trying to sell the timeshare for him -- for a fee.
"I'd like to retire," he said. "I'm 72."
Kim Holbrook knows the feeling. The 56-year-old Brooklyn Park, Minn., resident has been trying for six years to sell the four timeshares she and her husband bought years ago when they lived in the South and the resorts were quick getaways.
Now the children are grown, and she and her husband are spending more than $2,000 a year in annual fees on properties that they don't use like they used to. She can exchange some of the timeshares for stays at resorts in different places, she said, but there are fees for that, too.
Her advice for first-time buyers: Don't. "There isn't a market. You can't resell," Holbrook said. "Everything I've seen ... it's for pennies on the dollar."
That's great news for buyers, of course. Mike Spillane, 67, picked up his eighth timeshare weeks ago: a one-week stay in a four-bedroom, four-bath unit in historic Williamsburg, Va. It's a "gold crown rated" unit, referring to a timeshare exchange system's top rating, that would cost as much as $30,000 if he bought it directly from a resort developer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Cleaning? Gadgets to dump

 Certainly, I am all about

From here

The common rap against technology is that it leads to an accumulation of devices. But the nature of technology is changing. Fewer products are doing more tasks — all accomplished by countless lines of massless software code.
And so we no longer need to accumulate products. If anything, we can cut down. The question is, Which can be replaced and which are fine, or even preferable, to keep? It is plain as day that paper maps and Rolodexes have given way to their digital counterparts. But what else can you get rid of? Here is a list of common consumer technologies and products and a somewhat opinionated judgment on whether to keep or pitch it.
DESKTOP COMPUTER Lose it. You may have one now, but are you really going to replace that deskbound PC when it becomes out of date? Assuming you are not a hardcore gamer or a video editor, laptops have all the necessary computing power the average user needs. If you want to replicate that desktop experience, you can always connect your laptop to a larger display and keyboard.
HIGH-SPEED INTERNET AT HOME Keep it. With the advent of devices like the MiFi, which converts a 3G mobile signal into a Wi-Fi cloud for multiple devices to share, you might be thinking about giving your Internet service provider the boot and using your cellphone as your Internet connection, even when at home. That would work — provided that you get a strong data signal where you live; that you never intend to stream video from Netflix, YouTube or Hulu; and that you have an unlimited data plan from your wireless provider. Given all these caveats, it probably makes more sense to stick with your I.S.P.
CABLE TV Depends. While you may and should hold on to a good broadband connection at home, it is debatable whether you need to pay for cable TV. Sports fans probably will want to keep it, as many leagues restrict online content, but casual viewers who mainly want some shows and movies to watch could get by with a good Internet connection and some low-cost subscriptions to services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.
POINT-AND-SHOOT CAMERA Lose it. Yes, a dedicated camera will probably take a better picture than the small lens and image sensor of a smartphone, but it will not be that much better. And a point-and-shoot has limitations of its own. It is hard to share photos until you have transferred them to your computer, and there are no apps for cameras, as there are for smartphones, that allow you to quickly apply cool filters and treatments to the shots you took. Perhaps most important, a camera may or may not be close by when a photo-worthy moment arises, but it’s very likely that your phone will.
CAMCORDER Lose it. Camcorders get squeezed at both ends of the video spectrum. On the low end, smartphones can capture video, and while it may not be Imax quality, many people do not care. At the high end, new digital S.L.R. cameras (like Canon’s EOS Rebel T1i, which costs around $750 with a lens) can shoot full-HD video while taking advantage of all the interchangeable lenses that were created for still photography. That camcorder you have now is probably the last one you will own.
USB THUMB DRIVE Lose it. File sharing does not require hardware anymore. In almost any case you can think of, you can move files around digitally via the Internet. That could mean signing up for a service like Dropbox, which creates a private, shareable hard drive in the cloud, or by simply e-mailing yourself attachments and storing them in the drafts folder of Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc. A USB drive is just something to misplace or break.
DIGITAL MUSIC PLAYER Lose it (probably). Do you have a smartphone? Then you have a music player. Why load yourself down with an extra gadget? Apple popularized the music player with its iPod, but when was the last time you saw that iconic white box with the dial on the front? Music is data, and many multifunction devices can handle it along with many other kinds of data (like video, e-mail and apps). The one exception may be if you enjoy music while exercising. In that case, a tiny player like the $49 iPod Shuffle might be a better accessory than a larger, heavier smartphone.
ALARM CLOCK Keep it. Smartphones can be terrific alarm clocks. They can ramp up the volume gradually, display weather information and awaken you to your favorite song. And when on the road, they are still light-years ahead of the incomprehensible alarm clocks in hotel rooms. But a recent daylight time glitch in iPhones that fouled up the clock could give some early risers pause. Furthermore, setting and resetting smartphone alarms may require a dive into one submenu too many; turning a little knob on the back of a clock and flipping a switch is still simplicity itself.
GPS UNIT Lose it. The least expensive GPS units cost around $80. But your smartphone can do the same thing, if not more, for half that price, or even free. Android smartphones already have Google’s turn-by-turn navigation app built in. And earlier this month, Google announced that the company would be including live and historical traffic data in route planning, so you hopefully get to where you are going faster.
If you have an iPhone, you have several options for GPS apps, including Navigon’s MobileNavigator (which starts at $30) and ALK’s CoPilot Live ($20). Renting a car? Decline the optional GPS; if you have a smartphone, you already have one with you.
BOOKS Keep them (with one exception). Yes, e-readers are amazing, and yes, they will probably become a more dominant reading platform over time, but consider this about a book: It has a terrific, high-resolution display. It is pretty durable; you could get it a little wet and all would not be lost. It has tremendous battery life. It is often inexpensive enough that, if you misplaced it, you would not be too upset. You can even borrow them free at sites called libraries.
But there is one area where printed matter is going to give way to digital content: cookbooks. Martha Stewart Makes Cookies a $5 app for the iPad, is the wave of the future. Every recipe has a photo of the dish (something far too expensive for many printed cookbooks).
Complicated procedures can be explained by an embedded video. When something needs to be timed, there’s a digital timer built right into the recipe. You can e-mail yourself the ingredients list to take to the grocery store. The app does what cookbooks cannot, providing a better version of everything that came before it.
Now all Martha has to do is make a decorative splashguard for a tablet and you will be all set.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

IPAD2 - China -> HongKong -> Alaska -> California

Lots of mileage already

Mar 16, 2011 7:50 AM
On FedEx vehicle for delivery
Mar 16, 2011 7:46 AM
At local FedEx facility
Mar 16, 2011 5:30 AM
Departed FedEx location
Mar 15, 2011 9:59 PM
Arrived at FedEx location
Mar 15, 2011 4:39 PM
Departed FedEx location
Mar 15, 2011 2:15 PM
Int'l shipment release
Mar 15, 2011 12:53 PM
Arrived at FedEx location
Mar 14, 2011 4:44 PM
In transit
Mar 14, 2011 1:57 PM
Left FedEx origin facility
Mar 13, 2011 6:38 PM
Shipment information sent to FedEx
Mar 14, 2011 4:57 AM
Picked up

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Mumbai Way of Things

Glimpses, perspectives and reckless thoughts on Mumbai, all in the guise of cricket talk (from Espncricinfo)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Apple TV - a pretty good media player

The price point was very compelling and I got the Apple TV back in October last year, when Apple first announced it. It was just another glorified paper weight with limited capabilities...played .MOV files and content that was attached to ITUNES.  Very limited indeed, and definitely not acceptable.
Almost returned it, but didn't get to doing that.

In comparison, the PS3 is an excellent media player, but if you don't need to play BluRay DVDs, or need video gaming capabilities, an alternate smart, compact, cheap media player is what you need. I considered the TV LIVE PLUS by Western Digital, which has decent reviews.  But, before adding another shelf-ware, I really wanted to give Apple TV one final push and see if it was really ready for prime-time and toast my morning waffles.

So this past weekend, finally, got a chance to run the Apple TV through the programming @ http://www.greenpois0n.com
Worked out quite well....You can really extend the capabilities - and that is an understatement.
After applying the "patch" (just follow the directions), you will notice  NITO TV as part of the Apple TV menu.
Install the NITO TV Software, Pick XBMC
Having done that, you will now be able to find the home networks, UPN devices, even the toaster and the kitchen sink. What more do you want eh?
It discovered the NAS nicely, and now am able to play pretty much everything via APPLE TV.
Definitely not Apple restrictive / proprietary.
It is now a very nice media player, and Apple cannot really claim credit for it.
Can it play 1080p content like the Western Digital?
More on that later

Blue Tooth Car Stereo

 Updated March 2012
 Swapped out the SONY MEX BT2800 with PIONEER DEH-P8400BH 
The Pioneers create incredible sound ambiance - such a wonderful driving experience (in comparison to the Sony). The reasoning for the swap - HD Radio BUILT IN & a Sound Microphone at the steering wheel. The Sony had  HD RADIO READY - but really no HD. Check out the reviews on Amazon
This is an expensive option, but a plethora of features
- USB connection in your dashboard. My installer left it outside and I can charge another device on it.
-  Microphone hookup at the steering wheel (heard complaints from the SONY microphone that was built into the stereo, but captured a lot of audio disturbances)
- HD Radio sounds awesome
- Lot more variables to producer richer sound

Originally written March 2011
If you are still fiddling with cables, FM transmitter, AUX cables etc., and being the road hazard, it is time to get on with  the program.

Get that car stereo replaced with one with Bluetooth.
Makes calling, listening to music - just a simple task.
And you will be calling hands-free
Do you really want to risk getting that hefty ticket?

Other feature functions you want to look for.
HD ready is not good enough, only if you listen to a lot of FM radio
In that case, you will need a radio with built-in HD.

The one that I bought is here
Pretty good deal from Frys - includes life time install warranty

Sony MEX-BT2800


The new Rani - Anushka (Bollywood wannabees , make it)

Well, Band Baaja Baraat is a big hit.
Check it out...quite well done

Two up and coming Bollywood wanabees make it
Read Ranveer's perseverance here
True baloooo Mumbaikar has performed like a pucca jaat Delhite.
Anushka after two damp performances in Rab Ne Banadi Jodi, Badmaash Company, finally hit the jackpot with this one.  The shot clock had almost ran out and looks like she got one at the buzzer.
Rani's replacement in Bollywood is here -

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Amazon continues to knock the socks off

Amazon is amazingly giving eBay a run for its money

Check out this link - a great way to figure out what is popular - lots of categories
The user reviews typically give you a good sense of the product strengths and weakness.
Easy to make smart choices ..... and easy to sell your junk too
Amazon has a model that is truly a win-win

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