Month: August 2014

Holiday shopping smarts: tips, tricks, and very clever tactics

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1 REGIFT

If you’ve received presents you can’t use (or, let’s be honest, just don’t like), put them back in circulation. Sixty-eight percent of women surveyed by Money Management International, a consumer-counseling organization, in 2007 had regifted or planned to, so ditch any pangs of guilt and throw a regifting party with friends. Each guest contributes, say, two or three new but utterly unwanted items (maybe an unopened DVD, bath gel, or a trendy scarf) and gets to choose the same number of castaways from friends. Best-case scenario: You score gifts just right for people on your list–think teacher, sister-in-law, or teenage babysitter. It’s a win-win: “I once received a candle set that I just never used, so I brought it to the party,” says Tanisha Warner, a mum from Houston. “The person who got it was thrilled.”

2 SWAP LOOSE CHANGE FOR A GIFT CARD

Turn those coins piling up in jars around the house into a gift card or eCertificate (starting at $5) that can be used at a favorite store or merchant. Wrap it up for giving, or use it for your holiday shopping. All you need to do is go to coinstar.com to locate one of 16,000 Coinstar machines at a store near you, and load in your loose change. When you exchange it for a gift card or eCertificate, you don’t pay any fees. Choose gift cards from–among others–iTunes, Starbucks, Old Navy, and Borders, and eCertificates for amazon.com, JCPenney, and more.

3 SNAG GIFT CARDS AT A DISCOUNT

At https://www.cardcash.com/, you can nab secondhand gift cards (brand-new or partially used) at low prices, and then either give them to someone or use them yourself to shop away. “Many people have gift cards that they don’t want or will never use, so having cash is the better alternative, especially in this economy,” says the site’s Marc Gendron. Inventory is updated throughout the day, with 1,400-plus merchants represented. For buyers, deals are sweet–up to 40 percent off face value. We’ve seen a $1,000 Tiffany & Co. card going for $750. The site guarantees all cards listed–value is vetted, and the expiration date of and conditions for each card are clearly posted–so you don’t have to worry about getting fleeced. And if you have a card with a minimum balance of $25 that you want to sell, the site will pay you up to 85 percent of the face value.

4 WRAP IN GOOD COMPANY

You want an array of beautiful packages under the tree, but trimmings can get expensive. Instead of resigning yourself to one jumbo roll of red paper, throw a wrapping party. Each guest spends a little but ends up with a lot of cheerily wrapped packages. Janice Benoit of Lisle, IL, a mom of three, has held one of these parties for years with pals. The how-tos: Ask each guest to bring a couple of rolls of paper, some ribbon, and other supplies–plus several gifts in need of wrapping. Set up stations with wrapping paper, scissors, tape, ribbon, tags, and pens; everyone rotates, taking breaks to savor no-fuss treats like cheese and fruit.

5 OFFER A TOAST

A nice wine goes a long way toward holiday cheer, but you don’t have to break the bank buying it. Every December, GHRI’s Carolyn Forte buys a case (12 bottles) of Italian reds so she can get a case discount of 20 percent at her New Jersey store. “I like Italian reds because they’re often a good value, have pretty labels, and go with everything from pizza to pasta to steak,” says the home-care expert. She chooses wines that cost about $10–with the case discount, that’s a quick and simple gift for about $8 a pop, perfect for everyone from neighbors to the mail carrier. Also try wine.com, which sometimes offers one-cent shipping on any 12 bottles sent to one address. (Check the site for your state’s shipping regulations.) Affordable wine picks to consider, from GH Food Director Susan Westmoreland: red Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese 2008, from Tuscany, $11; Spanish white Marques de Caceres Rioja Blaneo 2008, $8; and sparkling white Spanish Cristalino Brut Cava, $8.

6 SHIP FOR FREE

Of course you want your e-shopping delivered for free, and in this year’s softer economy, you are more likely than ever to get it. One smart strategy: Log onto paypal.com for a range of shipping deals and discounts if you pay via PayPal service at many big sites. Some e-stores, like beauty.com, offer free shipping on most items (if new customers spend $25; returning customers, $49). When buying gift cards online, seek out sites that send them at no charge, such as Lands’ End, QVC, and Nordstrom.

7 CHECK OUT SOLID-GOLD SITES

Quality matters, and so does a solid reputation, especially when times are tough, so check out these A-list retailers who are wooing your business: L.L.Bean (llbean.com) will offer a $10 gift eard (good through February 16, 2010) with a purchase of $25 or more. Well-heeled Brooks Brothers (brooksbrothers.com) will take $10 off your first purchase of $50 just for registering at their site. And at apple.com, you get two free lines of engraving on the iPod Nano, Touch, or Shuffle–for example, “You Make My Heart Sing,” when you treat your guy.

Eventide Blackhole Native Reverb Plug-In

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The algorithm at the core of the Blackhole ($99 street) evolved from presets found in Eventide’s flagship DSP4000 and H8000 processors, as well as the Space stompbox. While the Blackhole may be used to create viable earthbound reverb sounds, its raison d’être is to empower sonic adventurers to explore hitherto uncharted realms of audio time and space. The Blackhole is compatible with AAX, VST, and AU plugin formats, and it requires an iLok2 USB key for authorization. I tested the AAX version in Avid Pro Tools 10 on a 6-core Apple Mac Pro running Lion. Installation took place with the rapidity of a decaying nutrino.

Interaction with the Blackhole occurs via fully automatible knobs, switches, buttons, and sliders. An ingenious virtual Ribbon Controller lets you program two sets of parameters, and continuously morph between them by mousing over the screen-length “ribbon” (or by clicking the buttons on either side of it). Other controls include Hotswitch (which lets you instantly toggle between two sets of parameters), Kill (which mutes the input so that you hear only the reverb tail), Freeze (which captures and loops audio in the reverb buffer, and allows you to manipulate the sound using the Blackhole’s controls), and Gravity (a reverb-decay knob that sweeps from dense/quickly decaying to long/smoothly decaying throughout half its range, and from reverse reverbs to wild time-inversion effects throughout the other half).

Additionally, you can vary reverb size and wet/dry mix, equalize reverb tails with the very effective Low (a shelving filter with a corner frequency of 350Hz) and High (a shelving filter with a corner frequency of 2kHz) controls, adjust the resonance of the Low and High filters, and modulate reverb tails with Moddepth and Modrate. Up to two seconds of predelay are available. With Tempo mode off, predelay is not synced to tempo, and beat values are displayed in milliseconds. With Tempo Sync engaged, predelay tempo is synced to the host sequencer, or if you choose Tempo Man, you can tap in the tempo, or dial in a set value.

I used the Blackhole on all types of tracks, including drums and percussion, electric guitars, hammered dulcimer, and kalimba, and I always got singular and often mindblowing results. In some cases, I was actually able to generate entirely new compositional frameworks by setting the Mix control to 100 percent wet, and letting the Blackhole do its thing on a separate track. While the Blackhole is mostly about real-time control, it does come with some superb presets—although they require an inefficient four clicks to load.

The Blackhole generates multiverses of new sonic possibilities for a c-note, making it an indespensible tool for anyone looking to expand their aesthetic horizons.