Christmas Shopping: Don’t just focus on the price, focus on the play value

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s getting tough in this economic environment to justify spending a lot of money on anything other than the essentials: rent, food, fuel and clothes. With Christmas just a short month of shopping days left, parents everywhere are scratching their heads wondering what gifts are affordable and desirable for their kids.

One Christmas my parents bought me a toy called FlightDeck. I wonder if anyone remembers that! The object was to land a plastic aircraft via a pulley system on the deck of an aircraft carrier. I loved it, and it was no doubt fairly expensive. But it suffered three main flaws: it was pricey, it was easily broken, and its play value was limited. In fact, I broke on Boxing Day, and couldn’t play with it after that! I was sorry, and never told my parents.

It’s not a mistake I would repeat on buying presents for any kids of mine! I’ll always try to find toys that have extended play value, such as Lego, Games, etc… One such toy that is perpetually popular: cars for the little boys. If I was able to play ‘secret santa’ to some little boys in our school, I’d be heading for the toy car section in the local department store looking for popular models or familiar models.

I was enchanted especially with the character cars from the movie created by Pixar. This set provides three vehicles for kids to play with as they recreate and relive the scene from the movie “Cars”. Of course, my own favorite has to be Lightning McQueen, but that’s a personal favorite.

tipping tractor

For the little girls, perhaps a disney figurine would be great, too. Either way, perhaps the easiest way to a kid’s heart this Christmas is to buy them a gift that helps them to rediscover their innate imagination and story telling skills (or yours!). Three simple cars, like this, can recreate hundreds of variations on the scenes in Cars. Who knows? Perhaps they’ll be able to play with them even when some of the parts have gone missing, or the toys are broken.

Whatever gifts you choose, especially from a store like Mega Brands Toys, you’ll find that the play value will far exceed the monetary value.

When buying digital cameras, don’t skimp on the price!

I’ve been the owner of three different models of digital camera over the years. My first camera was a disaster: the pictures were fuzzy and low quality. In fact, the only way to get decent pictures was to resize them to a very small size. In fact, the photographs are actually quite reminiscent of photographs taken by an older cell phone camera!

If you’re looking to enlarge your photos for your LCD TV or other multimedia, you would be sorely disappointed by the quality. Perhaps it’s best that I forgot which brand that camera was… And this is based on my own personal experience…

Sample 1: OEM Unbranded Model

The *unnamed* camera produced pictures that were at best barely acceptable even in broad daylight. Anything else resulted in grainy images that were seriously blurred. Take a look. The picture looks okay when reduced to a small size, but as soon as you enlarge it, you see ALL the problems. It cost nearly US$100 to buy at the time, and was a total waste of money. I regretted buying it and it is still sitting in a drawer somewhere.


(Taken inside at a school demo lesson with Tommy).

Sample 2: Kodak Camera C360

My second camera was a Kodak Camera C360 which took great pictures for my budget, and was perfect for blogging. The other positive factor was that I could just use ‘AA’ batteries (if the rechargeable died) in an emergency. Very handy to drop into 7-Eleven and buy some at a pinch. But it still didn’t give great shots for high definition purposes. This camera was purchased for a trip to the UK in 2005, and was a very successful choice.

The Kodak Camera produced much better resolution photographs with its 5mp capabilities, though there was some softness and chromatic aberration in some areas. But it produced great color images that were attractive. And it was a highly versatile little camera. Unfortunately, I also bought a new Kodak when I replaced it, but the replacement was just not as good.

100 0141

Taken in 2005 at Ullapool in Scotland.

After losing my Kodak, I quickly purchased my third and most recent camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC series FX-30 model which has several really neat features including a 28mm lens. This makes a wider angle and far more landscape style – which is great for the scenery of Taiwan.

Sample 3: The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FX30

This camera is much better than either of the first two, with its 7.2mp, multiple shot modes, and high resolution modes. I’ve been very happy with this camera choice for its ability to take great landscape shots as well as decent portraits. These photographs are perhaps the best for enlarging for digital TVs or enjoying at full screen size on your laptop computer. It doesn’t deal with haze well or night time shots… but otherwise it’s much better.


Taken in 2008 at Hyde Park in early Autumn.

In fact, when I was in the UK, I was able to purchase a small laptop that I used to show my digi-photos to family and friends, in full size, of course. It was perfect way to set the screensaver or presentation mode, and let the photographs play in the background. I never figured out how to connect it to the TV, though. But as a portable solution, it was perfect.

I didn’t read any reviews of the cameras I bought… it’s probably not worth reading them for me, as I find it difficult to get the exact models here in Taiwan. Also, the models turn over so fast! So I finally decided to go with brand names I trusted. Also, I avoided buying the most ‘economical’ models after the first one. It just wasn’t worth the additional disappointment. I reluctantly bought a model with no replaceable batteries, but that hasn’t been much of a problem. But I’m not a professional photographer by any means! I only wish I was!

Upgrading vs. buying new: Bring a new lease of life to your PC experience

I remember buying my first portable pc by TwinHead. It was a 386 pc with about 16MB of RAM, and 80 MB hard disk. Yes, MB, not GB.

Nowadays, I’m using two PCs (both of which are or were secondhand at one time) at home: one with 2 hard disks topping out at 160GB, 768MB of RAM; and the other about half the size. I also have numerous portable disks (three, I think!), a DVD burner, and lots of memory cards,… I’m sure I don’t have enough computer memory now, and I know I haven’t solved my computer back up problems even now!

the \'second\' at home PC...

But for many people replacing their desktops isn’t much of an option these days: Vista sucks, existing XP installations are fine with current generation hardware, and perhaps financially ‘constraints’ limit replacement of your desktop for a while!

I was very lucky to replace my old 17″ CRT monitor (it’s still fine, if anyone in Taiwan wants one!) with a great quality monitor. In fact, I was so impressed at the quality vs. the price I actually bought two when I discovered our local PC store was running a special offer on ViewSonic monitors.

Monitor 19\" LCD

After getting it home, I realized something that I had been missing for a long time: excitement. I was thrilled to have extra desktop space on BOTH computers, it simply made using even the older one that much more fun. It doesn’t matter that the underlying PCs are over 5 years old, the simple upgrading of the monitors made them fun again!

I’m in the market for a replacement PC at some point for sure. But if I can keep these going for another year or two, where’s the harm? I only use them for surfing, music, email, blogging and other less intensive tasks.

If your budget is ‘constrained’, there are simpler and less expensive ways to upgrade older equipment like this. Buying certain add-ons can really impact how you FEEL about your PC. For me, that included buying a new monitor (at NT$6500 – about US$220 approx.). Other upgrades could include a new graphics card, a new set of speakers, even just a better quality keyboard or mouse. To bring back excitement without breaking your budget, buy something that you could use to extend your PC usage: a Skype phone, a new game, … Whatever.

You’ll certainly find that you can enjoy your existing PC much longer this way, save a little in the short term, and still upgrade to that brand new PC (with Vista, if you must!) … Oh, and there’s another huge advantage: not upgrading avoids a lot of upgrading hassles.

Ad: if you’re looking for new larger monitors, try these…

And don’t forget to check out my own download … [download#1]

Linkfest Haven, the Blogger's Oasis