June 18, 2019

Tool Kit: A Digital Back-to-School Checklist

The days are getting shorter. The swimsuits have been put away. The football season has begun.

That can mean only one thing: The start of the school year is near.

At one time, preparing children for school required buying new clothes and a fresh set of pencils. These days, your child is likely to need Internet access and a laptop even more than a composition notebook.

For parents, the choices can be overwhelming — and expensive. Here are some tips to get started.

FOR THE FAMILY First, you need to prepare your home. Make sure you have robust Internet access. Much homework these days requires children to do research on the Internet, even in elementary school.

And while much of the world is abandoning paper copies — airplane boarding passes can be displayed on a smartphone screen and many stores offer e-mailed receipts, for example — most schools require students to hand in homework in printed form.

Make sure you have a printer at home, as well as a spare printer cartridge and an extra ream of paper. Too many parents discover that sinking feeling when the printer ink runs out the night before a child’s big project is due. Now is the time to stock up on backup supplies.

Also make sure there are multiple ways to back up, save and transfer files between home and school, and the other way around. A 16-gigabyte thumb drive, $10 at Best Buy, for example, might seem low-tech, but it can provide enough storage to get an edited video project off a student’s laptop. Most models can also survive a trip through the washing machine.

To ensure that gadgets have power, invest in spare cables and an extra USB charger, like the PowerGen Dual Port USB Adapter, $9 at Amazon, to increase the chances that your phone and your child’s will be fresh in the morning.

It’s also time to update your browser’s school-related bookmarks, for easy access to the health office or a teacher’s home page. While you’re there, plug in your school’s dates into your shared family calendar.

MIDDLE-SCHOOLERS Middle school is generally when many parents first give a child a smartphone or laptop. According to a Pew survey released this year, nearly half of middle and high school students own these devices.

Amy Dirlam, the technology integration specialist at the St. Joseph Public Schools in St. Joseph, Mich., recommends checking with your child’s school before investing in a device. That is because schools are increasingly providing some sort of hardware to students, she said. In Ms. Dirlam’s district, for example, this fall each incoming sixth-grader will be issued a MacBook Air that will follow them into high school, provided they take care of it.

Chances are, though, you’ll be faced with spending your own money if you want to buy your middle-schooler a computer. For most children, a laptop is a better bet than a desktop because it is portable and can be taken to school or to a library.

The Acer Chromebook, $200 at Best Buy is one of many light, durable Internet-centric appliances built around Google’s Android operating system. These have full keyboards and robust batteries, but limited local storage. That’s a similar issue with many tablet options, like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 Student Edition, $320, a bundle that includes a keyboard, tablet and docking station.

If you want to add more storage, a USB hard drive like the 1 TB Toshiba hard drive, $75 at BH Photo works for local storage; for individual projects, cloud-based services like Dropbox, Google Drive or SugarSync are free, provided you register and stay within the minimal storage requirements.

Smartphones are becoming a middle school staple — and may provide more than just a social advantage — but be sure your child’s school allows them.

IN HIGH SCHOOL A high school student is more likely to need more technology, particularly the computing power provided by a full-featured laptop for editing video and other jobs that require more storage, a large screen and specialized software.

A Windows 8-based Toshiba Satellite laptop, $365, with 500 GB of internal storage and a DVD drive might be one choice for a high-schooler. At a huge price jump, the light and powerful MacBook Air, $1,000 and up, continues to be the top choice for power, ease of use and durability. You can always add more storage, either locally or online.

The high school years are when apps and gadgets start forming around a child’s interests. If your child is taking an advanced math class this fall, you may be dismayed to learn that many schools still require a specialized calculator, like a TI-84 Plus, $90 at Walmart. You could buy a much cheaper calculator app, but most schools will not allow students to use a tablet or a smartphone when taking a test.

Young musicians might need an app like AccuTune, $1 for Apple devices, and an extra pair of personal earbuds, like Skullcandy 2xl, $10, will come in handy.

COLLEGE FRESHMAN A college freshman’s first test? Getting his or her laptop in tune with the school’s network. This is easier said than done, which is why it helps to tap into the expertise found in most college technology departments to help you access the institution’s printers and shared drives. The department can also set up your child’s e-mail account on a laptop and smartphone. Don’t forget to have the student put phones and other devices on the university’s Wi-Fi network, to reduce data charges. Some colleges will lend gadgets like external DVD drives, which may be needed to install specialized software.

Giving a child any device with an Internet connection requires oversight. A sudden wave of adolescent emotion could generate a photo or a social media message that could become what Gail Lovely, a former teacher and owner of Lovely Learning, a consulting firm for schools, refers to as a “digital tattoo” that comes up in a job interview 10 years later.

Ms. Lovely also suggested that phones, tablets or laptops that leave home should be insured and stored in a protective case, and recommended that every parent learn how to limit a child’s access to things like in-app sales and mature-rated content.

Also critical is something that can’t be purchased — a trusting parent-child relationship, and your ability to properly match your child’s growing desire for Internet access with his or her emotional maturity. For that, there is no app.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/29/technology/personaltech/a-digital-back-to-school-checklist.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Economix Blog: Comparing the World’s Glass Ceilings

One of the more surprising things I learned in my research for an article in The New York Times Magazine is that despite all the complaints about the glass ceiling, the United States is actually doing a relatively good job of getting women into high-achieving jobs.



Dollars to doughnuts.

Other developed countries have much more family-friendly labor policies than the United States does. The United States is one of only a handful of countries in the world (rich or poor) that do not offer paid maternity leave, for example. And while prominent American companies like Yahoo and Best Buy are banning work-from-home arrangements, European Union countries have legislated that parents can request part-time, flexible or telecommuting arrangements without penalty. In some countries, employers are not allowed to say no to these requests, and in places where they can, there’s often a pretty involved process required to justify the refusal. Some places, like Germany and Spain, also require companies to keep a job open for an employee on parental leave for as long as three years.

A new paper by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn of Cornell argues that those policy differences may explain why the United States has fallen behind in women’s labor-force participation rates. But the paper also suggests that the same policy gap could explain why, paradoxically, women in the United States seem to have more varied and ambitious career paths open to them if and when they do choose to work.

After all, not all full-time positions can be easily divided into two or more part-time ones, or can be done remotely. It can be costly or even impossible for employers to reconfigure their existing jobs. Nurses and receptionists can work shifts without difficulty; that’s probably less true for a lawyer on a big merger, where there’s a lot of case-specific knowledge that’s hard to hand off. If women are disproportionately the ones taking advantage of these work-life-balance options — which they are — that makes women more expensive to hire.

The chart below includes data from the study (to be published in The American Economic Review), and shows the share of women and the share of men who were managers or were in traditionally “male” professions (defined as all professionals excluding nurses and pre-university teachers) in the United States versus the average of 10 other developed countries. The numbers are for 2009.

Source: Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, using 2009 International Social Survey Programme microdata. Source: Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, using 2009 International Social Survey Programme microdata. “Male” professionals are professionals excluding nurses and pre-university teachers. Non-U.S. countries are Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

The lighter-colored bars refer to the incidence of being a manager or traditionally male professional in the United States; the darker-colored bars refer to the same rates for 10 other developed countries. As you can see, American women are about as likely as American men to become managers or land in traditionally male jobs.

To clarify, this does not mean that the United States has as many women as men who are senior managers or professionals, since there are fewer women than men in the overall labor force. It just means that if you’re a working woman, your chances of being a manager or a professional are about as good as they are for a working man.

Indeed, according to separate data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the smallest gap between the share of employed women who are in senior management positions and the share of employed men in such positions.

Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “Senior managers” refers to legislators, senior officials and managers.

In the United States, the ratio of the share of women who are in senior management positions to the share of men who are in senior management positions is about 0.85 (13.9/16.3), whereas for all O.E.C.D. countries it is about 0.59 (6.1/10.3). The country with the next highest ratio, behind the United States, is New Zealand, with a ratio of 0.76 (11.7/15.4).

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/comparing-the-worlds-glass-ceilings/?partner=rss&emc=rss

It’s the Economy: How Shared Diaper Duty Could Stimulate the Economy

I don’t pretend to know how common this situation is, and how many other young women have found themselves in it. But it clarified not only the choices that future mothers must make about their careers, but also how early in their careers they must begin to think about them. And while fairness and feminism may urge us to find better ways for women to balance work and life — Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter have certainly made impassioned cries — the most convincing argument seems to be an economic one.

In the United States, women represent not only a majority of college graduates but also a majority of advanced-degree holders. But the lack of policies facilitating the work-life balance — like paid maternity leave and flexible work hours — has millions of them underemployed. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much human capital is being wasted, but one clue lies in a study by economists at the University of Chicago and Stanford. It estimates that 15 to 20 percent of American productivity growth over the last five decades has come from more efficient allocation of underrepresented groups, like women, into occupations that were largely off-limits, like doctors or lawyers. Even more efficient allocation of women’s talents would, presumably, drive further growth, which will become even more critical in the years ahead. By 2050, there are projected to be just 2.6 working-age Americans for every American of retirement age. (In 2008, it was 4.7.)

Other rich countries have figured out ways to keep women in the labor force. While companies like Yahoo and Best Buy bar employees from working from home, the European Union has issued a directive that all member countries must allow parents — men and women — to request part-time, flexible or home-based work arrangements in addition to paid leave. Other developed countries also have affordable, high-quality public childcare. In Sweden, some public nurseries are even available 24 hours a day.

Such policies contribute to these countries’ swollen welfare states and higher tax burdens, but they do keep women at work. Back in 1990, in a ranking of 22 developed countries, the United States had the 6th-highest share of its prime-working-age women active in the work force. By 2010, it had tumbled to 17th place. A new study from Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, both economists at Cornell, estimates that if the United States had the average of other developed countries’ work-life policies, 82 percent of America’s prime-working-age women would be in the labor force, instead of the current 75 percent.

But what kind of employment would they have, exactly? New research suggests that, because it’s primarily women who take advantage of leave and part-time entitlements, work-life accommodations often paradoxically limit career trajectories. Women in Sweden, Finland and Denmark — and other countries held up as paragons of gender parity — are much more likely to end up in traditional pink-collar positions than are their counterparts in the United States. They are certainly much less likely to end up as managers, or in traditionally male professional arenas like law or finance. “In a regime where anyone can go part time, where it’s hard to get rid of people if they do, employers might sort on the front end and not hire people they think are likely to want to go part time, which usually means women,” said Lawrence F. Katz, an economist at Harvard. “There may be no way a woman can credibly commit to sticking around and not going part time.” The U.S., where these policies do not exist, has the smallest gap between women’s representation in the labor force and their representation in senior management positions.

In order to prescribe policies that really allow female workers to “lean in” at work, social scientists are trying to find ones that recast social norms and encourage male workers to “lean in” at home. One area where there seems to be a lot of potential is paternity leave, which still has a stigma in both the United States and Europe. To remedy this bad rap, countries like Sweden and Norway have recently introduced a quota of paid parental leave available only to fathers. If dads don’t take it, they’re leaving money on the table. In Germany and Portugal, moms get bonus weeks of maternity leave if their husbands take a minimum amount of paternity leave. All these countries have seen gigantic increases in the share of fathers who go on leave.

This might not sound like such a big deal, but social scientists are coming around to the notion that a man spending a few weeks at home with his newborn can help recast expectations and gender roles, at work and home, for a long time. A striking new study by a Cornell graduate student, Ankita Patnaik, based on a new paid paternity-leave quota in Quebec, found that parents’ time use changed significantly. Several years after being exposed to the reform, fathers spent more time in child care and domestic work — particularly “time-inflexible” chores, like cooking, that cut into working hours — than fathers who weren’t exposed to the reform. More important, mothers spent considerably more time at work growing their careers and contributing more to the economy, all without any public mandates or shaming.

Paid paternity leave, like paid maternity leave, may sound like a pipe dream, but states (New Jersey, California) and big companies (Ernst Young, Bank of America) are increasingly offering it and financing it out of their own pocket. They have a vested interest in lobbying Congress to federalize the costs of these accommodations. And that seems only fair. After all, unleashing the full potential of the second sex benefits not only this handful of players but the entire U.S. economy, too.

Catherine Rampell is an economics reporter for The Times. Adam Davidson is off this week.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/magazine/how-shared-diaper-duty-could-stimulate-the-economy.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Cyber Monday Likely to Be Busiest Online Sales Day

Cyber Monday, coined in 2005 by a shopping trade group that noticed online sales spiked on the Monday following Thanksgiving, is the next in a series of days that stores are counting on to jumpstart the holiday shopping season.

It’s estimated that this year’s Cyber Monday will be the biggest online shopping day of the year for the third year in a row: According to research firm comScore, Americans are expected to spend $1.5 billion, up 20 percent from last year on Cyber Monday, as retailers have ramped up their deals to get shoppers to click on their websites.

Amazon.com, which is starting its Cyber Monday deals at midnight on Monday, is offering as much as 60 percent off a Panasonic VIERA 55-inch TV that’s usually priced higher than $1,000. Sears is offering $430 off a Maytag washer and dryer, each on sale for $399. And Kmart is offering 75 percent off all of its diamond earrings and $60 off a 12-in-1 multigame table on sale for $89.99.

Retailers are hoping the deals will appeal to shoppers like Matt Sexton, 39, who for the first time plans to complete all of his holiday shopping online this year on his iPad tablet computer. Sexton, who plans to spend up to $4,000 this season, already shopped online on the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday and found a laptop from Best Buy for $399, a $200 savings, among other deals.

“The descriptions and reviews are so much better online so you can compare and price shop and for the most part get free shipping,” said Sexton, who lives in Queens, N.Y., and is a manager at a utility company.

Sexton also said that it’s easier to return an online purchase to a physical store than it had been in previous years. “That helps with gifts,” he said.

How well retailers fare on Cyber Monday will offer insight into Americans’ evolving shopping habits during the holiday shopping season, a time when stores can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue. With the growth in high speed Internet access and the wide use of smartphones and tablets, people are relying less on their work computers to shop than they did when Shop.org, the digital division of trade group The National Retail Federation, introduced the term “Cyber Monday.”

“People years ago didn’t have … connectivity to shop online at their homes. So when they went back to work after Thanksgiving they’d shop on the Monday after,” said Vicki Cantrell, executive director of Shop.org. “Now they don’t need the work computer to be able to do that.”

As a result, the period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday has become busy for online shopping as well. Indeed, online sales on Thanksgiving Day, traditionally not a popular day for online shopping, rose 32 percent over last year to $633 million, according to comScore. And online sales on Black Friday were up 26 percent from the same day last year, to $1.042 billion. It was the first time online sales on Black Friday surpassed $1 billion.

For the holiday season-to-date, comScore found that $13.7 billion has been spent online, marking a 16 percent increase over last year. The research firm predicts that online sales will surpass 10 percent of total retail spending this holiday season. The National Retail Federation estimates that overall retail sales in November and December will be up 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion

But as other days become popular for online shopping, Cyber Monday may lose some of its cache. To be sure, Cyber Monday hasn’t always been the biggest online shopping day. In fact, up until three years ago, that title was historically earned by the last day shoppers could order items with standard shipping rates and get them delivered before Christmas. That day changes every year, but usually falls in late December.

Even though Cyber Monday is expected to be the biggest shopping day this year, industry watchers say it could just be a matter of time before other days take that ranking.

“Of all the benchmark spending days, Thanksgiving is growing at the fastest rate, up 128 percent over the last five years,” said Andrew Lipsman, a spokesman with comScore.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2012/11/25/us/ap-us-cyber-monday.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

DealBook: Best Buy Pays $1.3 Billion for Cellphone Business

The deal ends a profit-sharing agreement with Carphone Warehouse that Best Buy signed in 2008.Shaun Curry/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe deal ends a profit-sharing agreement with Carphone Warehouse that Best Buy signed in 2008.

9:53 a.m. | Updated

LONDON — The electronics retailer Best Buy agreed on Monday to pay $1.3 billion for full ownership of a fast-growing American cellphone joint venture from its British partner, the Carphone Warehouse Group.

Best Buy also said it was abandoning plans to expand its so-called big-box stores across Europe as the sovereign debt crisis continued to weigh on consumer spending across the Continent. The company is set to close all 11 of it existing big-box stores in Britain, which employ about 1,000 people.

Under the terms of the deal, Best Buy will take full control of Best Buy Mobile, a cellphone business that has expanded rapidly in North America, partly as a result of the rise of smartphones, including the Apple iPhone. The acquisition is expected to close by March 2012, and will increase Best Buy’s pre-tax profits by up to $140 million in 2013.

“We wanted to use the Best Buy Mobile team to sell connections to consumers,” Best Buy chief executive Brian J. Dunn said on a conference call with investors. “There’s no doubt we can go faster in the U.S. and Canada to unleash the team.”

The deal ends a profit-sharing agreement with Carphone Warehouse that Best Buy signed in 2008 as it sought to expand its presence in the cellphone market. As part of the sale, both companies have the option to buy the other out of their European joint venture, Best Buy Europe, in 2015.

The two companies will continue to work together through a new venture targeted at expanding their cellphone business into emerging markets, particularly China and Mexico.

“We are aggressively ramping up our growing connections capability to support consumers’ increasingly connected lives across the entire range of devices entering the marketplace,” Best Buy’s Mr. Dunn said in a statement. “Over the past four years we have built unsurpassed expertise and depth of offerings in mobile.”

A Best Buy store in Manhattan.Chris Goodney/Bloomberg NewsA Best Buy store in Manhattan.

The cash influx bolstered Carphone shares, which rose more than 11 percent on Monday in morning trading in London. The share price, however, fell back down by the afternoon and was trading 1.16 percent up at 2:36 p.m. GMT.

The company said the money from the Best Buy Mobile sale would be returned to shareholders.

Carphone Warehouse also announced Monday a 78 percent annual decline in net profit to £5.5 million, or $8.5 million, during the six months through September.

The British firm blamed the drop on Europe’s struggling economy and low consumer confidence.

The tough economic climate also has affected Best Buy. While the company plans to expand its cellphone operations in North America, it has faced cutthroat competition from domestic rivals as well as a deteriorating economic environment that has led many consumers to cut back on spending.

After opening its first British big-box store in 2010, Best Buy had planned to open more than 100 large stores in the country as an initial expansion into Europe. The company said it would now focus on its 2,500 small European stores, mostly to sell cellphones.

The failure to crack the European electronics market follows similar troubles in emerging markets, including Turkey and China, where the company faced tough local competition and ongoing regulatory delays.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=cc9e5607e3d0604a47f0ff776caad0b9

Advertising: Marketers Honoring Sept. 11, With Care

As the 10th anniversary nears, however, marketers, media companies and advertising agencies are changing course, involving themselves with sponsorships, screenings, fund-raisers, programming and other highly visible activities.

Those taking part include blue-chip names like American Express, ATT, Best Buy, CBS, Chrysler, Clear Channel, Condé Nast, Discovery Communications, General Motors, Google, Home Depot, National Geographic, Time Warner, Verizon and The New York Times, which is publishing a commemorative section.

They say they are being particularly careful to be conscious of the meaning of Sept. 11, 2001, and avoid anything that could be deemed tasteless or crass.

But experts wonder whether the public will be able to draw a firm line between a television special and a 9/11 memorial wine; between commemorative publications and replicas of the Twin Towers that light up in red, white and blue; between advertisements asking for donations and ads for a health club offering first responders discount rates that expire on Sept. 11.

“We’ve been saying to people, there’s probably no right way to do this,” said J. Walker Smith, executive chairman at the Futures Company consultancy, which is to release this month a report on public attitudes toward 9/11.

“If I were a marketer, I would let the moment pass,” Mr. Smith said. “Anything you do could be seen as self-serving or disrespectful.”

Marian Salzman, an author and trend-watcher who is the chief executive at Euro RSCG Worldwide public relations, described herself as “extremely conflicted” on the subject.

“On one level, you want to convey a sense of empathy and sympathy and patriotism,” Ms. Salzman said. “On another level, there’s a belief that every milestone in American history has been turned into a marketing opportunity.”

“My advice would be to go dark,” she added. “There’s no place for brands to live.”


Still, some are trying. For instance, Lieb Family Cellars, a Long Island winery, is selling 9/11 Memorial commemorative merlot and chardonnay, promising to donate up to 10 percent of the proceeds to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

And the New York Sports Club chain of health clubs made the discount offer last month in ads aimed at firefighters, police officers, members of the military and emergency medical workers. The regular rate, $99 a month, was reduced to $20.

Other marketing, media and agency executives acknowledge a need to tread lightly in their plans for Sept. 11, 2011.

“This is a subject none of us wants to think of as commercial,” said Pamela Maffei McCarthy, deputy editor of The New Yorker, part of Condé Nast, which is publishing an e-book, “After 9/11,” collecting the magazine’s coverage of the terrorist attacks and their aftermath.

The e-book is being aimed at “people in their 20s who may have missed” the coverage, Ms. McCarthy said, and anyone older who “might want to revisit” what was “a tremendously important historical event.”

“For something like this, it seemed a very good approach,” she said of the e-book, which costs $7.99.

Several agency, media and marketing executives are members of the advisory board of Action America, an organization that encourages the public to make each Sept. 11 a national day of service.

“We’re hoping to rise above the skepticism consumers have with brands that are associating themselves with 9/11,” said one board member, Lori Senecal, the chief executive of the Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal Partners agency, part of MDC Partners.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d2f0a1afb40fdd2b896ac8c6ad3ed86a

Options Abound to Protect the iPad

It dawned on me three months after buying an iPad 2 that keeping the tablet encased in its original clear packing sleeve was a bit like having my living room furniture covered in plastic: practical, yet tacky.

The purchase of an orange Smart Cover from Apple to protect it was perhaps just a bit impulsive after all. Lifting and lowering the cover turns the screen on or off. But while the cover protected the glass just fine, the bare aluminum back seems vulnerable to getting scraped and scuffed no matter how durable Apple says it is.

Not wanting to acknowledge a $39 mistake (for polyurethane; $69 had it been leather), and knowing that enterprising accessory makers had alternatives, I returned recently to the local Apple Store and stared at the wall of covers.

It did not take long to engage another customer in a game of “What are you looking for in an iPad 2 cover?” We opened boxes together, felt textures, commented on clever designs and imagined our iPad 2s snug and safe. He found what he was looking for; I moved on to Best Buy, Staples and then Target, making more temporary shopping friends.

But they found what they needed. I could not pull the trigger.

Now that I was no longer an impulse buyer, I devised a strategy. Most important, I knew what I was looking for in a case that incorporated the magnet “technology” that turned the screen on and off.

It took a while for companies to start making rivals to the Smart Covers, but the choices are already overwhelming. I started by narrowing the field to products clearly marked for the iPad 2, which is slimmer than the first iPad. Many covers made for the original iPad are still on the shelves, which can be confusing. The newer covers have cutouts for the ports, switches and the back camera of the iPad 2.

Nothing beats getting your hands on a cover, but the next best thing is watching videos online of someone else opening a box with a new cover and using it. Often those videos are included on the manufacturer’s Web site, and they are a good starting point.

To narrow the list, I looked at a range of back covers that would work with my Smart Cover, from $20 to $50. Next, I examined some competing products that sold for $50 and up. The least expensive route is a simple snap-on back, which often can be found in a color to match the Apple cover.

Hammerhead, for example, sells a thin polymer back cover in 10 colors at hammerheadcase.com. The HyperShield from Sanho, made of thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU, also comes in 10 colors, plus clear (hypershop.com). “It is dirt-proof and washable,” the company says. XgearLive.com features the slim XCase flexible shield (also made of washable TPU) in six colors. All respectable choices; all $20.

Prices go up from there, depending on the material and fit. Still, when it comes to Apple products, price is never the sole consideration. It has to look and feel great and shout to all lookers: “Yes, I am sporting the iPad 2!”

As this long but hardly exhaustive list shows, distinguishing one product from another can be daunting. There is the shockproof CoverBuddy from SwitchEasy.com, available in 10 colors (plus ultraclear) for $25; the Snap Shield cover from Belkin.com, which comes in clear, Apple Pink and Smoke, and sells for $30; the BackBone from ifrogz.com, which sells for $35 in matching Smart Cover colors, plus white and clear; or the higher-end iFrogz Summit for $60, which combines a folio style with a snap-in core.

XgearLive.com also sells the EXOSkin, in black, silver or white, at $30, and the Smart Cover Enhancer snap-on case for $35, in black or clear. Hammerhead’s lightweight hard shell case made of a durable and water-resistant polymer, in 10 colors, is $40. Incipio offers the Smart feather ultralight hard-shell case in 11 colors for $35 at myincipio.com.

Speck has a SmartShell Case with a magnet on the back to secure the cover when it is folded back. It comes in orange, pink, clear and black satin and sells for $35 at speckproducts.com.

The AViiQ Smart Case is made of plastic encased in a solid aluminum plate anodized to match the Smart Cover colors. It sells for $50 on aviiq.com.

Broadening the search from just back covers to the whole tablet turned up a wealth of other options.

Mophie updated its faux-leather workbook for the iPad 2 to add the magnets and kept the price at $50. It features interchangeable straps in four colors, inclines the iPad at multiple viewing angles, and offers full access to ports, camera and controls. Out of the box, it looks professional and feels secure.

The Joy Factory (thejoyfactory.com) has introduced a few cases for iPad 2, including the SmartSuit 2, its ultraslim synthetic leather snap-on case with a wake/sleep cover, and the Folio360 II, featuring a magnetic cover and an adjustable case and stand that rotates 360 degrees. Both sell for $60.

For a bit more money, the CarbonCover from Ion-factory.com at $70 comes in black and graphite, white and silver, red and rouge, and white and pink. It features a snap-to-fit hard grip cover in the rear and what it describes as “imitation carbon polyurethane” in the front.

Imitation is nice, but real leather can be had from Grove, which offers a magnetic case with combination black or tan leather cover with Ultrasuede liner and amber or light bamboo case, for $99 and up, at grovemade.com.

Pad Quill offers two handmade leather products incorporating magnetics: the Contega for $90, and the Octavo for $60 with an optional interior pocket for $10 more (padandquill.com).

Bella Cases is selling the Smart Libretto, a leather case that can be folded into a stand, has the sleep function built in, and has custom holes for cords, ports and buttons, for $120 (bellacases.com).

The premium Padova II from Orbino (orbino.com) can be ordered in four “bark-tanned” Italian leathers for $209; exotic skins like red ostrich start at $569. (That’s only $70 more than the least expensive iPad.)

The Logitech keyboard case by Zagg, for $100, is tempting. It has an embedded Bluetooth-linked keyboard and incorporates smart technology. Remove the iPad 2 from the case and it automatically wakes up. Place it back, and it goes to sleep. The description on its Web site (zagg.com) says it is made of aircraft-grade aluminum with a bead-blasted, anodized finish that matches the iPad 2. Sweet, but the back is still not protected.

In the end, I did some math: in April, I paid about $620 for the iPad 2 with only Wi-Fi, the protection plan and the Smart Cover. I mostly use the iPad 2 at home. At this point, $20 for a simple back cover seems like a small price to keep the iPad 2 in tip-top shape, and I no longer have to feel guilty about buying the Smart Cover.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=fc1f346d6372cd2d857a25a161c034d4

State of the Art: Wireless, Not Wimpy, Speakers

The makers of home theaters would love us to discover surround-sound speakers, which transform the experience of movies and music. But as many a spouse can tell you, those speaker setups entail five or seven pain points: the speaker cables snaking across the floor. We’ve got wireless phones, wireless remotes and wireless networks. Why can’t we have wireless speakers?

We can, of course. They’ve been available for years. But few people buy them. Ira Fagan, owner of a home theater installation company in Fairfield, Conn., puts it like this: “Unless your wireless speakers cost $10,000, they’ll sound like a cordless phone.”

Aperion Audio thinks it’s about to change that game. Its new Intimus 4T Summit Wireless 5.1 Home Theater Speaker System costs $2,500, and is supposed to rival wired speakers at the same price.

(That might sound expensive, especially when surround-sound kits at Best Buy start at $180. On the other hand, some people pay $10,000 for a pair for high-end speakers. On sale.)

Once the delivery truck pulls away, your front porch bends under the weight of seven boxes: a black transmitter box the size of a cigar box; a wide rectangular center speaker that goes right under or over the TV; two tall, skinny, towerlike front speakers; two small bookshelf-type speakers that go beside or just behind your seating area; and a subwoofer, a huge black cube that pumps out low frequencies. The manual, the remote control and the tech support (based in the United States) are all excellent.

A 7.1 seven-speaker setup — with two more surround speakers behind your couch — costs $3,000.

You don’t need to worry about the great-looking piano-black finish getting scratched during shipping; each speaker is wrapped in plastic, then slipped into an individual velvet drawstring bag, surrounded by polystyrene foam and packed inside a shipping box. Where’s Houdini when you need him?

It turns out that “the first decent-sounding, reasonably priced wireless speakers” isn’t the Aperions’ only claim. The speakers also calibrate themselves, saving $1,000 or more on having a professional do the work.

You position them so that they can all “see” each other; no speaker should be blocked by furniture, potted plants or sleeping St. Bernards. You plug each speaker into a power outlet. This, of course, is the big lie about wireless speakers; they still need electricity. Until somebody invents wireless power outlets, the speaker wires are the only ones we can eliminate.

The small transmitter box also acts as a video switch; it accommodates your cable box, DVD player, game console or whatever you can plug into its inputs (a coax jack, stereo analog inputs and three 3 HDMI jacks). In other words, this tiny component eliminates the need for a bulky, expensive traditional amplifier. Each speaker has amplifiers built right in.

The next setup step is so much fun, you’ll want to do it over and over again. On one speaker, you press the Associate button. The speakers now communicate with each other, exchanging information about their number (five or seven speakers), distance and relative positions. This information is transmitted using ultrasonic sound waves, so it won’t bother anybody but the bats.

And that’s it. Your speakers are now fully calibrated and adjusted, immersing you in delicious surround sound.

For its final trick, the Aperion system offers an instant sweet-spot-repositioning feature. With regular surround- sound, you always have to sit in one exact spot to derive the maximum benefit of your speakers. You eventually wear a hole in your couch.

E-mail: pogue@nytimes.com

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Digital Domain: Our Geeks Are Better Than Your Geeks

ONE incompetent young salesman in a short-sleeved blue shirt. That’s about all Newegg, an online retailer, needed to create a hilarious parody commercial.

Best Buy, the consumer electronics giant, was not amused.

In the parody, the salesman knows nothing at all about the computers on display in his department. A customer’s voice asks, “What’s the difference between these two?” The salesman leans down to read the information cards for two laptops, straightens up and looks bewildered: “O.K. — I don’t really…” is all the guidance he can offer.

Then the scene changes to a shot of three laptops under spotlights on a stage. A voiceover says: “Newegg.com — come for the expert reviews; buy for the excellent prices.” Newegg, of course, sells only online and offers those reviews in place of salespeople.

The commercial ends with the company’s pitch: “Take it from a geek.”

Last month, Best Buy’s lawyers sent a letter to Newegg, demanding that it stop showing that commercial and “any other advertising purporting to show Best Buy employees.”

Best Buy, whose own salespeople also wear blue shirts, complained that the employee in the commercial was “depicted as being slovenly and uninformed about computer products.” The letter also demanded that Newegg drop its “Geek On” marketing theme because, it said, the theme encroaches upon Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” trademark.

Newegg did not heed Best Buy’s demands. Instead, it placed Best Buy’s cease-and-desist letter on public display, on its Facebook fan page, and it continues to show the commercial on television.

Helpfully, it also supplied a YouTube link to the parody. By last week, the commercial had been viewed on YouTube more than 556,000 times.

Parodies that take aim at competitors are nothing new, and courts have upheld them as a legally protected form of free expression as long as there is no chance that viewers will fail to notice that they are indeed parodies and not mistake them for real commercials.

In this case, could viewers possibly think that the appallingly ignorant person in the blue shirt bore a striking similarity to the sales rep they recently encountered in a Best Buy store? Could they somehow think that Best Buy had sponsored the commercial?

Leslie J. Lott, a lawyer at Lott Fischer, in Coral Gables, Fla., and a former director of the International Trademark Association, said: “Best Buy is in a dilemma. If the awful customer service that is portrayed in the Newegg commercial is accurate, there’s no parody. So it would be in a good legal position but in a horrible position from a public relations perspective. If, on the other hand, Best Buy’s position is that their customer service is actually excellent, then that strengthens Newegg’s parody defense.”

A spokeswoman for Best Buy said in an e-mail that “when Newegg’s commercial presents a Blue Shirt in a disparaging way, it damages our goodwill.” So, Best Buy asserts, “Newegg’s commercial is not a parody” because it “ridicules.”

A short-sleeved blue shirt isn’t a registered Best Buy trademark. As for vexation over being the target of ridicule, that comes along with a parody, doesn’t it?

Newegg did back down a degree, however. Earlier this month it told Best Buy that it would add a disclaimer saying: “This advertisement photoplay is a work of fiction.” The disclaimer, shown only online, says the ad was “solely intended to parody and draw attention to any business establishments (but none in particular) that provide poor customer service.” As of last week, one could find two versions of the commercial on YouTube: one with the disclaimer and one without.

I asked Newegg why it did not assert its right to run a parody without a disclaimer. Bernard Luthi, Newegg’s vice president for marketing, Web management and customer service, said in an e-mail that the company did stand behind its parody and would continue to run the commercial because “we do not believe that we portrayed any specific competitor in an offensive way.”

Instead of deploying sales reps, Newegg offers customer ratings, using a five-“egg” scale instead of five stars, along with detailed descriptions of pros and cons. Often, these are written by technically sophisticated customers.

In one review, for example, an Asus laptop is praised for its “cool design” — and this was meant literally: “cpu averages 35 and gpu averages around 42 degrees Celsius with general use.”

In another review, a customer says of a $1,500 MSI laptop: “Pros: Seriously? Just read the specs on this beast.” The reviewer warned that the machine included bloatware, but that this was “nothing I couldn’t easily fix myself.”

But there are people, like my mother, who could not easily fix a bloatware problem. Newegg’s tagline — “Geek on. Everyone is passionate about something.” — does not describe her relationship to her computer.

And some shoppers don’t want to read and compare spec sheets. They are, in fact, very similar to the customer in the Newegg ad who asks for a simple comparison of two laptops on display. They may well be more comfortable shopping at a store like Best Buy.

Newegg proudly displays the exact number of product reviews that are available on its site — last week, the number was more than two million — but that is little help to the shopper who just wants a knowledgeable sales rep to say, “I suggest this one right here.”

The techie jargon that riddles customer reviews at the Newegg Web site seems a pretty ripe target. Perhaps Best Buy should unleash a team of mischievous advertising professionals on Newegg and let its humorless lawyers pursue some other project.

One satirical picture should be worth a thousands words of legalese.

Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University. E-mail: stross@nytimes.com.

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