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CNET to the Rescue: How to look sharp

After a brief primer on how to look good in photos, Josh and Rafe tackle listener questions, such as how to photograph your kids, how to save the world from overhearing your music, what's happening to Quicken Online's data, and more.

We've got an interesting topic to talk about before getting into questions today. It's how to look good in your pictures. Dating site OkCupid has aggregated 11.4 million opinions on what its members classify as "great" or otherwise attractive photos.

Now playing: Watch this: Ep. 13: All questions!


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Episode 13: Photo tips and your questions answered

Dating site's advice for photographers
OkCupid took 552,000 user photos and had its users vote on them, Hot or Not-style. It correlated the votes with the pictures' metadata, including things like shutter speed, aperture, time of day, and what type of camera was used. It then charted out how its users perceived attractiveness based on a handful of technical factors.

Here are some of the takeaways from the site's fascinating blog post, "Don't be ugly by accident":

* More complex cameras take better pictures.

* People don't look good when photographed with a flash. Avoid harsh shadows.

* People like shallow depth of field--something hard to achieve with cameraphones or point-and-shoot cameras.

Also, cross-comparing data from its members' profiles, the site found that iPhone users were the most sexually active, followed by BlackBerry, then Android. Make of that what you will.

Road tests

  • Antenn-Aid leaves a sticky residue
  • Buying iPhone cases on eBay: Cheap!
  • Josh tries Frash on the iPad
  • Questions
    From John K.: As you well know, most consumer-level digital cameras are such that you point, click, hold still for three or four days, and then the picture is finally captured. I mean, really, you could mount the camera on a tripod, click the shutter button, and then go make and eat a sandwich before the darn picture snaps. My wife and I are tempted to go back to using a traditional 35mm physical film camera just so we can actually take a picture of our toddlers before they wiggle away, despite all the hassle involved in old-school film processing, scanning in all those developed shots, etc.

    Are there any consumer-level digicams that don't have this capture speed problem? Like most parents of kids under 3, budget is a major concern in this equation. $100-200 is reasonable, but anything more than that means the littlest one wouldn't get her formula for a month or two, which of course is not an option.

    Lori Grunin: Prefocusing can be difficult with children because they tend to move in unexpected ways and out of your zone of focus, but if they haven't tried it they should. Also, I bet he's using the complete auto AF, which needs to determine what the subject is before it even begins to focus--he should be using centerpoint focus and recompose. He also shouldn't expect the camera to focus as quickly in low light as in bright light. Some point-and-shoots are faster than others as well. Sony tends to have some of the faster cameras. There are very few fast ones under $200, though.

    The truth is, cheap snapshot cameras are still pretty slow and ill-suited for shooting kids, pets, and sports. Which is what most people want them for. Catch-22.

    Rafe: I bought an SLR when my son was born for just this reason. It's still a great camera even though it's four years old, which goes to the budget issue: You might be able to get a decent, four-year-old DSLR with lens for about $250.

    Josh: Also worth reading is this rant from photographer Mike Johnston, explaining why you will never be happy with a point-and-shoot camera over a proper SLR, and you'll actually save money by buying the good stuff up front.


    From David the student from Dallas: I like to listen to my music rather loudly. On long car trips when I'm listening to my iPod, the others in the car get angry at me because they can also hear my music. I was wondering what were the best pair of headphones that had good bass, didn't let music out, and cost less than $150. I don't really care about noise isolation for me but for everyone else from my music.

    Rafe: First of all, I assume you are a passenger in the car when you're trying to blank out the world. If you're a driver, you suck. That said...

    Brian Cooley: If the kid is serious, there is only one choice: Koss PRO4AA!. Vintage look, right price, rock like hell.

    Donald Bell: I like Cooley's suggestion. If he's a student, though, we should probably assume he will not enjoy the celibacy Koss headphones impose on their users. You may as well put a priest collar on the kid.

    Go with an in-ear headphone. You can't flaunt them like a pair of Monster Dre headphones, but you'll get great sound without annoying anyone around you.

    Here are some good in-ear options under $150: Klipsch Image S4; Monster Turbine; Apple in-ear; Thinksound TS01.


    From Ron in Solvang: I haven't heard you comment on this development, but Intuit is officially killing Quicken Online at the end of this month. They are trying to migrate the QOL users to Mint, which they purchased this past year. The problems are that (a) Intuit isn't porting the old QOL data into Mint for their users, and (b) Mint is missing some of the strongest features that QOL has (better iPhone app, the ability to set up recurring transactions and bill reminders, etc.). Transitioning users are starting to light up the support forum, but Mint and Intuit are being silent. Mint is prettier and has better reporting features, but QOL really is the stronger, more functional player.

    It's a customer satisfaction disaster in the works; I thought you may want to put this story on your watch list and get the jump on it around August 29 when QOL officially goes dark.

    Rafe: I e-mailed Aaron Patzer, founder & CEO of Mint and now the VP and general manager of the Personal Finance Group at Intuit. He said: Quicken Online is shutting down at the end of the month. is a stronger product with more features: iPhone, Android, SMS; find savings, track investment performance, financial goals, etc. It's also much better at retaining users and keeping them engaged.

    Users can import all of their Quicken Online data year-to-date by setting up a account and adding "Quicken Online" as a "bank." Type your Quicken Online username and password into Mint, and it will pull all your transaction history across. See our article for more detail.

    (In a followup about the only-year-to-date issues, Patzer added, "Only year to date right now. I pushed my engineers on this, and they convinced me it would put too much load to pull everything across. Year to date at least gives you everything you need for taxes.")


    From Jacob: I have a single Ethernet port in the back of my TV, but was looking for a splitter because I have an Xbox and a Tivo, both of which connect via Ethernet. Is there anyway to split the Ethernet connection?

    Rafe: Yes, it's easy. Get a network switch, like this one for $13. That one maxes out at 100mpbs, and if you're doing a lot of in-home transfers, you might want to spend a bit more for a switch that goes up to a gigabit, if the rest of your LAN is gigabit. Here's a $28 unit. But for Internet streaming, you're not going to be getting close to 100mpbs from your ISP anyway, so don't stress it.


    From Michael: I am currently in the market for an external hard drive (the cheapest I can find since I am in college and have no money) so that I may be able to back up my laptop and save big files on it. I saw one that seems great called Iomega Select 1TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive 34579. I thought it would be great because it has a lot of space and is cheap, but I then realized that I don't know what to look for when I am buying an external hard drive. Any help you can offer me? Is that hard drive any good? Should I be looking for specific things in every hard drive? I really appreciate the help, I love the show, I always learn so much!

    Rafe: I don't know that drive, but I have generic advice on external backup drives. This is it: Cheap is OK. All drives fail eventually, and unless you see reviews of the drive in question from a lot of people who say it never works, go for it. Because for a backup drive, you don't need it to be 100 percent reliable all the time. If it fails, you've lost your cheapness bet, but you still have your data--on your primary machine. Of course, if it fails at the same time as your primary, you're screwed, but that's why there's cloud backup and sync apps (see Windows Live Sync). Just be sure you test your cheapo drive from time to time, and replace it if it so much as twitches.

    Josh: I've had great luck with a number of external drives--primarily Western Digital and Seagate. But a potentially cheaper, and smarter long-term solution is to get a USB or Firewire-powered external HDD dock. These are essentially little plug-and-play enclosures that don't require any screwdrivers or complicated power supply connections.

    I got one of these that lets you use two separate 2.5" (laptop) or 3.5" desktop drives, and pop them in like toast in a toaster. You can often get big, high-quality drives from places like Newegg, and even Costco at a much lower price than the comparable amount of storage from an external drive. One big negative, of course, being that it doesn't travel all that well and is prone to accidental damage. These things can also be total lifesavers if you're trying to clone or boot up from an old backup drive.


    From Matt: I've decided to upgrade my Windows XP machine to Windows 7, but don't want to lose all my data. I've got about 150 gigs of music, movies, etc. I'm looking for a way to back it up before I switch, and I'd like to get away as cheap as possible. It seems to me that I could sign up for a free trial with a place like Mozy and do it that way, but I'm worried it's not actually that easy. Am I wrong?

    A second related question, while looking into these services, I got to thinking that maybe I should actually use them to back up my data on a long-term basis (which I'm sure would be your recommendations). Assuming I do decide to sign up for a service, do you guys have any recommendations? And one last question--are there any of these services that tie in nifty remote-streaming type of services that I can take advantage of with my iPhone? Whether for music or movies or something else that I haven't even realized I need? That might seal the deal for me going forward, long-term.

    Rafe: Free trials at backup services like Mozy are space-limited as a rule, so your plan won't work. If you can put your new and old machine on a network together, Windows has its own migration tool called Easy Transfer. See this guide.

    To your second question, backup services don't often offer streaming services. You want something more full-featured, like Dropbox or Sugarsync, but be prepared to pay.

    Josh: Also, these online backup services can be much, much slower than a good old-fashioned external hard drive. If you want to get done with your backup in less than a day, this can be a better solution.


    From Eddie: I'm in the market for a new TV 'cause my old 71'' DLP decided to die, so I wanted to know should I wait for CES in January to see what new technologies in LEDs are coming with regard to LEDs and even 3D televisions ('cause I don't really want to buy 3D glasses for the five people in my family). Also If I were to buy now, which LED is the best out there, I'm looking for the range of 55'' or higher with regard to size.

    John Falcone: Here's our top-rated LED-backlit LCD TV so far this year. Here are all the best LED-backlit LCD TVs. Though I would ask, "Why buy an LED TV when you can buy a plasma?" (better performance, lower price). See Best TVs overall.

    David Katzmaier: To add to John's points, unless he is intending to buy a high-end model and is willing to wait until at least Q2 2011, it's not worth waiting until after CES. If he does wait then there's a small chance he may see something significantly better in 2011, but I wouldn't count on it.


    From Walter Wood: A friend asked me about connecting his cell phones to the wired phones in his house. I checked these out and found that they allow you to connect a cell phone to your home wired system. There are several products available: XLink Bluetooth Gateway; GE Cell Fusion Bluetooth; Ufone U118 Cellular Docking Gateway; Vtech LS6245 DECT 6.0 Bluetooth Cordless Phone.

    All of these use Bluetooth to connect to your cell phone(s) and then route the call over wired home phones. This allows you to put your cell on a charger near the gateway device and then use regular wired house phones to make and receive calls over your cell phone. Most allow two or three cell phones to pair up. Some will even let you have a regular landline connection in addition to the cell phone. Costs range from $30 to $100. Most products appear to have been introduced several years ago and have not been updated.

    Are you familiar with these products, are they worthwhile, and could you make a recommendation?

    Rafe: Not so much. Listeners, what do you know?


    Sponsored question
    Our Blackberry Messenger question from last week:

    From Marc K.: Great show on cable management. But one thing I have to be curious about. You suggested replacing longer cables with shorter ones when possible. What should we do with the longer cables? I've got bags full of old cables that I'm tired of holding onto. I know you did a whole show on recycling old gadgets, but I've yet to hear a recommendation. I'd like to see if I can either make some $$ like from Gazelle or recycle them safely without just leaving them on a table at work hoping someone might take them.

    Josh: There's not a large market for used cables--that is, unless they have been made with precious metals like gold or silver. Any copper cables can be recycled, and RG58 ethernet cables can double as speaker cabling that the Internet tells me is quite good. Before hauling them to the recycling center or computer waste drop off center, I'd suggest selling them as a lot on Craigslist or eBay. Take pictures of them, and mention some of the cables that are included (with pictures of course) and somebody might bite and give you a little something for them. If not, you can give them away through there and not have to leave your porch.

    My favorite solution, though, is to follow this Mother Jones how-to guide on turning old computer cords into coasters. You could have yourself a whole box of project that you can turn into holiday gifts in a few months.