Crazy Vitamin D Deal From Swanson

Swanson Vitamins is currently running a buy one-get one deal on Vitamin D 2000 IU. Right now, the price is $6.39 for 500 capsules. That is right, for 500 capsules! I thought the normal deal, $6.39 for 250 capsules, was pretty good itself, but this is just amazing. 

I don’t know how long this deal will last, but I can tell you that I ordered 3 of them (for a total of 1500 capsules) yesterday. I should note that Swanson tends to be conservative on their estimates of expiration. From my observations, they seem to say their products expire 2 years from the date of manufacture. This seems too conservative to me.  Based on the expiration dates of other reputable companies, I have concluded you can effectively add 1.5 years (18 months) to Swanson’s expiration dates without worry of major potency loss. This means that taking full advantage of this sale (i.e. buying 1500 capsules) will safely last you for awhile!

PS – We have only updated this blog sporadically as of late. We hope to start posting regularly again, but alas, life happens!

10 Essential GIMP Plugins and Scripts

ducks and lake

The GIMP is a powerful open source (free) graphics editing software program. I use it frequently, since I can’t afford Photoshop and like the idea of open-source software. I have collected quite a few plugins and scripts over the years which make GIMP even more powerful. While the GIMP is not quite as powerful as Photoshop, plugins and scripts help take the GIMP closer to the professional level of Photoshop. Below I have listed 10 plug-ins and scripts, and collections of plugins and scripts, that make GIMP very powerful. These are the ones I use a lot and hope you enjoy. Obviously I have left out some, and may post on these later. I have linked to Windows versions if separate Windows versions exist, because I figure Linux users already know how to get the scripts and don’t need their hands held.

To install plugins on Windows, simply place the file or files (usually .exe) into the following folder:

c:Program FilesGimp-2.0libgimp2.0plug-ins

To install scripts on Windows, place the file or files (.scm) into the following folder:

c:Program FilesGimp-2.0sharegimp2.0scripts

Below are my favorites in no particular order:

1. Darla Purple Fringe – This script fixes purple fringing, an aberration in which some parts of  images have a purple outline. This is common on images shot on many digital cameras. This script helps fix the problem. I usually have to de-saturate blue to -80 to get the best result. Play around with the settings until you find what works.

2. GMIC for Gimp (Windows) – This plugin is a powerful collection of artistic, color, and other tools, which supercharges GIMP. Tools include soft focus, old photo, CMYK color mixer, fish-eye lens, additive noise, and many more!

3. Shadows and Highlights – This is a helpful script that allows you to lighten the areas that are too dark, and darken the areas that are too light. This is very useful in bringing out the details in regions of images that are too dark. However, it won’t “find” details that weren’t there to begin with; make sure you are taking photos that are properly exposed. The image above was enhanced using this script. The stumps on the far left of the image were practically black before I used the script.

4. Re-Focus – This is a nice plugin that sharpens an image in a smart way. I find that sometimes “Unsharp mask” (which comes with GIMP) gives good results, and other times, re-focus does a better job. Both, when used properly, sharpen an image without giving that over-sharpened look.

5. UFRaw – This is a program that runs separately from GIMP, but that is also integrated into GIMP. It allows processing of RAW files, before they are sent to the 8-bit GIMP editing environment. It is a nice program that allows for white balance correction, noise reduction, editing with curves, among other things. I wish it had a sharpening feature, but otherwise, I really like it.

6. FX-Foundry – This is a nice collection of scripts, which includes a lot of helpful tools. There are over 15 color tools alone, and many more in other categories. The one I use the most is “Contrast Overlay” which adjusts the contrast so that dark areas are brightened, and very bright areas are normalized. It also allows for the blurring of a layer, creating a nice “glow” to the image.

7. Technicolor 2 – I like the way this script turns a normal image into a more exciting one.  It makes an image look older and mysterious.

8. Eg Black and White – This script allows you to turn an image into black and white, and filter this based on color. UF Raw and GMIC also have tools for this, but this is a nice, easy-to-use, tool to do the job.

9. EXIF Viewer (Windows) – EXIF data is that information from the camera that tells you shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and a bunch of other information. GIMP doesn’t allow you to view this information without this plug-in.

10. Darla Blue-Sky Gradient – Sometimes the sky in a scenic image can be overexposed (losing detail because the area is too bright), which ruins an otherwise nice image. This script does a good job of fixing that, and making the sky blue (or whatever color you like) again. It does a nice job of knowing where the sky stops and the scenery begins.

Some Good Deals Over at Swanson

Swanson Vitamins always has some good prices and sales, but right now, they are going the extra mile, offering ten percent off the entire order (enter in code TEN0809 at checkout, before August 24, 2009).

Swanson’s regular prices are some of the most competitive supplement prices on the internet, but every month or so, they put a few items on a “buy 1-get 1” sale, which makes the price even better. This month, Arginine, Horse Chestnut, MSM, Vitamin D (400 IU), and many others are on sale. Add on the ten percent, and these prices are out of this world! In fact, the Arginine price is so good, that it is  better deal (gram for gram) to buy these capsules than to buy the bulk powder elsewhere).

Frugal, But Not Cheap

Before I went to graduate school, I never thought much about buying groceries and other everyday items. During high school, my parents took care of that for the most part, and in college, we had the dining hall and dorms to basically provide our needs (hardly for free, but I didn’t notice it). However, when I arrived at graduate school, suddenly I was responsible for buying groceries and having some money left over at the end of the week to do the things I wanted to do.

Some people call me cheap, and others tight. I prefer to look at myself as frugal, or perhaps thrifty, and my beliefs about money do not render me stingy, although I do like to save money. I tend to look at having and spending money like this: I like to save money on things I don’t really care about, so I can have money to spend on things I do. So, for example, there is no difference between buying eggs at Aldi, or eggs at Meijer. However, I save about 40 cents/dozen by getting the eggs for 79 cents a dozen at Aldi. At a dozen per week, I save over $20.00 a year. Twenty dollars buys a few books, which I do enjoy. Another example is generic pop. How much is a 2-liter of Pepsi? Somewhere around $1.25. The generic is $.75. Savings per week if I buy 2? $1.00 a week. In a year, that is $52.00. Chicken noodle soup is basically chicken stock, noodles, and a few chunks of chicken. I can get Campbell’s for $1.00 or Aldi for 50 cents. If I buy 4 a week, in the course of a year I have saved $104.00. I don’t really care enough about pop, eggs, or chicken noodle soup to readily distinguish between generic and name brand, but I do enjoy having an extra $176.00 at the end of the year.

Like I said, I don’t think I am cheap. I like to buy people gifts, and I always try to tip 20-25% when I go out to eat. I also make sure I give a fair percentage of my income to charity, including my church. In fact, one thing I save money for is to share it with others. However, I would much rather “share” my money with others than with the electric company, gas company, or grocery store. This is one main reason I also go to extremes to save energy, and this is reflected by the fact that our air-conditioning has kicked on probably 10 times this whole summer (it has been unseasonably cool, so we don’t usually save as much energy as we have this summer).

So what is my basic philosophy and challenge to you? Well, it could be summarized as “tighten your finances where it doesn’t really matter, so you can have more money where it does.” There are many creative ways to save money, and the way I look at it is that if you can put effort into whatever it is you put effort into (school, job, hobby, etc), you can put effort into saving money, since it will likely benefit you and those that matter to you!

Open Source Alternative to Photomatix: QTPFSGUI

Below I provide examples of photos processed using the program QTPFSGUI.

I am always looking for open-source alternatives to high-priced proprietary software. People who know me understand that I am not opposed to closed-source software like Windows, but that I prefer open-source software because of the quality and price.  I have posted about saving money using open source software, and saving more money using open source software.

I have been interesting in creating HDR (High-Dynamic Range) photos for some time, but wasn’t aware of how to create them. I figured that my camera wasn’t capable. An HDR image is one in which the contrast is closer to reality than is possible with a Low-Dynamic Range image. Although it is preferable to use a camera that is capable of saving in a 16-bit RAW format (or TIFF), it is possible to create HDR photos using a jpg. At any rate, this brings me to the product qtpfsgui, which is an open-source way to create HDR images. And, yes, the name is confusing, but there is a reason for it.

Basically, the way qtpfsgui works is like this. First, you create a new HDR image. This can be done either with one image, or preferably, with a series of bracketed images. After you do this, qtpfsgui will walk you through the steps for creating an HDR image. The default settings tend to work well, but if you want more control, the program offers this. Then, after you have your image, you can adjust the gamma to lighten it or darken it.  Finally, you tone-map the image. This can be done using a variety of methods, based on academic papers relating to creating high-contrast images. The results (and type of image) vary depending on the method used. I find that for more realistic photos Reinhard ’02 and Reinhard ’05 produce the best results, while Mantiuk and Fattal produce rather fascinating images (but they look unrealistic, if default settings are used). Below are some photos I have taken that were processed through qtpfsgui. Often, after processing with qtpfsgui, I also do some work on them in GIMP, but here I just kept the images directly from qtpfsgui. However, the first image is the original brightest photo I took, which was not processed (note that because I bracketed the photos, there were two other darker photos).  The processed photos are far closer to what I actually saw that evening. Click on the photo for larger detail.

original scene

Below is the Reinhard ’02 Processing:

reinhard 02

Below is the Reinhard ’05 processing

reinhard 05

Below is the Mantiuk processing

mantiuk

Below is Fattal (Current)

fatta lnew

Fattal (Old…still available in current release)

fattal old

Note that within each type of processing, there are many ways to manipulate the photos. For example, in the Fattal setting, you can control alpha, beta, color saturation, and noise, and you can control the gamma as well. This means that you can do a whole lot within each processing method. Unfortunately, my camera only exports to jpegs (8-bit, processed, images). If it could export RAW, 16-bit images, I would be happier, but you can still see the impact qtpfsgui has.

50% Off at DNE Vitamins

I have ordered from DNE Vitamins since I sent for a free catalog back in the mid-1990s. Recently they have been having some great sales, and I have ordered from them more than ever. Their prices are naturally competitive with the warehouse and catalog discounters, so when they have an additional sale, the deals are GREAT.

Right now, until June 22, DNE is having a 50% off sale, on your entire order. This even includes their national brands. Enter the coupon GET50OFF at checkout. Shipping is free for all orders over $89!!

Discover Rewards for This Month

For those who have a Discover Card, enroll in the Get More program for this month, and you will get 5% cash back at Home Improvement, Department, and Clothing stores. All you have to do is enroll your Discover Card online, sign-up for this quarter’s reward, and voila, 5% back.

Hi, my name is David, and I make money from credit cards. You mean credit card companies actually make money from you? It doesn’t have to be so!

Don’t Throw that Container Away Just Yet…

coin containers

I have a problem: I like to save everything, especially the plastic and glass containers that peanut butter, jelly, salsa, etc, come in. “Hey I *paid * for those! There has to be another use! Surely I can *make* something from this…” are thoughts that race through my head as I start to throw something out. I also think it might be genetic, but we won’t get into that here… Don’t worry. If you visit our house, you won’t see myriad peanut butter jars lining the halls or anything. I do keep my habit in check, though not as much as David might like. I have a bin, once it is full, I have to either use them, or lose them. Cleaning is pretty easy, as I let them soak for a day or 2, rinse, remove the labels and then toss them in the dishwasher (top rack of course).

containers

But why do I save them? Well, besides the fact you pay for packaging, it is a great way to recycle, and they satisfy quick and simple storage needs. I currently use old peanut butter jars to store various grains (like bulk quinoa, etc). I have my knitting notions in a small honey jar. But my favorite use is for coins.

David hates having loose change in his pockets, and there is only so much one girl can carry in her purse, so the coins seem to always end up lying around the house. And in our house, only paper seems to pile up faster than the coins! Something had to be done. I know many people have coin jars. As a matter of fact, when I was young, I remember my parents’ closet being lined with bottles of pennies. Having worked in a bank, I know it is faster to have your coins separated by type when you cash them in. I have 4 glass bottles, all left over from kitchen staples, that I place excess coins in once a month. It works like a charm and provides a nice bonus when you cash them in. I have friends who pay for vacations just using the money they have in change!

Below are a few other ways I use previously-used containers:

1. Fruit fly trap
2. Compost storage (until you can carry it out to the heap)
3. Storage for homemade bath products
4. Storage for homemade cleaners
5. Storing leftovers, or as to-go containers for guests
6. To prevent rust rings in the shower (using plastic lids as coasters)

What are your favorite uses for old containers?

Save Money, Go Open Source (Part II)

In a previous post, Save Money, Go Open Source, I listed various open source (and free) software programs I use regularly. I like the idea of open source software on a philosophical level, in that a variety of people can participate to make a program better. However, my main reason for loving them is that they are completely free! Using open source software really should be an important part of living frugally and embracing financial wellness. Below are a few more programs that I find useful that can save you a lot of money if you use them in place of costly proprietary software:

GnuCash – I posted on Getting to Know Gnucash, but I will summarize GnuCash here. GnuCash is the equivalent to software like Microsoft Money and Quicken. It handles things like mortgages, credit cards, bank accounts, expenses, etc. You can even import Quicken and Microsoft Money files, so you can just download your information directly from your online banking sites, and reconcile it. GnuCash isn’t quite as intuitive as Microsoft Money, and is more advanced software, since it uses double-entry accounting principles, while Money is a single entry system. The former is more thorough, but more difficult to understand. I use GnuCash for business and personal purposes. It can generate handy charts to show your income versus expenses, where your expenses are coming from, etc.

PDF Creator – This is a .pdf printer, which means that you can print any document, image, etc, on your computer as a .pdf file. If you install it, you will see it listed as an option on your list of printers. Once you choose to print with it, you are given a choice to name it, assign an author, etc, and then you can save the document in any folder that you like. This is a handy way to create .pdf files!

Free Mind – Free Mind is an idea mapping software, which reminds me of those “pre-writing” bubble-like diagrams we used to do in English class. It allows you to brainstorm and generate ideas. I haven’t played around with it too much, but it looks cool.

Inkscape – Inkscape is a nice vector graphics design program. It is like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. You can make some pretty cool logos and art with it, and I haven’t even begun to utilize its many features. If you design art for bulletins, newspapers, e-books, etc, this software is essential, and could potentially save you hundreds on software costs.

CamStudio – CamStudio is a program that allows you to record your actions on your computer screen, which means you can make videos of what you do on your computer. You can also record audio while you do it. You can save the output as various video file formats, so you can post your efforts on You Tube, etc. This software is very helpful for individuals who are making software or computer-related video tutorials. I haven’t used it too much, except to test it, but there is a lot of potential here.

This round of Open Source programs isn’t quite as broadly useful as the last round. The last round included some major programs (like OpenOffice) that help us with common tasks (like word processing). However, these FREE programs I have just listed will help make your life easier!

Getting to Know GnuCash (Part I)

One of my goals this year is to develop both a personal and business budget, and keep better track of my books. When I went looking for software to do this, I looked first at open source sources. The option I decided on is GnuCash.

GnuCash is an open-source (i.e. free) accounting software package for individuals and small-businesses. I am beginning to use it for both business and personal purposes, to keep track of income and expenses. I wouldn’t call it super-intuitive, but for someone like myself with decent knowledge of computers, it is fairly straightforward. GnuCash is a double-entry accounting system, which means that for every debit you record, you have to have a credit somewhere else (for example, when a check is deposited in the checking account, it has to be debited from another source, i.e. from income). The same is true of all payments. For example, if I pay a credit card off, the amount also has to be entered into the checking account section. This is helpful for keeping good books, tracking income and expenses, and doing taxes later.

The first task I had to do was to set up and reconcile all of my accounts. This was time-consuming, because I have money spread out at various places in order to  get the  best return. This includes a good number of credit cards. Since I started this in January of 2009, I had to do a little calculating to reconcile the various accounts. I actually enjoyed it, because by using GnuCash, I am actually learning how to use double-entry accounting.

Gnucash seems to have a lot of features, many that I will not use at this point, but it meets my needs for the basic things I need to do right now. I hope to learn more as I move along.

I am a big believer in open-source software. It’s free. Period. And the quality of much of it is very good, and getting better by the day. In our current recession, I am surprised that more businesses aren’t using, and supporting the develoment of, open source programs.