The CD Solution

When was the last time you bought a compact disc? For many of us, that’s like asking your buddy about his latest VHS purchase. But what about all those shiny discs you bought before the advent of iTunes, peer-to-peer sharing, music streaming and cloud storage made it so easy to find music online and access it on the device of your choice? In other words, is Fatboy Slim still staring at you from a CD tower, its jewel case growing dustier with each passing year?

Antiquated though they may seem, CDs should not be consigned to the digital trash heap -- at least not until you’ve gotten what you need from them. For starters, the music quality is far superior to that in an MP3. The MP3 is a small file for a reason: It doesn’t contain anywhere near the amount of data (and thus fidelity) that a track on a CD does. Secondly, although the selections offered on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify are enough to keep your head banging for a lifetime, chances are you own some eclectic albums that you won’t find in any of those libraries.

So what’s a guy to do about all those CDs that haven’t seen the light of day since “Friends” was a staple of Thursday night TV? You’ve got two options: DIY and outsourcing.

The DIY Route

If you’re on a Mac and use iTunes to manage your music, you’ll find an option under “Preferences” (within the iTunes pull-down menu) to import songs automatically on insertion of a CD. Select that option. Also in this menu you’ll find your import settings. To import your music at the highest quality possible (provided that space isn’t an issue) select AIFF Encoder or Apple Lossless Encoder. If storage space is an issue, you can import your music as MP3s. As noted above, though, the MP3 format makes use of crafty (though some say undetectable) audio compromises to keep the files small.

If you’re on a PC and don’t use iTunes, there is software both free (e.g., Winamp) and paid (e.g., Nero and Winamp Pro) that can assist you with the music-importing process. These time-saving programs will also help you manage your music library once you’re done importing your CDs. On a PC (and again, providing storage space is not an issue), you’ll want to import the songs in either .WAV or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec).

The good news is that regardless of whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, the software will do most of the heavy lifting for you (including finding album artwork and ID’ing the tracks on your CDs automatically). But you’ll still be stuck with the mind-numbing task of popping the CDs in and out of the computer every several minutes -- with the time for ripping dependent on the format you select.

Once you’ve imported a few discs, test the extracted music by streaming it to your various devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone). Make sure the format you’ve selected will not prove problematic -- or acoustically unsatisfying -- on any of them. (Not all cloud services will accept the higher-resolution files, for example.) Once you’re pleased with the results, finish ripping the rest of your CDs. And when you’re finally done, back up! Save your music files on a large external drive (or two) and, for safekeeping, on a cloud-storage server as well.

Outsourcing

Find a service that will convert all of your CDs to digital files and put them onto a hard drive or music player for you. (Google “CD conversion” or use one of the services below.) Ship out your CDs in a box -- typically provided -- and expect to pay anywhere from 25 cents to more than $2.00 per disc, depending on the final format you select. Some companies will clean your discs prior to importing and even attempt to repair damaged ones. Firms such as Pickled Productions will give you a bound, printed inventory of your music collection. RipStyles can recycle your jewel case and return the CDs in a portfolio instead.

When selecting a company, compare included services as well as extras such as shipping costs and insurance. And to make sure you’ll see your precious music collection again, check the Better Business Bureau for complaints from other customers.

Once you’ve gotten your music back, if you’re an iTunes user, you can pay Apple $25 for a new service called iMatch, to which you can upload all of your ripped CD content. Once your files are in the cloud, that music -- along with any music you’ve purchased from the iTunes music store -- will automatically be placed in your music “locker,” accessible to you on all of your iOS devices via the Web.

Google’s Music Beta (free for up to 20,000 songs) and Amazon’s Music Cloud (MP3 and AAC only) offer cloud hosting of your music files too. But be prepared for a long initial upload that can take hours, if not days. This won’t tie up your computer entirely, but it will slow down your Internet connection.

Regardless of whether you go for the DIY route or the outsourced one, you will love having all of your music at your fingertips all the time. Now your biggest dilemma won’t be where to keep your music, but what to do with the space where that CD tower used to be.

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/ishai01

The Top 5 Movie Phones

Got the latest music phone? That’s so 1998. If you’re keeping up with the ever-increasing multimedia processing power of cell phones, yours should be streaming movies by now. But if you’re watching your favorite flicks on a tiny touch screen … sorry, dude, you’ve fallen behind again. The big trend in mobile phones now is size: screen size, that is. The perfect movie phone is still a work in progress, as you’ll see in our reviews, but here are our top five picks of the big-screen babies currently -- or soon to be -- on the market.


LG Thrill 4G
The 4.3-inch, 800-by-480-pixel screen on this one is a good start. But what makes the Thrill, well, thrilling, is that it provides 3-D visuals by overlaying a “parallax barrier” on the screen -- in other words, you don’t have to wear wonky donky glasses. In addition to exclusively integrating YouTube 3-D, the Thrill can capture high-def movies in 3-D, and the dual-core 1GHz processor means 3-D games don’t get choppy or laggy. There is a catch, though: The screen design needs your head to stay in its sweet spot for the 3-D effect to work. In other words, forget catching the latest Harry Potter on a jolty road trip.
LG.com

HTC TITAN
HTC phones were already pretty hot before the TITAN came along. But with a 4.7-inch and 800- by 480-pixel screen, the aptly named TITAN takes the crown. It’s a bit of a lump in the pocket, sure, but nowhere near the oversized Dell Streak or Samsung Galaxy Tab. And on top of great visual real estate, it offers an 8MP camera, high-def video recording (at 720p) and the new Windows Mobile 7.5 OS, all backed by a speedy 1.5GHz chip. The downside? Windows Mobile is still lagging way behind Android and iOS for apps. For movies, though, this one’s a blockbuster.
HTC.com

 

Samsung Galaxy Tab
Straddling the divide between the phone and the tablet is the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The 7.4-inch, 1024- by 600-pixel screen means there’s a huge and bright high-resolution display for Web surfing, movie watching and other multimedia munching. But don’t try making a call on it unless you’re going for laughs; it’s strictly for use with a hands-free headset or inline mic/earbuds. While it would be a tight squeeze to fit this device into your jeans pocket, it’s full of features, which include loads of movie codex support (including DivX and Xvid) and great n-level Wi-Fi as well as mobile data options.
Samsung.com

 

Samsung Galaxy S II
With a 4.5-inch screen and 800 by 480 pixels, there’s not quite as much resolution on this one as there is on the iPhone 4 (see below), but the Galaxy S II has pretty much dominated sales of smartphones in Europe and the Far East. That’s because it hits the perfect balance of features (8MP camera, 1080p HD recording, 3G/4G and Wi-Fi, etc.) in a long-lasting, beautifully compact, well-designed Android package. It certainly isn’t the ultimate movie phone, if you must munch popcorn on the subway. But it’s probably the current frontrunner for the title of “ultimate do-it-all device.”
Samsung.com

 

Apple iPhone 4
The iPhone remains one of the best all-around smartphones in the business. Though its screen, at 3.5 inches, is not the largest, its bright, clear Retina display is the best on the market, boasting an 800:1 contrast ratio and a 960- by 640-pixel resolution. So it’s pretty damn great at playing movies. But it’s also great for all the other stuff too, because the iTunes Store remains the most stuffed for justifiably popular apps and games. Of course the wireless elephant in the room is the iPhone 5. While the launch has been long-rumored, current projections are that it’ll land its big hoofs sometime in October. Buy an iPhone 4 before then and you may be obsolete soon after.
Apple.com

5 Fastest Sleds to Make You King of the Hill

Are you sick of winter? Then think back to when you were a kid. The most fun you ever had was shredding through the snow on your Flexible Flyer, right? Well, we have news for you. Sledding -- the national pastime of prepubescents everywhere -- is just as much fun for postpubescents. Face it: Your life is going downhill anyway, so you might as well enjoy the ride!

One of the cool things about not being a little kid anymore is you can afford to buy your own sled. These are our top five picks of the sleds and toboggans on the market today. These babies fly, so to give you a fighting chance of getting to the bottom of the hill in one piece, we also included a couple of pieces of safety equipment.

THE SLEDS:

Flexible Flyer PT Blaster


That’s right: The brand of your youth is using adult technology to throw you off a cliff at breakneck speeds. (We said it was fun -- not necessarily safe.) With a three-ski snowmobile design, this sled shreds like no other. It comes with a spring-loaded break system and handlebar steering for improved control and handling. It’s 45 inches long, 18 inches high and 20 inches wide, so it can handle the big butt of an old Sasquatch like you.

Price: $77



Buy It Here



Avalanche Snow Disc

 


For the sledding “fun”-damentalists. The old garbage can lid blueprint has been upgraded with lightweight plastic to reduce friction and increase speed. Not exactly NASA-level technology, but this baby takes off down a hill like a flying saucer. Admittedly, it doesn’t quite handle like the Space Shuttle Columbia. Once you’ve been launched, the piloting is out of your hands and you start spinning like Kim Kardashian’s press agent, heading any which way the Avalanche takes you. But you do it fast, and that’s the fun!

Price: $12



Buy It Here

 

Mad River Rocket Killer B Sled


If sledding brings you to your knees, then this is the one for you. To ride it, you place your knees in the foam pads, buckle in your thighs and steer with your hands. (Not for the text-messaging nuts in the crowd.) The black shell, constructed from recycled plastic, is extremely sturdy and able to handle difficult terrain. Give yourself time to learn how to handle this mother so it doesn’t handle you.

Price: $160



Buy It Here



American Traders Deluxe 8-foot Toboggan


This 8-foot-long retro rocket -- made of traditional thin wooden planks with thicker side slats for extra strength and speed -- brings back warm memories of youthful mass casualties. Weighing in at 28 pounds and measuring 18 inches wide, it meets U.S. National Toboggan Championship standards.

Price: $299



Buy It Here


Airboard Softboard Inflatable Sled


This arrowhead-shaped inflatable raft has hard plastic ridges that help keep you from killing yourself while you break speed records in the snow. This is, without a doubt, the fastest ride on the ridge: It can hit 80 miles an hour! At that speed, you’d better make sure not to hit anything else. The good news is that the plastic runners provide good handling with a simple shift of your body weight. (You ride lying head-first like on an old Flexible Flyer.) Developed in the Swiss Alps, this snow raft inflates in less than three minutes with a hand pump and delivers the ride of a lifetime.

Price: $140



Buy It Here



THE SAFETY GEAR:

 

Shred Ready Forty 4 Helmet


Every year, more than 20,000 sledders hit the emergency room after hitting the slopes. If you don’t want to join them, wear a helmet. This one uses in-mold expanded polystyrene (EPS), an energy-absorbing foam. It also has an easy-to-use one-handed buckle, along with a removable and washable liner and ear pads. Don’t abuse your head; use it and buy this hard hat.

Price: $80



Buy It Here

 

Ice Bird Snow Goggles


You can’t sled if you can’t see, so keep the wind and snow out of your eyes with these double lenses with anti-fog coating. They’re anti-scratch and break-resistant with 12 layers of protective coating that provide both protection and better visibility. Plus, the comfortable form-fitting foam padding on the inside will keep your face from taking on a permanent raccoon outline -- a nice feature if any cute snow bunnies happen to be on the hill.

Price: $45



Buy It Here


Shaving SOS: Your 5 Most Common Problems, Solved

For you, getting nicks, bumps and ingrown hairs from shaving is as much a regular fact of life as the sun rising in the morning and Lindsay Lohan getting arrested sometime after it sets. The good news is, your shaving problems aren’t necessarily caused by your skin, hair or genes. Instead, the culprits are often just poor tools and technique -- which are simple to remedy. Here are the five most common shaving problems, along with advice from skin and hair experts on how to make them disappear. Too bad Lindsay Lohan can’t work the same magic with her police record.

Problem No. 1: Razor Burn
These are the patches of red, irritated skin that appear within minutes of shaving. They’re extremely sensitive and really hurt when you’re working up a sweat. Eliminating razor burn is simple; you just need to soften the skin before taking razor to face. “You should always shave after you take a shower,” says Martial Vivot, owner of Salon Pour Hommes in New York City. “The steam softens the hair and makes it stand up and softens the skin.”

Problem No. 2: Nicks
Wouldn’t it be nice to throw out that styptic pencil forever? Gushers are actually easy to avoid. The keys: Use a sharp razor, glide the blade gently across the face without applying too much pressure, and take as few passes over the face as possible. “The more passes you take over a spot with the razor blade, the worse it is for your skin,” says Ben Davis, owner of the Gent’s Place barbershop and spa outside of Dallas. As for your razor cartridge, Davis advises replacing it weekly. “You can’t use a cartridge for more than a week, or else it’ll get too dull.”

Problem No. 3: Ingrown Hair
This is when hair grows inside the follicles and beneath the surface of the skin. Doctors call it pseudofolliculitis barbae, but you just call it a pain in the neck. Literally. Preventing ingrown hairs is a many-step process. The preshave shower  helps quite a bit, along with always shaving with the grain of the whiskers and not against it. Davis also suggests using a shave brush (preferably made from badger hair) to apply shaving cream: “It acts as a natural exfoliant, brushing away the outer layer of dead skin. And when you use circular motions, it helps push the hairs on the face out and creates a better lather for the shave cream.”

Problem No. 4: Barber’s Itch
These are the red bumps that look like a rash or even infected pimples. Sometimes they’re caused by ingrown hair, but often they’re from staph bacteria that enter the follicles or the skin through small cuts on the face. Davis recommends the following: 1) Rinse your razor thoroughly with hot water before you use it; 2) Apply a citrus-based preshave oil to your skin before the shave cream, to act as an antibacterial agent; 3) Use an aftershave lotion when you’re done “to seal the pores so nothing enters your bloodstream.”

Problem No. 5: Dry Skin
Simple solution: “When you’re done shaving, always use a moisturizer,” says Vivot, adding that you should reapply it at night. “You’ll find that it will make your shaving easier in the morning.”



Turbocharge Your Shaving Kit

Shaving cream and a razor are just a start. To take your personal grooming to the next level, equip your Dopp bag with these tools.



The humble Dopp kit -- named after its early 20th century inventor, leather craftsman Charles Doppelt -- has come a long way since it was a standard-issue razor-and-toothbrush carrier for WWII GIs. Just as modern man’s grooming needs have evolved to include more than a bar of soap and bucket of warm water, so have the innards of his Dopp kit.

Think of it as your personal arsenal of grooming weapons -- whether you’re headed off on a relief mission or simply prepping for another war at the office. Here’s everything you need:

1. Face wash
Put down the bar of soap and step away from the sink. Seriously. Now. Soap is drying and irritating. The trick here is to dissolve dirt and clean skin without stripping away all the oil, which can actually cause your skin to overcompensate by producing excess oil. And remember, when it comes to your face, you don’t want to over-cleanse. Once a day, preferably before you shave, is enough.

What to look for:

If you have dry skin, select a cream-based cleanser. If your face looks like an oil spill, look for an oil-free, soap-free liquid. And if you’re especially prone to breakouts, choose one that contains salicylic acid.

2. Pre-shave oil
Think of this as a primer for the second coat (that would be the shave cream). It softens skin and hairs to prevent razor burn and provides a super-slick surface for the razor to glide across.

What to look for:

Opt for natural plant-based softeners like coconut oil or olive oil, instead of petroleum-based products, which can clog pores.

3. Sensitive skin shave cream
Even if you don’t think you have sensitive skin, choosing a “sensitive skin” cream, gel or foam can help protect against redness and irritation.

What to look for:

Opt for one that contains aloe, glycerin and mineral oil -- key ingredients that soften and soothe. 

4. Shaving brush
This old-school tool is making a major comeback thanks to properly educated barbers and sophisticated consumers. It doesn’t just feel good on your skin, it’s backed by actual science: The gentle action of the bristles exfoliates skin and removes dead skin cells, then fluffs up your whiskers so they’re standing straight up for a closer shave.

What to look for:

Select one made out of badger hair -- it’s more expensive than boar but is higher-quality and softer on your face. (Plus, it will last a lifetime.)

5. Razor
If you’re still using the cheap disposable kind or one with too few blades, it’s time for a major upgrade.

What to look for:

Research has actually demonstrated the benefits of multiple-blade razors. The basic science is that the first blade engages the hair and pulls it out of the follicle so that the subsequent blades can cut the hair further down the shaft. Translation: a closer, smoother shave with less risk of nicks and cuts.

6. Styptic pencil
This short, medicated stick is a blast from the past that helps stop bleeding fast if you get a nick or cut. It stings but it works.

What to look for:

Aluminum sulfate in the ingredient list.

7. Aftershave
Use an aftershave gel or balm to calm the skin and reduce irritation.

What to look for:

Skip alcohol-based products, which can cause irritation and dryness. Instead, choose one that contains aloe and vitamin E -- Mother Nature’s original soothing and healing agents.

8. Electric nose and ear hair trimmer
You don’t need two separate tools -- one will do.

What to look for:

Look for an electric rotary version: It uses a rotary blade system that cuts in a circular motion to trim along the inside of the walls without getting too close. Other key features to look for are a built-in LED light (to help guide you in those dark cavities) and an integrated vacuum system (to collect hair as it trims).

9. Moisturizer
Contrary to every TV ad, face cream isn’t just about preventing wrinkles and fine lines: It helps keep your skin hydrated, protects against sun and wind, and can even promote skin cell regeneration.

What to look for:

If your skin is dry, look for ingredients like shea butter and aloe. If you’re prone to breakouts, look for an oil-free version labeled “noncomedogenic.” Either way, always choose one that contains sunscreen. (The American Academy of Dermatology recently upgraded its minimum SPF recommendation from 15 to 30.)

10. Eye cream
The finest, most delicate skin on your face is around your eyes. That’s also the first place to show signs of aging (like puffiness, crow’s feet and dark circles).

What to look for:

If your main objective is to reduce puffiness, pick a product that contains cucumber and caffeine (to soothe and tighten) with a roll-on application -- the simple act of rolling it on helps redistribute lymphatic buildup under the eye skin. To combat dark under-eye circles, look for a product with vitamin K -- studies have shown it can be an effective treatment because our body uses this vitamin in clotting.

11. Lip balm
Let’s face it: No one wants to kiss a pair of cracked smackers.

What to look for:

A non-petroleum-based product. It moisturizes without drying and promotes faster healing.

12. Stainless steel
This blanket category goes for all those little metal doodads: grooming scissors, nail clippers and tweezers. And when we say stainless steel, we mean it: You might be tempted to cut corners and go for the cheapest versions, but when you’re manscaping and clipping your sensitive zones, do you really want to risk diving in with rusty, dull blades? Didn’t think so. >

What to look for:

Select tools that can accommodate the size of your mitts. More and more companies are coming out with “man-sized” grooming tools for this very reason.

13. Hair styling products
Here you have many options, including gel, for an all-day, extra-strong hold with a bit of a wet look a la “Mad Men,” or paste/putty for a textured and spiky bed-head look.

What to look for:

If you’re a gel guy, look for a glycerin-based version for added moisture. If you swing for the paste/putty league but can’t decide which team to join, remember this: Putty offers a stronger hold (similar to a gel), while paste allows you to go back and restyle your mop throughout the day.