Friday, April 19, 2013

Organic Mattresses Explained

Since opening in 2006, I've noticed we are occasionally contacted by out-of-towners who have found my website in search of a "custom size futon". It's really interesting to hear about all of the different reasons people have decided they need a custom size futon mattress. Everything from special made porch swings to window seats, lofts, built in bunks, and a surprising number of pet-owners inquiring about pet beds! This year I finally addressed this demand and created a way for people to order custom size mattresses I can ship anywhere in the US. So far it has been really encouraging to see the results this hard work has produced. I have been selling mattresses to people in Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio etc.

Just for fun, here is a picture of one customer's custom size mattress she ordered for her dog, Cury. She gave me permission to share this picture.

It really is humerus to me how the inherent nature of the futon product lends itself so well to out-of-the-box thinkers. This keeps my work life very interesting. Right when I think I've seen it all, I'll get blindsided by someone who wants something totally bogus like a corn husk futon mattress. Seriously? Corn husks? It just goes to show you there are some interesting people out there and I have a lot of fun talking to them. One time a customer called me and asked,  "You guys got refrigerators?" I said, "Uh sir, this is Custom Futons, we sell futons" he replied, "so no refrigerators then?" After a final re-assurance that I was standing in our showroom and there were indeed no refrigerators to be seen he succumbed to the fact that he was on the phone with a specialty futon store.      

In all seriousness though, one custom request I have been getting more and more of is for "Natural" or "Organic" mattresses. This has caused me to put a lot of effort into assessing the importance of offering such a product and more importantly pushed me to understand what an organic mattress really is. So I created an FAQ to help my customers better understand organic labeling and explain how mattresses in general, and the mattresses I provide specifically, fall into or out of that labeling. I've found this to be a VERY complicated topic, but with the EPA announcing this year that they will be investigating the health and environmental effects of several flame retardants known to cause cancer and birth defects, complicated or not, it is a topic that deserves attention.

So if you are interested, you can read my Organic Mattress FAQ. It has linked resources and should be helpful in clearing up most questions people might have about organic mattresses. Please read it and take it into consideration the next time you purchase a mattress.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Actual Smart TV

About 2 years ago our ancient TV bit the dust. As I began researching new TVs I became overwhelmed by everything on the market and found myself with a basic conundrum. I wanted to be able to use my TV to watch locally broadcast-ed channels but also wanted to be able to use that same TV to stream shows and movies.

So, I began figuring out the best and cheapest way to connect my TV to the internet. As I thought about this more, I began to realize just how much can be done with a computer and internet connection. E-mail, surfing the web, playing video games, listening to itunes, making phone calls via skype, watching movies (DVD or streaming), watching current TV shows via network websites, listening to the radio, reading news etc. In thinking about this I started to realize that if properly equipped, a PC is capable of consolidating all these technologies into one machine.

Manufactures have been introducing a variety of "smart TVs" over the past few years because people want the same content that's on the web on their TV too. I've found these smart TVs to be frustrating to navigate when it comes to simple things like browsing the web. We've also seen media players like the Roku, Google TV products and Apple TV come onto the scene that are used to connect a standard HDTV to the internet. I've actually been more impressed with these devices than smart TVs because their interfaces and remotes seem to be better designed and more intuitive to use.

One media player I am impressed with is the Vizio Co-Star. If you want to connect your existing TV to the internet as cheaply as possible, I would recommend this product. It's basically a little box that comes with a remote that has a built-in qwerty keyboard and touch pad mouse. It's a good device that lets you use your TV kind of like a computer. It connects to your router via wifi or ether-net chord and to your TV via HDMI input. Note: Most newer flat panel TVs support HDMI, but older boxy TVs don't. Older TVs can be connected to the internet using internet connectable blue-ray players that hook up via composite cables (red, white & yellow). These blue-ray players will allow you to stream Netflix, Pandora etc, but do not have web-browsing capability.

The fact that the Co-Star has a web browser gets us close to what smart TV engineers are trying to accomplish for a lot less (only $99 through Vizio's website). However, I feel media players ultimately fall short of our desired convergence of the PC and TV. A big downfall to any current device that attempts to integrate these technologies, is that none allow us to stream shows via different network sites. So, if you want to hop onto to catch the latest episode of your favorite show, no dice on a smart TV or media player, but it's perfectly fine to do so on your computer. This is so annoying to me. It's like the smart TV and media player manufacturers are dictating what internet content we are able to stream.

That is why I decided to purchase a normal HDTV (so no built-in internet connectivity) and use a regular computer tower to connect it to the web. This lets each technology work as intended, individually and/or together, without glitches or annoying menus. It was cheaper than buying a "Smart TV" and now all of my media is simplified and consolidated into one unit. Bottom-line, it has been an awesome decision. Netflix, Pandora, e-mail, itunes... it's all there, in my living room, easy to use and on a large screen. So it truly is a "Smart TV".

When the computer is on, the TV is just being used as a monitor. I can switch to the computer the same way I would to a DVD player by selecting the input it is plugged into. I'm also still able to access broadcast TV via our rooftop antenna that pulls in over 20 channels for free.

I ordered this wireless keyboard with touch pad mouse so I can control the TV/computer from my recliner the same way I would use a remote control.

Please learn from my many attempts to get this right because I finally have. If you think about it, this makes total since. Why wait and hope for manufactures to perfect something (a smart TV) that no broadcast or cable company wants them to perfect? The fact is, the more content becomes available via streaming, the more networks are scrambling to find out how they will survive without add revenue and the more cable companies wonder how they will remain relevant. The future of TV is "pay for play" via internet stream. We already have access to thousands of shows and movies through websites like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon. Just this past Winter Netflix for the first time ever premiered an original serious "House of Cards". It's available exclusively to Netflix subscribers and not interrupted by a single commercial. And, it was good! Kevin Spacey headed up the lead roll with an equally impressive group of backing actors / actresses. Still think the transition to "pay for play" is a long way off? Consider this, the MLB and NBA have both made their games available via steaming for a monthly price and I can only imagine cable providers are dreading the day the NFL follows suite. It's not a long way off, its happening right now. I don't pay for cable and I still get to watch everything I want when I want because the internet rocks.