Smart people wear glasses.

Smart people wear glasses.

Joy just ordered her first pair of glasses online. She couldn’t resist after reading “Seven Reasons to Order Glasses Online,” an article we found — where else? — online. We’re not going to go into all the reasons, but here are the ones that impressed us.

Number one is price. Number two is free return. The third is parking. These also turn out to be the reasons for almost any online purchase.

It is no secret and no longer a surprise that buying online is the winner in the retail Olympics. is the leader but not the only name in online shopping. Its sales are increasing 20 percent a year, while traditional large retailers’ sales have been moribund for several years; even Walmart is under pressure.

Glasses ordered online are typically around 70 percent cheaper than those bought at opticians. Joy paid over $800 for her last pair. Her online pair from GlassesUSA on the other hand, cost $86. Many were $40 or less, and that includes the lenses. You don’t have to be a budget master to figure out the savings.

As with Zappos, the popular online shoe retailer, you can return any pair you don’t like, and it’s free shipping. We were talking with a clerk in a UPS store a few months ago and noticed a stack of boxes for return to Zappos. We asked and he said his own guess was maybe 30 percent of the shipper’s business was returning online purchases.

That’s a huge amount and it shows you that the only way it works for the merchant is the savings from not having to maintain retail space are still large enough to leave a profit on low prices. Zappos was just recently sold, by the way. The purchaser? Amazon.

App Happy

  • Thomas trainYouTube Red, for Android and iPhone/iPad, gives you commercial-free music and videos from YouTube for $10 a month. Unlike the regular YouTube, you can watch it offline, in a train, or a park, where you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection. There’s a 14-day free trial with a pleasant surprise: They won’t charge you automatically when the time is up the way most free trials do; you decide if you want to continue.

  • YouTube Kids
    , a free app for Android and iPhone, takes the best of kid-friendly videos and makes them clickable from the home screen. Tell the app whether you want videos for school age kids, younger kids, or all kids. If you’re also a subscriber to YouTube Red, you won’t get ads and can view the videos offline.


  • has free college courses from Harvard, M.I.T., the University of California at Berkeley, and other leading institutions. Auditing (which means not for college credit) is free. If you want your work verified, perhaps to show to an employer or another college, you pay around $50 to $70 per course. Courses range from the practical, such as data analysis for business, to art, literature and music.
  • How to Safely Get Rid of an Old Computer.” Search on those words to find an article on, which reminds you to delete your browsing history, uninstall programs, and other steps to remove your tracks.
  • charges $39 to talk to a top-reviewed lawyer on the phone. Get your questions answered in a 15-minute call. (Joy uses a similar online service for medical opinions.)

App Happy

  • sfNetflix Party” is an extension for your Google Chrome web browser. It lets you share a movie with other Netflix subscribers who don’t happen to be living with you. You can chat while you’re watching. If you search on the words “Netflix Party,” it comes right up.
  • “Detour,” a free app from, is getting tremendous buzz as the best audio guide for travelers because you receive information from top-notch journalists as you walk. Right now it only does San Francisco, but other cities are coming soon. We listened to a preview of Austin, Texas, which had some down-home charm.

 Reader Pain

photos on tvA reader said she’s going to France but has a photo problem. She’s run out of storage space on her iPhone. She realized that the solution is to upload the old photos to an online storage site, but which one?

First she tried Microsoft’s OneDrive app. “Free storage forever,” they boasted. Uploading her photos to OneDrive began two months ago, with 2000 photos. She’s uploading ten a day and still has 530 to go, and the phone needs constant recharging. The final insult? A message from OneDrive said her storage space is full and she must buy more to continue adding photos. “Forever” turns out to have a Microsoft limit; that limit is ten gigabytes, which is five more than Apple’s iCloud, but not as good as Google Drive which gives you 15 gigabytes of free storage. On Android devices, photos automatically upload to Google Drive.

Our reader can do even better if she subscribes to Amazon Prime, which gives you unlimited online storage for photos. Find it at, or just Google the phrase “Amazon Prime photos.”

Tiny LEGO Wonders

tiny lego wondersTiny LEGO Wonders: Build 40 Surprisingly Realistic Mini-Models,” by Mattia Zamboni, is a beautifully-illustrated book, $25 from No Starch Press.

If you’ve ever wanted to build trains, planes and automobiles out of LEGOs but don’t want to buy a ton of them, this is your guide. With large pictures showing how each piece fits together every step of the way, almost anyone could do it, no matter how intricate the finished product looks.  We especially like the excavator, dump truck, and cement mixer.

Bill Pollock, the founder of No Starch Press, said: “I’ve been fascinated by mini-scale building since I went to a LEGO store with a friend and he walked out with a cup of bricks and told me he was going to build an airport. You don’t need a huge collection to bring your ideas to life.”




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