heaven or las vegas


Yesterday, Jody brought up a great example of something I love: The Accidental Cheap Solution that is Infinitely Better than the Popular, Expensive Solution. His example was the ZR motorcycle helmets that retail around $99 and perform better than all the other stylish helmets five times as expensive.

In order to find your particular Accidental Cheap Solution (ACS), you need a few things: the internet, obsessive chat forums, and eBay. Once you have those things in place, you will find that there is a four-dollar part that will make your $35,000 car run more smoothly. You will discover the guy who can make your TiVo hold 250 more hours of television. There is a woman who sells an ointment for $6.99 that is better than Crème de la Mer.

My personal favorite has to do with the iPod. I have become better read than ever thanks to Audible.com and fallen in love with new music again, all because of long road trips accompanied by naught but the iPod and sour gummi worms. The problem is this: if you don’t have a tape player in your car (or a specific MP3 audio jack) you are reliant on some pretty ancient goddamn technology. I refer to, of course, the FM transmitter.

Take a look at this page and you’ll see the cottage industry that has built up around these things. You’re basically creating your own tiny little radio station in your car, and hoping the signal is strong enough to go through the window and hit your own car’s antenna. If you think about it, it’s pretty ridiculous.

But the worst thing of all, is none of these bastards work in big cities. There’s simply too much interference from all the other radio stations to get a clear sound, and if you’re listening to books on tape, forget it. All of these products, the DLO TransDock, the Belkin TuneFM, the Griffin RoadTrip, costing almost a hundred dollars, become useless pieces of plastic in a place like, say, Brooklyn.

Enter the Accidental Cheap Solution. Thanks to hours of DIY sleuthing on the part of folks at iLounge, a small, disturbed following of aficionados discovered a tiny, white FM transmitter that blows all of them out of the water. It’s called the Scosche FM Transmitter and it was languishing on dusty bottom shelves at Walmart. You could get it on eBay for five bucks.


This motherscratcher has got to be illegal: it not only overpowers local broadcasts on the same channel, it’ll transmit your iPod to cars around you. Tessa and I tried it in the countryside one afternoon with two cars and it was like having IanFMRadio. Which meant lots of Smiths, XTC and the Cocteau Twins for my wife and Lulubeans in the other car! HA HA!

Anyway, someone must have figured out it was breaking FCC regulations, because they’ve come out with a new one in black: I can’t vouch for it. Oh, and don’t get the white one made specifically for the iPod – it doesn’t work for shit. You want the one that is specifically in the link above, that plugs into your headphone jack.

And so I ask, what is your favorite Accidental Cheap Solution? It can be anything from any walk of life – enlighten us!

0 thoughts on “heaven or las vegas

  1. Matt

    I’d have to say tickets on Craigslist. It doesn’t matter to where or what event: the Verizon Ctr, Warner Theatre, the Birchmere, the Hippodrome, whatever, I can get great seats for about half price by buying through people on Craigslist… even for sold out events. Plus, it’s free, unlike eBay, and I’ve never had a bad experience (also unlike eBay).

  2. Beth

    The folks are Scosche are going to be scratching their heads and wondering why the sudden run on their transmitters . . . I bit and ordered one, because not only do the standard ones suck in cities, they’re also incredibly inconvenient to use if you’re traveling by yourself and need to keep switching stations.
    Webster.com and Wikipedia are my favorite Accidental Cheap Solutions. I’ll never switch over to reading books on an electronic device, but reference books are another matter entirely, and these two have greatly eased my spell-checking and fact-checking* miseries.
    *with a smidge of salt for Wikipedia

  3. Chris M

    I ordered the Scosche FM Transmitter before even finishing your post. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I will do my best to return the favor if I can remember an ACS to share…

  4. Claudia

    Here are some of my favorite ACS’s:
    1. Stick a few stamps in your wallet and carry them around with you. They’re immensely useful and take up virtually no space.
    2. Hand sanitizer gel.
    3. Wash with basic Dove bars. They really are amazing.
    4. Try, in general, to replace your roll of toilet paper when it gets low, but before it runs out. Tuck away the not-quite-empty roll somewhere in your bathroom, and you’ve got an insant emergency supply for one or two uses should you happen to run out of your main supply mid-roll.

  5. Anne D.

    I own two identical round-faced watches with different leather bands – one black, one brown. They are Timexes with attractive extra-large black numerals on the white light-up dials, and they cost me $19 and $10, respectively, at the supermarket and at the Vermont Country Store outlet. The watches look great, run forever, and are easy to see. Forget expensive wristwatches (I used to wear a Tissot)… Timex rules!

  6. Anne D.

    P.S. Claudia, I’m with you on the Dove bars. Cheap and good for almost any skin type, including my daughter who has eczema.
    Another great El Cheapo cosmetic: Vaseline (yeah, the greasy stuff) is awesome as an under-eye moisturizer overnight. I’ve been using it that way every night since I turned 22 and noticed 30 year old women of my acquaintance starting to get crow’s feet. I’m 55 and don’t have serious eye wrinkles yet. La la la.

  7. Claverack Weekender

    My Range Rover requires premium fuel, and that’s really a beat down at the pump. $.25 to $.35 a gallon… You can buy Octane booster for about a nickel a gallon from places like Kemco. It does contain lead and is banned by the EPA for onroad use, but I won’t tell anyone you are using it. PARTY ON!!

  8. Salem

    As an individual who takes great pleasure in the occasional, “really fucking crazy expensive solution”, most of my cheap solutions are accidental. My two favorites, Silicone for the restaurant and Duct Tape for everything else.

  9. Kenny

    Is anyone else having trouble posting comments? I keep getting denied for questionable content and I have some great stuff to share none of which is the least bit questionable.

  10. Kenny

    The thing about FM waves is how remarkably little power they need to carry pretty amazing distances. My high school radio station had only a ten-watt transmitter but covered the whole town and then some. My wife and I also experienced the same phenomenon with transmitting from one car to another when we were in a caravan. Her DLO Transdock works fine (even in Metro Chicago) but I found that the sound quality is much better in my car being transmitted from hers then it is in her car. Since she cares little about how good the sound quality is, it’s not a big deal.
    My iPod ACS is the Belkin cassette adapter ($18 at Target)
    If you are retro enough to have a cassette deck in your car, as I do, buy this unit, now. I have a car with both CD and casette decks and this Belkin unit sounds fantastic, almost as good as the CD player. I occasionally use the Dolby noise reduction if a song is too hissy but overall, after spending a lot of money on other less impressive adapters, this one hasn’t left my car for a year.
    And I second your opinion on Timexes, I have about six or seven in various styles and I love them. I recently received a pricy automatic watch as a gift and it’s a pain in the butt to keep it running, especially since it requires a very expensive winder to keep time when I’m not wearing it.
    Also, Steve & Barry sells very low-priced college apparel. While don’t carry my alma mater–Iowa–or Carolina, for that matter, you can get an all-cotton hoodie with sewn-on letters for around $15. Beats a $40 Champion with screened lettering.

  11. Sean

    New York City deli sandwiches and Chinese food. You get whooping servings of Boar’s Head meats and chese on a hoagie roll for about $3, and my entire family can eat fantastic Chinois for under $15 for dinner. Also, both are as close as my kitchen.

  12. Ehren

    An ACS that is on my mind lately and appropos to your post is the myriad of ipod speaker systems. They all sound varying degrees of awful and start at $100 go up from there. The kicker is that you can get equivalent sound with a pair of regular old computer speakers (starting at around $20), with the only problem being that you plug in through the headphone jack and not through the fancy pants dock connector. Really, though, is it worth $100 just so your ipod stands up prettily?

  13. scruggs

    The rage in Suburban American are those franchises where you go into their store, and 2 hours later you’ve put together 12 meals to bring home to your freezer (Simply Supper, Super Suppers, et al). It runs $220 a visit. Its a great concept where you don’t have to do the grocery shopping, food prep, cooking, cleaning. However, there are 8 of us pals who each make something in mass once a month, partition it, then meet up and exchange portions with everyone. Now for only 3-4 hours and on average $50 you get 8 heat and eat meals that are bigger portions and better tasting. I’m the weak link in the culinary chain so I can’t lose!
    Oh, LFMD, an update from today’s Costco visit. The Lucky jeans there are only $40, but the True Religion are $120.

  14. Jody

    Doesn’t seem like a biker crowd but since everyone is being specific I’d better edit my recommendation to Z1R (not just ZR) brand helmets. Scooter riders need them too.

  15. Just Andrew

    My best tip has got to be synthetic oil. I’m too lazy to change my own oil and go to Jiffy Lube and the wife wouldn’t change her own oil ever if I didn’t harass her about it. About a year ago I tried the synthetic – $70 vs $30, which doesn’t sound like a deal but you can go 10k miles easily between changes and the old oil still comes out clean, plus I picked up better gas mileage and better performance – well worth it.

  16. Ian

    Hey, we’re having a blacklist problem on the blog this week, should be fixed over the weekend… if you have a YAH00 email address, try using another one. Thanks!

  17. cullen

    My only-when-absolutely-necessary ACS, with emphasis on the ACCIDENTal: big strong green tree leaves in place of Charmin/tissue. Trail runners be prepared.
    Is their an FM transmitter (aside from the webcast) that can get me WFUV (Fordam radio)loud and clear, no matter where I am? I’ve found that station to be an indispensable source of new music about which I can actually be optimistic (unlike the current ‘top 40’ charts).

  18. Annie

    Just read yesterday’s blog and noticed that the two
    recommended infant carseats were themselves ACSes!!
    WTF?!? The second most expensive carseat (Eddie Bauer)
    was one of the “unacceptable” ones, that didn’t even
    meet minimal safety standards–while the two LEAST
    expensive carseats were the only two that passed the
    test. Incredible.
    Glad Luz is in a safer seat now.

  19. michelle

    Burritos, from any hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint. Pretty much always delicious, extremely filling, and around these parts I can get an awesome burrito for under $4.
    Also, anything and everything at Trader Joe’s, particularly the lotions/bath & body care goodies. Super good stuff, insanely cheap.

  20. wyatt

    Microsoft Streets and Trips with GPS receiver. I’m addicted to real-time position tracking during road trips. 70 bucks on sale at BestBuy, vs. an auto navigation system for $350 and up. It’s BYO laptop, sure, and that won’t work for everyone, but we’ve used it to find rest areas or McD’s when our daughter has to go NOW, emergency Starbucks for caffeine abuse, random routes through the country when the interstate just won’t do, and to see how fast I can go border to border across NC at 2am, coming home from the lab in Woods Hole. Plus the GPS receiver is compatible with any NMEA compliant software, including ArcMap. On the downside, it once led us to an Outback Steakhouse corporate office rather than a restaurant in Jacksonville FL, and it always routes you via the beltways.
    Interesting to read your reports on FM transmitters. During my last trip to MA on I-95 I had NPR knocked off the air by Howard Stern as I passed a trucker; must be feeding SIRIUS into his rig’s sound system, and bleeding into the fast lane at the bottom of the FM dial.

  21. kmeelyon

    my two cheapie contributions:
    1) instead of deodorant: swiping rubbing alcohol under your armpits when you get out of the shower. an ex-boyfriend showed me that trick years ago and I swear, you will not smell or need deodorant. it’s magic!
    2) to fight or cure athletes foot: pee in the shower. you make your own remedy!
    I don’t know what it says about me that my accidental cheap solutions are hygiene related.

  22. Paul G

    It’s a website that reviews movies, tv shows, dvds, cds, and even video games. But, here’s the catch.
    The thing that’s great about it is that it is not just one or 2 reviewers. It’s all the “good” critics from all over the country: New York Times, Washington Post, LA Weekly, all of them, and it gives them the ability to score the movie or whatever 1-100 and includes a short paragraph of their review with a full link to it. Then, it averages the critics’ scores for the metascore.
    It gives you a real idea of what a number of people think, not just the one that’s in New Line’s pocket. Haha, you know what I mean.
    Thanks to everybody for their solutions. Already ordered the FM Transmitter and out of curiosity kinda want to try the rubbing alcohol deodorant thing…

  23. Steph Mineart

    Speaking of cheap vodka – my brother strains the cheap stuff through the britta filter (he found some article on it online) to purify it, and swears he has less of a hangover as a result.

  24. kmeelyon

    I ordered two Scosche FM transmitters. Just in case everyone here starts driving the price up by the time I need a backup!

  25. Ian

    No, either of them can be used with iPods. The one you DON’T want is the one with the iPod connector. You want the simple one that just plugs into the headphone jack. Of course, if you want to power your iPod as well, you’ll need a separate power supply for it (as well as another cigarette lighter, but you can get a splitter if you only have one in your car).


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