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2013 Toyota Tacoma

2013 Toyota Tacoma


  • Average price paid is $18,003 to $28,262
  • MSRP is $17,625 to $28,185
  • Invoice is 16,688 to $26,111
  • 21mpg in the city, 26mpg on the highway


  • + Double Cab model has a spacious back seat
  • + Excellent off-road performance
  • + Comfortable front seats and headrests
  • – Spongy feeling brake pedal
  • – Access Cab model’s foldable back seat is cramped


General Scores (Out of 10)

  • Overall score – 8.4
  • Critic Rating – 9.1
  • Performance – 7.8
  • Interior – 7.5
  • Safety – 8.1
  • Reliability – 7


The 2013 Toyota Tacoma is powered by a standard four-cylinder engine or an optional V6, and while the base engine provides adequate acceleration, test drivers agree that V6 models have more than enough power for most situations. The base model has a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic transmission. V6-powered Tacomas get a six-speed manual or an optional five-speed automatic. Test drivers agree that the five-speed automatic offers quick, seamless shifts, and that the six-speed manual shifts smoothly. The EPA reports that the 2013 Toyota Tacoma gets up to 21/25 mpg city/highway, which is fairly good for the class. Some test drivers say that while the Tacoma isn’t the most agile vehicle they’ve driven, it still rides and handles well for a pickup truck. However, one critic complains that the brake pedal’s mushy feel isn’t reassuring if you need to stop the Tacoma quickly.


2013 Honda Ridgeline

2013 Honda Ridgeline


  • Average price paid is $20,070 to $36,643
  • MSRP is $29,450 to $37,380
  • Invoice is $26,936 to $34,169
  • 15mpg in the city, 21mpg on the highway


  • +Works like a truck, rides like a car
  • +Practical interior cargo space
  • +More standard features than many other trucks
  • +Standard all-wheel drive
  • –Lots of cheap interior plastic
  • –Low towing capacity for its class


General Scores (Out of 10)

  • Overall score – 8.4
  • Critic Rating – 8.5
  • Performance – 7.6
  • Interior – 7.1
  • Safety – 9.7
  • Reliability – 8


Test drivers say the 2013 Honda Ridgeline delivers adequate performance with its standard V6 engine, five-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. While reviewers can’t agree whether or not the powertrain is up to the task of meeting the 5,000-pound towing capacity without feeling strained, nearly all test drivers agree that the Ridgeline offers one of the most refined rides in the segment, thanks to its unibody construction. This isn’t to say that the Ridgeline is totally without truck-like handling characteristics. Critics say the steering is sometimes too light and that it tends to bounce over road imperfections, but it drives more comfortably than most competitors. Some critics are somewhat disappointed, however, that the mildly-powered Ridgeline doesn’t either have a little more power or better fuel economy. The Ridgeline also has above-average safety and reliability scores for the class.


2013 Nissan Frontier

2013 Nissan Frontier


  • Average price paid is $18,528 to $33,681
  • MSRP is $17,990 to $33,790
  • Invoice is $17,063 to $31, 300
  • 16mpg in the city, 22mpg on the highway


  • +Comfortable ride; good suspension
  • +Simple audio and climate controls
  • –Low-end interior materials
  • –Limited back seat space

General Scores (Out of 10)

  • Overall score – 8.2
  • Critic Rating – 8.4
  • Performance – 8.3
  • Interior – 6.6
  • Safety – 9.3
  • Reliability – 7


The 2013 Nissan Frontier comes standard with a four-cylinder engine, though few reviewers have actually tested a model with this engine. More have reviewed Frontier models equipped with the optionalV6, and reviewers like this engine for its ample power and torque. A manual transmission is standard with either engine, and an automatic, which reviewers praise for its power delivery, is optional. The Frontier achieves an EPA-estimated 19/23 mpg city/highway, which is just a bit less than the fuel economy of one of its primary rivals, the Toyota Tacoma. Reviewers are pleased with the Frontier’s generally comfortable ride and easy maneuverability.


2013 Mazda B2300

2013 Mazda B300


  • Average price paid is $9,256 to $11,106
  • MSRP is $16,060
  • Invoice is $15,230
  • 21mpg in the city, 26mpg on the highway


  • +Excellent performance, on road or off-road
  • +Good visibility from raised driving position
  • –Stiff ride due to double wishbone suspension
  • –Plain interior

General Scores (Out of 10)

  • Overall score – 7
  • Critic Rating – 7
  • Performance – 8
  • Interior – 6
  • Safety – 7
  • Reliability – 8


The B2300 comes in a regular-cab with a 6-ft bed. It is rear-wheel drive and has a three person front bench seat. Its front suspension consists of double-wishbones with coil springs and a stabilizer bar which all rides on 15-inch wheels. Power is delivered using a 143-hp 2.3-liter four-cylinder that is mated to a five-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic. Safety features include dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitor system.


2013 Ford Ranger

2013 Ford Ranger


  • Average price paid is $10,011 to $11936
  • MSRP is $17,820 to $25,800
  • Invoice is $16,855
  • 22mpg in the city, 27mpg on the highway


  • +Revised suspension allows for a smoother ride
  • +Excellent transmission
  • –Stiff brake pedals
  • –Vinyl floors are slippery when wet

General Scores (Out of 10)

  • Overall score – 8
  • Critic Rating – 8
  • Performance – 8
  • Interior – 7
  • Safety – 9
  • Reliability –8


Available as a 4×2 Regular cab or 4×2 and 4×4 Supercab the Ranger is offered in three trims: XL, XLT, and Sport. A 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine generates 143 horsepower and a 4.0-liter V6 engine produces 207 horsepower. Available transmissions include a standard five-speed manual or an optional five-speed automatic. The supercab is available as a two-door or four-door with jump seats. A trailer hitch and safety features such as four-wheel anti-lock brakes and dual-stage front airbags are standard equipment. New for 2010 all Rangers include Roll Stability Control with AdvanceTrac, and Side Seat airbags. The 2-door SuperCab now includes jump seats in standard equipment.

Sources: (US News, AOL)

PS3 vs Xbox 360 – Video Game Console Comparison

Xbox 360 or Ps3

Ever since their release, the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 have been pitted against each other for the sake of establishing console superiority. While each is fundamentally similar, there are several subtleties to each console that will likely have an overall effect on a potential buyer’s decision. I’ll list the major differences off, describe them for each console, and then suggest which one is more preferable. I will not speak about console exclusive games, as they bear no weight in deciding the quality of the consoles themselves.

  • Online capability.
  • Graphic capability/resolution.
  • Memory.
  • Controllers.
  • System stability.

I’ll begin with the Ps3. Online functionality is free at all times, providing you have internet for your console to access. Graphic quality is one of the Ps3’s stronger points, as it has more processing power with which to load and render textures efficiently. Memory depends entirely on which variety of the system you purchase; spending more means plenty more gigabytes at your disposal. You can download games onto your hard drive to speed up load times, which is always a plus.

The controllers of the Ps3 contain their own rechargeable batteries, and come with charging cables so they can serve as both wireless and wired controllers from the moment you unbox. It’s nice not to have to purchase additional parts after spending so much money in the first place.

To clarify what I mean by stability, think of game freezes and disc read failures. The Ps3 is built to last, and if you’ve had one since release and avoided dropping or shaking it, it’s still probably in tip-top condition.

The Xbox 360’s online functionality is paid for on a monthly basis. Since so much gaming is done online these days, it’s seen as a staple, meaning you continue to pay for your 360 long after the initial purchase. Graphic quality is notably low, with some textures rendering visibly as you move about in 3D environments. Memory is also lacking, as larger games are often divided into multiple discs. It is possible and recommended to download games to your system’s hard drive to speed up load times, however.

Xbox 360 controllers are wireless, and run on batteries. If you don’t want to spend money on batteries as well as online capability, you can seek out and purchase rechargeable batteries or wired charger packs for your 360 controllers. Note that these do not come with the console.

Xbox 360 stability is somewhat unreliable, as the hated “Red Ring of Death” is a prevalent cause of refurbishes, at times requiring the user to purchase an entirely new console to remedy the issue.
Overall, the Playstation 3 wins out by merit of convenience and reliability. You do not have to pay for online, you do not have to pay for additional controller parts or batteries, and the system has the longevity to survive the wait for the next-gen console.

Enter the 3DS – Handheld Video Game Console Review

3DS XL ColorsEnter the 3DS, the new handheld gadget with more bells and whistles than you can poke a stylus at. I purchased one of them a while ago, and can say that it was $190 well spent. I myself chose an XL model because my hands aren’t made for the tinier standard, so if some of my descriptions sound a little off, you know what’s up.

First of all, the 3D. That’s the key feature here. Do you remember those neat little cards that change images as you turn them and make squeaking sounds if you scratch them?

That’s the gist of the 3D you’ll be experiencing. By placing your eyes about six inches from the screen, looking straight on, the upper screen presents two images angled to meet your eyes in a way that provides you with depth of view. It’s really quite clever, but can give you a headache if you use it for too long. You can adjust the magnitude of 3D via a slider-bar on the side of the screen. Less is more, in some cases.

The pre-installed features are interesting for a few minutes, but overall a collection of throwaways. Trifles, really, designed to capitalize on the 3D aspect of the handheld. If you enjoy shooting distorted versions of your or your friends faces inside a captured panorama of your surroundings, more power to you. Though I myself didn’t have fun with such features, you very well may.

Moving on, the layout of physical features (and features themselves) has changed significantly enough to warrant mention. You have your A, B, X, and Y buttons on the right side, and accompanying your D-pad on the left side is a flat analog stick. Smoothness of control and magnitude of movement are important in some games, after all. The 3DS XL’s microphone has shifted to the lower right of the bottom screen, meaning you can huff and puff without having to tip your head too far. The start and select buttons now line the lower edge of the bottom screen, with a Home button stuck in the middle. With this button, you can suspend any game or software you have going to check your home menu. Convenient, eh?

To those of you who purchase a 3DS XL and hope for a telescopic stylus, I am deeply sorry. Only the itty bitty standard 3DS models get those. You could always buy one from some online gaming parts surplus, I suppose.

As the modern era of gaming is infatuated with micro-transactions, each 3DS will also serve as a sort of digital wallet. By connecting to a wifi source and offering up a prepaid Nintendo 3DS card or a credit card, you may add funds to your 3DS with which to purchase various bits of downloadable content. Not necessarily a desired feature, but it’s hardly unexpected, eh?

Finally, the deal breaker. The caveat that will absolutely destroy the dreams of the clean-screen freaks among you who prefer the larger 3DS. The upper screen of the 3DS XL is not embedded, like the smaller version, and some factory slip-up caused a thing of nightmares to occur on a fairly regular basis: Dust UNDER the screen. That is correct. If you purchase a 3DS XL and do not live in a dust-free environment, you WILL experience tiny particles of dust somehow slipping under your upper screen, despite the apparent lack of access to said area.

If you don’t mind, good on you. If you do, apply a screen protector as quickly as you can after removing your 3DS XL from its packaging. I didn’t realize that the upper screen would be faulty, so I did not do this in time. But I can relay the message to you.

Nintendo DSI

Nintendo DSI

If I were to make a direct comparison between the 3DS and the DSI, I would say that upgrading is only necessary if you want newer games. This platform isn’t a huge leap forward in quality, as the DSI is already quite the excellent handheld. So if you have a DSI and are on the border, buy next-gen only for the games.

So, with all that in mind, let’s wrap things up:

Does the 3DS meet the “next-gen” standards? Survey says… yes indeed! The 3D feature adds a lot to your gameplay experience and aesthetic enjoyment if used in moderation, like during cutscenes or boss fights. The micro-transaction bullshit is kept to a clean minimum, though I can’t yet say if most games rely too heavily on it. We’ll see.

Does the 3DS impress out of context? I give it an 8/10, nicking one point for the poorly designed upper screen, and another point for complying with the “everything must have DLC” dogma that plagues the gaming industry in this day and age. The button/feature layout is excellent, the menu is easy to navigate, and the entire design just seems up-to-date and clever. Another milestone for Nintendo handheld consoles.

TV Comparison: Plasma vs LED LCD vs CCFL LCD

Without some serious research, buying a new TV that best suits your needs can be a pain in the rear. LED LCD, plasma screen, CCFL LCD; it all comes down to price unless you know what you’re getting into beforehand. I’ll lay down the differences and strong points between the three so you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

Plasma Screen TVPlasma Screens

We’ll start with plasma screens. These are a great choice when it comes to size/price ratios, so you’ll be getting your money’s worth no matter how big you want your screen. Let’s take a closer look at the plasma screen phenomenon:

  • Excellent color contrast and black levels, meaning you’ll get a clear, realistic picture with a clean, sharp transition between the lighter and darker parts of the screen.
  • Higher contrast may be necessary for a prettier picture, and as a result, the energy consumption will spike a bit. It’s nothing extreme, but it’s worth noting.
  • Lower screen brightness. Not a dealbreaker, but it might irk someone who’s used to blinding LCD screens. Choosing a plasma TV with anti-glare/reflection screen material is generally a good idea.
  • Flexible pricing, as mentioned above, to suit any potential buyer.


Next up is LED LCD, the big, bright, and fabulous option. These guys tend to have a higher price tag, but they make up for it with other positive traits:

  • Much lower energy consumption. The TV won’t pay for itself, for the record. This caters towards a more “environmentally savvy” type of customer, rather than someone looking to save money in the long run.
  • Exceptional light output. No matter how dark the room is, LED LCD can compensate. The maximum brightness setting is enough to hurt your eyes, to say the least.
  • Uniform brightness may be an issue for the more attentive, perhaps perfectionist TV shoppers. Due to the positioning and nature of the LED backlights, there may be some disparity in the overall brightness of the screen, though it will not impact picture quality.


Last but not least, the CCFL LCD. These TVs tend to be low-end, thus have a much lower price attached to them. While they don’t have any outstanding traits to their name aside from their reasonable pricing, they are by no means inferior TVs. Consider them cheaper versions of the LED LCD TVs; a little less bright, a little more energy consuming, slightly reduced contrast ratio, but still an feasible option.

Best Buy vs. Fry’s

If you live in the Tri-Valley area (Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore) your choices for purchasing computer hardware and software is limited. There are a number of small, boutique computer repair and supply businesses, but for a store with a wide selection of items, at prices competitive with the Internet, your only real choice if you want to stay local is Best Buy in Dublin. If you are willing to travel a little bit, Fry’s Electronics in Fremont is the place to go. Here’s a quick comparison that might help you decided whether or not to make that trip.

Best Buy

  • You will pay a little more.
  • Associates tend to be difficult to pin down, and usually aren’t knowledgeable about inventory, or computer products and accessories. Unfortunately they tend to “guess” or give wrong information rather than admit they don’t know
  • Returns can be a problem, with long lines and strict adherence to policies that might not have been clear to you when you purchased the item.
  • Clean and well-organized store

Fry’s Electronics

  • Exhaustive selection of computer software, hardware and parts. Also huge selection of DVDs and CDs.
  • Knowledgeable staff
  • Returns are easy, primarily because they put the stuff right back on the shelf. This means when you purchase something, you may be getting an item that has been previously returned without knowing it.
  • Prices are usually a little bit lower than Best Buy

How About Amazon?

Review: Casa Nuestra Winery & Vineyards

Casa Nuestra is a small winery on the Silverado Trail, in the Napa Valley, located in St. Helena.

Casa Nuestra Winery and Vinyard

Before we had visited, all I had heard about the place was that they had goats to keep the weeds under control. Well they did have goats, but there are better things around there to eat than weeds (like hay) . The goats we saw were second generation. How long do goats live. I don’t know, but leave me a comment to clue me in.

Casa Nuestra Goat

There was a congenial fellow with an east coast accent pouring for us. All the wines were pretty good. They had a cool rocking chair made out of wine barrels that one in our party bought.

The Chenin Blanc is their flagship wine, and I bought a bottle. Very dry and very good.

The owner is a 60’s hippie/attorney,  Elvis fan and close friend of Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Fun, small place. Highly recommended.

Check my review on Yelp

Gold Shield Smog Check in Pleasanton, California

Two years ago at about this time I compared and reviewed some Test Only/Gold Shield Smog Check Centers in Pleasanton. At that time my research pointed to:

Clear Blue Test Only SMOG Station
3790 Hopyard Road
Pleasanton, CA 94588
(925) 462-7664

At that time the price was very competitive and the service was fast and efficient. However this time when I pulled up to the station a man in a heavy eastern block accent informed me that the smog check for my car would run $110. He would make me a good deal though. Not being too interested in haggling over the price of a smog check, I returned to my research.

This time the winner was:

Harry’s Auto Repair
183 Wyoming Street
Pleasanton, CA 94566
(925) 462-3237

Since my last research Harry has received Gold Shield certification, and the online coupon made the cost of the smog check $35. Certificate and ETF brought the grand total to $45 out the door.

I brought my car to Harry’s Auto for repairs a couple of years ago. At that time the repair service was good, price was fair, but customer service left a little to be desired. This time I noticed a marked improvement in the customer service aspect, including a nice, clean waiting room. They did march me back out to read my own odometer, so not an A plus, but much better than last time.

My car barely passed, but did, and I was in and out in 15 or 20 minutes. Compare 4 Consumers recommends Harry’s Auto Repair for your Pleasanton Gold Shield Smog Check needs.

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Ahwahnee Hotel: Yosemite

Ahwahnee Hotel

Ahwahnee Hotel

Yosemite State Park in California is an extremely popular vacation destination, and the premiere lodging within the Park is the Ahwahnee Hotel. Built in the 1920s, the Ahwahnee is known for it’s timeless architecture and stunning views.

Because your hotel selection within Yosemite is limited (most people tend to stay in tents or RVs) what you are paying for when you stay at the Ahwahnee, besides the history, and the unique decor and architecture, is convenience. Yosemite can get quite crowded, especially during peak season and parking can be a problem. The Ahwahnee’s free valet parking, which is also available directly prior or after your stay, can be a major benefit.

As you might expect of a luxury hotel with little competition, the prices are high and the service is good, but not great. The college-age staff is the bright spot, while service from the older staff can be lackluster. However remember when you are staying at the Ahwahnee you are there for the beauty of Yosemite, and the ease of access that the hotel gives you.