Friday, September 18, 2015

Online Textbook Shopping Guide For College Students

       I am one of the students that made the mistake of ordering all of my textbooks online the day before the start of the fall semester, and I lost 2 weeks for studying the material. Poor preparation can lead to falling behind in class and making the transition to college much more difficult than it has to be. Online shopping can be a miraculous cost-cutting and time saving tool for textbooks, but it requires planning in advance. By following the basic tips and choose the right sites, you will be able to use online shopping to your best advantage.

Dos & Don'ts:

  • DON'T wait until the last minute
  • Online shipping typically takes about 1-2 weeks. In addition to that, getting your textbooks early will allow you to look over the first few chapters before class starts. That way, you will at least have some familiarity with the concepts and better understand the lectures. Some of these lectures can include bizarre, new information that would make unprepared students feel lost. For instance, my first few chemistry lectures discussed quantum physics which is far from what I expected.
  • DO check the class syllabus beforehand:
  • You do not need to wait until the professors tell you what books you need in the first lectures.The syllabi are typically mailed to each student within 3-5 weeks before the semester starts. Otherwise, they might be on your student login accounts. If the class does not provide a syllabus or mention a required text, it's safe to assume that the class does not have a required text.
  • DON'T buy the wrong translations of books for literature classes
  • Because the translation will affect your interpretation of the text and these types of books will be referenced frequently by page number, having the right version will affect how well you can participate in class discussions and persuade your professors in the critical analysis essays.
  • DO buy previous editions of textbooks by the same author
  • These editions of the textbook provide the same material at a fraction of the cost. According to Debt-Free U by Zac Bissonnette, college textbook companies often make small changes to new editions in order to generate more profit. In my experience, the old edition of the textbook slightly differs in the order of the chapters. However, the content almost exactly matches that of the lecture.
  • DO search by ISBN number
  • By copying and pasting this number from your class syllabus into the website search engine, you will be directed to the exact product you need and save time. You can look for previous editions in the sidebar as needed.
  • DO buy used:
  • On the websites I've visited, the description of the book quality is accurate. If you buy a "fair" copy at worst, you do not have to worry about the book falling apart or being damaged. You'll probably find highlighted text and other people's notes in the margins, but the text itself remains legible.
  • DO Rent
  • This is the best option for non-literature books that have no previous editions and you need it for a core course that you don't particularly care for. The rent lasts for one semester and some sites will even cut the shipping costs.
  • DO buy from multiple sites
  • Some sites have better deals or a better selection than others.
  • DO group as many books as possible in each purchase
  • This will often qualify you for coupon discounts and free shipping for qualified products.
  • DO remember shipping costs
  • Sites have differing shipping costs and policies. In general, avoid the expensive expedited shipping options and look out for free shipping deals.
  • DO sign up for site accounts and newsletters
  • The budget book sites often send coupons to their subscribers. These mails don't come more than once a week and they come just in time for you to buy the next set of textbook. The savings usually amount to less than 10-15% and the coupons only apply if you spend over a certain amount of money, but it's a simple move to save a few bucks. Plus, having a site account will help you keep track of your purchases and get access to deals.
  • DO leave customer feedback
  • It's an easy way to show gratitude to these sites and help them improve their service.

Quick Site Reviews

     This is the first place I go for textbooks because purchases over $10 get free-shipping, the prices are the cheapest I've encountered, and the deals are the most generous. The shipping (listed as 4-14 business days) is also faster than the other sites I've used. However, the selection is more limited and items go out of stock fast. You will probably find only a small portion of the textbooks you need here.
On the other hand, this site is has a wider selection and is better stocked. I have had success in finding all of the textbooks I need at great prices. If you have an account, that also saves you the extra hassle of of having to fill in your shipping address every time. Shipping is typically $3.99 per book, so I do tend to see my final costs double. Very few books have free shipping options. Also, I've been experiencing a time-consuming technical difficulty on the site: the website frequently logs out of my account when I go to a different page on the website. by eBay: Buy and Sell new and used books, music, movies, games and more...
This site also has a wide selection and the same shipping prices as alibris. Both sites have the same price range, too. The rent options are cheaper and you can find more alternative editions than you would on alibris. One downside is that you need an eBay account to make the purchase and I've had trouble signing into my account on this site.
While shopping for the spring semester, I found that Amazon offers a better deal on literary books than alibris and The lowest prices for the latter two is $0.99 while Amazon's is $0.01 with all three having the same standard shipping costs. Amazon has the free shipping option for slightly higher priced books, but it only applies if you are buying enough eligible items that cost at least $35 together. Also, you may want to pay attention to the estimated tax and ideally get the books with $0.00 estimated tax. Generally, the textbooks aren't good deals compared to the others, but the handbooks can be cheaper. The site is a lot easier to use than some of the others. If you have an account, you can save your credit card information in addition to your shipping address. This is a great time-saver, though it does pose a security concern.
Image result for barnes and noble banner

Barnes and Noble runs my campus bookstore, and I assume that other colleges have their own Barnes and Noble. Even with the online option, this is my least favorite place to buy textbooks. Instead of a search engine, the website has a form that you have to fill out with the semester, class subject, class number, and class section. Then, the computer algorithm fetches all of the books you need. This is a much more tedious process than pasting in the ISBN number and it makes the site harder to navigate. In addition, the prices are much higher than the other sites and you do not get the option of choosing different editions. Whether you purchase in-store or pick-up in store, you will also have to wait in long lines especially at the beginning of the semester. The only good reason to buy from your campus bookstore is if you have to purchase an access code for a particular class.

From my university bookstore, I would have to spend $383.70 for one semester of textbooks that included used copies. For the same books, I paid $83.67 on the other websites I listed. In addition, I did not have to wait for hours in university bookstore lines. With planned online shopping, you can eliminate textbook cost concerns and focus more on actually learning the material.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

123D Circuits

The Lab View

For people like me who can't afford electronics kits and are worried about getting electrocuted during a project, 123D Circuits is a wonderful, free online resource that will allow you to learn the basics of electronics with online simulations and helpful guides. This website is run by AutoDesk which also creates 3D modeling applications such as Tinkercad and 123D design.


  • Three views in 123D Circuits: Lab View, Schematics View, PCB view.
  • Design Modes: Electronics Lab, PCB, and Circuit Scribe 
  • basic components such as LEDs, capacitors, diodes, breadboards, etc
  • everything from the Arduino basic kit and a code editor
  • Video Tutorials for Newbies
  • No download
  • Gallery of everyone's designs
  • A Shop for ordering any of the designs in the gallery
The Schematics View

The Educational Impact:

There are currently many free and accessible online resources for people to learn about computer science and programming, but online resources to learn about the hardware side of technology is not as readily available. For instance, the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course website edX has 66 computer science courses and only 8 electronics courses as of today. Hopefully with websites like 123D Circuits, the number of tutorials and MOOCs for electronics based on building circuits will grow. Similar to how online coding tutorials allow many programmers to become professionals without formal schooling, these new resources for electronics can open non-degree opportunities such as becoming a chip designer, an inventor, or even an electrical engineer. 
The PCB View