Warby Parker lets you buy glasses on the web

Warby Parker

My son Peter returned from his Oxford year abroad with his glasses in pieces. Time for a new pair! But he did not want those boring ones for sale at the neighborhood optometrist. As befitted his globetrotting scholar persona, my boy wanted a stylish pair of peepers.

Most of the world’s glasses are now made by the Italian conglomerate Luxottica (http://www.luxottica.com). This corporation not only controls 80% of the world’s major eyewear brands, but also owns retailers such as LensCrafters and even the vision care insurance company EyeMed Vision Care. Luxottica has been accused of using its monopoly to unfairly hike the prices of its brands, which include Ray-Ban and Armani. (Arends, Brett. “Are Designer Sunglasses Worth the Price?” June 22, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704518904575365362932852610.html)

Yet Luxottica now has a competitor. Warby Parker (http://www.warbyparker.com) was founded in 2010 by University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School classmates Jeffrey Raider, Andrew Hunt, Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa. These gents aimed to provide stylish eyewear for reasonable prices by designing the frames in-house and then selling directly to the customer over the web or in their own stores, without middle-man markups. Many of their frames cost only $95 and none are over $150. In a charity bonus, for every pair that they sell, Warby Parker donates a pair of glasses to non-profit organizations like Vision Spring (http://visionspring.org).

Peter admires the vintage-inspired design of Warby Parker glasses, and so he visited the site and uploaded his picture to virtually try on the frames. He chose five and had them delivered via the site’s “Home Try-On” feature, which allows customers to sample frames for seven days and then return them at no charge. It turned out that his virtual selections didn’t suit him in real life, so he visited Warby Parker’s Los Angeles store for his final selection. Still, his experience shows that it is now possible to purchase an accessory as unique as prescription eyeglasses entirely over the web.

Warby Parker


Find a Food Truck with Roaming Hunger

Roaming HungerAs the food truck craze has grown and spread across the nation, web sites and apps have developed to help the hungry track down a mobile meal. The granddaddy of them all is Roaming Hunger, launched by Los Angeles entrepreneur Ross Resnick in 2009 to collate food truck tweets and to put them on a map. Roaming Hunger now follows food trucks in 34 cities and also features a search and booking function for registered trucks. Resnick even uses his site to offer advice to entrepreneurs thinking of starting their own food truck business.

Roaming Hunger is available as a free iOS app that allows users to filter their food truck searches by “sweet”, “savory”, or “vegetarian”. There is no Roaming Hunger app for Android.

Roaming Hunger

Author Irene McDermott talks with Bill Leff in Chicago

Bill Leff

Up all night, Chicago? Tune into Bill Leff’s show on WGN radio 720 to catch author Irene McDermott  discussing web sites that can save you money on travel.

Missed it live? Listen to the podcast: http://wgnradio.com/2013/03/26/sites-to-make-you/

Learn stuff for free through iTunes U.

iTunes UIn 2007, Apple jumped on the free online college course bandwagon through its iTunes application. Here you will find iTunes U, a selection of recorded videos, ebook, .pdf files and podcasts from courses offered by a variety of schools including Harvard, Stanford, and Earlham Community School District. These days, iTunes U offers “courses”, as noted by the binding on the left side of the course icon, and “collections”, that is, gatherings of lectures on a topic. For example, “Statistics 101”, taught by Harvard’s Joseph Blitzstein, was designed as a class, whereas “What Great Bosses Know” is a collection of podcasts from Poyntner Intsitute’s Jill Geisler. All are available on a desktop computer through iTunes or through the iTunes U app for iPad or iPhone. These courses are offered freely, but one cannot get college credit for them.


Take college-level classes online for free at the Online Learning Initiative

Open Learning InitiativeFree college-level online classes have been available since 2001, when Carnegie Mellon University introduced its Open Learning Initiative (OLI). Today, OLI offers 18 introductory-level online classes in a variety of subjects including Biochemistry, Statistical Reasoning and Elementary French. Students affiliated with the university pay a fee to have their tests graded and receive credit for their work. Independent learners, on the other hand, are welcome to work through the pre-recorded lectures for no charge, but they will not be quizzed nor receive credit. Still, they are encouraged to establish a free account with the OLI site so it can track their progress. OLI designs their courses with measurable learning outcomes, which gives them the tools to “iteratively improve our courses and improve the teaching and learning experience.”


Buy gifts that are made in America with help from USA Love List

USA Love ListPhiladelphia’s Sarah Wagner is on a mission to bring manufacturing back to the United States. To that end, she urges all of us to try to buy Christmas gifts that are made in America. Although it is difficult to find electronics and appliances that are manufactured domestically, Wagner says that things like jewelry, cosmetics, clothing and candy are not hard to find. Craft fairs and the site Etsy.com are sure-fire places to locate locally produced gifts.

Wagner advises shoppers to check the tags on products in big box stores like Target or WalMart or department stores like Nordstrom and Bloomingdales for domestically made goods. She found products ranging from candles to cast iron cookware that were made in the U.S.A.

Wagner and her staff highlight deals on American goods on her blog USA Love List.

USA Love List

Bad Medicine: Check Your Online Pharmacy

Some of the most dangerous fake web sites are online pharmacies that sell medications that are illegal to purchase without a prescription. Their products are often diluted or even completely counterfeit versions of the real medication. Also, these rouge sites often steal their customers’ financial and personal information.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP, http://www.nabp.net) certifies pharmacy sites with its VIPPS (Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites) accreditation program. In July 2012, it released the results of its investigation of over 10,000 online pharmacies. It found that an astonishing 97% of them do not comply with pharmacy laws and practice standards.

NABP urges buyers to use only those online pharmacies that merit its VIPSS seal of approval. It hosts a list of verified pharmacies on its site: http://www.nabp.net/programs/consumer-protection/buying-medicine-online/recommended-sites/NABP. It also certifies online veterinary pharmacies with its program called Vet-VIPPS (Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites, http://www.nabp.net/programs/accreditation/vet-vipps/find-a-vet-vipps-online-pharmacy/). NAPB also maintains a list of known rogue sites: http://www.nabp.net/programs/consumer-protection/buying-medicine-online/not-recommended-sites/.