When, oh when will people stop using gift cards?

So, my wife received a $100 gift card a few years ago and decided to hang on to it to perhaps use to give to somebody else as a nice gift later on.

Of course she had no idea that this US Bank backed gift card started ticking down in value at a rate of $2 a month until she mentioned it today and I looked it up.

What started out as perfectly good, American cash was translated into crappy “stored value” and then sucked dry by the bank. As of today that $100 gift card, which had never been used, never been opened is worth a whopping $14.

For those people who think giving cash is crass, I would argue that giving people a gift that loses value for no good reason at all, except that it can help enrich various banking institutions (thank you for 2008 by the way) is a terrible alternative. Either you care enough to buy a thoughtful gift or you don’t, a gift card does not fill that void.

If you want to direct the money, get a nice card and tell them that here is $100 cash from your loving admirer for you to spend on “x”.

Surely you cannot feel good knowing that your recipient does not get the bulk of the gift you had intended for them?

Wrist-based Sleep Tracking Opinion

Referencing this recent article from the NY Times:

By and large I have to agree with the conclusion that we don’t really know what to do with the information.

There was a comment where the person pointed out that the sleep tracker at least gave him some insight into his sleep after lifestyle choices (drinking, going to be late, etc.).

I am using the “Autosleep” app that was referred to in the article. One thing he didn’t mention was that the app references a “sleep bank” and tries to get you to average out to whatever you say your nightly requirement is (defaults to 8 hours). And then proposes wildly inappropriate go-to-sleep times for that night to “catch up”.

For me:

1) Nothing has come close to the UP! wristband for mapping my sleep habits (it had its own issues about not being able to edit the results when it recorded incorrectly)

2) the fitbit is between the UP! and the Apple Watch. It was OK but very coarse.

3) The apple watch is pretty good. I appreciate that “Autosleep” tries to take a holistic view of things and considers your overall sleep in conjunction with what it records as “Deep sleep” and something else called “Quality sleep” and then adds a dash of your average heartbeat and your wakeup heartbeat and something they call “Heartrate variance” to come up with a comprehensive assessment of your sleep status.

Now if only we had any scientific evidence that any of the above actually means anything, I would be much happier. But I suppose that’s one of the points of the original article.

But my perception that the Apple Watch (and any wrist-based tracker I’ve tried. Not mentioned is Intel’s Basis Peak which I rather liked but disappeared pretty quickly) is still relatively crude for sleep tracking does not instill confidence in me in any ratings/statistics generated.

I’m at the point now where I’m thinking of not bothering with sleep tracking anymore in favor of waking up to a fully charged watch so I don’t have to think about topping it up during the day….

Private Internet Access “Connection Refused”

PIA Main Panel

This morning, to my dismay, I found that my Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN had disconnected. It showed a little yield sign on the toolbar icon. A closer look at the panel showed me a note that maybe my account was disabled or expired.

I then logged on to PIA’s web site and verified that my account was just fine and wouldn’t be due for renewal for a few months yet.

  • Checking Google yielded no results, neither did PIA’s own support knowledge base.
  • Restarting the client didn’t help.
  • My computer had recently been restarted so that was an unlikely candidate.
  • Changing connection servers also didn’t help.

The solution, in my case, was to simply explicitly log out of the PIA app and then log back in. Now it’s working again like nothing happened.

I leave PIA on as a matter of course to ensure that ALL of my internet traffic is encrypted. I just like to be sure that nobody knows my business except me and the entities I’m dealing with. Nobody in between anyway.

I use PIA because it’s normally rock-solid reliable. I tried NordVPN’s trial and found it couldn’t even stay connected for a whole day at a time which wasn’t super useful to me.

PIA did a massive marketing campaign a few months ago which I thought was beneath them. Trying to scare everybody into renewing immediately for long term plans with super expensive (nearly triple) annual rates after that. I’m waiting to see what they want to charge me on my next renewal to see if I stick with them. They’ve been very good so far, it’s a shame if they get too greedy.

Credit Karma phony alert?

I like Credit Karma as they provide a simple and inexpensive means by which to keep on top of your credit report and *kinda* your credit score as well (not FICO but near enough to be worthwhile).

By inexpensive I mean they do not cost you money but you *are* targeted for their recommendations – a fair enough trade in my book.

This week I just received an alert from them telling me there was a new status on one of my accounts:

“We noticed a change to the remarks listed on your Equifax credit report regarding your <BANK CAR LOAN Specifics Removed> account.”

When I go there I am taken to the derogatory remarks section and, as always, there are no notifications there.

Does anybody know if Credit Karma is trying a new (crappy) marketing scheme to drive more traffic to their site?

Found a great source for my Sacrificial Anodes

Long story short, if you are looking to find copper-free zinc sacrificial anodes you want “Pool Tool Anti Electrolysis” and, as of today, you want to get them from GetPoolParts.com.

To protect my Endless Pool Fastlane I use Zinc Sacrificial Anodes.

The purest source for these I had for these was from Endless Pools themselves. These used to cost a little over $15 each from them which was pretty pricey for something I would need to replace 2-4 times a year. When I checked a few days ago they were now

Similar anodes are used for maritime part protection (inboard motors, hulls, etc.) for a fraction of this cost. However, the maritime anodes that I have found are typically not so pure as I hoped. There is enough copper in them to cause blackening of stainless steel which quickly becomes unattractive.

This…

Endless Pool Fastlane showing stainless steel handle.

becomes this…

Endless Pool Fastlane showing stained stainless steel handle (yes I see the irony).

So I bought a healthy supply of the anodes that lasted me until this year.

When I went looking I saw that the price has now increased to about $24 for these, which is patently absurd.

What I want specifically is a product called “Pool Tool Anti Electrolysis”.

So I came across a site called “Get Pool Parts” that had them available for less then half of where I was seeing them anywhere else ($12.16 per anode). Ordinarily this would be a red flag as deals that are too good to be true are there to suck you in on the internet.

Their BBB record was just OK (B+ as of this writing) but I couldn’t find anything really bad about them in searching for scams or problems. Another vote of confidence for them was a few postings on Troublefreepool.com which has been a great source of pool information for me in the past.

I ordered these really late Tuesday night (2 am) and they arrived on Saturday morning. Everything was exactly as specified. I couldn’t be more pleased. I just wanted to give them a shout out and also let people know about this option and my good experience should you wish to avoid the extortionist pricing for this basic part.

Apple iPhone Xs Max vs Galaxy S10+: One of these smartphones wins in three key categories – MarketWatch

A friend forwarded me this article knowing I’d have an opinion. *Shockingly*, I do.

You can read the original article here

Part of my job is to certify new devices for my work environment.
I haven’t picked up the S10 yet, but I think most of the “key” aspects Jurica points out are kind of trivial.

It depends wholly on the person but, for me, once you get beyond 256 GB of storage it’s all just .. more. Sure, in a few years I’ll probably be pushing up against the 1 TB limit, but that will be for the phones of that generation to accommodate.

When you’re talking about $1,000 plus for a smartphone I think that $50 here or $100 there can’t be a big deal. If it is you *really* should not be at the luxury end of the market. And make no mistake, Apple’s recent offerings and Samsung’s Galaxy 10 are the at the pinnacle. 

With respect to power and the ability to use your phone to charge up other devices, I see this as the same as when I had a separate MP3 player and cell phone. At the time, the idea of extracting power from my phone to play music seemed ludicrous when I had a separate device that did this excellently without eating into my call time or smartphone usage. 
If I’m in a situation where I’m charging someone else’s phone, I’m probably in a situation where I need to be conserving my phone’s power and *shouldn’t* be inefficiently wirelessly charging other devices.

When I travel I ALWAYS have chargers (yes plural) and cables capable of charging all my devices. If I’m with someone who needs a charge at the airport, I’d rather they use my charger than sucking my critical link to the world dry of power.

The comment about still accepting microphone jacks is cute. Again, these are luxury devices. People whine that they are being forced to use the latest in headphone technology while they blow over a thousand dollars (a year?) on their smartphone. 
1) if you can’t afford a bluetooth headset, you really can’t afford the phone, 
2) if you don’t like new tech and would rather have a wired headset, why the hell are you buying one of the most technologically advanced smartphones in the world? There are plenty of less expensive, less advanced phones that cater to people who don’t need or want next-year’s tech.

The final decision comes down to OS preference and ecosystem preference (dependency).

As someone who moves between iOS and Android OSes all day every day I am careful to avoid getting locked too deeply in any ecosystem that makes it a nuisance to use the other device.

My preference has gone back and forth throughout the years but, in spite of the (correctly called-out) dismal tech support, the iOS devices are what I go to at the end of the day.

After mucking about problem solving and tweaking and resolving assorted god-knows-what issues with these devices all day, I’m happy enough to use the one that just works out of the box and that presents me with the fewest headaches.

As of today, iOS, in the form of the iPhone Xs Max, is my choice.

Informal Speed Clocking For Tesla

So, apparently I haven’t figured out how to use Dashboard for Tesla‘s Speed Clocking app as I did a few trials today and then completely did not manage to save them.

Dashboard for Tesla’s Speed Clocking screen

However just to note, my 5,000 lb SUV clocked in at:
5.0 Seconds for 0-60 MPH, and
14.75 Seconds for the 1/4 mile.

I think the 0-60 time is pretty accurate. I bollocksed up the 1/4 mile by ending up going UPHILL for a portion of it.

Just preliminary but was pretty happy with the times nonetheless.

AutoWake iOS App

I bought AutoSleep, Autowake and HeartWatch (all by Tantsissa) as a bundle.

While I believe that AutoWake and HeartWatch are excellent apps (and have reviewed them as such), I cannot say the same for AutoWake.

You can set AutoWake up to automatically wake you at a certain time for each day of the week. In my case I have it set to wake me at 7:00 Mon-Fri.

You can also override this behavior as needed, i.e. I disable the alarm if I am taking a day off work or have a holiday.

Its greatest advantage IMHO is that it is supposed to find a time when you are sleeping lightly near to your set alarm time and then tap your wrist to wake you up.

It more or less works most of the time. And when it works it works very well.

I have AutoWake added as a complication on my primary watch face (my ONLY watch face) as required and my phone sits charging on the end table beside my bed so there should be no reason for failure.

But the alarm has failed to go off in the morning 4 times over the past two months. This might not seem terrible, but if you need to catch a plane the next morning – which I sometimes do – I don’t want my alarm to be flakey.

What usually, but not always, happens is that the alarm will go off later in the morning, 9:40 and 10:20 AM are two times that I recall specifically.
This morning it just didn’t go off at all.

I will be deleting this app and falling back to the Apple Watch’s built in alarm.

McDonald’s iOS App

I’m pretty enthusiastic about
1) McDonald’s, and
2) Apps that can simplify my fast-food ordering experience.

IMHO the Chick-Fil-A app came out of the gate working exactly the way ALL fast food apps should work. It’s intuitive, pretty much bulletproof, and every Chick-Fil-A restaurant I went to understood what to do when you showed up with a mobile order.

McDonald’s Menu in iOS App

Admittedly the McDonald’s app has come a long way from the days when it would just discard my credit card information and it’s been a while since I’ve visited a McDonald’s that was hopelessly confused with what to do with me and my order.

Having the curbside, drive thru and take out options are great and I’ve used each option for different circumstances (nice to have the curbside when you order food for a lot of people).
However, the app itself still leaves much to be desired:

  1. The order cart never seems to empty after I’ve picked up my order. Obviously the back end knows I’ve claimed the order since they’ve charged me the correct amount, provided the correct order and given me a receipt indicating such. 
  2. There is NO WAY TO EMPTY the cart when it’s stuck like this. Trying to just delete all the items yields interesting results to say the least. Basically it trashes the order you are now trying to make.
  3. I have now resorted to just deleting the app wholesale every time I want to use it again (and see stuff still in the cart) and re-download it from the App Store. This works very well to clear the cart without completely losing everything. How it remembers me and my payment information after removing and reinstalling the app I try to ignore as it seems to be a security hole.
  4. The user interface breaks my number one rule. When I go back from a screen, I need to end up on the screen I came from in the same state it was in when I left it. Every time I select something and add it to the cart, I’m brought back to the beginning of the top menu.  If I want to order two kinds of sundae I can’t order one and then select the other one. I end up hunting for the desserts menu and then choose my next Sundae. 
  5. It always defaults me to the closest restaurant
  6. I can’t *tell* you how long it took me to figure out how to find my list of “Favorited” restaurants. This is not intuitive at all. Most of the time when I’m ordering from a McDonald’s I’m heading somewhere and want the restaurant nearest to that destination so the food will be as fresh as possible. This is not something this app excels at.

It would be nice if I could have a blacklist of McDonald’s restaurants. There are some that I will not go to even if they were the last ones on earth. My nearest one I’ve never managed to get an order from. I’ve lived here for well over 20 years and have never made it all the way through the drive thru line. I don’t even know how they stay in business but after about 10 minutes of just sitting in place, I drive away and go elsewhere. I try it every 4-5 years and it’s always the same.