Thursday, June 14, 2018

MPOW Noise Reduction Safety Ear Muffs Review

While my living environment is generally pretty quiet, sometimes there can be some unexpected loud noise. For example, someone might be doing construction, or playing loud music, or maybe the house or building is just making some weird noise.

As someone who tends to be sensitive to noise, situations like these can be bothersome especially if they are out of your control and go on for an extended period of time. I had tried ear plugs in the past but found they didn't really work too well and I didn't really like putting things in my ears.

So I did some research and found noise canceling ear muffs. They are like headphones but they just block out noise, don't play music. After comparing a bunch of different kinds, I decided to go with the MPOW Noise Reduction Safety Ear Muffs. They had many good reviews and were reasonably priced at about $16 so I decided to try them out.

Upon putting them on for the first time, I was surprised at how well they worked. For example I was next to the refrigerator at the time which was running and making the usual noise a refrigerator makes. With the ear muffs on, I could not hear it at all.

I went over to the tv and put it on at a normal volume to see how they would work against a medium volume. With the ear muffs on, I could not hear the sound from the tv, so I would say they work pretty well in this case.

A couple days later someone was doing some construction work upstairs and they were drilling into the floor which was very loud. I put on the ear muffs to see how they would handle it. This time, I could still hear the noise, but it was much quieter and less bothersome. So with very loud noises, you will still hear it, but they will be reduced quite a bit.

These have a noise reduction rating of 36dB which is about the highest I found. I also got a chance to test them out against low frequency bass such as what you may hear from a subwoofer and they did help reduce this kind of noise as well.

As for comfort, upon wearing them for a short period of time, they feel pretty comfortable and well cushioned. The cups have a deep depth inside so there is plenty of room for the ears. The length of the band is adjustable on each side so it will fit most people. While the size can be adjusted, I found you can't really adjust the tightness. They are not overly tight, but I would have liked the option to be able to make them less tight if desired.

Overall build constriction seems sturdy and good quality. They are also fairly light weight at 8.4oz. Visually they do stick out pretty far to the sides. I imagine they have to be pretty wide to get this level of noise reduction.

I have not tried them for long term wear yet, but from what I have tried so far, I think they are best for short term wear for example if you will be exposed to loud noise for a short period of time. These would be good for situations such as lawn mowing or a shooting range. They are also good for home use in case there is noise going on that you want to block out.

Overall I am pretty satisfied with the MPOW ear muffs and would recommend them to anyone who is looking for a good solution to help reduce or block out noise.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Why you should not use credit cards to pay for gas at the pump

The other day I got a text message asking me if I just made a large purchase using my credit card. I had not, so I was immediately concerned and suspicious. I ran to check my wallet thinking maybe I lost my credit card, but it was still there. I wasn't sure if the text was a scam or if it was actually from the credit card company, so I log into my account and sure enough there was a charge that I did not make.

Immediately, I call up the credit card company and let them know that someone is making fraudulent charges on my card. They reviewed the details with me and were able to cancel the card. They said they would send me out a new card and that I would not be responsible for the charge. That was a relief, but still I wanted to figure out how this happened.

Usually I am very careful with things like this so I found it odd that someone used my credit card considering it was still in my possession. The agent from the credit card company said it was swiped at a grocery store which means somehow someone got my credit card number and created a duplicate counterfeit card.

From doing research, it looks like this would have happened by something called skimming. This is when someone puts a card reading device on or in a place where credit cards are used such as at gas pumps, ATM's, car washes etc. Any place where cards are swiped in an unattended location have a possibility that someone my have put a skimmer there to steal people's credit card information.

I usually only use my card at grocery stores and gas pumps, so with process of elimination, I'm pretty sure this happened by a skimmer at one of the gas stations I went to recently. Unfortunately it is hard to know when it happened as it could have been skimmed a few days ago or a few weeks ago.

While consumers are usually not held responsible for fraudulent charges made on their card when reported right away, it still causes a big inconvenience for the person whose card was stolen. I had to contact the credit card company, put a fraud alert on my credit, file a report with the FTC, and file a report with the police. Not to mention, I am going to be without a credit card for about a week until the new one arrives.

So as far as I'm concerned, I will no longer be paying with credit card at gas pumps or any unattended credit card swiping machines. Until these things are updated to be more secure, it is not worth the risk of having your credit card information stolen.

You may think, “This won't happen to me because I am careful and I always check the gas pump to make sure it doesn't have a skimmer attached.” I was like this too, but it still happened. From doing more research, I learned these card readers can be installed inside the machines so there is no way to know from the outside if they are compromised.

I recommend avoiding paying for gas at the pump with credit card to help prevent this from happening to you. Try to pay with cash, or if you are going to pay by card, go inside to the attendant and pay. Yes, it may be a little more inconvenient, but not as inconvenient as getting your credit card information stolen.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Should neighbors in apartments and condos be able to play loud music?

There are many benefits to living in an apartment or condo or even a town home, for example it tends to be more affordable and less work to maintain. There are however some downsides to living in close quarters to other residents and one of those is the issue of noise.

Anyone who has lived in a building with neighbors either next door or above or below knows that it is common to be able to hear your neighbors sometimes. It might be footsteps from above, talking, or tv from next door. While some daily living noise is expected, it can become a problem if your neighbors start getting too loud for example playing loud music.

As someone who lives in a building with neighboring residents, there have been times where I have noticed loud music being played and it can be very bothersome, especially if there is a subwoofer with bass that tends to travel through walls and is hard to block out. So the question is, should people who live in an apartment type building be able to play loud music?

Out of consideration of fellow residents, I think people should not listen to loud music if it can be heard easily through the walls by other residents. This noise causes a disturbance and disrupts the peace of nearby neighbors. While listening to music or tv at a reasonable level is ok, people need to be respectful of others when it comes to making noise like this that may bother their neighbors.

There is however a contrasting point of view, one that may be had by those who like to listen to loud music. They may say that it is their right to listen to music at a level they want and that if someone wants complete silence, they should not choose to live in a place such as an apartment or a condo building.

So who is right? I think in this case, there has to be a bit of a compromise from both perspectives. Complete silence is unreasonable to expect when living in close quarters to other residents. At the same time, a neighbor should be able to listen to music at a reasonable level but it should be low enough so that it does not bother those around them. They should also be respectful of the time of day they are playing music and should not play it late at night when most people are trying to sleep.

Do you have noisy neighbors or are neighbors complaining about your noise? Feel free to post thoughts on this issue in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Needle.com Chat Job Review – What it is like to work for Needle as Chat Advocate

I have worked for Needle as a chat advocate for several years. During this time there have been plenty of ups and downs and here we will go over what it is like to work for Needle as a chat advocate.

So what is Needle exactly? Needle is a company that provides the chat feature that is used for many online stores. Companies who want to have live chat help on their website will partner with Needle to get this service. Needle then hires and trains people who will be the ones to chat with customers and help them on the client's website.

Back when I started, I was looking for work from home type jobs because I was tired of working at my regular job out in the field. I tried a few different things such as affiliate marketing and internet content reviewing until I heard about an opening at Needle.com for chat jobs. I had never done a job like this before but it was for a company that I liked so I decided to give it a try.

The on-boarding consisted of filling out the application, taking a few basic skills tests, studying some tutorials, and eventually doing practice chats and final interviews through chat. If you do well on everything, you may be invited to start taking chats shortly after.

There is some training, but much of the content and website catalog must be learned on your own. It will be up to you to stay on top of any new products, policies, or information so you will be able to help the customers with any questions they have.

Taking chats can be fun especially if you are passionate about the products and enjoy helping people. The type of customers you interact with can depend on which client you work for, but for the most part customers are appreciative of the help. Of course there are times when you get unhappy customers and there is not much you can do, but you just try to do your best with the resources available.

Earnings can also depend on which client you work for. Some pay money per chat while others reimburse with a points system that gives points based on performance. Points can then be redeemed for things like gift cards and products from the client websites. Since earnings are based on chats, it can be good when it is busy but not so good when it is slow. Advocates can take several chats at the same time which can increase your pay/points but can also be more stressful trying to manage several conversations at the same time.

The chat system works pretty well for the most part, but there can be a few bugs here and there. For a workstation, I recommend a desktop with a dual monitor setup to allow two screens at the same time. A laptop or just one screen is ok but it will be more difficult switching back and forth between windows.

Hours are flexible but schedule priority is based on average points earned for the week. Points are earned from things like making sales, having a good satisfaction rating, and having a fast response time.

The experience you have can depend a lot on the management assigned as well as the other advocates you work with. Over the years, we had some good managers who were very involved and gave a lot of encouragement, but we also had some at times who were not as involved and did not provide much help.

The platform allows you to interact online with the other advocates so you can get to know them as co-workers. As with any job, there may be some you get along with well and possibly others not as much. Some communities are more active in communicating with each other than others so this can depend on which program you work with.

This job provides a lot of independence so most of the time you will be on your own. You may not hear much from the managers unless there is some important news or updates or unless there is something you really need to improve on. Recently, they have made efforts to get the management more involved with the advocates.

Overall, if you are looking for a part time work from home type job and you are a decent typer and have good internet research and navigation skills I would recommend trying out the chat advocate job with Needle.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

What would you do if you were the last person on Earth?

Suppose you woke up one day and realized you were the only person around. All other people and animals had vanished, but other than that, everything else was the same. What would you do?

This is fun question to think about, and there really is a lot to think about if you put yourself in this situation. For this scenario, one direction to take it is that of survival. This would involve making sure you had food and basic necessities to survive for many years.

To make the scenario more fun, lets assume everything keeps running as usual even after everyone has disappeared. This means all utilities such as electricity, water, and internet still work. We will even say that resources like food will be automatically replenished so you do not have to worry about food expiring.

So basically everything would be the same but there would be no people or living things. Although there would still be things like the internet, it would not be populated by new content since there would be no people to create it.

If you found yourself in this situation, what would you do?

Where would you live?
Where would you go?
What would you do for fun?
What things would you try to find?
What would you like about this new situation?
What new challenges would you face?

I recommend try thinking about what you would do before reading what others would do. Below is what I came up with if I found myself in the situation of being the last person on Earth:
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At first, I would probably start out very cautious and not do too much out of the ordinary. I would probably explore a bit locally until I got to the realization that there were no other people around and this would be the new reality.

Next, I would probably start venturing out and head over to a car dealership to pick up a nice car. I would probably get one sporty car for fun, and also a van or SUV to use for transporting things.

Then I would probably go to the grocery store to pick up a bunch of food. I think it would be fun to have the store all to yourself and be able to get anything without having to worry about the cost.

I would probably go to some of the local stores and pick up any supplies that might be needed such as tools or extra clothes. I might also go to a toy store or sporting goods store to try to find some activities for fun.

For safety, I would probably find some weapons as well because you would have to ensure your own protection now that there are no other people to protect you. There would be no threat of other people, but you would have to be prepared for anything just in case.

After having explored everything locally, I would start to venture out to other cities and start traveling around the country. For living situations, I would find homes or hotels at each location to stay at.

I might pick up a large RV camper to make traveling more comfortable and convenient. I would check out notable destinations like big cities, landmarks, and national parks. I think the traveling would help give a sense of purpose and would help prevent boredom.

One of the biggest challenges other than having to deal with loneliness would be safety. Since there would be no one to take care of you, you would have to be very careful not to get hurt. You can't call 911 if there is an emergency because there would be no one to respond.

Also you would have to be careful not to get stranded in the middle of nowhere. For example, if you were traveling long distance, you would have to make sure to have plenty of fuel as well as things like food and water in case anything were to happen.

After years, if I had explored everything within the country, I might consider trying to get to other countries. The challenge would be, it would probably involve travel by airplane or boat. These are skills that would need to be learned and even once learned would still involve some level or risk.

While I think being the only person on Earth would be fun at first, I have a feeling it would get boring or lonely sooner than expected. This might lead to a desperate attempt to find if there were any other people out there.

If years of searching did not find anyone, I would probably just continue trying to find new things to do and find ways to keep myself busy. It's hard to imagine a long term plan in this setting. I think it would involve just trying to stay healthy and keep searching to find any signs of life.

What would you do if you were the last person on Earth?

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Cobra Kai Review – Karate Kid Youtube Red Series

Karate Kid is one of those iconic movies everyone should see. I remember watching it many times back in the 80's so when I saw they were continuing the story with a Youtube Red series, of course I had to check it out.  



The series is called Cobra Kai, named after the dojo from the original film and it takes place in modern time where we see what former rivals Daniel Larusso and Johnny Lawrence are up to now. While both had tried to put their karate past behind them, it manages to resurface again.

Johnny gets inspired to start up the Cobra Kai dojo again. Daniel is not happy about this as it brings back all the old memories and goes against what he stands for. There are a lot of new intertwining story lines that continue the rivalry between these two as well as the new generation of karate kids that are introduced in this series.

The Cobra Kai series features 10 episodes, about a half hour each in length. It is on Youtube Red which is a paid subscription version of Youtube, but you can watch the first couple episodes for free. Also you can get a free 1 month trial of Youtube Red in case you want to watch the full series.

After watching the first 2 episodes, it was surprisingly better than expected! It has a good amount of nostalgia with callbacks to the original. They even mix in some never before seen clips from the original movie when they do flashbacks which is a great touch! I was convinced to sign up for the free trial of Youtube Red in order to watch the full season.

After watching the full season, I would say it was pretty good! The series does have a fair amount of cliches and it is somewhat predictable, but that is ok. They do a great job at showing Daniel and Johnny in modern day with new struggles as they run into each other again.

Overall the series is pretty lighthearted and has a good mix of humor, drama, and action. I think most fans of the original film will enjoy it and even those who are not familiar with the original can still enjoy this series.

I figured this series would wrap up at the end of the last episode, but the way they left it, there is plenty of opportunity for the series to continue of they choose. You could say it was risky trying to make a reboot of a classic movie like Karate Kid, but I think in this case it was a success!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Shipt vs Instacart – Which grocery shopping and delivery service is better to work for?

App based gigs are really booming right now and grocery stores are taking advantage of this trend by partnering with services such as Shipt and Instacart. These apps allow customers to order groceries from their local stores and have them delivered quickly. I have worked for both of these companies and have found each has their own strengths and weaknesses. In this article we will compare what it is like working for Shipt and Instacart.

Getting Started / Applying
Both companies are fairly easy to apply for and do not require too much experience or prerequisites. You will need your own car if you will be delivering. Driving record and background is also checked to ensure there are no issues. There are basic training tutorials for both that need to be completed before you start. If you are accepted, you receive a company credit card and can begin scheduling hours to shop.

Basics
While both services work a little differently, the main concept is the same. You are given a customer's list of items and are assigned to a store to shop for them. In the store, you scan the items using the camera on your phone. You check out using the company pre-paid card. Then you deliver the order to the customer. It is pretty straight forward and not too hard as long as you are organized and enjoy grocery shipping.

Scheduling / Getting Orders
This is one of the biggest differences between the two. With Instacart you are able to schedule hours for the week starting at a certain time. Some people who maintain a high amount of hours each week are able to schedule earlier. You are only allowed to schedule for hours that are open so it can be hard to get hours depending on how many shoppers are in your area and how busy it is.

With Instacart you basically have to be on call when you are scheduled and if there is an order, they will send it to you during this time. You are expected to accept it and be on your way to the store quickly once you are sent an order.

With Shipt, you are able to put yourself on the schedule for any hours you want, and they will send you orders that are to be delivered during those times. They send you the orders ahead of time so you will have time to prepare and plenty of time to shop for them.

Using the App
Both the apps for Shipt and Instacart work fairly similar. They each use a scanning feature to check off items on the list. They also allow you to contact the customer by text or phone if there are any issues or questions. I find Instacart's app to be a little more responsive and the scanning feature works better. I also like that they show the pictures of the items in the list without having to click on each one manually to see the pictures as is done in the Shipt app.

The Shipt app does have some benefits of its own for example you can customize the layout of the categories which can make it easier to navigate the shopping list. Also I find the customer text communication to be more reliable with Shipt.

One really helpful feature with Shipt is they tell you the item location such as which aisle it is in. I believe some stores with Instacart have this feature but none of the stores I have shopped for in my area have this option.

Delivering
The delivery procedure is very similar between the two. Each gives you the delivery address which opens up in your map app of choice and then you just use the navigation for directions. Once you arrive, you give the groceries to the customer and mark it as delivered. That's about it!

So what are the strengths and weaknesses for each?

Pros for Instacart
- Better pay. While the pay can vary greatly depending on which zone or location you are working, I found that when comparing similar sized orders, Instacart pays significantly more per order. Shipt does offer bonuses sometimes, for example if an order is getting close to when it needs to be delivered and no one has picked it up yet, they may offer to pay more.

- Better bar code scanner. It's really amazing how well the Instacart scanner can pick up the bar codes. You can hold it at any angle or distance, moving around, crinkled packaging, and it will still pick it up. I find with the Shipt scanner, it takes much longer to read and sometimes it will not read at all even when it is very clear, still, and centered.

- Images in shopping list make it easy to scan quickly. In the Shipt app, to see the pictures, you have to click on each one individually which takes up time.

- Less things to worry about. With Instacart, it is more automated, for example it lets the customer know what you are doing from the time you start to the time you mark the order as delivered. With Shipt you have to text them to let them know when you start and when you are on the way. Also with Shipt for some reason you have to fill out a tax exempt form for each order. You also have to scan the receipt and take a picture of the receipt, all steps which make the process more difficult compared to Instacart.

- More stores to shop for. It can vary depending on the area, but for example in my zone, Instacart partners with about 10 different stores and many locations for each of these stores. With Shipt, my zone has only 1 partner and one store so it is much more limited in terms of shopping locations. Shipt may grow over time, but right now it seems to be more limited.

Pros For Shipt
- Better transparency. With Shipt, you are given all the order details ahead of time so you know what you are getting into. For example, you know the customer name, address, number of items, and list of actual items in the order before you commit to head out to the store. With Instacart, this information is hidden and most is not revealed until you are at the store or have completed shopping for all the items.

- Better morale / community. Browsing the Facebook support groups for each service gives two very different impressions. With Instacart, most of the posts tend to be negative and complaining in nature while most of the posts in the Shipt group are more positive. This could be because the Shipt group is managed by Shipt, while the Instacart group is managed by the shoppers, but the difference in morale is very noticeable.

- Easier to schedule. With Shipt, there is no fighting for hours or constantly checking the app for new openings. With Instacart, everyone is trying to schedule at the same time and it can be hard to get hours.

- No Timing. With Shipt, since you are given the order details ahead of time, you can go to the store as early as you want so you can give yourself as much time as you need. The shopping is not timed either. With Instacart, everything is timed and you are expected to act immediately when you are sent an order.

More details for finding items. For many stores, Shipt gives the aisle and exact location in that aisle for the items. This makes it much easier to find items especially if you are unfamiliar with the store layout or if something is very hard to find on the shelf.

Conclusion
As you can see, there is no clear cut winner as to which grocery delivery service is best to work for since each has their own positives and negatives. While Instacart tends to pay better, the morale of the shoppers tends to be lower. With Shipt, it does not pay as much, but shoppers tend to be more happy overall.

The good thing is, with these apps, the developers are constantly working to make them better so hopefully they can both get better over time. Businesses like these in the gig-based economy can change overnight so it is a good idea to keep your options open. If you like grocery shopping, I recommend trying out both Shipt and Instacart first hand to see which one you like best.