Friday, April 21, 2017

How to put Contact and Return Information on iPhone Lock Screen

A while back, I found a lost iPhone on the ground, so I picked it up to try to figure out who it belonged to. Unfortunately it had the lock screen with a passcode so I was not able to reach the contacts or pull up the information for the owner. Luckily I found it in a large residential building that has an office so I was able to return it to the office for them to hold on to until the owner was able to retrieve it.

This got me thinking, it should be easier to find the owner of a lost phone since it is something that is important and can be lost very easily. I wanted to figure out a solution I could use for my phone in case it were to get lost. This way, whoever finds it would be able to contact me or return it quickly.

First I thought of the possibility of just putting the contact information right on the back of the case, for example, typing it up on paper and taping it onto the case. While this would work, it kind of ruins the aesthetics of the phone and I decided I didn't really want the contact information to be out in the open like that all the time.

Using "Find My iPhone"
I started looking for ways to get the contact information on the lock screen of the phone so if someone finds it, they can pull up this information just by pushing the home button. One method I found is by activating the “Find My iPhone” app and putting the phone into Lost Mode. This can be done by logging into iCloud either on a computer or from another iPhone. You will be able to log in using your Apple ID. When putting it into Lost Mode, you will be able to enter text that will display on the lock screen, so you can put your contact information there.

While the above method works well, if your phone is lost and you are out and about, you may not have immediate access to a computer or another phone. Or you might have forgotten your Apple ID or password. In this case, it might be hours before you are able to get home or figure out your login for the app. Because of this, I wanted to figure out a way to get the contact information on the lock screen without having to activate the Find My iPhone app.

Edit the Background Wallpaper
I noticed iPhones have the option to set photos as the background wallpaper. So I figured if I could edit the background wallpaper to include the contact information it would be a good solution. It was a little tricky to set this up and I'm sure there is more than one way to do it, but here is how I did it:

First, I did a search on the computer and found the iPhone wallpaper I wanted to use. (I just used one of the stock images.) Next I downloaded the image and opened it up in a basic image editing program such as Microsoft Paint. From there, I was able to add text and put in my contact information for email and return address. You can put a message such as, “If found, please contact or return to...” Finally save the updated image.

Once the image is saved, you can email it to your phone as an attachment. After the image has been sent, open the email on your phone. It will show the image. If you touch and hold on the image, it will bring up the options. Click “Save Image” and it should save it to your phone in the Photos section.

Next, go to your Photos on the iPhone and click on the image you have just saved. To bring up the options, click the box with the arrow pointing up (located at the bottom left corner). Swipe over a few options and it will it will say “Use as Wallpaper”. Then click Set. It will have the option to set as lock screen, home screen, or both. I set it as lock screen because you don't really need it in the background once your phone is unlocked.

That's it! Your new lock screen background will be in place with the contact information. It sounds like a lot of steps and I'm sure there are other ways to go about it, but it is worth it for peace of mind knowing that if your phone gets lost, it will be much easier for people to get it back to you. Hope this helps!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Unknown Certified Mail – What Could It Be?

I recently checked the mail and there was a note card from USPS saying I had missed a delivery for a certified mail and that I had to reschedule the delivery. It was a letter and had a tracking number and a name, but I could not read the writing so I could not tell who it was from.

I started thinking what it could be but I had no idea who would be sending me a certified letter. Usually if something is sent certified, it means it is very important and the sender needs to be positive you have received it. The only other time I ever got a certified letter was after I left a job and they were sending me some final paperwork to confirm the decision.

I got the note on a Friday and the earliest reschedule was on Monday so I had a couple of days to worry about what it could be. Of course I thought the worst like it was a legal issue or something, but nothing came to mind on what it could be. Another thought was maybe it was some important documents from the health insurance or from a retirement fund or something, but I have never had to sign for any of those before.

About a week back, I contacted a couple companies about mail I was receiving that was addressed to previous residents who have not lived here for many years. I asked them to update the mailing list so I would not receive the letters anymore, so I was thinking maybe it had something to do with that and they were trying to confirm I was the current resident.

I kept thinking of possibilities. Sometimes I fill out those surveys on receipts that offer a chance to win a gift card so I was thinking there might be a small possibility maybe I won something like that and they sent it certified to make sure I got it.

So finally Monday rolls around and the mail man shows up. He has the letter and I sign for it. I look at the return address, but it is something I didn't recognize and never heard of. I take it in and open the letter. Turns out it is a notice about a public hearing about a potential business that is looking to open up in the area.

At first I was relieved that it was not anything bad. Then I was kind of confused as to why they sent something like this certified. It was basically a note from the village and the business owners saying there would be a meeting at the village and that is was open to residents in case we wanted to go to the meeting.

Maybe there is some rule that they have to notify a certain amount of local residents if they are looking to open a new business. Other than that, I'm not sure why they needed it to be signed for. The postage was almost $4.00 for a letter so it was certainly not cheap to send it. I guess the lesson learned here is if you get an unexpected certified letter, don't worry because it might be something like this that is nothing to worry about.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lucky Boys Confusion – Stormchasers Album Release

Over the years, I have listened to a lot of music and if I had to make a list of my favorite bands, Lucky Boys Confusion would have to be on that list. In case you have not heard of them before, they are a rock band out of the Chicago area that formed back in 1997. Their music style can be described as a mix of rock, pop, punk, reggae, and world music. They released several great albums over the years but had been on a hiatus since their last release in 2009.

I first discovered Lucky Boys Confusion many years ago when their single “Fred Astaire” was on the radio, but it was not until years later when I saw them in concert and got a chance to listen to some of their albums that I really became a big fan. They have so many good songs and a wide range of musical style. I went to many of their concerts and still remember the time my friends and I had to figure out how to get into one of their concerts because it was all sold out.

A few months back, there was some exciting news that LBC was starting to record new songs and was actually in the process of putting together a new album. I was a little worried because often when bands take a lot of time off and then try to come back and recreate what they had before, it does not work out very well. Thankfully, with Lucky Boys, it is like they have not missed a beat. The new music is sounding as good as ever!

Leading up to the new album, I was able to hear a few of the new songs including “It's After Midnight”, “Sun In My Eyes”, and “Stormchaser”. All 3 are quality songs that are very catchy and were stuck in my head all day after just one or two listens.

After much anticipation, the wait is finally over and the new album Stormchasers is available now! You can check it out on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp, as well as order physical copies and merchandise from their official site.

I just listened to the full album today and it sounds great! The songs are powerful, heartfelt, and a good representation of a matured band that has been through a lot and is still going strong. If you are a fan of Lucky Boys Confusion or if you are new to the band and looking to discover some new music, I highly recommend checking out the new album! 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Hulu Review vs Netflix

After trying out Netflix for a couple months, I decided to try out Hulu, another one of the big online streaming services. Like Netflix they offered a free month trial so I decided to give it a go to see how it compares. Setting up an account was pretty easy but it was about to only give a 2 week trial for some reason. I managed to reload it and got the 30 day free trial as advertised.

I started with the basic $7.99 plan which has commercials. I quickly found out that waiting for commercials for online content like this is very annoying and pretty much unbearable. Luckily they allow you to upgrade to the $11.99 no commercial plan during the 30 day free trial. So I switched to the no commercial plan which was much better.

One thing that is nice about Hulu is they have new episodes for many of the current on air shows. So for example if you miss an episode on tv, you can often watch it commercial free on Hulu. This is one of the differences I found when compared with Netflix which tends to add full seasons at one time either after the series has aired or if it is an original show.

Navigation of the shows and movies is pretty easy. The top menu seems to be a bit limited until you get into the categories. I think it could use a little reworking to show more options in the menu. Like Netflix, they offer the convenient option of adding shows to your Watch List to save for later.

I found the selection of tv shows and movies to be pretty good. They have a rotating selection like Netflix as new content is added and older content is removed. I found Hulu to be a little bit like Youtube in the fact that they have a lot of clips and trailers in addition to full episodes.

Use with a streaming player such as Roku on a tv is very easy. After logging in the first time, it is saved so loading it back up is very fast. Hulu keeps track of viewing history like Netflix as well so you can see what you have watched in case you want to go back and review. Also Hulu has the option to set up profiles in case you have several people in the household using the same account.

There is a 5 star rating system like Netflix but the reviews section seems to be more limited. I noticed they have the option to comment on the shows and movies but there did not seem to be much activity going on in the comments.

Overall I have been pleased with Hulu and it is a good compliment or alternative to Netflix if you don't mind the extra price for the no commercial plan. In terms of value, Netflix still has the edge with their basic no commercial plan starting at $7.99. If Hulu could match this price for the no commercial plan, it would be a very even match. I always look for the best deal so if I had to pick just one service, I would probably go with Netflix.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lego Creator 3 in 1 Fast Car Review 31046

One of my favorite activities as a kid was building with Lego blocks. I still remember the first big set I got for Christmas. It was a big pirate ship and it was so fun to put together! One of the great things about Lego sets is that after your build them, you can take the pieces apart and use your imagination to create other things. It really helps develop creativity and understanding on how things are made.

As I got older, I don't remember what happened to my Legos, but we must have given them away at some point. I did not have Legos for a long time but they always remained a fond memory. Sometimes I would see them in stores and want to get them, but always passed it up.

Fast forward to present day, I started doing a little research online for Lego sets. I found the Lego Creator 3 in 1 Fast Car set (31046) on sale for $15. I liked the designs and it comes with a good amount of pieces (222) so after some thinking, I decided to treat myself to this set.

I was very excited to build it as it had been many years since the last time I worked with Legos. Opening it up, it has 3 packs of pieces divided by small, medium, and large, 2 base pieces, and separate instruction booklets for each vehicle. I set up my space and got to work making the car!

The age recommendation on the box was 7-12 but I think this is too limiting as it should say 7+ or 7-Adult because this set is fun and challenging enough for people even over the age of 12. The age range listed on Lego boxes may really be limiting their potential market. People like myself who grew up with Lego are now adults who can actually buy these sets. I think they should do more to market towards the older demographic as Lego sets are fun to build even as an adult.

I worked at a leisurely pace enjoying the building process and took the time to really appreciate the construction and the thought behind why each piece was chosen. I forgot how educational Lego building was. It makes you develop skills such as following instructions, attention to detail, understanding 3D models, and small piece assembly. Not to mention creativity if you decide to use the pieces to make your own designs. It makes me think, they should have Lego courses in school curriculums, seriously!
Completed Fast Car

Overall the Fast Car took about 2 ½ hours to build. I was very pleased with the process. It was easy to follow the instructions but challenging as well. In fact, I did make a couple mistakes along the way even when taking plenty of time to build carefully. In the end, I was impressed with the finished product.

The car looks good and has a solid feel. It also has cool features such as a retractable hard top, pop up hood, and Lamborghini style doors! I saw it had the convertible conversion on the box, but the doors were a pleasant surprise!

Original Jet Plane Created
Breaking the model back down to individual pieces took about one hour. I was already excited to use the blocks to make an original creation so I decided to make a plane. After some trial an error, I completed the plane and I think it turned out very well! It was a lot of fun using creativity and the limitations of a set to create a new model. As long as you have enough pieces, the possibilities are endless!

Overall I highly recommend this Lego set for anyone who is interested in Legos or even for those who may have never used Legos before. It is a great value and will provide hours of entertainment and education for everyone!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Natural Selection in Relation to Physical Attractiveness

Recently, I saw a study where they showed participants a series of photos of different people and asked them to rate them in order of attractiveness. They did this for both men and women and the results showed that most people were in close agreement with the order they chose. They concluded that people generally agree on what physical traits make a person attractive.

I started to think about this study in relation to the concept of natural selection. In theory, with natural selection, those who are more attractive or more desirable as a partner will have a higher chance of attracting a mate and producing offspring. These offspring would then continue the same kind of traits as their parents.

With this process going on for hundreds of thousands of years, you would think that by now, people would all have model good looks and the best genes available to make for healthy successful individuals, but in reality this is far from the case. There are still millions of people who would be considered unattractive as well as millions with genetic medical conditions. So the question is, why is this the case? Is natural selection not working?

Take the case of attractiveness. If attractive people have higher chance of finding a partner and continuing their genes, why are there still so many people who would be considered unattractive? I think one possibility may be a change in what we consider attractive in modern times.

With visual media becoming such a huge part of our lives over the past couple hundred years, we are more exposed to movie stars and models, not to mention how much more effort is put into trying to make people look good. For example makeup, surgery, photoshopping is all done to try to make people appear more attractive then they actually are. These images are then broadcast to the general public. We see these images and over time start to accept them as a reality of how people are supposed to be.

Then we look at ourselves and the people around us and it does not quite match up with the perfect images we see on tv and in the movies. This may have an effect on our judgment of ourselves and others in terms of attractiveness. So there may be a higher unrealistic standard that has been set for modern times when it comes to this issue.

Other factors continue to come into play that may go against natural selection. For example say two people got drunk at a party and took part in some activities that they would ordinarily not do under a clear mind. These actions might lead to reproduction that probably should not have happened.

Another common situation is two young people who are irresponsible and not thinking about the consequences for their actions. Before they know it, they may end up with a child on their hands who they are unable to care for or provide a good life.

Other factors such as personality, values, money, location can effect the potential of one reproducing which may be why natural selection does not go on physical appearance alone. For example someone may not have the best looks, but they may have a good personality or a good job that allows them to provide a stable life for a family.

Overall, I would conclude that it is a combination of a rapidly changing culture with many other factors other than physical attractiveness that has contributed to the make up of the current population today.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Should a bathroom door be kept open or closed when not in use?

There seems to be some disagreement on whether a bathroom door should be left open or closed when it is not in use. This can depend on the situation and location of the bathroom, but personally I think residential bathroom doors should remain open when no one is in there.

The main reason to support this is the fact that you can easily tell when the bathroom is open for use because it is clear that no one is inside. If the door is closed, it can be very hard to tell if someone is inside without knocking or calling out, “Is anyone in there?”. I don't like having to knock on a bathroom door just to find out if someone is in there. It can be even more awkward for the person inside having someone knock on the door and having to yell out, “Yes, someone is in here!”

So why would people close the door when no one is inside? I did a little research and I saw some arguments made that a bathroom is a private room and not something you really want to have on display especially when there is company over. I get where they are coming from, but everyone knows bathrooms exist. It is not something we need to hide away. If there are visitors over such as for a party, they are going to need to know where it is, and they should not have to knock to try to figure out if someone is inside.

I know if I am over at someone's house for a get together and I see the bathroom door closed, I assume someone is in there. I would guess many people would think the same thing and wait until a later time to check back to see if it is open. Then 10-15 minutes go by and you check again and it is still closed. Eventually someone decides to knock on the door or check if someone is in there and it turns out, it was empty the whole time! This kind of situation should not happen which is why bathroom doors should be left open when not in use.

Another argument mentioned is that keeping the door closed keeps unpleasant odors from going to the rest of the house. In rare cases, I could see if you might want to leave the door closed with a fan on for a while, but most of the time, this should not be an issue. If anything, keeping the door open will help ventilate it to help disperse the odor more quickly.

What are your thoughts on this debate of whether a bathroom door should remain open or closed when not in use. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Hertz Rental Car Review

Recently I had to drop my car off for collision repair which was scheduled to take about a week. During this time, I got a rental car on site from Hertz. Registration was pretty easy. As expected they needed the basics such as drivers license and a credit card on file. They put a $50 pending charge on the credit card which I would find out later why they do this.

I got one of the basic cars, a late model Nissan Versa hatchback. The car was decent and easy to drive. One interesting thing about it is that it came included with a Hertz navigation system. It was not built into the dash, but more permanently attached as an add on. It turns on when you start the car. Personally I did not use it, but it is a nice feature to have, although I would have liked to have the option to hide it away in the glove compartment so it is not out on display.

Another interesting thing is apparently the navigation has a camera. I did some research and it looks like Hertz is starting to integrate cameras into their cars. It is not clear if they are active right now, but it kind of makes you feel like you are being watched. I could see how that might be a privacy concern.

During the week I did not drive the car much and only ended up using about 1 gallon of fuel. They tell you to fill the tank before you drop it off so you do not have to pay a charge for the refueling. I stopped to fuel it up on the way there, but the gas station was packed and every pump was taken. I waited for a few minutes but it was so crowded and I was more concerned with returning the car safely rather than hanging around in a crowded gas station with cards weaving in an out, so I decided to just take it back without topping it off.

It was near the end of the work day so they did not have anyone at the desk but I was able to drop off the keys. Even though the tank was nearly full, I did get charged for about 1 gallon. They charge nearly $10 a gallon which I think is kind of unreasonable considering gas is only about $2.50 per gallon at the moment. I can understand if they charge a fee for the fill up, but that kind of mark up seems a little outrageous. Note, this is one of the reasons they ask for your credit card ahead of time.

In the end, the rental car was covered by insurance so that was good. Overall the Hertz rental car experience was ok and I would recommend them if you are looking to rent a car, but make sure you are able to fill up the tank before dropping it off otherwise you will end up paying the inflated price on the gas.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Netflix Review and Top Picks

Netflix has been around for a while now and I had been slow to jump on the bandwagon, instead opting to just watch network tv for free and an occasional episode online. I try to live frugally and avoid unnecessary expenses, but a couple months back I got the opportunity to try out Netflix for free, so I decided to give it a go. 

I was surprised at how much content was available, from original shows and specials to movies and even full seasons of shows from other networks. I started with the 30 day free trial figuring I would try it out and probably cancel at the end of the 30 days, but after trying it out, I decided it was good enough to continue.

The monthly subscription starts at $7.99 which is pretty reasonable considering how much unlimited streaming entertainment is offered at this price. The base price is for 1 streaming device at a time and standard definition. You can also upgrade to higher definition and more streaming accounts for a few extra dollars per months. I compared the SD to the HD and found the standard definition still had very good picture quality. HD is a little more crisp, but I found SD quality to be just fine.

The Netflix layout lets you search by recommended titles and you can add shows and movies to your list to watch later. It also has a rating and reviews system to help with recommendations. I found it is a lot easier to navigate on a computer vs on a streaming device like Roku. I have the Roku to use with the tv, but I do most of the searching for new titles on the computer since it is a lot more efficient.

You might think that once you watch everything you were interested in, there would be no reason to continue the subscription, but Netflix continuously adds new content each month. Not to mention, the library of current content is enormous and would take many months to really cover everything that catches your interest.

After having watched many of the shows and specials, here are some of the top picks I would recommend:

Stand Up Comedy:
If you are a fan of stand up, Netflix is great because they have a lot of comedy specials like this. Some of my favorites so far are Chelsea Peretti – One of the Greats, Todd Barry – The Crowd Work Tour, and Sebation Maniscalco –Aren't You Embarrassed. Chelsea's special has good production value and gets creative with the editing taking it to the next level. Todd special is also different in that he goes on tour with no material and pretty much just talks to the audience and creates jokes on the spot. Sebation has great stage presence and is not shy about calling people out when they are doing things they shouldn't.

There are a couple related shows in a comedic documentary style: An Idiot Abroad, and The Moaning of Life. The both feature a guy named Karl Pilkington who is pretty much an average Joe who reluctantly travels the world learning about different countries and cultures. He often has funny and brilliant reflection on his experiences and what he has learned.

Another pick in the travel documentary style is The Kindness Diaries which features a guy named Leon who goes on a motorcycle trip around the world but brings no money and instead relies on the strangers he meets for food and a place to stay. For those who help him a lot, he returns the favor and helps them with whatever they need.

For another funny original series, I recommend Garfunkel and Oates. It is a full season show featuring the musical comedy group Garfunkel and Oates. The show is based on their lives and integrates many of their songs into the episodes.

Also I recommend 2 more original series: A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Haters Back Off, both of which I reviewed here on the blog a while back.

Overall if you are looking for a good source of entertainment from tv shows to movies, all at an affordable price, I recommend trying out Netflix and check out the shows mentioned above!

Also check out our Review of Hulu to see how it compares to Netflix. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Should Marital Status Effect Car Insurance Rates?

In case you have applied to car insurance recently, one of the questions you probably had to answer was if you are married or single. You might think, what does this have to do with car insurance, but apparently this is one of the factors they use to determine how much you will pay for your car insurance.

According to their statistics, single people are more likely to get into an accident compared to married couples so they use these stats to figure out how much to charge for insurance. Personally I do not think they should use marital status as a way to charge more or less for insurance. It seems too discriminatory as marital status does not really effect driving ability. If something like this can be used to increase rates, where will the line be drawn?

There are certain factors that make sense when determining auto insurance rates, for example driving and accident history, age or experience behind the wheel, and usage such as mileage and location where the vehicle is driven. These things have a strong correlation to how likely someone is to get into an accident. When they start using things like marital status, it brings up the issue of fairness vs numbers.

They can survey statistics on anything and they may find that certain things have a stronger correlation to accidents than others, but that does not mean they should be able to use these things to discriminate. When they use factors such as married vs unmarried, it penalizes individuals who may otherwise be good drivers but just happen to fall into a certain category.

Overall I think insurance rates should only be determined by factors that directly influence the likelihood of a claim. Other unrelated factors should not be used even if studies show that one group may have more chance to get into an accident compared to another.

Do you think insurance companies should be able to charge different rates based on things such as marital status and gender?

Friday, February 17, 2017

What did you do to accomplish your goals today?

As we get older, time becomes more valuable because it becomes more limited. When you are young, you feel like you have so much time to accomplish your goals, but before you know it, age starts creeping up on you and you may find you are older than you feel and there are many things you have yet to accomplish.

I recently found myself in somewhat of a rut, or treading water so to speak. Basically, just living the same routine day to day without really making any progress. This can be ok if you are content with your current situation, but it is always a good idea to strive for more and continue to try to improve your life even if things are already good.

I have never been the most ambitious person, but at the beginning of this year I did take the initiative to type up some goals. I found this helps to give some direction and makes you hold yourself accountable if something does not get done. It helps to get them down on paper or at least in a document so you can organize them, remember them, and keep track of your progress.

Recently I was thinking about how I was not making much progress and asked myself the question, “What did you do to accomplish your goals today?” Immediately I got a reality check of how I may not have been putting in enough effort to achieve my goals. If you are just doing the same thing everyday and not actively trying to imporve, chances are you will not cover much ground on your goals.

This comes into relation with time because as mentioned above, the time we have is limited and with every day that goes by, there is less opportunity to do what we want to do. You hear stories about how people have regrets about not doing more things when they were young and able. You may also hear stories about how people work hard their entire life looking forward to retirement only to pass away shortly after they have retired.

Because of this, it is important to take goals seriously and make a conscious effort to achieve them. In case you do not have any goals clearly defined, I recommend take some time to think about what you would like to do in short term, long term, as well as in general.

For short term goals, they can be things you want to do within the next year or so. These goals tend to be smaller and easier to accomplish. For longer term goals, they can be things that may take several years to accomplish or maybe things you want to do, but are not quite ready for or able to do yet. For general goals, they can be personal qualities you would like to improve upon over time.

Once you have your list, refer back to it often so you do not forget your goals. It can be a work in progress so you can add new goals and check off goals that have been completed. It gives a feeling of satisfaction and pride especially when you are able to check off one your big goals.

Life is short, so don't waist time. Make the most of every day so when you are older, you will have lived a full life without regret of having not accomplished the things you wanted to do.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

2017 Monopoly Collect and Win Game Rare Pieces

The Monopoly Collect & Win Game is back for 2017 and here we will be keeping track of the rare pieces needed to win the prizes. Each prize has at least 1 rare game piece and some have a semi-rare game piece.

Stores participating this year include: Alberstons, Safeway, Jewel Osco, Shaws / Star Market, Acme, Randalls, Vons, Tom Thumb, Pavilions, Carrs, Eagle, Pak n Save, Amigos, United Supermarkets, Market Street, Lucky, United Express, and Super Saver.

Game tickets and official game boards can be obtained at participating stores. For official rules and odds of winning, visit the official Play Monopoly website.

Rare Game Marker List:

8B99D*, 8B00E
8C91A*, 8C93C
8D86A, 8D87B*
8E82B, 8E85E*
8Y14F, 8Y16H*
8Z07G*, 8Z08H
9A03B, 9A04C*
9B07A*, 9B10D

* = Semi-rare based on findings

Feel free to use the comments below to post which game pieces you have and which ones you need. 

New comments will be reviewed and moderated before they appear here to ensure quality. Please be patient as it can take up to 12 hours for comments to be approved.

Avoid asking for rare pieces. If someone finds a rare piece, they are likely to win that prize.

Old comments may be removed over time to keep things fresh.

Tip for searching comments: use keyboard shortcut ctrl+F on PC and command+F on Mac.

Note: Do not post links to eBay, they do not allow the sale of monopoly pieces. 

The Monopoly Game runs from February 8th to May 9th 2017. Good Luck! 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Youtube Videos Not Playing, Black Screen, Adblock Issue

Recently I had been having some issues with Youtube videos not working. In Firefox they would play the audio but no video. In Chrome they would freeze up right away and not play at all. I tried updating flash, updating drivers, clearing cache, restarting, you name it, but for some reason the issues continued.

I noticed that it seemed to happen only on videos with advertisements, as other videos without ads were playing ok. I also noticed that if I disabled Adblock Plus, the videos would play an ad and then they would load ok, so I figured it may be an Adblock Plus issue. A little research showed that others were also having this issue.

My Adblock was up to date and it was still causing the issues which was pretty annoying. Instead of trying to modify it manually, I just decided to disable it and install another ad blocker called uBlock. It does pretty much the same thing and so far it has been working out pretty well. It still blocks the ads and now the Youtube videos are playing without any issues.

It will take some time to get a full evaluation of uBlock, but as of now, I would recommend trying it out if you have been having issues with Youtube videos not playing and you have AdBlock Plus installed. It is available as a free add on or extension for Firefox and Chrome.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Roku Express Review – Setup and Usability of the Streaming Player

Streaming tv has started to become very popular as many people are looking to cancel cable and dish subscriptions in favor of lower cost streaming tv which offers more freedom to watch what you want, when you want it. I had put it off for a long time, but recently I had a chance to try out the Roku player in combination with Netflix, and I was surprised at how many shows and movies were available.

I ended up getting the Roku Express which is very affordable at just $30 and allows you to stream tv shows and movies by connecting it to your wifi internet. The Roku offers many free channels as well as the option to view additional content and channels for a fee or monthly subscription.

First Impressions
Upon taking it out of the box, I was surprised how small the device is, which meaures about as big as a fun size candy bar. It plugs into the tv by HDMI cable and is powered by a USB cable that can be plugged into an outlet using the AC adapter, or into the tv itself using the USB for power. The cables included are rather short but I found they were long enough to set up the Roku in a good position near the base of the tv.

Once it is plugged in, the Roku must be connected to your wifi internet and then registered online either by computer or by phone. This was a bit time consuming and not as easy as it could be. Also, upon registering the Roku, they require a payment method such as credit card or PayPal. This was something that was not made clear before purchasing. It does not even mention anything on the box about having to enter a payment method.

Upon doing some research, apparently there are ways to get around having to enter in a credit card, but when I was setting it up, it did not have any option to skip this part, so I had to enter the credit card. I found out later, once you have an account and are logged in, you can remove the payment method. Still, this should have been optional upon setup. I understand they want to make it easy for people to be able to purchase content using the Roku, but many people may just want to use it for the free channels available.

During the setup, they will ask if you want to install channels such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. It was not clear if they were setting it up with an actual subscription or if they were just adding it to the Roku menu so I unchecked most of the options. I found out later, this is only for adding them to the menu, but it will not actually sign you up for paid services. It needs to be more clear especially considering they already have your payment information on file.

Another thing I noticed is the terms of service and privacy policy are not great. I looked them over and they collect a lot of personal information and data and are able to share it with 3rd parties so you do not have much privacy with the Roku.

Using the Roku Express
Once it was set up, I starting playing around with the settings and exploring the channels. It does have some ways to customize the menu and there are a fair amount of options available. For channels, there are hundreds available to choose from and you can add them to your main menu if you find some you like.

Most of the best channels have a monthly fee. Free channels usually have ads or commercials or they are just not very good. I noticed a lot of the free channels are basically like Youtube channels, which is ok, but to really make use the Roku to its full potential, you will probably want to get at least one of the paid services.

Navigation using the remote provided is pretty easy, but it would definitely help to have a keypad option when try to to search by name or title. There is also an option to link it to the Roku app with a phone, but I will probably just continue using the remote.

Also it seems there is no way to turn off the Roku Express. They mention that it is meant to stay on at all times and does not use much power. It will go to a screensaver after a certain amount of time. Still it would be nice to have an option to be able to turn it off.

Final Recommendation
So far it has been working pretty well and despite the some of the shortcomings mentioned above, it is still a great deal at the $30 price point to get streaming video for your tv. If you are looking for an affordable way to get a lot more content to watch on tv, I recommend trying out the Roku Express.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Publishers Clearing House $5,000 a Week For Life – Good Thing or Bad Thing?

I recently saw some commercials for Publishers Clearing House advertising a sweepstakes to win $5,000 a week for life. I had heard of the company but didn't know too much about it so I decided to look into it to see what it is all about.

PCH makes money from advertising as well as from selling magazines and merchandise but they are most well known for their sweepstakes giveaways. Their current promotion is the $5,000 a week for life in which the winner will be announced on February 24th 2017. It seems to be a legitimate contest and there is no purchase necessary to enter. There's not much of a catch other than you may end up on mailing lists and get more junk mail.

Whenever there is a big money giveaway like this, it is easy to start daydreaming about what it would be like to win. $5,000 each week would be pretty nice on first thought. At that rate, you could be a millionaire within about 4-5 years with your income continuing to grow every year. The fact that they spread it out for the lifetime could make it easier to manage verses being given millions of dollars all at once. It seems life would be pretty great if you won, but with more money comes more problems.

As many lottery winners will tell you, winning is not all fun and games. There are a lot of negatives and stress that come along with winning a large amount of money. One thing that is always mentioned is how everyone wants a piece of the pie. Relatives, friends, and acquaintances all of a sudden may show up looking for some action. You might try to help out as many people as you can, but you have to draw the line somewhere. It could cause relationship issues with people who feel like you are not helping them out enough.

Often people overspend when they get into this kind of situation and actually end up going broke. There are many stories like this of lottery winners and pro athletes who had millions and are now in debt because of poor financial decisions. People forget about things like taxes and before they know it, they have spent more than they can afford and get themselves into trouble.

I started thinking more about this specific PCH sweepstakes and how it offers $5,000 for your life, and then continues the $5,000 payouts to someone of your choice for their life. Because it is tied to life, that could really cause some serious issues. It means that as long as you are alive, the company is losing money, and the longer you live, the more the 2nd person has to wait before they can get any money. It is millions of dollars we are talking about so I don't know about you, but I would be worried about personal safety if my life was tied to a sweepstakes like this.

Of course, the chances of actually winning are incredibly slim. It's fun to think about how nice it would be to win, but you also have to keep in mind everything that comes with winning a lot of money like this. In case you are feeling lucky and want to give it a try, PCH is accepting entries now for the drawing which will happen February 24th. Good luck!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hunted TV Show – Investigative Techniques and Privacy

A new reality show called Hunted is now airing on CBS which features 9 teams of 2 who are on the run from professional detectives. Their goal is to remain fugitives and not get caught for 28 days. If they manage to make it to the end, they win a large sum of money.

So far I have watched the first 2 episodes and it is a pretty good show. It is fascinating to see the different strategies on each side as the fugitives try to stay hidden while moving from place to place while the investigators try to find out everything about them and track their every move.

One thing that surprised me was how much technology and investigative techniques the professionals really have access to. We all know things like cell phones and credit cards can be tracked, but they go even further into detail by seeking out any digital footprint available, not only of the fugitives, but also those with any relation to them.

They are able to track vehicles, get surveillance from cameras at ATMs, even track paper mail that has been sent. It seems in this day in age where everyone is so connected to the grid, it is impossible to vanish and not get found if they are looking for you.

This raises the controversial debate on if the professional investigators or government agencies have too much access to this information to the point where it compromises the privacy of individuals. Personally I think it is ok and a good thing as long as it is used for the right reasons such as to track down criminals and prevent potential bad events from happening.

It does make you question how much information is ok to put out there on the internet. It seems every day there is news about some celebrity or public figure that tweeted something that they shouldn't have. You really have to be careful about what you put out there these days because as they say, once it is out there, it can never really be deleted.

In case you have not seen the show Hunted, I recommend checking it out as it is educational as much as it is entertaining! It airs Wednesday nights at 8/7c on CBS.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events TV Series Review

On a whim, I recently decided to check out the new series on Netflix called A Series of Unfortunate Events. It is based on a books series by Lemony Snicket which also had a feature film adaption in 2004. I had not read the books or even seen the movie, so I did not know what to expect but overall I was pleased with this series.

The show revolves around 3 children whose parents are thought to have died in a fire. They are put into the custody of an evil relative who is only interesting in getting their fortune which they will inherit from their parents. The children try to get by each day under poor conditions and try to find a better living situation.

What makes this series unique is the visual styling. It has a very surreal look and feel which makes it seem like an imaginary world. The tone of the series is playfully dark with a mix of humor. The narrator is Lemony Snicket who frequently cuts away from the story to address the viewers and try to dissuade them from watching as he warns, this story is not one that will have an happy ending.

The kids in the story include Klaus who is a reader and very smart, Violet who is also smart and a gifted inventor, and their baby sister Sunny who likes to bite things. They are all great characters, especially Sunny who does not speak words, but often gets subtitles for what she wants to say which is quite funny.

The main villain of the story is Count Olaf who reinvents himself throughout the series as he tries to figure out ways to get the fortune from the kids. There are also many interesting characters they meet along the way, some of whom are helpful, most of whom are not.

Overall I enjoyed the series and watched all 8 episodes. The first season covers the first 4 books of the series. It is expected to have 2 more seasons to cover the complete set of 13 books. If you are looking for a new show to watch that is visually appealing and has a mix of wonder, humor, and mystery, I highly recommend checking out A Series of Unfortunate Events. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Haters Back Off Review – Miranda Sings Netflix Series

Recently I watched a series on Netflix called Haters Back Off, which is based on a Youtube character named Miranda Sings. It is the creation of Youtuber Colleen Ballinger, who plays the main character Miranda. I had been familiar with her character prior to watching the series, but never really got into it enough to subscribe. Nevertheless, I decided to check out the show to see what it was like.

The series is centered around Miranda who dreams of being a famous singer. The only problem is, she cannot sing and is really not cut out for being a performer. Despite this, she is oblivious to reality and still believes she is the best singer who is destined for greatness.

Her family includes her recently unemployed uncle who is determined to help Miranda achieve her dreams, her mother who has more of an understanding of her daughter's limitations but still tries to support her, and her sister who comes off as very normal in comparison to the rest of her family.

The series is a mix of comedy and drama as we watch Miranda try different methods to become famous despite the haters telling her she has no talent. Her uncle seems to think she can make it and goes to great lengths to manage her career to help her succeed. Her mother who claims to have “un-diagnosed fibromyalgia” plays sort of a sad role as someone who is unfulfilled and stuck in the situation she was dealt with. Her sister tries to live a normal life while trying to avoid embarrassment of being associated with the odd characters that make up her family.

Overall, I enjoyed the series. It may not be for everyone, but if you like quirky shows with a mix of comedy and emotion and don't mind suspending belief, it is definitely worth checking out. The series has 8 episodes and is available now on Netflix. You can also check out Miranda on her Youtube channel from which the series was based on.

Also, good news, Haters Back Off has been renewed for a season 2 so look for that hopefully later this year!