Reviews

Like, just, what…:Birddogs

birddogs_box

I consider Eminem a contemporary of mine. I don’t know him or anything, but just looking at the way our lives have progressed, we’re definitely following a similar timeline. “Oh ho!”, you scoff, “What could you and Marshall Mathers possibly have in common?”. Well, first, who says “Oh ho!”? What is this, Victorian England? Are you going to rattle on about the new-fangled steam engines next? That’s weird. You’re weird.

Second, we’ve got a lot in common. We’re both working hard every day to improve the rap game. He may have a bit of a leg up at the moment, but I’m dropping flows everyday in my bathroom mirror, just trying to make it work. It’s basically 8 Mile set in a middle class apartment in Austin, TX. But probably the biggest thing we have in common is neither of us have been Cleaning Out Our Closets since the early 2000’s.

Closet cleaning is a ton of tiny, agonizing decisions. “Am I going to wear this shirt again?” is a hard question to answer. Sometimes you have to be hard on yourself: you know that swirly spotted button down never looked good on you, and was never in fashion. But you bought it and therefore telling yourself to get rid of it is ultimately an affront to your character. Saying “those pants don’t fit anymore” is either giving up on your fitness goals or taking a risk that you won’t give up later. “Yeah it’s ripped and faded but I still wear it”…now you’re just being cheap.

And then once you’re done, you realize how little you actually had. I thought I was good on gym shorts (as, until recently, I didn’t actually go to the gym), but once I got rid of the ones that don’t fit and were horribly torn, I was down to one pair. Rewearing the same gym shorts every day might be illegal in some countries. So, it was to the internet to find some new ones.

I was originally going to get shorts from Mack Weldon, who I have reviewed before. Their products are high quality, but in the name of new experiences (and new blog posts), I decided to hit Facebook and look for an ad. The first site I came across was Birddogs. I didn’t know what I was getting into.

birddogs-frontpage

This is the front page I was greeted with. I was in: finally a pair of gym shorts with a sense of humor.

Browsing through the “shorts” section, The shorts are all pretty much the same style, in different color combinations. Many are in short supply, with ship dates in the future or limited sizing available. These are clearly labeled, which is awesome, and much better than finding out after you order, ahem. One of the best parts about these shorts is you can order them in 3 different lengths. As a tall guy, the tendency towards shorter shorts in today’s styles has left me in some weird spots. Those shorts that end at your mid-thigh are covering my legs just past the ass. It’s embarrassing.

I chose the longest length in the “Chester Copperpotts” (The names are all ridiculous. The whole site is ridiculous). This ran me around $55 plus tax. This is about mid-range for gym shorts, I’ve found. The cheapest gym shorts at Dick’s is about $25, Lu Lu Lemon shorts are $70-80. The shorts arrived later that week. And that’s where things get a bit weirder. As I opened the box, I see this:

birddogs_flap

And that is fucking hilarious. And then I kept opening the box.

birddogs-inside

The inside has these ridiculous reviews. My favorite was on the right in this picture: “Hey guys I’m still waiting on shorts I ordered in Summer 2016. Each time I call they say they are literally shipping out next week”. I didn’t post all of them, just in case you want to be surprised by these reviews when you order yours.

The shorts themselves are pretty great. They have a liner, which I wasn’t quite expecting but is nice on the jibblies while running. The draw string is pre-crossed (I’m not sure how to describe this), so tightening the shorts doesn’t bunch up the waistband, though it’s a little weird tying them if you’re not used to it (you don’t need to do the first cross and pull of a bow knot: it’s done for you). The normal pockets are a good size for a large phone, and there’s also 2 zipper pockets for keeping your wallet or a small set of keys safe. These are perfect. Your wallet won’t be bouncing around when you are: it’s kept secure and tight close to your hip.

Overall: if you’re looking for shorts, I recommend these ones. I’ll probably pick up another pair sometime soon.

One more thing: The blog on birddogs.com follows along with the rest of the advertising: it’s absurd and doesn’t really follow along with trying to sell gym shorts. Give it a read, you might enjoy it.

Reviews

Coming Soon: More Stuff

I’ve been busy the past few weeks (months?) doing absolutely nothing for this blog. That’s about to change. I’m going to do things for this blog soon, and more consistently.

Get ready for me to buy more stupid crap and write about it. I think my next post is on some gym shorts. That should be riveting. You’ll pay for the whole seat but you’ll only need the edge.

Anyway, I appreciate all of you reading this. Especially you, web crawlers and malware surfers. The hits from India and The Ukraine make me feel like I truly have an international audience.

Code Class

The Problem With Emails as Identities

I recently got an email from Crowne Plaza confirming my stay in Richmond, VA later this month. It’s always nice to get confirmed for a trip you’re taking, getting that nice event in Gmail with the little plane next to it. Tells you when you’re going, when you’re coming back, where you’re staying, when you need to leave for the airport. Freaking everything, man.

There’s a slight problem with this one, though: I don’t have any plans to go to Richmond. I’ve driven through Richmond once, seems like as good a city as any other midsized capital, but, I’m currently not planning on visiting, save this random email I got. It’s a weird feeling getting this type of email: Am I getting my identity stolen? If I am, is this person an idiot for letting me know he’s doing it? My credit cards don’t have any hits: is this person checking my email to confirm his trip? How did he get my password? I’m told you can’t see it when I type my password: Whenever I type hunter2 it shows to you like a bunch of asterisks ***.

That’s a really tired joke.

But anyway, I learned something funny: when you receive this confirmation email from any hotel in the IHG group, there’s a link to cancel the reservation. I clicked it, and this reservation was cancelled. Inspecting the URL, it looks like the reservation number is sequential, and they use the reserver’s last name to verify. I wonder what would happen if I ran through the next 1000 reservation numbers with the last name “SMITH”. Could probably cause some havoc. Maybe not, though. Hopefully someone’s figured that out.

I sent an email to their customer portal:

First things first, I never reserved a hotel room for you on [[date]]. However, I received an email that said I did, with confirmation number: [[redacted]]. I was able to cancel this reservation through the email, and so I did. The cancellation number was [[redacted]]. I’m a bit worried that someone is trying to steal my identity. However, it could just be some other idiot with the same name as me who can’t remember that they don’t own this email address.

You may wish to contact the renter by something other than email and ask them if they want to un-cancel their reservation. I don’t know, I’m not you. Maybe Crowne Plaza should not allow you to reserve/cancel a hotel room without verifying your email address. That seems pretty basic, but again, I’m not you, I don’t know your life.
Thanks,
A Person Not Planning on Going to Richmond
I’ll keep you all updated with a response.
So, anyone running a business: It’s really important to verify email addresses. Otherwise someone like me can ruin someone’s lavish Richmond vacation.
Reviews

Waking Up Is Hard To Do — Brooklyn Bedding

It’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been trying to save some money recently, and as such I haven’t bought anything of note. The whole theme of this blog is around me buying stuff and reviewing it, and so…well you see the conundrum. I guess I could review my groceries each week. That’s a steady stream of content, at least. Why am I saving money? Well, I’m getting married, and it turns out weddings are expensive. Who Knew?

Everyone. Everyone knew.

I miss the writing, though. I know these all end up being me just rambling for a bit, and then talking about some fashion or home accessory I bought, but it is quite fun to write. I make myself laugh. I mean..it’s more like a stupid face and some extra air coming out of my nose. When you’re alone in your office staring at a computer screen, that’s what laughing is.

So I realized the last article I said I’d review my mattress. I bought it a little over a year ago, which you’d think was too long ago to remember. But a mattress is a big purchase, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I’ve also had over a year to sleep on the thing and tell you how it’s held up to scrutiny. This is prime writing material. I can get like..8, maybe 10 sentences out of that.

This story starts with back problems, as so many do. I’d wake up every morning in pain, to the point where I was pretty sure my fiance’ was beating me in my sleep. I’d understand once, but every night seemed a little overboard. We needed counselling.

Then I’d realized that it had been 10 years since I bought my last mattress, and I got that from Sam’s Club. That mattress was comfortable, but Sam’s is not a “buy it for life” sort of store, and this mattress was on its last legs. I cancelled the counselling, finding that our money would be better spent on a new mattress.

The one thing I wanted to avoid in this new mattress journey is haggling. If you’re young and have never purchased a new mattress, buying one from a mattress store (e.g. Mattress Firm, Mattress Farm, Mattress Barn, Basically any store with the word Mattress in it) works sort of like buying a car: the “sticker” prices are set very high and you’re expected to negotiate down. Obviously you can just pay sticker if you don’t want to, but mattresses tend to be marked up 3-400%. You’re getting ripped off if you don’t.

Buying a mattress isn’t nearly as fun as buying a car, either. Test driving the mattresses is an awkward experience. I wanted to get around all this. I was going to order online.

I had heard of Casper mattresses before starting, and wanted to give them a shot.  They tend to have a setup at SXSW, and so we went over to check them out. However, the line was like an hour long, so we just took our free swag pillow cases and moved on.

So, while researching the Casper at home, I came across tons of other Bed-in-a-box type online mattress brands. It’s really hard to wade through all the different brands and offerings. They pretty much all offer the same sort of bed (different mixes of foam mattresses), and they all give warranties and money back guarantees of varying timelines. Sleepopolis was a lifesaver here. He has video reviews of all of these mattresses, that go over in detail everything you might want to know. After spending probably 3-4 weeks reading and watching, we decided on Brooklyn Bedding. Buying was straight forward, and I ended up paying ~700 dollars for the mattress. I also bought the sheets and pillows for some extra money. This is, I think, about average. You’re buying these things once every 10 years, 70 dollars a year seems reasonable.

Delivery was quick, but there was a snafu: The mattress was delivered to the wrong apartment. And not next door, it was literally across my entire complex. This is where I learned that Foam Mattresses are heavy. I’m still pretty upset with whatever UPS driver did that. The apartment number was on there correctly. I think it was a vindictive move.

Anyway, after the drag over to my apartment, I open the box, unwrap the plastic, and let the thing expand. It was a dream to sleep on the first night. I never believed I would feel so good getting out of bed. They give you 100 days to try the mattress out, and they do recommend you give it a few weeks, as your body needs time to get used to the new feel. I was hooked on day 1.

The only hitch about buying a mattress online is the removal of your old mattress. The brick and mortar stores usually offer to remove your old mattress free on delivery of the new one. Not so with mattresses online, and getting a mattress removed is kinda pricey, in the 100-150 dollar range. If I owned a truck and had a friend I probably could have done it myself, but alas, those things escape me. Such is life.

It’s been a year, and I’m still happy with my choice. Buying a mattress online is the way to go. Just do your research, and it’ll be a good purchase. Also, don’t remove your old mattress right away. You have 100 days to decide whether you like the old one, however, if you end up wanting something different, they will remove it, and you’ll be stuck with nothing to sleep on. Fair warning.

Reviews

Fitting It All In — Brooklinen

I have a hard time fitting everything into one day, sometimes. Eight hours at my day job, plus taking care of a horde of pets, cooking, and cleaning are the bulk of my day, just like everyone else’s. I work on a host of side projects, which you can check out at Thwiv.io if you’re interested. Oh, and I have this wedding to plan, and a fiancee that I have to make sure still likes me every day.

I read Getting Things Done and started implementing the strategies in Todoist, which I’ve mentioned before. That’s helped, but in order to keep up, I generally have to check off 8-9 tasks a day, and sometimes I just don’t have the energy. Sometimes I get bogged down, and I just want to read Reddit. Sometimes I just want to sleep.

And my bed is frickin’ comfortable. I think there’s 2 sides to a comfortable bed: how you feel when you get in, and how you feel when you get up. Getting up is all based on the mattress. In a later blog post, I’ll do a review of the mattress I bought last year, that may have been the best thing I’ve ever bought online. I digress. Getting into bed, that comfort is all about the sheets.

I try to get a new set of sheets about once a year, to replace my older set. I like to have 2 sets of sheets, so that I always have a clean set and I’m never waiting on the dryer to go to bed. That’s the worst of all worlds, right there. So, for this year’s set, I decided to go with Brooklinen, who advertise themselves as the Best. Sheets. Ever. I’ve heard this claim before from other sheet denizens, but I liked the way they looked, so I decided to try them out.

Their site initially pushes their “Bundles”, which includes a duvet cover and extra pillow cases. I don’t have a duvet, so I had to search ever so slightly for just a sheet set. The bundle seems like a pretty good deal though. I went with the “Luxe” sheet set, in “Reverse Smoke Stripe”, because I’m fancy. This came to $149.00 plus shipping for a fitted sheet, flat sheet, and 2 pillow cases. Not the cheapest sheets I’ve ever purchased, but not the most expensive, either. You spend 8 hours a day in these things, its worth spending a little for luxury. I received them a day before I left on vacation, and so I waited patiently to put them on my bed after I got back.

Come to think of it, I don’t really know why I did it that way. Was I afraid I’d be longing for their comfort the whole time?I was doing way too much drinking to think about sheets.

They came in a little tote, which is really nice, but I’m not sure what I’m going to use it for. Here’s all I received:

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After washing the sheets, which Brooklinen recommends, I threw them on the bed and passed out. I’ve found it always takes a few nights to get used to new bedding: your body doesn’t like change in sleep patterns. I found them kinda hot on the first night, but after a few days, I will say that they are luxurious. I’m really enjoying going to bed now.

That’s a double-edged sword. I have work to get done. Chores to do. LIVES TO SAVE. Or at least purchases to make.

How To Buy Stuff

How To Buy Stuff: Effective Balance Transfers

So you got yourself in trouble, eh? You spent more than you could pay off in a month, just like I told you not to. Now you’re stuck paying interest like a sucker.

Interest charges are perhaps the sneakiest of all ways to grow your debt. If you’re using credit cards for most of your purchases, and it’s starting to get away from you, you can sometimes miss the fact that you’re being charged extra money once a month for interest. But it adds up to a ton of cash over time. For $1,000 balance at a 23.49% APR, you’re talking $264 in interest over a year. That’s way too much. You’re smarter than that.

Balance transfers can be your way out, if you’re smart and careful. See, many credit cards will offer a balance transfer at a 0% APR for a promotional period of time, usually 12-24 months. This tends to cost a small percentage of the total transfer amount, somewhere between 2-4% upfront. So in general, you can make out ahead if you’re smart. Here’s the rules.

Stop the bleed

The first step is to figure out how to come up with a month to month surplus in order to pay down the debt you have. The additional interest that you’ll be removing will only be a partial recovery, you need to cut back on your spending. Remember, it’s just a promotional period. So how much do you need to cut down?

So, lets say you want to do a $5,000 transfer, at a 3% transfer fee, with a 24 month 0% APR promotional period. You’re moving off of a 15.49% APR card. So lets do some math:

$5,000 + 3% = $5,150
$5,150/24 = $214.58
15.49% APR on $5,000 = $64.95 monthly

Minimum Cuts needed: $149.63 per month

You’re going to need to find the ability to pay $214.58 per month in order to make this work. If that’s absolutely impossible, but you have good credit, you can potentially chain these deals, but that costs more money each time and isn’t guaranteed to be available.

Find The Card

You’ll need to find the right card to do this with. The first place I check is all my current open accounts. I generally have a few with 0 balance on them, and you can go on your account right now and find out if they’re making any balance transfer offers. It’s always nice to not have to open a new line of credit if you don’t have to. Be Aware that you, in general, cannot transfer a balance between two cards with the same company. That is, you can’t transfer a Chase Freedom balance to a Chase Slate card, for instance.

If that doesn’t work, check your mail. I get 2-5 mailers a week offering different credit cards with different rewards. Try to pick the one that’s right for you, and make sure you dig into the details. I generally won’t accept anything over a 3% balance transfer fee. I also try to look for the cards with the lowest rate after the promotion is over, just in case something happens and I’m unable to pay this card off. You never know if you’ll become suddenly unemployed, and having a huge APR at that time is one more thing you’d rather not deal with.

Plan Out The Timing

A Balance transfer can take weeks to process on both sides. During this time, you still have to pay your old card as if the balance is still there.  If you can, start the process of a balance transfer just after you’ve made a payment to your card. This takes out the guesswork of how much transfer needs to happen.

Also be aware that there will probably be one more extra payment next month, in order to pay for the interest accrued over the time you were waiting for processing. Yes, you legally have to pay for it, there isn’t much use fighting the charge.

 

I hope this helps as many people as possible get a little bit more out of their money. Let me know if there’s any more good tips you’ve found below, and please share this post with anyone that might need this kind of help!

Reviews

Lying To Yourself For Fun and Profit — VistaPrint

My focus on getting things done has taken me down some weird turns in the past few months. Any idea of something I want to do goes into my Todoist list, and when I’m sitting around, I just jump in to something.

I’ve made several batches of homemade pickles this way.

I also decided that I wanted to try to get some legwork done on my programming side projects. Part of doing that was to list them all out and decide what needed to be done. And then once I had that list, I thought “it’d be cool if I had a website that listed all these out”, and so that went on the list. And that’s what happened to create Thwiv.io. Kind of an online business card of sorts, listing out all my side projects.

And now that that exists, it allows me to point people to it when they ask “What do you do?”. That happens a lot during South By Southwest, which is coming up next week. So then I decided that I was going to get business cards.

I don’t know how to describe the feeling I have about business cards, especially cards with my own domain name on them, with my name, that are completely for me. I decided this not as a part of a company who decided to give them out at a trade show, but as a normal, everyday person who decided “yeah, I need 500 pieces of paper with my contact information on them”. It feels like I’m lying to myself. But it was on my list, so I did it.

I used VistaPrint to create the cards. They have to be the most well known printing company out there, and for good reason. Their ads are EVERYWHERE. I’m not even sure where I found the first one.

So, the buying process at VistaPrint is like nothing else. They are the kings of the upsell. You start out with the pitch “starting at $16”, or “50% your first order”…really it doesn’t quite matter what it says. There’s no way you’re landing at that low of a number.

I started with the “Signature” series at $24.00. This offered a higher quality stock, to which I thought “Yes, the Patrick Bateman in me is pleased”. The design process is easy enough: you can comb through thousands of patterns, and customize any piece of text, its font, and it’s location within reason (the very edges are off limits, as their printers have a hard time printing there). The online design process is very simple and they let you save a variety of styles to compare against and order at any time.

And then once you’re done that, you think “I’ll purchase these”, but you’re nowhere near done. You’ll be offered pages of upsells, from glossy ink, metallic lettering, card holders of all different types, and even a set up for an email campaign. It’s really quite a thing to behold, from a sales perspective. As a client, it’s pretty annoying. But I did end up ordering the glossy ink and 500 instead of 100. So I guess it worked.Everything all together cost me less than 50 dollars though, so I don’t feel too ripped off.

I received my cards in just a few days. They have a very quick turnaround which will make me come back in a few years when I finally burn through 500 business cards. Quite possibly by actually burning them. Here’s some pictures of the product.

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The cards themselves I am very happy with. They’re very pretty, though I’m thinking that I may have wanted the metallic lettering over the glossy. I’ll be proud to hand out these cards over South By Southwest. And maybe at least one person will actually hold onto it, stumble across this blog, and then this whole thing comes full circle.

I’d recommend VistaPrint, because I wouldn’t know where else to get business cards. Their product is very good. Lets hope this whole thing works out.