10 May 2017

Amazon #EchoShow: Now #Alexa Can Show You the #Video or Watch You... #AlwaysOn #HomeSecurity #VideoCalls #SmartDevices #MsgSvc #Device2Device

Fresh on the heels of debuting the Echo Look (see here), Amazon has announced the Echo Show, basically an Echo device with a built-in touchscreen monitor and camera, so now you can ask Alexa to show you video clips or display song lyrics when music plays. (The addition of a camera also adds more potential for unauthorized surveillance, so be aware and be safe. Remember, Always On comes with an [Off] button --- you can always turn off or unplug the device when not in use. Regardless, make certain to setup security measures to prevent hacker hijacking.) It's still an Amazon Echo, only now with "webTV." Big whoop. (I'm being a bit facetious here. Obviously, there ARE uses for a Smart Assistant with a camera and video screen built-in, like the ability to pair it with a doorbell camera --- Alexa, show me who's at the door? But this, can be accomplished with the old Echo and your own monitor. Adding a touchscreen to the Echo and re-christening it as "Echo Show" is mainly a convenience factor upgrade.)
Amazon Echo Show. Image (c) Amazon.com
Amazon Echo Show
In my opinion, the biggest gimme in this product debut, however, is the announcement of a new feature that will be made available across all compatible Alexa-enabled devices --- the ability to make free calls and send free messages device to device or D2D! (Folks with camera enabled Echo devices like the new Echo Show can make video calls.) Have the Alexa app on your smartphone "dial" your home Echo device for a nice chat...

Considering the field of Smart Assistants is becoming ever crowded, Amazon is obviously seeking to continue the dominance it gained from being an early, well functioning entry into the marketplace. Will it work?

09 May 2017

#InformedDelivery: @USPS Employs #Tech to Combat #Mail Theft! #HomeSecurity #MailCall #ImageCapture #Photography #House101

Roughly a month ago, I received an email from the United States Postal Service (USPS) touting a new home delivery service enhancement called Informed Delivery that would allow participants to "see their mail before it arrives" and thereby know what mail is expected. (Greyscale front side images of letter-sized mail destined for a registered address are captured during the normal USPS sorting process and made available for viewing to the registered party.) If you've ever had any cause for concern that your mail is going AWOL, whether due to mail theft or rogue postal employees, then signing up for Informed Delivery may offer some peace of mind. The service is free and currently covers machine sorted letter-sized mail. At the moment, Informed Delivery is only available in limited ZIP Codes, but is expanding. Service registration requires proof of identity/address (as it should).

Since receiving the initial email from the USPS back in April, I have received a couple other emails and at least one piece of direct mail touting Informed Delivery. It's obvious the USPS is showcasing (and even pushing) this new service. While Informed Delivery is an example of the notoriously "left-footed" USPS using modern technology in an ostensibly beneficial manner, there are some things to consider. Namely, that the USPS is a government agency and giving it leave to photograph your mail (and store those photos) may indeed provide enhanced security for your residential mail delivery, but it might also open up a new can of worms. (NOTE: The USPS already photographs the front side of automatically sorted mail, Informed Delivery service provides an alternate usage for these images.) Ask yourself: How long are mail images stored? Who has legal access to these images? How secure is the USPS website (and servers) which store these images? Is "proof of address" enough of a standard for service registration? (At the very least, read the USPS privacy policy and be aware of exactly to what you are agreeing.)

Questions such as these are important because mail can often be of a sensitive nature. The USPS is bound by law to protect the privacy of your information due to it being a government agency which deals with sensitive personal information, but you should still be aware of both sides of the coin. If images of your "private mail" are being stored on third party servers it WILL become the target of hackers ...and of law enforcement, because let's face it, a good deal of information can be gleaned merely from examining return addresses and addressees. The average person may not care if a third party is keeping a log of his mail (the postal service can, of course, do this already, it's how mail fraud investigations are undertaken). The average person may aver the oft repeated "I have nothing to hide" catchphrase that is doggedly put forth to counter any Big Brother arguments against more surveillance, but whether you personally fear government misuse of your potentially sensitive personal data does not exempt the government from needing to establish rules to secure such data collection. You may think you have nothing to hide, but the mere thought does not protect you from law enforcement subpoena or from criminals who might seek to hack your mail images and use any information gleaned from them in an attempt to blackmail you.

Informed Delivery could provide a valuable home service, it could prove a useful home security tool, but it needs to be rigorously secured (and regulated) to guard against exploitation. Just food for thought.

Visit https://informeddelivery.usps.com for more information or to signup for service.

27 April 2017

#EchoLook: It's #Amazon #Alexa #AI #HandsFree #Camera + #StyleAssistant #NewProducts #SmartDevices #Selfies

Got an email from Amazon yesterday introducing the new Echo Look, which is billed as a "Hands-Free Camera and Style Assistant" or in other words, a glorified automatic selfie camera. You can take full-length photos and short videos with the Echo Look. (It has Alexa built-in, so it's voice controlled.) It also has "built-in LED lighting, a depth-sensing camera and computer vision-based background blur" along with a companion app that allows you to check out your photos and build personal lookbooks.
Amazon Echo Look. Image (c) Amazon.com
Amazon Echo Look
The listed price is $199.99, free shipping included. This product can be purchased "by invitation only." You can request an invitation to purchase the Echo Look on its product page. (If selected, you will receive an email with an invitation to purchase.) So of course, I requested my invite immediately. Immediately, I tell you.


NOTE: There is nothing wrong with taking pictures of yourself --- if that's what you want to do. There is also absolutely nothing wrong with an AI controlled camera. In fact, I can think of myriad uses for this thing that would NOT involve selfies in any way, shape or form. It's merely that for all the data Amazon supposedly collects on its customers, looks like somebody would have recognized that a person who HATES having her picture taken is likely NOT the market demographic for this product (as it's billed). But Big Data is only as good as its mining... And don't get me started on the marketing gimmick of something only being available to PURCHASE "by invitation." I could rant about this for days... Days!

26 April 2017

A Castle Modern #MiniMe: @ModDollHome -- a Staging Showcase for 18" Scale #DollhouseDecorators #Hobbies

I've collected miniatures since I was a young child. Tiny (working) versions of actual objects have always fascinated me. I never played with these items as "toys," preferring instead to setup elaborate still life stagings of the dreamscapes in my mind. As a child who viewed much of the world around her as nonsensical and alien, collecting and later crafting my own miniatures allowed me to fashion my own world, one that was natural to me. Dolls were always secondary to the miniature landscapes, buildings, vehicles and furnishings. (Seems I was a budding home & garden enthusiast even then.)

The recent Spring Break visit of my little niece, who is absolutely gaga over all things American Girl, expanded my miniature horizons into the 18" scale. (I was rather strictly a 1" scale collector prior to our various toy bonding sessions, which included a trip to the American Girl store in a nearby town.) During our far-reaching chats, I was peppered with questions. I was asked why I had all this "little furniture" when none of it fit American Girl dolls --- as if no other toys could dare exist --- and then it was inquired whether I could make "bigger" things for American Girl dolls. I'd never considered it, but then thought, why not? And so, virtually overnight I became a budding collector of 18" scale miniatures.
Toy Horse on display at the American Girl Store
As a creative side (or sub-) project to this blog, I'm now also developing ModDoll (as in model) Home, which is also all about "making a dream home" --- except in 18" scale, a sort of Castle Modern mini me, if you will. (As is often done in Architecture, in Design and in Fashion, I plan to demo some of the things I'm working on in real life at Castle Modern in miniature at ModDoll Home, thus, it will serve a practical purpose. However, I also plan to use ModDoll Home to stage whatever ideas strike my fancy.)

Overall ModDoll Home will showcase the latest in dollhouse decorating, employing a combination of things that I personally design & make along with things that I buy (or otherwise acquire), exactly as in real life. It should be fun!

NOTE: The ModDoll Home mini blog is currently under construction. In the meantime, I've registered Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram accounts to get things going (and protect my extended brand), using @ModDollHome on each platform. Not much content as yet, but eventually....

12 April 2017

The Village Idiot Knows No Shame #WordstoLiveBy

There is a reason that we should not elevate imbeciles to positions of power. That's all I have to say today. Excuse me, I need to unplug for a moment.

11 April 2017

#MailCall: #ProductTrials & #Samples #NonProfits #Causes #TryB4

Looks like I'll be trying and reviewing some vitamins over the next few weeks, as I received a product trial kit yesterday via UPS. I also got an Amazon order, a coupon for a free Noosa Yogurt, some lovely (surprise) note cards from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation along with a donation request, and some organic mesclun lettuce seeds from Tasty Bite's The Good Seed program where one is provided with free seeds to grow produce and asked to share a successful harvest with a local food bank. I participated last year, but unfortunately the seeds I received never propagated. (Although I tended to them diligently, I think the extreme drought may have been too much for squash.) Hopefully, this round will bear fruit.

I'm nearly ready to start planting my garden this year.

10 April 2017

Battling the #Elements: Side-Effects & #Symptoms of Yardwork #Eczema #Gardening #WeatherGeek

While I appreciate the round of drier weather we've experienced over the last several days; it's been so very dry that my eczema flared. (No doubt exacerbated by all the stress that the recent violent storms created.) I've been working outside clearing storm debris and preparing my garden, but of course this exposes me to the elements and makes my already dry skin worse. I basically need to ladel on moisturizing lotion after every trip outdoors. Pup watches me suspiciously. She thinks all salves should be lickable.

At least it's no longer windy... I'm working on making DIY rain barrels as part of my irrigation system.

09 April 2017

The #SundayFunday: #Recap and #Unwind #Keurig #Coffee #VeggettiPro #Spiralizer #Zoodles #Drinkwell

Sunday is one of my favorite days, the true weekend, I use this day to catchup and reflect on the week past. Pup and I head out for a leisurely constitutional to kick things off and then I make coffee and turn on the morning news programs --- I regularly watch CBS News Sunday Morning with Jane Psuley at 9:00a, but otherwise will flip channels between the different shows to find stories of interest --- when we return.

I might read a few magazines, do a little browsing online (often following up on news bits mentioned on the morning broadcasts), work in my garden (seasonally) and/or watch a movie or two. It's a day of rest, where I try NOT to set an agenda, but enjoy What Dreams May Come whenever they happen to arrive. (Sometimes I do work on a Sunday, but unlike Saturday, I aim for this to be the exception, rather than the rule.)

Spring Break is ending, which means my little niece is headed back home to prepare for school restarting. So we should have peace and quiet to contemplate and wallow. What's that sound? No thing. Not a creature is stirring --- exactly how we like it!

After a relaxing morning, we plan to play around with our new toys later today. The furbabies' Drinkwell® Multi Tier Pet Water Fountain arrived via post yesterday; while I've got my Veggetti Pro Vegetable Spiral Cutter and a Nifty Home Products K-Cup Storage Drawer for my Keurig 2.0. (As I don't generally buy the prefab K-Cups as a rule, preferring to use a refillable K-Cup filter --- less waste and I can grind my own coffee beans fresh --- I figure I can store other coffee ritual paraphernalia in the drawer, which also acts as an elevated stand for the Keurig brewing machine.)

I got the storage drawer for free at Sears using SYWR points and I only paid $3.77 OOP for the Veggetti Pro at Sears after deducting SYWR points. The pet water fountain is a reward (freebie) available through the Purina Catchow Perks program for which I redeemed 275,000 points that I'd earned over the last year or so. (It states to allow 4-6 weeks for Catchow Perks rewards to arrive in the order confirmation email I received and yesterday marked a few days shy of "4 weeks" from the date of my order.)

Perhaps, we'll make zoodles for dinner....

07 April 2017

After the #Storm: #Cleanup + #PetParenting

Spent a good part of the afternoon yesterday, removing downed tree branches and other debris. It was still quite windy out, but less so than the previous day. On the bright side, it's supposed to be a gorgeous weekend (after a cool start this morning). Hopefully, Pup and I will get a few strolls in.

FYI #NFBW: #Free #Fishing Days #Hobbies #Anglers #H2O #Freebies

Here's a fun outdoors freebie: Many states offer "Free Fishing Days" during National Fishing and Boating Week (generally in early June) when a person is allowed to fish on public bodies of water without a fishing license.

Visit http://takemefishing.org/nfbw for more information and to plan an outing that the whole family can enjoy. (I have fond childhood memories of tagging along on a few trips with my dad when he went fishing. It was fun to dig for worms.) Some people fish for food (remember to check for mercury contamination warnings depending on the body of water you plan to fish), some for sport, and others for the exercise and ambience. Being out on the water or on a bank near the water can be relaxing. Remember there's always catch and release. (Help prevent overfishing and promote sustainable ecosystems.) Enjoy the Great Outdoors!

06 April 2017

She's Come Undone! #Cleanup #Storms #WeatherGeek

What can I say except that yesterday was beast. I'm completely knackered. Pup and I will have to recoup. It'll take a minute to clear up the debris. (As there's a Wind Advisory in effect until 10:00p tonight, we probably won't be able to do any meaningful cleanup until tomorrow at the earliest. Howling wind tends to blow debris right at you. Go figure.) It's a mess here, but many of those around us got hit worse. Overall, the South was pummeled. Chin up. We'll rise, again.

05 April 2017

#SevereWeather Sign-Off #WeatherGeek #Georgia #StormWarning

Another severe weather system is approaching right now and it has the potential to be bigger and badder than yesterday's. Considering yesterday's storm system produced 20 odd tornadoes in the state of Georgia, this is serious --- and expected to impact the state for much of the day.

Pup and I are hunkering down to ride it out. I don't expect to get much done on the work front. Safety takes precedence. Be weather aware, folks (in the path of these storms). We hope tomorrow is a new day. But first, we have to get through today.

04 April 2017

#SevereWeather #Storms #Tornadoes #Flooding #Lighting #WeatherGeek

Yesterday was a dozy across the South. We were pummeled, socked and kicked. Rain, wind, hail, flooding, lightning and tornadoes. We get a day's break, before the next round is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday afternoon morning (the next weather system sped up). Followed by a drop in temperatures over Thursday and Friday before a rebound this weekend. I'm exhausted after a tense day yesterday and so is Pup. (She does NOT like storms.) I think I need a lay in, but I need to clear up debris before the next storm system. No rest for the weary. (My thoughts are with those affected by the severe weather. It's been rough.)

03 April 2017

Who's Responsible for Your #Sports Loss? That Would Be You. #Ethics #Accountability Poor #Journalism #Golf #GolfRules

After reading numerous headlines along the lines of "Viewer Costs Golfer Major" and "Golfer Loses Major Because of Viewer," I have to say that the competency level of journalists in this country has sunken to another low --- and this is saying something. The at-home television viewer who pointed out the golfer's rule infraction is not responsible for the golfer's loss. The golfer is. SHE IS THE ONE WHO BROKE THE RULE (whether intentionally or not). The viewer merely drew attention to what occurred. Losing the tournament rests squarely on the golfer's shoulders. Hey mainstream media, please stop with this ridiculous deflection, we get enough of that from "the powers that be."

Don't even get me started on Tiger (Woods) chiming in...

#Alpharetta #Shopping Trip #Babysitting #AmericanGirl #PaneraBread #Gamestop #Deals

My sister, our niece and I spent most of the afternoon (from about 1:30p - 6:30p) roaming around Alpharetta and then made stops in Brookhaven and Buckhead. We did go to the American Girl Store at Northpoint Mall. It was cute (and unsurprisingly crowded). My niece wanted everything, of course. Meanwhile, I could only laugh at the prices they charge for mass produced plastic doll furniture.

I remember when American Girl was introduced some 31 odd years ago by the Pleasant Company and while I thought it was very expensive even then as a kid, at least the furniture was (mostly) made of real wood. The original items showed craftsmanship and attention to detail. They were things worthy of "childhood desires." The majority of the "modern" items that I saw just looked cheap and cheesy, in my opinion. A sign of the (Mattel) times, I guess. But little girls --- and some adult collectors --- are still enthralled and snap up any brand introduction. (Whereas I would only buy the stuff on extreme sale or via free deals.)

I don't like to go shopping in the real world. I will go, if I can score deals only available in-store or if it's a special occasion trip like this (going to the American Girl Store for the first time). If we were only planning to go to the one place, it would have been fine, but my sister is (oddly to me) a Brick & Mortar shopoholic. She can literally spend ALL DAY out. I agreed to go, partially because her birthday is coming up next week, and spending the afternoon together would amount to "family bonding time." Urgh! Still, I knew that I would be bored out of my mind within moments as she and our niece, who also seems to like real world shopping, happily went about. Thus, I'd planned to take advantage of a few deals during our trip in order to make the afternoon more worth my while.

Turns out I had an old $10.00 Gamestop Gift Card that I got free with My Coke Rewards points like two Christmases ago, so I finally used it. (With the recently announced Gamestop store closings, I didn't want to hold onto it any longer and potentially end up with a valueless card, if its business "cost-cutting measures" progressed rapidly to bankruptcy or going out of business entirely.) So I ended up getting a couple Funko Pop vinyl figures and only paying $0.78 tax OOP. (The figures were $5.00/ea.)
Image (c) Funko Pop.
Ms. Pac-Man

Image (c) Funko Pop.
Suicide Squad: Killer Croc

I've been loosely reading various discussions of Funko Pop figures on a few of the gaming and movie sites I frequent. I was aware of them, but hadn't seen any in the wild. Then I spotted some near the checkout counter in the Gamestop store and thought "I could get two for free and they'll make fun gifts, if I decide not to keep them." So I bit. I chose Ms. Pac-Man, a favorite arcade game in my youth, and Suicide Squad: Killer Croc, because I recently saw the movie and liked the character.

I also used My Panera Rewards Card to get a free Cinnamon Crunch Bagel. (Panera Bread gifted me a "Free Daily Bagel in April" reward yesterday. At first, I thought it was an April Fools' Day prank. But it wasn't. I can get one free bagel each day this month, if I so choose.) I love bagels and I especially love Panera Bread bagels. My favorites being the Asiago Cheese and the Cinnamon Crunch. So this is an awesome surprise gift!

And finally, I used my Shopkick app to do a few check-ins while we wandered the mall. I earned enough kicks to redeem for a $2.00 gift card to either Target or Wal-Mart --- or I can keep saving for a higher tier reward.

Not a bad afternoon, in spite of my crazy family.

02 April 2017

Missed the #AmericanGirl Boat? Adventures in #Babysitting

My little niece is visiting. It's her Spring Break. She is absolutely crazy about American Girl everything. She really, really wants to go to the American Girl store in Alpharetta. I told her "we'll see." I'm not certain I can handle an entire store of crazed little girls. My patience only goes so far. (I guess I'm out of the loop.)

01 April 2017

#Atlanta #FreewayCollapse #HatsOff 2 #FirstResponders

It's the only news. Thursday afternoon or early evening, a section of I-85 burned, buckled and collapsed (near the Captain Herb Interchange). It was an absolute traffic nightmare and will remain one for some time to come. The wonderful part is that in spite of the fact that better than 250,000 people use that interchange during rush hour/s no injuries have been reported --- because our first responders put in an ace performance. Hats off!

31 March 2017

We got the #meats + a #CamoCap! #Prizes #Coupons #Camouflage #DiscoverOldWisconsin #MailCall

The postwoman flagged me down as I was heading off to a meeting yesterday to say that she had a package for me. Turns out it was the prize from an Old Wisconsin contest that I'd entered last month. Didn't know what to expect as the contest terms merely stated "enter to win an Old Wisconsin prize package."

Inside the padded envelope were two Buddig meats coupons (any item up to $0.99 x 2), one Old Wisconsin meats coupon (any item up to $5.99), an Old Wisconsin Camouflage Logo Cap and a nice letter thanking me for being a loyal fan of the brand. Not a bad haul. The fam is already fighting over "the meats" --- I think Pup has an edge --- and I'm digging the camo cap. All win!
Old Wisconsin prizes
Old Wisconsin Prize Package

30 March 2017

Engineered to #Drink: Stainless Steel Insulated #Tumblers Are Nifty #Gifts

For all of about 5 minutes, I "owned" one of those vacuum sealed stainless steel double insulated tumblers that can keep drinks cold for ~16 hours or hot for ~8 hours. (Customized with the sponsoring organization's logo, this Glacier cup was given out as an attendee gift at a Women's History Month program --- and I was handed one.) I love the idea of these things and dig the engineering that created them but of course, I couldn't keep it when I knew that it would be better served elsewhere.
Customizable Glacier Tumbler
Thus, I gave it to someone for whom being able to keep beverages at a set temperature for extended periods is more important, namely my "twin," as he is pretty much in a police car all day on patrol. When it's very hot or very cold out, I worry about him more than I normally would. Knowing that he can fill this tumbler with an appropriate beverage to stay hydrated and either cool off or warm up accordingly will help ease my mind. (It's funny when you think about it. He's the one with a gun strapped to his side, but I'm totally protective of him.) I, on the other hand, telecommute. If I need a hot or a cold beverage, I merely walk into the kitchen. A cup like that is overkill. Still neat though.

29 March 2017

New #CastleDoctrine: Protect Your #Home From #Virtual Intruders #BroadbandPrivacy Block #ISP #Spying #Vote Against #Slavery

Congress sold you to your ISP. If that sounds a lot like virtual slavery, that's because it is what it is. ISPs do NOT have the right to your data without your consent regardless of what Congress rubber stamped. Take action! If you value your privacy, if you believe in the sanctity of your home (and that what you do behind closed doors is your business and not the purview of BIG business), protect your data NOW.

This is the new American frontier. Your home is your castle. You have a right to protect your home from intruders, including the virtual kind. Block ISP (and third party) spying, use a Virtual Private Network or VPN to encrypt all data whenever you go online AS A DEFAULT. Trust no-one and look out for you and yours.

Congress sold you to the highest bidder (the cable and telecom lobby) in what is the new standard for bad customer service and a new low for a promise to "serve the people." Refuse to be enslaved. Fight back. Escape from bondage. Protect your data NOW.

And then, vote the spineless bastards who approved this anti-privacy bill out.

#TraintoBusan Egads! #Zombies #FilmFan #MovieReview

Watched Train to Busan last night. It was a bit of a slow burn to start, but I enjoyed it overall. I keep wondering how I would have handled the situation. Zombies will get us one day. You know they will.

28 March 2017

#Allergies Win! #OffDay #Homeopathy

As the pollen count has steadily skyrocketed, my allergies have progressively piled on. I try not to take any meds except as a last resort, because the side-affects can be nearly as crappy as the allergies. So, I'm taking tomorrow to detox. I like to use homeopathic remedies whenever possible, I plan to do a (sterile water) nasal rinse and get some rest. If I'm feeling better tomorrow afternoon, perhaps I'll watch a movie. But more likely, I'll simply take the rebounding Pup out for a walk. We've both gotten a little stir crazy.

#WeatherGeek Update: How Does Your #Garden Grow? #Allergies #SavetheBees

Well, it's officially Spring but we're already experiencing early Summer temperatures, which makes sense as we experienced Spring-like temperatures nearly all Winter. It's predicted to be mid- to upper 70s all week, with at least one day hitting 80 degrees. And as it's almost April, its namesake showers are making preparatory appearances in anticipation, I guess. It has also periodically been quite windy, as cold fronts swoop down and hit the balmy air. Needless to say, between the regular sprinkles (and we do need the rain as we are still in a drought overall) and the over warm days, everything is sprouting like crazy and allergen levels are through the roof as my sinuses will attest.

On the bright side, this makes for a wonderful early gardening season --- and a good patch for the bees.

27 March 2017

The #WeeklyRewind 20/03 - 26/03: #MovieMania #FilmFan #Deals #Coupons #Shopping #Gardening #PetParenting

Over the last week I saw the movies Hidden Figures, Doctor Strange and Fences, and pilots for the TV series Taken, Murder Chose Me, and 24: Legacy. The only thing I liked was Hidden Figures, but as it's a movie about women who broke barriers in STEM fields this is hardly surprising. Fences wasn't badly acted or poorly done, but I simply didn't relate to it. It was flat. And it still seem like a staged play vs a movie and that wasn't my expectation, I guess. Everything else was lackluster and even bad.

I scored some fun shopping deals including a bottle of Colgate Mouthwash and a canister of Maxwell House Coffee (only $0.12 OOP for both), two bags of Brownie Brittle (by stacking a sale, coupons and rebates I actually made money on this deal), a jar of Tostitos Salsa (Kroger Free Friday Download) and a digital copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (movie app test freebie).

I took a couple surveys to replenish my "free" money stash, played SYWR sweepstakes to build up my rewards points balance and scheduled the pickup of the Veggetti Pro Spiral Vegetable Cutter that I ordered with my last round of SYWR points.

I also "pruned" my avocado sapling and nursed pup, who has a cold.

What a week! On to the new one.

26 March 2017

Oh, the Places You'll Go: #AmericanRevolution #Museum -- #History #Sightseeing #War #Liberty

Discovered there's a new museum which recently opened: American Revolution Museum. Definitely need to plot a trip to Yorktown. (I'm a history buff and the American Revolutionary era is one of my favorite periods in history.)

Lookit: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/telling-forgotten-stories-everyday-americans-revolutionary-war-180962618/

25 March 2017

Fight for Your Right to ... #Privacy Your Home is Your #Castle

The United States Senate recently voted to pass a bill that would allow ISPs (you know the people who control the internet pipes and can see all the data flowing through them) to track you, package you and sell you to advertisers --- all without your consent. Apparently, the senators voting for this bill have forgotten that privacy is an inalienable right. If any internet businesses should be bound by strictures it is ISPs due to their (mostly) unfettered access to everything their users do online. With privilege comes responsibility and giving ISPs free reign with customers data is not a good idea any way you slice it. There is nothing wrong with being tracked with consent, there is plenty wrong with trying to say that a consumer does not "own" his own data and its OK for companies to use said data (including browsing history) without asking. If you can't be transparent about data collection, then it's likely shady. Just saying. If you don't want ISPs "tapping your wires" call Congress and give them an earful. Tell them, "I am not your product, so stop trying to sell me."* (As a staunch privacy advocate this crap makes my blood boil.)

*My slogan. Order your T-Shirt now! (Kidding about the Tee. But this is my slogan.)

24 March 2017

#MarketWatch: Charting #Household #Trends #KitchenWitchery #Futurist

I keep an eye on trends. I don't follow, I lead the charge. I have an eye for talent, quality and competency. I absorb news and information, then distill it into relevant data. As a result, I am often ahead of the curve. I can see the big picture. (While I'm being a bit tongue in cheek in the sentences above, I do enjoy market forecasts, futurist diatribe and popular culture trends analysis. However, I do not generally set my life course based upon other people's predictions, excepting perhaps the weather. No one would accuse me of being a follower.)

Periodically, I'll try to share some of the trends I'm seeing as well as ones I predict will arise. Here's a quick snapshot of a few arcs that currently bend toward the future in the home market.

Have you noticed that in the modern kitchen:
H2O > soda
airfryer > deep fryer
organic > natural
organic > processed
plant-based > meat & potatoes

Have you noticed that in the modern household:
insulated stainless steel cups > H2O bottles

Have you noticed that in the modern home entertainment center:
streaming services > disc rental kiosks
OTA > cable
Timeshifted > Broadcast

NOTE: Not all trends are good. Merely because a lot of people pursue something does not mean it's appropriate, right or necessary. We sometimes get caught up in things, like a mob mentality.

23 March 2017

My Own #GoofOff Day #PersonalDays #Holidays #Fun

Yesterday was National Goof Off Day. Sadly, the first I'd heard of this occurred yesterday morning and due to prior engagements, I was unable to do any goofing off. I have decided to rectify the situation by commandeering today in its stead. This is my personal Goof Off Day. Expect shenanigans.

22 March 2017

#WorldWaterDay: #H2O Is #Life! #GiveBack #Donate #BlackRanger #BuyALadyADrink #waterbaby #watersign

I'm a water baby, some would go so far as to say a nymph. They might not be wrong. (Naiad, Nereid, or Oceanid are all Greek to me. When in Ireland, I'm a seal Selkie.) I was born under a water sign, obviously. I have always been attracted to bodies of water. The first time I saw the ocean as a child, I apparently ran toward it as if greeting an old friend --- and this was merely the Atlantic. The first time I witnessed the Pacific, I nearly lost it. I danced across the beach. The feeling is mutual. Water loves me, too. Whenever I go near the Ocean he tries to splash me. I get chased by Waves. I laugh. It's a game we play.

World Water Day

I say all this as a preface to the day. Today is World Water Day. (Water nymphs everywhere celebrate!) Water is life. We all need it, must have it, and unfortunately there are still far too many people without access to potable water. We can change this. Give clean water, sustain life.

There are several great charities --- like Thirst Project and Water.org --- working to bring potable water to areas in need. Pick one ....or two or three. DONATE. VOLUNTEER. GET ON IT! (Steps down from soap box.)

21 March 2017

Nosirree! I Will Not Shop @GooglePlay Not Tomorrow Not Today #PoorCustomerService #Error #Help

In December, I experienced an error with a movie rental on the Google Play service. The movie would not download. I would click [Download] and get a message saying that it was downloading but nothing would actually download. The error was specific to this rental as titles I had rented or purchased both before and after have downloaded without issue.

I tried periodically over a period of weeks to download the title, hoping it was a network "clog" that would clear itself. But as the 30-day window to begin watching the movie rental dwindled with no success in obtaining the download, I contacted Google Play support, which in itself was a convoluted ordeal of a process. (As is the case with many companies nowadays, there is no Customer Service email publicized. One has to ask for a callback or queue for a chat to get help. Ridiculous! I do not have time to sit & wait for support to pickup. There is a reason why email still rules the business day and has not become obsolete despite the myriad promises of many a workflow app: Timeshifting.)

I got in the chat queue and was eventually connected to a CS agent. (I won't say "a human" because it could have been a bot for all I know.) I explained the situation and asked for the download to be "reset" for my device so that it would stop hanging. The agent responded that he could not do this, cancelled the movie rental order and refunded the money (without asking, if I wanted a refund). I responded by saying that a refund wouldn't do me any good, because I had rented the movie under a promotion to "Rent Any Movie for $0.99." Putting $0.99 back into my account would not allow me to rent the movie again --- and ostensibly clear the hang by getting a fresh download --- unless I was also "refunded" the discount movie rental promo code. (It also happens that the $0.99 for the movie rental was paid with a promotional "cash" balance in my account.)

Obviously, the simple solution would have been to give me a "replacement movie rental" instead of automatically generating an order refund, as this would have been the equivalent value of what I received in the order (i.e., I originally rented a movie, refunding the net cost of the order did not give me a movie rental). The CS agent said he understood and would check on getting me another discount rental code. As getting this far in the support process had already taken more than an hour, I was out of time and needed to leave for a meeting. I stated as much and asked the CS agent if he could followup via email. He said he would.

I ended the chat and waited, and waited. I went about my business. I happened to be doing something else in my account when I noticed my Google Play balance was $0.00. I thought, "Where'd the 99-cents I was supposed to be refunded go? And, wait a minute, that support agent never did email me..." So on yesterday, over a month after the first chat, I contacted Google Play support AGAIN --- trying to find out why I did not have $0.99 balance in my account (the refunded amount) and why I never received any followup or discount movie rental code. Again, I had to first wait in the chat queue to be connected to someone. (Some AI chatbot?) I explained the earlier situation and was told in response that the refund had expired (the same say it was issued) because it was a promotional balance. The chatbot pointed to a nice generic "promotional balance offer terms" link. The gaul!

First, I did not ask for a refund and was awaiting the resolution on "getting a replacement movie rental that worked" which had yet to arrive.

Second, if you refund a customer's money and said refund has numerous conditions like a SAME DAY EXPIRATION, it might be HELPFUL to point this out to the customer at the time, especially if the customer is also waiting on a followup from you before he can proceed with a new order. (This omission of terms and the unresolved "bad download" issue were both completely ignored by the agent in the second chat.)

Third, if a customer contacts you with an issue where you've already dropped the ball, a repeated flagrant foul will not gain you a loyal customer.

The (second) agent could only repeat ad nauseum that the refund had expired and point to the "offer terms" link. As I stated (several times), I was not told any such terms by the first agent at the time I was given the refund and I was expecting a followup email from him in order to know how to proceed with getting a fix for the original hung download, so telling me this NOW over a month later was not helpful. The agent finally said "it was outside of her abilities." So I asked for a supervisor. The response was that a supervisor would EMAIL me. I laughed, and not with good humor.

I stated she would have to excuse me if at this point I didn't exactly profess faith in Google Play support. I asked for the supervisor's info and was merely given a name --- heaven forbid, you can't contact him directly! I ended the chat without optimism. I was not disappointed. His response was abysmal.

The email I received merely repeated the same details covered in the unhelpful overlong chat, namely that the refund had expired on THE SAME DAY ISSUED because it was a promotional balance. The supervisor did also tell me (unhelpfully) that I could always check any promotional balance expiration dates in my account under "Payments." Good one. As I was not originally informed that the refund was conditional, why on earth would I have checked for an expiration date? As I was awaiting a followup email (that never arrived) for the original issue (that had yet to be resolved), your blatantly ignoring the actual problem and harping on a "refund" that only existed on my account for less than 24 hours is NOT winning me over. I responded that the information being given NOW would have been helpful, if given at the time the first agent processed a refund without asking. I await the supervisor's response. I am not holding my breath.

Needless to say, this is a perfect example of a customer service FAIL. The original problem was never resolved. (I never got a movie rental download.) I was not contacted with further details as promised. When I am finally able to CONTACT YOU to find out what is going on, you do not apologize, you do not correct the original problem, you instead respond with further incompetence.

And Google Play wonders why I have yet to "add a payment method" to complete my profile. (I keep getting prompts to do so.) There is a reason why I only use promotional credits and gift cards for (most) online services like this, and the "customer service" example above is exemplar of it. Do you honestly think I'd trust the village idiot with my credit card? Sorry, Google Play. Nosirree! I will not shop at Google Play (not with "real" money, anyway) not tomorrow, not today. (Thank you, Dr. Seuss.)

This is what poor customer service begets you. I still haven't seen Sully. The movie was the hung rental download. This entire experience left such a bad taste in my mouth, that I haven't bothered to rent Sully, again, either on Google Play or elsewhere. It has been associated in my mind, unfortunately and unfairly, with a bad experience. I may never see it. Google Play support sucks. There, I said it. (Sadly, this type of "service" seems to be the norm nowadays, especially online.)

I have not received a satisfactory resolution to my case.

20 March 2017

First Day of #Spring: #VernalEquinox International #DayofHappiness + @DairyQueen #FreeConeDay

At 6:28a EDT this morning, Spring will officially arrive --- though it has seemingly been visiting all Winter as temperatures were consistently 10-20 degrees above normal --- with the Vernal Equinox. While I do not look forward to the allergen explosion, I do appreciate mild weather (and gardening season). So pup and I will get out for a leisurely sojourn this afternoon, after work.

Today is also the United Nations designated International Day of Happiness. Considering it's been shown that Winter can bring on the blues and blahs, it's only appropriate that the arrival of Spring should bring happiness. Expect smiles.

And finally, today is also DQ Free Cone Day! Dairy Queen celebrates its partnership with the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals by giving away a free small soft-serve vanilla cone in exchange for a donation to CMN Hospitals. Valid at participating (non-mall) Dairy Queen and DQ Grill & Chill locations. Limit 1 small cone per customer. Since launching the promotion in 1984, Dairy Queen has raised more than $110 million for CMN Hospitals. If you're near a DQ, pop in, donate to support a good cause and get a free ice cream. Ice cream equals happiness in my book.

All around, looks to be a top notch day. Carpe diem!

19 March 2017

Ordered #Drinkwell Multi-Tier Pet Fountain! #Pets #H2O #Rewards #Furbabies #PetParenting #PurinaPerks

Finally crossed the threshold of rewards points necessary to order my #1 Wish List item on Purina Catchow Perks. Decided that I (or more accurately, that my furbabies) wanted the Drinkwell® Multi-Tier Pet Fountain [MSRP $59.99] when I first joined the Catchow Perks rewards program. (This fountain is supposed to be perfect for cats or small/medium sized dogs.) My furbabies can't wait for it to get here!
Drinkwell® Multi-Tier Pet Fountain
Drinkwell® Multi-Tier Pet Fountain Reward

18 March 2017

#SonyPictures #SonyRewards Invitation: #ChappieMovie #AI #Robots #Free #Bluray #FilmFan

OK. So after having received numerous emails from Sony Pictures store imploring me to sign-up for the Sony Rewards program (and get a free movie right away, if I joined by a specific date), I finally bit. I'd ignored the summons previously, because I honestly don't buy many Sony studio movies any longer, so didn't see a real value to the program (though I do own other Sony gear). But, if you're going to force a free movie on me, I'll take it (though the selection was limited). I chose Chappie Blu-ray. Projected to be here within two weeks. I'll have popcorn waiting... I'm a sucker for AI robots films (especially in light of the chance for social commentary and the current zeitgeist.) I adored Chappie (but then, I adore the actor who voiced him).

17 March 2017

#StPatricksDay #Party #Irish #Green #Beer

I hope the day is Green for ya! We're partying after work. I've got beer for my Draftmark, lively tunes set to pipe across the Bluetooth airwaves of my home entertainment system and proper Irish potatoes. Pup is all set to chase any leprechauns she spies... pot o' gold or not.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! May your island be rid of snakes

16 March 2017

Spring Sprung Too Soon #WeatherGeek Wakeup!

Another morning below freezing. It's once again bear hibernation cold ...through this morning, at least. By the afternoon, it'll be in the mid-50s --- and then only dropping into the 30s overnight (the upper 30s, staying above freezing). By tomorrow, this crazy late Winter cold spell will all be mere memory, I hope. And by next week, it will be back in the 70s. Spring. But at the moment, it's frigid. (Of course, in spite of this, I crave ice still. My teeth chatter.) I think, I'm going back to snuggle under the blankets. My biological clock is off. Later...

15 March 2017

Beware the #IdesofMarch It Comes for Thee Also Maybe. #WeatherGeek + #SYWR Score #Veggetti #Zoodles #AsSeenOnTV

Julius Caesar was betrayed and murdered on the 15th of March (the 15th day of the month is known as the "Ides" in the Roman era) and as a result, this day has henceforth been synonymous with misfortune. Beware the Ides of March!

Many have no doubt heard this warning, but might also be unaware from whence it comes. Because one dude bought the farm on this date eons ago, the rest of us are cautioned to tread carefully today. Yeah, right. Sorry, Caesar, perhaps you should have picked better friends or how about not be a "Caesar"? Dictators often fair poorly. Just saying.

Personally, I'm good with March 15th. In fact, any "Ides" is fine by me. Speaking of which, today is bear hibernation cold --- as was yesterday, and tomorrow is supposed to be more of the same before a warming trend kicks in on Friday afternoon --- but, considering the frigid and snowy weather conditions in the Northeast right now, we got off lightly down here.

The potential for blizzards was a major reason why I chose not to attend university in the Northeast. I do not love the cold. (Sorry, Ivies. If only, you would've moved to California. Oh, wait...) So pup and I are hunkered down again today. Though pup keeps trying to take meandering strolls outdoors --- just because she has a built-in fur coat!

On the house front, my Kick-A-Kitchen is continuing to develop nicely. As it was cold, wet and windy yesterday, after I finished work, I spent part of the afternoon browsing online looking for deals since I couldn't very well go work outside. The afternoon was not wasted. I scored an As Seen On TV: Veggetti Pro Spiral Vegetable Cutter [MSRP $32.98] for only $3.77 OOP.

Having researched "vegetable spiralizers" over the last year or so --- the gadget is was on my Future Shopping List, after all --- I knew that the Veggetti Pro Spiral Vegetable Cutter is well rated (earning approximately 4.5 out of 5 stars on both Amazon and Kmart), especially when compared to the handheld regular Veggetti Spiral Vegetable Cutter (which merely earns approximately 3.5 out of 5 stars on both Amazon and Kmart).

Having done SYWR product catalog searches for "vegetable spiralizers" and "vegetable slicers," I also knew that both the handheld regular version and the pro version of the Veggetti Spiral Vegetable Cutter were carried by either Sears or Kmart, so I realized there was a good possibility that I would eventually happen upon a deal for one --- preferably the pro version.

The Back Story: Sadly, I no longer enjoy pasta. This has been a gradual, yet fairly recent, seemingly unexplainable change in palate, as I absolutely loved pasta when I was a kid. (Oddly enough, however, I did hate macaroni & cheese as a child, which I could not have explained to myself if I had been asked to do so, because separately I loved pasta and I loved (still love) cheese. WTF? But perhaps, this strangeness was a precursor to my current food preferences.) Over the last several years, I've progressed from hating Mac & Cheese, to hating all "big noodle" pasta --- I could tolerate Angel Hair pasta, for a time --- to disliking pasta, period. I like the "idea of noodles" --- just not the taste or consistency of pasta, apparently.

But I, of course, love veggies. (I'm vegetarian.) As such, I decided that what I craved was a noodle-like alternative to pasta. Enter "zoodles" --- or in this case, the ability to turn vegetables, like zucchini [zucchini noodles = zoodles], and fruits into noodle form. It's all the rage! I figured I could continue to enjoy "noodles" without my increasing distaste for water cooked dough (pasta) making me gag. Thus, I've been wanting a vegetable spiralizer or spiral cutter, the kitchen gadget which turns veggies and fruits into noodles, for a minute.

How'd I get this great low price? (Less than 1/8 of the MSRP.) Check the step-by-step breakdown:

1. I started at Sears. The regular price of a Veggetti Pro Spiral Vegetable Cutter on the sears.com website is only $19.99 (versus $24.99 + $7.99 p&h, which is the amount I would have paid by ordering one directly from the manufacturer's website, veggettipro.com). It pays to shop around and compare prices.

2. Sears was having a Friends & Family Sale on Sunday in stores (but the sale continued through Tuesday online) which discounted most small appliances by 10%. Thus, Sears regular price of $19.99 instantly dropped to $16.99 on sale.

3. Next, I used a coupon. I'd previously loaded a "Member Exclusive" coupon to my Sears account which offered "15% Off Any Item in the Home Department." With the coupon, the $16.99 price dropped to $14.44.

4. Then, I redeemed my rewards. I had rewards points in my account, accumulated from small sweepstakes wins over the last two weeks. This sweeps loot totalled $10.92, which brought the pre-tax item price down to $3.52 when deducted. (I could've opted to find an item that was $10.92 or less and in turn get said item totally free with my rewards points balance, of course. For instance, the handheld Veggetti Spiral Vegetable Cutter is only $9.99 at Kmart, so I could have bought it and paid zero out-of-pocket. However, being able to score the very well rated pro version instead is a big win on a useful tool I actually wanted.)

5. Finally, the tax was 25-cents. Making the total due $3.77. I selected Free Store Pickup as the order didn't meet the recently increased $30 threshold in order to qualify for SYWMax Free Shipping.

So while it will take a trip to the local Sears store to get my grubby hands on the Veggetti Pro Spiral Vegetable Cutter, I'll have spent less than 1/8 the cost of purchasing it online directly from the manufacturer, which makes this a great deal in my boo7k, in spite of having to pick it up at the store.

BONUS: I paid the OOP cost with my "free" money stash (discretionary income earned from taking random surveys online). Not a bad afternoon. Winning! This is like an early birthday gift to myself. Yay! I get to enjoy "pasta", again.

14 March 2017

#PiDay 3.14: Feed the World. Let Them Eat #Maths.

It is said that Mathematics is the language of Science. (The same could be said for Music or Engineering.) All fields which require an understanding of numbers. Weights, measures, meters... and pie. Sorry, that's Pi, or more accurately, π.

One of my favorite relational numbers, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. A constant. That π. Circles are lovely creatures, are they not? So round, so ourobouros, eating itself. No end. No beginning. Just complete. (Let the circle be unbroken...)

So on this day, 3.14, we celebrate the beauty of this perfect ratio by ...eating pizza. No? Odd, isn't it how everything leads us humans to food. I guess there is truth to the old adage that "you are what you eat" ...and I eats Maths ...for breakfast.

Eat Pi. That's amore!

13 March 2017

#WeeklyRewind: That's So Last Week! #Deals #Coupons #Rebates #Freebies

I love both quality and value and have little interest in brand name (without one or both of the aforementioned characteristics propping it up). My shopping is geared toward finding the best deals on things I want, will actually use or use as gifts for others. Toward this end, I scored several fun shopping deals over the last week, including 1-cents Folgers Ground Coffee (11.3 oz plastic canister), 79-cents Ocean Spray Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice (64 fl oz bottle), a free V8+Energy Drink (12 fl oz can), a free Starbucks Hearty Brown Rice Salad, nine free 12-packs of assorted Coca-Cola products, five bags of "Cooked Perfect" Meatballs (14 - 20 oz assorted varieties) for $3.86 total and a 13 oz jar of Nutella for 25-cents, in addition to the other deals (like a free coffee grinder and free toy bowling set) mentioned previously in my posts over the past week. Not a bad haul!

But today begins another week, so I'm excited to see what I can find this time around. Tomorrow is Pi Day, so perhaps some free or cheap pizza at the very least? The hunt for deals is such a fun pastime!

12 March 2017

#SpringForward? Thank You Mr. Franklin? #DST

This morning, about two hours ago actually, we Spring Forward for Daylight Saving Time (DST). While I appreciate many of the things Ben Franklin did for us, I'm not certain I cotton to this one. (Franklin proposed the concept in 1784, but it was not adopted in modernity until roughly 100 years later.) I suppose as a child it made more of a difference for it to be "light" when I walked to school in the morning year round, but with all the artificial light polluting illuminating the world nowadays it seems more of an anachronism. If only we could return to a simpler time without lights. Wait, that's not right...

An hour "lost", but enlightenment gained? One can hope.

11 March 2017

Are #Thins Really In? #Cookies #Snacks #Natural #Sweeteners #MiniCans #Soda

The snacks and beverages industries have responded to our professed collective desire to "Be Healthier" by offering "better" versions of their wares. The market is currently proliferate with natural, light, thin and/or mini versions of "food" products that define the artificial flavors & colors, and preservatives segment. Does it matter?

Every cookie nowadays seems to have a "thin" version. Soda is touted as "made with real sugar" and comes in "mini cans" (ostensibly, a smaller serving). But are we really eating better or merely psyching ourselves out? I tend to think that thins and minis only encourage the average person to consume more per sitting. I appreciate the options --- I am Pro-Choice, after all --- but if you're eating junk food, I would hope you know it's called junk food for a reason. (I eat junk food.) Remember, everything in moderation.
Chips Ahoy! Thins
By the way, a recent Kroger Free Friday Download was a digital coupon for "One Free Chips Ahoy! Thins" product which got me to thinking about current market trends in the snacks and beverages industries. I am not a (regular) Chips Ahoy! cookies fan. The original product tastes much as I imagine pasteboard might. Surprisingly, however, the "thins" version is palatable. I couldn't decide if this was due to the "thinness" (less product altogether) or whether an actual recipe adjustment had altered the taste for the better. There's still no comparison to baking my own chocolate chip cookies, mind you, but Chips Ahoy! Thins were leagues better than the original product, in my opinion. Perhaps, this "thin" revolution brings with it hidden perks...

10 March 2017

I'll Bite: @greenchef #TasteKit #MealDelivery #MealKit #Organic #Trial #FamilyDinner Friday

I've been hearing about all these meal kit delivery services and while the convenience sounds nice, the price points I've heard mentioned have seemed exaggerated (compared to what I believe it would cost for me to shop for the same ingredients). I genuinely enjoy cooking and part of this is the prep. But the recent proliferation of meal kit delivery services made me curious. (I don't always have time to grocery shop or cook elaborate meals. Having a recipe and its necessary ingredients delivered to my door provides a certain appeal.) Last week, a "sponsored post" popped up on my Facebook feed for a meal kit delivery service called Green Chef, which specializes in "delivering organic ingredients & easy recipes."

Most of the time, I'm completely oblivious to online advertising, because I usually employ ad-block software and prefer using a text-only browser, but once in a blue moon my eyes will zero in on an advertisement if it pertains to something currently on my radar. This particular ad screamed, "Try Green Chef for only $0.99!" At first glance, I thought that the price had to be in error, so I paused scrolling momentarily. Was this a mere gimmick? Only 99-cents? At this price point, I was willing to give it a go. So I clicked through and read the offer details. Then thought, what the heck, and signed up.

The advertised trial consists of what Green Chef refers to as a Taste Kit (one Dinner Meal Kit for your choice of either two people or a family of four). As I wanted to share with my peeps and get their feedback, too, I selected the "family of four" option, under which one could either choose an omnivore or carnivore recipe plan. (Apparently, if I'd selected the two person option, I would have been given several other recipe plan options, including vegetarian, vegan and paleo. But I guess Green Chef doesn't think entire families follow self-restricted diets, so families only get the two generic plan choices.)
Green Chef Omnivore Taste Kit
The Green Chef "family of four" serving size Taste Kit for its omnivore recipe plan turned out to be for Shrimp Ricotta Pasta. Meh. I'm vegetarian, but excepting one sister, the rest of my family is not, so it should work out OK. I'll just eat some of the sides. (I could separate a serving of pasta and prepare it plainly, but I'm not big on pasta either, preferring rice. However, I might nibble to taste it --- sans shrimp, obviously.) Anyhow, the Taste Kit which I ordered last week is scheduled to be delivered later today. Comes in a "refrigerated" box so one doesn't need to be home to accept the delivery, according to the Green Chef website.

Once I've had the chance to inspect the meal kit and cook & serve dinner tonight, I'll probably get back to you with a full review of the Green Chef Meal Kit Delivery Service. Even if the service somehow does not live up to its "green" billing, I figured that paying $0.99 for an organic dinner which should serve four people wouldn't be too much of a loss. I do like to try new things. Salute!

09 March 2017

#MobileBanking: Deposit by Picture. Check! #Smartphones #Apps

As a geeky techie engineer, I seldom handle actual cash any more. The few times I've encountered it, I've thought that paper bills of today look a lot like fake Monopoly money. Neither have I ordered (or used) personal checks in well over a decade. Practically everything I do financially is in the virtual realm. I use electronic BillPay and eMoney. I've always opted for Direct Deposit nearly since my first job as a teen. I eTrade. Every vendor on the planet takes debit or credit cards and one can even "split a tab" with friends electronically these days.

So, I was at a momentarily loss when out of the blue I received a physical check in the mail recently (a surprise gift from an older relative who'd been told about the recent vandalism of my home). After penning a Thank You Note, I wondered half-seriously, "What does one do with a paper check?" I could have mailed it in to my bank I suppose, but I almost never use snail mail either. (The exception being personal correspondence with the "older generation.") Postage? What's that...

I settled on trying out my credit union's newish "Deposit by Picture" method, wherein one snaps a photo (back and front) of an endorsed check and uploads it to the bank --- basically DIY digitizing. Having never done this before and hating taking pictures as I do, it took a couple of tries to get the lighting and focus just right on the image so that the bank system would accept it. Eventually, I was successful, however, and minutes later the deposit was approved and the balance was added to my account (with a notice to hold onto the physical check for 60 days and then securely destroy it).

It's not like I'm going back to paper checks, but this was kind of a fun exercise and an apt usage of the ubiquitous smartphone camera. (Technology making life more convenient! Imagine that.) Will probably never need to do it, again. Paper checks are going the way of the Dodo.

08 March 2017

#MailCall: #WeHonchos #SwitchYourSnack + @EdgeOf17 #Bluray #Prize #Foodie #FilmFan

Received the Edge of Seventeen Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD prize that I won in a contest. Teen angst movies have been so pitiful lately, but I'm hoping this one is watchable at least. It got a decent amount of critical acclaim; however, the "hype machine" (mainstream movie media) often praises lackluster efforts. I plan to check it out this weekend. I like both Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick, but know nothing of Hailee Steinfeld. Hopefully, it lives up to the ratings. (For what it's worth, IMDB has it as a 7.5 out of 10.) We'll see for ourselves. If it sucks, I'll trade it for something better or give it away. Was willing to take a chance on a freebie. This is basically a free movie rental.

Also, got a free product coupon for Honchos Tortilla Chips (Deep River Snacks) from a Super Bowl eNewsletter signup promotion to "Switch Your Snack" to a better-for-you offering. Honchos are Non-GMO, mainly Organic and Gluten-Free with "no bad stuff." Looking forward to trying these out. Can't decide which flavor, though --- apparently, comes in Nacho Cheese, Peach Habanero or Ranch. Perhaps in allegiance to my home state, the Peach State, I should go for the habanero one. (Honestly, I'm partial to peaches, but being a native Georgian, this may be inbred.) I'll pick up a bag to munch on while watching the Edge of Seventeen this weekend.

Not a bad mail day, yesterday.

07 March 2017

#MyMagazineSharingNetwork Mission Kit @Kroger: #FreeSamples #Organic #ColdBrew #Popcorn #Coffee #Chocolate #ReadyToPour #LavaCake #BrandFans

"Brand fan" social media networks are the current wave of online promotion for many companies. Sometimes these are limited campaigns for a product launch or event (an anniversary, a sports sponsorship, etc.). Sometimes these function as a longer engagement fan club. Getting people to promote your product/s to their own social media networks is a core marketing goal as "Word-of-Mouth" (WOM) and viral marketing have become dominant forms of online advertising.

It seems like every business is launching a viral or WOM marketing campaign, lately. (Needless to say, there are now loads of marketing companies specializing in WOM marketing vying to manage these types of campaigns.) To boot, such promotional networks often give the companies behind them more demographic data or shopping habits information on participants --- it's a trade-off. So handled correctly, a company can grow its fan base and/or increase market saturation without too much heavy lifting.

I consider myself a very proactive consumer. I will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly. I abhor incompetence. Bad customer service is anathema to me. As an engineer, I am a natural born alpha- & beta- tester. I tinker. I do QA in my sleep. I also like finding out about new products and services, trying new products and services, and providing feedback whether a company wants to hear it or not. This helps insure quality items that I will actually use are put on the market and keeps businesses accountable. (I'm so so so big on accountability, in both personal and enterprise dealings.) Thus, I happen to be a member of a few such WOM or viral marketing networks for brands and/or companies that I regularly patronize.

About a three weeks ago, I signed up for Kroger Co.'s new social media marketing community, named MyMagazine™ Sharing Network. (I am on Kroger's "Best Customer" list and was sent a direct email invitation asking me to join.) Considering that BzzAgent, an early online WOM pioneer, and Kroger Co. now have the same parent company, dunnhumby, it's not exactly surprising that Kroger Co would leverage tools that BzzAgent "perfected" and put together its own custom WOM network.

MyMagazine™ Sharing Network acts as a hub for store fans and influential shoppers, allowing members to get inside information and try out products in exchange for participating in promotional activities. Basically, a member is offered missions which ask him to check out products or concepts and give feedback and/or share relevant information on social media.

Sometimes a mission will offer an associated sample/s to try at home. Sometimes there may be a reward for completing the mission by a certain date or by being one of the first X number of people to complete said mission. (For instance, a "welcome mission" in honor of the MyMagazine™ Sharing Network program's launch offered a reusable shopping bag to the first 10,000 people to complete it.) Participation is, of course, voluntary, but it's stated upfront that member activity level is part of what qualifies one for future missions.

On 21-Feb, I was offered the "Some of Our Favorites" Mission, which involves sampling several Kroger Co. store brand products, providing feedback and telling others about the products on social media and/or in person. Each mission has a set of goals, but of course, whether one completes all of them is up to him. I wasn't asked to make a blog post for this mission (to "blog about the products" wasn't a goal), but figured this is an easy way for me to discuss the overall program, the online marketing trends into which it taps, and this specific mission.
MyMagazine™ Sharing Network
Some of Our Favorites Mission Kit
Several days ago, I received a box mail, it was my Mission Kit. As this is a new program, I didn't know what size samples to expect beyond being told the kit would contain 3 store brand product samples and a coupon to try a full-size of the fourth one for free. (The mission overview listed what the four products were.)

The Kroger Co. MyMagazine™ Sharing Network - Some of Our Favorites Mission Kit contained:

A "Shopping List" flyer postcard explaining the mission and giving participation instructions, and
1. One Simple Truth Organic Popcorn, Low Sodium, 0.39oz (11g) single-serve bag
2. One Private Selection Dark Chocolate Pretzel Bark with Sea Salt, 4.7oz (133g) package --- full sized product
3. One Kroger Chocolate Lava Cake, Ready to Pour Batter, 19.4oz (550g) package --- full sized product
4. Coupon for One (1) FREE container of Simple Truth Organic Cold Brew Coffee (32oz), any variety --- full sized product

Plus a booklet of Pass-Along Coupons (5 of each), which expire 01-May-2017:

1. Save $1.50 on one (1) bag of Private Selection Chocolate Covered Caramels, Almonds or Bark (4.7-7.5oz), any variety
2. Save $1.00 on one (1) bag of Kroger Ready to Pour Batter (19.4-22.9oz), any variety
3. Save $0.75 on one (1) bag of Simple Truth or Simple Truth Organic Popcorn (2.4-7oz), any variety
4. Save $1.00 on one (1) container of Simple Truth Organic Cold Brew Coffee (32oz), any variety

Accepted the mission on 21-Feb-2017. Received the kit on 03-Mar-2017. (Approximately 7-10 business days for shipping.)
So what did I think of the products I was sent? (I buy Kroger store brand products regularly, by the way. Some have been very good, others lackluster. I repeatedly buy the good ones. I happen to love Kroger Crinkle Cut Fries, as an example.)
Private Selection Dark Chocolate
Pretzel Bark with Sea Salt
The Private Selection Dark Chocolate Pretzel Bark with Sea Salt was decent, but not "amazing," which is my expectation of dark chocolate. The crunch from the pretzels was nice, the mild bite of the sea salt provided a good compliment to the sweetness, but the chocolate was just OK. It was missing an edge that made the candy "flat" overall. I might buy this on sale for a great price, but I wouldn't necessarily seek it out.

The Simple Truth Organic Popcorn was light and fluffy, but given the choice I probably would not have opted for the "Low Sodium" variety. I don't in general add salt (or fat for that matter) to my food after cooking, but popcorn is a rare exception. I love popcorn "movie theater" style with lots of real butter, and yes, salt. Mind, I don't eat it this way all the time --- remember moderation is key to my dietary choices --- and in fact, I will often munch on plain air-popped kernels as a snack, but sometimes one has to indulge! It was still good popcorn, but there were a lot of husks to stick in one's teeth. Overall a nice snack, however. I'd still like to try a "regular" sodium variety, though.
Mini Chocolate Lava Bundt Cake
I used my awesome Mini Bundt Cake Maker to test out the package of Ready to Pour Batter and made a nice little Kroger Chocolate Lava Cake. The amount of batter in the package turned out to be a perfectly pre-measured fit for the Mini Bundt Cake Maker machine's requirements. It only took about 20 minutes for the complete process from plugging in the cake maker machine to lifting out a baked mini cake. Simple as pie (or in this case, a piece of cake).
Kroger Chocolate Lava Cake
Ready to Pour Batter
The only complaint I have is due to the packaging itself. One is expected to squeeze all the batter from the bottom to the top of the package. Due the the fact that the package is an odd rectangle, this simple instruction made for an unwieldy prospect, quite difficult and messy in practice. Change the shape of the package in order to make squeezing easier and it's a winning product. I'd definitely by it regularly, depending on flavor varieties available. Using this product would be a simple way to make a selection of mini cakes in my machine for a carnival or other party. (For parties, I usually pre-mix several batters and make an assembly line of cakes. But, of course, doing so uses multiple bowls, spatulas, etc.. By substituting this Ready to Pour product, the process would be streamlined.)
Simple Truth Organic Cold
Brew Coffee, Colombian Dark Roast
And finally, the Simple Truth Organic Cold Brew Coffee was quite nice. I chose the Colombian Dark Roast. MSRP $4.99 in-store. It was robust, yet incredibly smooth. I like strong coffee. I drank it over ice with a spoonful of sugar. As it's organic, it's non-GMO. It's also Fair Trade Certified (and I support Fair Trade, so this is a "pro.") This will be a perfect Summer party staple. Makes a wonderful iced coffee with no effort.

It was a fun box of samples. I will no doubt purchase the Cold Brew Coffee and Ready to Pour Batter in the future. I'll also occasionally purchase the popcorn. (I prefer making my own popcorn and customizing it with add-ins, but sometimes a quick low fuss prepackaged treat doesn't go amiss.) I'd say the "Some of Our Favorites" Mission was a net win for Kroger Co.. So far, I am enjoying being a member of the MyMagazine™ Sharing Network. I'll (literally) keep you posted.

DISCLOSURE: As a member of MyMagazine™ Sharing Network, I received free product samples to try. I was not required to write this blog post, however. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

06 March 2017

Enter Codes on Specially Marked #GeneralMills Products 2 #Help #FeedingAmerica #OutnumberHunger + Get a Free #Pandora Plus #Trial

If you buy General Mills products, look out for specially marked packages with a promotional code on them (products feature an on-package ad mentioning Feeding America and Thomas Rhett). 

For every code entered by January 31, 2018, General Mills will donate 45-cents ---- enough to secure 5 meals on behalf of local food banks --- to Feeding America. Maximum total donation of $700,000. (GM has already donated $500,000 and will donate up to another $200,000 based upon online code entry and other consumer actions.) To enter codes or for more information on the program, go to OutnumberHunger.com.

To thank consumers for helping, code submitters can get access to stream an exclusive mixtape from multi-platinum, singer-songwriter Thomas Rhett and some of his friends at Big Machine Label Group that's only available on Pandora streaming service. (Code submitters get an offer for a FREE Pandora Plus trial in order to stream the mixtape.)

I will update this list as I come across more participating products, but so far I've discovered codes on:

Totino's Party Pizza

I wanted to get the word out. Please if you get codes, enter them. It only takes a few moments of your time and you may help someone in need. Hunger is no joke. This is an easy way to help combat a very manageable problem. (Now, I'll step down off my soap box.)

05 March 2017

A Dwarf #Magnolia Verdant: #Gardening #GreenThumb #Southerners #Nostalgia #Gifts #WeatherGeek #BFF

I have a Dwarf Magnolia tree in my yard. It came to me as a dream almost. Several years ago, a friend and neighbor who loves gardening like I do, gifted me a distressed Dwarf Magnolia sapling that he'd inherited. (He actually got two, potted in too small containers and having been neglected on a patio for some time, both seen better days.) As he and I have had numerous conversations about our shared love of fragrant Magnolia blossoms, he said that he immediately thought of me when the two strays landed on his doorstep. He laughingly delivered it in a wheelbarrow. And so I set out to rescue the one, while he worked on saving the other. Being inveterate green thumbs and fellow small town Southerners transplanted to the metro Atlanta area, we often share seeds & plants --- and their associated bounty. This ritual is part of how we bonded as neighbors and became friends.

On the day my neighbor turned up with this temporarily homeless little tree, he pulled it from the battered pot, dug a hole and planted it in my yard. It's yours now! I grinned in response. Over the years, I've tended to it near religiously: first tying it upright with a lance, pruning it, watering it and talking to it good naturedly. I dubbed the pitiful sapling "Ms. Magnolia Blossom 1999" or "Mags" for short --- monikers that just popped into my head. And our girl Mags has thrived! Turning from brown and withered to green and redolent. It took some time, nearly a full year to undo the withering damage alone. After she started to stretch out and unfurl, Mags began producing lovely fragrant puffy white blossoms in season. This process took roughly two years of nursing and coaxing, but 'twas well worth all the effort. Because now, at roughly the five-year mark, I get all the benefits of having a thriving Magnolia tree in my yard --- in a (comparatively) compact space.

In case you're unaware or curious, a fully grown Magnolia tree can easily top 30 feet in height and take up a full yard between its meandering roots and wide ranging branches, but the dwarf varieties generally only grow about 8-15 feet tall and can be kept "straight and narrow" through careful pruning and shaping. The sad sapling that I was graciously gifted was about 3 feet tall at the time, but is now a roughly 8.5 foot tall tree, having grown nearly a foot a year.

I had to take special care of her with the extreme drought the area has been experiencing over the last year or so. I took to hand watering Mags to insure she continued to thrive in a suddenly fragile ecosystem. She's doing well! However, I keep a vigilant eye on her, because the current yo-yo Winter to Spring weather pattern has many trees and plants blooming too early. Yet, the temperature still dips down to freezing or thereabouts as it did yesterday morning. (The rainstorms last weekend provided plenty of moisture, which was followed by a few days of strong sunlight before this returned shot of Winter. Having been thus bolstered, I think she'll do OK.) On Friday afternoon, in spite of the blustery conditions due to the incoming cold front, Mags looked resplendent in the bright sun, unbowed and verdant. Quite the beauty queen.

I plan to get out this afternoon and check on her, again, just to shoot the breeze. I can't wait for actual Spring! The smell of Magnolia blossoms instantly transports me to a better place, rather like those Calgon commercials of old. The Magnolia tree is quintessentially Southern, of course, and intrinsically tied to the warm and sunny memories of my childhood. (When you have a hardscrabble youth, you're willing to work to keep the bright spots close in adulthood. It's called perspective.) This little tree has proven a most wonderful gift 🎁. I cannot thank my gardening buddy BFF enough for providing carriage for my trips to bountiful.