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You can't end your next Trader Joe's shopping trip without these 7 items [Oct. 11th, 2016|10:00 pm]
How about that title! Who knew I could write clickbait? But seriously, people have been asking me about what's good at TJs. I thought hard for a very short amount of time and here's my recommendations. A lot of people think of TJs as overly pricey, but I'd consider it "cheap upscale" and their staples (milk, eggs, pasta) are cheaper than my regular grocery store.

Potstickers (frozen)

Potstickers are dumplings that aren't meant to be steamed, but lightly fried and then steamed. Whatever way you cook these, they'll come out tasty. Varieties include Pork, Chicken and maybe vegetable, but I've only had the chicken and pork ones. About $3/bag. Makes about 3 healthy servings, I'd say.

Trek Mix (individual bags)

This photo is of the standard bag of Trek (better known as Trail) Mix, not the individually sealed bags I'm recommending. TJs sells lots of different kinds, all of them good, and I encourage you to explore them, but this one is my favorite. The individual bags are great to keep you from binge eating the trail mix. Good to throw in a pocket or a glove box or an office desk for a snack. About $7 for sack of ~11 individual nutbags.

Chicken Fried Rice (frozen)

Also available in vegetable, which I've never tried. Very easy to make and the flavor is great. I like to drag these out of the freezer when I don't want to spend much time making dinner and dump them into a skillet. About $3 for the bag. Makes about two healthy servings.

Mandarin Orange Chicken (frozen)

This might be what I miss most if they discontinue anything in this list. This orange chicken is delicious. Chinese takeout delicious. You put it in an oven for 20 minutes and then mix it with any vegetables you'd like (onion, bell pepper, and broccoli are my recommendations) and serve it by itself or over rice. About $6 for the bag. Makes about three healthy servings.

Vegetable Masala Burger (frozen)

I haven't tried them as "Burgers" between bread, but I don't think that they'd be very good that way. They are very good just by themselves as a side in a meal. About $2 for the box of 4.

Bacon Ends and Pieces

Do not attempt bacon weaves with this bacon. Most of the package is bacon strips, but they are never uniform (the strips are all mixed up in a big ball). If you don't mind different sized pieces of bacon, then check this out. The strips are thick and I find them to be very high quality, especially for the price. I'd like to think that these are the pieces that didn't end up fitting nicely in the normal expensive package. $3.50 for a pound.

Mango Chunks (frozen)

I don't know that TJs does these any better than anyone else, but they're cheap and a staple of my freezer for smoothies. About $2.70/bag

Aioli Garlic Mustard Sauce

Poor people eat mayonnaise, but rich people like us need to distances ourselves so we add something to the mayonnaise and we get to call it Aioli. It's French. Or something. Anyways, whatever you want to call this, it's good. It's much, much milder than a dijon mustard. About $2.50 for a small jar.

Chicken Sausage

TJs has MANY varieties of chicken sausage, though Spicy Jalapeno is my favorite so far (it's not very spicy, don't worry). Great for a quick snack, simple dinner, or sliced up in some dish. $4/5 pack (12 oz)

Melange a Trois (mixed bell peppers, frozen)

Again, these are probably available at most grocery stores, but I find them to be cheap and good at TJs. They're a staple for my freezer and I like to throw them in all sorts of dishes (tacos, pasta with marinara, orange chicken, omelettes, etc) to add vegetables. About $1.70/bag.

Black Toad Dark Ale

I like thick dark beers, and this is a nice malty brew. $6/6 pack or $1/bottle. Insider Tip: You don't need to buy a six pack, just pull out as many bottles from a six pack as you care to purchase. The price per beer will be the same as the six pack. I haven't purchased six identical bottles of beer from TJs in years.

Trader Jose's Dark Mexican Lager

Did I mention I like dark beers? This isn't thick or heavy though. I like serving this to guests, pretty everyone has liked it. $6/6 pack or $1/bottle.
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Review: OneDrive vs DropBox for photo sharing [Sep. 20th, 2014|12:53 pm]
I recently had a photo album shared with me via Microsoft's OneDrive service (formerly SkyDrive, soon to be named something else, given Microsoft's history) and I was quite pleased to note that OneDrive, like DropBox, gave me the option to download the entire album as a zip file. I was reminded of it last night and saw a fantastic free upgrade offer (http://slickdeals.net/f/7214100-microsoft-onedrive-cloud-storage-extra-15gb-free) today so I tested it and here's my findings. Just a reminder, both of these services are free.

Storage space: at 15GiB to start with, OneDrive blows away DropBox's 2GiB. If you have Windows 8, an iOS device, or Android device, you can double that to 30GiB before the end of the month: http://slickdeals.net/f/7214100-microsoft-onedrive-cloud-storage-extra-15gb-free. HUGE advantage to OneDrive.

Desktop User Interface which you'll use: OneDrive is not as feature packed. It's unclear which images have uploaded and which haven't. The System Tray (notification area) icon doesn't give anywhere near as much information as DropBox's. Advantage DropBox.
UPDATE 2014-10-18
Using OneDrive today, I did get icons over folders and files, like with DropBox, that inform me which folders and files have finished syncing and which are pending. DropBox's System tray icon still gives much more information than OneDrive and DropBox still keeps its advantage.

Sharing from your desktop:
You can't share photos or albums without signing into your OneDrive account in a web browser, whereas you can do everything you need to in the DropBox Windows Explorer Shell integration, which makes sharing much faster. Advantage DropBox.
UPDATE 2014-10-18
Using OneDrive today, I was able to generate links directly from Windows Explorer. I now consider this category a Draw.

Bandwidth limitation: This has been a problem for me on DropBox. If you aren't sharing long and large videos, then you probably will never run into this. DropBox has a 20GiB daily limit for free accounts (https://www.dropbox.com/help/4204) but OneDrive claims to have no bandwidth limit. I can actually believe this, because Microsoft has a lot of infrastructure already in place and can (and historically has) afford to bleed money in all sorts of directions. DropBox doesn't and can't. Advantage OneDrive.

Upload and download speed: They were both fast, upload was limited by my ISP, download rates varied so much that I couldn't say that one was better than the other, but they averaged around 3MiB/s. No advantage determined.

User Interface that your viewers will interact with:
OneDrive is a bit too busy in my opinion, especially the metadata it shows on the right hand side. Your viewers want to see the pictures, and don't need this. OneDrive allows you to select which images you'd like to download in a on-the-fly generated .zip file, in case your viewer wants to pick and choose what he/she would like to get. DropBox doesn't support this, but makes the Download as .zip option prominent, whereas OneDrive buries this under a "Folder actions" dropdown, which only has two options in it (there's no reason for that, unless they're trying to keep the UI the same on mobile platforms). No clear advantage determined.

Video: OneDrive rotated a video that shouldn't have been rotated. DropBox kept the video in its original (proper) orientation. Big advantage to DropBox, Microsoft really needs to fix this. UPDATE: my videos are showing up in proper orientation in OneDrive now. But I've also noticed that on OneDrive, watching the videos through the web shows a very compressed version of the video; I believe DropBox shows the original (and high bandwidth) version. For me, this gives the advantage to DropBox, but OneDrive's method may be preferable to those on slower Internet connections or for those with limited bandwidth.

Privacy: When you share a folder (or Album, if that makes more sense) on both OneDrive and DropBox, and create the shared link for it, your end users won't be able to see the other folders/albums you have shared. DropBox used to do a poor job at securing these, allowing someone to "guess" what an album name could be, and they'd be able to access it that way. DropBox has since fixed that. One downside to OneDrive is that it shows your name at the top if you click "up" the folder hierarchy; e.g. "John Doe's files". Slight advantage DropBox

Beware of Microsoft though, they seem to be actively analyzing the images you upload, even if you're not sharing them with anyone else: http://lifehacker.com/how-does-the-new-onedrive-compare-to-other-cloud-servic-1529728733 (see section on Privacy)

DropBox, because of its easier Windows interface, will be my choice for quick everyday file sharing. But for long term photo sharing, especially of videos, I'll move to OneDrive, where I won't have to worry about bandwidth or storage.
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Photo sharing platform finally found! [Jun. 27th, 2013|10:11 pm]
For a long time, I was in search of a free photo sharing platform that fit my needs. Those needs are surprisingly simple; I want people to be able to view the images in a grid, individually, and full screen scrollable. That part is simple; they all do that. I want no barriers for others' access; no logins required. Most concede this as well. But the third requirement is something that no service wanted to fulfill: the ability to download ALL of the photos ALL at once at ORIGINAL resolution.

And I found it: DropBox. Besides all the great functions DropBox is known for, they also have a great photo sharing function. I've got an album up for your convenience, notice the usual grid of images, the ability to click into them, the ability to click through them, but on the main page, the large blue "Download" button on the top right.

Dropbox is limited to 2GiB at it's intro free level, so it's not a Photo Repository like some other services (Picasa is 15GiB, Flickr is 1,024GiB!) but if you want to share and not store, I think it's hard to beat DropBox.
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The water punishment [Jun. 27th, 2013|09:48 pm]
Restaurants are in the business to make money. The less you pay, the less valuable to are to them. I get it. But it seems that fast food restaurants, perhaps more so lately, are in the mood to punish people who order water.

I'll often find that a true low-brow fast food chain will give you the smallest cup they stock for your water. Understandable, the smaller the cup, the less paper, the cheaper the cup's cost is for them. But in higher-brow fast food chains (which I'm paying more at) the restaurant has gone out of the way to purchase an entirely different model of cup specifically for your water displeasure. "Would you like a drink with that?" they ask while reaching for their single cup size, around 16 ounces. When you inform them you'd like to hold the fizzy and sugar, the cashier's hand moves over to a different cup: drastically smaller, transparent, clear to everyone that you requested water; any carbonated bubbles hugging the sides of your cup or degree of color tint exposing you as a THIEF and of the basest character.

They don't want me to steal their soda, okay. But them going out of their way to procure a smaller cup? They certainly chose their Single soda cup size with some sort of research or at least aim for the customer's satisfaction. So why choose a different size when a patron chooses water? A conscious punishment of the water drinker is the only answer. I recently went to a restaurant whose water cups were the same tiny cups that you get served on airline flights. Hear me now, Restaurants, I'll keep ordering water, but don't think I'm blind to your slights towards me.
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Lava brand hand soap [Jun. 27th, 2013|09:19 pm]
I'm a man that likes to attempt to do things himself. Occasionally I'll succeed, but regardless, my hands get dirty in the process. Caked-in-black-grease dirty, which no amount of normal hand soap has ever been able to remove without involving some other scrubbing device which only dirties said scrubbing device. I resigned myself to a life of handwashing hardship until I was in my local grocer recently and noticed next to my normal purchase bottom-shelf econosoaps sat some Lava brand soap bars. Its label conveyed strength via its name, color, and volcano logo, as well as the statements "PUMICE POWERED" and "HEAVY-DUTY HAND CLEANER" in a similarly dominant font and upper-case. The price, $1.89 per bar, gave me hesitation, as well as the "with moisturizers" which timidly trailed under the bolder statements in a timorous lower-case yellow typeface. I'm used to paying around $.50 per econobar which I swear evaporates into the air when I'm not looking at it and contracts into an unusable fragile sliver within a fortnight so at $1.89 it was a stretch.

But I felt fortune on my side that day and perhaps some caked-in-black-grease still in my skin so I took a gamble on the pricey soap.

And I'm here to tell you today that it's worth it. The lava bar lasts much, much longer than the econobars and I'm using it as my everyday handsoap. It's very effective and quickly gets rid of any stains and dirt that the econobars failed at. I've also used it on my body in the shower but it was a bit too rough and it took off more skin than my body preferred in some places when I applied the bar directly. Even though it's PUMICE POWERED my sink doesn't look like a shower in a beach house; I don't even notice any particles that come out of the soap, though the bar stays grittier than the econobars, of course.

If your hands get dirty, give Lava brand soap a try. It's eligible for FSSS on amazon at only $2/bar.
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Capital Bikeshare [Nov. 25th, 2012|01:54 pm]
I've been a member of Capital Bikeshare for a while and I'm very pleased with it. I own my own bicycle so I don't use it daily but I use it frequently, to get to/from work, businesses, and metro stations. I'll use them to commute if I don't have access to my bicycle for whatever reason.

Cost: The best way to think of the cost structure is a "membership" fee and then trip fees if your trip goes over 30 minutes.

The base rate is $7 for a 24-hour "membership". This can be a great deal for someone who is in DC for a day or two and would like to travel around cheaply. You pay with credit card at any Capital Bikeshare station and your membership is tied to that credit card, I believe. Take a bicycle from one station, return it to another, and to pick up your next bike, just swipe your credit card again and it will remember you. All trips within 30 minutes are free. The costs for the time over 30 minutes becomes exponentially large. There is NOT "savings in bulk", there are penalties for bulk! Capital Bikeshare is meant to be point A to point B, not daily rentals and should NOT be used as such.

The cheapest rate is $75 for a one year membership. Monthly and yearly memberships give you a Capital Bikeshare RFID key ($10 for a replacement) which makes retrieving a bike extremely simple (just don't try to learn in the dark). The yearly membership is where it really pays off, if you consider you're only paying $6.25 per month for the service.

Availability: There are 150 Capital Bikeshare stations in the DC area, all of them within the boundaries of DC and Arlington, except for 8 in Alexandria. Almost all Metro stations have a Capital Bikeshare station within a couple blocks. I've come across stations on about four occasions that had no bicycles at them. On one of those occasions, after about 30 minutes, the station was over half full. I have yet to come across a station that was full (no way to drop the bike off), but if such a case does occur, you can request an additional 15 minutes of time from the Capital Bikeshare station and it will list nearby stations (by street name only, annoyingly) and how much empty space they have. Capital Bikeshare does have trucks that run around picking up bikes at crowded stations and dropping them off at empty stations, though I've never seen one in action.

Usability: Every bicycle I've ridden has been in good condition. No flat or even low pressure tires. The bicycles have three gears which are controlled via a grip shift, when shifting some bikes will "hunt" for a moment, but once in gear they don't pop out of gear. The top gear on these bicycles is very slow, but the lowest gear on these bicycles is low enough to comfortably go up a very steep incline with a slow pedal (though I do have to stand). The slow upper gear might be a good idea because the brakes on these bicycles SUCK. I'm sure it's due to the design, and I have yet to hit something due to the bad brakes, but beware. The bicycles don't have a top tube so they step-through friendly (think of a scooter) and the seats are easily adjustable with large numerical markings on the seat post so you can easily remember your number and quickly set a bike to your preference. Each bike has a bell on the left handlebar, but remember to twist it up when you first get on the bike, I think the mechanics flip it down when they're working on them and don't flip them back when they're done.

Safety: There are no helmet rentals, and you're riding on the street. There are a lot of roads in Arlington and DC that have dedicated bike lanes, and if you use the service enough, you'll learn them. All the bikes have pretty good human-powered lighting on them: flashing lights on the front and back which change modes automatically in the dark, I believe. I've been impressed with them. The tires seem large and grippy (26x1.9 Kendra if anyone's wondering).

My favorite use of these bikes is to get me to the nearest metro stop on my destination line at night when Metro isn't running as frequently. If my destination is a green line Metro stop, I don't want to take the red line to a transfer point and then wait 20 minutes for a green line train. Capital Bikeshare works great, I just ride it the mile to the nearest green line station and save myself a lot of time.

If you're interested in Capital Bikeshare but you're worried how empty or full the stations you'll regularly use will be, take a look at <a href="http://www.cabitracker.com>Capital Bikeshare Tracker</a> which gives fantastic historical information about all individual stations. And if you plan on commuting on them (or any two wheeled vehicle, for that matter), I strongly recommend acquiring a helmet.
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On to the next one [Nov. 25th, 2012|01:03 pm]
Another commercial for your analysis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XiV0rKy75U

We start out with a woman who is clearly at rock bottom, the classic "Single cat-lady" all women fear becoming according to this commercial. Two cats in the shot, cat climbing post, cat sweatshirt on, cat artwork behind her head, reading a cat magazine titled "How to Find the Prrrfect Man" (yes, really), a wide angle shot of her clearly alone on the couch, eating ice cream directly from the tub. Her hair is tied back in the classically unbecoming pony tail and she's in full sweats.

Note the clothing: simple
Note the glasses: large

Enter Verizon NFL Mobile.

Next scene: she's out of the house, talking with a handsome man and being pampered. glasses are still large.

Next scene: she's out of the house, shopping, and sharing the NFL Mobile experience with others. She's now upgraded to a more stylish haircut. She's wearing smaller glasses and a stylish top.

Next scene: Now she's wearing earrings, a handsome man on the bus is talking to her, she's wearing a blouse. she is still wearing her hair in a conservative style though.

Last scene: she's at a social event, she's finally ditched the glasses altogether, she is the center of the attention of three handsome men that surround her, she's wearing a dress with a cardigan, she's caked on the eye makeup, and she even accidentally covers some handsome man in food, but he doesn't even mind!

Is this perpetuating large glasses and simple appearance are unattractive and will relegate a woman to a life of loneliness?

Or is this how people (women) actually feel without any media influences? I'm starting to lean towards this.

bottom line: NFL Mobile will make you pretty and popular.
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nothing gets me motivated to write a blog post than something to hate on [Nov. 25th, 2012|11:57 am]
If you haven't watched this Starbucks Rekindle commercial, do so and join my mood: http://youtu.be/fRmXhro8WRA

So, Jarell and his wife frequent Starbucks "almost every weekend". Let's be generous and estimate that they only spend $3 per person on their Starbucks purchase. If they did that every weekend for a year, that would come to $312, which is less than I just purchased a round-trip coast-to-coast flight for.

Jarell's priorities as I see them, in order:
1: Go to Starbucks
2: Have my mother be able to come to my wedding
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The hidden danger of 0% APR promotions [Oct. 18th, 2011|03:48 pm]
No, the danger I want to highlight is not the obvious "you'll have to pay it later". That's not hidden or unexpected. If it's a problem then it's someone deluding him or herself and regretting it later. I'm extremely annoyed by articles which seem to be written for people who haven't entered middle school. Sorry, on to my story:

I got a Discover card a while back and it came with a 0% promotional apr for 6 months or so, which was an unexpected bonus. I took advantage of it and delayed paying it off so that I'd make money on the interest. I checked each month's statement as it came in and read the interest rate. 0% each month, until a bill came which included an interest charge, and the new normal rate. Wait, the normal rate sure, but how have they already charged me interest as this is the first statement which mentions an increase in the interest rate and it's not due for 20 days?

Apparently this promotional interest rate ended The Day Of the last day in the statement period 6 months after the promotion begins, with no notice whatsoever on the previous statement. It slams you immediately with the interest with no "grace period" to pay it off in. I successfully argued the charge away, amazingly, but if I hadn't been able to, the cost of the interest on the credit card would have been far greater than any interest I would have earned through a bank or CD.

In the future, it should be easy enough to throw the end of the 0% promotion on your calendar and pay it before then. I didn't think it would have been as shady as the tactic Discover used, but I don't doubt all banks do this. Be careful in your hustles! Banks are usually one step ahead as it's their whole business model.
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Mini Blinds! [Jun. 24th, 2011|04:51 pm]
So I kept being rudely awakened in the morning by blinding light, often after getting to bed late, seeking a long sleep. I have a hard time going back to sleep when it's bright in the room. I don't think I'm alone. I have a blackout mask I often wear but I hate to go to sleep with it on and it's a slight bother to put it on when I'm first bothered by the sun. So I replaced my mini-blinds which I assumed were "Light Filtering" to ones which were "Room Darkening". It did make it darker, and here are the results:



Original and room darkening side by side:

I paid about $10 per window for the cheapest room-darkening shades walmart had to offer. As you can tell, they're definitely darker, and I think make more of an impression in person. They're still not completely opaque like I'd like though. You can put your finger behind the blinds and easily see the shadow cast. I bought White but they also had Off White and Khaki, perhaps they would be darker. I didn't want to go black but I would like to go fully opaque.

There are "blackout" shades but I didn't want to go that far and wanted to have the miniblinds to adjust the amount of incoming light based on blind angle.

I think these have really helped me get sleep as I've woken up late multiple times this week, which is a rarity.

In related news, the photos of the above room is my new place in Arlington, which I'm now a proud resident of. 10 years living in Fairfax and I'm finally moving on. I'm able to ride my bicycle around which I love, and the area is filled with people my age, which I love. Lots of negatives as well but I think it's a very positive move for me.
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