Friday, November 17, 2017

Grey Friday: Know your brands


Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wasteful, but I do get an extra blood rush during November's consumer push. It's no secret that Black Friday deals are businesses' chance to get rid of old inventory. While that's no problem in itself (that's a good frugal direction to be headed,) be careful of overloading on junk.

My best advice for thriving frugality is to know your good third party brands. Spend a few minutes on Amazon or CNET to learn some known flaws with big brands or product lines. For example, none of the LG tvs I've seen are not very good at handling black levels...shadows, facial hair and the letterbox lines all look "neon black," instead of having varying levels of depth. Samsung has a track record of terrible customer service. Stores used to use different types of cables to sell different tiers. HDMI (the current standard) for Samsung and Sony, and component cables (extremely limited in color depth and resolution) for Vizio and Spectre. I haven't seen this practice for at least 5 years, though. The stores may have realized that some people don't have the $200 extra to get the name brand; or maybe they realized it was a shitty underhanded practice. Ultimately, custom settings can make your cheapie TV look much better.

And please, please adjust your picture settings...a 2nd-tier TV is very capable of looking like the picture on the left.
Sometimes, foreign brands are as cheap as third party, but have amazingly high standards. For headphones, Beats are overpriced and bass-heavy, and you're better off getting the German-engineered Sennheisers and spending the extra cash on something else. Logitech, Swiss, makes great, affordable products that last forever. In the realms of computers, Acer and Asus, Taiwanese, sells laptops with better hardware than HPs that cost almost half as much.

I won't weigh in on fashion-related Black Friday sales because part of my frugality means I'm crisp, but not current *brushes off shoulder.* I also won't say what stores to avoid, though 'doorbuster' sales make me imagine the worst, and I'd personally just order online at my own pace. Our favorite retailers are doing sales all month long, so there's no need to skip out on your loved ones Thursday night after the Martinelli's is still washing down the third piece of pie you crammed down. We aren't drinking and driving, after all.

If you're only looking for a few things, the amount you save in not paying tax on Newegg.com, or the free shipping from many sellers might cancel out the lower-priced local deal if you factor in your personal time, gas, and hospital bills associated with stick fighting over the last SNES classic at store price. (Damnit, Nintendo, just make more; it's not that hard of a concept.) Year-round, consider DealNews, TechBargains and woot for daily deals; there's no reason to pay big box retailers' rent, line Shell Oil's pockets with money, and miss out on your cousins' cracked-voice rendition of Poker Face when you can have stuff sent to you.
Muh-muh-muh-mahhh

Last warning, stores will probably try and getcha with one of their store credit cards that gives you 5% cash back or 10% off every purchase. Often, you can find a better deal on the items themselves online with a little bit of searching, and just not spend the 5 or 10% in the first place. That means you're not paying interest on it, or forced to spend said rebate at that very same store! Besides, I have a hard time cancelling unused, unneeded lines of credit, and that doesn't help anyone! As always, keep your spend demons in check, and think about that debt you have to pay back at the end of the month for that chocolate robot frog that was 30% off. Have a good Black Friday, but more importantly, a great Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Another Fall Gaming Spree


a little subtle South Park reference action
I'm on fire! Over the last month, I've taken a chunk out of backlog indie arcade games, including my 2017 To Play list. The biggest barrier to getting the Platinum on SteamWorld: Heist involved collecting hats that appear randomly. This meant grinding easy kills with overpowered characters for a handful of hours before realizing that the $5 DLC significantly decreased the grind. Since I liked the base game anyway, I was happy to part with the funds and finally finished up both the base platinum and the DLC trophies in a quick 5 hours.


Ride the jetstream
Next up was Abzu, a beautiful undersea exploration game very similar to Journey. In terms of difficulty, it was very chillax, and the road to completion is 5-6 hours. The game is gorgeous, and really atmospheric, so play it in the dark with your sedative of choice! This game was free for PS+ members in May this year, so hopefully you already have it.


The graphics are as great as they need to be
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture was superbly mundane. Recently, I'd seen Transformers: The Last Knight, which is a dumb story about how the Knights of the Round Table are connected with the Transformers, the robot aliens from some other planet. Rapture is a stark contrast to this. You're in a super ordinary but abandoned town, and you collect memories that clue you in as to what happened to everybody. There's not much of a twist, as you learn pretty quickly that some strange light-cum-virus took whisked people off to a strange dimension that you don't really get to explore. The voice acting is compelling, the very average town is graphically crisp, clean and realistic. It's a slow-moving game, but the path to platinum can be completed over a weekend. This was another free PS+ title in the last year or so, and I recommend it if you're tired of getting your ass kicked at games!

*Ahem* Coarse language *straightens necktie*
Basic AI, basic towers, pretty simple
Continuing my theme of relaxing, low-difficulty, cheap-or-free trophy hunting, Royal Defense was a $2 impulse purchase for me. It's a very forgiving tower defense game, and can be completed in a weekend as well. The game crashed twice, one time actually erasing my saved progress. Luckily it was an hour or so of progress, and I memorized the tower placement, catching up pretty quickly. My advice for this is that every 10 levels (there are 60), you might pop out to the XMB and upload saved data to the cloud, and continue playing. It's a bit below average for its genre, but $2 for a weekend and some trophies worked for me.

Hue is a bit of a creeper sometimes
Next up, Hue, a free PS+ title this month. Hue is a puzzle game with a handful of headscratchers out of 60 or so tasks, meaning it's not very difficult at all. You start out in a black and white world and slowly discover colors, while learning about a person who periodically leaves notes for you. The main mechanic is turning the background a certain color, which vanishes blocks, lasers and platforms as well. Fuchsia boulder tumbling furiously at you? Quick, change the color and it disappears past you! Looking for a door? Maybe the orange background is the same color, so you have to shift. That's what Hue is all about. I did everything in about 10 hours, as there is backtracking that makes you re-solve a bunch of the puzzles.

Yep...
Last but not least is Oceanhorn, one of my most looked-forward-to indie titles all year, though it was released in 2014. The game idea was sold to me as a Zelda clone. Sold! The only complaint so far is the direction isn't very straightforward, so I spend a lot of time revisiting the wrong places, trying to find new access points with my new items. Ahh well, besides looking and playing like a Zelda game, there is also an exp-based leveling system, so that's neat. I've barely put 3 hours into the game, so will be working on that in November.

This list of games did great damage to my backlog, though only 2 of them were free, so I lose some frugal points there. I hope to gain those back, as one of my best friends just loaned me The Witcher, Final Fantasy XV, and its DLC.

Game on, people!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Games in October

Yeesh, this was the month of steady grinding, and not in a good way. Reflecting back, it might have been my least-enjoyable month of gaming this year. To set the tone, Gamefly offered me 2-at-a-time a $1 membership to come back to their service, so I happily signed up, thinking I'd have a similar experience as earlier this year.

Not 'pages,' 'pagies,' because it's...stupid?
I was finishing up the definitely-too-much-of-a-good-thing Final Fantasy XII and took 2.5 weeks to complete the first game, Yooka-Laylee. This game is controversial because fans of the developer's previous games Banjo Kazooie/Tooie called those games perfect platformers--and how do you really follow up to perfection?

Lots of jokes. Side note: this boss is super hard.
Yooka and Laylee are two buddies that explore, platform, and waste a whole bunch of your time all the while. In terms of exploring, this game rewards you with collectibles that aren't too far off the beaten path, and the scenery and graphics are beautiful. I also have to say that this game has one of the most diversified list of tasks - minigames - that I've ever seen, and most of them are pretty fun and thoroughly developed. Timed switches where you platform and collect, mine cart racing ala Donkey Kong Country, sliding and dodging, aiming and shooting, puzzling and a dozen other things you can do while you collect more than 1200 items.

A snake...named Trowzer. RILLY?
However, I mentioned that most of the minigames are fun, and this is where Yooka-Laylee gets tainted. For starters, the camera sucks. When there is an object between your perspective and the character, the camera doesn't know what to do. The controls tied to the camera suck, and at times the minigames control sucks, which is a great recipe for frustration. Good camera physics are the second pillar of a good platforming/adventure game and this game gets an F minus in that regard. The next gripe is inconsistency. Most of the game is easy and presents a lower-mid-level challenge: I did about half the tasks on the first try, employing some of my 10 Gaming Commandments.

Featuring a character from a better game.
Then there are certain boss fights and tasks that are so unreasonably difficult that I found myself swearing up a storm in front of a such a cutesy-fun game. Think about how humbling a Mario Kart blueshell is, and scatter that feeling throughout Yooka-Laylee, and you can understand why reviews blast this game so harshly. Also, the dialogue sucks and can barely be skipped. Ugh. With a single player game, the devs have no incentive to waste your time (as online multiplayer trophies and DLC does), so who thought this was a good idea? I can recommend Yooka-Laylee for people who like 3d adventure games, and it's a lot better if you're not going for all collectibles and can skip some of the more bullshit tasks.

Raphael still sucks in this game.
The next rental that I played for 2 days and returned was Platinum Games' TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan. This developer is known for games like Bayonetta and Vanquish. Bayo is hot shit, but the universe in that game makes no sense, nor does the story, and I never made it more than half way through the first game. Vanquish is a different story. I loved that game, and had one measly challenge left, after doing everything else, that kept me from the platinum trophy. TMNT has that feel of beating up loads of enemies with a noncommittal camera and maybe it was the other game I was playing at the time, but it felt so underwhelming. Maybe I didn't like this game because I shouldn't have played it alongside Yooka-Laylee. The turtles have a bit of personality, but you can set their moves to pretty much mimic each other. The AI controls 3 of them and you can switch them mid-combo and do some pretty cool moves that don't do much damage. Then you get to the third level and keep dying. Over. And. Over. This one is hard to recommend. To add insult to injury, mail time ate up 8 days with this rental.

One other rental was Trivial Pursuit Live, which was pretty awesome for what it was. The music was cool and the questions were a good challenge. That was a quick 100%.

My last rental has a special slathering of hatred for the month of October. Get this: Tekken 7 has a known error (still took a decent amount of Google-fu) that botches the 25-minute install. So, I fire it up and that happens. I see smudges on the disc and try again the next day. Doesn't work. Send the disc back. 8 days later, I get my replacement, and by then it's time to cancel with Gamefly as the $1 month was up. This time, the installation makes it to about 90% and quits.

...SHOUSHI...
At this point, I have wasted 1.5 weeks with a game that doesn't even work, bringing my monthly game rental count to 4 total games. This is a poor reflection of the rental company, and of course Namco, for making a game that doesn't install. The bug is that the game installs from the disc at the same time of downloading the patch, which apparently applies to the still-installing game. Play test, Namco. Plenty of other games do this just fine. Once I got Tekken 7 installed, it came to be what I expected, with a quick trophy list and naturally the two worst part of modern fighters: unfair, difficulty-shrugging special bosses and the online community, who are all masters of the Iron Fist Tournament.

Still got babes, dho.
Tekken 7 has dope graphics, but because the series always sticks to glossy-flashy, it will never look real, but that's fine. Stay with your art style! It plays like every Tekken game, has a story mode that I skipped entirely (I just want to fight), and has cool title screen music. It's also got a platinum trophy list that's easy to recommend. If you can install it, that is.

Change the sheets and I'm out!

Last up: one of my Games in 2017Steamworld: Heist features steampunk-robot-cowboys--"cowbots"--doing missions around the solar system in a 2d tactics game with RPG elements. There are 9 playable characters and their skill sets mean you play them all quite differently. Each mission, you are free to select your crew, and Piper Faraday is only loosely your main character. Shoot robots and turrets, collect loot, enjoy cyborg-talk. Easy recommendation, here, folks.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Gamer sense: The Ten Commandments


Given my proclivity to collect trophies in games, I would say I'm a little better than the average gamer, though everyone has titles they are experts at. However there's a way you can approach every game that I call "gamer sense," that some people don't seem to have. I am subscribed to James and Mike Mondays, and enjoy watching them play old and/or rare games. Occasionally, they miss things that to me, are quite obvious. Call me elitist, but I feel like these habits are pretty universal, and implementing them will make you a better gamer in general.

Thou Shall Visit the Options Menu before starting thy Game.

In our excitement to get to the action, tutorial, or 10 minutes of opening cutscenes, it's helpful to know what you can customize about the game. Even if you don't tweak anything right away, if you need a difficulty reduction, want to turn up the game music or hate that R1/shoulder is fire (I despise this).

Thou Shall Go Left when the Main Story branches Right.

Not everyone's a collector, but games almost never put upgrades and bonuses in your main path. Even if you run into nothing but dead ends, you've deduced that the game is linear!

Thou Shall break Shit.

This is a test of the game's physics. Shoot/slash everything in the first room you start. If you see a crack in the wall, does it break open to reveal a secret or is it graphical? Is that door texture or does it open? Can you hurt your teammates?

Thou Shall Make multiple Saves.

Yep.

Thou Shall Throw a Hadouken.

If you're playing a new fighting game and don't want to interrupt the flow every 2 seconds, try out familiar inputs from Street Fighter. Smash Bros are the only fighting game I can think of that doesn't share inputs with SF. That leaves the rest of the fighting game market.

Why won't it go forward!?!?!?!?
Heed the HUD.

In coop, it'll keep you from taking the only food for yourself, despite having full life. You also learn what info is available. A friend of mine always asks how he died when the message to 'press X to survive' button is right there in the middle of the screen.

Thou Shall Listen, but...

Play with the best audio you have. Aside from sick soundtracks, sound design is a long part of the developing process and should be prioritized in your game experience. Telling where you're getting shot from is pretty important to survival. Also, special attacks and collectibles usually have audio cues that aren't to be ignored.

Thou Shall Grind Levels to thine own Music.

Game music is a sacred gift, and such repetition may sour your experience. If you're gonna do something tedious, jazz it up with something you can sing to, or make up your own lyrics about rocking bad guys.

Thou Shall not Play only one Platform.

If you have the funds, then get over your brand loyalty! Nintendo has a new gimmick each system, and most of them work quite well! Microsoft boasts a great controller for FPS games, the Gears and Halo series. Sony made a perfect controller, and shares your best gaming moments at the press of a button. Keyboard and mouse are pretty much the only ways to play RTSes and PCs offer the ultimate customization.

Thou Shall Watch thy Mouth.

If you're going to vent your frustration in a litany of racist, sexist or otherwise derogatory marks, mute your microphone. We all get heated, but share your comments with friends in private chat, rather than the general public. Also, don't diss on others' favorite games, and instead rejoice in the fact that they enjoy video games! There are still people who don't enjoy video games, called "sleeping husks." That was just me, ending my Commandment of Respect with a diss!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

early Oct updates: money edition

On a recent post on credit cards and the data breach, I advised readers to freeze their credit. Since millions of smarties went to do this responsible thing, the three big companies, Equifax, Experian and Transunion haven't made it easy. (Warning, that link has a video that autoplays, but it's relevant.)

Servers were definitely congested, resulting in dropped forms and lots of frustration. I finally paid for the services for 2 of the 3 to freeze my credit, also not neglecting to spend a good 10 minutes looking over purchases in 2017. The only advice is to keep trying, especially the further we get away from the incident. One warning is that if you don't answer your background questions accurately, they may tell you it can't be done online, and ask you to mail a request to them with your name, address, social sec...PAHAHAHAHA. Keep in mind these people are supposed to be experts in security. They want me to mail all that in a letter than anyone could intercept?

Easy money.
Poorly-planned protocols aside, making it so that you have to take an extra step to open a credit line is the prudent thing to do; just don't lose that unlock code!

Also suggested is https://www.optoutprescreen.com/ to stop receiving those pesky pre-approved credit card offers that are littered with your personal info. The stoppage is supposed to last 5 years if done online.

Another update is that my filing with Unclaimed Property of the WA State Treasury went well! I got a check in the mail 2 days after sending the form!


Also, with Fall weather encouraging more indoor activities, you all should consider a Movie Pass. This lets you see one movie per day, any movieThis company mails you a debit card, and you use an app on your phone that shows you local theaters and play times.

When the company first announced the price drop to $9.95 per month, it took a lot of patience to navigate barely-informative webpages and sign up forms to get one. I got lucky, and mine arrived a week later.


Also, my phone battery is on its way out after 5 years, so that caused me to go on a pricing spree. The last time I tried to swap hardware on an Apple device went poorly, so between that and wanting to give Android another try, I went ahead and did some research. I ended up paying about $50 for a brand new Moto e4, a decent phone, with its own phone number. While it's not an iPhone 8 or Galaxy S7, it has a bright 5 inch screen, fingerprint scanner and is very fast and responsive. It also costs 1/16th what an unlocked top-of-the-line phone does and has a headphone port.

How'd I get such a deal? I unlocked a brand new prepaid phone and swapped SIM cards.

So, Walmart.com will let you pick up a Verizon Prepaid Moto E4 for $39.99 and "activate it" before you leave the store. Except they don't actually turn it on. So, I added another FreedomPop line by ordering a $1 LTE Sim, which always seem to be on special. The code to unlock the Moto e4 was $2 on eBay. Before turning on the phone, I swapped out the Verizon sim and turned the phone on and entered the unlock code. There's one more step before everything works: Set a custom network, which is 3 clicks in the Setup menu. An added bonus was that the Verizon prepaid phone didn't come with too much bloatware - all those free silly apps that slow down your phone.

All in all, Frugal Fall is working out pretty well!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Tips in frugality: Where I ate in Japan

As of march 2015, just over $8
I've been to enough company dinners and dates in Japan to walk away from a $60 meal still hungry. It sucks. It's certainly a great way to bond, but is also usually Part One of a second, drinks-only place which will have you shelling out more of those sweet-sweet Noguchis (see right). Frugal romance note: Japanese women are proud to pay their half of the date, and actually look down on others who let (foreign?) men foot the whole bill. Thanks, ladies :)

$60 back home can buy dinner for two at almost any restaurant in my repertoire, most often with a drink. And for $60 per person in Seattle, you can eat like God. Even before I started socking away my kizzash, I sought out some cheaper alternatives to heartily suggest.

Izakaya are everywhere. The characters 居酒屋 are "to be somewhere" + "alcohol" + "place." There are dozens of izakaya chains, and most of them have competitive prices: Kin no Kura, Doma-Doma and Wara-wara will have you walking away fed and boozed for ¥2000-3000 per person, which goes down if you're sharing or eating lightly.

Kin no Kura boasts that everything on their menu, drinks included, is ¥270. My top recommended izakaya that also has this a la carte pricing is Tori-kizoku. "Chicken Kingdom" has yakitori (chicken skewers), different types of chicken salad and chicken-broth ramen, which, surprisingly, isn't very common.

After being in Japan for a while, you might start to miss Western food, and I wouldn't be worth my salt if I didn't mention La Pausa. For ¥3000, you can get tabe-nomihoudai 食べ放題 / 飲み放題 (all you can eat/drink.) On this dazzling menu, there are a handful of 8" pizzas you can order, a dozen pasta dishes, salads and of course wines and happoshu.

Happoshu 発泡酒is a malt beer made of slightly-different ingredients that generally costs half as much as real beer. Bud Light and Coors Light have this tasteless, sometimes metallic quality to them and remind me of happoshu. Japanese breweries started this because the government was a little too specific in which kinds of alcohol are taxed. While Yebisu, Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi have their delicious flagship lagers, they've all made their own cheaper happoshu variants. I personally am more likely to get a headache with happoshu than real beer, but that's what comes with cheaper izakaya.

$10 for all of this, about 3 meals. Katsu, gyoza, yakisoba, onigiri and karaage. Also, a free creeper.
Staying cheap, I also ate a lot of ready-to-eat deli food. I lived a close bike ride to Seiyu, Japan's Walmart, and would get katsu, seafood salads, rice balls and other entrees for a few hundred yen each.

Lastly, ramen. Ramen is the only contender for pizza in my book of favorites that I have regular access to. You're never far from a good ramenya ラーメン屋 in Japan. This was part of my favorite research whenever I moved to a new place, and bowl of ramen will run you $7-10.

All in all, I only cooked about half of my meals because over 2 years and 4 apartments, I never had a large enough prep surface to make cooking not a pain in the ass. Japan's ready-to-eat food has good portions, is not overly salty, and seeing delivery trucks more than once a day instills confidence that a lot of people are paying attention to freshness. I'm pretty sure my Japanese friends were quite aware that these suggested restaurants were cheap, but no one ever had an aversion to them the way you'd get shot down here for suggesting McDonalds to co-workers. Also, drinking after work was often a can or two from a 7-11 instead of going to a bar, which cut down drastically.

All aboard the Carb Express!
I think the average middle-class person there ate out a lot more often than I did, but I still bought food half the time. This was one of the ways I socked away 40-60% of my paycheck, and it certainly left a lot of room for improvement.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sep-timberrrr

As the needlessly hot weather sloughs off, and nature finishes ruining peoples' lives in the southern US, it's time to clam up for the next half year and get a little more passive. I started season 4 of Orphan Black, which, while a great show, has been kicked up a notch in terms of biological nightmares and R-ratings. It's bloodier, the language is coarser, and my girl Tatiana Maslany is showing more skin. I can't say it makes the show better, but my focus is in gaming.


Loot and stats, bro
Dungeon Defenders II is a free-to-play 3rd person tower defense game. You can dynamically switch between your 4+ heroes for different types of towers and of course different powers for your hero. This game is just about exactly what I needed, though I prefer god-view in this genre. Dungeon Defenders is also a little equipment-stat-heavy, but it's a sweet package considering it costs $0.00. Trophy-wise, the list is only 100%, no platinum. One of the reasons I like (reasonable) trophy lists is because they're a definite ending point where you can sell/let your friend borrow the game and move onto the next adventure.
My ro-bro, BT-7274

Continuing in the vein of sequels, I had an awesome week completing Titanfall 2, which has a trophy list that proves there are designers who want you to finish their game. Nothing is worse than 99% of trophies being reasonable, followed with a place-in-the-top-3-500-games-in-a-row-online trophies.The story's natural difficulty progression happens so that beating it on the hardest mode gives you a fighting chance: you don't get dropped into a firefight very often, and if you're pretty much always moving, it's not punishing. Plus the game makes use of the system's RAM in that when you die a hundred times, loading time is minimal.



Titanfall 2 fixed Titanfall's missing single-player campaign, having the story go out of its way to give you interesting levels to traverse as fast-moving pilot or blow-stuff-up mech. At one point of the game, you wander through a home manufacturing plant and are wall jumping and Parkour running up sideways bedrooms, upside-down fake-grass lawns, and dodging the factory machines that mercilessly press on. It's bizarre as hell, but quite fun.


The bulk of my time was spent with Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System, a mess of a title that came about because the devs wanted to distinguish from other upgrades of titles in the series. International means extra content and dual language options, and the new job system that allows you to assign your characters their own classes relates to zodiac signs. Originally, FFXII characters developed along pre-designed tracks.

Fran's ass is still awesome.
XII blew my mind when it came out on the PS2. Most people missed the online-only FFXI, so the quiet and depressing FFX with obnoxious lead characters was the last title we had played. Gorgeous graphics, really solid voice acting, set in the swords-iron-magick world of Ivalice, and a wonderful soundtrack in addition to a huge non-linear world that encourages exploration. You can finish the 30-hour story and still have more than 70 hours of optional (and trophy-hunting) content to wade through explore.


Vaan is a red/black mage
The massive departure in gameplay from the series is still there: budding programmers get to program their party's AI, one behavior at a time, using the Gambit system. In the beginning of the game, you get 3 slots for each character. You might have Attack: closest enemies / HP < 30% : use potion / Ally : eye drops, which means your character will prioritize attacking, and heal up after the realtime battles. However, if you put eye drops first, potion and then attack, that means that if these criteria are met in the middle of battle, your character will stop and heal up before going back to slashing away at the baddies. Endgame, you have 15 Gambit slots and about 100 actions to take, resulting in some pretty complex programming and planning. The resulting button-pressing is basically controlling movement and camera, but if you don't plan ahead, you'll find yourself micromanaging a ton to keep status ailments from overwhelming your party.

This place's music is definitely my favorite
My quest is currently at 55 hours and I might be half way to the platinum trophy. There are still a few poorly-designed areas of the game (Draklor Laboratories, Bhujerba) but it's still ultimately an awesome RPG experience and the PS4 version is an awesome upgrade.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Credit Cards

Well, folks, we got Equi-f***ed. I read somewhere that 130 million Americans' info was vulnerable in September 2017's data breach. SSN, addresses, names, the whole shebang. If the population is 330m, then maybe it's a time to revamp the system? A social security number is basically your national ID (since not everyone gets a passport) that has no photo attached, stays unchanged and has no letters or special characters to mix things up. Your email password is more secure, and you even give part of this number over the phone pretty often. My immediate thought was how ridiculous it is that we spend trillions of dollars on 'defense,' yet the average US citizen isn't protected from information security hacks. These thieves can do a lot with your SSN, name and address because of the convenience of electronic forms. Think about how many important things you've signed up for without a photo ID and it gets pretty darn scary.

What to do? The FTC says to check your credit reports for free, monitor your accounts, and consider a security freeze, which makes it harder to open accounts without your consent. Freezes for the big three credit report agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) will cost you up to $30 (fees depend by state), but you'll be that much more secure. As of 9/15/2017, the websites are overworked and I'm getting errors, but it's worth it to keep trying.

Now that we're all secure and confident to continue our lives (with a weekly check of our spending), let's talk about the borrowing part of credit. I know people that are super proud to always use cash, never have debt, and avoid loans like the plague. They are all super lucky but are missing out on a few major benefits of using credit cards.

The biggest and most obvious double-edged sword is the deferred payment: if you need a car/bike repair and payday is far off, you just have to wait. That might mean you can't get to work or school! (I can't use hospital emergencies in this case because even if our healthcare system is a crisis, it's pretty standard that they bill you after setting you right.)

Next obvious is that credit card companies protect you from fraud, and this is taken for granted until it happens to you. It's happened to me twice so far. I've had my card info stolen before and Capital One was on that ish like fur on a mouse. Credit card companies make so much money off people who neglect (or unfortunately can't keep up with) payments that they can afford to have our back at the drop of a hat. Those banks also often credit your account before they roll up their sleeves and go after the fraudster or company that shafted you!

Except when they don't. Story Time! A few years ago, I found a debit card on the street and called Chase customer service. I gave them the digits and told them I'd found a card on the street, and that they should close it because it's obviously not in the owner's position. Well, Chase bank, whom we so generously bailed out in 2008 asked my name, city and phone number in response. I got about 5 digits in when it occurred to me to ask why I was giving them my phone number. The associate told me that they were going to give the card owner my number and have me meet them to return the card back. This resulted in me closing my other Chase account and moving over to a credit union because of an absolute loss of confidence. Security means nothing to those people.


Anyway, it was a debit card that I'd found, and here's an important point about credit: since it's magic money, you're not completely screwed over when Klepto Chris cops your card. Cash can blow away in the wind, and debit cards are directly connected to your bank account. You might not be able to pay for your internet connection and read my blog if your debit card is compromised.

I hope I don't have to give a disclaimer that you should
do your best to pay the balance in full every month?
The last reason credit cards are dope is the permanent discount you get when you get cards like Capital One's Quicksilver that give you 1.5% cash back. Until they recently added a 2.5% charge, I paid my rent and utilities with this sucker, which was basically a free $100 per year!

So, while your peace of mind in not borrowing and always using cash on hand could be worth more than these benefits, think about each of these points and consider getting yourself a credit card. Check out nerdwallet.com for recommended cards.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My first experience with Amazon Flex

Amazon Flex is when you deliver items for the retailer, using your own car.

My amounts were different
How it works: Download their app and consent to a background check; you're good to go in a few days. This isn't offered everywhere, but Amazon is expanding rapidly, and this works in a lot of major cities. The night before my route, I accepted a block of time for the advertised pay. In the app, it says "3 hours: 8:30 - 11:30 AM, $54." Next, I arrived to the pickup location at 815, started scanning and loading packages. This took me about 20 minutes trying to load my sedan and not thinking ahead very well. After checking out with an attendant, the app's GPS started me on the route, making it the most time-efficient.

How it worked for me: My addresses were all within 2 square miles, but I wonder how much gas I burned up idling and running the AC. The current pay works out to $18 an hour if you complete the route in the allocated time. However, for my first delivery, I actually had until 9pm to deliver everything. I had a few issues so the actual delivery took me almost 6 hours, so I effectively made $9 per hour. My first issue was that I hadn't brought my car charger for my phone. Luckily my delivery route was only a few miles from my apartment, so I broke off and spent 30 minutes going to the house and rooting around in boxes to find it. My bad. The second issue was that I hadn't organized the packages when I received them. The attendees will tell you how to stack your morning stock so that the last items are packed in the furthest, but all bets were off when every package pretty much filled my sedan. The third holdup was a particular apartment complex spanned 3 different addresses, and had secured doors. I delivered 2 packages, waiting to be let into the buildings before remembering that everything for the complex was supposed to go straight to the rental office. Also, with 3 different addresses, that meant I circled back to it two additional times, wasting at least 30 minutes.

The final time-waster was that my morning scan was one package off from inventory. The attendees told me that was fine and that if I found out which package it was, I could manually add it to my route before delivering it. The kind people even showed me how to do it. Well, when I got to the end of the route, I finally realized which package was left over, but made the mistake of marking the last one I'd added as delivered, and the app closed the route. A closed route cannot be edited, and customer support can't be contacted except by email. So, I drove 30 minutes back to the warehouse to get an actual phone number to call for help, and made my final delivery.

My advice for Flex? Phone charger and extra battery. Next time, I will make quadrants where the passenger seat is 1st - 50th street, the rear passenger is 51st - 100th street, and so on. However, you'll have a different breakdown every day: maybe it makes sense to organize your deliveries by zip code. Lastly, get a help phone number from the attendees because the app either doesn't provide it, or only provides it while your delivery route is open. Unfortunately, I got a notice a few days later that a package wasn't received, but Amazon is open to letting me try again. All in all, I can recommend Amazon Flex as some great extra income that pays weekly.


Resources: I was worried about data usage, since my free phone plan (freedompop.com) limits me to 500MB per month. Luckily, one delivery route was about 40MB. My odometer says I used 60 miles, but the warehouse is 14 miles away, but I went to the warehouse twice. However, you'll use additional gas from idling and AC/heating. So, because of my mistakes and partially because of how the help/support function works (i.e. providing no phone number), I made out with roughly $9 an hour for delivery. However with this valuable experience, I will probably make closer to the advertised $18 per hour next time.

Grey Friday: Know your brands