My Best Buy Geek Squad Fiasco – With a Happy Ending

My Best Buy Geek Squad Fiasco Title Graphic

Before I did hardware tech support for a few years in the early 2000’s, I used to tell people to skip warranties on most items (up to a certain amount of value) because they were just a big insurance scam. Cheap consumer laptops in the sub-$500 are especially bad for coming with 1-3 year warranties that cost almost as much as the laptop itself. When it breaks, you’ve essentially already bought your replacement laptop in advance.

Working in hardware support fixing Gateway, Dell, and Apple products, I learned the term “non-economical repair.” This mostly only ever applied to laptops, but essentially the term means there’s so much damage to the machine, it would be cheaper to replace than to repair. Under a good warranty, this means you’d get a replacement laptop. Under a cheap warranty, this means you’d get a new or refurbished laptop at a discounted price from the same store, and they’d consider your warranty completely gone.

Why mostly laptops? Because the inside of a laptop is almost completely one piece. You’ve got your system board that has (typically) a soldered on chip for each function like graphics, sound, wired networking, the cpu, etc. Then you’ve got separate chips called DIMMs for memory (RAM), sometimes a removable module that does wifi and /or bluetooth, and connections out to your keyboard, hard drive, and if you have one an optical drive like your DVD or Blu-ray reader/burner. Since the system board does so much and has so many non-serviceable parts, if you damage any part of it the whole piece has to be replaced. On average, a laptop motherboard can cost more than the laptop itself to replace.

Back in the early 2000’s, Apple laptops came with 1-year of manufacturer support for hardware that failed due to defect, but no coverage for accidental damage even if you purchased the additional Apple Care plans. There are third party companies out there who make their bank on Apple customers that spill drinks on their Macbooks, drop their iPhones in the toilet, or whose Apple Care has just plain expired.

So after hearing one sob story after the next, I became a pretty big advocate of getting a worthwhile computer as the first good step towards a happy computing life, and to buy protection that’s worthwhile to cover your purchase. That means a plan that doesn’t cost as much as a replacement machine, and provides a replacement in case anything happens (accidental damage OR failure due to defect). I’ve heard some people have been able to get their laptops covered by homeowner’s insurance for things like theft or loss due to fire or flooding.

Best Buy's Geek Squad in-store

My First Best Buy Computer

A couple of years ago I had a really good job and was making slightly more money than I was used to, so my spending got a little out of hand. I had also just pulled out my retirement from when I worked for the state doing tech support. I paid off major bills. My wife and I had both just started an associate’s degree in Web Technologies, and we had homework to get done. We were going to visit the in-laws but we had final projects due soon, so with the wife’s laptop out of commission I decided we needed to get a new one.

Short on time, instead of taking time to shop around online to get the most for our money, I took us to Best Buy. We settled on a Toshiba Satellite because that’s what her old computer was and what most of her family owns, and they all seemed happy with it. This new one was the desktop replacement style, with a full number pad and an IPS display (you know how laptops typically have weird glares when you tilt the screen and look at them from different angles? IPS basically fixes that). It would play the games I play, run the software we needed for homework, and it was fast and seemed quality made. I paid about $800 plus another $380 or so for 3 years of Geek Squad protection that included accidental damage protection, because I just knew if I didn’t I would drop or otherwise mess this thing up. Which would mean crying myself to sleep at night for quite some time.

Two years went by and mostly, I had no problems with it. It was a great laptop, Toshiba makes a solid product – enough that I bought another one later.

The Fiasco Begins

First of all, let me just say that this is largely intended to be a review of my experience using the Best Buy Geek Squad service to process my warranty repair. Best Buy store locations involved were all super helpful and so were their in-store Geek Squad associates. And ultimately, the issue was resolved to my satisfaction.

A fateful night at work a month or so ago, I set my laptop up on a shelf while I attended to some things. It wasn’t precariously perched, to my knowledge. Through some weird shifting of weight or maybe it just wasn’t as securely perched as I imagined, it fell from that shelf to a larger shelf below, about two feet. It landed on its charging cable side, though, and damaged the port into which it plugs.

The result of this mishap is that for a few weeks I was holding or otherwise MacGyvering implements to keep the cord in position so that it would charge my laptop. I was disheartened because I knew that sending my laptop in for repair would mean not having it for an undetermined amount of time, possibly losing my data, and possibly getting a replacement laptop since the power port is built in to the system board.

When it wouldn’t easily charge any more no matter how I held the cord, I got it to full battery once and then made a thorough backup of all my files, just in case. (Geek Squad will do this for you, for a fee, but if you don’t pay close attention its easy to miss the part where it costs to get them to do it for you.)

And then I made the call.

Setting Up the Repair

On my first call with Geek Squad at the end of March, I talked to a young woman on the phone who was happy to have me deliver my laptop in person to my nearest Best Buy. I explained that the nearest Best Buy is about a 45 minute drive for me, and I couldn’t afford the gas this week to go out that far and still make it to work every day, and I can’t wait because I need my laptop for my business. I had fully expected to setup a service incident and have them mail me a box so I can send it in for service, like we used to do for some of our warranty work.

She said that would be fine, they just usually prefer to look at it in store and let the customer agree to whatever work needs to be done before they send it anywhere, but she would mail me a box and it would be there in 1-2 days.

I’m pretty used to how shipping things works in this day and age – Verizon is great at shipping a package overnight. Amazon prime deliveries are super speedy. And I know sometimes you can’t put a package on a truck to get shipped out same day, and if the next day is Sunday or if your business is closed on the weekend it might be Monday before it even starts to ship. This package took about 4 days to get to me.

I dropped it off with my laptop and cord inside at UPS the next day, and made sure I got a receipt with the tracking number. I put my username and password to my laptop on their sheet, making sure to change all my other accounts and I’d already taken care to make sure my personal data wasn’t super sensitive. (Trust NO ONE when you send your laptop to be repaired – I’ve heard and read horror stories, not necessarily about Geek Squad, of people’s photos being copied, personal info being stolen, you never know – better safe than sorry.)

The Waiting Game

Geek Squad’s people are all very friendly. I received email updates along the way during my repair. They’ve received my package – great! They’ve got someone assigned to it and they’ll be looking at it shortly – stellar! My repair is under way – woohoo! Oh, what’s this? It looks like they’ve got to order a part and it could take a couple of days for it to arrive. OK, that’s not a big deal. I can be patient – and ordering a part sounds promising. If they have a part ordered I might get my same laptop back after all!

I waited for two weeks with no updates. Finally, I checked online again to see my status was waiting on a part still, and I give up and I call Geek Squad’s toll free number. I work nights, so I was thankful they operate 24/7.

On this first call, I am told that my laptop is in a repair center in Louisville, and unfortunately the phone support people don’t have access to the system needed to see exactly what was going on. On these particular models, apparently getting the part can take as long as a month! I said “That’s mostly not acceptable, can you contact them to find out when they expect to complete my repair?” I figured it would be tomorrow before I would hear something, and she said someone would contact me within 24 hours. It was a Friday night, and I suspected maybe since it was the weekend she might have forgotten if they weren’t going to be around until Monday.

Sure enough, the weekend and Monday come and go without a phone call or email. She said they would do both, I got neither.

The Scare

So I go to check my status online again, this time I get an error like my service number doesn’t exist. I freak out, call back. This time, I speak to a gentleman who tells me he’s going to transfer me directly to the service center. I remind him that I’ve already had a frustrating experience and it would be unwise to cold transfer me to someone where I have to explain myself a third time today.

He cold transfers me, and I get the ringing sound, and then disconnected.

I call back, super pissed, and finally get someone who seems to know what they’re talking about. She says they’ve been having website problems that day, and that could be why I didn’t get to see the status.

They tell me that my laptop is in “junk-out status” – Geek Squad’s equivalence of the non-economical repair. So I tell them I get what that means, I mostly expected that to be the case. I paid for accidental damage protection and I didn’t abuse the laptop. Their advertising even suggests that for a fall of up to 6 feet they’ll cover the repair. She says they’ll be contacting me shortly and probably discuss basically selling the laptop back to them for the purchase price or a depreciated amount since it’s 2 years old at this point.

I get really upset about the possible depreciated value, because that’s not what I was sold when I bought the protection plan. I expected full satisfaction for my plan purchase. She told me to call the nearest Best Buy in the morning and they could tell me more about what’s going on with the “junk-out status” and what the next steps were, or wait a day and the repair center that actually has my laptop should call me.

Waited a day, no call.

This is Getting Old Fast, Geek Squad

I call back, explain myself, then when he suggests he’s going to transfer me, I ask not to be cold transferred – and then I get cold transferred to an automated menu system, where none of the options take you to a human, just more recorded messages, mostly intended for Geek Squad employees.

My second call has slightly more luck, I ended up getting cold-transferred to the 2nd closest Best Buy to me, and the in-store GS associate is super helpful. He explains the “junk-out status” again, and tells me he can go into more detail but basically I need to come into a Best Buy in person, claim my “junk-out status” service number, and they’ll issue me a store credit on a Best Buy gift card for whatever the system decides I deserve.

I explained that my nearest Best Buy is 45 minutes away, and he said if I’d make the extra miles to their store they have slightly better selection and they’d have record of talking to me already.

A Happy Ending

I arrived at the Best Buy an hour and a half later with my wife. We have to wait a little because two families are in front of us with appointments with the limited Geek Squad staff on hand. As one gentleman asks what we need help with, the other remembers our phone call from earlier and says he’ll help us in just a minute.

I nervously go through the transaction and then I get the good news – they’re going to give me the full original purchase amount of my laptop! At this point, my Geek Squad service protection is considered “fulfilled” and so I no longer have any extra protection, but at least I got a replacement laptop out of it. Since I paid a little less than half the price of a new one to get the protection, I’d say that was a decent deal.

The new laptop is a Toshiba Satellite Radius P55W-B5220, a 15″ convertible laptop where the keyboard flips back and it becomes a tablet, and it has a touch screen and Windows 8.1. It has fancy voice recognition software.  It’s got a 750gb hard drive (SATA, not SSD), no ethernet port or optical drive, 3 usb ports, one hdmi port, and a built in webcam and Harman / Kardon speakers. I restored my backups and reinstalled all my software and thanks to the magic of logging in with my Microsoft account on the old laptop, I have all my settings right back in place.

I’d like to thank the in-store employees for being competent and friendly. They did a great job. If you do happen to need to use your Geek Squad protection plan in the future, I’d recommend just dealing straight with the store. The phone people, while friendly, mostly don’t seem competent enough to understand concepts like “warm transfer” and liaising for the customer to other departments. And whatever service center my laptop went to, I’m not sure why they never contacted me directly as the phone people indicated. But I’d still be waiting if I hadn’t been proactive about it.

I probably won’t buy my next laptop from Best Buy, and I didn’t buy extended Geek Squad support again for this one. I’m going to take extremely good care of it until it dies permanently, and then I’ll probably shop around online. For now though, it is good to be back in business with an even better laptop, thanks to the Geek Squad.

AI Voice Assistant Technology Still Sucks

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“OK Dragon – post ‘I’m too lazy to write this status myself’ to Facebook.” No problem. OK to post “I’m too lazy to write this status myself”?

“OK Google – navigate me to Helvetica Nude’s Font of Women, a Strip Club for Typographers.” Turn left onto I-73 and take exit 33 towards I-24 South, then merge onto US 428 to Nasty Park Road.

“Siri – remind me in 1 day to call my therapist and get a refill on my prescriptions.” Reminder scheduled for tomorrow.

Voice assistants are all too commonplace today, if you bother to seek one out and use it. Siri may have made it mainstream, but there are decent competitors out there such as Dragon Assistant and Android’s Google Now. But the technology and the paradigm of using it in everyday life has far to go before we wonder how we ever did without it.

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Talking to your phone or computer is ridiculous

No matter how often you probably fantasized about being able to get information or perform tasks just by using your voice, you’ve never had the sort of AI experience that people on board the Enterprise had on TV’s Star Trek. To be honest: they looked stupid using it, too. But at least the computer gave them useful information and seemed to understand most natural language input (unless the writers felt like making a point about how computers aren’t human, and vice versa with an unrecognized command. If you’ve ever spent more time trying to get voice commands to do what you want than it would have taken just to use your hands and do it manually, then you feel how stupid you look doing it. Only the obstinate tech enthusiast will continue to try to get it to work.

You can’t do this naturally in public either, or you just look like an elitist jackass. “Hey Siri, find me some friends.” I’m sorry, but I’m unable to detect anyone nearby with a severe lack of social skills. Have you tried browsing Tinder?

When the Singularity happens and our computers try to kill us gracious robot overlords rule over us with wisdom and justice, we might have lengthy conversations when they will it. We might discuss philosophy, religion, politics, and the human slave destruction and feeding schedules. But for now, voice AI is a party trick. It’s a point and pray solution to a problem we didn’t have.

Until we fix the paradigm and how foolish it makes us look, I think we should put people who use voice commands into a dimly lit room with people who continuously wear their bluetooth headset when they’re not driving or even taking a call.

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OK Dragon, find me a bug report form

My rage against voice commands came recently when I picked up my replacement laptop from Best Buy, an upgrade from my previous model that I was able to get under the Geek Squad protection plan (more on that in another post). The laptop I’m writing this on is the Toshiba Satellite Radius (model P55W-B5220) – it’s a nice convertible Windows 8.1 laptop that turns into a tablet and sometimes sits up like a teepee. It came with Dragon Voice Assistant and that kind of excited me.

Maybe some of that was excitement over Cortana being in Windows 10, and thinking somehow it might finally be cool to talk to my computer. But it’s not. It’s just ludicrous. In this particular case, I’m giving a bad review to Dragon because it’s pre-installed on a machine in a big box store and it’s just not up to snuff.

Dragon posted a status to Facebook for me without much fuss, once I connected it up to my Facebook account and took some basic steps to get it to recognize my voice saying “OK, Dragon,” its default activation phrase. It also responds to “Hey Dragon,” “Yo, Dragon,” but does not respond to “Dragon,” “Dammit, Dragon,” or “Dragon, you ho bag,” despite my repeated efforts.

Dragon got confused when I tried to get it to open specific programs on my computer that weren’t Windows 8.1 modern apps. Then it couldn’t do simple things I wanted it to like “Close this tab,” while I was in a Firefox browsing session. It shined when I asked it in plain language to find something out for me, essentially doing a search on whatever type of site was appropriate, within reason.

More often than not, though, Dragon tells me that it’s “not sure what to do with that,” or “OK, cancelled.” And of course, with an activation phrase, it frequently misheard the television or people in the room, like your eager friend who hopes someone nearby is talking about them. You can tell Dragon to go back to sleep, but that gets sad after a while.

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Google Now or um, you know, whenever you get around to it – if you have time, you know, no big deal.

My other voice assistant, Google Now on my LG G3 Android phone (now running Lollipop, thanks Verizon!) is thankfully a lot more cognizant of my needs and desires than Dragon. While Google Now taps into Google’s ever-expanding far-reaching knowledge and metadata chasm, its primary annoyance is getting the activation phrase to work and to get it to do something besides search for exactly what I just said.

I have on a few occasions managed to get Google Now to recognize “OK Google, what’s this song?” and pull off some Shazam-like magic to identify a song for me. It’s almost the only thing I use it for anymore. Outside of that, I once got it to set a reminder somewhere on my phone that never went off. It acknowledged the time and date and content of the reminder, but when the time came and passed, I never received any notifications.

I’m still not 100% sure how to get Google Now to just jump into Navigate mode and get me where I need to go without pressing anything. And while driving, which is where I’d talk instead of type, I can’t take my eyes off the road to type or confirm the location I need.

Ya got no follow-through, kid.

My biggest pet peeve about AI voice assistants, above all the rest – they have no sense of context. They’re designed essentially to take one command at a time and interpret that into a task to complete. They typically have no natural language follow-up capabilities to understand a contextual command, especially as a follow-up to an initial command. Google Now almost gets it right by letting me say “the first one” when navigating search results, but has a hard time understanding that I need it to keep listening to say, dial the number in the listing or do something useful like text the result to a contact.

Just the convenience of being able to use pronouns and have the AI understand the context and know what to do with follow-up commands would make significant progress towards useful voice controls. In essence, the more human we can make our AI, the more pleasant it will be to interact with it.

It won’t solve the problem of douchebags talking to their devices looking like douchebags, but now we’ll at least have some sympathy for the poor device that has to listen to him.

Final thoughts

I can’t give any insight to Siri in earnest, because I don’t have any iDevices around the house or at work. From what I’ve seen, it seems to have better adoption and engagement from iPhone users because the developers gave it a bit of a personality. Functionally, people who have it seem to really appreciate it – but I still say the problems persist regardless of platform. We need something better – we need a real life JARVIS to run all our gadgets, our homes, and our transportation. You can’t feel anything but pleasant talking to JARVIS – he’s realistic, friendly, well-tempered, and always knows what you need.

The person who designs a voice assistant like JARVIS, well that person has Vision.

[Editor’s note: I confess, I just saw Avengers: Age of Ultron yesterday evening and may be fanboying out still.]

Work For Yourself: The Entrepreneur’s Checklist

Like-A-Boss

Employee of the MonthIn March, I left my fairly awesome job working from home as a project manager to pursue entrepreneurship full time. My wife and I were almost done with our Web Technologies program at the local community college, and I’ve been doing websites for over 10 years. Both of us had experience with WordPress and customizing it, so we decided to give it a shot. In this economic upswing, we had enough savings to get by for about 12 months. It’s been 3 months, and we’re still alive to tell about it. I’ve picked up a few handy ideas along the way, and I thought I’d share them.

1. Get money.

Short of having a super amazing product or service that no one else is selling, you can expect to be in the red for a while – unless you don’t quit your day job. Which, I recommend everyone assess and make their own judgement about. If you can’t reasonably run your business and work a day job, then you need a healthy savings account to get you through the tough times.

For me, I used my retirement savings – I’m not a financial planner, so don’t take that as advice. Figure up your bills. Once you know how much you actually need each month to pay bills, tack on another 20% to be safe. That’s unexpected trips in the car that require gas, extra meals, supplies, and whatever else you might need. If your business requires overhead, your number’s going to be much higher obviously. For web design, we already have the equipment and we work from home, so our overhead is basically zero unless you count electricity and internet costs.

Once you know those figures, try to build up a savings account of 6 to 12 months worth of cash. If you have great credit, you might be able to take out a business start-up loan or get capital from investors, but either typically requires a business plan and some of your own money invested. More on that in a bit.

Things will get tough, and if you’re not an overnight success you need to know you can keep paying the bills. If things get tough, you may have to look for work again or sell off things you can do without. You may need to cancel services you subscribe to, stop eating out, and coupon with intensity!

2. Know thyself.

You can find thousands of sites out there that tell you how to make a business plan. You’ll find community colleges often offer free seminars on how to make an impressive business plan for loans or investors. But before you start downloading a Word template and considering your legal structure, you need to know your business. Here’s a brief outline of items you should consider and know the answer to before you begin your formal business plan:

  • What is my product or service?
  • Is there a demand for it?
  • Who else is doing this in this area? (Who’s the competition?)
  • What does the competition do well? What can I do better?
  • What does it cost to make my product or perform my service?
  • Can I price competitively and still be profitable?
  • Can I compete with their quality?
  • Will I need to hire a staff?
  • What are the laws regulating the industry of my business?
  • What can I do myself, and what do I need to “outsource” to another business?

Once you have a rough idea of the answer to these questions and you can picture your business launching in the most ideal way possible, you can begin to plot a route to that success. You may not be able to predict every bump and obstacle, but it’s good to at least know what direction to head. Then you can begin filling out whatever business plan template you prefer, or build one from scratch. The key to any good business plan is being able to answer the questions “Why should I care about your business?” and “How will your business make money?”

Even if you’re self-funding and don’t need a business loan or investors, you should bother with a business plan to help guide you and keep you focused. As a project manager, I learned that projects tend to creep in scope and when that happens you need more time and more resources, something a budding entrepreneur often can’t spare.

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3. Hustle. Don’t ever stop hustling.

The easiest thing to do once you have a plan and know how you’re going to get rolling, especially with that 6 or 12 month cushion of savings or capital, is to take a few well-deserved days off. That’s fine, actually. Get your head right before you get going. But don’t take more than three days, unless you have a commitment or obligation that delays you further. Get going – get moving. Take steps everyday to get where you’re going. Just because you work for yourself now doesn’t mean you aren’t working full-time anymore. Use every available moment during whatever time you call “work hours” to get things done. If you sit on the couch because you don’t have work to do right that second, consider what you could be doing to reach success in that moment. Do work, then do some more. Not busy work, but effective work.

Also, there’s no shame in side gigs. Do mystery shops, mow lawns, babysit people’s kids, sell things on eBay and Craigslist, sell yourself on Mechanical Turk by Amazon or Fiverr, or get creative. Nothing wrong with a few alternative revenue streams.

4. Shout it from the rooftops.

Once you’ve taken care of hustling to make yourself ready to do business, it’s time to open. If you want to make money, you are going to need advertising. Break out of the traditional mindset of paying someone to advertise for you, but don’t abandon it completely. When I say advertisement, I mean letting people know your business exists. There are ways to do that besides paying for a billboard, newspaper ad, TV time, and radio. You can try your hand at Facebook ads, but it’s hit or miss. We ran ads for a week on Facebook and saw increased reach to our Facebook page, but conversion rates were negligible because we didn’t have much for people to engage with at the time besides contacting us through email or phone.

Depending on your business, your location could be a great way to get business, but if you’re not located somewhere popular you’ve got to give people a reason to go off the beaten path to try someone / something new. Try these methods to land some clientele:

  • Get social – tell all your friends, family, and contacts that you’ve started a new business and when the need arises, you’d love for them to remember you.
  • Get charitable – if you can donate products or services to a non-profit (or discount them heavily for new customers), then you’ll have items for a portfolio or people who have sampled your product that might turn into customers themselves, and who might tell their friends about it. The onus is on you to make sure what you do is quality enough to earn those referrals.
  • Get resourceful – bulletin boards, both digital and physical, are great places to advertise – especially if you can either provide a tear-off section of the flyer or leave a business card holder behind. Always make sure there’s an obvious way to contact you and a call to action – even though people know what to do with a business card, a call to action is a psychological trigger to follow-up.
  • Get involved locally – join your chamber of commerce. Often times, chamber businesses support other chamber businesses, and it’s a great way to get introduced to new clients and let the community know about your opening. Membership also usually involves being listed in some sort of print and/or online directory of local businesses, inclusion in the welcome packet for new people who move-in to the community, and community resources for building your business. They sometimes even offer insight into grants and education on small business legal structure and tax preparation.

Your marketing plan, no matter what your strategy is, should always answer the question “Why should I give you my money?”

Self-Employed or Unemployed

5. CYA – it’s not just for employees.

“Cover your ass” is a mantra that I learned from one of my first employers, who wanted to make sure we were diligent in our documentation of everything that occurred out of the ordinary, and our following of procedures to the letter in all situations. And when your ass is covered, it’s pretty hard for something to come up and bite it.

For the entrepreneur that means documenting every single transaction, between you and customers and you and other businesses. You should be aware of how much tax to charge customers and how much you owe in payroll taxes and personal income tax. If that’s a little complicated, then definitely safe the headache and budget for a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Get a recommendation from someone else you know who already runs a business.

If you are a freelancer or provide a service, it’s a good idea to have your own set of forms that you fill out for each project for each client, and either in digital or hard copy have a file folder just for that client’s forms and other information like invoices, proposals, and contracts. For us, we like to know certain things about a project before we begin so we can build requirements. The client looks at those requirements, and then signs off on them so that we’re on the same page about what we’re doing and about how much it should cost them and about how long it should take. It’s not a contract, just something to reference when a client wants to change the scope of the project. It makes it easier to say “OK, but since that adds to the scope of this project it’s going to take more work and cost more money.”

You may not be able to afford a legal service on retainer, but it’s a good idea to have legal counsel to proof any contracts you re-use, and to review any contracts that are specific to individual projects. You should also get advice on any laws specific to your business and be sure to follow them. A lawsuit is much more expensive than doing your legal homework at the start.

6. Veni, vidi, uh…

Once you setup shop, scream that you’re open, and have your ass covered, you probably expected people to bust down your door to hand over their money, right? Maybe that happens, but more often than not the first little while of being an entrepreneur is sitting on your thumbs waiting on someone to engage your services or make a sale. It can be seriously disheartening. Let’s not sugar coat it: this is the part of being an entrepreneur that sucks.

You’ll sit up at night worrying about being a failure, having to sell all your stuff to keep your doors open, going deep into debt, and having your investors hate you / your friends mocking you for being a loser. This is normal.

When things are slow, you have to think of what you can be doing to make yourself a success. Take networking opportunities. Attend local business owner functions. Read up on trade publications for your industry. Stay relevant. Produce things – if you’re a freelancer this means creating assets or copy or whatever you do for fictitious clients (or make something universally usable) and release it for free. If you’re a store owner or you make products, you may need to have a grand opening event or advertise a discount on a new item or hold a contest (remember: never stop hustling).

Above all else, keep a level head. It helps if you have a mentor or a friend or a spouse or partner with whom you can sit down and talk things over, at any stage of your business. Complain, express your fears, share your joys and successes. Being self-employed can be just as rewarding as it is stressful, and it’s a balancing act of mental health for normal people, much less people who already struggle with mental health issues. Take care of yourself, and if you find yourself in a bad place, talk to someone.

7. Your boss is an asshole.

If one of your reasons for wanting to be self employed is that you’ve never been happy working for anyone else, you might consider that you’ll be harder on yourself than any of your former bosses ever were. I often joke that I have a hostile work environment and that my boss is always riding my ass, or that I’m terrified he’ll find out I’m sleeping with his wife. These are good for a chuckle, but the truth is when you work for yourself you can never get away from your boss. It’s not the same kind of pressure where you’re afraid of acting unprofessional in front of them, but you do second guess yourself and your work. You do feel bad about being lazy once in a while because you know you could be working harder to finish that project or driving sales or promoting your business or demolishing the competition.

Corollary to “Never stop hustling,”: take time to breathe. You’re only human, you do the best you can and sometimes you need a break. Set up some guidelines for yourself and treat them as flexible but not arbitrary. Get up at the same time every day, have business hours (even if your particular business isn’t a physical location), and only check email or answer the phone or work on projects during those hours. After hours, have a ritual that helps you disconnect and “come home from work.” Don’t let that asshole boss of yours keep you late or make you work when you’re too sick. Spend time with your family while not thinking about work. Get back to it tomorrow.

Narcissism

8. Never give up – never surrender.

There’s a thousand motivational clichés that essentially endorse losing battles but winning wars, and other sentiments about failing a bunch until you win. Business is sort of like that. You might be immediately successful, but probably not. Most people aren’t. And those who are, it doesn’t last forever. It comes and goes with tides of the economy, supply and demand, your reputation, the weather, politics, and acts of God. Sometimes you’ll make mistakes and sometimes the problems will be completely unforeseeable and uncontrollable.

Here’s where I’m at now – we’re going to run out of savings in the near future. I had to explain to my wife that it won’t hurt my ego if I have to go get a job again if we don’t get more client work soon. I want to keep a roof over our heads. I also don’t want to have to go back to a job. But even if I do, it’s not a declaration of failure. I don’t feel like we failed. We got some clients, did some work, made some money, and that’s a success. It’s not a roaring success, and we’re not “set up” for the future. But it’s a success. Just getting out of the starting gate and going a distance means you raced at all, and that’s something to be proud about.

PLUS since we’re still alive, not homeless, and not in jail – that means we can keep the business open even while I worked a job. If yours is a business where you can’t work another job and stay open, then take heart – it still means you can try again some day.

We’re OK for now, by the way – but the reality of working for yourself is a back-of-the-mind fear that the money could dry up. It should motivate you, not paralyze you.

9. No ragrets. [sic]

You will learn something from every single project or product you have. You’ll learn how to do things better, how to behave better, how to correct and prevent mistakes better. When something goes wrong, take time to validate your feelings, and then improve your business.

This applies equally to business opportunities – when one comes along and you evaluate it and decide it’s good for your business, but then it doesn’t work out – learn from it. Figure out what you liked about the deal, where it went awry, and the next time an opportunity comes up, make sure to protect yourself from repeating history.

Fear is basically a problem of the unprepared and uncertain entrepreneur. Fear comes from not learning and not improving when you experience a critical failure or crisis, or from a new potential crisis or failure. You can alleviate most entrepreneurial fears with education and preparedness. This comes in part from experience, and part from being involved in your industry. Others have tread the path you’re on before you, and you can benefit from their experience. If you can afford it, go to trade shows and conferences. Read online forums for your particular industry, join Facebook groups, and soak in the advice and stories.

Above all else, take some reasonable chances. Success is great, but failure is a better teacher.

Assholes

10. Don’t let some asshole on the internet tell you how to run your business.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me – there are lots of assholes on the internet who think they can formulate a one-size-fits-all approach to entrepreneurship and break it down into a cute little top-ten article as click bait for their crappy blog that no one reads and that they haven’t updated in a year. They don’t know you, your business, or your circumstances. The only person who really and truly knows your business is you. You’ve got to analyze decisions with your brain and follow your gut about what’s best for your business. Take advice, certainly. But don’t take all these how-to articles as gospel. There’s no magic key to the success, uh, chest? Is that a thing? The Success Chest? And you can’t pick the lock either. No Sir, you’ve got to pry that bitch open with your Hard Work and Smart Choices Crowbar.

This metaphor has gone awry.

Mostly I wrote this post because I still lie awake at night worrying about the future. I panic that I’ll fail. And every other entrepreneurship article I found out there was full of warm and fuzzy feelings and motivational speaker pep talks that made it sound like you could be a raging success rolling in the money if you said and did the right things just the way they did them. I just wanted to share the basics of how to get started and let you know that your crappy new business is probably doing alright, and to hang in there.

Bonus Advice: Don’t Be Amy’s Baking Company

Just. Just seriously. Don’t be like these guys. Never ever use the word “haters” unironically.

GoGo In-Flight Wifi For BlackBerry Hack on Delta Airlines (User Agent Hack)

Headrest Screen Advertising Blackberry Gogo In-Flight Wifi

GoGo LogoCurrently (Until June 30th), Blackberry is sponsoring free in-flight wifi via GoGo on all Delta flights. I found this out when I was boarding my plane last Wednesday after having not flown for a while, when I realized that most of my Google Play Music collection isn’t pinned for offline listening. Thankfully, I had some of that weird-ass free music Google puts out all the time, so I enjoyed listening to some samplers and drinking a diet cola and whiskey.

Headrest Screen Advertising Blackberry Gogo In-Flight Wifi

Complimentary is right. Complimenting my sweet Android devices pretending to be the best Blackberry devices you’ve ever seen.

But it got me thinking: how on earth does the wifi know if you’re a blackberry user or not? I first thought maybe it was a unique MAC (media access control) address from the device’s wifi radio, but because different phone manufacturers might source wifi radios from the same place, that isn’t feasible. The only other thing reporting what kind of hardware you are using in a standard transaction is your web browser’s User Agent String. It usually says something about what kind of device you’re on, what operating system that device runs, and the version and name of your browser software. It’s also *easily* fooled.

I got settled in at the hotel Wednesday night and I found a message on SlickDeals that confirmed my suspicions – my plan to simply spoof my User Agent String to say I was a blackberry user is exactly what folks tried, and it worked!

I decided I would give it a try on my flight home. Here’s a good link for how to change your User Agent String in just about any PC browser. On iDevices (which I don’t have an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, or iPad mini), you can use an app called Journey Lite as your web browser temporarily. For Android devices, which is what I had (my Droid Razr and Kindle Fire), you can download Dolphin Browser from the Play store.

For any of the above programs, you need to go into settings and find something that says “Pretend to be…” or “Emulate Device” or “User Agent” and make sure you’re choosing the option to enter a custom user agent. When you are prompted to enter the custom user agent, put in the following (possibly without quotes):

“Mozilla/5.0 (BB10; Touch) AppleWebKit/537.10 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/10.0.9.773 Mobile Safari/537.10”

Bad Luck Brian Meme

Unless your phone runs with Delta, then it doesn’t take-off til an hour later, amirite?!

Once onboard, the gist to sign on to free wifi on Delta is like so:

  1. Wait until you are at 10,000 feet for Gogo In-Flight Wifi to turn on. 
  2. Power back on your device and make sure it is in airplane mode, then turn wifi on.
  3. Connect to the access point called “Gogo.”
  4. Open Dolphin Browser on Android, Journey Lite on iDevices, or your browser with the User Agent changed on your PC.
  5. Try to go to any site, for example, RagingTech.com
  6. You’ll be presented with a GoGo screen that will ask you to connect to free wifi.
  7. You may have to enter a Captcha code to continue. Do that.
  8. Once it says you are connected you are free to browse the internet for that session with any app or browser you prefer, it will remember you for the duration of the flight.

A quick note: GoGo in-flight wireless is kind of slow. It was good enough to stream music without much interruption, but I couldn’t get the Netflix or Hulu apps to load completely, and trying to watch something was pretty much impossible. It’s not blocked, they just don’t have the bandwidth to support much video. I didn’t try YouTube or other services.

If you see promotions similar to this in the future, do a quick Google search and find out what the User Agent String is for the devices being offered free wifi. These steps should still work, you’ll just need to adjust the User Agent String.

Enjoy your free wifi, at least until June 30th when the promotion by Blackberry ends!

FIX: Get Skype to Work on 64-Bit Ubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail

Screenshot of Skype 4.2 for Linux on Ubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail

Proof is in the Pudding.

Problem: I needed to install Skype on a Linux Live USB distro with persistence (so it remembers the settings & saves files) so I could video chat with my fiancée while on a business trip. On a 64-bit machine with Ubuntu 13.04, Skype is nowhere to be found in the Ubuntu Software Center. If you go to the Skype website, the last working copy of Skype is for 12.04 (which currently has long-term support on the Ubuntu web site), and it’s 32-bit.

I spent hours on this problem, because a library called ia32-lib and ia32-lib-architecture are deprecated in the last few versions of Ubuntu, and multi-architecture (the ability to do 32-bit and 64-bit applications) is included but disabled by default. I give credit to Noobslab for this solution (it’s the one listed under “alternative method” and it worked for me).

Open a terminal window (CTRL+ALT+T or go to the Unity menu and type “Terminal” and select it from there) and then run the following 3 commands:

sudo add-apt-repository "deb http://archive.canonical.com $(lsb_release -sc) partner"
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install skype && sudo apt-get -f install

That will automatically determine your current release and add the proper repository and then grab the correct version of Skype for your computer. After I ran that, I had a few dependencies that needed to be automatically downloaded and installed, so it took a few minutes. Afterwards though, I was able to go to the Unity menu, type in “Skype” and it found the application right away. I went ahead and locked it to my launcher so I could find it easier next time.

I launched “Skype” and set up my audio and video devices and did a test chat with my fiancée in the other room and it works brilliantly. I hope this saved you a few hours of searching and headache, I only wish I’d found the Noobslab article sooner.

Should I Care About My Privacy?

Verizon Obama Meme

Can You Hear Me Now, NSA?

Verizon has sent your phone records to the NSA. Google recently announced that it would be curtailing any facial recognition apps for its new Google Glass endeavor, citing privacy concerns. Facebook’s “mutual friends” feature reveals connections others may not want shown. If you’re not a “private person,”  you “don’t have anything to hide,” or you “just don’t post anything I don’t want anyone to find online,”  you might be wondering – is it worth worrying about your privacy? Let’s look at some privacy myths popular today:

Myth #1: Privacy Is For Criminals and the Morally Bankrupt

I live in the United States, and furthermore I chose to live in the town I live in for its slower, quieter pace. I enjoy a lot of freedoms, and I was brought up with a great deal of nationalism. And to that end, I enjoy a lot of privilege for being American, for being white, and for being a cisgender male. The problem with privilege is that you don’t have to know you’re privileged to be privileged, and you might not realize it until you’ve experienced a form of discrimination or been made aware of the discrimination of others.

So in a country like mine, privacy is something that is often taken for granted, because so much of what we do or say is under our own control. I can type (almost) whatever I want on this blog site, and I don’t have to fear (mostly) that horrible things will happen to me or my family as a result. Other countries may have more restrictions. Even in this “free country,” we continue to have our privacy invaded more and more in the name of either government control or corporate profit, and mostly we apathetically concede we are no longer in control of who knows what about us.

The site Texts From Last Night is a great example of our apathy: it provokes young people to send in their raucous, racy, drunken, and unfortunate texts about their previous night out and sexual or chemical conquests for all to read, omitting telephone numbers but including area codes.

Harrison Ford in The Fugitive

My Facebook account was hacked; I swear I didn’t post “Whelp, off to kill my wife, BRB, lulz.”

Facebook is probably the biggest trap for catching casual people off-guard about their privacy. The site is notoriously connected to government agencies who collect data about Facebook users at DHS fusion centers around the globe, in the name of anti-terrorism, and users seem to think that changing their privacy settings is enough to make sure their content is really theirs and really private from prying eyes.

So you’re not hiding anything, right? Well, let’s say the government decides to track your flight and vacation trips, your Facebook statuses, and a few of those anti-Obama meme pictures you posted, and when your trip happens to coincide at an airport in the same state the President is visiting that day, you wind up on a no-fly list with TSA wrist-deep in what you had for dinner last night? Do you think your privacy matters to you then? Or perhaps if you’d had your privacy, they wouldn’t have used your personal data to generate probable cause.

We live in a country where being able to dissent from the way our country is being run is supposed to be a fundamentally protected right. Without the right to privacy, you may never be able to speak publicly or over the phone or on the internet to exercise your right to free speech again. Your privacy matters, even if you’re not up to anything worth hiding.

Myth #2: Criminals Don’t Want Me

So if you’re not worried about the government (and you should be), you should still be concerned about identity theft. Here’s a few versions of the same basic excuse:

  • I’m no one important: I have no real authority or power or special access to anything. 
  • I have no money: I’m pretty much living paycheck-to-paycheck, there’s nothing to steal.
  • I have a low credit rating: good luck getting any credit cards in my name.

Nicolas Cage Laughing Not having yourself in mind as a valuable target is a great way to fall victim to identify theft. With technology and software, all it takes is a few thousand of you to make up a big score. Or worse, with the right details about your life, someone can commit even bigger crimes and fraud and leave the tail pinned to you, Donkey.

Myth #3: My Spouse / Loved One / Friend Knows I’m Trustworthy

You’re one of those cutesy couples that shares an email account, Facebook page, Twitter account, and you even still have a landline phone so that you can have a shared answering machine greeting. Communication simply doesn’t reach you without them knowing about it because they’re always in your business.

Overly Attached Girlfriend Asks About Phone Battery

Can’t a guy text his Dungeon Master without getting the third degree?

They *know* you’re trustworthy because they’re in all of your communications, but still they don’t trust you. That’s insecurity. If you said “I’d like some privacy, maybe my own facebook account, etc.” they’d probably flip their shit and accuse you of cheating on them. They’d give you the b.s. lines I mentioned earlier about how “if you’re not doing anything wrong, why do you need more privacy?” You need to break up with this person – I feel like most people would agree with me on that.

So why then do we put up with the same thing from our government? Our government is a needy, possessive, overprotective, insecure partner that wants to be in all of our business so that they can feel secure about their place in power, and assure their corporate sponsors we aren’t up to anything not in their best interests. Your privacy is important; it’s a very real need. It’s up there with food, safety, love, and happiness. Without privacy, you have no way to express yourself completely freely, or have a reasonable expectation of anonymity when needed. Without privacy, there is no freedom – whether you “deserve” monitoring or not.

Hugh Laurie Thumbs Up

Why Your Small Business Sucks at Social Media

Stanley’s Chargrill diner, centrally located downtown beside the Wal-mart across from the courthouse, makes one of the most fantastic burgers on the planet. Their fries are crispy, their wait staff is impeccable. The decor of the restaurant is pleasing to the eye. It’s literally one of the best meals you could have in your city. They have no website, no Facebook page, no Twitter account. The owners don’t even have internet at home.

Across town, though, Fred’s Funeral Parlor has a website, Facebook page with obits as status updates, a Twitter account, and a blog where Funeral Home Director / Owner Fred Jenkins posts informative articles relevant to the funeral service industry. His business is dying. I dodge your incoming tomato in response to that pun.

What’s going on here? Stanley’s business is booming with no technology boost. Fred’s is at a stand still while doing all the right things, according to the social media marketing gurus. He took business courses, developed a business plan, a charter, contracts, and provides valuable information to the trade industry. What the hell is he doing wrong?

Comic of Hobo Explaining His Social Media Guru Experience

The Social Media Guru Plight

Two years ago, I would have told you Social Media Marketing is the next wave of advertising genius. And you would have looked at me puzzled, because you weren’t even sure what the hell “Social Media” is, much less someone who was a guru at it. As soon as Facebook became popular, and shortly after that when Twitter and others followed, companies were salivating. They didn’t understand that folks spent time on sites like Facebook rather than visiting a plethora of websites. It’s the same phenomena really that shopping malls and strip malls capitalize on – one-stop shopping. Folks are already going to the mall to shop, so businesses want to setup shop at the mall too in order to take advantage of folks that have to walk by their stores to get where they’re headed. (This is also why I avoid the mall.) So companies setup Facebook profiles and offered contests and incentives to get folks to “like” their pages – how many of you reading this are guilty?

Companies with older management saw that younger, fresher companies were hiring “Social Media Marketing Directors” – essentially interns to run their social media campaigns, and hired their own. In a very short time, enterprising folks were able to leverage social media to market themselves and find employment. And their payoff? They got to spend all day on Facebook and Twitter representing their brand. Some folks developed Powerpoints, eBooks, conferences and seminars on brand identity and leveraging social media.

It’s not all snake oil, but consider this proposition: in just a few short years, “Social Media Marketing Guru” has become the new “Used Car Salesman.” Social Media Gurus offer you advice that you need services that they just happen to provide. They make assumptions about you and your business without actually asking you or your customers what they need. They sell you a solution they think you want to a problem they’re not even sure you have. All they know is, if you buy into it, you’ll need their help for a long, long time.

The Truth

Every Business Is Different

Not just every type of business. Every. Single. Business. The chargrill burger joint from earlier may be totally successful in this location in this town at this point in history due to a lot of different factors. But it’s certainly different than Fred’s Funeral Home across town. Fred listened to the Social Media Guru he hired to help him prop up his business. That guru did what gurus do: apply a hammer to everything, whether it looks like a nail or not.  The real solution to Fred’s business’ problems lies deeper than how he uses Twitter effectively.

Finance Dog Meme suggests buying tennis balls

The Pieces Have to Fit Together

Running a successful business could be explained in volumes by the world’s experts, but the most successful of those experts wouldn’t waste volumes telling you those secrets. The secret is that you have to be involved and dedicated in every piece of your business. You can’t be passionate about your advertising and provide lackluster service. You can’t make amazing food and never post the sporadic hours you’re open anywhere. You can’t create the most beautiful art and then use text-only advertising in the newspaper. The pieces have to fit with one another, or nothing will work at all. It’s no different with social media, it’s just another piece of your business that must flow with the other pieces.

It’s Not Just What You Do, It’s Who You Know, and Who Knows You

I’m not talking about name-dropping that you served a delicious burger to the mayor and he said it’s his favorite. I’m talking about Stanley being an icon in the community because he gets to know his customers. He lets the Girl Scouts sell cookies outside on the sidewalk. He’s known for being open from 11am – 11pm, seven days a week except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The smell of delicious food wafts through the air as patrons leave nearby stores, and their mouths water and that turns into sales. He’s been open since 1987 and the food quality and service haven’t changed, and that’s made it easy for repeat customers to tell their friends who are new in town about their favorite burger joint.  You already want to eat there, just based on what I’ve told you about Stanley’s.

So What Are You Doing Wrong?

Getting customers is about getting attention. Keeping customers is about relationships. It’s not a gimmick, and it’s not a lazy person’s job. What Stanley is doing can easily translate to businesses that need customers from the internet to survive. Social Media is not a waste of time, as long as you aren’t wasting the time you invest using it.

People use social media to:

  • Keep up with family and friends
  • Follow entertainment and news updates
  • Find relevant or amusing links
  • Look for helpful tips / ask questions / crowd-source information

Businesses use social media to:

  • Get their business in front of customers
  • Spread the word about promotions / contests / campaigns
  • Desperately increase their followers / “likes” in a misguided thought that number of followers equals cash.

SMART businesses use social media to:

  • Interact directly with their clients.
  • Make themselves more approachable.
  • Update clients with important information / outages / sudden closures / changes that affect customer service experience.
  • Obtain valuable feedback from their customer base.
  • Build relationships by using down-to-earth, approachable language and honesty. Communities form when you act like you’re part of a community, not running an artificial one.

Word of mouth advertising works as organically on the internet as it does face-to-face. You cannot induce this phenomenon artificially, as much as companies seem to think making a really goofy video and then putting it up on YouTube will automatically make it go “viral.” (I’m looking at you, Old Spice.) Years and years ago, when a little company with a plain old search engine with no extra cruft on the homepage was barely known, its users championed it to their friends until one day we were all using “Google” as a verb.

You can’t train on building relationships. You can’t run a seminar to teach your hired Social Media Guru how to make friends with people on Twitter. If you want to be heard above the squalor of the crowded stage of the Internet, you have to speak truthfully and be ready to listen. Keep your promises. Be reliable and consistent. Over time, you will become relevant and when you speak people will listen. When your competition slings mud your way, the folks you built relationships with will stick up for you as long as you’re in the right and your response, if any, is humble and kind.

Practical Matters

A few items, a checklist if you will, on practical issues:

  • Stay connected – if you don’t update, eventually no one will be looking for your updates, and your relationships will fade – like that awkward conversation you have with your 10-years-ago best friend that you fell out of touch with but run into unexpectedly. Don’t expect to have a genuine conversation again until you’ve caught up and established regular contact again.
  • Keep your listings accurate – if your hours change, make sure your Facebook profile says so. If you move, you damn well better update your address. This information is what connects customers to your physical location.
  • Be friendly, but professional – every contact on the internet is a potential customer, not necessarily just some kid out to waste your time and bug you or prank you (though they’re out there).
  • Be genuine – contests and promotions are fine, but make sure you don’t become one of those businesses where every genuine-looking post is actually a hard-sell trojan horse in a rush bid to convert clicks to cash.
  • Don’t get caught up in followers / likes / reach.  Measure the value of your social media time investment in terms of relationship building. You aren’t Coke or Pepsi or Microsoft. You’re Fred Jenkins.

Finally, social media can’t help you if your business already sucks. It’s not a magical steroid that will improve your conversion rate and boost profits while shrinking your overhead to a tiny size. Take a good luck at all the areas of your business and if something is severely lacking, fix that first. Social media can make a good business better and a bad business more well-known for being bad.

Crazy Amy from Amy's Bakery episode of Kitchen Nightmares

The Last 4 Months With a Pebble Smartwatch

Photo of 3 Pebble Smartwatches

Pebble Smartwatch from the Kickstarter page.

Let’s rewind all the way back in time to April 11th, 2012. I was online on my desktop computer while I was at my day job, and my friend Jay sent me a link to this Kickstarter page about a smart watch called Pebble. “That’s neat,” I thought. But then I shrugged it off as just another dumb gimmicky toy. Besides, who wears a watch anymore besides prominent business people? I just like to tell time on my cell phone when I need to know the time. The smart watch Kickstarter page boasted an extended battery life (rechargeable of course), an e-Paper display like the older and simpler models of ebook readers, bluetooth connectivity to an Android or iPhone smartphone, and the ability to use custom watch faces.

It was a careful and wary decision, but I decided to back this piece of technology and hopefully have the first watch I’d own in years be an advanced one. I plugged in my credit card number and on May 18th, 2012 funding completed and little did I realize their Kickstarter campaign raised 10 million dollars, one of the biggest of Kickstarter record. I’d rather not bore you with the details, but the short version is they had to retool their production timeline to compensate for the massive response. A little less than a year later, late January actually, my Pebble watch arrived at my door. It’s been 4 months, and I think now I’ve gotten to use it long enough to give you an honest review. Thank goodness I ordered the jet black one, because they were the first ones off the line after the hacker pack prototypes.

A quick word on packaging and contents: I didn’t snap a photo of the box it came in before I threw it away. It was pretty snazzy and small enough to fit in my mailbox. Inside were pretty much instructions to get my ass online and read the setup instructions on the website, a charging cable, and the Pebble. I started the Pebble charging right away, though realistically it came with almost a full charge anyhow. I paired it with my smartphone, typed in my info to get G-Mail, Google Voice, and Facebook notifications. We were off to the races after a quick firmware update. You can use the interface to download a bunch of watchfaces to your phone, then upload them to the watch over the bluetooth interface.

Here’s a few I installed from both the Watchapp Store, and a few from unofficial sources (open on your phone):

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There were more watchfaces, but most of what I found wasn’t to my particular tastes, but your mileage may vary.

Since the watch is both waterproof up to 5 atmospheres AND can control the music on my phone via bluetooth, I can change tracks while I’m in the shower or washing dishes. (I’ve really done both). It’s supposed to also be waterproof enough to wear while swimming. The pool for our community doesn’t open until this weekend for the summer, so I haven’t had a chance to test it, but plenty of others have.

Battery life – it’s pretty spectacular. I went a full 5-6 days without charging it. Unfortunately, if you use a watchface with a second-hand or other animation or changing number that updates each second, the battery drains faster because it has to poll that function to draw on the screen every second of operation. I usually leave mine set on Text Watch. The downside is there is no battery life indicator unless the Pebble is charging. Which means you can either charge it on a regular interval (on every Thursday, for example) or just use it til it dies and then plug it up and charge it (which is what I do).

The build material feels very sturdy, and the glass is scratch resistant so I’m not worried about banging it up as I clumsily skulk around my dungeon. The strap also doesn’t feel cheap or plastic, it’s a very sturdy silicone-feeling strap.

My big complaint about the Pebble is that the app on my phone doesn’t always update on it’s own and I have to uninstall / reinstall it to get the latest version with the latest firmware. The Pebble developers work very hard and push out frequent updates to either fix bugs or provide new features though.

My second, miniscule, first-world problem complaint is that I only have one charging cable, and it has a proprietary connector on it, so I can’t just use my existing micro-USB cables and chargers. It does have a magnetic bit to hold it on though, because due to the waterproofing the charging cable can’t actually plug into the watch, it has to sort of rest against it. It has a small plastic “male” bit that goes into a similarly shaped “female” bit on the watch body that is solely for helping keep the connector on, and mine broke very easily the first time I traveled with it. It still charges fine, I just have to be careful nothing is putting much strain on the charging cable while it charges so it’ll stay on there with the magnets.

There are plenty of use cases for the Pebble, like getting my phone notifications while I’m up and about and my phone is charging. Or being able to go do something that keeps me from actively looking at my phone, and still getting my texts. I can’t reply to them from the watch, but it’s a step in the right direction. One man on Twitter said he was outside grilling and his girlfriend texted him and he got it on his Pebble, she wanted him to know she wanted hers medium rare. You can change tracks on your phone in the car while driving by just pressing the next button on your watch quickly, without looking away from the road. You could even mount the watch on your steering wheel for that purpose.

In short, I’m not addicted to my Pebble, but it’s an exciting (and ultimately useful) gadget. And since I’m getting back into the habit of wearing it, I don’t have to ask for the time or fumble for my phone and power button to see the time. I also can pay more attention to who I am sitting with but still see if a text is something urgent or not. Oh, and did I mention that I get caller ID sent to my watch and can ignore or answer a call from it as well? Again, no microphone, but you can tell the phone to pickup from your watch (useful on the car dock on speakerphone). If you’re trying to decide if you should buy one, I would say it’s worth the price point if you’re excited about the technology. It’s definitely useful, and definitely stylish.

Update (5/26/2013 1:37PM): I was able to test the Pebble smartwatch in the community pool yesterday. It held up just fine at the bottom of the pool at 12 feet deep, although most of the time it was just at waist depth. I did push all the buttons while the watch was underwater. Also, from arm’s length, I could view the Pebble’s screen clearly with it submerged in pool water without the backlight active. Still no problems with it today, functions just fine. 

Where’ve You Been?

Every damn time. I get riled up to post a bunch and swear I’ll post more often… and then I don’t. Blogging regularly just isn’t for me I fear. I used to be really good and disciplined when it was for profit. Oh well. This site is free, and there’s no ads, so at least I didn’t let anyone down but me.

New Activities & Personal Updates

OccupyWNC

So I finally decided to get up off the couch and get involved. The world is in a big ol’ mess. Corporations own our government, and they’re going to bleed you, me, and anyone else with a wallet dry. The government is working to take away freedom after freedom. I’m sick of it. So I found our local Occupy group and went to a meeting. And then another one. Next thing you know I was directing a skit for one of our local festival events. I’m also one of the Facebook page admins, working on the website with another guy, and generally doing what I can to help.

Community College

I went back to school in January to start my associate’s degree in Web Technologies. Work is going to reimburse me for it, which is pretty sweet. Now that the semester is over, I have a 4.0 GPA and about 49 hours (including transfer credits). I had enough transfer credit to avoid this summer’s semester, so that resumes in the Fall.

Libertarian Party

I have done diddly squat with this, and I need to get under way now that the semester is over. But I am the county coordinator for my county, and I also applied with the party chair to be on my county’s Board of Elections.

Work

The Sharepoint site launch was a complete success. My support system I setup works great, and we’ve actually moved into starting a Sharepoint Users Group, which met last week for the first time. I’m finally doing other projects besides Sharepoint, which has been a nerve-wracking process, but as I get more familiar with what we’re doing I’m gaining confidence. It’s nice to say I’m a project manager and to know we’re actually doing project management in the traditional sense of the word. It’s not just a title now.

Engaged!

On April 1st, 2013, I sat down with Amanda and showed her a PowerPoint. I typically do this after I finish one for school, because I like showing them off to her. So she probably thought I was doing that. Instead, what played was the story of us, how we met and quickly fell in love. At the end it asked how the story would go next, and then told her to look at me. When she did, I got down on one knee and brought out her ring and asked her to marry me. She said yes! The date will come after we finalize our ideal guest list, and then figure out how much that wedding will cost so we can save up for it.

Healthy Food

We’ve been trying some healthy food lately. I bought a bunch of produce at the store that I normally don’t eat, and was determined to try all of it in a way that I liked. What I learned is that I dislike radishes. I like beets, most leafy greens, and we’re having more produce more often. I’ve tried some new recipes that have been good, even meatless dishes. Between veggies and Tofurky sausages, meatless meatballs, MorningStar veggie burgers (we like the spicy california black bean burger and original flavors), tofu (yeah I know, but it can be good), and other meatless alternatives, I think we’ve cut our meat consumption down by half. Which means lower cholesterol and lower fat intake. We decided in April to sign up for the local CSA (community supported agriculture) weekly produce box. So from this Friday until late November, we’re going to get a weekly 3/4 bushel box of produce that is geared to feed a family of 4 for a week.

 

Going Home for the Holidays

11

WARNING: Cheesy Holiday Sentimentality Ahead

 

11This year, I am really thankful. My life has essentially turned itself around from where I was in 2010. I have a roof over my head (even if it needs some work), two cats and a dog, and a beautiful woman that loves me and makes me happy in the healthiest and most mature relationship I’ve had. I have a GREAT job with really nice folks who are pretty good at what they do. I am making more than enough money and have finally made headway into paying off my debts, and am making charitable contributions to worthy causes. I am thankful for my family, too, and my girlfriend’s family. They’ve been really good to us and we know they love us plenty.

Tomorrow, I am starting my Christmas vacation. I’m thankful because I have a job that lets me work from home, and since I rarely take a sick day or a vacation, I’m able to take two weeks off for Christmas and New Year and return to work on January 2nd. I know a lot of people won’t be so lucky, and since it’s a retail nightmare right now there are many who will be working when they’d rather be with their families. I still have Christmas shopping left to do, so bare with me as I add to the number of people in your line. I will try to be courteous and friendly and hopefully you’ll get a pleasant smile. Breathe and remember you’ll be OK, and hopefully other people will show you compassion and respect.

There’s a certain point I think when you’re old enough and can afford to buy the things you want yourself, that Christmas presents are less exciting to receive than to give. My family’s been through hardships both financial and personal over the years, and it’s hard to find out what each person wants that year, so for a few years now we’ve gotten gift cards for each other – and it’s nice because it’s low stress and still thoughtful. We are so blessed to be able to do that much for one another. I don’t know how my mom managed to get us presents year after year when we were growing up. But I am thankful. I have the best Mom.

Everyone knows Christmas isn’t about the presents at any rate; it’s about taking time out of our busy, rushed lives of craziness and remember each other. We remember to be kind, to be charitable, to be friendly and remember that not everyone has a reason they can think of to be merry. But little things, little acts of kindness and love and compassion can lift someone’s spirits during this hard time. We ought to be this way year round, but at the least we can come together as humanity for a short time. To remind us it is possible. To have hope. To love the way we were designed to love.

OK, that’s enough of the sentimental stuff. Happy Christmas everyone, and a blessed New Year!