Understanding COVID-19 Risks

I know there are a crushing amount of articles/videos/podcasts to absorb every day, but if you’re going to read ONE thing this week about COVID-19, please let it be this article. 🙏 It’s truly that useful.

This article is one of the most easily understood analysis of how the coronavirus spreads that I’ve read and it’s really shaped my understanding of how the virus is transmitted. I’m not a medical professional but I’ve been doing my best to understand how people are getting infected and what things constitute high-risk behaviour (it’s not always what people think it is). The above article was written by a Comparative Immunologist and Professor of Biology specializing in Immunology from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, so not some random person with an opinion and a blog (like me). 😜

Similarly, there’s an increasing number of scientists that are pushing the WHO to declare COVID-19 an airborne virus. The risks of surface contamination appears to be much lower than many first thought.

The most compelling things I’ve read point to airflow as being the single biggest preventative factor in keeping people safe, and anything that can be done to:

  1. Increase the amount of shared air among people (larger rooms, more air, fewer people)
  2. Decrease the viral load in the air (via masks)
  3. Increase the movement of the air (windows open, doors open, fans blowing to move the air out of the room, etc.)
  4. Be outdoors (where the virus disperses with any movement of air and can’t build up over time)

…points towards fewer infections. So I’m less worried about people congregating outside without masks (the protests don’t appear to have caused a spike in infections) than people being in a small room with no airflow and wearing masks.

Do what you can to spread the most factual, useful information you can about understanding the risks of COVID-19. Even if the fatality rate is actually 10x lower in the USA than we thought – as this CDC data seems to indicate – over 132,000 Americans have died from this and there’s every reason to make smart decisions and lower the risks of infection.

Why it’s Always Day 1 at Amazon

“…customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.”

– Jeff Bezos, Amazon Letter to Shareholders 2016

AT&T’s Pay As-You-Go Yearly Plan: The Best/Worst Option for Travellers to Canada & Mexico

Every year my family and I go back to Canada twice to visit with both sides of our family, and most years we also go to Mexico for a vacation. Having a cell phone plan that accommodates those travel plans is key. For several years I was on Cricket Wireless, and they had a plan I’d temporarily upgrade to for a month to get data/voice/text roaming in Canada and Mexico. It worked really well in both countries, delivering decent (5mbps+) speeds no matter where I went.

Late last year, I switched* to an AT&T Pay As You Go plan that had an excellent price point: if you paid for a year in advance ($300 + tax), it worked out to only $25 a month. For that price, I got 8 GB of data per month, unlimited voice and text, along with free data/voice/text roaming in both Canada and Mexico. Also, one month of data rollover, and WiFi hotspot functionality (which Cricket’s plan lacked). There were some fine-print warnings about possible speeds outside the USA, but I wasn’t concerned. #Foreshadowing

Continue reading AT&T’s Pay As-You-Go Yearly Plan: The Best/Worst Option for Travellers to Canada & Mexico

Vinli’s Dead End: The Hidden Negative of Crowdfunding

I’ve been participating in crowdfunding campaigns since 2011 when I backed a documentary about MMA fighter Jens Pulver. I’ve enjoyed participating in the process of helping to bring products to market – 45 on Kickstarter, 40 Indiegogo – and other than the times I’ve been burned by backing a project that never came to market (which is another blog post) it’s been a fun way of purchasing items.

For this post, I want to focus on the other side of the story: what happens when you get the product, it meets your expectations, you utilize it fully, come to rely upon it…and the company goes out of business or EOLs (end-of-life’s) their product. Many technology products today have a service/app element and that means your hardware has dependencies upon the business model of the company you backed. They brought the item to market that you wanted, but if their business model changes or they go out of business, that thing you bought might just stop working.

Continue reading Vinli’s Dead End: The Hidden Negative of Crowdfunding

How Did a Moko Case Ruin the Aluminium Finish on my iPad Pro?

Anyone knows me understands that I try to take care of my things, especially my gadgets. I keep the original packaging for many items, because unless I plan on keeping it for my technology archive/graveyard, I like to sell items to recoup some of my costs.

Some items, such as iPads, are re-used within my household. Each kid has their own iPad, a hand-me-down from the previous generation; my daughter is using my son’s old iPad Mini, and my son is using my old iPad Pro. When I bought my iPad Pro 11 last year, I took my previous iPad Pro out of the case I had it in – a red Moko case. I was shocked to see the back of the iPad had become discoloured and blotchy. It’s difficult to photograph but in person it looks simply awful.

It had a glass screen protector on the front, and was never used outside this case, so it’s frustrating to have it marred by a case. I contacted Moko and asked them if this was a known issue with their cases. Their response was not to admit fault or explain anything, but instead to give me a $25 refund. 🤔It’s better than telling me to pound sand, but it doesn’t change how this iPad Pro looks. I will never purchase another Moko case again – which is a shame because they are really quite good. ☹️

The All Dressed Potato Chip: Welcome to America!

One of the things you quickly figure out when you move to another country is that there are certain things you’ve taken for granted. When it comes to food, you’ll spend the first few shopping trips assuming that you’re just not finding the thing you bought back home. Then, after you’ve been to a few different grocery stores you’ll realize that thing you want to buy just isn’t sold in the country that you now reside.

We’ve lived in the USA for almost eight years now, and there are still things we could buy back in Canada that are missing from grocery stores in the Seattle area where we live. Some of these include Bicks Dill Pickles, pierogis, Alphagetti, Smarties, Caramilk chocolate bars, Tim Horton’s coffee, scotch mints…and two kids of potato chips that are everywhere in Canada: ketchup chips, and all dressed chips. Continue reading The All Dressed Potato Chip: Welcome to America!

ESPN+ Reviewed: The UFC Head Kicks UFC Fight Pass, and it’s Fatal

I knew the ESPN partnership was firing up in 2019, but I didn’t quite grasp the extent of it…that the UFC would completely destroy the value of being a Fight Pass subscriber if you only watch UFC content and live in the USA (as I do). I don’t have cable TV, don’t watch UFC PPV fights live (too much $$$), and completely rely on UFC Fight Pass to watch 100% of my UFC content. So imagine my shock when I went to watch new fights and everything is blacked out and only available on ESPN+. There’s no reason for me to remain as a UFC Fight Pass subscriber from what I can see so far. Anyone else feel the same? My thoughts so far on the ESPN+ experience replacing UFC Fight Pass are below – I’d love to hear from others here how they are finding it. I used the service for five days before writing this.

The Good

The video quality of fights on ESPN+ is superior to UFC Fight Pass – it looks like it’s 1080p and at a much higher bit rate. I’ve always been irked at the crappy 720p quality of UFC Fight Pass, so I’m thrilled to see better quality on ESPN+. This is a big plus. And, well, that’s about the only good thing I found about it so far.

The Bad

The biggest negative I’m finding so far is while the UFC Fight Pass app was laid out logically – I’d always go into the UFC section > replays and find the event I hadn’t yet watched – the ESPN+ app is, by comparison, an ugly mess. I don’t care about other sports, so it takes some digging to get into the MMA section. That’s not a big deal – the big deal is that once you are into the MMA section, there’s just a long horizontal scroll of UFC content mixed together. About one third of it is Ariel Helwani shows, which I don’t care about (no offense Ariel).Taking a “dumping ground” approach to organizing UFC content is absolutely the wrong approach. It’s messy, it’s confusing, and the fact that they don’t use even show the name of the event makes it so much worse. In order to find the event I hadn’t watched yet, I had to go into UFC Fight Pass, find the event name and date, then go into the ESPN+ app and find the “Sat 2/2 UFC Fight Night Prelims” event. ESPN needs to work with an information taxonomy specialist because this is a dumpster fire right now.

I’ve never seen cameras lose focus though during a UFC fight, but three times during the first Feb 2nd prelim event the shot went completely blurry – did ESPN hire interns to shoot this? Lots of amateurish video production as well – weird fades to black, goofy cuts, etc.

I was surprised to see an ad during the round break, and a bunch of ads before the decision – I guess even though we’re paying for ESPN+ it’s still mostly ad-supported? If I’m paying for something I don’t like see ads, but at least they can be skipped. There are a LOT of ads though – I’m unclear what I’m paying for, honestly, with this many ads.

The Ugly

It doesn’t look like UFC PPV events will ever be viewable for free on this service. I’ve been searching for a firm answer on this, and couldn’t find one so reached out to ESPN+ support and this was their answer: “We don’t know what the future will hold, at this time there are no plans for this”. So it’s looking like the new owners of the UFC have decided that they are going to squeeze fans for more $$$ to watch these events.

The ESPN+ app is extremely buggy and unstable on Apple TV. On the Apple TV, once you pause it pressing play/pause won’t unpause the video – you have to back out (via the Menu button) and go back in to watch it. The more I use this app the more bugs I find. At one point the fight audio was playing while the video was a grey blur – I had to kill the entire app do to anything. It also doesn’t do progress tracking as you watch; after I killed the app when I went back into the fight it started over from scratch.

There’s another bug where, after pausing, pressing menu and going back into the fight, the play/pause button no longer works – neither does the menu button or the dpad, so you can’t skip commercials. The only way get out is to kill the app. The ESPN+ software QA team is not doing their job – I haven’t seen a commercially released app this bad in years.

The Bottom Line

This is a huge step backward for anyone who was a UFC Fight Pass subscriber. The UFC has delivered a huge eye-poke into the eyes of UFC fans who relied upon UFC Fight Pass to watch UFC content. Maybe someday ESPN+ will mature into a suitable replacement, but it’s certainly not that today. For the first time ever, people outside the USA will have much better content and access to UFC content via UFC Fight Pass (for now).

How to Raise Kids Who Are Smart About Money

Parents, this is a great video about building purposeful money smarts into your kids. Mature money decisions as adults do not happen by themselves; your kids have either learned constructive (and sometimes painful) money lessons while they were young, or as adults. The older they are when they learn the harder it is to undo the damage. Every parent needs to teach their kids about money: the first paycheque your kid will get as a young adult will not come with an instruction manual about how to use the money responsibly.

There are a lot of gifts we can give our kids as we raise them: one of the most important should be preparing them to handle money the right way for the rest of their lives.

Canada: Paying More Taxes, Getting More Services

I don’t often delve into politics or healthcare economics on this blog, but I’d spent some time writing up a reply on a Facebook thread that I felt was worth re-posting here. The single biggest struggle I’ve had since moving to the USA has been the healthcare system. It’s…insane. The people who have lived in it their whole lives don’t all grasp how insane it is. This response was written to one such person who brought up the Canadian tax system and said the taxes were too high.

Yes, you pay more taxes in Canada. But you know what you don’t need? Basic healthcare insurance. Guess how much I had to pay out of pocket in 2015 for health insurance? Just under $10,000. My employer also paid $5300 above that cost, so figure $15K all-in to insure two non-smoking adults and two kids. Oh, and another $6500 off my paycheque for the HSA because I’m on a high-deductible plan and I have to pay for ALL my healthcare until I hit the deductible for the year (which is about $2000 per person or $6500 for the family I believe). The HSA is a great invention, but since it’s only for healthcare, it’s another healthcare cost – so figure I’m paying $21K per year so my family has healthcare coverage…yikes! The only good thing is the HSA rolls over each year and helps people save for the more expensive years of healthcare. And that I can pay for dental stuff with it – which of course I have ANOTHER plan for the costs me $1300 a year for. Oh, and vision…
Continue reading Canada: Paying More Taxes, Getting More Services

This Is Why I Love Amazon: Their Customer Service

I’ve been consistently impressed by Amazon’s customer service over the years – one of the reasons I buy so often from Amazon is how easy it is to return things, and how great their agents are when I’ve had a more complicated issue. Today though, they reached an all new high.

I’d purchased an Echo Dot in May, and right from the start we noticed the microphone array was inferior to the full-sized Echo we used to have in the same spot. It’s not uncommon for me to hear my wife or kids yelling at the Echo Dot because it doesn’t respond the first time. It’s especially bad at recognizing commands if there’s any other noise in the room. So it was always in the back of my head that the Dot wasn’t quite as great as the original Echo. I didn’t come to this realization within the first 30 days though, or else I’d have returned it.

Imagine my surprise then when Amazon announced a second-generation Echo Dot only four months after I bought mine, and at almost half the price to boot. The big feature was an improved microphone array. Tech marches ever onward, and I’m not normally one to complain about obsolescence, but four months is completely crazy! It made me think they knew they released a flawed first-gen product and they were rushing to get the new one out. You can’t even post a review of the first-gen Echo Dot now.

Today I called Amazon and basically said I was disappointed in the performance of my first-gen Echo Dot and upset at how quickly Amazon made it obsolete. Most companies would simply feed me a line about how they were serving their customers better by quickly improving their products, blah blah. I didn’t ask for anything specific, I just laid out why I was unhappy.

Instead of feeding me a generic response, the Amazon rep talked to his manager and came back with an offer of letting me return the Echo Dot – five months after I bought it – for an 80% refund in the form of an Amazon gift card. How amazing is that? So I can order the new Dot if I want, and have money left over for something else.

Can’t beat that! Amazon continues to earn my repeat business…which is one reason we’ve ordered from them 236 times so far this year. 😉