Sunday, September 13, 2015

No Late Fee Credit Cards

18%, 24% or more.  This is the interest rate on your credit card for unpaid balances.  When bank savings accounts are paying 0.1%, 24% seems ludicrous.  Why are they so high?  Usury comes to mind, but that aside, the banks will tell you that unpaid balances represent an unsecured loan from the credit card company.  How can we get around this?  Sometimes you might just miss a payment date that you have funds to cover; you just got busy or forgot.

Why not have a secured account credit card.  Let's say you have a $5,000 credit line.  Put $5,000 in a secured account with the credit card company.  If you're late in a payment or carry a balance of less than $5,000, there is no late fee because the credit card company is holding the money; if you default, they get to cover the outstanding balance by keeping that amount of money in your secured account.

I realize many people use credit cards monthly because they don't have the funds to cover their balance and monthly expenses.  I understand that mode and this idea is not for them.  But many people use credit cards for transaction convenience and safety.  You don't want to carry $700 into the store to buy a TV so you put it on your credit card, probably to also earn points or rewards.  If that's how you use your credit card and therefore the credit card company gets $0 from you annually, wouldn't they prefer to at least hold on to $5000?

Rather than make 0.1% on $5000 ($5 in interest per year), this method would allow you to miss or be late on a payment and not incur a $35 charge plus 24% interest.  I suspect the credit card companies would far prefer the interest and late fees than to have all that cash on hand from secured accounts.  But this is an interesting idea that some card company should explore.  Even if it was a multiple, such as having to keep 1.5x your credit line secured on account.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Kentucky Clerk and Same Sex Marriage Licenses

Quick recap, Kim Davis, a clerk in Rowan County Kentucky, has been refusing to issue same sex marriage licenses because of her personal religious convictions and beliefs.  There is immense media attention there in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling on the legality of same sex marriage earlier this year.  The press has swarmed the county office.  There is talk of contempt of court, hauling Davis before a judge.  Totally out of control and giving Davis far too much attention for applying her personal beliefs to her job.

This is a simple matter.  Fire her.  She has a job and her duties are specific to the laws governing the US and State of Kentucky.  If she does not perform them, then she needs to be dismissed.  If Davis believes that she was wrongly dismissed from her job, she can file legal action.

Davis has a right to her beliefs, to her religion.  But if her job is contradictory to her personal beliefs, if she feels that she is being asked to compromise her convictions, she has a choice.  She can either perform the duties of her job as described by law or she can find another job.  No one is forcing her to embrace same sex marriage.  Furthermore she is a county employee, a servant of the people.  When the people rightfully apply for a marriage license as prescribed by law, what right does Davis have to deny them?

Fire her.  Davis is grandstanding, looking for attention and we not should give her a minute more.  She is forcing her beliefs on the people she serves yet wants to enjoy the benefits provided by the same people who fund her paycheck and benefits.  She won't quit either because she would lose her precious pension.  Fire her and let her promote her own beliefs at her expense and time, not the people's.

A final option, take the high road, Ms. Davis.  Ask for a re-assignment of duties.  Perhaps the county can accommodate you.  If so, great, but if not, you have a very simple choice, do your job as lawfully prescribed by the U.S. Supreme Court, or accept that your beliefs contradict with your job and resign.  Did you even request re-assignment?  Straight up defiance is only going to be met with straight up consequences.  You draw a hard line, the people must take an equally hard line.  Contempt of Court and jail.  Don't be surprised or feel victimized.  You control the situation.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Deleting Phantom Photos from your iPhone

So many photos stored on your iPhone, you probably don’t even know how much space it’s taking.  I recently looked at my usage (in Settings) and saw 3.5GB, way too much on my 16GB iPhone 6.  (Go to Settings > General > Usage > Manage Storage.)  So I imported (backed up) all my iPhone photos into iPhoto on my MacBook.  At the end of the import, I opted to delete all imported photos from the iPhone.  Down to 3.0 GB, still too much.  There were some photos left and many in the Deleted folder in the Photos app.  Satisfied that everything was backup, I deleted everything.  Now 2.5GB, still too much.  No photos on my phone yet 2.5 GB being used?  Where was all the space being used up.

On the Apple Support Communities, I found out that “phantom photos” were taking up the space, but how would I delete them and reclaim the free space?  After much searching, I found out that by manually changing the date back 3 months, 6 months, perhaps as much as one year (Settings > General > Date & Time), old photos would be revealed in the Deleted folder that really never got deleted.  Once they were visible in the Deleted folder, I deleted them all.

Now the Photos app only takes up 94 MB, probably just enough to let it run and all those GBs of space are truly freed up.  Don’t forget to reset your Date & Time back to “Set Automatically” so that your iPhone is back in the present time.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Are you ready for the new Macbook's single USB-C port?

The new MacBook is loaded with lots of new features.  The lines are blurring between it and the MacBook Air.  In many ways, I like the new MacBook more, except for one feature, a single USB-C port.  Apple has paved the way for many new technology trends from the 3 1/2" floppy to no floppy to no DVD drive to the flippable lighting port.

USB connectors are a pain.  The connector that plugs into your computer or AC power block can only go in one way and 9 out of 10 times, I attempt the wrong way.  On close inspection I know which way is "up" but it's a pain.  The micro-USB plug is just as bad, I get that wrong and fight with plugging it in, even when I have the right orientation.

USB-C (also known as USB 3.1) will be much simpler, it has no up or down, completely reversible, like the Apple Lightning plug.  And both ends of the USB-C cable are the same, great!.  It also has 12V of power instead of the older USB 2.0 5V.  This means you can do more with the USB connection and run periphers that require more juice for mechanical or processing power.  It is also faster to transmit data, up to 10 Gbps, compared to USB 3.0's 4.8 Gbps or USB 2.1's 480 Mbps.

Now converge the two, new MacBook and USB-C.  Sounds like a great idea, however Apple only put 1 USB-C port on the new Mac which may not sound so bad except this single USB-C port handles AC power, USB peripherals like flash drives & scanners, and display video (like a second screen).  For all those devices that don't have USB-C connectors, Apple (and the enormous cottage industry of 3rd parties) will make adapters available.

More importantly, you need a multiport adapter, like the one available from Apple.  I keep my MacBook Air plugged in all day while I work, I run a second display at my desk, I also need to plug in a flash drive now and then.  This means with no USB-C peripherals available yet, while I'm on the bleeding edge, I need to buy many adapters and carry them around with me.  In 18 months we'll look back at this and say, no big deal, that got fixed.  But in the meantime, I need ports until the rest of my attached world conforms.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

"How are you?", the most useless greeting

"Hi, how are you?"  I've said it a million times.  On the phone, in person, even in email.  When I say it to a close friend or relative, I mean it, I want to know how they are doing.  Or if I say it with inflection or sincerity, I want to know.

But 99% of the time, it's just a habit.  I don't care, I really don't.  And of course I get it right back, "Fine, how are you?"  Please.  If you got problems, hey, I got my own.  If you're doing great, good for you.  And in the same way, you don't care how I'm really doing, and I understand that, I accept it, I even embrace it.  If I say, "Hi, how are you?", and that person goes into anything more than "fine" or "great", I start to wonder if this is a long story or not.  Granted sometimes the answer is interesting or superlative, but come on, it better be good.

Am I uncaring, no, well maybe a bit.  But "how are you" is almost always offered without sincerity, it's a reflex phrase, no one really wants an answer other than "fine" or "great".

If you're really interested in how someone is doing, work it into the conversation.  Ask a relevant or pointed question about their family, love life, job or health.  Don't slap it right after "hi".  I'm trying to break the habit.  What should you say after "Hi"?  You can't be a toad and just say hi when you greet people.  Work in "nice to meet you", "good to see you again".  Stop asking questions that you don't want an answer to.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Take a stand against sitting at work

Chronic sitting is a problem; I’ll bet you’re doing it right now. Extended sitting and sedentary lifestyles are taking their toll on our health and lifespan. We sit at our meals, during our commute, all day at the office, only to drop onto the couch after a long day. A CDC studyconcluded that prolonged sitting has been associated with ‘chronic diseases, obesity, metabolic syndrome and premature mortality’. 60 Minutes also covered the sitting epidemic in this compelling video.

The problem with prolonged sitting at work is not your chair; it’s your desk. Most desks are made for sitting so trying to work standing up is difficult and awkward at best. One alternative is getting a ‘rising desk’ that can be elevated manually or electronically from sitting to standing height, but those prices start at $1500 and go up. So the ideal and affordable option is a rising ‘desktop’ that you can raise to standing height and lower for sitting.

The team at Varidesk allowed me to test the Varidesk Pro ($300), a rising desktop, at my home office. It comes fully assembled and I had my existing desk converted in minutes. The unit has a platform that is 36” x 20”, plenty of space for my laptop, second monitor, keyboard and mouse. The adjustable height desktop rises from the desk to a 15” elevated height effortlessly. Varidesk Pro is solid, easy to adjust and fits all my desktop essentials. Standing for 30 minutes at a time at my desk felt better than sitting from the start. I’ve searched for many desktop risers and this is the best I’ve found.
Now that you’ve eliminated the chair, you need to shift the padding from your seat to your feet with a padded floor mat. Standing for an extended period on a hard floor can be tiring as well. Find a comfortable padded floor mat. Varidesk sells one on their website.

Don’t be too aggressive at first with this change; going from sitting all day to standing all day can be tiring if you change all at once. Start with standing one hour a day for a week, and then increase it as you go. Varidesk also has an app for your PC or Mac desktop/laptop computer to help manage this transition by scheduling reminders to stand then sitting breaks.
Get healthy and get up!

Manage your passwords securely online

It seems that everything you do online requires a username and password. Using the same password everywhere is not a secure plan. Believe it or not, the three most common passwords are 12345612345678 and password. Really? You might as well write it on your forehead. Websites have varying rules over your password format which makes remembering them all nearly impossible. Writing all your passwords on paper or storing them in your phone is horribly insecure. So how do you keep your online access super secure but remember all your passwords?

Enter LastPass. This password manager keeps a secure list of all your usernames and passwords in an encrypted “vault” on your computer and automatically enters them when you access them through a master password. It’s very easy to use:

  • Install the LastPass service on your computer, it’s free. Go to and click the Download button. They also have a premium mobile service for your smartphone or tablet for $12/year.
  • Create a strong master password (hence the name, the last password you’ll need).
  • Let LastPass remember all your passwords for all your sites.
LastPass will do an assessment of your passwords that it manages and grades you on whether you’ve reused the same password on multiple sites and how strong your passwords are. This is good, but you’re still at risk because you’re probably still using the same password at most of your websites, simply so you could remember them. Since you don’t have to remember your passwords with LastPass, why not make them crazy complicated! LastPass can create a totally cryptic password for your online accounts that looks something like X4>aeC5485#4b!, which is the kind of secure password you should be using and so much better than 123456 or your dog's name. LastPass remembers them all. You just enter your LastPass master password and it takes care of getting you logged in.

What’s the technology behind all this? I spoke with LastPass CEO, Joe Siegrist. He explained that LastPass keeps all passwords encrypted through 256-bit encryption and other advanced ciphers and iterations and then stores them in your personal vault on your local computer. An encrypted copy of your vault is stored in the LastPass cloud as a back up. In the end, many levels of encryption are used and LastPass never sees your passwords and doesn't store them in their cloud, only a fully encrypted version. His explanation was quite thorough but if you'd like more detail on LastPass password security, follow this link.

By the way, here is a great tip to help assess how secure your account is at any website. If you forget your password and they send you a “reset password” link, that’s good because it means they don’t store your password. They use an algorithm to convert your typed password into a very cryptic key and compare it to the cryptic key they have on file for your account. However it is a one-way street, they can’t re-create a password from their cryptic key, so they have to ask you to reset your password instead of reminding you what it is. This is the way most sites should manage your password protection.