The Chronic Consumer

I buy things — all the time!

FuelBelt Helium 4

Now that I’m going on longer runs and logging more miles each week, I have to start paying close attention to proper hydration. I can’t really see myself carrying anything as unwieldy as a water bottle in my hands while running, so I started looking at hydration belts. This FuelBelt Helium 4 product seemed to get some pretty good reviews from serious runners, so I’m going to check it out at some point. The only drawback is that it costs around $40, which I think is pretty steep. Then again, if I settle for something cheaper, I might end up with shoddy performance (such as the belt not fitting properly or whatever). Anyway, I’m adding this to my wish list for now and will hopefully be able to get it soon!

Holiday Returns

OK, now that Christmas is over, it’s time to deal with some holiday returns and exchanges. I’m sure a lot of you are in the same boat, where you received an item that didn’t quite fit right or isn’t quite to your liking. Now you have to brave the malls yet again and fight through the crowds of other folks going through the same thing.

I have a few returns of my own to make. Unfortunately, they all involve online orders, which makes the process a bit trickier. There are lots of emails to write or phone calls to customer service centers to make so I can get return authorizations and whatnot. I feel as though I should have some kind of document management system in place to keep all the paperwork and correspondence straight. As it is, I have to label the various emails with different colors to show which ones belong to which product return. It’s a bit of a headache, but I guess that’s the price I have to pay for shopping online!

Anyway, if you’ve got returns or exchanges to make, I hope you get through the process unscathed!

America By Heart Signed Edition

One of my friends is a big Sarah Palin fan, so when I saw that Amazon.com was offering “signed copies” of Palin’s latest book America By Heart, I thought this would make a terrific Christmas present.

Unfortunately, I do not know much about buying autographed items. Apparently, just because the publisher or retailer — even ones as supposedly trustworthy as Harper Collins and Amazon — calls something a “signed copy”, that doesn’t mean the signature is authentic. Too bad I took Harper Collins and Amazon at their word and didn’t do any research until after I already made the purchase because as it turns out, what I bought was little more than an autopen “signature” that is neither authentic nor worth anything at all. Here’s a copy of the signed page. The signature looks exactly like other ones that have been posted, which shows that it is indeed an autopen.

Obviously I cannot give something like this to my friend, so I guess I will keep the book for myself. That sucks, but at least there’s a lesson in here. In the future, I will thoroughly investigate the authenticity of any “signed” product before buying it. Too bad I’m stuck scrambling for a last-minute present now though :( .

Food Storage Guidelines

I hate to admit it, but my family wastes a lot of food. This usually happens because we are too tired/lazy to cook dinner after a long day of work and school, so we end up eating at restaurants a lot. Then the groceries we purchased at the beginning of the week end up going bad, which means we have to toss them out, and the cycle goes on and on.

To combat this a little bit, I’m going to try following food storage guidelines more closely. I was just reading this page from Virginia Tech and was surprised to learn that even just putting something like a loaf of bread in the refrigerator can extend its shelf life by a week or more. Call me clueless, but I thought only the freezer yielded those benefits! Now that I know better, I can start doing things the right way and hopefully save more money in the process.

Card Shark iPad App

One of my favorite card games is Gin Rummy. I sometimes play it on Yahoo games, but honestly, the people on there can be real jerks when they lose, so I wanted to find a good app that would let me play against a CPU. After reading some reviews, I decided to skip all the free gin games in the App Store and pay $1.99 for the Card Shark app. This was a pretty good decision.

Card Shark features 53 different card games to choose from, including popular selections such as Klondike Solitaire, Gin Rummy, Euchre, Draw Poker, Cribbage, Hearts, Spades, and Blackjack. Since I specifically wanted this for the gin rummy, that was the game I spent most of my time on, and the one I will review here.

The AI is actually pretty good for gin rummy, though it is a bit too predictable for my tastes. Basically, the AI never goes for gin; instead, it will “knock” as soon as possible, which means with deadwood amounting to 10 or less. This predictability can be annoying at times because it makes each hand go rather quickly. As the other player, you barely have time to organize your own cards and figure out which melds you want to shoot for before the CPU knocks. Conversely, because the AI knocks so frequently, it’s kind of easy to undercut and score some points that way. (I have never been undercut by the CPU.)

In addition to always knocking, the CPU doesn’t really pay attention to the cards that the player is picking up. So that means it will discard two 8’s or two kings in a row, even if you pick up the first card. A human opponent probably wouldn’t do that because that’s obviously helping you out. Similarly, the CPU almost never goes for a meld of 4 cards. Its usual knock is with 3-3 or 3-3-3 with the remaining cards as deadwood. So if the CPU picks up a 5 from the discard pile, you can be relatively certain it won’t pick up another one because it will already have three cards in the meld (I hope this makes sense).

Despite these problems, the CPU is a pretty challenging opponent. I consider myself a decent player, but I only have a 50% win rate against the AI after nearly 100 games. I expected the be in the 70-80% range, so I’m definitely surprised by that.

As for the other games in Card Shark: many of the ones NOT listed here are utterly worthless because of the fact that there’s no 2-player/head-to-head option. So imagine playing Old Maid, War, or Go Fish against the CPU. Yeah, pretty darn boring. Then there are at least 20 games that I’ve never even heard of, such as Royal Parade, Canfield, Josephine, Sea Towers, 13 Packs, and a bunch more. The written instructions for the new games are kind of confusing; I wish there was an animated demo mode available.

Anyway, I just consider all those other games a bonus because I would have happily paid $1.99 for the gin rummy alone. Throw in the fact that you can customize the card decks and table, and you end up with a sweet app that can provide hours of fun anytime!

Apple iWork Numbers

I want to start using my iPad for more than just checking email, web surfing, and playing games. I often have to use spreadsheets for work, so I decided to check out some productivity apps that could help me work with the .xls format. There are a few different apps out there, and after reading a few reviews, I decided to check out Apple’s own iWork Numbers app. Well, I guess “check out” is the wrong term since I had to buy it. No test drives allowed.

That was unfortunate, as iWork Numbers is not able to handle my spreadsheets. Admittedly, I work with a particularly complicated workbook that has about 20 sheets linked together, with numerous formulas and other intricacies throughout. Still, the iWorks product description led me to believe that the app could handle those formulas, so that’s why I bought it. But I ended up with a lot of blank cells where the formulas were supposed to be, rendering the app essentially worthless as far as doing my work goes.

But Numbers comes with about 16 templates that look pretty nice and are actually functional. For example, there’s a mortgage calculator, personal budget, to-do checklist, travel planner, weight loss and running log, and more. I have been using the Weight Loss & Running Log to help track my results, and I like it well enough. Here’s a screen grab from the Apple site (these numbers are not my own data):

Overall, I think Numbers has limited usefulness to hardcore business users, but might be ok for personal tasks such as the budget and itinerary stuff listed above. I just wish I hadn’t paid $9.99 to find this out!

Temp-controlled butter??

The Christmas season is when the truly weird or useless products come out of the woodwork, so in keeping with the spirit, I want to talk about the ButterWizard for a minute. This “handy” device is basically a temperature-controlled butter dish that is supposed to help you have “perpetually smooth, spreadable butter”. Seriously? Is this a problem that most folks have in their lives? Come on! Either buy a softer spread or put the butter in the microwave for 5-10 seconds. Spending $50 on a butter warmer is just silly!

Peekaru

OMG, I was just looking through one of those “worst Christmas gifts ever” lists that always pop up at this time of year, and came across this horrifying thing called a “Peekaru”. It’s some kind of stupid snuggie that allows moms to carry their babies while presumably keeping them warm outdoors. I understand the concept, but seriously, the picture of that baby’s face just sticking out like that looks scary as hell! I would NEVER wear one of these things if I had a baby!!!!