Category Archives: Consumer Experiences

Consumer Experiences

mile high composting and voting

Since this past spring, I’ve been working to arrange composting at my condominium complex. And this week it starts to pay off.

Denver Compost Collective is an organization that collects food waste from apartment dwellers and takes it to their large scale composting facility. Then they give the resulting “black gold” to a local urban farm/food charity. The city has been encouraging composting the past few years, but if you don’t have a big garden, it’s tough to do. So this group fills that gap.

Here is me with my new bucket. I’ll fill it up throughout the week with food scraps (no meat or dairy) and then put it in my building’s parking garage for DCC to pick up Monday morning. They weigh each bucket, dump it into a bigger container on their truck, rinse the bucket out, and put it back in the garage.

In other news, I voted today. The ballot and issues were so easy this time I decided to do it while enjoying some quasi-legal recreational drugs. It’s great to live in Denver.

Saturday, maybe Casa Bonita. Seriously.

MacBook Pro battery recall

Earlier this week I learned about a recall of MacBook Pro computers from 2015. So I went here to read more:

https://support.apple.com/15-inch-macbook-pro-battery-recall

And I learned that my personal laptop is part of the recall! I wonder if they were going to proactively contact me, since Apple know that computer belongs to me and where to find me. Regardless, I contacted them and am now taking it in to the Apple Store next Tuesday for warranty service to have the battery replaced.

It is supposed to take 1 to 2 weeks, but I guess that’s better than having the battery explode while I’m using it.

credit card blues

Someone has made 12 fraudulent charges on one of my Visa credit cards since May 31, including buying 6 airline tickets on Allegiant Air, renting U-Haul trucks several times, and staying in a couple hotels.

Now, of course, the bank has canceled my card and are sending me a new one that’ll arrive Monday or so. What a hassle.

That reminds me – didn’t Apple announce some new Apple credit card thing with a rotating number to prevent fraud? I should go read about that sometime. Oh, here it is: https://www.apple.com/apple-card/privacy-security/

Imerex Plaza Hotel – bad management, poorly built rooms, but nice art

Angeles City in central Luzon (Philippines) was a unique stop on our travels. It was the only place where we had local friends. In particular, Robert and Mel, formerly of Boulder, Colorado, now live there again. This is where they met and married long ago. They lived here in the 1970s, and now again in the 2010s. So they know the place pretty well. Mel was born and raised in a small village not too far from Angeles, and has much extended family in the area. Bob has lived here both as a civilian and while in the US Air Force. They did some hotel scouting for us when we were first planning our visit, and made a few recommendations.

One of the biggest concerns when renting a hotel room in Angeles City is that a lot of the low to middle cost hotels are part of the vibrant local sex trade. The Imerex Plaza Hotel is one of few hotels that isn’t used for prostitution, and gets decent reviews on the travel websites I looked at. So we chose this and booked a room for a week. We checked in on Tuesday October 27, and checked out Tuesday November 3.

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Having no bathtub, Beth soaked her aching feet in a plastic bag filled with water

The hotel was a “mixed bag” but had so many problems I thought I should jot down the pros and cons for other travelers who might care. I’ll start with the bad things, but stay tuned for the good things.

Hotel Problems

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I got a chuckle out of this example of the lack of attention to detail we found in this hotel. Whoever installed the flat screen TV on the wall ALSO installed the TV base that you use to put it on a TV stand. You don’t need both; you only install the wall mount hardware, or the base stand. But clearly someone didn’t read (or understand) the directions. In fact, if you install the base stand, the TV can’t fit flush to the wall on the wall mount. Whatever. Anyhow, we used the superfluous base stand to hold the remote, since we didn’t need it.

  1. The shower floor was poorly constructed. Water pools up on one side of the shower instead of flowing down the drain. This is kind of a sanitation concern.
  2. Our room had an armoire to hang clothes, but only two hangers. It’s tough to live in a hotel for a week with only one shirt each. We asked for more hangers, and got about five more.
  3. The phone in the room doesn’t have a label to say how to dial the front desk. Dialing 0 doesn’t work; I tried! Next time we were on the ground floor, we asked the front desk attendant. Apparently sometimes you dial 0 to reach reception, and sometimes you dial 200. I guess in our room it’s 200. Why not the same number always? Why not label the phone with a note saying what it is?
  4. The hotel’s advertising brags about wifi in every room, with an outstanding 16 Mbps connection. The wifi in the lobby worked almost all the time. The wifi in our room worked about 20% of the time. Sometimes it would allow you to connect, but no data would flow. Sometimes you couldn’t even connect. Sometimes it would work for a half hour or so and then suddenly stop for another half hour, then resume. At the best of times, when it did work, we definitely didn’t see 16 Mbps performance, as the hotel website bragged. I saw about 4.5 Mbps download and 0.3 Mbps upload, when the internet connection was working well.
  5. When we checked in, the bath mat was soaking wet. We asked for a replacement, and got it.
  6. The spray hose next to the toilet leaks, causing water to pool next to the toilet. There is a drain there, but as with the drain in the shower, the floor isn’t built correctly and the water doesn’t naturally flow into the train. Instead it pools up. Since we didn’t have a squeegee, we left it pooled there, and after about a day, small worms started growing and wriggling in the water. After the bathroom was cleaned, the worms went away, but then they reappeared in the pooled water after about a day again. I don’t know what these tiny black worms are or where they come from. Maybe they come up from the sewer? I guess maybe these worms are the reason the Indonesians put mothballs on top of their bathroom drains.
  7. The room comes with a lamp on the nightstand, but there is no electric outlet there, and the power cord isn’t long enough to reach behind the bed where there is an outlet. So the lamp is a total waste. Did nobody think to measure how long the power cord needs to be before they bought these lamps? I just set the lamp aside on the floor, making more room on the nightstand.
  8. There is no stopper for the sink. No big deal; I brought my own.
  9. There wasn’t any sort of booklet or card or anything with info about the room or hotel. So whenever we had a basic question like how to get laundry service, how to call the front desk, when breakfast is served, etc. we just had to ask the front desk. Some hotels supply a notebook of useful information, but even a one page summary of the basics would be better than nothing.
  10. It took me a day to realize this, but the room has no art on any of the walls. They’re all just blank white walls. There is one mirror. The lobby and other parts of the hotel have great pieces of art, so why leave the guest rooms so bare?
  11. The second day we were there, we assumed and hoped there would be housekeeping service, but there wasn’t. So we asked at the front desk and learned that we need to explicitly request it. OK, that’s fine. So we requested it the next morning. But when we got back to the hotel later that day, the room hadn’t been cleaned. The second time we requested housekeeping, they did clean the room. But the third time we requested it, a couple days later, once again the room wasn’t cleaned. Out of four times we asked for our room to be cleaned, they cleaned it twice. I don’t know if the messages just often get dropped between the front desk and housekeeping, or if housekeeping just didn’t do what they were asked to do. Maybe we asked for the room to be cleaned too often? If so, nobody mentioned it; each time we asked, the front desk person always said that it would be done.
  12. The phone had a little label with the wifi password taped to it. But the password was wrong. I asked at the front desk and learned the real password. Why doesn’t someone take the initiative to update the labels on the phones? I have no idea.
  13. The hotel offers a laundry service. We arrived with a lot of dirty clothes, more than we could wash piece-by-piece in the tiny sink. So we dropped off our laundry at the front desk the first morning. They said it would take a day or two to get back, which was fine; it took two days. Later in the week, we had a more laundry, but since we were leaving the country on Tuesday, we wanted to make sure it would get cleaned in time. We asked on Friday, and learned the laundry would be finished by Monday afternoon. Perfect, that’ll give us time to pack up Monday night. Monday afternoon, we asked where our laundry was. The person at the front desk apologized and said that it hadn’t even been delivered to the laundry service until earlier that morning. We pointed out that we were leaving at 9am the next day, so the normal “one or two days” turnaround is a problem. Fortunately, they did whatever it took to get our clothes back to us about 8:15am Tuesday morning. But the whole thing made me wonder why they told us one thing Friday, and then dropped the ball.

And I guess that sort of sums up the experience with this hotel. Almost everyone kept “dropping the ball“. There were individuals who seemed to have a sense of customer service and they resolved problems — some of the servers in the restaurant were really good! — but as a team providing a hotel service, they were not good. To me, this is a sign of bad management.

The Plusses

There were definitely some nice things about this hotel, though. It wasn’t all bad.

  1. First off, there were no cockroaches, and very few mosquitoes in the room. That’s a plus in the tropics.
  2. As I mentioned before, the wait staff in the restaurant/cafe were usually really good.
  3. Security was good and we felt safe inside the hotel. There was a security guard out front almost all the time. This seems to be normal practice in the Philippines, for what it’s worth. Not only do banks have armed guards, but hotels and even fast food restaurants do! Can you imagine the reaction people would have in the US if you went to McDonald’s and there was a guy with a machine gun at the door?
  4. The main floor of the hotel is a big open area with several seating areas. It includes the reception desk, the restaurant, a section with some comfy chairs and couches for lounging, and a little coffee shop. The decor on this level was just amazing. It was beautiful! They had a lot of really, really nice pieces of wood furniture and art. And it was always clean. That ground floor felt like a whole different place than the upper floors with rooms, which were dark, dusty, and drab.
  5. There was no muezzin next door, waking us up early each day to come to prayer at the mosque. But granted, this being a Catholic country, that shouldn’t be a surprise. However, there was an insane rooster who crowed all day and all night who sort of made up for it.
  6. It was fairly affordable as far as “business” hotels go (meaning not sex hotels) in Angeles City. We paid about 40 USD a night for the place. I expected prices to be lower, more on par with Indonesia prices (or lower, since the Philippines is a poorer country overall), but apparently lodging in the Philippines is higher. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just the case in Angeles City.
  7. There was gelato available in the lobby!
  8. Lastly, the electricity worked the whole time we were there. No brown outs!

Oh, in case you’re interested, here’s my cell phone camera video I shot of a worm wriggling in the pool of water next to the toilet. We didn’t see these in any of the 20-or-so places we stayed on our trip before this.

don’t trust this TSA-compatible lock to protect you from anything but moronic zombies

I bought a couple TSA-compatible luggage locks from Amazon. My plan was to use this on my new eBags TLS Workstation Laptop Backpack to secure my laptop and other stuff during our travels through Asia later this year. Unrelated to this, I also couldn’t remember the combination to one of my suitcases that also has a TSA-compatible 3-digit combination lock. And I found a video that explains how easy it is to open (some of) these locks, so that you can reset the combination when you forget it.

So I wondered if the same trick would apply to the new luggage locks I bought on Amazon from Tarriss. The trick worked quite well, and I can now break into my own locked items in as little as 12 seconds. That means a real thug could probably break in much faster. And that means there’s no way I’m trusting these locks on my luggage.

I made a little video showing how easy it is to “pick” these locks with your bare hands.

 

 

my telecom woes

This past week, the first bad decision of my planning for our big trip became apparent. And it has to do with my phone. A few months ago, I read a bunch of articles, including this one from Nomadic Matt, this one from Forbes, and a few others. For years, I had been using an iPhone with AT&T’s standard family plan. But neither is well suited for doing lots of international travel, for a couple reasons.

First, lots of the advice I read was to get a global, unlocked, dual-SIM phone, and Apple doesn’t make such a thing. Second, AT&T doesn’t have competitive pricing when traveling overseas. My plan was this:

  1. Let my AT&T contract expire, then unlock and sell my iPhone. Transfer my old phone number to Google Voice, and set things up so it would ring my new phone or go to Google’s voicemail with transcription.
  2. Buy a global, unlocked, dual-SIM Android phone.
  3. Sign up with Telestial / Ekit / JT for their Explorer SIM product, which has a good international plan with decent rates in foreign countries. Use that in the first SIM card slot.
  4. In countries we’re staying more than a few days, get a local SIM card, which has better rates in that country than the Telestial plan. Use that in the second SIM card slot, swapping it out whenever I go to a new country where I get a new card.

After some shopping, I settled on the BLU Studio Energy phone. It’s not the fastest around, and it’s definitely not a premiere brand, but it’s got a great feature that nobody else has, and that’s battery life. The thing has such a huge battery built in that you can use it to recharge your other devices (iPad, for instance). I knew that transitioning from iOS to Android would be a challenge, based on what I’ve heard from friends. But since Android is now the dominant player in the market I assumed the software must be pretty well ironed out these days. This past week, I learned my assumptions were wrong. The OS is bad in a way that I forgot was even possible. The design of the core OS, the vendor-specific extensions, and third party apps is all totally different. There’s no consistency to help you figure out what’s wrong when there’s a problem.

The next problem I ran into was Google Voice. It also is poorly designed. There’s a global set of rules that govern how calls are routed, but then there’s a hidden set of screens that also govern rules for specific groups of users, including users who aren’t in a group. The set of screens that are mostly hidden apparently take precedence over the configuration screen that’s right there in your face. But even after I figured that out, Google Voice drops about half the calls it routes to my phone. That’s just not acceptable.

Lastly, I’ve gotten very frustrated with Telestial / Ekit / JT. I’m not sure why this phone carrier has three names, but they do. Some web pages refer to one of the names, but then you’ll run into a different web page that uses another name. Weird. But whatever…

One of the biggest irritants is with making domestic calls in the US. Normally, we use 10-digit dialing and don’t have to use the international format of +1 before the 10-digit number. For whatever reason, when I dial a 10 digit number, it usually doesn’t complete. And when it does, it charges me a much higher price than if I dial the “+1” before. The irritating part is that caller ID of inbound calls just show the 10-digit number, so you can’t just hit the button to call back the person who just called you. Instead, you have to manually dial their number with the +1 prefix. How dumb.

The other problem is data. At first, I struggled with the phone a couple days to figure out why I couldn’t get any data access. That’s when I realized I didn’t buy a data plan, and the voice plan didn’t include any data. OK, that’s my fault, I guess. So I bought their cheapest data plan. In the course of 4 days just doing normal stuff like Google Maps and email, I burned through $63 worth of data. That is not sustainable. Their data rates are just too ridiculous, especially for the US.

So, I came up with a new plan:

  1. Ditch Google Voice. Just eliminate it from the equation. I don’t really want my text messages to only appear in the Hangouts app, and I don’t really need transcription of voice messages. Given the poor UI, lack of support, and ongoing concerns that Google is going to just cancel the feature at any moment, I’ll sleep better if I’m not tied to it.
  2. Get a T-Mobile month-to-month plan with a new SIM, and port my old number (currently parked at Google Voice) to T-Mobile. I’ll have a huge amount of fast data both domestically and internationally, unlimited international texts, and international calls are just 20 cents a minute, which is on par with the Telestial plan.

And that’s what I did today. Now text messages work, I can use Google Maps for free, and phone calls go through every time.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Todd in Alien Mask

Todd in Alien Mask

I got a bunch of nice gifts for Christmas 2014, including some strange surprises like a rubber green alien mask. But I want to talk about one gift that is so much cooler than expected. It’s the Amazon Fire TV Stick. I read about it a month or two ago, and thought it would be a fun little toy to have and not too expensive. But Beth thought it was a frivolous purchase we didn’t really need, so I just put it on my Amazon wishlist and didn’t order one for myself. Fortunately, my parents gave me one as a gift.

Beth was right in that it’s something of a frivolous purchase. It doesn’t do anything that I don’t already have a way of doing. The main thing I wanted was just a way to easily stream movies from Amazon Prime Instant Video (a service where you can watch some movies or TV shows for “free” if you have Amazon’s “Prime” shipping service) or Netflix. I was able to watch Netflix movies from our TiVo HD, but if I wanted to watch stuff from Amazon I had to plug my laptop into our TV, change the settings around, and play the video on my laptop. It was possible, but it made watching any TV show or movie into a 10 minute affair just to set things up, and another 10 minutes to take it all back down later. For a 50 minute TV show, that’s a pain.

Anyhow, the Fire TV Stick arrived earlier this week and I spent some time after work setting it up on Monday night. It does way more than I originally realized, and brings a bunch of entertainment and news into our living room that we didn’t have. The Stick is just a tiny gizmo that plugs into a power supply and into the HDMI input on the TV. It’s very similar to a thing called Google Chromecast that came out a year or so ago. But Amazon’s seems to do more. Here are all the things I’ve set it up to do:

  • Watch Amazon Prime TV and movies – This is free if you have Amazon Prime
  • Listen to all the music I ever bought from Amazon, through the TV
  • Listen to Amazon’s free music collection, sort of like Spotify – Also free if you have Amazon Prime
  • Watch any streamed movie or TV show from Netflix streaming – a Netflix subscription costs money of course
  • Watch any YouTube video, especially my video playlists of travel oriented videos
  • Listen to my favorite local radio stations – These are streamed online and played on the TV using a Fire “app” called tunein. I had no idea I could get radio on this thing, including KUVO (Denver’s jazz station, which normally has a weak signal), Radio 1190 (the CU college station that I can’t even pick up in Denver), KGNU, NPR, CPR, and NOAA weather radio.
  • Listen to streamed music from the Spotify service – I have Spotify premium already, which is required to make this work.
  • Listen to police and fire scanner radios – Here’s another thing I had no idea was possible. I occasionally listen to the police scanner during regional emergencies like when we had tornado warnings in our neighborhood last summer.
  • Watch videos from PBS’ free online video archive – This includes things like Ken Burns series, etc.

I’ve seen a few other things that this thing will do that I haven’t tried yet:

  • Stream music from my huge iTunes library on my laptop’s external hard drive
  • Play games, both free and not
  • View my library of photos, either from my Mac or by uploading them (for free) into Amazon’s cloud

I’m tempted to just ditch the old TiVo HD, but there are still a few things I use it for that aren’t replaced by the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

  • Record and time shift Broncos games. I don’t see any way to play live TV on this, much less record it so I can skip through commercials.
  • Record other over-the-air TV programs, like “Nova”, travel shows, “Soul Train”, “Land of the Lost”, and “The Joy of Painting”. If there was just a service that would take over-the-air TV broadcasts and stream them online — the same way that’s done with FM and AM radio and police scanners — that would be ideal. But the one company that tried this got taken to court and lost, and later filed Chapter 11.

So for the time being, I’m using the Stick as a replacement for a laptop for watching movies and as a replacement for a radio. It’s so much more convenient than how I was doing things. But I’m not ready to get rid of the TiVo and over-the-air antenna yet.

marijuana candy scare 2014

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, I’m sure you know that starting in January 2014, the state of Colorado has allowed licensed dispensaries to legally sell marijuana (aka cannabis) and related products, including “edibles”. Edibles are usually candy or cookies (but sometimes things like butter, pretzels, etc.) that are infused or coated with hash oil. You could buy this stuff before 2014 if you had a special medical marijuana card, issued by the state. But starting this year, anyone over 21 can buy it.

According to some, this has caused a noticeable rise in the availability of cannabis products to children. Around the start of October 2014, one big concern expressed by the police, local media, and some parents was that people would be give out these medicinal candies to trick-or-treaters, and that children would each them by accident, not realizing what they were. And the kids would go crazy, commit violence to themselves or others, or end up in the hospital.

Here is a 9 News report about this.

And here is a video the Denver Police made to inform parents about this threat:

While many parents were concerned about widespread nefarious dosing, many others had a response like mine:

Why would any stoner give a child a $5.00 medicated piece of unwrapped candy instead of a $0.02 non-medicated candy? Do cannabis edible users have too much money and they want to waste a bunch of it giving kids their medicine? All the cannabis users I know and have known in the past wouldn’t do such a thing. And if you’re a sociopath who wanted to harm kids, why not poison the candy with rat poison or something that would really cause long term harm (at much lower cost), rather than just make a kid high for a few hours?

Regardless, Halloween came and went. The morning after, I searched the news for widespread — or even spotty — reports of cannabis candy getting into the hands of children. Who knows, maybe it would be a big deal that would trigger a backlash against THC edibles in the shape of candy.

Here are the news reports I found so far:


Halloween Pot-Candy Scare Baseless So Far (CBS Denver, October 31)
“My honest opinion is that’s an overblown fear that was created by the police,” said CB Scientific CEO Bill Short.”


No Halloween pot poisonings in Denver, hospital says (USA Today, November 1)
“Before Halloween, the marijuana industry scoffed at parents’ fears and said the vast majority of users are responsible adults who would never actually do something so stupid as to confuse the two or deliberately hand out expensive pot candy. Afterward, they mourned the deaths of multiple trick-or-treaters killed by vehicles on Friday night.”


Deadly Halloween Across the Nation (New York Times, November 2)
“Halloween took a deadly turn for trick-or-treaters, paradegoers and party guests across the country, on a holiday that federal safety regulators say is one of the deadliest on America’s roadways.”


I thought I was finally on to something big when I found this news article, with the titillating headline Prince George’s Police Seize Halloween Candy Laced With Marijuana (CBS Baltimore, October 31). But then once I read the article I see it’s just bad journalism. The candy wasn’t Halloween candy. It was just regular properly-labeled marijuana edibles (illegal in Maryland) that the local cops found and seized.

“Officers don’t have any indication that the pot candy was destined for trick-or-treaters.”


Officials say no problems with Halloween pot candy (Denver Post / Associated Press, November 3)
“Denver Police and the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center on Monday reported no cases of people slipping marijuana to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters.”


You’re more likely to catch Ebola than to receive marijuana-laced Halloween candy (Washington Post, November 3)
“Despite literally hundreds of wide-eyed press accounts last week of the ‘danger’ of marijuana-infused Halloween candy, we are three days into November without a single instance of Halloween-related pot poisoning coming to light. None. Zero. Zilch.” 


Final update:

It’s now November 16, 2014. I’ve been checking back with the news services from time to time since Halloween. This story totally dropped off the face of the media radar the day after Halloween. I can’t find any follow-up articles. There apparently were never any reports nationwide (much less in Colorado, where I live) of kids getting marijuana candy for Halloween by accident or due to malicious stoners. The police haven’t reported anything, the local schools haven’t reported anything, and the hospitals haven’t reported anything.

I’m not going to bother checking back, because I’m pretty sure that every kid has eaten all their Halloween candy by now. So if there was going to be an issue, we would’ve heard of it by now. I know nobody pays attention to this sort of thing — how often the policy and media get it totally wrong — but wouldn’t it be nice if there was some sort of publicly transparent tally? Imagine a Wikipedia or Snopes.com that listed all the time the police or media scared us about something that turned out to be nothing.

Now I’m off to protect myself against the real threat, which is massive Ebola outbreak at the shopping mall. Oh, wait, the 15 minutes of unfounded fear for that one has already died out, too…


Todd’s World of Coffee

We’ve now been living in Capitol Hill in Denver for three months. One of the things I realized when we moved here is that there are a lot of coffee shops within easy walking distance. With the help of Yelp, I made a list of all seven that are within a half mile, which I posted here.

That’s when I gave myself a little challenge – to visit each and every one of these. I guess I chose 0.5 miles as the cutoff because that’s what I think of as “an easy walk” – anything farther and it would feel more like a walk for a walk’s sake, instead of just “I’ll bop down to the corner and get a cappuccino.”

But a new place cropped up since I started my list, and that’s when I decided I better update this. And in the process, I organized it all a bit better and expanded it significantly.

Coffee Shops Within 1/2 Mile

  1. Pablo’s Coffee 0.1 mi – This is the easiest one to get to, by far. It’s a nice place with really good cappuccino and no WiFi. Nice staff, roast their own beans. My Yelp review.
  2. Buzz Cafe 0.4 mi – I just went here for the first time last week on a weekday morning. Their homemade breakfast sandwich is the best around – the tastiest coffee shop breakfast in the area. The cappuccino was good, but not outstanding. My Yelp review.
  3. Drip Denver 0.4 mi – This is my favorite of all the ones on this list. The service is great, the people really know their coffee, and they have a wide selection. The interior is also very comfortable, and they have good WiFi. They get their beans from Pablo’s and Kaladi Brothers. My Yelp review.
  4. Dazbog Coffee 0.5 mi – This is convenient for me when I’m driving to Broomfield in the morning. But the service is spotty. Sometimes they forget to make things I order. And I haven’t had any coffee drink that’s really impressed me. I rank this like Starbucks, but slightly more local.
  5. Roostercat Coffee House 0.5 mi – Nice small place downstairs on Lincoln between 10th and 11th. They use Coda coffee. Not very crowded or noisy, at least on a weekday morning. They make unusual waffle sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. But I’ve gotten turned off by my last two visits and stopped going. One time there were coffee grounds in my cappuccino. How does that even happen?

Starbucks Within 1/2 Mile

Yeah, I’m giving these a separate category. Four Starbucks within 0.5 miles of me? Talk about overkill. The bold ones are the ones I’ve personally visited, for what little that’s worth.

  1. Starbucks Coffee 0.2 mi – 300 E 6th Ave – This is the Starbucks on 6th near Moe’s Bagels. I don’t have much to say about Starbucks. When I went to this one, the service was good.
  2. Starbucks Coffee 0.3 mi – 575 Lincoln Street – This one is between Lincoln and Broadway on the south side of Speer, by Bombay Bowl. I went there once when we lived in Baker.
  3. Starbucks Coffee 0.4 mi – 560 Corona St – This is the one inside Safeway at 6th and Corona. Oh boy, supermarket Starbucks.
  4. Starbucks Coffee 0.4 mi – 931 Corona St – This is the Starbucks inside the King Soopers that people often call “Queen Soopers”. It’s a typical supermarket Starbucks.

Other Coffee-serving Businesses Within 1/2 Mile

Again, bold means “been there, done that”.

  1. Dunkin Donuts 0.5 mi – 366 N Broadway – I went there but didn’t get coffee. For some reason, people rave about the quality of the coffee at Dunkin.
  2. DJ’s 9th Avenue Cafe 0.4 mi – 865 Lincoln St – This is a great place for both breakfast and lunch. They have good service and good food, which they make with as many local ingredients as possible. I’ve never seen it very crowded, so I wonder how they can stay in business given the size of the place.
  3. City Bakery Cafe 0.3 mi – 726 Lincoln St – Pretty new. Mainly baked good, but they also have drip coffee and espresso drinks, as well a breakfast sandwiches.
  4. Racine’s Restaurant 0.2 mi – 650 Sherman St – We’ve been there a couple times. One time was for supper and it was great. One time was for breakfast and it was mediocre. The coffee was Starbucks brand. Enough said.
  5. Moe’s Broadway Bagel 0.2 mi – 550 Grant St – I love Moe’s “everything” bagel with cream cheese, and often get one to go with an iced coffee, which Moe’s makes pretty well.
  6. Martine’s Muffins 0.3 mi – 726 Lincoln St – Frankly, I’m not sure how Martine is going to stay in business now that City Bakery Cafe has opened up, not just nearby but in the same building! I just went there once for a breakfast burrito, and didn’t try her coffee. The burrito was just so-so.
  7. Einstein Bros. Bagels 0.4 mi – 1025 E 9th Ave – Why bother? There’s Moe’s nearby.
  8. Tony’s Market 0.5 mi – 950 Broadway – I’ve been to Tony’s for food, but never to get coffee. They do have a lot of interesting high end foodstuffs, at high end prices.
  9. Lé Bakery Sensual 0.2 mi – 300 E 6th Ave – They have coffee, but that’s not what they’re famous for. What they’re famous for is cupcakes shapes like penises. I bought a cake there once, but never the coffee.

So there’s my list. 18 places to get coffee within 1/2 mile. Got anything to add? Leave a comment.

how I recovered my own damn data when my LaCie Little Big Disk took a crap

Oh what a terrible tale! This is one of those lessons that was so painful and expensive to learn that I feel compelled to share it. It all has to do with an external hard drive called a LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt 1 TB. Mine died, then I had frustrating tech support from LaCie, then I got a replacement, then that one died too, and then I took matters into my own hands and started fixing the problem.

Chapter 1: My Little Big Disk Failure

The Little Big Disk model I own has since been discontinued because there are bigger, faster ones on the market now. But when I bought it, this was probably the fastest external hard drive around. It is one external drive case that contains a pair of 2.5″ (laptop type) hard drives. These connect to a computer using a Thunderbolt cable, which is almost exclusively seen on Macs. You can configure the pair or drives in a few ways, but the way I chose was the factory default, which is RAID 0. In short, this is a means of pairing two hard drives so that data access is faster than it would be from either one alone. Think of it like two hard drives that each have half a file on them, so when you ask for a file they can both send it to you in parallel at the same time. This is perfect for video editing, so I bought this drive to be my main project drive for Final Cut Pro.

The downside of RAID 0 is that because there are two drives, if either one fails you lose all your data. So as a unit, it’s twice as likely to fail in a given amount of time. Because of this, it’s a good idea to back up the hard drive often. However, Beth and I moved recently, and the hard drives that I back up my LaCie onto were in a box. So I went nearly two months without doing a backup. Oops. Of course, during that time the hard drive went tits up.

Mac OS’ Disk Utility could see both the drives that make up the array, but reported that one of them had failed. I submitted a tech support ticket with LaCie, and they had me try a bunch of stuff that didn’t solve the problem – reverse the direction of the Thunderbolt cable, try a different cable, try it on a different Mac, try a different power cable. (“Try a different power cable?” Like the cable could provide enough power to spin up both drives but only pull data off one of them? I thought that was the stupidest suggestion, but the tech support guy insisted that there’s a failure mode for these that results in the symptoms I saw.)

I eventually convinced LaCie that the drive was bad. Fortunately, it was still under warranty. The options, as they explained, were:

  1. mail them back the drive and they’d mail a replacement
  2. pay for shipping of the replacement drive and they would send it first, then I mail the origin later
  3. hire their data recovery arm to take the drive apart in a clean room and try to get the data off – at a cost of $600 to $3000

I went for the second option. The data I had on the drive since my last backup was important, but not $600 important.

They sent me a replacement, and I found the two-month-old backup I’d made of this drive before we moved. When the replacement arrived, I restored my data onto it and went about my business.

But then three days later, the “new” drive failed in exactly the same way! I couldn’t believe it. Once again, I swapped out the cable, tried a different Thunderbolt port, tried a different power supply, etc. Nothing.

Chapter 2: Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

Now with two dead drives on my hands, I did some deep thinking and online research. LaCie doesn’t have a great reputation for reliability, so there are lots of articles I found through Google about this. One guy who had a similar paired drive from them (different model but the same design approach) took his apart, pulled out the two drives, and found that they actually both still worked. In his case, the problem was that the controller board failed. The drives were fine.

I have a Dyconn Dubbler Dock, which is a double SATA hard drive dock. Each of the two slots can take either a 3.5″ SATA drive or a 2.5″ SATA drive. So I figured what the hell. I opened up the case, took out the drives, and popped them in the Dubbler. Mac OS detected they were part of a RAID pair, and showed the one as being failed in the same way as when the drives were in the Little Big Disk case.

Then I downloaded some software called R-Studio for Mac, which is a data recovery tool. It can do a lot of different things, and I assume most people use it to undelete files they accidentally deleted. But it also fixes RAID problems like this. The main approach is that you can mount two (or more) drives that were members of a RAID array, and then build a new virtual software RAID out of them. That done, you can then restore files from the virtual array onto another drive. R-Tools Technology, makers of R-Studio (and a bunch of other stuff) lets you try a demo version of the product to see if it can recovery any data from your drive. In demo mode, you can only restore files less than 64 KB. That’s pretty small these days. In fact, I had a hard time finding any files that small on my drive later, but I did. If it works OK in demo mode, then you pay $80 and get an unlock key to restore the whole drive.

With a little trial-and-error and reading various posts on their user forum, I found the set of parameters that worked. I was able to see the contents of my RAID array, and restore a file correctly. So I paid for the full version, and set it to work.

One gotcha I should point out: Choosing the correct block size is important. If you don’t get the right number, you’ll be able to see the file system on the failed drive, but when you restore files they will be corrupt. In my case, when I did that, I got off a text file, but the contents were all binary gobbledygook. And I restored a PNG image, but no image viewer could read it. But once I found the right block size to use, the restored file worked like a charm.