Thursday, March 30, 2017

Getting an Amazon Refund Without Returning the Product

At least where you buy a lower-priced item, such as an $11 roll of stretch-tite with the cutter which is the best of breed, and it comes damaged, Amazon will issue you a refund contingent on your sending it back. Although it cost you nothing to send back, it is a bit of a hassle (especially where it didn't come in a box in the first place), it does Amazon no good to pay for the return shipping because the product is now worthless. Here's what you do: (i) Send an email to Amazon saying you'd like to send them a picture to show why there's no reason Amazon should insist on a return; (ii) the response will invite you to send a picture; (iii) send the picture and explain that it also shows the inferior packaging method using an envelope instead of a box; and (iv) most important, when you get no response, phone Amazon customer service, explain that issue and how disappointed you are in not getting a response to the picture, and the rep will be able to pull up the picture, and will see your point, and will issue you an immediate refund and waive the requirement that the product be returned. 

How it was supposed to look:
Image result for stretch-tite

How it actually looked upon arrival showing also the packaging it was sent in:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Secret to Being Successful

Tom Corley, an accountant and financial planner, surveyed 233 wealthy individuals, mostly self-made millionaires, on their daily habits. He compared those answers to responses from 128 lower-earning individuals, or those with less than $35,000 in annual gross income. In his best-selling book "Change Your Habits, Change Your Life," Corley explains that wealthy people set themselves up for success in a few specific ways. Here they are, listed in order of importance, with the first being logarithmically the most important by miles:
1. They get up early
Nearly 50 percent of the self-made millionaires in Corley's research got out of bed at least three hours before their workday actually started. Many of them use the free time to tackle personal projects, plan their day, or make time for exercise.
"Getting up at five in the morning to tackle the top three things you want to accomplish in your day allows you to regain control of your life," he writes. "It gives you a sense of confidence that you, indeed, direct your life."
2. They read, a lot
A whopping 88 percent of Corley's wealthy respondents say they devote 30 minutes or more each day to education or self-improvement through reading.
Most do not read for entertainment; they prefer biographies, history, and self-help books.
If you enjoy a good novel, that can help you too. Science shows that reading for pleasure can also boost your career. And Corley's point holds for many kinds of narratives. "There are important life lessons to be learned in biographies of people with rags-to-riches stories," he writes.
Legendary investor and self-made billionaire Warren Buffett says that reading has been the most crucial habit he's developed. If you're looking to pick up a new book, check out the business classics Buffett and other leaders love.
3. They spend 15 to 30 minutes each day on focused thinking
Many of the self-made millionaires Corley interviewed said they make time to process everything that's going on in their lives.
"The rich tend to think in isolation, in the mornings," he writes "and for at least 15 minutes every day."
Often they'll reflect on their career, their health and their personal relationships. Having quiet time to analyze your thoughts is associated with stress reduction.
In fact, taking two minutes at work to focus on nothing but your breathe will help you relax , a Harvard-trained doctor tells CNBC.
4. They make exercise a priority
Working out regularly clears your head and makes you feel more motivated, studies show .
According to Corley, 76 percent of his survey respondents carve out 30 minutes or more for aerobic exercise like jogging, biking or walking each day.
Many successful business leaders make sure to workout. Billionaire Richard Branson, for example, says that his morning routine of waking up at 5 am to play tennis or bike, has doubled his productivity.
5. They spend time with people who inspire them
"You are only as successful as those you frequently associate with," Corley says.
If you don't have highly-motivated people in your personal network yet, fear not. Self-made millionaires volunteer, which is a great way to meet other positive, motivated individuals. You could also join groups for people who share your same career or personal interests, Corley suggests. Then develop the relationship by keeping in touch.
And be choosy about who you spend your time with. "[Successful people] also make a point to limit their exposure to toxic, negative people," says Corley.
6. They pursue their own goals
Most self-made millionaires plan to get rich and then make it happen, Corley's research finds.
Eighty percent of the wealthy are "obsessed with pursuing goals," he writes. They refer to both daily and long-term goals regularly.
"I'm here to tell you to avoid putting your ladder on someone else's wall and then spending the best years of your life climbing it," Corley says. "Find your own wall, your own dreams, and your own goals, and pursue them."
7. They get enough sleep

Catastrophe Season 3 Coming on Netflix

As we're sure everyone remembers, we gave good reviews to Seasons 1 and 2 of Catastrophe in April 2015 and again in April 2016. We are pleased to announce that Season 3 will be available this coming April 28. Here are those past reviews:

Fauda (2015) (Netflix)

Even if you don't speak Hebrew or Arabic, and even you haven't studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or served in the special forces on either side, you will find Fauda as riveting as any drama gets. Indeed, you don't want to see anything more riveting. Put another way this is sheer rivet. With fabulous acting, wonderful photography, and the tightest of screenplays, you'll find yourself lost in the tragic horror that is the everyday life both of Israeli special forces in Palestine and those being hunted by them, and the innocents among whom both live. It will not bother you one whit that often you don't know who is which side. In fact, you'll embrace the confusion or, better put, as the Arabic word "fauda" means--the "chaos."

IMDb Link to Fauda

[Note: This review is based on the first 5 episodes]

Samsung Galaxy S8

The Samsung Galaxy S8 will be announced later today (Mar. 29). If it's not prone to exploding, it likely will be a big hit. Here [courtesy of BGR] are its distinctive features:

  • Always On display – View various information, such as a clock or calendar, even when the screen is off.
  • Multi window – You can run two apps simultaneously without changing the screen. If you use the snap window feature, you can select an area and pin it to the top of the screen and use other apps or features in the lower window.
  • Edge screen – With various Edge panels, you can access frequently used features quickly and easily. You can also capture an area of content and share it with others.
  • Hello Bixby – View frequently updated content, such as the weather, reminders, and alarms, in one place. Hello Bixby analyses your usage patterns and provides suggested information, apps, and functions based on your routine.
  • Bixby Vision (image search) – Bixby Vision is an image search feature that lets you search for relevant information conveniently. Activate Bixby Vision and scan objects or locations with the camera to search for products online or nearby places. You can also translate detected text.
  • Reminder – Schedule notifications and to-do items or use location reminders. You can also create reminders from videos, images, or websites to view them later.
  • Bixby (intelligent voice assistant) – Bixby is an intelligent voice assistant that helps you use the device more conveniently. Press the Bixby key or say “Bixby.” Bixby will respond to you. Start a conversation by talking or typing. Bixby will launch a function you request or show the information you want.
  • Iris recognition – The iris recognition feature uses the unique characteristics of your irises, such as their shape and patten, to strengthen the security of your device. You can use your iris data to quickly unlock your screen, verify your Samsung account, and sign into webpages and more.
  • Fingerprint recognition – A built-in capacitive sensor reads your fingerprint when you touch it from any direction. Use your fingerprint to unlock your smartphone and pay with Samsung Pay.
  • Face recognition – Unlock the screen using facial recognition instead of drawing a pattern or entering a PIN or password.
  • Secure Folder – Protect your private content and apps in Secure Folder. Photos, memos, and apps in Secure Folder cannot by accessed by others. You can also keep your private content and apps secure by hiding Secure Folder when the device is unlocked.
  • Samsung Pass – Register your IDs and passwords for websites to Samsung Pass and verify your identity securely via your biometric data, rather than entering your login information.
  • Experience the improved camera for taking photos. You can either take clear selfies with the front camera’s smart Auto Focus (AF) feature and create various scenes with the various shooting modes and optimized filters.
  • Samsung Pay – Register your frequently used credit or debit cards to make quick and secure payments. Purchase items by simply touching your smartphone to any standard credit card reader.
  • Samsung DeX – Samsung DeX is a service that allows you to use your smartphone like a computer by connecting a smartphone to an external display, such as a TV monitor. You can your smartphone’s features on a large screen conveniently by connecting an external display, keyboard, and mouse.
  • Samsung Connect – Connect to nearby devices, such as Bluetooth headsets or other smartphones, easily and quickly. You can also control and manage TVs, home appliances, and Internet of Things (IoT) products with your smartphone.
  • Samsung Cloud – Store important data such as images, videos, and apps, securely in Samsung Cloud and view it on other devices.
  • Bluetooth Dual audio – Stream audio from one smartphone to up to two Bluetooth headsets or speakers simultaneously. You can adjust the volume levels for each device independently, allowing users to listen comfortably.
  • An external memory card (microSD card) – A micro SD card allows you to expand your device’s storage and lets you store more content, such as photos and videos.
  • Water resistant – The Galaxy S8 meets IP68 standards to ensure that it is water resistant. Now, you can use your smartphone in wet environments. You can your smartphone freely in various situations.
  • Connection with Gear – You can quickly connect your smartphone and Gear by using the Samsung Gear app. You can answer calls, receive messages, record your walking steps, or workout, measure your heart rate, play music, and more on the Gear.
Image Source: Samsung via TechDroiderImage Source: Samsung via TechDroiderImage Source: Samsung via TechDroider

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Home Wi-Fi Done Correctly

If you have spots in or around your home where you don't get your router's wi-fi signal, you no longer have to live like that. The article below explains in easy terms the kind of new "mesh network" router system you will want and it evaluates the competing alternatives in a nice chart. They are not expensive.

Link to cnet Article

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fry's (Phoenix) Has Gotten Even Better

Fry's has upgraded its self-checkout machines. They were great before. But now they are even better: faster; more forgiving; and a prettier interface--just some of the advances. Fry's proves one again the adage we live by: If you're not fixing it, it's broken. And if you're still grocery shopping elsewhere, psychological help would seem to be in order. Bon Appetite!

Health Care Reform

In this past Sunday's NYT (Mar. 26), Professor Robert Frank wrote an excellent article re "Medicare for All." The head of our Health Insurance Department (HID) emailed Professor Frank with a suggested modified approach. Today, Professor Frank wrote a very nice response, and referred us to a related discussion by Matt Yglesias, to whom we have forwarded on our suggestion. Below are Professor Frank's article, our response to him, and his response to us. We await Mr. Yglesias response as well the NYT's editorial board decision on the letter we submitted making the same point.

Professor Frank's NYT Article:

Republicans are in a bind. They’ve been promising to repeal Obamacare for seven years, and having won control of the White House and Congress, they had to try to deliver. But while their bitter denunciations of the Affordable Care Act may have depressed its approval numbers, they didn’t make replacing it any easier.

On the contrary, the repeal-and-replace bill designed by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan drew withering criticism from the left and the right. Liberals condemned its use of reductions in health coverage for the poor to pay for large tax cuts for the wealthy, while conservatives bemoaned its retention of many subsidies adopted under Obamacare.

In the end, the repeal effort’s biggest hurdle may have been loss aversion, one of the most robust findings in behavioral science. As numerous studies have shown, the pain of losing something you already have is much greater than the pleasure of having gained it in the first place. And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that Mr. Ryan’s American Health Care Act (A.H.C.A.) would have caused more than 14 million people to lose coverage in the first year alone, with total losses rising to 24 million over the next decade. Many Republicans in Congress were nervous about the political firestorm already provoked by the mere prospect of such losses.

Loss aversion actually threatened the repeal effort on two fronts: voters’ fear of losing their coverage, and lawmakers’ fear of losing their seats. Like the first fear, the second appeared well grounded. Republican voters wouldn’t have been the only ones losing coverage, of course, but early studies suggested that losses would have been concentrated among people who voted for President Trump. The Congressional Budget Office estimated, for example, that the A.H.C.A. would have caused premiums to rise more than sevenfold in 2026 for 64-year-olds making $26,500.

Now that Republicans have withdrawn Mr. Ryan’s bill from consideration, attention shifts to what comes next. In an earlier column, I suggested that Mr. Trump has the political leverage, which President Obama did not, to jettison the traditional Republican approach in favor of a form of the single-payer health care that most other countries use. According to Physicians for a National Health Program, an advocacy group, “Single-payer national health insurance, also known as ‘Medicare for all,’ is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health care financing, but the delivery of care remains largely in private hands.” Christopher Ruddy, a friend and adviser of the president, recently urged him to consider this option.

Many Republicans who want to diminish government’s role in health care view the single-payer approach with disdain. But Mr. Trump often seems to take pleasure in being unpredictable, and since he will offend people no matter which way he turns, he may want to consider why liberals and conservatives in many other countries have embraced the single-payer approach.

Part of the appeal of Medicare for all is that single-payer systems reduce financial incentives that generate waste and abuse. Mr. Ryan insisted that by relegating health care to private insurers, competition would lead to lower prices and higher quality. Economic theory tells us that this is a reasonable expectation when certain conditions are met. A crucial one is that buyers must be able to compare the quality of offerings of different sellers. In practice, however, people have little knowledge of the treatment options for the various maladies they might suffer, and policy language describing insurance coverage is notoriously complex and technical. Consumers simply cannot make informed quality comparisons in this industry.

In contrast, they can easily compare the prices charged by competing insurance companies. This asymmetry induces companies to compete by highlighting the lower prices they’re able to offer if they cut costs by degrading the quality of their offerings. For example, it’s common for insurance companies to deny payment for procedures that their policies seem to cover. If policy holders complain loudly enough, they may eventually get reimbursed, but the money companies save by not paying others confers a decisive competitive advantage over rivals that don’t employ this tactic. Such haggling is uncommon under single-payer systems like Medicare (though it is sometimes employed by private insurers that supplement Medicare).

Consider, too, the mutually offsetting expenditures on competitive advertising and other promotional efforts of private insurers, which can exceed 15 percent of total revenue. Single-payer plans like Medicare spend nothing on competitive advertising (although here, also, we see such expenditures by supplemental insurers).

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, administrative costs in Medicare are only about 2 percent of total operating expenditures, less than one-sixth of the rate estimated for the private insurance industry. This difference does not mean that private insurers are evil. It’s a simple consequence of a difference in the relevant economic incentives.

Our Suggestion to Professor Frank:

Dear Professor Frank:

I very much enjoyed and applaud your article re “Medicare for All” in this morning’s (Mar. 26) New York Times. While I share your wish that could be done, I assume you’re as skeptical it would be done in the near-term. But, what might have appeal both as a “fix” to the ACA that might placate moderate Republicans and Democrats and Trump, and moving the country down the road toward a single-payer system, is to have an incremental drop in the Medicare eligibility age, e.g., moving down from age 65 to say age 50 in one shot or over a period of years. Such an approach: (i) would make Medicare financially sounder because its base would then include proportionately more “younger” people in better health than older Medicare recipients; and (ii) would make Medicaid and the ACA markets financially sounder because their bases would then include proportionately fewer “older” people in poorer health and proportionately more “younger” people in better health. In short, instead of making the immediate goal of a universal single-payer system an all-or-nothing alternative likely to attract little support, a hybrid system that fulfills the promise of “fixing” Obamacare, while moving only incrementally toward a single-payer system, just might be sellable to Trump et al. It’s not a perfect solution for sure, but it would seem to be a good one compared to where we are. I hope it is tried. Again, thanks for your excellent piece.

Professor Frank's Response:

Dear Mr. Cohen,

Many thanks for your kind note. Your suggestions for how to get started on a path toward single-payer make a lot of sense. I think you’d enjoy this discussion of some related possibilities by Matt Yglesias in Vox today.

All good wishes,


Robert H. Frank
HJ Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics
Johnson Graduate School of Management
327 Sage Hall
Cornell University

The Downside of Broad-based Index Funds

[Prefatory Note: We have pointed out in the past the advantage of low-cost broad-based index funds such as VTI which is Vanguard's Total Market Fund. The WSJ (Mar. 27) has explained the disadvantage of such an approach for people, especially those retirees who are still invested in equities and who will be making withdrawals from their equity investments. What follows is the WSJ article]
Broad-based index funds can do a real disservice to retirees. The problem stems when these funds are too broad-based, not from mirroring underlying indexes. Why? Unlike when they were accumulating assets, retirees have to sell holdings from time to time to fund their ongoing lifestyle, one-time discretionary expenses or to cover required minimum distributions. When they do so, they are selling a portion of everything held by that index fund, regardless of whether a given position has recently been a winner or a loser.
Of course, you’d rather sell from your winnings and give holdings that haven’t done as well some time to recover or catch up.  But you can’t do that in an index fund or any other fund for that matter. This matters more often–and to a greater degree–than you might think.
Take 2016 as an example. The S&P 500 gained nearly 12%, so you’d think that most all its holdings had a pretty good year.  Not so. One convenient way to think about this index is that its 500 stocks–all large companies–fit into two categories:  Some are value stocks and some are growth stocks. As it happened, large value stocks gained 17% last year while large growth stocks gained just 7%, according to the Russell 1000 Value and Russell 1000 Growth indexes. Note that a 50/50 split of these two yields the 12% gain for the entire broad index.
But what if you needed to take money from your portfolio last year and decided to take some of it from U.S. large-cap stocks? If you owned a broad-based S&P 500 index fund, you’d have been forced to sell from both the value and growth halves.  Likely, wanting to sell high, you’d have rather taken the money from the value stock portion.
The way to assure this control is to divide your broad-based index holdings into their component parts–in this case, large value and large growth–so that you have that choice. Most major providers of indexed mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) offer the value and growth subsets of the broad-based index. And making this change within your IRA or 401(k) assets isn’t taxable, either.
And this isn’t just a 2016 phenomenon. Using the Russell value and growth indexes, there have been nine times since 2000 where their annual performance has varied by eight percentage points (800 basis points, to be precise) or more. That’s roughly half the years when being able to pick whether to sell value or growth stocks could have made a significant difference.
Similar results also can be seen across U.S. small-cap stocks, often measured by the Russell 2000 index. And this also holds true for total market indexes. Such U.S. funds give you exposure to value and growth stocks in both the large-cap and small-cap universe. That’s four different categories lumped together that can exhibit very different performance results in the same year.
These differences between the style and size factors can matter a lot when using the money you’ve built up over so many years. Being caught with a one-size-fits-all approach to your index holdings in retirement can cost you.

Annual Credit Card Fees: Just Say No

As the Wall Street Journal reports (Mar. 27), there is a simple way to get a waiver or substantial reduction on your credit cards' annual fee: Just ask for it, and intimate you might cancel the card if the fee is not waived. In over 70% of such instances where cardholders have asked for a waiver, the credit card company has either waived the fee or granted a big reduction.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Predictions re Trump

We don't do politics, but we do matters that affect consumers. So, we note that there are several predictions leading to the conclusion that Trump will not be on the ballot in 2020. Those predictions are premised on the idea he will tire of the job and resign, he will be indicted, or he will be impeached. But, there is one other scenario: He was face, and lose to, a primary challenge. We have been told that scenario has some credence, but we have been sobered by the fact that such a challenge could come both from Little Marco and Lyin Ted Cruz, who once again would cancel themselves out, and would not come from any credible moderate Republican because none could be found.

Back Up Car Camera Kits

If you have a relatively new car, it probably turns on the back-facing camera when you put the car in reverse, letting you see, without turning your head like an owl or like in The Exorcism, what's behind you. This not only is a terrific safety feature, it's a big help when parking. If you don't have one that came with the car, you can get a kit to install one, ranging in price from under $50 up to a few hundred dollars. Our Automotive Research Team (ART) started looking at them and got such a headache it just stopped. There are a lot of features to consider: most clip onto the license plate, but some need a hole drilled in the car to run a wire to the trunk for a power supply, while others don't running on batteries; the blue tooth screens vary in size and features; battery life varies and is dependent on a bunch of factors; some will transmit the picture to your phone, others won't;  etc. etc. etc. While ART gave up, it might be wise not to. The good new is because they are blue tooth based, you don't need to run wires from the camera to the display.

Image result for backup camera

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mad Dogs (2015) on Amazon Prime

We noted this after the first episode, and have now seen the entire series (10 episodes). To begin, akin to leading any restaurant review with parking and noise level, Mad Dogs is beautifully photographed and the scenery is fantastic. The acting is fantastic. The characters are gripping. Steve Zahn steals every scene he is in. You have no clue what's going to happen one scene to the next. No matter how many characters you don't like, you can't look away. No matter what the film does to characters you do like (e.g., the cop), you forgive it and continue watching. And even if you don't understand what's happening at any point, or even when it's over, you're glad you watched it. You might not have learned anything, and you might not want to go to Belize, but here's the secret to what it's about: It's a remake of Waiting for Godot with a twist, where the better title would have been: Waiting for Jesus?

IMDb Link to Mad Dogs

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament 2017 and UConn

If you haven't seen women's collegiate basketball in a long time, or a dynasty team in any sport, take a look at UConn and the Women's 2017 NCAA tournament. It is amazing and an utter joy to watch (except for the last 2 minutes which suffer from the inordinate fouls making time slow to a crawl, which long has been one of our major problems leading to our not watching basketball).* The pace could not be faster (they never stop running and they run really fast), the athleticism could not be awing, and the pinpoint passing is mind-bongling as is the shooting. Making the viewing even better is the demonstrable sportswomanship before, during, and after the game, along with the knowledgeable, informative, and entertaining commentary. This is great viewer sport made for television. UConn has the second longest winning streak in all of sport history, and their coach is considered the greatest (men's or women's) coach in basketball at any level. Finally, again, if it's been a while since you've seen women play basketball, the rules have changed and they now are allowed to cross the center line.

     * Our Department of Sports and Commentary (SAC) long ago proposed a solution to the "last few minutes problem" that plagues basketball. After a player is fouled, not only does the player get to shoot whatever foul shots are appropriate, the player's team gets possession of the ball. While this would eliminate intentional fouls, it would have the added benefit of eliminating fouls as a tactical device that doesn't belong in sports. Rules should be rules, and breaking the rules should carry a penalty. That is what makes golf so great and perhaps alone in the sports world as the one sport where the rules are considered so sacrosanct that players call penalties on themselves and never use the breaking of a rule to gain a tactic advantage.

Image result for ncaa women's basketball tournament 2017