ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

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For almost two weeks now I’ve been shivering figuratively in anticipation that one of my friends, family, readers or someone completely random would throw down the ice bucket challenge. Which my Home Depot bucket has been anticipating nearly as much as I have been. Finally said challenge was issued by my dearly beloved sister, Amy this Friday night. Now I get to shiver for real!

Most importantly, I made a donation to the ALS Association and I urge you all to head over there and make a donation regardless if you’ve been challenged yet. Without further ado, I present my fulfillment of Amy’s ALS Ice Bucket challenge:

Video



My Challenges

In keeping with the familial theme inspired by Amy, I’m calling you out cousins! Let’s see your Ice Bucket Challenge donations and hopefully videos in the next 24 hours!

You three have 24 hours! For each of you that complete the challenge and share on Facebook/Twitter, I’ll match your donation! Just message me the details and I’ll make a second donation in your honor!

Indisposable DFW Dog Services

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I have been a pet owner for quite a long time. When I got my first apartment in Texas I was adopted quickly thereafter by a stray tabby cat, Tater. That adoption was followed a year or so later when I gave a kitten who needed a home somewhere to stay and named her Jade. For years, I’d wanted a dog. But living in an apartment, being a full time student and full time worker really deprived me of both the space and time that dogs required.

When my wife and I started discussing shopping for a home, I warned her that a dog might accompany us shortly after moving in. We didn’t exactly agree, though, as she had her heart set on another cat. Thankfully, I am both convincing and persuasive, which lead us to bringing both Crockett and Zoe into our lives, a fantastic decision which has lead to all sorts of scenes like this:


When we first brought Crockett home, we’d read a few books and talked to a bunch of our friends and familie, trying to prepare for what would ensue. That information wound up being invaluably helpful, but some things we figured out on our own. Today I want to write about a couple of local businesses that we’ve come across that have been equal parts of fantastic and helpful: Great Paw Pet Sitters and Man’s Best Friend.

Great Paw Pet Sitters

Great Paw Pet Sitters is exactly what it sounds like, they’re a company whose focus is pet sitting. When Zoe was a puppy, we had different working arrangements than when Crockett had been a puppy. When Crockett was a puppy I had been working close enough that I could let Crockett out occasionally when he couldn’t quite make it all day without needing a bathroom break, and when I wasn’t available our dear friends were more than happy to help out and let Crockett out.

At any rate, we didn’t want to burden our friends and I just couldn’t make a trip home anymore during the weekdays. We decided to temporarily find a pet sitter to take care of our two dogs when we weren’t home. I found the Great Paw Pet Sitters via Angie’s List and gave them a phone call. At the time, I’d considered giving them and a couple of their competitors a trial run and then pick the best of the bunch. Unfortunately for competitors of Great Paw Pet Sitters they never got a chance.

The care we’ve gotten from Great Paw Pet Sitters has been fantastic. We met our pet sitter during an initial consultation and they’ve been taking care of our dogs almost ever since. The business side of scheduling pet sitting and paying of invoices is conveniently handled through the company’s website. The pet sitter visits the house, takes care of the dogs and then later updates the appointment with information about the day’s appointment, including pictures.

At this point, it’s a bit of an extravagance that we continue to use Great Paw Pet Sitters, but we’re okay with trading some of our other extravagances for this one. When our work days are the longest, it’s nice to know that the dogs get a break in the middle of the day. They offer many different kinds of pet-sitting, dog walking and extended pet sitting services.

Man’s Best Friend

One of the things that I’d known when we got a dog was that we were going to need help with obedience training, both to train the puppies, and more importantly to train us. It took me a little bit of time to sort out Crockett. At first, we tried applying what we’d been reading , but we weren’t having much luck. We tried a few one-on-one sessions with a great trainer and decided that we needed a more dedicated approach. When Crockett was about six months old, we decided to seek more help and began researching dog obedience schools in the area. I’d heard the radio commercials for a local company, Man’s Best Friend, and read some complimentary reviews of online.

We had an initial consultation with Man’s Best Friend with Crockett and learned about their training program. Essentially, they board and work with your dog for two weeks, then you have a series of private one-on-one lessons where you work on applying the things your dog learned. They’re kind enough not to say it, but really what happens is they work with your dog and then they work with you one-on-one to train you. We’ve done this training package with both Crockett and Zoe both because of the wonderful results and the great care that the staff of Man’s Best Friend gives to both us and our dogs. Despite both of our dogs “graduating” from their obedience classes, we’re still weekly visitors to their group sessions to reinforce what we’ve learned and mostly because it’s an enjoyable weekend activity that we can include the dogs in.

On top of that, Man’s Best Friend does boarding and doggie day care as part of their business. We’ve boarded both Crockett and Zoe at Man’s Best Friend when we have gone on vacation. If we didn’t have such a nice arrangement exchanging dog-sitting services with my brother, we’d board our dogs with Man’s Best Friend again in a heartbeat.

Conclusion

If you live in the Dallas area and you’re looking for pet sitting, boarding, or training, look no further than Great Paw Pet Sitters for your pet-sitting needs and Man’s Best Friend for your training and boarding needs. I personally can’t recommend either company enough; even where the products/services they offer are expensive, I think you get substantial value for the dollars you spent. And even more importantly, it benefits your little four-legged friends tremendously.

How about you guys? What other similarly indisposable dog-related companies have you used in the Dallas area? What are your favorites and why would you recommend them? Please feel free to use the comments to plug DFW-area businesses that have helped with your pet ownership.

Gizmo Crate Unboxing: July 2014

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My July Gizmo Crate arrived today on August the 4th. Gizmo Crate painted themselves into a corner a bit when their June crate wasn’t delivered until a couple weeks into July. I’ve been a customer since their first crate, so I had been expecting growing pains from Gizmo Crate at some point. Besides, for the most part, I was getting a pretty good deal for what we had paid. But that patience wound up being put further to the test in June by a lless-than-impressive where I was easily able to find the same or similar items much cheaper from Amazon. A little flummoxed, I extended Gizmo Crate the benefit of the doubt.

As July progressed I received an email update from Gizmo Crate which explained a change in their process. Beginning in July we were told that all future crates would not actually ship until the end of the month on the 30th. The shipping date on previous crates had been communicated to us as the 20th of each month.

We would like to inform you that certain changes in the management team of Gizmo Crate have changed. As we have transitioned teams to better serve our members with the utmost in quality products and customer service we apologize if this transition and any previous customer service related issues have caused you an inconvenience now or in the past.

We are happy to announce that we have completely taken over of the wheel and look forward to only making your experience with us top-notch.

Please know that because of this transition and change in personnel (both in the administrative and warehouse team) have caused some delays in July’s Gizmo Crate shipping.

We are on track to be on time every month but wish to inform you that shipping dates for Gizmo Crate from here on forth will be the 30th of every month.

This allows ample time for our vendors to ship product without delays and proper times to package and deliver your packages with priority 2-3 day service.

We appreciate all our members greatly and are truly sorry for the inconveniences you have had to endure with us but we assure you that we are new and are ready to make it up to you.

Customer service is our #1 priority and we are here to assist you with anything you need.

Please know that tracking #’s will be sent on July 30th and Gizmo Crates will be arriving 2-3 days thereafter.

If for any reason you wish to cancel please respond to this email with “CANCEL” and we will gladly take care of it for you.

We will also be postponing renewals so you don’t get charged for August’s Gizmo Crate before you receive July’s :)

We thank you again and appreciate you! We look forward to sending you awesome boxes every month filled with cool goodies.

If there is anything we can do to further assist you please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Gizmo Crate July Gizmo Crate Shipping Update Email

My immediate reaction to this email was not positive. I wasn’t exactly excited. I emailed them back suggesting that they delay a crate by a month, extend everyone’s subscriptions by a month and concentrate on delivering a crate the same month it was supposed to originate from. After receiving this email, I was tempted to cancel my subscription, which was ending in July, but because they assured that billing wouldn’t happen until I’d received the July crate, I figured there wasn’t any harm and that they’d earned the opportunity to evaluate the crate before deciding the status of my subscription. Besides, I’d been promised they’d knock our socks off with July’s crate after the fiasco of June’s crate.

Then the 30th came and went without the tracking numbers. And then so did the 31st. On Friday, August 1st I was excited to wake up and see an email notification from Gizmo Crate on my phone, but this was an email advising me that my subscription had been automatically renewed for the next three months.

Please know that tracking #’s will be sent on July 30th and Gizmo Crates will be arriving 2-3 days thereafter.

Strike One!

We will also be postponing renewals so you don’t get charged for August’s Gizmo Crate before you receive July’s :)

Strike Two!

To their credit, when I contacted the Gizmo Crate support team they immediately refunded my credit card after charging me for my renewal. They even offered a 10% discount on my next subscription as an apology for the inconvenience.

Ultimately, I received my tracking number for July’s crate the evening of August 1st after 10:00 p.m. At that point, I decided that the July Gizmo Crate better completely blow my doors off if they wanted to keep me as a customer. When my wife told me today that the new Gizmo Crate had arrived, I was looking forward to getting home and opening it up to see what’s inside.

Strike Three!

Food Units

July’s food unit is a Bear Naked Nutty Double Chocolate Layered Granola Bar, which pretty much hits the nail on the head; I love granola bars. I probably eat one every couple days. Granola bars inferior to this one are a staple around our house. Much like all the prior food units, the Bear Naked Bar did not survive the writing and proofreading of this blog.

Geek Items

The first geeky item is a dual-port USB power adapter, featuring both a 1.0 Amp port and a 2.1 Amp port. I couldn’t find an exact match on Amazon.com but I did find something pretty similar. I’ve been working on a project in my garage and I’d been using the bluteooth speaker I received in my first Gizmo Crate back in February, but bluetooth drains my phone’s battery faster than I can paint ceilings and walls, which means I need up to two chargers when working in the garage for an extended period of time. I had even been considering searching for a USB AC Adapter that could charge both the speaker as well as my phone at the same time. Even though I had USB AC Adapters coming out the wazoo here at the house, they all had single ports, and it’d take two of them to charge both devices. In this regard, this item was quite fortuitous even if it’s relatively inexpensive.

The second item included in the box was a bit comical, a pair of 8-bit sunglasses which I thought were a pretty clever novelty item. Unfortunately, they’re not very comfortable since all those 8-bit blocks’ corners dug into the bridge of my nose, qnd they’re pretty cheaply made. I can’t imagine wearing these for any kind of duration. They’re good for a chuckle, but not a whole lot more.

The third item was a screen protector for the iPad 2 / 3 / 4. I tried my hardest to look one up on Amazon.com, but the closest I could get was a 3-pack of iPad 2 / 3 / 4 screen protectors. Unfortunately, aside from my iPad Air, all of our tablets are Android. Furthermore, considering the industry’s use of materials like Gorilla Glass, I’ve always thought the whole “screen protector” suite of products to be unnecessary and maybe a bit of a scam.

Ultimately, the fate of this month’s Gizmo Crate wound up in the hands of the fourth item; a pair of STREET by 50 Cent Wired In-Ear Headphones by SMS Audio, which I found to be a rather surprising selection, e specially considering the fact that I’d already received a pair in March’s Gizmo Crate! I was really shocked that I was only six months in and receiving the same item for a second time, especially when you considered what a disaster the prior month’s crate had been due to its poor selection and considerably late arrival.


Bear Naked Granola Bar Dual Port USB Adapter 8-bit Sunglasses iPad 2 / 3 / 4 Screen Protector SMS Earbuds

Conclusion

There’s no question that the value of the July crate is equal to or greater than the cost of the Gizmo Crate, and in that regard, I think it’s a good deal. I think the USB AC Adapter and the 8-bit Sunglasses will not be getting much use from the majority of people because most geeks are going to be knee-deep in USB AC Adapters and few of us geeks would find the shades comfortable enough for everyday use. The iPad screen protector is probably useful, but it’s too product-specific. Lastly, the earbuds are an excellent value, just like they were when we got them back in March.

It’s been a rough go of it for the Gizmo Crate the past couple months. They’ve managed to make deadlines and then subsequently miss them on a frequent basis. They’ve promised they accounted for those delays by making sure nobody’s subscription will renew before they get a chance to evaluate the month’s crate, but those renewals are still happening. They’d already had a disappointing pattern of delivering items which overlap the function of items from the prior months’ crates. And finally, they’ve shipped the same item as they’d already shipped a few months earlier. Considering that this happened in probably what was one of the most important months in Gizmo Crate’s history, you don’t get a very positive impression of what’s to come next month.

It’s been a fun six months, but after the last two I’ve decided to go ahead and cancel my subscription. What about you guys? Are you sticking with Gizmo Crate? What kinds of items would you rather see in upcoming months?

Garage Makeover Comes Back from the Abyss

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Just as I feared, it’s been quite a while since I’ve made any headway on my Garage Makeover project. I started back in March of 2013, with very ambitious plans and little to no regard for the upcoming summer. Unsurprisingly the summer was hot, hot enough to completely sap my interest in the project. As the summer dragged on, I came up with a plan to address the heat in my garage. But I continued to lack the motivation to see the Garage Makeover to its completion. Making matters worse, all of the budget I would’ve spent on this project wound up being diverted into having the nearly forty-year-old windows around the entire house replaced. Nevertheless, the garage makeover project is now an obstacle for my arcade cabinet project. Having this many projects stuck in neutral is a bit annoying, so over Independence Day weekend, I went out and assessed the garage’s status.

Sadly, in the last few months my garage has gotten quite messy! We’ve begun accumulating stuff, and the result of that accumulation is now in the garage. Part of my original motivation for addressing the garage was my anticipation of exactly this kind of accumulation. I feel pretty smug in being able to predict the future, but a bit foolish that I didn’t do anything with that advance knowledge. In addition to this accretive gain in goods, there’s an additional car I’d like to fit into the garage next to my 2002 Corvette Z06. Originally, the only vehicle that was going to be in the garage on a regular basis was going to be the Corvette, so I need to account for this somehow.

Rethinking the Plan

My original hope was to temporarily move stuff out of the garage onto our covered patio, build shelving, and then move the stuff back into the garage as I completed that part of the project. Now that we’ve gained so much additional stuff, I’m going to have to rethink that approach. Rather than build that shelving, I will buy some shelving ahead of time and assemble it out on my patio. There’s still some storage I’d like to build myself, but the basic shelving will be purchased rather than built.

Objectives

  • Build, assemble and install a few sets of basic shelving
  • Repair, texture, and paint the ceiling
  • Paint the garage walls
  • Build a decent workbench
  • Build some storage for yard tools and sports equipment that wind up eating space up in the garage

Wishlist

  • Air Conditioning (completed last year)
  • A garage refrigerator/freezer for storage of frosty beverages (among other things)
  • Extend the house’s wireless network into the garage to better cover the backyard.

Action Resumes

I wound up ordering five sets of shelving from Amazon which arrived last week. On Thursday night, we set the shelves up on the patio and this weekend I started evaluating the state of the garage. I wound up moving things out that had gathered a bunch of dust from the scraping of the popcorn ceiling and sprayed them off with a hose in the backyard. Everything else was slowly moved from the garage onto the shelving temporarily set up on the patio. The shelving on the patio was covered with some tarps to give the illusion of protection from the elements. Hopefully, the contents won’t get too bothered in the event of a rainstorm.

Before
 
After
 

The next step is going to be patching, preparing, and retexturing the ceiling with something other than the abominable popcorn, after which I plan to fill some imperfections in the walls and then paint them also. Once all that work is completed, I can move everything back into the garage from the patio. The shelving will go along one of the two sides of the garage and possibly get anchored to the wall to keep them stable. After that, I’d like to make the majority of the adjacent wall into pegboard storage for all of my miscellaneous yard tools and sports equipment. Finally, we’re going to build a decent workbench to locate somewhere not too far away from the tools and the air conditioning!

Messy left side of the garage Messy right side of the garage Messy garage Before shot of the patio. Before shot of the patio. The patio begins to get filled up Midway through the clean up,  left side Midway through the clean up,  center Stuff which needed rinsing in the yard Shelves full, covered in tarps on the patio Cleaned garage, left side. Cleaned garage, right side. Cleaned garage,  ready for next step

Gizmo Crate Unboxing: June 2014

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Unfortunately for us, the June GizmoCrate was delayed again. This time not just by a few days, but almost by a few weeks. The package didn’t arrive until July 12th, which was very disappointing. To their credit, the GizmoCrate people kept us apprised of the delays both via e-mails and also on their Twitter account. Consider the fact that GizmoCrate’s goal is to ship around the 20th of each month means this crate missed their goal by almost an entire month. It showed up so late that I’m concerned about July’s crate hitting its shipment-date goal. I think there’s also cause for concern that this is a pattern which might be difficult for GizmoCrate to reverse.

In discussing the delayed crate, my wife and I theorized ways that they could make it up. We kicked around a couple ideas: extending their subscribers’ subscriptions by a month for free, or by making sure the July crate really knocks our socks off. We both agreed that the latter would probably be a great way to show their appreciation for their customers. Hopefully, next month’s GizmoCrate will make up for both the delays in May and June.

Food Units

This month’s GizmoCrate included two food items: a Lemon Figbar from Nature’s Bakery and a package of Blueberry Pomegranate Trail Mix Crunch. I was able to find both items on Amazon and they seemed to be well reviewed. Although, there were some recent reviews of the figbar on Amazon indicating that mold was spotted growing on the figbar itself. I wasn’t able to find any mold on my figbar and I enjoyed eating it.

The Blueberry Pomegranate Trail Mix Crunch was my favorite of the two food items; I’m a sucker for the mix of sweet and salty flavors, and this item delivered. In fact, I enjoyed it enough that we’re going to keep our eye out for a local retailer and see if we can pick some up to keep around the house. As with the food units from past GizmoCrates, these food units did not survive the writing of this blog.

Geek Items

This month’s geeky items are themed, which is a bit of a fun novelty. The items are an ADATA 4GB MicroSD Card, a 3.4 foot Audio Cable (3.5mm Male-to-Male) and another portable speaker. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot that can be said about the MicroSD Card and the audio cable. These items are pretty self-explanatory; I wish that I could come up with something compelling to write about them, but I’m not that talented or imaginative.

Unlike the prior month’s speakers, this month’s portable speaker is not just a speaker. It’s also an FM radio and a crude MP3 player as well. The speaker features a mini-stereo audio input, a port for an FM antenna (the port is Mini-USB), and a Micro SD Card reader. At first, when unboxing this particular item I was pretty disappointed. In the unboxing of prior months’ GizmoCrates, I’d already received a couple different Bluetooth portable speakers. A third portable speaker kind of makes me wonder what exactly GizmoCrate is thinking when selecting items. This concern was somewhat addressed when I got to tinkering with the speaker. It’s more of a tiny portable radio than a portable speaker.

Today I decided to resume my garage makeover project that I started last year and then abandoned. While working in the garage today, I was actually using my Bluetooth speaker from the February 2014 GizmoCrate to listen to some music while I worked. However, I was making a mess, and pretty soon my phone was covered in dust. While I wasn’t exactly concerned about the dust, I briefly wished I had some sort of other music device that I could use out in the garage, which this month’s GizmoCrate might provide.

I located a MicroSD Card reader for my computer (this would’ve been a great inexpensive item to include in the GizmoCrate!), popped the MicroSD Card into the SDCard adapter it came with, and started copying music over to the MicroSD card from the GizmoCrate. I do wish that a bigger MicroSD Card had been included in the GizmoCrate. I think I have a meager collection of music and it’s over 14GB. I didn’t like having to pick and choose which 4GB to put on the MicroSD Card.

When first playing MP3s on the portable speaker,it seemed to have been stuck in a single folder (my music is divided up into Artist > Album), so I copied all of the MP3 files up to the root of the MicroSD card to see if the play order got any better, but it didn’t. I’m not sure what (if any) logic it uses to play tracks from the MicroSD card; I would’ve hoped it was random or something similar. But it’s definitely not random. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really any documentation available with the unit, or anywhere online that I can find, so I can’t really figure out what order it decides to play the tracks in. The FM radio function is unique, but you have to use a MiniUSB cable as an antenna in order to get any kind of reception without an antenna I couldn’t get reception on any frequency. The media controls are pretty spotty; I could skip through to previous/next tracks pretty easily, but seeking within the track seemed impossible. If I held the button down, it’d just skip around randomly at the beginning of the track. Altogether it’s not the best little music device, but I think it’ll do the trick in my garage for listening to music when I’m working out there and don’t want to haul out my mobile phone and Bluetooth speaker.


All June 2014 GizmoCrate items Blueberry Pomegranate TrailMix Crunch Lemon Figbar Headphone Cable 4GB MicroSD Card Portable Speaker

Conclusion

This is the first time that I get to say this, but the value of this GizmoCrate doesn’t match the monthly subscription price. Based off of what I found online, the value of this crate is at most $20-$25 which is well under the subscription rate that starts at $29/monthly. It’s really disappointing to discover that when considering what a reasonable value that the other crates had been. I could forgive a poor value in a month’s GizmoCrate assuming that I’d get a lot of use out of the items. Depending on how well this works out in my garage, I may wind up getting quite a bit of enjoyment out of this crate.

DIY NAS: EconoNAS 2014

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Ever since building my own NAS, I’ve enjoyed periodically writing a FreeNAS build blog to help inspire fellow DIYers. Each of the times, these builds have been hypothetical for me, but based on the comments, someone usually winds up using the suggestions as a template for their own FreeNAS. However, I usually wind up having to plead the fifth when someone has a specific question about the hardware. There’s nothing I hate more than having to say “I don’t know,” both personally and professionally, so I made a commitment this year that I’d actually buy and build the NAS myself so I wouldn’t have to say “I don’t know” to some of the easier, more common questions related to building a NAS.

I’ve generally written one FreeNAS build blog about every 6 months and rotate between two themes, a more powerful updated version of my own personal NAS and a cheaper budget-based build that I call the EconoNAS. Originally, I thought I could repurpose this new hardware and use some of it upgrade my NAS, but my own NAS is already pretty close to being maxed out. I thought also about using it to for a media server or something similar, but I couldn’t justify keeping this new hardware for other purposes; I just wouldn’t get any utility out of it. What else could I do with an extra FreeNAS server? Give it away to a lucky reader, of course! Please see the Giveaway details at the end of this blog, or check out the #FreeNASgiveaway page for more details. Here are links to the social-media items to share to enroll in the giveaway:

At one point in 2013, I was thinking about FreeNAS and was curious about what one could build on a shoestring budget. This lead to the creation of the 2013 edition of the EconoNAS blog. My goal was to come up with parts that would cost somewhere around $500 to build a FreeNAS box. Between the features of FreeNAS and the amount of storage, I thought it wound up being a fantastic value. This time around, my goal was to outdo myself, to beat that price and increase the storage capacity of the EconoNAS. This wound up being particularly difficult; in my research I found that hardware prices seem to be nearly the same and have not fallen all that much since I wrote the first EconoNAS build blog. Hard-drive prices proved to be especially stable; I found that hard drive prices were pretty much exactly where they were a year ago when I wrote the 2013 EconoNAS blog. These static prices actually caused this build to be a tiny bit more expensive than the prior build, but I think you’ll see that the hardware improvements should justify the tiny bump in price.

CPU & Motherboard

For all of my FreeNAS build blogs, I would prefer to pick low-power components. Primarily because my builds are intended for home use for only a few users. I wasn’t able to find an affordable motherboard in the 2013 EconoNAS build, sso one of my goals for this edition was get back to using a Mini-ITX motherboard with an integrated CPU, even if it ate up more budget than what the same parts had consumed in the prior edition. An integrated low-power CPU and low-power motherboard are critical to helping save money by lowering your operating costs. The up front cost might be higher, but the electricity savings over the life of the machine would more than compensate for that price premium. I picked the Biostar NM70I-1037U (specs), which ticked off most of my must-haves in a NAS motherboard: integrated Intel Celeron 1037U dual-core 1.8GHZ CPU, 4 SATA ports (1xSATA3, 3xSATA2), onboard video, and onboard Gigabit ethernet. In a perfect world, there would have been more SATA ports (at least six), but at the paltry price of $69.99 I thought it was an exceptional deal. I do not mind the combination of SATA3 and SATA2 ports on account of the fact that both the drives’ maximum throughput and the network are both going to be bottlenecks before SATA3’s higher capacity is put to use.

Running Total: $69.99

RAM

For this build, I chose to go with 8GB of RAM via two 4GB DIMMs of DDR3 1333MHZ Corsair ValueSelect RAM from Corsair. On the FreeNAS, site a rule of thumb is often suggested which says 1GB of RAM for 1TB of storage space because ZFS loves RAM. That suggestion doesn’t scale very well due to the size of hard disk drive storage outpacing the size of sticks of RAM, so I’m not sure how much longer that suggestion will be relevant or attainable. In last year’s EconoNAS I suggested 4GB of total RAM, so in this year’s build I decided to go ahead and bump that up to 8GB. It wound up costing a few extra dollars, but it was a decent value to double the amount of available memory.

Some of you might ask: “Why not ECC RAM?” That is a subject that I’ve already covered in another blog previously. I’ll summarize my thoughts here—I do feel that ECC is the better choice. However, because ECC memory and the hardware to support it (especially in the Mini-ITX form factor) are considerably more expensive, I am willing to take the risk using Non-ECC RAM. Based off of research and experience, I believe that this risk is remote enough to feel comfortable with Non-ECC RAM.

Running Total: $141.98

Case

The case is one of two items which persists from the 2103 EconoNAS build. I built my primary computer using this same case 18 months ago, and the price and quality of the case really seem to be the best bang for your buck. The NZXT Technologies Source 210 is a mid-tower case with room for up to 11 different 3.5” drives internally (8x3.5” drive bays and 3x5.25” drive bays). I would have preferred a smaller, more compact Mini-ITX case, but they generally don’t have room for many drives and carry a much heftier price-tag. The few Mini-ITX cases I found which can accommodate numerous drives tend to be 3 to 4 times as expensive as the NZXT Source 210. The case does not include a power supply, so I picked out a Rosewill RV350-2 Silver power supply as well.

Altogether, the basic components total for about $20 more than the components priced in the 2013 EconoNAS build. However, I think the extra 4GB of RAM upgrade is well worth that added bonus. Furthermore, the power-sipping features of the Mini-ITX motherboard and power supply will wind up bringing the total cost of ownership down beneath last year’s EconoNAS over the lifetime of the device.

Running Total: $206.96

Storage

FreeNAS Flash Drive

There’s not much to be said about this device. I’ve been recommending the same USB drive for each of my builds and at around $7 it seems like a pretty decent deal. The SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8GB has more than enough storage to house FreeNAS, plus it’s slim enough to be permanently mounted on either the front or rear-facing USB ports on the computer without drawing any attention to itself or getting in the way.

NAS Hard Disk Drives

Each time I write one of these blogs, I marvel a bit at how little hard drive prices have fallen since last year’s blog. The sheer size of drives is probably a big reason why the prices haven’t fallen all that much. When I wrote the 2013 EconoNAS blog, the pricing for a 2TB HDD was $85 to $90. Today? Not much cheaper at all, maybe by $5 to 10$. Considering that HDDs are going to account for the majority of your purchase price, especially on budget-centric builds, it’s not surprising to anticipate that this year’s price would be in the neighborhood of last years price. In last year’s build, I wound up pricing out two different sets of HDDs, which I’ve also done again this year. I’ve also decided to reduce the number of drives from six down to four total, since the motherboard lacks enough SATA ports for more. For the lowest price, I picked out 2TB HDDs for this particular build. But for people who want a bit more storage, I’ve also including pricing for 3TB drives.

I operate under the assumption that all HDDs will fail, many of them much sooner than you anticipate. When selecting drives, I simply tend to pick the cheapest drives that I can find unless there’s some really terrible reviews or articles on the drive. Because I’m wary of bad batches of HDDs, I tend to pick two different models, that way you can configure an array to survive two simultaneous drive failures. This might be a bit paranoid on my part, but I think it’s a healthy dose of paranoia.

2TB:

3TB:


8TB
12TB
Drive
Quantity
2X
2X
2X
2X
Price Per HDD
$83.98
$83.88
$94.99
$107.75
Subtotal
$167.96
$167.76
$189.98
$215.50

Alternatively, you could go with the 12TB configuration from above by putting four 3TB HDDs into the box. Paying for that additional 4TB would wind up costing an additional $63. Personally, I think this is a worthy option. The 12TB flavor of last year’s EconoNAS blog wound up in the neighborhood of $750. Building a 12TB NAS is a much better deal this year than it was in 2013. There’s a reason for this—in last year’s blog I reached 12TB by doing six 2TB drives. In this year’s blog, I achieved it by selecting four 3TB drives. The additional drives in last year’s blog added a bit of extra money not reflected above. However, those additional drives also gave you more options for your ZFS configuration and could be configured to be even more fault tolerant. Nevertheless, it was nice to see some considerable savings across two roughly equivalent NAS configurations; this year’s 12TB configuration wound up being over $100 cheaper than what it cost in 2013.

Final Price: $549.82

Assembly and Burn-In

As always seems to be the case, I wound up a few minor components short. The motherboard only came with 2 SATA Cables, and the power supply only had two SATA-style power connectors on it. I was forced to make a run to my local computer store and pick up those couple incidental supplies. Keep this in mind when building your NAS; most motherboards and power supplies aren’t going to have enough to accommodate the number of hard drives you’re putting into your NAS, so it’s worthwhile to have some extra cables and adapters lying around when you go to put it together.

Assembly was a piece of cake and it was a bit comical. Putting the tiny mini-ITX motherboard into the ATX Mid-tower case made the inside of the case feel like a vacant warehouse. The case probably takes up more room inside of the case than the motherboard does. The comparably priced Mini-ITX cases usually only had room for 1-2 HDDs, so to buy a case that would hold 4 (or more) drives would have cost quite a bit more than the NZXT Source 210 and wouldn’t have the room for future expansion. Right now the case has room for at least 7 more drives (4x3.5” bays and 3x5.25” bays) available. I would’ve really liked a smaller footprint, I just wasn’t really willing to pay the premium for it. I used a couple zip strips to do a tiny bit of cable management, mostly because I was worried about things jostling loose whilst in transit to the lucky winner.

Immediately after assembling the new machine, I used the SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8GB and installed UltimateBootCD on it and booted off of the USB drive to test the RAM for defects with MemTest86+. I started running this on Wednesday night and let it run through 3+ passes. I was pleased to see that 0 errors were captured by MemTest86+ during those passes. Once I had some confidence in the RAM, I used one of the CPU burn-in utilities on the UltimateBootCD and let that run overnight. The next morning, it was still humming along with no errors reported at all. For the upcoming weekend, I was ready to do the installation, configuration, and some real-world use of FreeNAS.


Deliveries from Amazon NAS Parts Unboxed Motherboard and RAM Motherboard and RAM from different angle Hard Disk Drives and Flash Drive Case Motherboard and RAM Installed (it's so tiny!) Hard Disk Drives Installed #1 Hard Disk Drives Installed #2 USB Flash Drive installed MemTest86+ Burn-in test in Progress MemTest86+ Results

FreeNAS Configuration

After the burn-in period was complete, I went ahead and got FreeNAS loaded up on the 8GB Flash Drive and booted up. FreeNAS obtained a DHCP address immediately and was ready to go. I logged into the web interface and started getting things set up. I wound up putting the four drives into a RAID-Z2 volume, created a single dataset on that volume and then set up a CIFS share so that Windows computers could see it. The steps I followed for setting up the CIFS shares came from the documentation on CIFS from the FreeNAS WIKI. Here’s a bit of a step-by-step of how I accomplished this configuration:

  1. Set up the initial Root Password
  2. Created a RAID-Z2 Volume named volume1 comprised of all four drives
  3. Set up a weekly ZFS scrub of volume1 to run on Sunday mornings
  4. Added a dataset named storage to the /mnt/volume1 Volume
  5. Created a user named ‘brian’ and set the password to match my desktop machine.
  6. Created a group named ‘StorageUsers’ and added the account above to the group.
  7. Changed permissions on /mnt/volume1 and made sure the StorageUsers group had Read/Write/Execute
  8. Enabled the CIFS service.
  9. Created a Windows share named storage, mapped it to /mnt/volume1/storage and made sure the Browsable to Network Clients box was checked.

After all of this, the net result of the configuration is a NAS device with 8TB of total space, roughly 4TB of which is usable. The volume is configured in such a way that it could survive the failure of two hard drives at the same time. I created a 20.0 GB test file to copy to/from the EconoNAS and used it to grab some screenshots of the throughput and system activity.


FreeNAS System Info FreeNAS Hard Drive Info FreeNAS Volume Info FreeNAS Share Info Windows File Copy Throughput FreeNAS Hard Disk Usage during File Copy FreeNAS Network Usage during File Copy

Conclusion

What I typically do after arriving at a final price is I go out immediately and look at similarly priced NAS machines to see how competitive I am with those devices. A search of Amazon on 8TB NAS and shows that the off-the-shelf devices start a bit lower than our price point. But none of those devices have many of the features or capabilities of FreeNAS. In fact, many of the cheaper off-the-shelf NAS devices don’t feature any kind of redundancy and fewer drives, which means more of your data is in jeopardy and is only a failed drive away from a disastrous loss. As the off-the-shelf systems add some of the functionality available from FreeNAS, their price rapidly climbs and exceeds what I’ve managed to build here. Plus you have to take into consideration the numerous other purposes that a computer (as opposed to an off-the-shelf NAS) can be put to. The FreeNAS Plug-in library allows you to extend the features of FreeNAS’ features beyond what would be typically expected from a NAS.

Personally, I’m a tiny bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to beat the price of the 2013 EconoNAS build ($505), and I also wish it didn’t have two fewer SATA ports. However, in this build the total storage has increased by 25%, RAM has increased by 100%, and it’s now using a low-power Mini-ITX motherboard. Those $50 wind up buying you quite a lot, much more than you’d be able to purchase separately.

As always, when working on a budget and building a system with the bottom line in mind, corners get cut. However, the end result is that the features and hardware of the 2014 EconoNAS (thanks to FreeNAS) wind up far exceeding what you can get in an off-the-shelf NAS from your nearby big-box retailer or even online from your favorite websites. All in all, I’m very pleased with the results. If you’re a home user looking for an inexpensive way to build a powerful NAS, than I definitely encourage you to look at FreeNAS and encourage you to use this hardware, especially the price, as a reference in designing your own NAS.

Giveaway

After spending a good chunk of Saturday crawling through Twitter, Google+, and Facebook. I’m excited to say that we’ve got a winner for the give-a-way of the 2014 EconoNAS. The lucky winner is: Shaun Bender!!! I’ll be boxing up the 2014 EconoNAS this week and get it shipped to Shaun. Hopefully, Shaun will take some “action” shots of the EconoNAS in action and tell us a little bit about what his plans are. Whatever information Shaun shares back with us, I’ll update this blog with it!

Gizmo Crate Unboxing: May 2014

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I’ve been knee-deep in other projects so when my Gizmo Crate arrived this Thursday, I didn’t get around to blogging about it for an additional day. My Christmas gift 3-month subscription had expired just in time for my wife to extend it for a few more months as an exceptional birthday gift. I’ve really enjoyed receiving the Gizmo Crate, playing with the contents and then sharing my impressions on the blog.

Food Units

Once again, this Gizmo Crate’s food item did not survive the writing of this blog. Nor did it even make it past the first night. I hungrily chowed down the candy while waiting on friends to pick us up for pizza Thursday night. Because it was candy, my wife’s interest was easily piqued. Being the sensitive husband that I am and knowing that she intensely disliked sour things, I warned her that it was sour. Being the mischievous miscreant that I am, I talked her into eating one anyways. Oh, the faces she made! Next time I manage to pull that off, I need to get it recorded on video. Needless to say, I don’t think Julia will be eating any Sour Patch Kids in the near future.

Geek Items

This month’s Gizmo Crate featured five different geeky items! A stylus, a sticky mount for holding your Phone/iPod in the car, a solar charger & battery, a Bluetooth headset, and a Bluetooth Camera remote for your phone/tablet. This is the most items that I’ve received in a Gizmo Crate since being a customer from day one.

For the first time ever, I did not have any luck finding the exact same product (or damn near) on Amazon, but in this case, I couldn’t quite find anything that lined up close enough. I’ve linked to 9-pack of similar styli just for the sake of reference. There’s really not a whole lot that can be said about the stylus. It seems to work just fine on my Nexus 5, Nexus 7 and iPad Air. I’m not sure entirely how much utility I’d get out of stylus but maybe it’ll come in handy in the future; it may even wind up in my backpack.

I didn’t really know what to call this thing. It’s a sticky mat that you can put on your dashboard and it’ll keep things from sliding around. It is shaped like a smartphone, so that’s what I assume it’s for. I value having my phone convenient and handy within the car, which is exactly why I evaluated quite a few options when coming up with my Ultimate Car Dock for Android Phones blog, which diminishes my need for a product like this. Furthermore, if I had something sticky on the dash of my Corvette, I think that’d just be a personal challenge to see if I could drive wildly enough to get it to fall off the pad. This probably isn’t the wisest of ideas, so I won’t be getting much use out of this particular item.

This item was the most enigmatic in May’s Gizmo Crate. I’m always intrigued by the different solar chargers I’ve seen out there. Ever since childhood, I’ve been curious about solar power. I made it through math classes covering/uncovering my cheap little solar calculator’s cell up and watching the display fade to black. This charger is interesting to me, because it also includes a 1800mAh battery. The solar cell charges that battery, which in turn charges the device you plug into. Based on the user’s manual, it takes roughly 20 hours for the battery to be fully charged. Unfortunately, this is another item I won’t get much use out of, because I have chargers everywhere: my desk, my car, my bedroom, my TV room, my office at work, and 2 “emergency” battery chargers in my backpack. I’ll keep this charger around because I’m interested in it, but I don’t expect it to be very useful unless the power grid fails.

I’m a bit surprised that it took four months before a Bluetooth headset popped up in a Gizmo Crate. When I was theorizing what might come in my first Gizmo Crate, a Bluetooth headset was among the items I expected to see. I’ve actually been quite pleased that this has been the case, because I hate Bluetooth headsets. I have never found them to be comfortable or usable. Of the items in my Gizmo Crate, this is the least likely to be used.

This is by far my favorite item in May’s Gizmo Crate: a Bluetooth input device used for controlling your phone’s camera remotely. The first thing I did after opening the Gizmo Crate was to get this set up and paired to my phone. I proceeded to use it to take an outrageously stupid selfie. Afterwards I sat my phone down in front of the TV and took a picture of my wife and I lounging around. I don’t really anticipate having to remotely take pictures with my phone or tablet that often, but I am a little curious about what other things I can think to do with my new toy. I’m hoping that I can use Tasker and use the remote to do interesting things. For example, sometimes Julia can’t find where she left her phone. I can’t imagine it’d be all that difficult for Tasker to crank the volume way up, play an MP3, and start vibrating the phone when you press the button on the remote. These kind of possibilities are what I find exciting about this item.


Watermelon Sour Patch Kids Phone/Tablet Stylus in Package Phone/Tablet Stylus Phone Sticky Mount in Package Phone Sticky Mount Solar Charger and Battery Bluetooth Headset in Package Bluetooth Headset Bluetooth Camera Remote in Package Bluetooth Camera Remote in Package

Conclusion

I really hate to say that any Gizmo Crate is disappointing, but this particular crate has been my least favorite so far. I seriously enjoyed the Sour Patch Kids, and I’m pretty jazzed about what all I can do with the Bluetooth Remote Shutter. But beyond that, I’m not finding much utility in the other items. It was exciting to open a crate and find six items, but it was also disappointing when I realized that most of them just weren’t going to do it for me. The good news for everybody else is that the utility out of this box is entirely subjective. Your usefulness for these items could very well be entirely different than mine!

Just like with past boxes, I went through and tried to math out how much value there was in this crate. I could only find prices on Amazon for 4 of the items; I couldn’t find a price for the Bluetooth Headset. Those four items’ value adds up to the neighborhood of $43.00. I shopped around on Amazon a bit and it looks like a comparable no-name Bluetooth headset the same size and shape starts somewhere between $5 and $10. That brings the total value of the box up to around $50. Assuming that you can find more utility in these items than I did, I think it’s still quite a good value.

Decibullz Attempts to Cure my Earbud Allergy

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Since their inception, I’ve been “allergic” to earbud headphones. Not an actual allergy, mind you, but more of a very object-specific neurosis that makes it impossible for me to wear earbuds. Each and every time I’ve tried to use them they never really felt like they were in place, and always felt on the verge of coming loose. That feeling has made it impossible for me to comfortably wear earbuds. I carry quite a bit of stuff in my laptop bag every day, so I’m always interested in ways to save weight and space in the bag; it is a bit annoying that I’ve been carrying bulkier over-the-ear headphones all this time instead. Every few years, I’ll get a new pair of earbuds or I’ll see ones that I think will finally work and I try them out. Most recently, I’ve tried some sets which come with a variety of different earbud “adapters” for differently sized ears. A couple of sore ears and frustrated hours later, they all wind up getting gifted to a friend or thrown in a junk drawer forever.

My wife, Julia, bought me a GizmoCrate subscription for Christmas this year and extended it as a birthday gift this month. The GizmoCrate from March featured a nice pair of earbuds which seemed to work better than any earbud before. However, they still felt they were on the verge of popping out of my ears, but these actually stayed in. I quickly replaced my over-the-ear headphones with this new pair of earbuds and I’ve been somewhat pleased ever since. Unfortunately, it’s just still a little bit uncomfortable to use them due to the feeling that the earbuds were on the verge of popping out of my ear which can be a bit maddening.

In doing some research online, I found lots of articles about inexpensive ways to turn a regular pair of earbuds into customized in-ear monitors—for instance, this How To Make Custom Silicone Ear Molds for Your In-Ear Monitors from How-To Geek. For some time now, I’ve been considering trying this out myself on an inexpensive pair of earbuds to see how it’d work. Recently, I signed up for the group-buy website, MassDrop. In one of their recent daily emails, I noticed a product which caught my eye, custom earphone molds from Decibullz. My biggest concern with the DIY guides was that most of the materials you used were single use. If you got it wrong, you were hosed. My experience with DIY projects, especially those I’m unfamiliar with, is that it will go wrong the first couple times. The Decibullz had the added bonus of being re-moldable, which I anticipated that I would wind up appreciating.

The Decibullz from MassDrop shipped early and arrived ahead of Massdrop’s estimate, and I sat down the other night to see what they’re all about. The long and short of it is you heat the Decibullz up in the microwave in a cup of water. After letting it cool a bit, you remove them from the hot water using a metal spoon. Apparently metal is important here; I read some comments from someone who used a plastic spoon and wound up ruining the Decibullz. Considering the material, I would imagine you might have similar problems with a wooden spoon. After letting them cool for a few seconds, the material is warm and soft, a bit mushier than Silly Putty, and ready to be molded for your ear.

After this, you place the Decibullz on your earbuds and then into your ear. At this point, you work the material into your ear, pressing it to establish a good fit, and then you let it cool. Once cooled, you have a custom-fitted set of molds around your earbuds. My first attempt was pretty bad; I think I may have let it cool for way too long after removing it from the hot water. I didn’t find the material all that easy to work with; by the time I got my earbuds into it and into my ear, it had already started to become pretty stiff and difficult to work with, which led to a bad fit. I wound up following Decibullz’s video for remolding and starting over from scratch.

Last night, I did my right ear and got it to how I liked it, and then began working on my left ear. The entire time I was working on my left ear, I had left the right ear’s earbud in. Because the right ear was cooling, the material in my left ear naturally felt much better than what was in my right ear. I managed to convince myself that I’d done my left ear better and I began to work on remolding my right ear. Lo and behold, when the left ear had cooled down and the right ear was warmed, it all of a sudden felt like I’d done my right ear better than my left. Predictably, I started the cycle over again, redoing my left ear and realizing (too late) that I was just chasing my own tail. I left the Decibullz alone for a while and decided to inspect their fit the next morning.

When I tried them on the next morning, I was a bit disappointed. That all-too-familiar feeling of the earbuds being on the verge of popping out of my ear had returned. There was also a very unsymmetrical feel between the two ears. I don’t want to say one ear fit better than the other, but each ear fit a bit differently than the other. It felt just a bit imbalanced. Naturally, I assumed there was a shortcoming with how I molded them, so I reset them back to default and decided I’d try and iron it out. I wound up methodically molding and remolding each ear throughout the day, leaving each attempt to sit for quite some time, until I had both ears the best that I could. In the process, I came up with a few tips and elaborations on the directions provided by Decibullz:

  • Use a metal spoon.
  • Heating times vary; my microwave had them warmed up much faster than the 2 minutes from the directions
  • They cool off pretty fast once you’ve removed them from the hot water. I was a bit hesitant my first couple tries, a bit worried about cramming boiling-hot material into my ear, but I found within moments that it was safe to pick up and ready to start working into my ear
  • Work on one ear at a time and don’t continue to wear your previously molded one in your ear
  • Always start off with cold water from the tap, especially if you’re remolding. I reused the warm water from a prior turn once or twice, and the material was so runny it was difficult to work with
  • Get a friend to help make sure of a nice fit

My earbuds, sans pads. First Attempt at Molding - Before Installation First Attempt at Molding - Installed Remolding the Decibullz #1 Remolding the Decibullz #2 Second Attempt at Molding Decibullz Earbuds,  in my face.


I’ve molded and remolded probably a good dozen or so times. I’m not entirely certain I’ve gotten much different results with each attempt, but I like to think so. I took a couple pictures of my first and second “drafts”, and you can definitely tell there’s a difference between those two drafts. I feel like they’re fitted a bit better after the second draft, but I’d really like to get them even more snug. There’s still a hint of that “Hey, we’re going to fall out of your ear at any moment” feel to them. For all I know, this might be a product of my neurosis. There may be a perception that they’re not snug, but the reality is they’re actually pretty snug. I tried three very unscientific tests: I chased our 7-month-old puppy around the house, I tried jumping up and down in place with the headphones on, and I laid down and flopped all over the ground like a fish out of water. It wasn’t until I did my fish-on-land impression that the headphones came loose, and that only happened because the cable got hung up on something. I am pretty confident that if I wore them for an extended period of time that they’d stay in, even if I went for jog or bike ride, which is pretty promising, considering my prior experience with earbuds.

My only disappointment was the lack of noise isolation. There’s no claim of improved noise isolation from Decibullz in any of their product information, but I thought that the material would block some of the ambient noise. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. Had they provided additional noise isolation then these would’ve been an absolute bargain!

Pros

  • So easy, a blogger could do it
  • Inexpensive
  • Remoldable
  • Solves my earbud “allergy” almost completely

Cons

  • Lack of noise isolation

Conclusion

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the purchase. I bought the special promotional set of 2 pairs from MassDrop assuming that I’d trash one of the pairs in the process. Because I didn’t do that, I’ve got an extra pair to give away to a friend. My earbuds definitely fit much, much better. In fact, they fit well enough that I’m feeling quite confident in my decision to take my old, clunky, over-the-ear headphones out of my laptop bag.

Cremo Cream: A Review

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The other day while out at my favorite restaurant, my buddy asked me if I’d ever heard of Cremo Cream shaving cream, which I hadn’t. He had some pretty high praise for it when compared to the more typical shave gels like the Edge Shave Gel, which I’ve probably been using now for decades. I must have had an incredulous look on my face as he sang the product’s praises, because the next time I saw him he generously gave me a package of the product and told me to try it out. Considering that I’ve been willing to let my facial hair embarrass me repeatedly in the past, I decided it’d be worth a shot and I could maybe write about my experience with a men’s beauty product.

Right off the bat, the product made several bold claims on the packaging, particularly: "Try it Once to believe it. Enjoy it for life. It’s really that good. ™" That had me thinking that it’d probably be impossibly difficult for the product to live up to the hype. It was really surprising when I noticed that the packaging was small, even tiny. My TSA-approved can of Edge Shave Gel could very well double as some sort of crude weapon and I often counted upon it within my theoretical anti-terrorist combat action plan. This 3oz Cremo Cream wasn’t even going to keep the darling older lady seated next to me from taking my armrest. But at the very bottom of the package, it claimed that three measly ounces would last at least 45 days.

In reading the remainder of the packaging, I began to understand why. The directions for use of the product instruct you to use very little for each time you shave, which was surprising all by itself. When was the last time you bought a product and they encouraged you to use less instead of more? The words “Less is often best” are actually printed on the packaging! The exact directions read:

This Cream is unique: please read!

Rub skin with the hottest water you can stand for 30 seconds (in shower works best or use a hot towel).

Cremo Cream is highly concentrated and water activated. So, lightly coat skin with an almond-sized squeeze and let plenty of water mix with it. Less is often best.

Shave.

Add water as needed to make & keep it slippery, effective and easy to rinse from razor.

Massage back into skin you want to re-shave. This cream is so effective, most can comfortably shave against the grain for an even closer, longer lasting shave.

I was pretty shocked when all of their claims were backed up by their product. The first few days, I followed the directions to the letter and each day, I used a smaller and smaller amount of the product. Every day, I expected to start scraping and nicking my poor little face to death, but that never came to fruition. About the third day in, I decided to shave against the grain first. Even then, my face really didn’t seem to complain all that much but I wouldn’t exactly endorse the practice. Shaving against the grain first when using my traditional shave gel would’ve normally resulted in an uncomfortable shave and probably a nick or two.

Generally speaking, I don’t care to shave on the weekends, and on Monday morning I start the week off by doing a real “good” job by going with the grain, against the grain and even across the grain. Just like everybody else I’m not terribly fond of Mondays and this shave usually gets my week off on the wrong foot entirely. My first Monday with the Cremo Cream was a much different experience; unlike most other weeks it didn’t feel like I was scraping the hairs off of my face.

My favorite aspect of shaving with Cremo Cream is checking post-shave to see if I’ve missed any significant chunks of my face. On the typical weekday, I’m doing my morning routine right around my top speed, so it’s not all that uncommon to miss a swath of my face in my caffeine-deprived rush. With the traditional shave gels, I’d usually decide against getting out some more gel, lathering up and shaving the areas that I missed. But with Cremo Cream, I just splash some hot water on my face, and after a few swipes of the razor blade then I’m good to go.

I haven’t had a chance to see if three ounces will really last me longer than 45 days, but given my usage after a week or two, I’d be willing to bet I will make it. As far as cost goes, the Cremo Cream sseems to be a bit on the expensive side at first glance. On Amazon.com, you can get a 3-pack of the 6 ounce Cremo Cream tubes for about $30.00. That’s roughly 9 months’ worth of nonstop shaving. If you’re only shaving five times a week like me, then it’d last even longer—over a year! I’m pretty certain that over the same amount of time, the cost of Cremo Cream is going to be competitive with the traditional shaving gels. Furthermore, any microscopic pricing advantage traditional gels might have are quickly accounted for by a far more enjoyable shaving experience that you may have to do as frequently.

Cremo Cream

Telemarketers Attempt to Get Their Revenge

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A while back, I waged war on the robodialers who call me repeatedly about pay day loans. My initial strategy was two pronged: the Android app, Sanity, and a penchant for occasionally wasting the time of my tormentors with outlandish tales of my financial misdeeds. In fact, just this afternoon I explained to “Preston” that I had financed a military coup in Myanmar and was desperate to pay for a World War 2 era aircraft carrier. During this phone call, if I had a dollar for every time Preston asked “What?!” or “Can you repeat that?” during our conversation, then I probably could have started my own pay day loan company.

For the sake of protecting the anonymity of the toolbox who either wrote his phone number down incorrectly on a number of pay day loans, or was in such bad shape that he applied for pay day loans and then had his phone number disconnected, I’ll refer to him as “Clay Erdna” instead of his real name. On a typical day, I get maybe 2-3 phone calls asking for “Clay Erdna” related to pay day loans.


(Un)fortunately, phone calls with these people have taken a nasty turn recently. Most days, I nicely explain that “Clay Erdna” doesn’t have my phone number any longer and that it no longer belongs to him. Usually this just confuses people and they hang up; apparently wrong numbers aren’t in the script. One time, I even tried to explain to Bob that people who usually pursue pay day loans aren’t usually making sound, long-term financial decisions and that he shouldn’t be surprised at all when those people’s mobile phone numbers get disconnected and resold to new customers. Again, logic doesn’t have any place in the telemarketer’s script—Bob couldn’t handle my majestic prose and hung up.

Even worse, apparently the hiring standards overseas have declined massively. I have had a rash of very angry marketers who don’t seem to appreciate me wasting their time in return. Earlier this week, I had the following exchange with “Percy”:

“Percy”: indistinguishable indistinguishable Clay indistinguishable Erdna?

Me: I’m sorry, there’s nobody at this phone number by that name.

“Percy”: befuddled tone Are you Clay Erdna?

Me: No. I am not.

“Percy”: Clay Erdna wants a pay day loan.

Me: That’s nice, but Clay Erdna doesn’t own this phone number. I suggest you find a better number for him.

“Percy”: You are Clay Erdna.

Me: No, no I am not.

“Percy”: What’s your name?

Me: Not Clay Erdna.

“Percy”: Tell me your name!

Me: I am an international man of mystery, I am forbidden from disclosing my true identity.

“Percy”: Then you are Clay Erdna, I don’t believe you.

Me: I can’t really control what you believe. But metaphysics notwithstanding, I am not Clay Erdna.

“Percy”: ……… What?

Me: I’m sorry, I used big words. I am not Clay Erdna, did you understand that?

“Percy”: You are a fucking liar.

Me: I am astonished, “Percy” (I did air-quotes while on the phone, but “Percy” couldn’t see me) at your language and demeanor towards a potential customer. It’s shocking!

“Percy”: Fuck you.

Me: I’m not sure that’s possible, “Percy.” We’d probably have to be on the same continent first.

“Percy”: NO, FUCK YOU. I do not want men.

Me: Then why would you ask me for sex?

“Percy”: %$#@ %$#@%$#@ %$#%$#@ %$#@! %$#@, %$#@ing %$#@er %$#@%$#@!!!

Me: I’m pretty sure that this is an unusual way to successfully sell a pay day loan, “Percy.” What exactly is your sales technique here? I’ve never experienced it.

“Percy”: Fuck you, I know to do my job. You are liar.

Me: “Percy,” you made it my job to waste your time when you didn’t believe that you had the wrong number. Each and every time that you call, this is what’s going to happen when you call me. Do you understand?

“Percy”: click

I try to be pretty bold in the things that I write, but I can’t honestly write what “Percy” said at this point. Not because it was foul, but because it was pretty unintelligible. It was mostly a collection of grunts, broken English, and the F-word. However, I’d like to apologize to my mother, my sister, and even my puppy, Zoe. “Percy” has promised to do very rude things to you all. However, don’t worry—he thinks I’m Clay Erdna.

Before he finally hung up, “Percy,” promised to call me five hundred times a day. Somewhat true to his word, I’ve had a slight uptick in these phone calls, some of them hostile and profane. Typically I welcome them; it exercises my inner need to be mischievous and it breaks up the monotony of many workdays. I mentioned in my last blog on the subject that I was using the Sanity app and a special Google Contact to ignore these phone calls. I thought I’d share that contact with the Internet. Each time a new one comes in, I add it to my Spammers contact in Google Contacts just as it shows up in Caller ID. (Download a copy:Google, Outlook, Generic CSV) It’s up to ninety-something numbers in a little over a year. It usually took a handful of calls from each number before I added them to my ‘Spammers’ contact, and to make matters worse, most of the calls I get show up as “Unknown” or “Anonymous” on Caller ID, which I’m afraid to add to Sanity to ignore since I occasionally get a legitimate call that shows up as “Unknown” or “Anonymous.” Not all of these are pay day loan people looking to sell a loan to the unfortunate Clay Erdna, but I bet you 95 percent of them are for him.

I am pretty conscious about giving out my mobile phone number. It’s a bit unfortunate that I happened to inherit a bad phone number from a bum, but I hate to think what happens to someone who’s not so careful about giving out their mobile phone number. If it’s any bit as infuriating as these calls are, I can only imagine how many orders of magnitude more frustrating it would be dealing with these phone calls.

The real shame is that apps like Sanity are your only defense against these kinds of calls. My prior experience taught me that the mobile carrier basically has no options for you. And the National DoNotCall Registry is pretty laughable. I wish the FCC wasn’t so toothless, behind the times, in bed with the industry, and out of touch with the actual users.