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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Escape Room Review: Escape the Room PA – Pittsburgh, PA

This is part of our series of Escape Room reviews.

Ratings

  • Room Name: The Newsroom
  • Room Size:  (6-8)/11/12 people ( our recommendation/as played/max)
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Overall:  3.0/5.0
  • Theme:     4.0/5.0
  • Puzzles:    3.0/5.0
  • Difficulty: 3.0/5.0

Looking for an activity with a group of 11 friends, we chose this escape room since it had larger rooms that could accommodate our full group and was in a decent location.

The Good

  • In a trendy part of town ("South Side")
  • Clues communicated via monitor were helpful, but not overly so
  • We always had something to work on
  • Nice craftsmanship on the newsroom / skyline
  • Room was not full of distracting red herrings. Easy to focus on the correct items
  • The three keypads were a nice feature - didn't have to mess as much with locks as in other rooms
  • There were two separate threads 
  • We were able to finish it just in time (difficulty level was about right)

The Bad 

  • Parking was on-street, and pretty difficult to find on a Wednesday evening. We squeezed into a tight spot several blocks away. Note: neighborhood is not particularly kid-friendly.
  • There was a dreadful puzzle with some charts that was frustrating and disappointing. One of the pie charts had a mistake in it, and the answer was not at all satisfying. Thank goodness we are experienced with escape rooms and brought pencil and paper in with us. Also, you had to read the answer to this puzzle out loud which was cheesy since it broke the fourth wall concept. (Although perhaps the idea was that you were being a real newscaster; ok I'll give them a pass on this one)
  • Building is narrow and waiting area is a bit cramped
  • It was too linear; everyone in the group pretty much had to work on the same puzzles at the same time
  • There was a video camera that wasn't supposed to move but it got moved somehow and this messed up one of the puzzles but we managed to get past it anyhow
  • They took several of our e-mail addresses but then never e-mailed the group photo to us!

Overall this room was pretty good and we would recommend it if you have a large group, since it is one of the few rooms in town that could accommodate it. I hope they replace the charts puzzle, as it would be trivial to do so and everything else would still work.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Domain Renewal




I received the above e-mail dated November 14. It says my domain name "will expire soon!". Notice that it doesn't say when it will expire. That is because they don't really care.

So I logged in to the domain name registration site. It said that my registration was expiring on April 12. This is not soon. This is in 5 months.



What I've figured out is that these companies just spam out a "renewal notice" email to me every 2 months, since it's easier than actually bothering to check when my domain really expires. Of course, they want me to keep renewing when I get the notice, pushing out my extension further and further. I used to get the same thing when I had magazine subscriptions.

Hey Register.com - can you just send me a warning about 30 days before my domain will expire?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Influx in Sex Offenders


Mercy Jalango posted the above warning to my neighborhood forum. She is making us aware of the "influx in sex offenders" moving into our county. Webster's dictionary defines influx as "an arrival of large numbers of people".

Ms. Jalango notes "sad news" of 18 sex offenders moving into the area over the past 6 years. I ran some advanced statistics on that figure and the computer spit out something like 3 per year. I'm not sure 3 is a "large number of people". If I had a birthday party and 3 people showed up, I would not say to myself "gee, I'm pleased that a large number of people turned out to my party". And keep in mind, this influx includes sex offenders committing crimes such as indecent exposure, or a 19 year old having consensual relations with a 17 year old.

But wait, there's one more thing that Ms. Jalango didn't mention. How many sex offenders moved out of the county during the past 6 years? With the increasingly high cost of living in Loudoun County, I'll bet it's probably at least 19. An outflux!

Thank you Ms. Jalango for taking the time of everyone on this mailing list to remind us to "be aware of our surroundings and be safe".

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Please Delete


I received the above e-mail today, which includes the wonderful finishing line:

"Please delete this e-mail if you have no idea what this is about."

This phrase needs to be added to about 90% of e-mails that I receive. It would make life so much better!

Of course this e-mail, regarding an obscure service that I never signed up for, likely makes sense to almost no one. I love that they have not only given me permission to delete the e-mail - they are imploring me to do so! You have to wonder what kind of confusion and complaints they must have been deluged with to cause that line to get added in to the e-mail.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Automatic Magazine Renewals

As I was renewing my subscription to Popular Science, I initially opted to use my credit card on the renewal form.  That is when I noticed this statement:

"Automatic Renew Benefits:  When paying with a credit card, your subscription will be conveniently renewed automatically at the end of each term at the low rate then in effect..."

This is absolute bullshit.  There needs to be an opt-in box on the form that allows me to select automatic renewal if I want it.  Even an opt-out check box would have been better than nothing.  There was simply no way to pay by credit card without automatic renewal being applied. 

Shame on you Popular Science.

When they say that it will be "conveniently" renewed, they mean convenient for Popular Science, not for the customer.

This is an unpopular billing practice, Popular Science.

 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Light Magenta

My HP Photosmart printer has been pretty reliable over the years, but refilling the ink cartridges is more maddening than it needs to be.



Notice in the picture above that there are 6 colors of ink. These are the names that HP selected for these colors (I am not making this up):

  1. 02 Black
  2. 02 Cyan
  3. 02 Light Cyan
  4. 02 Magenta
  5. 02 Light Magenta
  6. 02 Yellow
So out of the millions of color names, they had to repeat the names Cyan and Magenta. Why? I guess to make it as confusing as possible for the consumer.

The inks all run out at vastly different rates, so when my printouts start to look horrible I look at the ink levels to see which ones I need to replace. After several minutes of study today, I determined that the two cartridges that I need to refill are "Magenta" (not light Magenta!) and "Cyan". Of course, in my spare ink drawer I have 4 Light Magenta cartridges. I know this only because they have a microscopic LM on them. And of course I have zero Magenta cartridges, since the Magenta seems to be the one that always runs out. This reminds me of the Neopolitan ice cream container that always has only Strawberry when I look inside. So now I have to order three Magenta cartridges and wait another week before I can print something legible again.

Also, notice how all of the cartridges have the 02 number designation. Thanks HP - that is wonderfully helpful also!

Why the hell can't they give unique names to these print cartridges?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Escape Room Review: Escape Room Loudoun – Sterling, VA

This is part of our series of Escape Room reviews.

Ratings

  • Room Size:  (4-6)/8/8 people ( our recommendation/as played/max)
  • Overall:  2.0/5.0
  • Theme:     3.0/5.0
  • Puzzles:    2.0/5.0
  • Difficulty: 4.0/5.0
We were excited to see that a new escape room place opened up close to home – so we signed up right away. They currently have two room options.  We did the “Five Fingered Discount” room. Unfortunately we found it to be a disappointment compared to other rooms we have done. This is a brief review of our stay in the room. There are not really any spoilers in the notes below.

The Good

  • There were two rooms, with a fun transition to get into the second room.
  • There was a decent theme with some nice props, including a bank vaults and security gates.
  • There was one unique puzzle; a free-standing item that has some good craftsmanship to it.
  • There was a nice TV display that showed you how much time you had left.

The Bad

  • There were tons of worthless items that never got used and we found it very difficult to separate the noise from the actual clues.  A few red herrings makes it interesting, but too many proves to be frustrating and makes you feel like your efforts were futile.
  • There was only one puzzle that you had to put some thought into, but it was so cryptic you couldn’t figure it out without them sliding multiple clues under the door.
  • The attendant had to come in twice – once when an item irretrievably fell off of something, and another time to tell us exactly where to look for something (and we still couldn’t see it). We’ve never had attendants come in at other escape rooms (that I can recall).
  • The puzzles were solved in a mostly linear order, so you couldn’t work on one thing until you finished all the previous ones. This also meant that having one person in the room would have been almost as effective as the 8 of us. There was a lot of standing around and watching.
  • Apparently there was a cool laser thing and a bunch of other stuff that we didn’t even get up to. The guy told us that we had almost escaped, but we later learned that was not true and there was a lot we didn't see.
  • They said the room had a 20-30% success rate. That is too low in our opinion. We generally enjoy these rooms more when we are able to escape. I think some of these places also miss the point that people are more likely to post on social media when they escape, which is critical for a new business.

I think we’ll probably go back to the escape rooms that we enjoyed more in Herndon, Fairfax, and Leesburg before returning to this one.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Gazelle

Having recently upgraded my phone, I decided to see what I could get for trading in my old one. After listening to about 500 commercials for Gazelle.com on This Week in Tech, I was excited to see what fortune I could collect for my Samsung Galaxy S3. The phone is less than 2 years old, a popular model, and still in great condition.

So I went to Gazelle and punched in my information. Looks like the yacht is going to have to wait, based on the following quote that I received:


Five dollars!
For "Flawless" condition.

That's not even remotely worth the effort it would take to wipe the phone, package it up, and ship it. I'm better off keeping it and using it as a mini Wi-fi tablet.

Since they clearly only give decent money for new phones in great condition, the logical conclusion is that they probably make most of their money by being a clearinghouse for stolen phones.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

WebMD and Quack Treatments

WebMD is a website that many of my friends and family seem to trust as a source of health information. But I have recently found that they commit critical sins of omission when it comes to alternative treatments.

The first issue I noted was when I looked up acupuncture on the site. They talk about what acupuncture is, and whether it is safe (answer: yes). But they need to go a step further in my opinion. They need to talk about whether acupuncture actually works. At a minimum, they should say that the literature of good studies on acupuncture show that it does very little, at best. An even stronger statement would be to say that it essentially does nothing beyond vague placebo effects that are from giving a patient special attention. But WebMD don't say any of that. The site does not seem to take a position on whether any treatment actually works.

So I thought I would take my investigation a step further by looking at a treatment that there is no debate about - one which every legitimate professional agrees doesn't work and couldn't possibly work: Homeopathy. Even in their article about Homeopathy, WebMD does not take a stand regarding the fact that it doesn't work. This is a disservice to their customers, who may not have the experience to figure out these conclusions on their own. I suggest that they should add a section to each page called "Effectiveness".

I realize that WebMD may be trying to stay above the fray, and just provide basic information to their readers. However, they are implicitly "endorsing" these types of treatment by not mentioning that they don't work.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Philly Pretzel Factory Fail

Dear Philly Pretzel Factory,

Counting 1/2 pretzel as one serving is bullshit.  Man-up and increase the serving size to one pretzel.


Sunday, July 03, 2016

Margin of Safety



I love the following Q&A that I found on a FAQ page for a vendor of homeopathic potions.

Question
My child just ate an entire bottle of tablets, what do I do?

Answer
Do not panic. Homeopathic medicines are very safe, non-toxic, and have a very large margin of safety. It is unlikely your child could overdose on any homeopathic medicine. You can call our 24 hour emergency number at 800/624-9659 (after business hours, it is a recording - just follow the directions), and a pharmacist or registered nurse will return your call promptly. Our products are also listed with Regional Poison Control Centers. Most are well informed on the margin of safety of homeopathic medicines if you have one to call in your area.


Here is the translation of a few sections of the above:

"non-toxic" - have no active ingredient whatsoever

"very large margin of safety" - these medicines contain absolutely nothing, and have the same safety margin as drinking water

"Regional Poison Control Centers are well informed on the margin of safety of homeopathic medicines if you have one to call in your area" - if you call them, they will tell you to do nothing and after hanging up the phone will have a hearty laugh

"It is unlikely your child could overdose on any homeopathic medicine" - Go ahead and have your child take the rest of the pills in the bottle. Then go to the store and purchase another bottle at your earliest opportunity.

ALERT


Some people claim that there is no place to get hard-hitting journalism anymore. That everything is just puff pieces and advertisements disguised as news.

Well wait no more!

As you can see in the above "ALERT" from the no-nonsense Ashburn Patch site, we offer the following breaking news: "Where to Pick Your Own Strawberries".

Sigh. I guess the term ALERT doesn't mean quite what it used to.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Elevator Button


What could be simpler than designing a button for calling an elevator?

Look at the picture above. This was from the lobby of a building with lots of medical offices. There are 6 things on this panel that look like buttons. Four of them are not buttons. The bottom two are buttons. The eye-grabbing white button is the one that you should never press. I don't even know what that does. Maybe it sets off an alarm and alerts the fire department.

By the way, the silver button (if you can see it) is the one you are supposed to press. This is the button that is completely unlabeled. Yes, this panel is full of instructions for the fire department. The people who will use this once every 3 years and are already fully trained on its operation. For the people who will be using this panel 99.9999% of the time, there is no label whatsoever on our silver button. Why couldn't they put the fire operation on a separate panel?

I must confess that I actually was so intimidated by this interface that I decided to take the stairs.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Horrible Diagram of the Month



Above is a horrible diagram. The purpose of the diagram is to say that we should be able to spend more money researching Lyme, as compared to Zika.

I'm sure you have that one friend who is attuned to a specific disease, which may have stricken a friend or family member. About half of what they post on Facebook is somehow related to that disease. It is fine to draw attention to a cause that you care about, but please don't post graphics like this.

  • On the left, they are showing that a lot more people have Lyme than Zika. The graph loses all credibility here, since the 388 bar appears to be about 10% the size of the 329,000 bar. Of course, neither axis is labeled so your guess is as good as mine.
  • On the right, they are saying that $24 million is spent in research funding on Lyme and $1.9 billion on Zika. No sources are cited. Again the scale is way off. Is that figure per year? Past? Future? What country? Why are dollars being shown on the same axis as people? I find it hard to believe that there is 100 times the funding for Zika as for Lyme. I believe this chart came out right after the government announced that they would be spending $1.9 billion on Zika research. There is likely a lot of money that is spent by the CDC on Lyme and related diseases, that is not specifically earmarked for Lyme.
  • Most importantly - shouldn't the experts decide how to allocate our spending on disease? It does not seem that number of cases is the best way to allocate research. There are a lot more cases of twisted ankles than there are of Cervical Cancer, for example. Although there are not that many Zika cases reported to date, unlike Lyme it can be spread by human contact. So I can see where we might want to do some research up front to prevent an outbreak that could dwarf the number of Lyme cases within just a few years. There is also legitimate debate as to whether Chronic Lyme Disease is even a real medical condition. It is not clear whether the graphic above includes the imaginary Chronic Lyme Disease, or just Lyme Disease (an actual condition).

Monday, May 23, 2016

NECSS 2016

Last week, we attended the eighth annual Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) held in New York City sponsored by the  New York City Skeptics and the New England Skeptical Society.  We met interesting people and engaged in many conversations about science and critical thinking.

The meeting kicked-off with a day of talks about science-based medicine, including critical examination of functional medicine and chronic Lyme disease. Clay Jones showed a video of a baby getting a chiropractic adjustment that made us cringe.

Highlights of the conference included a live podcast of Skeptics Guide to the Universe, featuring guest rogue Bill Nye (the Science Guy), and an entertaining keynote speech by Richard Wiseman.  Wiseman ended the second day of talks at the meeting with an experimental "speaker-less" presentation that involved the audience self-performing magic tricks and other tomfoolery.  

The conference ended with a provocative speech by John Horgan, who declared himself an outsider skeptic, with a lowercase 's',  and proceeded to bash the audience and all-things Skeptical, with a capital 'S'.  While Horgan had a potentially useful point to make, that skeptics should put more effort in tackling more challenging topics, it was mostly lost in a sea of straw man arguments and contrarianism.  Other folks (Novella, Coyne, Gorski) have done a good job of deconstructing the talk, so we won't duplicate the effort here.



Monday, May 09, 2016

What's Wrong with Science Reporting, According to John Oliver

Many false scientific beliefs start with misrepresented scientific studies over-hyped to make them more interesting to the layperson.  John Oliver does a fantastic job of explaining this phenomenon in this YouTube video:




If you watch the entire 20 minutes, you'll get to hear this gem from Al Roker, "I think the way to live your life is you find the study that sounds best to you and you go with that."

Recent studies show that this really pisses us off!

Monday, April 25, 2016

MagicJack Admin Fee


Boo MagicJack for adding a mystery "Admin Fee" of $2.73 on the final checkout page of my renewal. This should be included in your regular price, or you should have at least mentioned it before now. You know that I have already put in all the effort and am not going to go back now.

p.s. Don't think I haven't noticed that your price has been creeping up every year for a total of 152% increase from the $14.95 that I used to pay to the current $37.73. You are lucky that I am too lazy to switch to Ooma!!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

SiriusXM Game Day Spam

In those unfortunate times that I must be on the road during the NFL season, I figure I could at least take advantage of my car's SiriusXM's "game alert" feature that updates you whenever there is a score in your favorite sports game.

SiriusXM describes this feature thusly:

  • Game Alert: Alerts can be set for your favorite sports teams so that whenever SiriusXM begins broadcasting a game in which your favorite sports team is playing, you will be alerted and given the opportunity to tune to the game.
  • Score Alert: When you set a Game Alert for your favorite sports teams, a Score Alert is automatically set also If you are not listening to the game, you will be alerted each time there is a new score in the game, and given the opportunity to tune to the game . Score Alerts can be turned off if you do not wish to receive them.
 A lit "ding" is sounded to let you know when there is a score update.  You can then touch a button on the console screen to see the score update in a pop-up window.  It this is actually how it worked, I would probably enjoy this feature. However, the system often dings and when you click to see the score, it shows the same score (no score change in the game), even worse, it sometimes shows spam like this:


This is not a game alert.  This is nonsense.  I pay for this service, I don't need to be spammed like this.  I will not be renewing SeriusXM when my subscription expires.

 

Monday, January 04, 2016

Wild Birds Unlimited


There is a new store in my neighborhood called Wild Birds Unlimited. Now go back to that last sentence and look for the noun in the name of the store. Did you find it? Now, guess something that they do not sell in the store!

That's right, you cannot buy Wild Birds in Wild Birds Unlimited. In fact, they do not sell any kind of birds. This gives me an idea for a store. It is called "Auto Parts Unlimited". Before you ask - no, we do not sell auto parts. Sorry about that. But we do have some other driving-related accessories.

By the way, if you want to buy a set of wind chimes and a Christmas ornament at Wild Birds Unlimited this will cost you $121.88.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tank Half Full

Lately I have noticed a trend by rental car agencies to provide a car with half a tank of gas, instead of a full tank.  One can only assume that this is an intentional act to take advantage of the consumer.  Good luck refilling the tank to the exact same level at the end of your travels.  It is much easier to fill a tank completely (starting with a full tank) than to estimate how many gallons of fuel you need to pump to get it to half a tank.  If you fill it with too little fuel, they will over-charge you for the difference.  I'm not sure what they do if you go over half a tank.  I doubt they siphon out the gas to bring it back down to half a tank.  I also doubt they give it to the next person with 5/8 of a tank.  Perhaps they fill it to 3/4 tank for the next person. 

What really has me curious, is how they can fill it to exactly half a tank?




Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Answering Machine Messages

Every week I need to call the office of ENT & Allergy Specialists of Virginia, to make an appointment for my son to get an allergy shot. Unfortunately, it is a lot harder than it should be.

This is the message I get when I call (703) 723-8727:

Thank you for calling ENT & Allergy Specialists of Virginia
Please listen to the following menu so that we can best direct your call
If this is a doctor's office or a hospital, press '8' at this time
If you are calling due to a life-threatening emergency, please hang up and dial 911
If you know your party's extension, press '9'
Please note, our office is closed for lunch between 12 and 1pm
If you would like to schedule an appointment, or change an existing appointment, press '1'
For information about our address, website, fax number, or hours of operation, press '2'
If you are a pharmacy or a patient calling regarding either a medication refill or prior authorization on a CT scan and would like to leave a message for our clinical coordinator, press '3'
If you need to speak directly with a clinical coordinator regarding surgery scheduling, pre-op and post-op questions, press '4'
If you would like to leave a message for the allergy department, press '5'
If you would like to leave a message for the audiology department, press '6'
If you would like to speak to the office administartor, press '7'
Please press * to replay these menu options


First of all, they have a full-time receptionist at this small office, who does nothing most of the time, so would it really be that hard for her to just answer the phone? They have a whole separate message that they play when the office is closed, but the above message gets played on all calls that come in when the office is open, even when the receptionist is sitting idle at the front desk.

Now, as far as the message is concerned, I would estimate that 95% of the calls they get are for appointments. Thus, everything shown above in red is a waste of our time. The first thing should be "dial 1 to make an appointment" and then they can put all of that other garbage that nobody cares about after that.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Foo Fighters Independence Day Blow-Out

The Foo Fighters put together a great Fourth of July event celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the release of their first album. The all-day event featured many great opening acts, including Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Gary Clark Jr, Heart, Buddy Guy and LLCoolJ.  A rotating stage allowed the music to flow continuously, as each act's stage set-up was prepped on the back of the stage while another one was performing.

As much as I enjoyed the opening acts, the Foo Fighters were by far the best part of the show, putting on a full two-plus hour show encompassing songs from their entire 20 year career.  Questions as to how Dave Grohl would cope with his broken leg were answered by a giant ornate mobile throne that he explains was envisioned while he was recuperating  from leg surgery in the hospital.  Grohl milked the injury for all it was worth, repeatedly showing video of himself falling off the stage in Sweden, to the DC crowd's amusement. 

The concert opened with "Everlong", one of my favorites, and a great song, reminding me why Dave Letterman chose it for the final montage on his farewell show.  During one of the more powerful moments of the show, Grohl left his throne and walked to the end of the stage extension on crutches, to perform an acoustic rendition of "My Hero".  The last song in the encore-less set was "Best of You".  We ranted about radio overplay of this song in 2005, but a decade later it was a great finale.  As to be expected for July 4th, a fireworks show followed the concert.

The biggest disappointment of the day was the concert venue, RFK stadium.  Parking at the stadium cost an obscene $40.  The stadium staff did not seem prepared for an all-day concert venue.  The first set started at 1:30 PM, and by 4:00 PM trash cans were overflowing and the bathrooms were disgusting.  Long lines of people waited to get cash from the ATM's, because all stadium concessions were cash only.   Food and drink prices were jacked-up sky high.  The food was terrible, even by stadium standards.  Many of the food stands started to run out by ~7 PM (including all food stands in the upper levels).  This is especially obnoxious considering that no outside food or drink or readmission was allowed for an event that opened by 1PM and lasted past 10PM.