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Don’t Argue With Comcast; Have This Robot Do It For You

Well, this one made me chuckle. It turns out that a company called Trim built a program that you can link to your Comcast account, and that will argue with Comcast on your behalf to get you money.

What It Is

Trim is simply a computer program that you link to your Comcast account. Then, it analyzes your bill and watches for opportunities to request credits on your behalf, such as when there is an outage in your area. It communicates with Comcast via its online chat feature.

You do not have to do absolutely anything, since all of this is done for you in the background, automatically.

The world of code

How Much It Costs

Trim’s fee is success-based. It takes 25% of any one-time credits. If it gets you an ongoing credit, it takes 25% of the first month’s savings. If it gets you nothing, it charges you nothing.

The alternative, of course, is to do it manually, which most of us don’t have the energy to do unless it’s something major. I know that I suffered a Comcast TV and internet outage for most of a full day about two months ago, and did not bring it up with the company.

How It Works

As The Penny Hoarder reports, Trim is based on the fact that Comcast representatives talking to you through online chat follow a script. Trim’s program takes advantage of that in order to negotiate for you.

Robots need breaks, too!

Going off on a tangent: I absolutely hate this script-based customer support, which seems to be more common nowadays. You write or even call a company, and they don’t even listen to what you’re saying. All you get are canned responses that are vaguely related to the topic you’re asking about. But they don’t really answer your questions.

Back to Trim: The success rate is reported to be 70%, with an average savings of $10 per month (The Penny Hoarder).

Bottom Line

If you’re a Comcast customer, it’s probably not a bad idea to engage Trim to do some haggling for you.

Sources: TrimThe Penny Hoarder

Caveman Beer Reviews: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Note: This is a series I call Caveman Beer Reviews, because I like to drink beer but am a caveman when it comes to beer knowledge. I know only the basics, and do not have a refined palate. I’ll review the beers on price and what they look, smell, and taste like to me.

Beer: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Bottom Line: A sharply bitter beer that will greatly appeal to lovers of bitter brews.

Price: About $13.99 for a 12-pack of 12 ounce bottles.

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Details

My wife got me this beer to try as part of a Trader Joe’s run. I had never seen it before, and had no idea what to expect. It’s got a very outdoorsy-looking bottle that makes me imagine it’s made by heavily bearded woodsmen who know what they’re doing. I wound up liking it very much.

Origin: California and North Carolina, USA

Alcohol: 5.6%

Looks: A short, dark glass bottle with some bucolic-looking greenish labeling. For some reason, it reminds me of Vermont. The beer itself is light brown.

Smell: Light beer smell.

Taste: Despite its light smell and pale brown color, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has a strongly bitter taste. It’s a sharp bitterness (especially towards the end) that lingers on the throat and top of the mouth. It also has hints of citrus, like very bitter orange or orange peels. Such citrus taste is so bitter as to be barely noticeable, but it’s there.

This ale is refreshing, but not easy to drink unless you like bitter beer.

I really took to the Sierra Nevada, but that’s because I enjoy bitter brews. I don’t think that someone that has other predilections would like it.

Hangover Factor: Nothing unusual. I’m a male in reasonably good health born in 1983.

Final Thoughts

The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a solid, well-tasting, somewhat pricey beer. However, it sure is bitter. If you like that kind of beer, by all means get it. If not, spend your money on something else.

Where To Buy Dirt-Cheap Stuff If Quality Does Not Matter

I generally advocate buying high-quality stuff that will last. “Buy cheap, buy twice” is the saying, and it’s right. That’s why I’ve written about sites like Blinq and Farfetch, where you can get luxurious, well-made merchandise for well below retail.

Sometimes, however, you need cheap items that you will use only a few times, and want to pay as little as possible. For example, thin necklaces that you will seldom wear, small home-decoration items (like glass vases or little boxes) or an extra phone charger to have in the office.

Where can you buy these kinds of things, at incredible prices? A place called Wish.

What It Is

Wish is an online marketplace accessed via your browser or an app, where you can buy cheap, relatively low-quality things from abroad. They are generally shipped directly to you from China, and take about 3-4 weeks to arrive. Their prices are incredible. See for yourself:

A Micro USB cable for $1, plus $1 shipping:

A simple fish tank for $2, plus $3 shipping:

A necklace for $2, plus $1 shipping:

Again, don’t think that you’re getting quality; you probably aren’t. But for those times when you don’t need quality, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better prices.

How Are These Prices Possible?

Welcome to a brave new world. As The New York Times explained, the only reason these deals can exist is because of trade agreements between the US and several other countries (including China) that result in something called ePackets. Such are shipments below 4.4 pounds, with tracking numbers and delivery confirmation; they are heavily are subsidized by the US Postal Service, which is why it is so incredibly cheap to ship this stuff all the way from China, even if it takes the better part of a month to arrive.

This is controversial, because “these agreements have drawn intense criticism from American retailers large and small”* likely because they undersell domestic retailers. I guess the other side of this argument is to say that if you are going to pay those same domestic retailers to import cheap Chinese goods to begin with, you might as well import them yourself.

Anyways, this is not a political blog, and what you do is your individual decision.

My Experience With Wish

I have not bought anything on Wish, but my wife has ordered tens of products. I can say that they do arrive as promised, and are what is advertised. For instance, she bought these glass decorative vases for about $1 each:

I think it was a good purchase because for something like that, quality does not really matter. I mean, I don’t think the glass will spontaneously break or anything.

Bottom Line

For those times where quality does not matter (and provided you can wait about a month), consider Wish.

*New York Times

Hotel Review: Luxor Las Vegas

For the second time in my life, I found myself taking a trip to Sin City, this time for a birthday weekend with some great friends. (The first time, I got food poisoning from eating buffet sushi -BAD IDEA- and spent most of my trip at Desert Springs Hospital).

Anyways, not wanting to pay for a hotel, we decided to stay at the Luxor (the big pyramid) on the strip, because it was just 12,000 World of Hyatt points per night, which I transferred to that program from my Chase Sapphire Preferred account. (Hyatt has a partnership with the Mlife program, to which the Luxor belongs). Regardless, I still had to pay the ridiculous resort fees, which were about $30 per night.

Bottom Line: A dated hotel that has seen better days. Everything works, but our room was run-down. However, it seemed a good value for 12,000 points per night.

Good For Business Travelers: No way. Stay at a place with free breakfast and no resort fees.

Good For Leisure Travelers: Sure, if you get a great deal.

Parent Hotel Chain: MGM Resorts

My Rating: 2/5

The Details

Room: First, let me say that I was not happy at all to be put in a room on the “west tower”. This is a building that is not the main pyramid (which does have rooms), but is rather quite a walk away from the main entrance and front desk area.

Even though I was not paying for the room (except the darn resort fees), I was an Mlife Gold member (which I got via a status match from Hyatt Platinum, when that program was called Gold Passport). Mlife Gold is the third level of five within the Mlife program, but I was still stuck in a room that was not even in the “east tower” (which is closer to the main entrance and front desk), but rather in Siberia, in the west tower. The walk to the room was about 10 minutes each time, including time spent in the elevator.

The room itself was disappointing. It was big, which I appreciated, but everything was dated and looked close to falling apart. It’s not to say that this was a roach hotel – nothing that bad. However, there was minor (though noticeable) peeling, cracking, and rust all over. It looked the room had not been remodeled in 15 years or more.

I did ask for a pyramid room (hoping my Mlife Gold status would help), but the front desk clerk said none were available. I did not really believe her. Maybe she was expecting the ol’ $20, but I was not going to even try that because I am not smooth at that sort of thing and would probably have just dropped the cash and embarrassed everyone involved.

The bed and pillows were comfortable enough, and the room also had two plush chairs and a small table.

One negative was the air-conditioning control. It worked, but it was not a thermostat. Rather, it was one of those old control panels where you just set a temperature and a fan speed, but it did not regulate itself to maintain an even temperature like modern thermostats. This made it hard to maintain a consistent temperature, and somewhat uncomfortable to sleep.

Other aspects of the room really showed its age and the hotel’s lack of attention to detail. For example, the fire sprinkler was all rusted out and looked nasty.

The bathroom was bad. It was run-down, with the worse shower head I have ever seen in a hotel. It seemed to have no settings, and had a light, all-over-the-place flow that was hard to take advantage of.

The terrible shower head

Entering the bathroom

The tub

The sink

Price: About $46-$295 per night on a weekday night. The prices vary wildly, depending on the day(s) you want.

Location: Good, but not great. On the strip, but close to one end of the strip. You pretty much have to take a vehicle ride everywhere, and are not in the “middle of the action”.

Important In-Room Amenities: I used the safe and the clothes iron. Both worked well.

Important Amenities: As a “resort”, the Luxor had a casino (duh, it’s on the Vegas strip), as well as pools and more. I did not use any of them, because our friends were staying at the Aria, and we always went there (essentially, we just used the Luxor to sleep, spending ~$100 on resort fees, while the Aria was quoting for over $700 for 3 nights when I looked it up).

There was a tourist-trap lobby shop where I bought a cool Anubis figurine, who watches over my kitchen these days.

Free Parking: About $10 per day self, $15 valet.

Free Breakfast: No. We got room service breakfast each day, which cost about $50 each time (for two people).

In-Room Cellphone Charging: No good. Near the bed, there were only power outlets behind the bedside tables, such that I had to contort myself a little to connect the charger. No USB outlets.

WiFi: Yes, and free. It was somewhat slow, though, coming in at 4.09 mbps download and 5.67 mbps upload.

TVs: One standard flat-screen TV which worked fine and had high-def channels. I was happy because the lack of high-def (or hard to use high-def) is a pet peeve of mine.

Pillows: At least four. I found them comfortable.

Closets: Two, with plenty of space.

Toiletries: Custom, made for the hotel (I think common to all MGM properties). They were fine.

Breakfast

Like I said, we got room-service breakfast each time. A generous American breakfast for two, with eggs and whatnot, cost about $50-$55, with tip and everything included. I thought the price was pretty reasonable, but the breakfast was nothing special. Just standard fare.

Summing It Up

The Luxor has everything you need and its reasonably well-maintained. However, my west tower room was dated and run-down, with some aspects that were unacceptable, such as the thermostat and shower head. More than other places, I felt like just a number (which is not supposed to be what they strive for, especially if you have elite status with the hotel chain).

Overall, I was not impressed with this place, although I would stay again, but only if I could score a great deal. If not, it’s better to stay elsewhere.

How to Stick to a Gambling Budget

If you’re at all like me, you like a little vice in your life. However, they’re called vices for a reason – they can seriously mess you up. So, in order to keep that from happening, I implement what I call my “chaos in a box” theory. All it means is that I like to enjoy vices in moderation, and in a controlled environment. For example, if I want to drink beyond the point of tipsy, I’ll do it on a weekend night, and not be driving.

I also enjoy gambling from time to time. There, creating the “box” is a little more complicated, especially if you’re at a casino. There’s the free drinks and the ATM machines, and urge to win back what you’ve lost. However, it’s not impossible; here’s how.

Only Gamble at Real Establishments

This one’s easy. If you have poor impulse control, avoid gambling online. Don’t bet at shady places, under any circumstances. Only gamble at legitimate, licensed establishments. This ensures that you won’t get beat up and that you actually have to leave at some point.

Assume Money Gambled Is Money Lost

Forget the movies. Unless you are a card-counter or something like that, the odds are not in your favor, especially over the long run. Casinos are businesses that stay in business by turning a profit, and they do that by making the rules of the games such that the mathematical odds are more than 50%, in their favor.

Although there are methods to tilt the odds your way (such as card-counting in blackjack), these are for professional gamblers and will probably get you kicked out of the casino if you’re caught.

So, unless you are an extremely sophisticated bettor, the assumption should always be that all money gambled is money lost – you’re just paying for entertainment, not trying to make money.

Cash, No Plastic or Credit Lines

Here’s the big one. Unless you are very disciplined, the way to control your spending (losses) is as follows:

1. Set a budget – how much will you spend? Let’s say $200 per day for a Vegas blowout weekend.

2. Before going to the casino, count out $200 in your home or hotel room, in cash. Put it in your pocket, plus some more for incidentals like cabs and whatnot.

3. Leave your ATM card at home or in the in-room safe.

4. Go play. Pay for non-gaming expenses with credit cards.

If this (or some other method) does not work, do not gamble.

Summing It Up

Like exotic cars, vices are both fun and dangerous. Most can be safely enjoyed in moderation (or else should not be enjoyed at all).

For gambling, I’ve found that the method I’ve laid out is a good way to have some fun, but at the same time avoid that temptation to him the ATM when your luck’s run dry.

*All GIFs from Giphy