DISCLAIMER: I was not paid or asked by the company to provide a review.
Post bottom-line up front: Sign up here to start saving on utility bills.
I been holding my breath the past month and holding off on publishing on a new business that I found will pay you to go green. Credits to PennyHoarder, one of the few money-saving blogs that I follow. At first I was skeptical and albeit lazy to have to go and route my utility bill to another 3rd party company, but after doing some research and seeing how they were featured at conferences and even have a BBB A+ profile I decided to take the leap.
No risk, no reward right?
I chose the 50% plan because I was still skeptical and didn’t want to pay additional money on my already high Hawaii utility bill. The switch was easy. I created a login, added my utility company information and basic personal information. The company changes the email address for utility statements to theirs and pays the bill first. They forward the bill to you 3 days later and charges the amount to you. That’s about as complicated as it gets. As for bonus features, you can more easily track your energy, gas, water consumption on a dashboard and have access to analysis on the same.
After a month, I’m not noticing a huge difference but do feel better about the fact that I’m helping add clean energy to the national power grid and helping sustain the environment for the next generation. I’m sure Zoey will give me a big hug for it in the future.
To close, I’m a true believer in this company’s objectives and love the incentive they provide to make the switch. Note that you can cancel at any time and go back to automatic billing with your utility company if you so choose.
Returned the Oculus Rift today.
I didn’t return it because I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t return it because I was dedicating all my time to it. I returned it because even though it was enjoyable, it just felt very limiting. There’s only so much you can currently do in the game and as a first-person shooter (FPS) gamer I truly enjoyed Robo Recall. It comes free with the Touch controller purchases and after trying a handful of other FPS games, I think Robo Recall outshines them all. Even Arizona Sunshine, which is a zombie-shooter pales in comparison to the amount of “stuff” you can just do in RR. Ripping bots to shreds – check. Upper cutting bots – check. Robo-shield – check. Dodging bullets and throwing them back at bots – check. The list goes on and the limit is your imagination.
One of the coolest games outside of the FPS world was the Climb. Talk about getting sweaty palms, forehead and other parts I mean this game really immersed you in high altitude environments and was absolutely refreshing and tiring to play. If you like working those shoulders out, this game will be perfect. I enjoyed it, my mother-in-law enjoyed it and my wife enjoyed it. This kind of game appealed to all audiences.
At the end of the day though, this wasn’t worth the $2,000 price tag associated with having to purchase the $600 Oculus Touch package and another $1,000+ for a computer system that can handle it. Even if you already own the system which requires the 10 series nVidia GPU to run efficiently it’s still a lot to shell out for entertainment compared to a $300-400 console like the XBOX or PS4. I think this platform needs time, but right now in 2017 it’s in the early adopter phase and just not worth the money.
Catching up on posting – it’s been a while now. Recently did the Crouching Lion hike in Hawaii and to be honest it wasn’t as crazy as others have made it out to be. I thought I’d add my two cents to the plethora of reviews out there. My goal is always to simplify the directions and help you find these trails. If you do a quick search on the Crouching Lion Hike, you’ll see many reviewers tell you that the trail head is hard to find, the trail is steep and people die. While it’s true a few have died on this hike, it’s not because of the trail itself. It’s because they veered off the trail to take selfies or other photos. Personal choice, not by trail design. The hike overall takes about 30-45 minutes to reach the top.
The trail head is relatively easy to find and so is parking. Match up the below map with yours and you’ll see parking on the side of the road, most likely other cars will be there during daylight hours as well. The trail head is across the road and you can enter the trail through any of posted “area closed” signs. General rule is that as long as your climbing up you’re going in the right direction. The very first obstacle is a tree trunk growing horizontally across the trail. From there it’s just following a path.
Here’s a few shots on the trail – remember to turn around and take in the view when you’re taking a break (if needed).
The initial trail up is at around a 45 degree angle. Though not intensely difficult I would still recommend some shoes with good grip and not running shoes. If it’s wet, it’ll be a muddy climb. Once you reach the plateau, the trail will fork: go left for the top of the lion’s head and a great view over the highway below and ocean or go right to get a better view of the “lion” and possibly continue further into the mountains. Keep in mind now that there will be a constant breeze since you’re traveling along the ridge line.
Here’s a pano looking back on the way up to the lion’s head. You can find plenty of pictures from the top of the lion’s head so won’t bore you with those. Overall, highly recommended if you’re out on the east side. It’s one of the few trails that won’t cost you half a day or get you all sweaty if you decide to continue to nicer venues.
Did the Crouching Lion hike finally for the first time this weekend and it was definitely worth the time. Before doing the hike, I searched around different websites trying to find the trail head – that by far was probably the most difficult aspect of the hike. In actuality, once we got to the base of the “lion” there are parking lots available that provide access to the trail head(s) and it really isn’t all that difficult.
After leaving our car in the small parking lot, we crossed the road and walked to the left. There was a “Do Not Pass” sign and right after that sign were two “keep out” signs. A path leading into the trees was easily visible, carved out from all the previous hikers so we followed that. Most of the sites I looked at stated that there were pink ribbons marking the trail but we didn’t see any. Instead, we just kept following the trail whenever it led up. The trail itself is comprised of mud and tree roots, there was some ducking and weaving that needed to happen to avoid whacking our heads. We saw the first rope about 5 minutes into the hike and knew we were on the right path. After reaching the rope, the rest of the trail was very easy to follow. We took caution here since the climb was steep and the ground was muddy but there were enough handholds and things to grab onto to get by. We even stopped along the way to turn around and admire the view.
After about another 10 minutes of the huffpuff, we reached the first clearing. The first thing we noticed was the memorial set up for the girl that fell a few months ago. It kind of reminded us that there were dangers up along the ridgeline of the trail. We continued forward and the trail split where we could head left and hike along the lion’s back or head right to get the overall view. We went left first along the path and it was easy to follow the trail all the way to the lion’s head. Some scrambling was involved but it wasn’t anything serious. The biggest danger is stepping to close to the edge and getting hit by a gust of wind but for the most part we stayed in the center to take all our pictures and started towards the other side. During the entire time we were hanging up there, there was a glider who just hovered above us which was really cool.
From the other end of the trail, we were able to view the entire ridge line and it was definitely a sight to behold. Steep drop-offs on this part of the trail could make a bad ending but again, we stayed towards the center of the trail and there were no issues.
In all, it was a quick and easy hike that took about 30 minutes to really get to the end of the trail but soaking in the view took us up to about an hour. Highly recommended.
A number of people have recently asked me about mystery shopping since I posted on the topic a few times on my Facebook. I figured it would be good to explore a few things in the industry – all from first hand experience in an effort to better assist anyone else that might consider diving in. Let’s think about it for a second, we all have that dream of making money while doing the things we love; for some that might be grandiose like flying around in a Learjet beating down business moguls but for others it might be something as simple as eating at the hottest restaurant, grabbing happy hour drinks with friends, even wanting to pay for only 50% of your gas bill. While mystery shopping will definitely not get you the Learjet (at least not in my experience), it has recently offered me an opportunity for a free plane ticket. The latter is what mystery shopping really focuses on, the micro-experiences of our lives. I have been in the industry for about 3 years and since then worked for multiple companies on a per diem basis. Since I like to keep records of everything, I have amassed about $6,000 over the course of these three years and yes, if you were to pursue mystery shopping aggressively on a full-time basis it is definitely possible to make a comfortable living from it. I have met other shoppers who do just that. Interested yet? Read on.
First of all, mystery shopping is compromised of multiple companies and although depending your research you might come up with independent contractors or corporate, for the most part it is corporate headquarters contracting third-party quality control companies to manage and execute audits on their branches. For example, Regal Theaters headquarters hires Gigspot which in turn hires mystery shoppers to evaluate a Regal Theaters branch in Hawaii. Mystery shoppers then turn in the audit report, unrevealed or sometimes revealed, to Gigspot which then report the findings back to Regal Theaters. Other companies like Jancyn might focus on restaurants and bars, others like Kinesis focus on banks. Each company has a focus area and that is what corporate offices seek out.
Let’s address a couple of myths before we dive into the process and selection of shops. Myth #1: Mystery shopping is a way I can get rich quick! Nope, mystery shopping provides income but it’s cost:benefit is a bit of time for a bit of money. Quantity can offset this but again that depends on the time and is in direct correlation to the amount of work you put in. Real estate is the best get rich scheme out there. I digress. Mystery shopping augments your lifestyle habits. If you like going out to bars and restaurants, well then what’s better than taking out a friend, offering everything under the sun and leaving with them thinking you’re the best thing since sliced bread and you not having to pay a single dime. Myth #2: Mystery shopping can get boring. It might seem that the job opportunities are straight-forward, however in the process of completing these shops you might discover new opportunity. For instance, on a bank shop I was required to ask certain questions and during the course of the Q&A session I discovered that the bank was offering a limited certificate of deposit promotion at 5% APY. Did I take it? Of course I took it! Had I not performed the shop, I would have never known this bank had amazing promotions. Myth #3: Mystery shopping is a scam! Hmm. While I can say that not 100% of the offers are legit, I can say that if you go through the process that I describe to you it will be 100% legit. If you try and perform a Gooogle search for mystery shopping like I did in the beginning you will be led astray. The golden rule of mystery shopping is NEVER PAY ANYONE FOR OPPORTUNITIES! Scams involve companies trying to insert themselves into the process as brokers which is unnecessary and dangerous to you.
So, what do I need to do you ask? Read the next section or scroll to the bottom for the portal gateway link and try to figure it out yourself. Be happy I’m not a professional blogger and don’t try to string you along a couple of posts to get follows before giving you the link. MSPA or the Mystery Shopping Providers Association is a legitimate association that serves as a liaison between interested mystery shoppers and companies that contract mystery shopping jobs. MSPA does offer a certification for a price that most likely gives you increased creditability with companies but I’ve never had to leverage that option. If you do choose to do that, post a comment below and let me know the benefits. Once you click on the link provided, enter your zip code and it will bring up a list of companies within a specified radius that is offering job opportunities. Even the most rural areas have these opportunities. When you click on these companies, you will be asked to apply, provide basic information, payment information (how you want to be paid), and a short writing sample. The most important thing with mystery shopping is grammar, punctuation and writing with clarity. You have to be able to compose paragraph narratives detailing EVERYTHING requested in the assignment. Name of the hostess? Check. Time arrived at the establishment? Check. Time between placing the order and when it arrived? Check. Fib a fact or miss a requirement? Fired. Because so many people are signing up for opportunities, mystery shopping companies have the luxury of picking who they want for assignments. The industry stresses attention to detail so if you’re the person who can’t remember where you last placed your wallet or cell phone, mystery shopping isn’t for you. If you are still interested the link is below. Good luck and post a comment below if you have any questions, need clarity or have any feedback. I’m excited to hear about your experiences!
UPDATE: New Link here – http://www.jobslinger.com/
For those of you who were doing reviews on products in exchange for free or discounted stuff on Amazon, the policy has changed as of 3 October 2016. Amazon has started cracking down on the amount of “incentivized” exchanges and even started going after sellers Sellers Sued. For now, there hasn’t been any action taken towards customer reviewers but just a heads up that this change has happened. No more free electronics for me I guess. Below is an excerpt from Amazon on the new change.
Update on Customer Reviews
October 3, 2016
Customer reviews are one of the most valuable tools we offer customers for making informed purchase decisions, and we work hard to make sure they are doing their job. In just the past year, we’ve improved review ratings by introducing a machine learned algorithm that gives more weight to newer, more helpful reviews; applying stricter criteria to qualify for the Amazon verified purchase badge; and suspending, banning or suing thousands of individuals for attempting to manipulate reviews.
Our community guidelines have always prohibited compensation for reviews, with an exception – reviewers could post a review in exchange for a free or discounted product as long as they disclosed that fact. These so-called ‘incentivized reviews’ make up only a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of reviews on Amazon, and when done carefully, they can be helpful to customers by providing a foundation of reviews for new or less well-known products.
Today, we updated the community guidelines to prohibit incentivized reviews unless they are facilitated through the Amazon Vine program. We launched Vine several years ago to carefully facilitate these kinds of reviews and have been happy with feedback from customers and vendors. Here’s how Vine works: Amazon – not the vendor or seller – identifies and invites trusted and helpful reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release products; we do not incentivize positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written; and we limit the total number of Vine reviews that we display for each product. Vine has important controls in place and has proven to be especially valuable for getting early reviews on new products that have not yet been able to generate enough sales to have significant numbers of organic reviews. We also have ideas for how to continue to make Vine an even more useful program going forward. Details on that as we have them.
The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.
– Chee Chew, VP, Customer Experience
Took a leap of faith this weekend, packed up the camelback and laced up the boots to conquer one of the most visually appealing hikes on the island of Oahu. The difficulty associated with the trail was a lure as well. TL;DR version at the very bottom, just scroll down 🙂
Parking for the trail is going to be at least a 10 minute walk from the trail head if you’re lucky. There is parking across from the bus stop at the intersection of Kalanianaole Hwy & Auloa Rd. If you’re not lucky, a 5 min walk further south on Auloa Rd should yield some parking spots. From there, walk east on Loop Rd past the Royal Hawaiian Golf Course gate guard and you’ll find the trail head approximately 400m past the guard shack on the left side of the road marked by a white sign. No pets are allowed and you wouldn’t want to bring them anyways. Some websites mention that mountain biking is possible, but some of the roots and under-growth on the trail are knee high. Follow the dirt path until you see a concrete structure, make a quick left and right and the canopy will open up to a four-way trail. General rule: always head to higher ground so make a right. After that, the trail is a straight ascent up towards the first giant rock structure that has thick ropes to assist in the climb up a rock face. Make sure you test the ropes out as they are tied by fellow hikers and are subject to tremendous wear and the elements. The ropes can be compromising if it has rained recently. I would recommend bringing gloves for the ropes as some of them are made of extremely rough material. Once past that point there are a few more ropes along the way until the top of the first peak. Total ascent time is anywhere between 1 – 2 hours.
From the first peak, there is a small trail down towards the second peak. Just follow the ridge line and after another rope climb you’ll be on top of the second peak. Part of the descent is dirt trail and the other part is pure rock. There wasn’t much of a view from the second peak and I saw it more of a temporary breather before the rappel down towards the third peak. Total ascent time is a mere 10-30 minutes.
The trail to the third peak is what makes this hike extremely exhilarating in my opinion. This part of the hike is the most technical as there are numerous rope descents and ascents, rock obstacles and narrow footing. Halfway between the 2nd and 3rd peak is the Puka, Hawaiian for “hole”. There is a raised rock structure that somehow has a man-sized hole in the middle which is really cool and great for that next Instagram photo! The initial descent from the 2nd peak is a 3-rope rappel down the saddle and on the next ascent is the Puka. There are now two ropes around the Puka, one is an old paracord rope and the other is a blue/yellow rope that was tied the day that I went as of 9 October 2016. I highly recommend using both ropes in hand as you work your way around the rock structure since a misstep will send you 1200 feet down into the tree canopy below. The footing is about only 12-16 inches with not much room for error. It misted slightly when we went and the rocks were slippery during that time. As soon as we hit the bottom of the Puka, we turned right around and made a rope ascent up the next rock face. The rope here is anchored on a metal spike dug into the dirt unlike the other ropes so far that were tied around tree trunks. Definitely test the rope here before ascending. From here, it’s only 2 more rope climbs until we reached the 3rd peak. Once on the third peak, there is a small trail down through the brush that opens out onto a small landing great for pictures. Total ascent time from the 2nd to 3rd peak is approximately 1 hour.
Along the entire way from the top of the 1st peak to the 3rd peak you have a 360 view of the surrounding mountains and windward coast. At intermittent times throughout the hike the clouds came over the trail leaving light misting but shortly after the sun dried it all up. When the clouds were gone, you could see the entire coastline and it made this hike definitely an experience to cross off the bucket list.
Trail Difficulty: 4/5. Need a mix of hiking, rock climbing and rappelling experience for the 1st and 3rd peak.
Trail Length: Less than 2 miles. It’s the ups and downs that make this hike difficult. Highest altitude ~1,600ft. Round trip is approximately 1.5-3 hours depending on how many breaks you take and how congested the trail is.
Recommended Equipment: Sturdy boots with ankle support and crampons in the bag in case you’re caught out in the rain and need to make it back. I wore Merrell’s Men Moabs for this hike (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000LOYWQI/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_x_00S.xb1JEE81J via @amazon) and they performed superb. At least 3L of water which I carried in my camelback and durable gloves for thick and thin ropes found on the trail. Sunglasses are preferred.
Best Views: Found on the 1st and 3rd peak.
Parking for Trail Head: On the dirt opposite the bus stop if you’re lucky, otherwise a few minutes further down the road, Olomana Trail Parking on GoogleMaps
This the first of many (hopefully) hiking blogs that I do for the island of Oahu, Hawaii. I was inspired when I couldn’t find much detail on most of the hikes advertised for this island and surprisingly those that I could find information on were text and no pictures. This one is the Kaena Point Trail hike. The hike is broken down into two parts, the first is the walk/stroll to the bird reservation and the second is the 600 feet climb up to the pillboxes.
This portion starts at the Kaena Point State Park trailhead. The trailhead is at the end of Dillingham Airfield, past the small boy scout camp and comes to an end in a mud parking lot.
From the trailhead, the way is rocky, muddy and really bad for the ankles. I recommend boots with good ankle support. I passed a lot of tourists with sneakers only to see them turn around halfway. No pets are allowed FYI. The signs are posted at every possible entrance into the trail. Some Asian tourists still tried to bring dogs and other hikers turned them around – they take the notion of the bird sanctuary seriously. Once you’re on the trail, I recommend using the alternate route on the way in as it is more scenic and eventful since it’s closer to the wave break; it is also less muddy than the main trail.
The alternate routes are marked with small blue things in the ground but in the event you lose the trail, just walk towards the waves. There’s plenty to see among the reefs, fishermen casting their lines, crustaceans hanging out and a coral-filled beach. These are just some of the wonders along the way.
About 3 miles in, you’ll come to a small pathway composed of iron bars and rock and once through this “door” you’re in the bird reservation.
I ended up climbing over the rocks instead of trying to walk through them – it was an awkward entry!
The past the entrance, you can hang right and go through the second door into the bird sanctuary or hang a left and follow the trail around to part II of this hike. If you choose the door, follow it to the end until you come to a warning light for ships and a concrete box. I’m not sure the purpose of the box but it’s a pretty unique structure. All along the way, there are signs and roped off areas telling visitors that the grounds are for breeding and sacred to the island – DO NOT TRESPASS! When I went, it was in the middle of Hurricane Lester weekend and during the sunny lapses, no birds were seen on the ground, however once it got stormy they landed in small groves obscured from the trail. From this point, you could continue along the trail come out the other side and continue walking 2-3 hours towards the west side entrance, turn back, or find part II of the trail. Finding the trailhead can be slightly tricky, but if you walk back the way you came and go through the first door into the reservation, hook a right and start walking UP the trail. When the trail starts to curve, look into the grassy area and you’ll find a small trodden down path amongst the high grass and that signals the start of the climb up. The trail itself is approximately 1 foot in width and there will be parts grown over by the adjacent shubbery.
The trail itself is easy enough to follow and you’ll have a couple of landmarks along the way. There’s a concrete water drainage structure, two WWII pillboxes and the top of the mountain at a steep climb of 600 feet. There’s also an observatory set a ways off visible at the top of the climb, but I’m not sure if it was legal to trek over there. I highly recommend boots and maybe some climbing gloves if you have soft hands. The rocks are old volcanic rocks with sharp edges on them, I caught myself on one on the way down and it tore my palm open. As always bring plenty of water! Here are a couple of shots from the top.
Thanks for reading and more posts coming soon!
I needed to vent somewhere and I’ll do it here. The Army offers funding for a free flight back to Home of Record if the service member has completed an overseas tour and is traveling to another overseas tour, otherwise known as OCONUS. This can be used between any overseas duty location, whether that’s from deployment in the Middle East to Hawaii, Germany to Korea, Japan to Puerto Rico, etc you get the picture.
In order to process the claim and acquire the funding, the service member needs to “prep” the action by ensuring DA 31 leave dates match up with the flight itinerary leaving from the last duty station. This is to ensure that the service member did not spend more than 7 days in the continental United States. Further documentation needs to be verified through travel voucher claims and ERB/ORB submission that validates the home of record. Once this documentation has been verified, the service member has one year to use this claim or lose it forever.
At the new duty station, the service member must submit a DA 4187 Personnel Action with the required documents (checklist obtained through DHR Reassignments) and wait a minimum of 3-5 days for processing.
Given this extensive list, it is natural that some documentation may not line up. The worst part of it is that it the action may take a few weeks to process before errors are founded. However, because most service members do not work in Human Resources, we trust that our subject matter experts would take care of us by ensuring documents line up when we want to claim a benefit. In Hawaii, this has not been the case. It wasn’t until I submitted an ICE complaint (2 pages long) that the Director of Human Resources finally called me and offered to resolve the issue. First, he started by blaming my S1 for not properly vetting the document and claiming that his office was only a second set of eyes. I have worked closely with my S1 throughout the entire process to ensure things were good from my end so I had no patience for the blame game. In fact, I had spent 2 hours at their office front desk going through the initial review of the packet and was told that everything “was in good order.” Why is it then that a week after the action was submitted that I finally find out that there were errors? Their front desk employee reviews and validates the packet, the worker bees in the back process the order.
The delay has cost me money. I have been waiting for my flight ticket confirmation before I could align the flight for my wife and baby and ensure that we flew together. Overall, this has once again jaded my confidence in the Army processes and reinforced my belief that we are spending ludicrous amounts of taxpayer dollars paying someone’s civilian salary when we could have military human resource MOS’ processing actions. One less rung in the ladder, $80,000 saved.
I pushed out this article for Public Affairs and felt that I should share it with my readers so here it is!
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
By Cpt. Caleb Lin, 8th TSC Antiterrorism Force Protection August 22, 2016
This week’s focus for Antiterrorism month is the threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).
Terrorist asymmetrical warfare capabilities evolve in direct correlation with innovations in technology. Drone use has been a United States capability for superiority on the battlefield through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, however terrorists are beginning to adapt its uses on the battlefield as well through commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products.
Although terrorists have not acquired the same drone capabilities as the U.S., they are able to use drones acquired through commercial manufacturers to conduct surveillance during target identification.
The U.S. Army War College conducted scenario analysis across the three spectrums of warfare: tactical, operational and strategic; disclosing their findings in their Terrorist and Insurgent Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Use, Potentials, and Military Implications, a report by Robert J. Bunker.
In short, tactical uses of UAVs are currently more of a domestic security issue instead of an overseas deployment threat due to accessibility and un-weaponized products currently on the market.
Current potential capabilities include mounting weapons to drones for active shooters, IED-mounting for crowd targeting and possible aircraft takedown scenarios. Operationally, the capability to train and stage units in the operating environment may still be several years down the road but can become a hybrid threat capability as terrorists evolve their tactics, techniques and procedures.
Once this capability is actualized, it may become an emerging threat overseas or in deploying environments. Strategically, this may eventually shape the future combat environment.
Commands should be aware of current UAV capabilities and enact policies that reduce the use of UAVs near sensitive or critical assets in order to reduce their vulnerabilities. A simply benign flying UAV may have a camera-mounted system gathering intelligence without the knowledge of battlespace commanders.
As always, we must first understand the threat then develop countermeasures to reduce our exposure and protect the force!
If you see something, say something!
There are three ways to make a report:
– Contact your local Counterintelligence (CI) office
– CONUS Hotline: 1–800–CALL SPY (1–800–225–5779)
– iSALUTE — Submit a report online https://www.us.army.mil/suite/page/6337