Hornblower Champagne Brunch Cruise

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There are a number of different cruise lines in NYC that tour the Hudson & East Rivers, with views of the Statue of Liberty, lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan bridge. If you are in NYC, definitely try one. The fares are reasonable, especially with a Groupon discount.

My family took a trip today on the Hornblower cruise line. The cruise included a champagne brunch, with unlimited champagne and orange juice, an unlimited and varied buffet, attentive waiter service, with food served on china and metal silverware. Each party had a table reserved for them, decked with linen and comfortable chairs, right in front of huge viewing windows.

As you can see from the image above the day was cloudy, but the cruise was wonderful. Altogether the trip lasted 2.5 hours, and with the Groupon discount was about $50 per person.

I would go again in a heartbeat.

How much does a cup of coffee cost

  1. Aeropress – Starbucks Columbia coffee – $.41/10 oz. mug
  2. Cold Brew – Starbucks Kenya coffee – $.58/tall glass with ice
  3. Nespresso – coffee – $1.10
  4. Nespresso – cappuccino (2 espresso capsules for a 10 oz. mug) – $1.95 including milk
  5. Starbucks retail – $2.75 for a Grande coffee
  6. Starbucks retail – $3.65 for a Grande Caffe Latte
  7. Dunkin’ Donuts retail – $2.45 for a Large coffee

If I had to rate them by taste, the Nespresso coffee and cappuccino is better than any hot coffee I can buy at retail, or make myself in the Aeropress. I still use the Aeropress because it makes good coffee and it’s so much more affordable than Nespresso. I usually won’t make more than one cup of Nespresso a day.

I don’t buy cold brew at a retail store because it’s so easy and so good, made at home with Starbucks’ Kenya beans. If you haven’t tried making cold brew you should give it a shot. You need a few pieces of equipment – 2 jars, filter cone, filter. A scale is handy as well.

  1. Buy Kenya beans at a Starbucks retail store. Have them grind it course, French Press grind.
  2. Pour 2.5oz. coffee grinds into a jar. Pour 2lb. 5oz. of water (about 4 cups) over the grounds, slowly to saturate them.
  3. Cover the jar and store in the fridge for 24 hours.
  4. Strain the coffee into the second jar, by pouring through a paper filter. The larger the filter the easier the process will be. I use a Melita #6 plastic cone and paper filter.

Really, really good.

Prius car sales

I need to turn in my leased Honda Fit in a few months and was considering different options. When I leased the Fit gas cost about $3.75/gallon in my area. Now it’s $2.50/gallon.

I priced out a lease for the Fit and the Prius, and the Prius wound up costing an extra $1,000 over 3 years, including the cost benefit for the Prius’s higher mileage. Since gas prices dropped immediately after that, I saved a lot of money by getting the Fit.

I just looked at Prius sales figures over the past 3 to 4 years. I am not the only one doing the math apparently. Prius sales are way down since 2014. For the 4 months ended April, Prius sales were 63,673 – 2014, 57,550 – 2015, 45,877 – 2016 and 38,359 – 2017. Sales this year are down 16.4% from last year, and 39.8% from 2014.

What I think this says about the Prius is that the ONLY reason people bought them was the car’s high mileage. If they liked the car they would have chosen it regardless of the gasoline cost. If people liked the car, sales wouldn’t be off by nearly 40% over the past 3 years. If they liked the car, sales wouldn’t be off by more than 16% since 2016, when gas prices have been relatively stable year-over-year.

This is why I think Tesla is going to succeed. They aren’t making electric cars to reduce fossil fuel consumption. They make electric cars because that’s the way great cars should be powered. If you set out to make a truly modern great car, you wouldn’t put a combustion engine in it.

And that’s why people want Teslas. Yeah, they can pat themselves on the back because they use electricity instead of fossil fuel. But really they buy them because they love the cars.

Long ago the auto industry figured out that people buy cars that inspire lust. A car buying decision shouldn’t be like deciding to take your medicine. Toyota and the rest of the car makers have failed to make hybrids a success because they don’t understand. Making a hybrid car that sucks to drive, or looks clunky, or is the exact same as a gas-powered car except that it’s slower and heavier, is dumb.

I hope the industry is looking at the Prius sales numbers and wakes up. People don’t want to punish themselves when they buy a car.

Wemo will support Homekit later this year

I mentioned in a previous post that I was concerned about Wemo’s long term commitment to home automation because:

  1. They announced they would not support Apple’s Homekit
  2. Belkin refers to Wemo as a “partner” on it’s website, not one of its product lines
  3. The product line has been stagnant over the past 2 years

However, Wemo just released a dimmer switch. This is the first truly new product they released in a couple of years. Their last “new” product was a smaller version of their old outlet switch, released earlier this year.

Now they also announced that they changed their mind about Homekit, and will release a new Wemo hub to connect all existing Wemo devices to Homekit. The price hasn’t been announced but it is supposed to be released later this year.

I am not sure why they didn’t do this upfront. By initially refusing to support Homekit they caused Apple users to buy competitors’ products, and raised questions about their longevity among non-Apple users.

I am not a fan of hubs as a home automation solution. Each manufacturer has it’s own hubs, and since no single company’s product line is broad enough to handle all possible needs, you can wind up with a bunch of expensive/incompatible hubs.

There are a few hubs (Wink, Smarthings, Harmony) that work with multiple manufacturers products, but I don’t think any of them support Homekit.

I have only one hub – from Philips – for the Hue lights. I don’t want any more. One of the attractive things about the Wemo product line was the absence of a hub. Since I use Alexa to control my devices rather than Siri, I don’t need the new Wemo hub.

These are still early days for home automation. The devices genuinely work, and little by little there are ways of integrating them together. But there is still a learning curve, and that is keeping people away from these products. People just want to bring them home, turn them on, and not have to figure them out. We are not close to that yet.

Tivo Premiere – no service

Further to this post I replaced the hard drive in my old Tivo Premiere with one from EBay. The EBay drive had the Tivo operating system on it. The Premiere won’t work without an OS on the drive. Unfortunately my original drive died, and I lost the OS as well. The replacement drive works fine.

Replacing the HD is easy. There are 5 screws in the back of the Premiere case, and then the cover slides off. There are 4 screws holding the drive to the motherboard. Just remove the SATA cable, the screws and an additional 4 screws holding the drive to the drive caddy, pop in the new drive, reverse everything, and you’re done. Takes 5 minutes.

I booted up the Tivo and went through the setup. First I reset and erased everything. I paired the cablecard to the Tivo via my cable company. Then chose the channels I want to see and that’s it. It took several hours to complete the process because the Tivo updates took a long time.

So what do you get if you don’t pay Tivo for its service? Not much. The Premiere has 2 tuners, but I can only use one. I can’t record anything – not live TV or manual recording of future TV. I can’t use any of the streaming services. I have no program guide.

But … I can watch live TV fine. The picture looks great, and I can pause, rewind and fast forward live TV. And I don’t have to pay the cable company for a cable box.

So, all in all I am happy with it. I don’t watch much TV so I am happy to give up my program guide in exchange for saving $100 a year on cable box rentals.

 

Tivo Bolt / Using my old Tivo Premiere as basic tv tuner

I was able to get a good price on a Tivo Bolt, so I decided to replace our Tivo Premiere. Tivo offers a savings on its service fee – if you pay a year up front you get 2 months free. The one-time annual fee is $150 vs. $13/month we pay now. The net difference is a savings of $6/year. Not much, but at least the service on the new Bolt doesn’t cost more than we are currently paying.

A lifetime service deal is $600, which makes sense in the long run. You need to keep your Tivo at least 4 years to break even. But I didn’t want to part with $600 all at once.

The Bolt is very nice. It’s smaller than the Premiere, has 4 tuners (the Premiere has 2), has a smaller remote, has built in wifi and MoCa, supports HBO.go, can skip entire commercial breaks on certain programs with a single button click, and has a quick mode that speeds up video without affecting audio quality. The built in hard drive is 500gb vs. 320gb in the Premiere. The hardware is faster than the Premiere, although not much.

Overall I think the Bolt is terrific. The Tivo software is essentially the same for all Tivo units. It’s polished and easy to use.

The only unfortunate part of the whole thing was when my Premiere died. Pulling the plug parks the hard drive needles and protects the drive. But I might have moved the Premiere before I unplugged it. Whether I caused it or not, the hard drive in the Premiere is dead, and our recordings are gone.

Tivo has the ability to transfer recordings from one unit to another, but since the hard drive is dead that isn’t possible. However, Tivo also let me transfer the recording settings from the old Tivo to the new one, using their website. That was very helpful, and meant I didn’t have to re-setup the Bolt to record our favorite shows. Using the website, the new Bolt set itself up automatically.

I can replace the Premiere hard drive, but a new drive is useless without an operating system image. I think the model after the Premiere (the Roamio) is able to self install the operating system. But the Premiere needs to have a hard drive with the operating system in place before it will work.

It used to be possible to obtain an operating system image online, but not any longer. However I was able to order a hard drive via EBay, from someone who upgraded their Premiere with more capacity.

Hopefully I will just have to install the other person’s Tivo hard drive in my Premiere, do a reset, and I should be good to go. We will see.

My hope is that I will be able to use the Premiere as a replacement for my cable box, even though I won’t buy Tivo’s service for the Premiere. I don’t watch much regular TV. I stream movies and tv shows, and only watch news or sports on regular tv. I don’t need the Tivo service for that, and probably won’t record much.

The Premiere “should” work as a tuner, and let me pause or rewind live tv for sporting events, and then I can save a few bucks each month by giving back the cable box to the cable tv company.

We’ll see how it goes.

Gillette vs. Harry’s

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I use the Gillette Proglide Manual Razor + Flexball, which is a stupid name for a product. I’ve used Gillette razors for over 20 years, and find them to be terrific. The blades glide comfortably through my beard, and the swivel + flexball works well in keeping the blade properly adjusted to the contours of my face.

But, I’ve been hearing Harry’s ads on the radio for years, and recently a friend touted them to me as the best shave he’s had. He previously used an electric razor. I don’t think he’s ever used a Gillette razor. Since Harry’s is now available at Target, I bought their starter set for $10. It comes with a handle and 2 blades.

I used the Harry’s blade with a day & a half beard. With a Gillette blade, a one-day beard is fine, but a one & a half to two day beard is best. I think the extra half day or so gives the blade a little more to grab on to, but whatever, I get my closest shave with a day & a half to two day growth.

The experience with Harry’s blade on a day & a half beard was not good. Not terrible, but not good. I could feel the blade dragging on my beard immediately, rather than cutting through it. The resulting shave was not as close as my Gillette would have been, and nowhere near as comfortable. My face felt scraped. In fact, 12 hours later my face still feels the effects and I am delaying my next shave until my skin no longer feels like it’s rubbed with sandpaper.

The two blades use similar technology – 5 thin strips of metal in a cartridge. But where Gillette uses a swivel head and adds a ball so the head swivels both up and down and side to side, Harry’s has no swivel at all. Instead the Harry’s blade is on a flexible strap of plastic that bends as you shave.

The result is that Harry’s is much less precise. The Gillette razor provides more precision, and also has a single-blade on the back of the razor cartridge for getting into tight spots (like under your nose). Harry’s plastic strap has no single-blade. (edit: I just found out that the Harry’s cartridge HAS a trimmer blade on the back. I hadn’t noticed it. Since I didn’t use it I can’t say how it compares to the Gillette trimmer blade).

Whatever coating or blade technology Gillette uses is superior to Harry’s. The Gillette blades cut smoothly and effortlessly. The Harry’s blades tug my beard and my face.

A year ago I tried Dorco razors. Dorco makes the razors used by Harry’s competitor Dollar Shaving Club. The Dorco razors were cheap knockoffs of the Gillette swivel system, and performed about the same as Harry’s.

I would say both Dorco and Harry’s are vastly superior to disposable razors, like the Bic. I have no idea how anyone uses those. But the hyperbole over the Harry’s razor, at least for me, is completely unwarranted.

The benefit of both Dorco and Harry’s over Gillette is cost. Using Target’s prices as a guide – 8 cartridges of Harry’s blades cost $16. 4 cartridges of Gillette’s blades cost $18. Which means Harry’s is $2.50 less per cartridge, or a savings of 66%.

But this is one example where saving money is not the sole determination. Assume both Gillette and Harry’s blades last an equal number of shaves (I don’t think that’s true since Harry’s blade felt about as coarse on the first shave as a Gillette blade on its tenth), but assume an equal longevity. Then the savings is about $2 a week.

If someone said to you “I’ll pay you $2 a week, and all you have to do is let me scrape your face every morning.” you’d say no way. Most people can afford the extra $2 a week. If both shaves were equivalent, then there would be no reason to spend more on Gillette. But this is one case where I can clearly feel where my money goes.

Update:

I tried the Harry’s razor again on a one-day beard. It was a little better, but not much. I needed the Gillette to finish the tight spots. It’s definitely not as smooth a shave as I usually get with Gillette. The Harry’s razor still hurts a bit, although not as much as with the day & a half beard.

I was thinking about just using the 2 Harry’s cartridges for the next 2 weeks rather than throw them away, but it’s not worth it. I’m just tossing the razor. $10 wasted.