Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reuben and Carissa's Travel Tips

In my travels, there have been times where I felt like I was some sort of an Indiana Jones-type traveling expert. A trip where everything went smoothly, no one ripped us off, we had zero problems, and my Chinese companion Short-Round says to me in thickly-accented english: "I love you Indy!" One example was when we went to Korea, planned almost everything in advance and hit the jackpot by choosing to stay in love motels. But there were other times when things did not go so smoothly, like when we got pulled into a rickshaw-scam in Saigon. Luckily we survived and learned a bunch of lessons along the way, which I hope will be useful to you if you're taking a trip in the near future.
  • Do your homework
    • Learn about the place you're going to. This may seem obvious but you'll definitely enjoy the trip more and have a greater appreciation for the culture and places you visit if you take a little time to learn about it. You don't need to write a thesis or anything but at least read the wiki page. Speaking of wikis...
    • Read the wikitravel entry for the cities you're visiting. It gives very practical advice for visitors like how to get from the airport to the city and which modes of transportation are best for getting around. Even better: print out the pages or save them as pdf docs on your phone so you can access that info any time.
    • Reading about restaurants and attractions on Yelp, Google, Traveladvisor, etc is fine but be warned that people don't always give the most informative reviews and they're prone to exaggeration (This hotdog was the BEST meal I've ever had!!!1111!@$@$) Get help from locals if possible and eat where they eat. Listen to Anthony Bourdain's advice on how to eat well when traveling.
    • Learn some of the language. No, you don't need to become fluent, but learn a few phrases at the very least. In my opinion, not bothering to learn any of the language makes a tourist come across as rude. In America, we give people crap for not learning English so the least WE can do when traveling to other countries is to make an attempt at learning the language, no matter how small. There are great podcasts like to help you learn and pronounce the basic phrases like "thank you," "excuse me", and "I just crapped myself"
    • Learn what type of power outlets they use where you're traveling and get the right adapters beforehand. Go to  Just don't mistype it as buttplug. Trust me on that.
  • Hotels:
    • Try to book with hotels that have flexible cancellation policies long before your trip. That way, you'll have a hotel booked way in advance but can cancel it if you find something better.
    •, orbitz, agoda - I've used these to find cheap, conveniently located hotels and also earn a few rewards (discounts, free hotel nights) in the process
    • airbnb - Our experience with airbnb has been ok but it was almost as expensive as a hotel, minus the convenience and there's always the awkward feeling of sleeping in someone else's home. If you can find a place with a really good location or a penthouse suite though it might be worth it to splurge a little.
  • Money 
    • Get a credit card that works abroad (lots of countries are starting to use cards with microchips) and has no foreign transaction fees. The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee, but it's waived for the first year (maximizing your credit cards rewards is a topic for another day, but there are whole websites devoted to the topic). If you want cards that don't have foreign transaction fees with no annual cost, check out CapitalOne Quicksilver or DiscoverIt. There are more listed here too. 
    • Tell your bank in advance that you're going abroad so they won't block your credit card when you start using it. Can't tell you how many freaking times this has happened to us.
    • Withdraw money from an ATM when you land at your destination for (most likely) the best exchange rate, and try not to use a money changers. If you're concerned about not having any local currency, just exchange a small amount first at the rip-off rate in your home country and exchange for the rest later. Hopefully you won't need to much cash anyway since you have a credit card with no transaction fees, right?
  • Beware of common scams, pickpocketers, and shady people. Be wary of everyone, actually.
  • Travel light. It's so much easier not having to wait for your check-in bags at the airport when you land, lugging them around until you get to your hotel or looking for a place to store them. This means leaving your laptop at home. Unless it's one of those ultra thin or tablet/laptop hybrids, or unless you're planning to type an essay on the road, it's probably best to just use your smartphone for all your computing needs.
  • Early flights might seem like a good idea to save time and possibly money when traveling but it's tough waking up to get to the airport at 4am for your 6am flight. You might also be paying more for transportation since public transport/shuttles might not be available that early and you'll need to pay for a taxi.
  • Make use of technology
    • Google maps will become your best friend on the road. However, it's still good to keep around an old-school paper map so that you won't draw unwanted attention to your iPhone666
    • Get T-Mobile if you like to travel abroad frequently because they have free international data plans and free international texting. Ultra useful and I can't recommend it enough. I was in Europe for a couple of months last year and I never needed to get a local sim card or local data plan the whole time. It's only 2g speed but it's good enough for most basic tasks like messaging, emailing, google maps, and hacking T-800s. Unless you plan to watch youtube videos all day while you're in another country. If changing mobile data plans isn't an option, just try to get a local sim card and make sure your phone is unlocked before traveling. I don't know how much local sim cards cost in Europe, but in South East Asia they're pretty cheap. If you can't get local data on your phone while roaming, just stick to using wifi and apps like whatsapp, viber, skype, google chat, imessage, etc.
    • Get an extra battery for your phone if you can or get a portable charger. there are some pretty good cheap ones on amazon. This one can charge your phone at least twice in one charge and only costs around $20. It's worth it and you don't want to waste any of your vacation looking for an outlet and waiting for your phone to charge.
    • If you have an old smartphone, instead of selling it, why not keep it around use it as a "decoy?"  Keep your real phone tucked safely away within your nether regions where the sun don't shine and use the decoy phone while walking around, checking maps, etc. Phone snatchers are a real thing.

More travel tips:

Friday, February 27, 2015

What Color Is This Dress and the Six Stages that Follow

The latest internet "thing" going around is the debate about what color this dress is. Some say it's white with gold lace while others say it's blue with black lace (or some variation in between). There's an interesting article about it on wired ( and every other site out there discussing different theories for why people see the same image differently. I think the more interesting point is about how this issue draws out some extremely strong reactions from people.

Stage 1 Denial/Disbelief: 
You see the picture one way, wonder what all the debate is about and you can't believe or imagine how there are a number of (presumably stupid) people out there who could possibly see things differently. What you see is obviously the only sane possibility. You seek out other's opinions and cling to those who agree with you, while shunning/disbelieving/marginalizing those who disagree.

Stage 2: Acceptance
Whether it's by asking people around you, mounting evidence that there are even more people who don't agree with you, or finding out that someone close to you, whose opinion you respect and trust, sees a different color dress than you do, you are forced to recognize and admit that there are people out there who aren't stupid idiots who see things differently than you do.

Stage 3: Rationalization
The previous realization (acceptance) forces you to rationalize or explain away why others are seeing different colors. Maybe you're interpreting the colors incorrectly in your head. Maybe your monitor/screen is broken. Maybe it's the lighting conditions where you're viewing the image. Maybe you're looking at a manipulated or completely different image. Maybe it's your rods and cones that are messed up. Maybe you're colorblind or don't have the artistic background that I do. I asked everyone at my art school and we all believe that it's this color and since we're from an art school we're right and you're wrong. Or replace art school with visual effects studio. Maybe there's just something wrong with your vision. 

Stage 4: Searching for Answers
For more open-minded people, it becomes increasingly clear that your initial assumptions about the other side can't adequately explain how you're both seeing different colors. It's time to reach for the science. Open up the picture in photoshop and run some pixel analysis on RGB values, try pushing the white balance/saturation of the image, cut the image into pieces, read up on color theory, optical illusions, or search the net for alternative pictures of the same dress or any other explanations that can explain why this picture is ruining your friendships.

Stage 5: Enlightenment
For a chosen few of you, you have seen the dress as both blue/black and white/gold. Maybe you saw it as gold/white one day, and the next day the same picture was blue/black. For some of you the change happens more frequently (simply scrolling down the page then back up again). Because you have seen the image both ways, you have more empathy for each side and can understand why people are so passionate and fervent. You try to explain to people how you've seen both sides of the argument but instead of getting everyone to understand and get along in love and harmony, you become alienated and distrusted because of your dissenting views. But you still can't just flip a switch and see the dress color differently. If you were able to do that then you would have achieved...

Stage 6: God mode
You can see the image as both a blue/black dress and a white/gold dress and switch it at will. Maybe you can even see the dress as all four colors at the same time.You understand why this phenomenon is happening but you won't tell anyone else because you enjoy watching people writhe in agony as they try to figure out how to put the pieces of their shattered lives and relationships back together.

The best explanation I can come up with is that this particular image is colored/lit in such a way that your brain sees it and immediately comes up with a way to interpret it (either blue/black or white/gold). Once your brain interprets the color it is very, very difficult to even comprehend how the image could ever be seen the other way. For some people, something can trigger your brain to reset how you view the image and you may see it the other way. Just like the spinning dancer optical illusion below that's either spinning counter clockwise or clockwise, depending on how you view it. Some people can see it both ways or force their brains to interpret the dancer as spinning either way.

 I think this dress image is kinda like that, except with color instead of motion/animation. It's a kind of optical illusion that we probably haven't seen before (or is appearing in a context previously unseen). Whichever camp you fall under though, remember to open your mind and accept that there could be other possibilities or explanations other than "I'm right and something's wrong with you if you see things my way." And also remember that it's definitely, absolutely a blue and black dress, you crazy psychopaths.

Pretty convincing evidence that the dress in real life is black/blue:

First the original poster took this picture of herself in the dress

Second the dress makers don't sell a white/gold version currently, although they plan to if demand is high enough. Here's the link with the interview at the bottom of the page:

Here's the website with the original dress (no gold version):

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Tahoe Will Never Break Your Heart from Reuben Uy on Vimeo.

 We went to Tahoe earlier this month and while there wasn't much snow and all of the ski resorts seemed to be closed, we made the most of it, as you can see from our video. We built a ghetto slide, built a tiny snowman (as anatomically correct as possible) and filmed our silly karaoke video in random places. The best part though was just hanging out with good friends, eating some good food and relaxing in a cabin in the woods.

Monday, October 21, 2013

X-Com: Enemy Unknown iOS Multiplayer Thoughts

I purchased X-Com: Enemy Unknown back in July when it first came out and despite devoting most of my review to complaints and wish-list items, I absolutely love the game and couldn't put it down for about two months. After finishing the single player campaign I stopped playing in order to put the pieces of my shattered life back together but now that the Multiplayer update has been released, it's sinking it's tendrils deep into my life once again. This is an app that's worth every penny. It's a full game with no DLC and it's almost as complete as the console or PC versions. If they release the Enemy Within expansion for iOS, I'm definitely buying that too. So Firaxis/2K, here's a message for you:

Asynchronous Multiplayer - How it works

Think Words with Friends + Aliens and plasma guns. Since the game is turn based you can move whenever you want within five days, go on living your life, and then when your opponent makes his/her move, you will be notified in iOS Gamecenter.

It reminds me of how my dad used to play old-school correspondence chess or fantasy sports through snail mail. Back before the days of the internet, he took part in what was probably the beginnings of online gaming and the first types of asynchronous multiplayer games. He was at the forefront of something big and didn't even realize it at the time. Or maybe he knew all along...

Even with today's technology, where you can play games in real-time with your opponents across the globe, I believe there's still a place for asynchronous multiplayer. With this form of multiplayer gaming, you can play several games at once just like Bobby Fischer without wasting large amounts of time (since you can play each turn in minutes then go back to whatever it is you like doing with your life). Asynchronous multiplayer isn't anything new to X-Com, however. Back in 1999 there was a version by Hasbro that had the same idea. It was like the correspondence chess, snail mail version of X-Com.


Please keep in mind that I don't claim to be an expert. I've only just started playing multiplayer on iOS where most players are probably new to the game while players on other platforms have been playing for well over a year now. These are just my observations and they seem to work against the current iOS multiplayer crowd but I don't guarantee that they'll work against elite/experienced players.

Point-counting - much like counting cards in Blackjack at the casino, you'll want to keep a rough tally in your head of how your opponent spent his points. For example, if you see a cyberdisc or another high-value unit at the beginning of the match, then subtract the value of the unit from 10,000: that's how many points he had left to spend on other units. Remember, on iOS, you can always exit the match and go to the "build squad" interface and see the value of units there. Eventually, you'll be able to estimate the value of your opponent's units without even having to look at a reference. Nerd.

Tip: Aim at an enemy unit and click the "?" button to see what abilities/items the unit has. This will help you get an even more accurate estimate of how much the unit cost.


The game creator gave a good overview of all the units in one of his early interviews about multiplayer (outdated unit costs though). Each one has strengths and weaknesses so take some time to learn the ins and outs of every unit. Don't stick to the same team every time.. try units and classes you wouldn't normally use. You may be surprised to find that every unit really does have a use. On that note...

Sectoids - Don't underestimate the lowly sectoid. They're weak and don't do much damage, but they're great scouts. At 400 points they're a bargain, especially when you're playing with the 10k point limit. Yes they're expendable but don't just throw them away: their real strength is their ability to suppress other units. Suppression decreases the suppressed unit's aim and trigger's a reaction shot from the sectoid if the suppressed unit tries to move. This allows your other units to move in for the kill. Another great thing about suppression with sectoids is that they can do it all night long, baby. Other units can use suppression but only sectoids (and sectoid commanders) can suppress with pistols (which have infinite ammo). You don't know how many times suppressing fire has saved my butt. I recommend having at least one or two sectoids on your squad if you can manage it, because sometimes they make the difference in a close match. Another interesting ability is mind-merge. I've never tried it though since killing the sectoid also kills the unit that's mind-merged with it. Too big a risk for not enough reward. It could be useful if you need that extra critical damage bonus on one of your units.

Tip: If you can beat someone with a squad of six sectoids, then that's probably the most humiliating thing you could ever do to another x-com player.

Counters: Mind-fray - any unit with mind-fray can and should insta-kill a visible sectoid with mind-fray. It's less risky than taking a low percentage shot which could leave your unit vulnerable if the sectoid is spotting for a squad-sight sniper.
Lightning reflexes - an assault unit with lightning reflexes doesn't have to worry about being suppressed since the lightning reflex ability forces the first reaction shot to always miss, negating the one of the sectoid's most useful abilities.
Mind control - While most players probably wouldn't waste a mind-control attempt on a sectoid, there are some situations where it may make sense to do so. For example, if you can see both an enemy sectoid and a stronger unit, but the strong unit's will is too high to attempt a psionic attack, you could mind control the sectoid then use it to suppress the stronger unit.


Humans are the most flexible units in the game. They're much more customizable than the alien units, although not as much as I would have liked. You can pick out the soldier's weapons, armor, and items to carry, you can pick their class and to a certain extent, the soldier's special abilities. Lots of players seem to like assault commandos and snipers, but here are some of the ones I enjoy using.

Smoke Jumpers - Cheap soldiers that are much more useful than rookies, due to their smoke grenade and higher accuracy. A group of smoke jumpers with a sectoid commander seems to be the squad of choice these days for a lot of good players. Individually they're no match for super soldiers, but a group of smoke jumpers can take out any other unit. It's also good to spread out your points so if one guy gets killed or lost to mind control, it's not as devastating to your chances to win.

Counters: ???

Medic - So far in multiplayer, support-class units are my bread and butter. Equip them with a light plasma rifle and a medkit, no armor and they costs only 1900 points. You get an economical, versatile unit that does decent damage and can heal/revive other units. I prefer medics to smokejumpers because of their higher accuracy (92% vs 80%), dense smoke grenades (+40 defense vs +20 defense), and higher health (9 vs 7). Dense smoke is especially powerful because it provides the same benefits as a Psi Guardian's telekinetic field. However, as mentioned above, smoke jumpers are 600 cheaper so you can put more of them on your team. A combination of medics and smoke jumpers is usually the foundation of a good squad.

Psi Guardian (3950 points) - This is a pretty cool unit that many people probably overlook due to their lack of offensive power. However, they're the cheapest human psionic unit (psionic assault or sniper units cost at least 5600 points and there's no psionic heavy variant), allowing you fill out the rest of your squad with stronger supporting units. Paired with a sectoid commander, you get both psionic offense and defense.
Most people probably don't realize that human psionic units aren't necessarily immune to psionic attacks. They only have 70 will, which is low compared to sectoid commanders (90), ethereals (120), and even muton berserkers (80). So unless you're using a mind shield or psi inspiration, there's still a reasonable chance the expensive psionic unit you've invested in and based your whole team around could be turned against you.

Juggernaut - a one man wrecking machine that's so expensive that you can only have a few other units to accompany him. Even with just a couple of sectoids, the juggernaut can wear down a bunch of opponents with the combined power of suppression, mayhem, and danger zone (watch out for ammo usage though) You should probably give him a mind shield or you're one successful mind-control away from game over, man.

Counter: assault soldier. using stim they're even more dangerous against the juggernaut, 
smoke jumpers - they're good against almost everything

Ghost Armor Soldier - I'm not fond of using the expensive ghost armor, but here's a tip: If you notice that you're being flanked (the shield next to your health turns yellow) and you don't see any enemies around, then there's probably someone with ghost armor sitting next to you. It's a bug in the game but it's nice that there's some way to detect ghost armor since there doesn't seem to be any other invisibility detectors in the game.

Counter: if they go invisible on you try to move your guys behind cover and set up a net of overlapping overwatch. Hopefully you have more units so you can overwhelm him with numbers once he reveals himself. 
If you know where the soldier is, you can chuck a grenade on them.

Squad-sight snipers - squad sight snipers are deadly, especially if they're packing a plasma sniper rifle (PSR).

Counter: try to suppress and swarm with multiple units. throw smoke grenades like crazy and don't leave guys exposed (even in cover at the edge of a corner). If they can see you, you're probably dead.


Thin-Man - Another fragile unit but has some cool abilities that make them worth your attention. First, they can jump up onto roofs and high places without a ladder. Two, their poison ability limits aim and mobility, so this, combined with some suppressing fire from a Sectoid will make it very difficult for your opponent to hit you. Watch out for psionic units.

Counters: Psionics can easily and reliably kill a thin-man with mind-fray
medkits (any soldier carrying a medkit is immune to poison)

Drone - Really weak. Like weaker than Sectoids. If you want a cheap scout go with the Sectoid. So what good is a Drone? Well, it can repair the Cyberdisc from a pretty long range! They also explode like grenades on command.

Counter: users of the light plasma rifle should have no problem picking off  drones.

Floater/Heavy Floaters - I really like their launch ability which can move the floater to any point on the map. Something I like to do is wait until I can get an idea of where most of the enemy squad is, then launch my floater(s) somewhere behind them out of sight. With my other soldiers I keep the enemy occupied or press the attack until the floaters can flank them. My biggest problem with floaters though is their low accuracy. They make up for it though with advanced plasma weapons and a grenade for the heavy floater.

Counters: Mind control. Suppression.

Chrysalid - An interesting addition to your squad since it can create zombies when it kills a human soldier. However, it's pretty risky and they can easily be killed with plasma weapons. Make sure you keep the chrysalids out of sight and have other long range units to weaken your targets first before moving in for the kill.

Counters: chitin plating, plasma weapons, high health units.

Muton, Muton Elite - Honestly, Mutons seem like decent units except for the fact that they're extremely susceptible to mind control. Most squads seem to have at least one sectoid commander so it's a big risk to lose 1/3 of your squad to the other team (Mutons are too expensive to have more than 2 or 3 on your squad, which also reduces the effectiveness of the muton "blood call" ability). Watch out for sectoids who will try to suppress you. You might need to use your grenade in that case or just risk taking the plasma pistol damage (not a big deal for the elite variety but a regular muton only has 8 health).

Counter: Mind Control, snipers, suppression

Sectoid Commander - It seems like this guy's is playing for everybody's team these days. It's probably because they the cheapest psionic unit available at only 3200 points. In fact, the Sectoid commanders are used so much that 300 for a mind-shield suddenly seems like a good idea.

Counters: Psi-guardian, mind-shields, and....Berserker. Yup, I once faced a guy who used 3 sectoid commanders but easily slaughtered of his sectoid commanders with my Berserker and medics, even after he mind-controlled one of my guys.

Berserkers - I've didn't think these guys had any use nor had I seen anyone use Berserkers in an actual game before. They're expensive and vulnerable to flying units. However, they have decent will (so it's sectoid commanders will think twice before attempting to mind-control them), high health, deal heavy melee damage and--best of all--they can BUST THROUGH WALLS!! On any of the maps with buildings I wish I could see the looks on the faces of my opponents as I smash down a wall, punch their guy in the face and scream, "OHHH YEAHHHHH!!!" 

Seriously though, I don't know if top players even bother with Berserkers but it's fun to use them every once in a while. The bullrush ability is kinda wonky so I would experiment with it first before trying it in ranked matches.

Counters: air/elevated units, pick off from a distance with multiple units 

Cyberdisc - This unit is expensive and in some circumstances can be easily countered by snipers or being swarmed by multiple weaker units. That being said, I've seen some interesting strategies with Cyberdiscs. One strategy is to have a squad with one cyberdisc and a bunch of drones. Since the drones can repair the cyberdisc from a fairly long range, your Cyberdisc can pretty much run amok while your opponent has the conundrum of having to try to kill your Cyberdisc in one turn or trying to pick off all of your drones first.

Counter: plasma weapons, heavy with heat ammo

Ethereal - Currently they're 10,500 so you can't even use them in multiplayer ranked matches. If you can convince someone to play a 20,000 point match though, I recommend getting one ethereal.

Counter; mind shield, psi guardian, assault commando, plasma rifle sniper


scope - cheap way to boost the aim of a unit but it's more cost effective to just equip a light plasma rifle. Use this if you need extra accuracy from your heavy or a soldier carrying a standard plasma rifle. add this to a smoke jumper and they're as accurate as medics.

nano-vest - at only 2 extra health, just go for the chitin plating for only a 100 points more.

Stims - high level players seem to enjoy stims and assault soldiers. I haven't tried it too much but you need to be prepared for it. Either mind control the assault soldier or swarm them with multiple units (you didn't spend all your money on one super unit, did you?). Or just run away until the stim wears off.

Grenade/Alien Grenade - this one is tough. I usually don't buy grenades because for 900 I could buy two sectoids with 100 left over and grenades only do 3-5 damage per unit in the affected area. Most good players know not to bunch up their units in tight groups to deter grenade tossing. Personally I prefer to use grenades that come with alien units as a package, like mutons, heavy floaters, or sectoid commanders.

Medkit - makes you immune to poison just by holding it and provides some extra health. In the hands of a medic, you can use the medkit three times and even revive critically wounded human units.

Mind Shield - get them if you have a unit you don't want to risk losing to mind control.

Chitin Plating - poor man's body armor. It's good protection against nutty people like me who like the Berserker.

Gripes / Wish list

Things missing from multiplayer:
  • SHIVs
  • Outsiders
  • Sectopods
  • blaster launchers
  • arc thrower (stun gun)
  • random matches with higher point limits
  • other types of multiplayer modes
  • more than 2 players
  • observation mode
  • more customization for human classes, alien loudouts
  • ability to pick up teammates or enemies items/weapons
  • improved stats (like win/loss, for example). iOS gamecenter could be a lot better

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Outlet Shopping

A while back, I put my cheapness to semi-good use and wrote an article about my personal experience trying to save money in San Francisco: a city that just sucks the money straight out of your wallet and into the hands of hippies and meth addicts.

Yesterday we went down to the premium outlet shops in Gilroy to do some shopping and I think we've stumbled upon a decent strategy to get some good deals. Hold on to your butts.

1. Don't go to the outlets unless you're looking for something. If you don't need anything but go to the outlets then you'll just end up spending money on stuff you don't really need. It doesn't have to be specific but it can be something like "Hey, I need new pants because I've worn out the back and my buttcheeks are peeking through the gaping holes in my jeans."

2. Once you've decided what you want to buy, check the web for sales or special discounts. For example, people over 50 years of age get a 10% discount on Tuesdays at the Gilroy outlet. The coupons from the shopping guide at one of the info centers usually have great coupons too.

3. Almost every store we went to offered $5 off of your purchase just for subscribing to their SMS advertisements. You can do it once per phone, so if you're in a group and want to use this discount more than once, just ask to use someone's phone who doesn't need the discount from that particular store. Some may object to giving away your phone number away but you can always unsubscribe or block the incoming texts and they probably know everything about you already anyway.

4. Combine as many discounts as you can. For us, we found that it was better not to buy everything from one store. By store-hopping and seeking out the best deals at the places that had coupons, we were able to combine that with the $5 off discount and get quality goods for a fraction of the cost.

Here's an example. We were looking for a shirt and we ended up in the Nautica store. 
There was a Nautica Polo that was originally $44.50, but the in-store promotion was 50% off. We also had a coupon from the back of the Gilroy Outlet Shopping Guide which took an addition 40% off of one item. Lastly, we used the $5 discount by subscribing to Nautica text messages to get another $5 off. In total, we paid under $10.

Original Retail Price (or so they say): $44.50
In store promotion -  50% off = $44*0.5 = $22.25
Gilroy Shopping Guide Ad - 40% off one item = $22.25 * 0.6 = $13.35
$5 off for subscribing to text message ads = $13.35 - $5 = $8.35 before sales tax

Another example: 
Calvin Klein jeans - 
Original Retail Price: $40.00
In store discount 50% off - $40.00 * 0.5 = $20.00
They took off another 40% for some unknown reason but hey I'm not complaining - $20.00 * 0.6 = $12.00
$5 off for text message subscription = $12.00 - $5 = $7 before sales tax

So you can easily get some awesome bargains from the outlet stores if you're able to combine as many discounts as you can. Plus, if you're using a rewards card you can save an additional 1% or more on your purchase through your cashback or rewards points or whatever. Gas was a little bit cheaper out there too, ate some nice garlic fries at the food court, and got to spend some quality time with my wife, so it was well worth the trip.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Happiest Place on Earth?

About a month ago we drove down to Anaheim to take advantage of some of the sweet, juicy perks that come with being a Disney employee. I don't know if I'm at liberty to say exactly what those perks are but let's just say that it saved us a ton of money. Let's just say I probably wouldn't have gone without said perks. Let's just say I'm cheap. Really, extremely cheap.

For those of you who grew up in California, going to Disneyland is probably a regular "thing" for you and your family. For us FOBS, going to Disneyland is the land flowing with milk and honey. It's where the streets are paved with gold. It's Willy Wonka's factory. It's where everybody knows your name.

We only had the weekend, so we woke up at the buttcrack of dawn and drove straight for Anaheim, not even bothering to see the other sights in LA like 21st and Lewis and other locations mentioned in West Coast hiphop.

Tips and Recommendations:
  • Definitely check out the Aladdin musical. It's like a mini Broadway show with excellent renditions of the entire Aladdin soundtrack and then some.
  • Catch the crazy Michael Jackson Captain EO film (with effects from a young George Lucas and his team of vfx gurus/nerds) while you still can... I heard it may be replaced with something else like Wreck-it-Ralph land soon. Whatever it is, there's no way it will be able to top the spectacle of what equates to Michael Jackson in a Star Wars movie.
  • Go on Star Tours (the Star Wars ride) multiple times. Each time is different, but no, there's no version in which Han shoots first.
  • Get a Disneyland app to give you an idea of the wait times for attractions around the park. You gotta keep one jump ahead of the slowpokes.
  • They have official Disney photographers around waiting to take your picture, and then if you have a Disney Photo ID or a Silver Pass you can view them online later. Don't bother with it unless you're just filthy rich though because it costs $14 for the rights to download ONE high-res photo. Yeah, it's a total ripoff. Here's a tip... just ask the Disney photographer to take your picture with your camera so you have a hi-res version. Some will even be nice and take the picture for you without a Silver Pass. Also, the Silver Pass ID doesn't work for ride photos--LAME-O
  • Try the churros
  • If you have a Disney Debit Card from Chase, check out some of the benefits, especially the private meet n'greet with a random Disney character at a secret location! The secret location is a back alley behind a non-descript building in a remote part of the park and it seems like it's going to be a trap... but trust me, it's not.
  • If you have kids, be sure to blindfold them every time you walk by a store with Disney merchandise. Don't be afraid to use force to pry those overpriced toys out of your child's precious little hands.
  • Don't bother trying to pull out Excalibur, even if you are the Chosen One. It's a replica.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Saving Money in SF

My cousin, who's a writer for LifeHacker, has written plenty of great articles about how to save money. My friend Daniel was a finalist in a shopping competition and started his own website with tips on how to get great deals ( As new residents in the Bay Area who are trying to adjust to life here after living in Asia, I thought I'd share some of our thoughts and ideas for living frugally.
*Note - Some of these ideas are ones that we've tried or are currently doing, but not always by choice or intention. Some of these ideas are things we wish we could do or written merely for the sake of theoretical discussion
  • Use rewards credit cards in place of cash whenever you possibly can - Have multiple rewards cards and take advantage of the different promotions. The trick is to make sure you know which cards to use in what situations (or use the wallaby app) and always pay them off each month. Obviously, don't spend more than you make. Look out for new card bonuses or rewards cards with categories that can give 5% on stuff you have to buy anyway like gasoline or groceries. If you shop at Target, get the redCard, which gives you an instant 5% off. Check out Life Hacker for articles like this and more on how to get the most out of your rewards cards.
  • Don't have kids or pets - not only are they expensive, but they're pure evil, too. Just kidding. I like pets. (Update 5/9/14: we eventually got a cat, but it's not that expensive so far! Got him from a shelter for only $30 and our monthly cat expenses aren't that bad)
  • Take advantage of commuter benefits - Sometimes, companies offer benefits to employees who commute to work. For example, if I take public transport ten times a month, I get a $25 visa gift card that helps offset the cost of gas for those days I do drive. People who carpool get the closest parking spots in our garage. If you can bike, walk, or carpool to work, do it as often as you can. It may seem like a hassle to commute, especially if you've driven your whole life, but it's good for the environment, reduces wear and tear on your vehicle, saves money on gas, and helps you avoid dealing with idiot drivers. Plus, you can spend your commute doing something productive like reading a book or playing X-Com.
  • Don't eat out so often - Eating out is expensive, especially in the Bay Area. Add parking, gas, and the tip, do it for lunch and dinner 4-5 times a week and soon you'll be wondering where your money went. I'm not saying to shun restaurants for good, but it really does take a toll on your wallet when you eat out a lot. Try these tips:
    • Eat food that's cheap but still makes you full. For me that means eating cereal, oatmeal, bananas, or homemade sandwiches. These foods give me the most bang for my buck. They're generally healthier, too. By eating these things for breakfast and lunch, I avoid having to pay a lot for two meals of the day and don't feel as bad eating out for dinner. If you can't get full off of cereal, oatmeal, and bananas, then go on a diet!!! Move to Asia and let your stomach shrink.
    • If you do go out for dinner and there are leftovers, save it for later. Didn't your momma ever teach you not to waste food? As mentioned above, my stomach shrank while I lived off of smaller portions in Asia so now I can get full on half of an American-sized meal. The other half gets shoved in the fridge and eaten later, which means the money you spent at the restaurant goes twice as far by providing sustenance for two meals instead of one. Just make sure you thoroughly reheat your food.
  • Try not to pay full price for movies -  
    • Movie tickets are expensive. However, even without resorting to piracy you could still avoid paying $20+ for a movie ticket. Don't watch in 3D or IMAX unless it's Pacific Rim or some awesome visual effects extravaganza that would make it worth the extra cost. Most people probably won't notice the difference anyway. I know I usually forget about the 3D after a few minutes into the movie. Try not to buy theater food!! What a ripoff.
    • DVDs/Blurays are expensive. Borrow them from your friends who have huge collections, or only buy them when they're on sale. You could also watch at a matinee showing at a reduced ticket price. What's with our obsession with watching everything immediately?
  • Don't pay full price for furniture, clothes, or books. Use Craigslist, Ebay, Salvation Army, Goodwill, libraries, garage sales, etc.
    • Furniture - Everyone knows you can get cheap furniture off of Craigslist, but even Ikea has a bunch of cheap furniture that gets the job done if you're worried about crabs or bedbugs from previous owners. I once got a desk for under $20. You can probably do much better than that.
    • Clothes - If you're on a budget, don't spend $50 for a t-shirt. Go to outlets or Old Navy/Target or something. Try thrift shops.
    • Books - The funny thing about books is most people only read them once. So when they realize this, they try to sell them off at garage sales or give them to Goodwill. You can find books at a fraction of the price there. Don't forget about libraries too. They're full of books waiting to be borrowed, in case you didn't know.
  • If you don't mind living with others, share the rent/rent a room. Don't live in SF.
    • There's no shame in living with your parents. Okay, some shame, but you'll get over it.
    • Having your own place is nice but would you rather spend half of your income on rent or on a nice vacation?  It's your choice.
    • If you live in the city, you need to take into account how much a parking spot will cost, unless you enjoy driving around in circles looking for a spot.
    • The other side of this is, just live closer to where you work if possible. If you can walk or bike to work then that means less money spent on gas and public transport.
  • Cut your own hair or get someone else to do it for free - I got a cheap electric shaver from Best Buy and I've already made back my investment after two quick haircuts from my wife. It helps by not being picky about your hairstyle.
  • Don't get a TV - Ok, now we're getting into experimental, dangerous territory. Before you start yelling at me, think about it for a second. Do you really need a TV to survive? Think how much you save by not having one. You don't have to pay for cable, you don't have to buy DVDs/Blurays or videogame consoles. You won't have to get an awesome sound system to supplement your widescreen plasma, you won't need to buy apple TV or Roku.... People lived without this stuff for centuries so you'll get by without it.
    • Large screens are overrated. It's not like a huge screen is going to improve the plot of Transformers 2.
    • Even if you must have your TV fix, with online streaming services like Netflix, you can just watch on your computer screen and avoid paying for cable.
    • Update 5/9/14: we eventually caved and bought a large screen TV (on sale) and I got a game console. But we I got an older generation console (PS3) so I hardly have to pay anything for games since they're usually on sale or you can borrow ps3 games from almost anyone.
  • Don't pay for internet - OK, now we're talking crazy. Admittedly, this is something that I don't practice either but honestly when I look at how much time I actually spend on the internet, maybe this isn't such a bad idea. 
    • I spend my whole day sitting in front of a computer screen, so theoretically, if I could take care of all the internet-related tasks I need to do at work (while on break or outside of office hours of course!), then I won't have to waste time at home on the internet. 
    • Ok, assuming you still must have Facebook time, lets say you have a phone with a data plan. Think about how much you use your phone for surfing these days. For me, I hardly use my home computer for anything except for video/image editing. The rest of the surfing I can do from my phone. And with stuff like freedom pop or Netzero, if you're not a heavy internet user you could probably get by with their free plans just checking email or minimal web surfing. My wife and I survived off of our t-mobile 2GB data plans for our first couple of months in SF and we never had major problems. You could even tether off of your mobile plan to your computer. And without a TV or internet, think about how much time you could spend on your hobbies or doing real stuff outdoors?
    • If you can't do without internet and the convenience of it.. just get one of the cheaper internet plans. You probably don't need superfast data unless you're a gamer or a pirate. In which case, you've got other issues to worry about.
    • Update 5/9/14: we ended up getting AT&T internet at the introductory rate of $20/month but after one year it's already jumped up to $56/month. Now I'm eagerly searching for any promos or alternatives because I consider it pretty expensive. And now they're trying to convince me to upgrade to an internet/cable TV plan for just a little more when all I want is internet at a cheaper price.
  • In this day and age, maybe you can't survive without a cellphone, but you can survive without an expensive smartphone. Ditch your smartphone and expensive data plan for something cheap. Do you really need to check facebook every 5 minutes? Save all your surfing for when you go home, get a cheaper phone and a cheaper plan and you'll save a ton.
  • My final tip for living cheaply? Move out of the Bay Area.