Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Miscellaneous Thoughts, Tips, and Recommendations:

First, some humor:
Things that don't make sense (WTF?):
a.  Pandora seems like the most annoying music service ever dreamed up  Because it is not allowed to play a song that is specifically requested, it will play every song EXCEPT the one you want to hear.  WTF? 

b.  I have a friend named Tom.  He is a brilliant guy, who earned a PhD in linguistics, knows all kinds of computer stuff, and has osme of the least common sense that I know.  One of the things that he bragged about, the last time I saw him, was that he was one of the first people to sign up for Match.com.  As a result, they gave him a free lifetime membership.  Hey Match.com -- does this not show little faith in your product?  WTF? 

c.  If you call a restaurant and order take-out, then you pay once you get there and your food is ready.  Why, then, are you forced to pay in advance if you order takeout at a restaurant in person?  This puts the customer at a real disadvantage.  The restaurant can take all the time it wants, because it already has the customer's money.  I've had this happen to me several times now.  I've ordered takeout in person at a restaurant, been forced to pay upfront, and then sat around for 40 minutes waiting for the food that was promised in 20 minutes.  Now, if I am in this situation, I sit in my car or call from the sidewalk outside the restaurant, and order using my phone.  It solves the problem.  If the order takes too long, I can always leave.  I've never had to do this, but I also don't see why I should have to pay upfront when ordering in person.  

1.  Ship USPS First Class with Tracking:
Let's say you wish to ship something via USPS First Class Mail (which is a great service!).  As an individual, you can't get tracking of First Class Mail packages by going to the post office or putting stamps on the package.  You also can't ship packages over 13 ounces via First Class Mail. 

If you use Paypal, however, you can send packages up to 15 oz via First Class Mail, and those packages provide tracking.  I love shipping packages using USPS since I just put the package in my mailbox. 

Here's a link to use to ship USPS using Paypal, even for non-Ebay transactions:

2.  Buying replacement bulbs for old flashlights, and saving 10,000%! 
I have an old underwater flashlight that I now use for getting my dogs out of the backyard at night, and the bulb blew out.  Here's what the user guide said:

"In an emergency, use a common PR-size bulb approximating 10V in place of the high-intensitybulb #0042.58.  Any standard PR base bulb for batteries can be used." 

Online, the replacement bulb for the light was over $11 plus shipping.  That was far more than I wanted to pay for an old flashlight to be repaired. 

I went to Bulbtown online and called them.  Here's what I learned. 

The "standard PR base bulb" was the very common P13.5S base (flange is 13.5mm).  Bulbtown has videos for their PR bulbs showing the measurements which are useful and easy to understand. 

Bulbtown had various PR-type bulbs.  They all had the same physical dimensions, but they differed in their voltage rating. 

I ordered the following bulbs, all of which were about 10 cents each:

PR16: rated at 12.5volts.  Bulbtown stated that this would be a bit dim. 
PR20: rated at 8.63V.  Bulbtown stated that this would be brighter.  The customer service representative there stated that it is fine to have 8-C cells (12V) powering a bulb rated 8.63V. 

The rep recommended Krypton bulbs for my flashlight.  I ordered:
KPR12 - 12V
KPR18 - 7.2V

When I got the bulbs, I put the halogen PR20 in the flashlight, and it worked fine.  I have not tried the others. 

I hope that this post saves you some money the next time you need to replace a bulb in a flashlight.  Ten cents for a bulb!  Shipping did add $8, and I was disappointed in how long it took Bulbtown to get the items to me.  They waited a week for some reason, then blamed a hurricane for the second week that it took to get to me.  I looked up the timeline, however, and they had my order for a full week before the hurricane hit.  The order ended up taking about 20 days to reach me from the time I placed the order. 

3.  Tower Inflatable Standup Paddleboards are AWESOME: 
I love my Tower inflatable standup paddleboard.  It weighs only about 30 pounds and is very heavy duty.  It's made from material that is similar to what is used in inflatable boats.  I have an Avon inflatable boat in my garage that is over 30 years old, and it still works fine. I used it for diving in the mid and late 1980s around Monterey, San Diego, and in Baja -- and the material is just fine.  The paddleboard should be around for a long time also. 

I liked the first Tower so much that I bought a second one.  Here's a link to what I bought:

Tower Paddle Boards Adventurer Inflatable 9'10" SUP Package
Price is $699 on the Tower site, but less on Amazon. 

Tower's customer support is awesome.  I took my paddleboards to camp at a river with low water levels, joining some old friends with kids.  They all had plastic kayaks, which weighed much more and took two people to carry.  My Tower SUP was much lighter, by contrast, and made it down most of the river, even in water less than six inches deep.  I did take out the back fin, and the SUP did get stuck in some very shallow areas where the kayaks were able to float past. 

I (well, my friend Doug) had to hack through a metal screw fitting that held the back fin in place on the paddleboard.  I ended up misplacing the back fin, and I needed a new fin screw also.  I wrote Tower, described the situation -- and they generously sent me a new back fin and screw.  The new screw is plastic, so it won't corrode like the old metal one.  I am a happy camper and a fan of Tower Paddle Boards

Moose, our chocolate lab, likes the SUP particularly well and could hardly be persuaded to get off -- even with the temptation of a thrown tennis ball, which normally gets him to do ANYTHING. 

Oh, I almost forgot the most important point to this post.  The great thing about the Tower SUPs is that you can deflate them for travel, and inflate them once you get to your destination.  Tower supplies a hand pump, but I would discourage anyone from using the hand pump to inflate a SUP.  I tried using their hand pump to pump up a Tower SUP in my basement, over a period of several days.  It was exhausting, and I never got there.  I had to give up!

I then did quite a bit of research.  The first thing to know is that a $15 foot pump from Target or Walmart will NOT do the job.  These pumps are designed to inflate plastic inner tubes and other toys, to about 2 pounds per square inch (psi).  Tower SUPs need to be inflated so that they are very rigid, which is a bit over 10 psi. 

Most consumer hand and foot pumps, and electrical pumps, are designed to fill up toys to about 2 psi max (plastic Intex inner tubes, air mattresses, etc).  I went to West Marine and bought a professional foot pump that is used to pump up inflatable boats.  This pump works great; it takes about five minutes to pump up a Tower SUP to rigidity.  It cost about $70. 

There were some electrical pumps that might work -- but NOT the Coleman ones from Target.  Any pump must be able to pump up to 10 psi. 

Here are some pumps I found that will likely work to inflate a Tower SUP.  I have only tried the foot pump:

WEST MARINE: Bravo Foot Pumps: I believe that I bought the heavy-duty one for $69.  The PSI rating of these pumps is not in the specifications on the website, unfortunately -- but I did get mine from West Marine, and it is yellow and gray -- and works great. 

Sevylor 12 Volt 15 PSI SUP and Water Sport Pump:
The listing states: High-pressure pump inflates up to 15 psi for rigid SUP boards

There's an adapter that allows the use of portable air compressors that can go to very high PSIs, as much as 150 psi.  I use one of these portable air compressors to pump up my car tires.  This adapter valve allows one of these pumps to fill your SUP.   However, I imagine that you have to be super careful to watch that you don't overinflate your SUP, and I also imagine that these portable air compressors won't put out enough air and may overheat before the job is done. 

Slingshot SUP High Pressure Inflator Valve: about $25

Here's a good post on pumps for SUPs:

4.  Tip on Charging a Garmin Using a Car Charger and Regular USB Cable Rather Than the Official Garmin Charger: 
 If you have a Garmin nuvi (car navigation unit) and have tried to charge it with a standard mini USB cable, it may not work.  I tried this a few times in my car with a car charger, and at my office off a wall charger.  The Garmin would go into a "connected to computer" mode and would not go into its regular driving mode.  I discovered that the charger must put out 2 amps -- the same as a charger for an iPad.  Most car and wall chargers put out only 500 milliamps, not enough.  Find a USB charger that puts out 2A, and this will charge the Garmin as well as let it operate normally while charging. 

5.  Studentmags.com is a great site to get a newspaper or magazine subscription:
I have always had trouble trying to figure out how to do things related to my Wall Street Journal subscription.  Their account website is horrific, terrible, impossible to use. 

I gave up in frustration and subscribed (getting a great deal in the process) at

This website and their customer service is awesome!  They offer subscriptions to all kinds of magazines and newspapers, and give great deals.  Most subscriptions are for the general public. 

When we went on vacation in July, we simply called studentmags, spoke to a nice,  helpful customer service representative, and VOILA!  she was able to look up our WSJ account number and suspend delivery while we were on vacation.  She even extended our subscription for the days that we were gone.  That's the kind of customer service that is rare to find these days.  www.studentmags is AWESOME! 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Payment Services: Paypal Sucks, Square is Getting Better

Paypal sucks.  I have written about this before, but I have had two new experiences that have made me try to find other ways to transfer money and accept payments from customers.  There are few alternatives to Paypal out there.  There's also a lot of misinformation out there.  In the results from a Google search, most posts about competing payment services are outdated. 

So here's my big tip for the day: if you are a seller of goods or services, or have a need to collect a payment from someone -- try Square.  I've been using Square for a few years now, and they've been great. 
Square has a new feature so those of us who run small or home offices can collect money without having to ask for credit card information.  In the past, this was a problem.  If you were like me, you had clients all over the world that would like to pay you using a credit card.  Paypal would not work for them for many reasons (plus, Paypal really, really sucks  -- read below and in my previous blog post).  If you used Square, then you had to ask for the client's credit card information, address, and other information -- then pull out your iPad or iPhone, and laboriously enter the information in the Square app on your iPhone.  The app was confusing.  The clients did not feel comfortable giving out their credit card numbers.  I generally only used Square a couple of times per year. 

Square has improved greatly.  I recently sold a lens to a photographer in Washington DC.  She told me to send her an invoice -- using Square.  I researched how to do this, and discovered that I could create an invoice using Square using my desktop browser.  Finally, I could use my Mac rather than my iPad!  I sent her an invoice from Square to her email address, and that was it!  I did not need to get her credit card information, or even her physical address (but of course I did ship her lens to her address).  She paid the invoice to Square, and Square put the cash (minus their 2.9% plus 30 cent fee) in my bank account the next business day.  Wow -- simple, efficient, and awesome.  Kudos to Square!

When Paypal hosed me recently, I spent hours researching other payment services.  I even tried Google Wallet.  In short, do not waste your time on other services, other than Square!  Paypal is the only established peer-to-peer payment service out there these days, unfortunately.  It's the only established player in this space, and people feel comfortable with it.  As one website writes:  There’s not a single payment service out there that offers the international reach, merchant services and overall ease that PayPal does.

Here's what I discovered:

Venmo: I signed up for an account, and then I discovered that Paypal has bought Venmo.  One down.  I am trying to find an alternative to Paypal!

Amazon Payments: It appears that this service is no longer is a peer-to-peer service. I believe that this is set up so folks selling on Amazon can set this up to accept payments on their websites.  It is not the right peer-to-peer funds transfer service that I was looking for. 

Google Checkout:
from the web: Google Checkout was discontinued on November 20, 2013.  The company offers a new solution for certain payments called Google Wallet.

Google Payments: was there even a Google Payments, or is that a figment of my imagination?  There must be, since Google's emails to me (see below) mention Google Payments several times.  Yet, doing a Google Search today (October 23, 2016), I can't find a single mention of Google Payments.  It's eerie to think that something like Google Payments can be just wiped out by Google. 

Google Wallet: I signed up for an account with Google Wallet.  Google Wallet used to be part of Android Pay, but now it's different.  Here's what pcmag.com said about it:
"...The slimmed-down Android app (Google Wallet) is now more focused on mobile payments between individuals rather than businesses. In other words, it's a direct competitor to our Editors' Choice Venmo. It works, but it's a shame Google Wallet had to strip out so many features to find its current focus."

Here are some notes I collected about Google Wallet:
"Send money to anyone in the US using an email address or phone number. It's fast, easy, and free to send directly from your debit card, bank account, or Wallet Balance. You can do all this in the Google Wallet app, or, if you’re on desktop, you can also send and request money in Gmail.

"When you receive money, you can quickly cash out to your bank account using your debit card, and get access to your money within minutes.

"You can send money to or request money from anyone in the US with an email address or phone number through the Google Wallet app, on Gmail, or at wallet.google.com."

I personally found all of Google's choices confusing. Google Checkout?  Gone.  Google Payments?  Wiped out without a trace.  Google Wallet is indeed still around (and I tried it, leading to the type of corporate snafu that I try to avoid assiduously).  It apparently has gone through several remakes; Android Pay was spun off from Google Wallet.  Whatever. 

I found that Google Wallet was not a very good service, to say the least.  Their representatives gave me misinformation, and the process was handled poorly.  I give more details below. 

Paypal Really, Really Sucks: 
Before we get to Google Payments or Wallet or Checkout or whatever -- I would like to offer some more experiences (all bad) on Paypal.  In short, Paypal really, really sucks.  I wrote about them in a previous blog post, but these are new discoveries of how bad Paypal sucks. 

First, anyone who is concerned about computer security should use a VPN on open Wi-Fi networks.  I use Torguard's VPN and discuss it in a separate post.  It's very easy to set up.  I signed up to Torguard (it costs $60 per year but is often discounted), downloaded their VPN software, and open their app when I need to.  That app routes all my data through one of their servers.  Your data should be encrypted as it goes through their servers from your laptop, and it is thus supposedly protected from prying eyes that may have hacked an open Wi-Fi network like Starbucks or an airport. 

Obviously, if using a public wifi hotspot, I'd want to access my Paypal account through a VPN, for the best security.  Why in the hell would Paypal not allow this? 

I logged into Paypal from an airport, through my VPN network, and Paypal would not let me enter my account.  They later froze my account and would not let me transfer funds in or out until I supplied identifying information.  I was out of the country for a month and had no access to the funds in my account.  When I returned, I tried verifying my information, and it was impossible to do -- Paypal refused to accept my phone number and would not believe that I was the owner of the account.  I gave up -- the last thing I want to do is talk to Paypal's useless customer service people.  The account was a secondary, personal account so I only had about $60 in there.  After several months, Paypal sent me a message saying essentially that I could no longer use the account, but I could transfer the funds out of there.  I read in a post that Paypal's terms of agreement compels Paypal to release your funds after 180 days. 

This is simply ridiculous.  Folks who use a VPN to protect their data, like their username and passwords, are not allowed to log into Paypal?  If I am in a Starbucks or at an airport using a public Wi-Fi service, then Paypal is forcing me to use a lower-security method to log into my Paypal account.  Paypal disallows me from using a VPN, which protects my data when using a public Wi-Fi hotspot. 

Wait, here's another way Paypal sucks. 
I've been selling old gear on Ebay and accepting Paypal for several years now.  Suddenly in one month, I coincidentally got two customers, who had bought items from me, stating that their "purchase was not authorized", which resulted in a "chargeback."  A chargeback is a situation where a customer disputes a charge with their credit card company rather than directly through Paypal, or maybe it is both the former and the latter.  Regardless, if a seller gets a chargeback claim, Paypal screws the seller. 

Here's a scenario from a forum:


 If anyone has ever filed a charge back on your Paypal account, and the chargeback was won by the buyer, you had BETTER go check your Paypal account, they keep the fees they charged and take that amount from you along with the amount you were originally given. I don’t believe it is an oversight.   for example,I sold an $1185.00 item,paypal paid me $1150.33 and took thier fee of $34.67,but when the chargeback was found in the buyers favor,they took $1185.00 from MY paypal account,and CONVENIENTLY forgot to refund me the $34.67.  Oversight? or Class actionable?   How many millions of chargebacks have they done this with? 

end quote

Any seller who loses a chargeback claim -- and generally you will lose, all the seller has to do is state "item not as described," will then be charged a $20 chargeback fee from Paypal.  From what I understand, Paypal is passing on a chargeback fee from a bank or credit card processor. 

In my situation, a buyer purchased a hard drive off Ebay from me.  I shipped the item and tracked it.  I then left for a trip.  When I came back two weeks later, I discovered that the buyer had refused to accept the package (likely, he changed his mind after buying my item) and had filed a chargeback claim, stating that the purchase was unauthorized.  I was lucky that the buyer actually refused the package -- other Ebay sellers generally have the same thing happen (have to refund any payments, pay chargeback fees, etc.) and the buyer keeps the item (for free). 

Paypal refunded the entire amount to this buyer, and charged me a $20 chargeback fee.  THEY ALSO KEPT THEIR PAYPAL FEE of nearly 3%!  This is simply outrageous. 

As an example with numbers, the above hard drive sold for $100.  I paid $3.90 to ship the item out; the item came back to me.  I had a 20% restocking fee on my Ebay listing to protect against buyers who change their mind without good reason, but Paypal never asked about this policy or considered it.  They simply immediately refunded this buyer the ENTIRE amount that the guy had paid (he was a fraudulent type of buyer; his Ebay user name was paulsamuels1132 or something like that, but his real name was Pranit Sampei).  I was out the cost of shipping, the loss of the item's use for two weeks, and was not able to charge a restocking fee.  On top of this, Paypal charged me a chargeback fee of $20 plus their commission. 

Let's do the math as a seller:
You sell a $100 item. Paypal gets a nearly 3% fee for collecting the money.  You get $97 for the item. 

The buyer pays $100.  You send the item out.  He refuses delivery of the item and files an "unauthorized purchase" claim with Paypal or his credit card.  He gets back his entire $100. 

The seller initially receives $97 of this sale (I am simplifying this).  Paypal retains $3 (its nearly 3% commission for transferring the funds).  When the buyer files a chargeback claim, Paypal gives the buyer the entire $100 back.  Paypal then charges the seller $20 for the chargeback claim. 

Paypal then withdraws $100 from the seller's account.  But wait -- Paypal only ever paid the seller $97 for this transaction.  What happened?  Here's the deal -- Paypal KEEPS ITS COMMISSION/FEES even in a chargeback claim.  It wins either way.  If a seller loses a chargeback claim -- and in my experience a seller almost always loses, regardless of how fraudulent the buyer is -- Paypal still keeps its commission and passes on chargeback fees to the seller.

Paypal's practice in this situation is absolutely unethical.  I am surprised that it has not been hit with a class-action suit about such practices. 

I have not included sellers' losses from shipping fees, or Ebay commissions on sales (which are refunded in full in such situations, as far as I can tell). 

Lastly, Paypal makes it difficult to see what the fees that they charge you.  Chargebacks don't show up in your activity reports.  I've looked and looked. Items relating to chargebacks were impossible to find, anywhere I looked, in all activity, transaction, and report sections.  Again, outrageous. 

My Experience with Google Wallet (or is it Google Payments) Leaves Me $115 Richer!
I tried Google Wallet.  But I will not try them again. 

I went through the process of registering Google Wallet's required details, such as providing my bank account information.  I then made the mistake of SENDING $115 to the buyer rather than ASKING for that amount.  It was a bit too easy to do, and there was no way to cancel the transaction.  Ouch! 

I immediately contacted a Google representative via chat.  He told that
Google would cancel the transaction, and that it was OK if the balance in my bank account was low -- the $115 to be sent would NOT be withdrawn from my account -- the transaction was cancelled.  I therefore, for safety's sake, withdrew funds from my account to the amount of $5 -- after making sure that this would be OK with the Google representative.  However, contrary to what the Google representative said, Google Wallet then withdrew the $115 from my account. 

My bank charged me an overdraft fee and told me that I should put a stop payment on the account.

I disputed the charge, and I put a stop payment for any payments to Google. Google then wrote me:

"From: Google Payments
Date: 6/15/16, 2:47 AM
To: norbertwu
Google     Safe & Secure

Hello Norbert Wu,

For your security, we've disabled your Google Payments account so no one else can use it.

You requested that an unrecognized charge to your bank be returned to your Checking  • • •  = ddd account linked to your Google Payments account.

To help our investigation and to unlock your account, sign in to payments.google.com and verify your information. Otherwise your account will stay locked.

Google Support Team
Google Wallet     you have received this mandatory email service announcement to update you about important changes to your Google Payments account.
Learn More | Help Center | Privacy Notice | How to recognize suspicious emails
Google Payment Corp., P.O. Box 1568, Mountain View, CA 94042   "     

I wrote Google, explaining the situation:

" Dear Google:
    A few days ago, I tried to request money using Google Payments for the first time.  I mistakenly SENT $115 instead of requesting it.  I immediately contacted Google via chat and the Google rep cancelled the transaction.  It shows as cancelled in my order history.  The Google rep confirmed that if my balance in my bank account was around $5, the $115 to be sent would NOT be withdrawn from my account -- the transaction was cancelled.  I therefore, for safety's sake, withdrew funds from my account to the amount of $5.  Contrary to what the Google representative said, Google Payments then withdrew the $115 from my account. 

    My bank charged me a fee and told me that I should put a stop payment on the account.

    They have disputed this $115 charge and now I received the following message from Google:

    "Hello Norbert Wu,

    For your security, we've disabled your Google Payments account so no one else can use it.

    You requested that an unrecognized charge to your bank be returned to your Checking  • • • ddd account linked to your Google Payments account.

    To help our investigation and to unlock your account, sign in to payments.google.com and verify your information. Otherwise your account will stay locked.

    Google Support Team"

    This is all very frustrating.  I assume that the Google rep gave me the wrong information, and that Google Payments will be issuing a credit to my bank account (or would have, had I not disputed). 

    I am sure that the above will play out.... however an app developer has refunded me $14 and I have not seen it in my transaction history as of yesterday.  And I can't get to my account now. 

    Also, how do I get a copy of my chat?  Is this something that I can with a click or do I have to cut and paste the text of the chat? 
Signed, Norbert Wu

 Steve Laydon at Google wrote me back:
  On Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 10:18 AM, wrote:


        Hi Norbert,

        Thanks for contacting Google. Since we weren't able to complete our conversation via chat, I wanted to follow up over email.

        I'm sorry to say that our specialist has determined that this account must stay closed due to violations of our Terms of Service. (Per the Google Payments Terms of Service, Google Payments Corp. reserves the right to change, suspend or discontinue any aspect of the Services at any time, including availability of the Services or any Service feature, without notice and without liability.) I'm afraid that my team can't discuss the specific circumstances of this or any account closure.

        Your previously pending transactions have been canceled. Authorization confirmations for these transactions may still appear on the transaction summary for the payment method you used, but your account hasn't been charged. Such authorizations should be removed within 10 business days (14 days), depending on your bank's schedule.

        If you have any more questions, please reply to this email. I'm happy to help!


        Steve Laydon
        The Google Support Team
        Google     Google Help Center
        © Google Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043 USA     Google+ Twitter
So that was it.  Classic big corporation snafu, where their own representatives give misinformation, and the customer is then stuck with a bad situation requiring hours of chat and written correspondence to fix.  In this case, my bank refunded the $115 that Google wrongly withdrew from my account (and the overdraft fees), and Google refunded the payment also.  So I am $115 ahead! 

Hey Google, if you want to review this account, then be my guest.  I have $115 waiting here for you if you want it.  But if you do contact me, then I might say this:
I'm sorry to say that I've determined that I want my account to stay closed due to Google's crappy customer service and misinformation. I'm afraid that I do not wish to discuss the specific circumstances of this or any account closure, or how Google Payments wasted my time.  Thanks for the $115!  It barely covers one/twelfth of my time spent on this.