Giving Thanks

February 20th was my birthday, marking 59 wonderful years on Planet Earth. While there are lots of things I don’t have yet, there are so many more things that I have that I am so very thankful for. I have my life, first and foremost, and I have excellent health. I have my family, both immediate as well as extended, and I am never alone. I have a very good job that is more than enjoyable, working in the photography field which I love.

In this crazy, trouble-filled world as we live in today, it is easy to loose sight of what we have to be thankful for. I can only speak for myself, as the pandemic grips the world and turns everything upside-down, but I remain positive and remember each and everything I have to be thankful for.

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Fashionably Late

Yes, I missed the posting of late week, February 20th. I am not going to be too hard on myself, though. February 20th was my birthday so that day was super busy. And to aid injury to a busy weekend, on Sunday morning I received my second shingles injection (no, I don’t have shingles. I am trying not to get it) and the side effects packed a punch. Headache, body aches, unset stomach, injection site discomfort, etc. Needless to say writing four blog posts and publishing wasn’t high on my list of things to get done.

While I like to stay on task and schedule, life, especially illnesses, can intrude and alter those schedules. I guess the best and easiest remedy is to simply go with the flow.

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Getting Smarter

Okay, I am really, really loving the smart home life. While our home is far from complete (no smart locks, AC/heating or entertainment system on board yet), just the baby steps of lighting shows great promise of wonders to come.

Amazon Echo Dot 4th Gen

Over the past week, I received my orders for another Echo Dot, Gosund smart plugs and a rather impressive Gosund smart power strip. Toys of smart connection.

Gosund Smart Plugs

Even though I haven’t tried a different brand, Gosund has become my go-to brand for smart products. They are feature rich and sturdy as well as beautifully made, and surprisingly affordable.

Gosund Smart Power Strip

I think the next step is to replace some standard wall switches with smart switches. I really want to covert the front door to a smart lock, but that’s going to require a family meeting. Also, my AC has a Wi-Fi feature and can link to Alexa so maybe that should be next. Yes, I am really enjoying this!

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Back in Service!

I have quite a long list of favorite things, and it is always disappointing when one of them breaks down completely or fails to continue working correctly. One of them is my coffee pot. Yes, I love my coffee pot. Don’t judge me. It is beautiful in every way.

Mueller Electronic Coffee Pot

We used to have one of those metal pots, basic and simple, that did the job. It became corroded, dented, ugly and well pass its prime. So, to Amazon I went and found a whole collection of updated modern coffee pots, from brand names to no names (or actually, never heard of). Wonderful features, built-in safeguards… and eye candy lighting!

After searching the offerings, reading descriptions and combing through reviews, I decided on the Mueller brand. And it worked perfectly… until it didn’t. After about two months, it started acting badly. It wouldn’t turn on, sometimes it would start up only to shut off without fully boiling the water, and if the switch was still on from heating halfway, it would suddenly start back up after an hour or so. Long story short, hard water buildup on the heating/temp sensing plate.

Goggle to the rescue! With our old mechanical pot, a treatment of CLR always did the trick, but with such a robotic device, I wanted to go natural. So, I found multiple entries about using white vinegar to clean coffee pots!

Treatment is easy. 1) Pour in one cup of water and one cup of white vinegar (dollar store vinegar is just fine). 2) Heat to near boil (last time, it boiled when I stepped away and the world didn’t end, so don’t sweat it) and shut off. 3) Let it sit for one hour. 4) Pour out solution. 5) Wash pot thoroughly with mild soap and water, rinse thoroughly and return to service. If you use your pot daily or have hard water, a once a month cleaning schedule is good.

I just wish there was a quick and easy fix for some of my other favorite things that stopped working.

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Resistance is Futile

It is 6:12am, and the house is perfectly quiet. Not one sound. My wife and I finally finished the usual Saturday night binge of Star Trek: Voyager about 5am. It was a highly entertaining double episode focusing on Seven of Nine, played to perfection by actor Jeri Ryan. Titled Dark Frontier, episode 15 & 16 and airing February 17, 1999, it showed the wonderful range of one of Star Trek’s most beloved and iconic characters. Yeah, she’s a fan favorite.

Ryan’s Seven, as she is affectionately referred to, was once a Borg drone, having been assimilated as a young child. Without going into great detail, the Borg crossed paths with Voyager during Season Four, struck up a once in a lifetime partnership, and Seven of Nine was assigned as a liason to the Federation starship. Of course, the deal went South, Seven was liberated from the Borg collective and became a member of the crew. Perfect. Yeah, there’s that word again.

In Dark Frontier, after a run in with a Borg ship and its accidental destruction, Seven is pulled back to the Borg collective by the Borg Queen on the assurance that if she complies Voyager and crew will be spared. A perfect deal. However, once back at Borg HQ, the Queen doesn’t wish to reassimilate Seven back into the collective, because she is unique. She is fine with leaving Seven as an… individual! Unheard of!

Let’s address that nagging word, perfect. The Borg seek order and perfection by assimilating any and all other species into the collective and thereby learning from their knowledge, history and technology. They are seeking that which can never be attained: perfection.

During her time with the Borg Queen, Seven realizes her sense of humanity and caring is stronger and more valuable than the promise of perfection, even if the Queen allows her to remain unique. So, during the rescue mission (of course, there would be a rescue mission, duh!) lead by Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Janeway, Seven breaks her deal with the Queen and assists Janeway in liberating her, once more.

Perfection is something that can never be obtained. Ever. And if you think about it, it wouldn’t be any fun. A perfect anything would be singular. A perfect house, a perfect car, a perfect aircraft, a perfect coffee mug, a perfect… person. Only one of each, though duplicated many times. There can’t be two or three versions of a perfect anything. So, like the Borg, perfection would not be an individual with individual thoughts and ways, it would be a mindless, singular… collective. I myself love humanity, with all its wonderful flaws and imperfections. And I plan staying human, because after all… resistance is futile.

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Smart Home Sweet Home

Okay, I admit, I knew it had to happen. A smart home! I have searched the devices and viewed the demos of what can be done, so earlier in the week I finally made the leap and purchased my first Amazon Echo Dot! It’s an 8th Generation with a privacy reassuring microphone On/Off switch to prevent Alexa from listening when all the time. Almost immediately, I purchased a set of NiteBird Color-changing smart bulbs. They are rated at 8 watts which translates into 75 watts of lighting output. Just reading the specs, I was truly excited. As an Amazon Prime member, two days was not fast enough as I waited impatiently for the package to arrive.

Before anything, you download the Gosund app and the Amazon Alexa app and set Alexa and Gosund to join together. You set up the smart bulbs in the Gosund app and then you can control them from your phone or through Alexa voice commands. Set up was a breeze, and Alexa truly set herself up, simply giving clues and directions through the Alexa Assistant app. Don’t get me wrong, there is a LOT of controls, features and tuning adjustments that can be used, but for the most part, it’s really almost “out the box” simple. From the moment I set them up, I was hooked! I must have turned the lights on and off twenty times, as well as changing the colors! Beautiful! Just beautiful!

I placed the Echo Dot in my bedroom and added smarts to both my wife’s bedside lamp and my own. It was like playing with a new toy, turning the lamps on and off, in every combination I could think of. Then I discovered that I could not only request that Alexa brighten and dim the lights, I could get downright specific: “Alexa, dim my lamp to 25%.” Oh so cool.

But wait, there’s more! Today (Friday, January 29th), Amazon delivered a 4-pack of Gosund (company behind NiteBird lights) smart bulbs (non color changing) and a 4-pack of Gosund smart plugs! I installed one of the smart white lamps in the kitchen floodlight socket, set the brightness to 25% and set up a timer schedule in the Gosund app to turn on the light at 11pm and turn it off at 7am. That gives a gentle illumination for those middle of the night runs for water, cereal or ice cream. No more fumbling in the dark till reaching the light switch. I then installed two of the smart plugs in the living room to control the two lamps. On one, I set up a timer schedule to turn it on at 5:30pm and turn it off at 2am. The other will be a simple turn on when needed.

I ordered an Echo Dot 8 with clock display. It is scheduled to be delivered on Tuesday. The new unit will be placed in the bedroom and the original unit will be relocated to the living room. This is a good start. It’s both fun and rewarding, both exciting and efficient. A smart home. Yeah, I like it.

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Blogging. Again.

I have made so many attempts at blogging. I guess I just don’t understand the term and foundation of it all, but something keeps drawing me back to… blogging. Is it just that “I have something to say” feeling? Maybe. Or could it be needing to vent about things. Possibly. Or is it sharing insights and valued information. Sounds good.

As a writer, I love to write fiction. Fun? Yes! As a blogger I would be writing… reality. Scary? Definitely. As a slow start, I have decided to not get too wordy. Short entries, quick and easy to read and digest. I will write about various subjects, touching on any and everything that comes to mind in the theme of the blog. It might have the feel of a journal morphing into a blog, and back at times. As a schedule, I will write during the week and publish on Saturday evening for a Sunday to Saturday run.

I have three blogs; photography, writing and one about my social media venture. Yes, all three have launched, stalled, started again and stalled, again. You may ask: “How is it that a writer can’t write?” Well, writing in and of itself is a difficult task, both as a hobby and a profession. Doing it when you please, is easy. Make it a scheduled activity or an income producing career and the wheels hit the mud.

All that being said, I will give it yet another try. With an open mind, a scheduled and a light touch and a “Doing it for me” foundation should keep this moving ahead.

I will post this blog post on all my blog flavors because this hold true for all. Just click on my Link Tree, below, and follow my available links. Thank you so much for reading.

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Coins When They Jingle

I just read a blog post saying to “blog every day.” Good advice. So, I am going to simply blog what I feel and want, as often as I can. Definitely can’t be every day, but often. It may be short and quick, or it may be long and involved, but I plan on doing as much as possible. Real Life may intrude, but then… I could simply write about real life… intruding. LOL.

This post is about a favorite subject: money. Second only to photography, writing, cars, Disney and Netflix. Not in the Master’s of the Universe way but in the “I need to manage, save or control my money better” way. So, I came upon an idea in two parts. The 52 Week Challenge and the micro investment app Acorns. I shall wait for the laughter to die down. Okay, I would guess that nearly everyone has heard of the 52 Week Challenge, but for the three people who haven’t, and at risk of boring those who have, I will go over it.

Simply put, the 52 Week Challenge is a strategic savings plan. It has three steps: 1) put money away each week, 2) start with $1 and increase by $1 each week ($1 the first week, then $2 the second week, then $3 the third week, and so on) and 3) continue steps 1 and 2 for (you guessed it) fifty-two weeks. At week 52 you will have a grand total of $1,378! Not a bad haul being that the most you will ever have to part with is $52!

Now for the drawbacks. If you put the money in a drawer, under the mattress or even in your saving account, you probably will be tempted to pinch off it as the need arises. And the need shall arise (in my Sunday preacher voice)! That was my biggest problem. Only one, in fact. Saving the increasing amounts was super easy, but keeping my hands off it was very difficult. Unexpected bills, child’s school fees, car maintenance, etc. There always seemed to be a reason to “borrow” some money from my creative savings. Of course, I would never put it back and catch up, so I just gave up. Enter Acorns!

Acorns is a micro investment app (with a $1/mo fee). It is nothing too intense, but a cool “get my feet wet” way for people to step into the world of investments. Yes, Fidelity, TD AmeriTrade and E*Trade are the ones most know even if they don’t invest because of commercials. There are many pocket change apps but I was introduced to Acorns by my wife so I started there. I did some research, checked the “problems/claims against” sites and when confident I started an account.

At first, I did not start an Acorns account for the 52 Week Challenge. I started it to have the pride of saying (at least to myself) that I am investing. But it was a slow go deciding when and how much to put in. Of course, they want you to set up a recurring amount to be “invested in your future” and they suggest a starting amount of $5/week. Remember, they are not priming you to take over Wall Street, they are giving you a way to invest a very comfortable amount and hopefully move on to bigger amounts.

The eureka moment. I decided to combine my once failed attempts at the 52 Week Challenge with my newly minted Acorns account. Yes, yes, YES! Now, I can do this! Let me connect the dots for those scratching their heads at my simplistic joy. Acorns is not a bank account, so the money is out of the house and not even down the street. Yes, you can hit the Withdraw button but when presented with the “it’s going to take 3 to 6 business days” and they have to “sell” your shares to make it happen, that is a firm wake up alarm for me.

So, to wrap this up for those of you still with me, in June 2018 I set up my recurring deductions and started my 52 Week Challenge. Personally, I love to open my account and see growing amounts so I decided to double my investments (So, at week 52 I will have a base amount of $2,756). Yes, I am a rebel! At this time, my 52 Week Challenge app (of course, there’s an app!) says that at my current point of 28 weeks, I have $406. However, my Acorns account says I have $993.46!

I know, that’s not an even double. Well, Acorns has what they call Round Ups. You attach a debit card to your account and set it as your round ups fund. When you spend $3.60 the account withdraws .40 for your investment account, rounding up your purchase. I choose to double my Round Ups so the account takes .80 instead.

invest-the-change®

Looking at an ending amount in the $3,000 range without breaking a sweat, it is the easiest savings plan I ever started. Three grand in twelve months. That’s Christmas shopping, a new Canon lens, a cruise or to just let it ride another year or two or three.

That’s it. It is an easy way for me to really save, and I enjoy watching the amounts grow. I have put my Acorns link below ($5 into my account if you sign up), as well as the 52 Week Challenge app that I use.

Warning: I make no claims or guarantees on the use, gains or losses on the apps, services or tip and techniques above. It is what I do and it works for me. It may or may not work for you or even make sense. Any use is at your own risk. Please consult with your family, an adviser, trusted friends, etc first.

Thank you for your time and Happy Investing!

Ronald Slaton’s Acorns Invite Link

Google Play Store: 52 Week Challenge app

Happy New Year!

Yes, Happy New Year! It’s still January so giving that greeting hasn’t grown old yet.

I have noticed that this blog has been long neglected. Almost two years neglected. I know, that is a shame since it is my main blog and my family blog. Without me and my family, the other blogs would not exist. So, let me jump start this and make a solid attempt to keep it moving.

So sorry for the delay.