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Lazy Smokin’

Sun, Sep 25, 2011

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Ok, I’m on to my latest “hobby”.

Smoking Food

I have been reading about (and enjoying) smoked foods throughout my life. I’ve even tried smoking in my Weber grill.

How do I do this with as little effort possible and achieve a decent to better than decent piece of smoked meat?

It began with a Google search of Food Smoking Forums. There are actually a lot of forums on the web of people that have a passion for smoked foods and love bestowing their knowledge upon newbie’s such as myself. The forum I found that seemed to be very active with a good community of “food smokers” was Smoking Meat Forums (SMF).

Browsing SMF led me to find a 5 day Food Smoking “eCourse”. Jeff Phillips (aka @tulsajeff) Jeff will send you a 5 day course that really gives you the basics. You receive this course in the form of daily chapters that are e-mailed to you. Of course, with each chapter comes a bunch of links to things offered by Jeff, such as his rubs, but overall the chapters are well written with an emphasis on providing you with the basics. You can sign up for his course here (I have no affiliation with this site, by the way).

http://www.smoking-meat.com/smoking-basics-ecourse.html

*** Of course you will use your subscription e-mail address and not your personal e-mail addy when signing up. ***

I was able to stop at my local Lowes and pick up the new smoker. I decided to go with the Master Forge Double Door Liquid Propane Gas Smoker for $150. It seemed to have some pretty good reviews both on Lowes’ website as well as on SMF.

Between what I learned from the eCourse and some quick browsing on the Smoking Meat Forums I was able to knock out an unbelievable rack of ribs on my first time out.

A couple of things I learned:

  • Yellow mustard is your friend – Use yellow mustard to help bond your spice rub to your meat. Apparently it will burn off during cooking, leaving just the flavor of the spice. I did it and it worked for me.
  • Search for “dry rub” on AllRecipes You will find tons of recipes to choose from. Pick anyone. If you have a recipe that you recommend please post it in the comments section.
  • Salt in your rub can be bad – Too much salt can cause excessive drying. Think of this when you are searching for a rub.
  • Go for the chunk wood –  When buying wood to smoke, get chunks and not chips. You should see both at the store when buying it. When I used chips I wound up with flames pretty quickly. The chunk smoked longer and never caught fire. If I were going to use chips I would probably soak them first.
  • Use the 2-2-1 method – it is discussed in the eCourse for baby back ribs (which should be your first smoke, in my opinion). Basically means smoke for 2 hours, cover with tin foil and cook for 2 hours more, and then remove from foil and cook for 1 hour. An idiot can follow this.
  • Keep the temperature consistent – this is why I liked the propane smoker as opposed to a charcoal smoker. It seems like the charcoal/wood smoker is more work. I need the lazy approach, hence the propane. I recognize that the purist will may argue that I am not authentically smoking meat. So be it. At the end of the day I have something that tastes pretty damn good. Perhaps if I continue to delve deeper into this “hobby” I shall “graduate” to a more traditional smoker, but I am happy with this for now.
  • Smoking times – You only really need to provide smoke for the first hour or so. After that it is just slow cooking.

I recognize that I have A LOT more to learn, but I have gotten some of the basics down. I think I’ve given you a good starting point if you are looking to jump into this “sport”. There are some “mods” you can do to this smoker (as with most smokers), such as installing an oven gasket around the door to help prevent smoke from escaping from anywhere but the smoke stack (smoke DOES leak).

Here is a picture of my first rack of ribs. The picture was taken with my Evo – unfortunately, it didn’t come out as clear as I would have liked it. The ribs were gone in 10 minutes. They were fantastic.

 

 

 

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Lazy Commuting in New York City

Sun, Sep 18, 2011

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This is specific to NYC; depending on your city, you may or may not have this option.

So I got an e-mail the other day from the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority, NYC’s transit division) offering their new EasyPay MetroCard. It doesn’t get any easier than this. If you have to commute regularly (or even not that often, as is the case with me) I can not understand why anyone would not want one of these cards. I generally do not commute in NYC, so when I do, I am always wondering if I have enough money on my MetroCard. The EasyPay card will allow you to view your balance online and add money if you need to. Better yet, if you lose it, you don’t lose the remaining money on the card.

http://www.mta.info/metrocard/EasyPayXpress.htm

Tell me why you wouldn’t want one? Unless, of course, you are one of those people that don’t use EZ-Pass. If you are lazy like me, having a commuter card that can be re-filled online is lazy 101.

Does your city offer something like this? Do you take advantage of it?

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AT&T Wireless is the worst. Can they be labeled the Anti-Lazy or labor intensive device carrier?

Mon, Jun 13, 2011

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I have an HTC Aria phone on AT&T. It’s a good little device. Its running Android 2.2 which I downloaded from HTC, it originally came with Android 2.1. I have some complaints about the crap-ware and bloat-ware that AT&T puts on the device but overall I like it, AT&T made an attempt to make the device better by recently pushing an Over the Air update that would allow non-market apps (sideloading). Most non-AT&T Android devices already allow this feature. This update would allow me to install Amazon app store as well as other non android market apps.
After a month I tried to find out why I still hadn’t received this update. Looking online some people had received it.

I hate to call customer service because the representative are usually ignorant. So I used the web chat feature on the AT&T website. The rep was understanding and seemed to look into my problem and eventually that my device wasn’t listed in the system they use to push the updates and that I would have to call customer service to have them add it.

CS Rep#1
Attempted to explain my situation to the CS rep. He got hung-up on the previous web chat and I had to tell them no less than 15 times that I wasn’t having a problem with web chat on my device and that my problem was that I still haven’t received the OTA update from at&t to enable sideloading of non market apps. I might as well have been speaking German to this guy. I got frustrated and hung up while he had me on hold.

CS Rep#2
Explained my situation to this rep I did not mention my web chat or previous call so I wouldn’t have the problem I had before… lol. Well this one told me it was a device problem directed me to the htc support site to download the update. I attempted to reason with her to no avail. I asked for a supervisor and was told they will say the same thing. I was given the url to the htc website and a hardware replacement phone number and the kiss-off.

So in conclusion I would never buy another device from AT&T STAY AWAY! The CSRs are retarded!

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Evernote

Fri, Apr 22, 2011

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Remember Everything.

Pretty bold slogan, right?

Head to Evernote, and that’s what you will see. Evernote offers its users the ability to save anything that they want. If you can type it, scan it, say it or photograph it you can store it in Evernote note. Even better, once it’s in there, you can able to file it in a notebook, categorize it and tag it and ultimately search for it. You can then access that information from anywhere with an internet connection. PC’s, Blackberrys, Android phones, iPhones… it doesn’t matter.

Capture Anything – Organize It – Find Anything Fast

Throughout the year, receipts for donations, whether they are physical receipts or confirmation e-mails are bound to get lost. We put them on our dresser, they sit there for months, and then we toss them in an envelope, never to be found again. Not with Evernote. If it is a physical receipt, I scan it into Evernote and then shred it. I then file it in my “Taxes” notebook and tag it with “2011”. When it’s time to do my taxes, I open the Taxes folder and search for “2011” and everything is there. Oh, and if it’s an e-mail confirmation for a donation, I simply forward it to Evernote using the e-mail address they provide me. Add @taxes #2011 (notebooks and tags) to the subject, and it’s filed accordingly.

Another great feature is optical character recognition (“OCR”). If you scan a document into Evernote, you will be able to search the document itself (provided the type is legible to begin with). Perfect example – when I originally set up Evernote I had a ton of printed recipes that I had accumulated over the years. They were in various unorganized manila folders. Appetizers, Thanksgiving, Italian – I think you get the point. After scanning them into Evernote, I was able to easily search them. Better yet, the notes that I may have made in the margins of the original recipes are still there to view as well. And get this – I installed the Evernote app on the Android g Tablet that I picked up a few weeks ago. I can now search for the recipe and then sit it on the counter in the kitchen. It may not be the most manly example, but I think you get the point *grin*.

Here are some other notebooks I have set up on my Evernote to give you an idea of what you can do:

  • Health – all health related stuff that comes in the mail that I haven’t been able to convert to electronic delivery
  • Home Inventory – take pictures of big ticket items in your house and store it on Evernote. You can take the pictures with your smartphone and immediately upload them
  • Automobile – receipts from car repairs and maintenance
  • Home Improvement – receipts and manuals for appliances, etc. Find the manual online and send it to Evernote. You’ll never have to search a manufacturers website again, and you’ll always have the correct manual at hand
  • Wedding – when my wife and I were planning our wedding, I used Evernote to store menus and estimates from the different restaurants that we spoke with
  • Bills – this is a big one, but whenever a bill comes in that I can’t convert to paperless delivery, I immediately scan it into Evernote and shred it. It helps to keep the paper intake low in the house. Trust me, things still get out of hand with paper laying around the house, but it’s better than it was before.

Well, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. Evernote has a free and a premium version. The free version limits your data transfer rate per month, and doesn’t allow for snaring of notebooks (a very cool feature). $45 gets you a year’s worth of their Premium version, which allow you to upload anyfile, up to 1 gigabyte per month (the free version only allows 60GB). Try the free version. I think you’ll like it. It took me about a month to realize I needed to upgrade.

Do you have Evernote? What are you storing with it? Or, what application do you use for archiving?

UPDATE: I fount a neat little 60 second elevator pitch for Evernote – You can check it out >here<.

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Gadget Boy, meet Android (oh, and a cool app called “Our Groceries”)…

Mon, Mar 28, 2011

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So I have had an Android phone before… I originally owned the Samsung Moment which, although it was a cool phone, it wasn’t all that spectacular in my opinion.

A few weeks ago I renewed my contract and chose the HTC Evo 4G from Sprint.

This thing is a beast. I guess it doesn’t hurt that when I ugraded, my wife also upgraded on Verizon from a Blackberry to an Android.  She has been wanting to move to the Android platform for some time. Since she is with Verizon, it was the Droid Incredible for her. The two of us have gone nuts with the phones. In addition to the games (apparently one cannot own an Android phone without a copy of Angry Birds installed), we are trying to incorporate the phones more into our daily lives.

Our Groceries

I keep lists. Lots of lists. So does my wife. Generally, I find myself e-mailing my wife things like “can you add eggs to the list?”. Makes no sense and wastes time. Even more useless is having to call, text or e-mail your significant other to find out what you need more of when you are stopping at the grocery store. I did some searching and found “Our Groceries“. The problem I was finding was that many of the apps that people use are share-able, but only through e-mail (drawback – I e-mail you my list when I am done, but what if you now add more items to it?) . I’m sure you see that trying to keep an updated list between two people could become very cumbersome. With “Our Groceries“, we can maintain a common list that is maintained literally on the fly. After installing and setting up on both my phone and my wife’s, we were in business. As I would add items on my phone they would update on hers within seconds. If I delete them, they disappear off of hers nearly immediately.

Voila!

This program does it. Very cool indeed. And verrrry pro-Lazy…

Suggestion for the developer: add a bar code reader to the app. When I use a can of something I can just scan the barcode before I throw it in the recycling bin to let me know I need more – now THAT would be extremely pro-Lazy!

One last note – you don’t have to both have Android phones to enjoy this app – it also works on iPhone and Blackberry. I am assuming the functionality will be the same on the iPhone – not sure about the Blackberry.

Enjoy!

What apps do you use to maintain your lists?

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Progress, progress…

Mon, Mar 7, 2011

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So my weight loss is coming along. I am really not paying too much attention to it – I would say I am paying more attention my workouts more than anything.

In the spirit of being lazy, incorporating running can be tough. But you do need exercise regardless, and for me – well running does it. 30 minutes on a treadmill burns about 430 calories, which is crucial (again, for me) to weight loss. I also feel for the time invested, you get the best results. The problem is still trying to keep your mind wrapped around doing something that can be extremely boring.

So what are my gadgets?

iPod – Mandatory. Music makes the time fly. Think about it – 30 minutes is about 7 songs.

Garmin 205 GPS Watch – Forget trying to map out where you would like to run on Google. Turn it on, wait for it to find satellites, and start running. The 205 keeps track of the time, distance and speed for you. It also keeps your runs extremely efficient. When you return home, connect it to your laptop using a USB plug and you can download the data from your run. I was able to pick up the 205 through Amazon for less than $100 during a gold box sale. It is a bit bulky compared to the newer models but does the job just fine.

DailyBurn – This is a website that is great for tracking workouts and current body weight. If you want to get crazy, it will also track your diet for you. I suggest you track your calorie intake for a week – you will be surprised at what you will learn.

BodyMedia Fit – This little device is awesome. You place it on your left or right tricep and it begins collecting crazy amounts of data regarding your activities. In the end, it is able to (with a margin of error of about 10%) provide you with great data that is crucial to weight loss. I can see total calories burned, total hours slept, steps taken throughout the day and a graph of my calories burned on a minute to minute basis. Compare the data to your calories consumed, and you will know for certain whether or not you are achieving your goals. It provides a fun way to track everything as well.

What gadgets help you exercise?

 

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Follow My Progress – Daily Burn

Wed, Feb 23, 2011

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So they say that to truly commit to something, one should announce it to the world, in order to be held accountable.

I want (make that I need) to weigh 190 pounds.

I also need to accomplish this in the laziest way possible…

Follow my progress at DailyBurn by clicking here or by clicking on the big button to the right. —->

You can also track my running there as I train for the New York City Marathon.

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FTD – Will they regain my business?

Tue, Feb 22, 2011

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So FTD responded to my tweet on Friday afternoon, shortly after my second tweet regarding the fact that I had still not received a response. They requested that I send a message to another customer service e-mail address, which I did.

Keep in mind that things were fresh in my mind when I wrote this. Still, I believe the e-mail doesn’t sound too pyschotic.

As you can see below, the e-mail below was sent the night of Valentine’s Day, after hours of on-hold time just trying to find out the status was of my fiance’s flower delivery.

This order was placed well in advance of Valentine’s Day. My fiance works in New York City, where there is no shortage of florists to make a delivery.

The experience I had with your company was clearly the worst experience I have ever had, and that is quite a feat.

To begin with, your on hold messages contradict your website experience:

“If you need to check the status of an order go to our website.” – when the person visits your website and attempts to check the status of their order, they are informed that you will contact the local florist and e-mail them. That e-mail never comes. Additionally, one comes to find out that you won’t receive a status on your order until the end of the day, which is really useless – if someone is expecting an e-mail they are expecting it within hours – and let’s not forget that mine never arrived. Tell the customer that on the website! Manage their expectations! If they’re not going to get it until tonight because of your business model then you should let them know that.

You also suggest during your on hold time “messages” (which as you can see, when you are sitting on hold for 40 minutes you tend to hear alot of) customers are told to “Please go to our website and e-mail us”. I defy you to easily find your e-mail address. Your Customer Service link on the top right hand of your corner takes you to another page that attempts to  force your customer into various buckets, which I understand is the purpose for efficiency reasons. However – there is an e-mail link in the middle of the page (directly to the right of the customer service representative’s picture) that would let the customer believe that clicking on it will either bring up their e-mail client or at a minimum, bring them to a page with an e-mail address. It does not. So the person that hangs up to go to your website to follow your directions has to pick the phone back up again to call you. Now the customer is angrier, and you have a bigger issue on your hands.

My first interaction with your company took approximately an hour (45 minutes of on hold time and 10 minutes on the phone with your CSR, as she attempted to contact the florist the order was directed, to no avail. At this point, I simply wanted a refund. When I mentioned to the CSR that I wanted to speak with a supervisor, she transferred me to a supervisor’s voice mail, which, in the middle of the outgoing message, kicked me back in to a queue for PetCo (simply amazing). I did receive an e-mail that night confirming the refund.

The next day, at approximately 3:30pm, my fiance received word from her building’s security desk that a delivery of flowers had arrived. Should she accept the flowers? Were these complimentary for your massive screw-up or by accepting delivery, was I consenting to the original charges? Clearly I could not reach a CSR, since wait times on the 15th were 45 minutes to an hour. Due to the lack of communication for your company, I told her that she needed to reject the delivery.

I was now forced to contact your company again, as I was concerned that my fiance’s rejection of the flowers would put me in a position where your company would insist that because I rejected the flowers, I was still responsible for payment. Because your on-hold times were still 30 minutes or more, I wasn’t able to get through until Wednesday the 16th. My second interaction lasted a while – I walked your CSR through exactly what is stated above, even asking her to visit your website to show her what I was referring to. She wrote everything down (whether or not she actually did we will never know) as I continued to go through the events leading up to my conversation with her. I told her that I expect something from your company to explain the events that transpired today. Still, nothing arrived. Had it not been for my Tweeting, I may not have ever heard back from you.

So the question it, what are you doing to accommodate customers for this horrible experience?

Should you wish to contact me regarding this, you may do so either through e-mail or via telephone (XXX-XXX-XXXX).

I await your reply.

That was Saturday morning. Yesterday morning (Monday) I received an e-mail and another Tweet, that someone would be contacting me.

That afternoon, a gentleman called me. I am not sure his title, but his purpose was clear – to try and make things right.

He offered $25 off my next order.

“”Next order? Who says I’m ordering again?”

I explained that based upon the events that led up to this, I wasn’t trying to be greedy, but c’mon…

Ultimately, an arrangement of mixed roses was offered to be sent to my fiance’s office, which I accepted. In lieu of the original Valentine’s Day card, the customer service rep requested that I allow him to replace it with an apology letter.

The flowers are scheduled to be delivered today.

What say you? Should I use FTD again? Did they make things right?

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FTD – Apparently not the lazy way to send flowers on Valentine’s Day…

Thu, Feb 17, 2011

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On February 4, 2011, I placed an order with FTD to deliver flowers to my fiance at her workplace on Valentine’s Day. This was in addition to the gift I was getting her. In my opinion, sending flowers should have been the easiest part of my gift to her, in the truest spirit of laziness…

Previously, I had used ProFlowers to deliver flowers – this time I opted for FTD, since I could gain extra miles through Continental for placing the purchase with them. 

Needless to say, the flowers never arrived on Valentine’s Day. The entire process was a nightmare. I thought it would help other people to see what I ultimately wrote to FTD – I have yet to receive a response.

To whom it may concern:

I want to bring to your attention the events that transpired today, February 14, 2011. Perhaps you should use it as a case study within your organization.
 
On February 4, 2011, I placed an order for flowers to be delivered on Valentine’s Day to my fiancé. The order number was FRN576215.
 
At approximately 12:30pm, when I hadn’t received a call from a fiancé to thank me for the beautiful flowers, I decided to go to FTD.com to check on the status.
 
I entered my e-mail address and order number and was given the following message:
Your order is being processed by a local FTD florist. We will check with the florist on your order number FRN576215 and provide you with a status update via email at
xxxx@gmail.com.
Thank you for using FTD.com.

You would think that based upon the message, I would receive an e-mail shortly regarding my inquiry.
 
Approximately two (2) hours passed and no response. I decided to call FTD. After waiting 38 minutes (literally), I was forced to hang up. I thought perhaps it would be better to send an e-mail. For reference, I suggest that you visit FTD.com and click on the Customer Service link that you reference in your “on hold” message. Within that page it states that if you cannot find the answer to your question to e-mail FTD. However, when you click on the email link, you are brought to another page that does not list an email address to send a message to. Unbelievable.
 
It is now 6pm. At approximately 5:15, I was able to finally contact a service representative (after waiting another 20 minutes). After explaining my story to her, she attempted to contact the florist, who was not available either! When I requested that I be connected to a supervisor, she agreed and asked me to hold. After another 2-3 minutes, the phone appeared to ring. After many rings, a voice mail system picked up. Halfway through the call, I was cut off and placed back into a hold state. Except this time, after a few minutes, I heard a message thanking me for calling PETCO!
 
At this point, I would like to personally thank you for ruining both mine and my fiancé’s Valentine’s Day. Nothing you can do at this point will salvage the poor experience that I endured today.
 
In an economy that we are currently faced with, you simply cannot survive without a solid customer service experience. Yours is below par, in my opinion. 

Regards,

GadgetBoy

UPDATE:

I was able (after waiting on hold for 45 minutes) to speak with another customer service representative. Although she apologized and confirmed that my order was cancelled, she really did nothing more that take down my complaints to “make sure they get to the right people”. I explained to her that my letter to them would be posted in it’s entirety online, and that I would strongly suggest that someone respond accordingly.

Still no response.

FTD – Bad.

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Buying concert tickets (or any tickets) the lazy way.

Mon, Feb 14, 2011

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So I don’t know about you, but I have been to a lot of concerts over the years. A lot. That being said, I don’t necessarily need to see certain artists anymore. If I already have seen them, it was probably when they were in their prime. Nevertheless, if I can find good seats of course I would still be interested in seeing them.

What’s a lazy guy to do?

Many venues (at least here in New York) offer pre-sale seats to certain shows. You don’t have to be some kind of “insider” to gain access to these seats. True, there will be shows that offer tickets to “fan club” members and there is no sense paying for access (unless you really love the band), but there will almost always offer other pre-sale tickets to the public. For example, the Meadowlands in New Jersey (www.meadowlands.com) and Madison Square Garden (www.msginsider.com) offer “All Access” and “MSG Insider” (respectively). Sign up and make sure you opt in to receive their e-mails. Generally, the e-mail traffic is not overwhelming (and if it gets to be too much, they are pretty good about the whole unsubscribe process). The e-mails will notify you when a show is coming and sometimes provide a password for the pre-sale. You should also check your credit card companies, as American Express and Citibank are forever offering pre-sale seating passwords and links.

Flag the e-mails with your GMail account (c’mon, you have a GMail account, right) or whatever other e-mail software you use and have them dropped into a folder. Check the folder and when you see a show you like, copy the name of the show and the password associated with it. Paste it in a calendar reminder and you are all set.

The morning the tickets are on sale you will receive a reminder. Make sure you are on the site for the tickets at least a couple of minutes before the sale begins. As it draws closer, begin refreshing your screen. Eventually, the page will turn from telling you the seats will be on sale soon to the selection page. Select the pricing level you are interested in and hit submit. I generally choose the higher priced seats because I am going into this with the idea that I am only going to go if the seats are good.

A few weeks ago my fiance and I saw Bryan Adams (laugh if you will but the show was sold out and the performance was great) at the Beacon Theater in NY. Using the method above I was able to get row M, aisle seats (read: great seats) for face value. Ultimately, this is great for setting up really fun future plans. Sometimes the show won’t be for another six months. Put the show in your calendar and you’ll generally forget about it until it’s about two weeks away and you have a nice night already half planned.

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