Commentary/Opinion, Complaint, Computers, Economy, Electronics, Money, Smartphones

Why Mobile Payments Will Fail


If you aren’t familiar with the concept of mobile payments, here’s a quick little rundown of how they work.

First, you must sign up with any number of services out there such as Google Wallet or Isis Wallet. These serve as your “bank” in which you can deposit money or have it transferred from your “real bank,” the one that you can touch and walk into. The services I’ve used have also given me up to $30 on my accounts just to get things going and to see how convenient it is. Free money.

Second, you need to have a compatible smartphone equipped with NFC (Near Field Communications). Using your virtual bank’s app, this allows it to communicate with the point-of-sale PIN pad and will deduct the purchase total from the balance on your account.

mobile-payments-safe1

Finally, you need to find a retailer that is capable of processing payments via NFC and more often than not, each service’s website or app will find every one that is around you.

And that’s the start of the trouble.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the concept of mobile payments. I’ve used it on a number of occasions and it’s quick and easy – when it works. I’ll get to that later.

But first, let’s look at vendors. One of the first things I noticed was that it’s not everywhere and mostly, not in places I’d frequent. For example, looking at one app’s map of vendors, the following are listed:

  • A smoke shop
  • Dry cleaners
  • An eyebrow threading service

I’m pret-ty sure I won’t be using any of those soon, and the places where you’d think mobile payments would be handy don’t have it. Grocery stores would be one of those places and there’s only one local chain that is mobile wallet-friendly (and it’s not my company). In short, there’s just not enough useful NFC POS vendors around. Not even any of our local coffee houses, including that evil Seattle-based giant, accepts them. On the other hand, there are some soda vending machines that accept mobile payments and that could come in handy should you not have any cold, hard cash on you.

The second and final reason I think this concept will fail is this: not enough vendor education. I’ve been to places that accept mobile payments and when it came time to pay, the employees looked at me as if I was Mr. Spock standing there with a lightsaber (yeah, I know, blah blah blah). While there are only a handful of places that do accept them, finding an employee who actually knows how to process them, let alone knows what the hell it is, is indeed rare.

This happened to me yesterday at The Flame Broiler. I placed my order and when it came time to pay, I showed the cashier my phone indicating that I wanted to pay via my mobile wallet.

Deer in headlights. Complete silence. Utter disbelief. Smeckeldorfed.

They had absolutely no clue how to run it so I had to pull out my debit card and pay with real, physical plastic. I wanted to avoid this because I got $20 added to my virtual account when I opened it so I thought, “Hey, free meal. Dinner is on me tonight!”

Yeah. No. And this wasn’t the first time this happened to me, either.

While a great concept, I get the feeling that these problems will ultimately lead to its demise. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Advertisements
Economy, Life, Money, Work

A Mickey Mouse Job, Part Deux


As you might recall in a previous blog post, I had an interview with The Happiest Place on Earth and in the end was given a note telling me that I was pretty much short-listed should any positions become available.

Deep down inside I never thought they’d call, but I got an email a few days ago stating that they were still interested and to schedule a time for the Casting Agent to call me. I did just that.

My interview was scheduled for 10:30 am today, July 18, just one day after Disneyland’s 59th birthday.

They called 9:20 am. The Casual Part-Time position of Vacation Planner (read: Ticket Seller) was offered.

And I turned it down.

Mickey-Mouse-Surprised

I know there are tons of people in this world that would most likely kill at the chance to work for Disneyland and are yelling at their collective monitors right now because of my decision, shaking their fists in disgust.

But most people I know who do work there are a tad bit obsessed with The Mouse and all he represents. But I’m not one of those folks.

I applied at a time when I needed a job and was fully committed to working when they wanted me to. We also had two cars back then and the situation was a little different. Yes, I could ride my scooter but coming home at odd hours of the night could prove to be unsafe.

Things have changed since I applied and I wasn’t ready to commit myself to it so I did what I had to do, and I have even more reasons.

First, the hours. There was simply no guarantee of the hours I would be getting which would defeat the purpose. For a part-time job that requires 100% of your time, I think that’s kind of ridiculous. At least I have some flexibility at my current job, so much so that I was able to land a second job just this week. More on that later.

Second, things are happening at work. Our manager has his eyes on two people that he wants to promote as soon as Corporate allows him to, one of which is yours truly. It may take a few months but I am guaranteed it is going to happen. Besides, I’ve already paid my union dues and I’m never getting them back.

Third, I have a family. As a neophyte, The Mouse needs you to be there whenever he wants you to and that includes Friday nights, weekends, and holidays. That’s zip-a-dee-doo-dah fine and well for someone with absolutely no commitments (*cough*my brother*cough) but I have mine, and I enjoy the time we have together. I’m just not ready for that – at least at minimum wage.

Then, of course, is the adherence of their strict personal appearance policy or the “Disney Look.” I sort of don’t like someone having control over the way I look. That should be my choice.

I understand that there are magical perks when it comes to working there, such as free Park entry to ANY Disney Park in the world and, of course, the mystique that comes along with saying that you work for the original Disneyland, Walt’s dream-come-to-life.

I had to weigh the good with the bad here and in my case, there was more bad than good. During the interview I did tell them that I would honestly love to commit to it, I just can’t do it with my current impending promotion and second job. The Casting Agent even asked if it would interfere with my current job so that should tell you what they expect.

So I won’t be selling anyone Disneyland tickets any time soon, and I think I’m okay with that.

Now, onto the second job.

Seeing my hours getting cut at my current job, I felt I had to to something in order to make up for them. I was scouring Craigslist nightly since most job sites aren’t really offering anything I was interested in.

But Craigslist offered one that seemed intriguing, a simple retail position. I’ve worked retail. Should be easy. I applied, interviewed, and was hired on the spot for a part-time position at store that will be opening soon. If you’re a fan of the blog, I’m sure you’ve heard of it before.

So now I have two jobs, both of which are close enough for me to ride my scooter around safely. One is less than a mile from home; the other might be a little over a mile away. I could work both on the same day if I needed to without any goofy restrictions or need to be available all hours of the day or holidays (although I did work on the 4th of July). When compared to what The House of Mouse wanted, my work-life balance will be much more stable this way.

And that makes me happy…just not happy enough to link to the Pharrell Williams song of the same name…

Cars, Economy, Money, Work

Our Friday


Last Friday, Ann and I had a list of things to accomplish:

  1. Sell our old refrigerator. It was an extra taking up room in the garage and hadn’t been used on a regular basis since I was laid off in 2009, back in a time when I actually made decent money and we could afford to buy extra groceries and store them in the garage. It was money sitting around that we could use.
  2. Get rid of the Kia Optima. While it seemed like a wise decision at the time, what was our 20th anniversary gift to each other turned out to be a nightmare when I was let go from my last proofreading job. Unemployment just didn’t pay enough and I couldn’t find a job so despite our best plans to keep the thing, we just couldn’t do it.
  3. Look into a means of transportation for me. I had told Ann that while I can easily walk or ride my bike to work, there may be days when I need to go a little further than either foot or bicycle could take me – comfortably, at least. A scooter of some sort was the best solution we could come up with so we had a list of stores to check out.

So let’s cover each and every bullet in this list.

The Fridge
IMG_20140702_180325We had plugged it in a few days before so that potential buyers could see that it was working. Then Thursday morning, I placed an ad for the fridge on Craigslist and got a bite later that night via text message. We were initially asking $400 for it which we thought was reasonable considering it was over $1500 brand new.

The buyer thought otherwise. Stating that she was unemployed (and a host of other sob stories I won’t elaborate upon), she told me that renting the U-Haul truck cost more than she expected and asked if we would take $280 for it. Ann and I discussed it and agreed we would. We arranged the pick-up time of 9:30 am on Friday morning since we had planned to be at Carmax to sell the Kia at about 10 am.

They didn’t arrive until 11 am but the buyer was keeping in touch with me via text message (traffic on the freeway, etc.). Both of us were nearly livid despite her good nature. But when she and her helpers arrived to pick it up, she then said it wasn’t what she expected and that she thought the entire unit was stainless steel, not just the doors. You can guess where it went next.

That’s right. She wanted to pay only $200 for it. By now, Ann was fed up with all the bargaining and just agreed to take it to get this person out of our hair. I concurred. Take your fucking shit and leave. We already wasted our day waiting for you to arrive. Hell, I even threw in an old tube TV that someone down the street was getting rid of. I was going to use it for my NES but figured I’d never get around to it, so I let her have it.

The lesson learned here: don’t sell shit on Craigslist. Just don’t. You’ll get burned.

The Kia Optima
20140711_125642What you see here is the last picture I ever took of our 2013 Kia Optima as it sat waiting in line at Carmax. We had it appraised earlier in the week for X-dollars and came by to rid ourselves of it.

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as one might think, especially when the vehicle has negative equity. This means we had to pay the difference between what Carmax offered and what the buyout quote on the lease was. Yes, we had to take out a loan with Frankie and Knuckles to cover the cost of the negative equity but in the end, we left free and clear of the car we could no longer afford.

Now let me tell you about Kia. They are jackwipes. Total, complete jackwipes. Shortly after I was laid off, I called them to ask what we could do in order to keep the car: defer payments, return it, sell it, etc. Their only suggestion was to sell it to a private party which in essence we did. But when I inquired about deferring payments, they refused to help because it was a leased vehicle.

Hmm. That’s strange. When I had a 1991 Nissan Sentra, Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation was kind enough to defer two payments for California residents after the Northridge Earthquake and a bunch of wildfires – even if they were nowhere near either. When we leased a Ford Escape and I was laid off, a call to Ford was all it took to defer three months of payments so that we could get ourselves back on our feet. Toyota also lent a hand when when we needed some financial help.

Kia? No way. They wouldn’t budge. They are the cheapest and most unsympathetic group of bastards I’ve ever dealt with, and they even gave Carmax a hard time about selling the Optima to them. I will never, ever buy another Kia or for that matter, Hyundai. Same thing.

The lesson learned here: be like me and don’t even think of buying either. Kia will not help you when you need it.

The New Ride
It was a long day by now. We took $200 less than we wanted for the fridge, the selling process at Carmax took much longer than expected (three hours, mostly because of Kia being a bunch of jackwipes), and we were adjusting to the reality of having only one car. It sort of hit us hard and kind of left me deflated. But we had to press on and look at the possibility of getting me a way to get around.

I had been doing some research about scooters and had a few in mind and where I wanted to check them out. Earlier in the week I visited a local shop that had a few Lance scooters in their tiny showroom.

What, you’ve never heard of Lance Scooters? It’s okay. I bet most haven’t. Anyway, it all sounded okay and then I asked about financing.

They wanted half the cost of the scooter as a down payment and post-dated checks for the remainder of the term. They would deposit them as each month came around.

Yeah, no. I didn’t have the $1200 to put down.

After we sold the Kia, we went to another local store to see what they had. It was a small selection and they were only 50cc, meaning a small motor that wouldn’t go very fast or keep up with traffic. Besides, they salesman didn’t seem to interested in helping. By the way, the used ones they had were actually Honda Metropolitan models that were used by Rose Parade officials during the parade. Kind of cool, but only 50cc. Next.

It was getting late and I wanted to check one more place which was by the in-laws’ house. By now we were all cranky and in need of a break. We went to Del Amo Motorsports and spoke with a cool guy named Martin about what it was I was looking for.

He showed me everything that would do the job and then some. In the end, the overall best deal was the Yamaha Zuma 125, the number obviously implying the motor type (125cc). It had power, it didn’t look like a wannabe Vespa and unlike a Lance scooter, parts would be easy to come by should it ever have problems. It’s a Yamaha, you know.

Then the number-crunching game began. I always hate that part of making a big purchase and was hesitant about it. Then again, the cost was nowhere near that of a car nor were the payments. In fact, they are about 1/4 what we were paying on the Kia Optima. After some wheeling and dealing we came to an agreement, shook hands, picked out a helmet that was part of the deal and then like the rest of the day, waited – again.

But this was a good waiting period. Things were happening and everyone at this shop was a total pro and very thorough. I signed some paperwork, got approved, then was made a fool of as they announced over the paging system that they had sold a Yamaha Zuma 125.

Then I banged the gong to let everyone in the store know I was the lucky dude. The scooter was prepped, I was shown how to operate it and then nervously, hopped on it and took it for a spin.

Did I mention that it had been years since I last rode a scooter and damn near hit my own car with it? Yeah. Maybe not.

But it was different this time. Maybe all of the cycling I’ve done has made me more aware of things and not as crazy when riding because I handled riding this like a champ. It took a few runs up and down the street adjacent to Del Amo Motorsports to get a feel of it but once I did, I had it down.

The lesson learned here: buy your scooter from Del Amo Motorsports. You won’t regret it, and tell them Dave sent you. I get rewarded for referrals!

The End of a Long Day
The ride home was fun and I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way. It was literally fun. With Ann following me, I took the long way so as not to encounter much traffic. It was at an open stretch of road with no cars around that I decided to open it up a little and hit a speed of 45 MPH, which feels a lot like 90 MPH on a scooter. I took it easy the rest of the way home.

When I pulled into the driveway I had a smile on my face and told Ann, “You need to get one of these things!”

And for what it’s worth, here’s a collage of my new ride.

2014-07-12-10-33-19_deco

The mileage on this thing is estimated to be around 89 MPG but naturally, depending on a number of factors including driver’s weight, YMMV. The Optima never managed to deliver more than 19 MPG even while using cruise control. It had horrible mileage despite what Kia claims.

With the scooter’s 1.6 gallon tank and an estimated 89 MPG, we’re looking at around 142.4 miles per tank. It doesn’t seem like a lot but with me working so close to home and not going very far otherwise, that could last me a long time.

Besides, who couldn’t get used to this?

2014-07-13-16-21-40_deco

It didn’t have a full tank when I drove it home and with me riding it home and doing a little local riding plus going to work, the gas had gone down to a little over half a tank.

It may now cost me $5 to fill my tank versus the $25 for half a tank on the Optima. And in addition to cutting payments by 75% versus what we paid on the Optima, the cost to insure this is lower as well.

We’re saving money on insurance. We’re saving it on gas. We’re saving it on monthly payments.

For everything we put up with last Friday, I’d say we ended the day making the right choice.

Economy, Money, Technology, Television

Cutting the Cords


Cryptic__45First of all, Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you out there who care to celebrate it. We do and there was plenty of celebrating around these parts as it is also my birthday – 45th to be exact. I used the photo you see here as my Facebook profile picture today in order to cryptically acknowledge my date of birth.

With all of that out of the way, let’s get to the meaty center of this post.

As you know, things are starting to turn around for us. We’ve figured out how to pay for the car and I’m going to be trained for my new job tomorrow morning then start work the following week. Even so, money will still continue to be tight around here so we’ve decided to do what we could to cut back on some of our expenses.

One of the biggest and essential expenses we have is our bundled Verizon FiOS bill, which at present is just over $100/month for phone, Internet, and TV. Our contract is up next month which means that our 2-year honeymoon price will soon be out the window and it could then be upped to $150 or maybe $200. That’s way too much especially when this guy can’t tell you the last time he sat down and watched a network show. Remember, I don’t even own a DVR. That’s how important TV is to me.

rokuWe were looking into a variety of options including cheaper TV and Internet service. We don’t care about the landline because of our unlimited everything plans we have on our mobile phones. Even so, if we did get a new TV provider, we’d have yet another honeymoon period before our rates would jump to some crazy amount. Not what we want.

So after much deliberation, we decided to do the following once the contact is up.

  • Ditch the landline. We just don’t use or need it.
  • Keep FiOS Internet. It’s just the opposite of the landline.
  • Cancel FiOS TV service. It’s back to terrestrial TV for us.

So what will we do for TV? Roku, the tiny little box that streams content via WiFi directly to your TV, will be our TV provider.

Yes, we figured that this would be the best way to go once we get rid of our TV service and while it doesn’t have everything, it’s a means of entertainment. I bought a Roku 2 box the other day and here’s what I really like about it.

  • Almost free TV. Roku has a bunch of different channels that you can add to your account, the main one being Hulu Plus which runs $7.99/mo. (Hint: download the app then sign up for a Plus account through the app and get 3 MONTHS free vs. the standard 7 DAYS when you register via your computer!) And “almost free” means just that. While a lot of the content is free, movie channels require you to register with a credit card should you want to rent or purchase content. In fact, Roku also requires credit card info as some channels are not free.
  • Setup. Probably the longest part of setting it up was entering my ridiculously long WiFi password via the on-screen keyboard. The rest was a breeze.
  • Download the app. It makes using the device much simpler.
  • More than TV. Pandora and Slacker channels are also available so you can rock out to your favorite tunes and when you sign in to your account, your stations will be there and ready to stream. Handy when you have it connected to a surround sound system like I do.
  • Headphone jack in the remote (Roku 2 and 3). Talk about privacy! I watched a bunch of stuff last night and didn’t disturb a soul.
  • Watching streaming content from my La-Z-Boy. There are some shows like Leo Laporte’s The Tech Guy that I’d rather watch on my 42” TV and not on my small monitor. This solves that problem.

So what’s not to like about it?

  • Limited programming. You would think that with the plethora of channels you get that content would be endless. Well, it is. Some shows on Hulu Plus may only have one random season available and that could be the first or the ninth. It’s really hit-and-miss, and a lot of the movies are not the best. Popcornflix, for example, is just horrid although I did watch a documentary about the Dalai Lama last night which was interesting.
  • Not another account! Some channels require you to register in order to view content. This was fine and well until I realized that I needed a notebook to jot down all of my info for these accounts I just created.
  • Useless channels. In addition to creating new accounts, many channels cannot be viewed unless you have a qualifying cable TV account. This is pretty useless when your goal is to ditch your provider for the sake of something cheaper. Why do I want to watch such a channel on Roku if I already have it on FiOS? Duh.
  • Some channels listed but cannot be viewed. One such channel is Travel Channel which shows up on the Hulu guide but whose content can only be viewed online and not via Roku.
  • Limited content. Some programs may show up but you’d be disappointed to learn that only short clips can be viewed. It looks like a lot but in reality they are mostly just a few minutes in length.

One of the things I will miss about FiOS is watching my Dodgers play. While I can still get selected games via standard TV, a majority of the games are broadcast on cable so I’ll miss out. This is my sacrifice as is Ann’s abandoning of Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters.

The thing is that if you sit yourself down and search long enough, you will find something to watch on Roku and as of now, I’ve got around seven movies in my Hulu queue just waiting for me. If you’re one of those who absolutely must watch the next episode of that Kardashian reality show then Roku is most likely not going to be for you.

But if you’re someone just looking for some kind of entertainment whether music, movies or TV, this gadget will probably be worth the money you’ll invest. As a matter of fact, I bought two of them this weekend to plan for the impending doom of FiOS TV.

By doing things this way, we may end up spending around $60 for our TV service ($50 for Internet and $8 for Hulu Plus) vs. the over $100 for our new bill.

The cord cutting has indeed begun and while not 100% satisfactory, I’ll gladly pay the lower price.

Economy, Electronics, Money, Work

Very Well, Then…


I won’t get into details about how I scored an interview today because, as you will read in this post, it will be completely irrelevant.

At any rate, I was called for a phone interview by a place I visited the last weekend. I was to be interviewed between the hours of 2 pm and 4 pm which I was definitely prepared for. I made sure that my phone was by my side, that Ann picked up Anthony from school so that I wouldn’t miss the call, and also informed my buddy/boss that I would be late for work tonight. (I am currently working part-time at his restaurant.)

So at 2 pm I anticipated the call even though chances of them calling at that exact time were pretty slim. But I waited.

Then 2 pm turned into 3 pm, then 3:30. I usually leave for the job around 3:30 so as to avoid traffic. Before I knew it, the clock read 3:50 and I was ready to get on the freeway for the 30-mile trek to this restaurant. I made it clear that my time between 2 and 4 pm was dedicated to taking the call and I was by my phone the whole time, not using it for anything else.

I got to work around 4:40 or so, not bad considering the traffic I had to deal with. During the entire drive I had my earpiece in my ear just in case I got the call. And if this post is any indication of how things went, you can safely guess that I didn’t get it.

Well, at least not when they said I would.

My phone rang at 4:48. It was them. I answered and spoke to the Sales Manager who told me the interview would last around 10-15 minutes. No problem, I thought. I was ready for this – even 48 minutes later.

We spoke about my past, where I stand currently, why I was interested in the position, what I look for in a company. When it was all said and done, he let me know that “there are a lot of applications we have to go through, so you should expect to hear from us within a couple of days.” I thanked him for his time.

Here’s where it gets funny.

Remember the time I said they called? Here’s a screencap from my phone with the exact information.

2014-01-30-22-05-49

So they made me wait 48 minutes longer for them to call which I guess is understandable if they are calling a lot of people. The guy was apologetic about it but I don’t think it was sincere.

With the interview over, I decided I’d go and check my email. And there was in all its glory!

denied

I figured meh, another denial letter. I should be used to them by now since those are all I’ve gotten since June. I guess I wasn’t cut out to be a car salesman.

But wait. Did you notice something? Look at the time of the email. Here’s a quick breakdown.

  • Time of call: 4:48 pm, 48 minutes past the timeframe discussed
  • Time of email: 4:42 pm, 6 minutes before the interview

You know, it’s a good thing I didn’t check my email before I got the call because I would have either had a lot to say about it or have a totally different mindset during the interview.

It’s reassuring to know that a) these people suck at time management and b) had already made up their minds that I’m not worthy of joining their team.

All in all I found it pretty darn amusing and I’m not disappointed at all by their decision. I’m not sure I want to work for this place if they can’t tell time and I’m keeping this rejection letter since there’s a funny story behind it.

Oh, and remember my previous post? We got our taxes done today and everything is going as planned. Ann has it all figured out down to the penny. Amazing!

Things are finally turning around despite my gloom and doom a few posts ago. They will only get better. I have a feeling.

Economy, Money

The $9,600 Question


Okay hotshot, pop quiz. If you had to pony up $9,600, would you want something to show for it or be empty handed?

That’s exactly what I thought. But that’s the situation we found ourselves in today after getting an appraisal from Carmax for the leased Kia Optima, the car that I said we would probably get rid of since we can no longer afford it with my unemployment benefits being exhausted.

By the way…fuck you, Congress!

Ahem. Anyway, the Carmax appraisal for x-thousand dollars left us with a deficiency of $9,600 which means that if we sold them the car for what they offered, we would be responsible for the $9,600 remaining. It would be the same situation if we sold it to a private party. The salesman told us that the best way to pay it off would be to get a loan through our financial institution.

Here’s the problem with a loan.

Continue reading “The $9,600 Question”

California, Career, Economy, Money

(Un)employed


It’s official: I’m no longer unemployed.

This was the result of about a week of inquiring, calling, and probing a cashier at our local grocery store with questions relating to the store’s current employment status. Finally, after all of that and finishing with my interview today, I can say that I have job.

The cashier in question is one that loves Anthony to pieces and always talks to him whenever she helps us. One day after she rang us up, I asked if she knew if they were hiring. She said that many, many people had recently left and that there should be some vacancies. I slipped her my business card and told her to give me call when she found out.

I never got that call but, after dealing with this craptacular day last week, I went straight to said grocery store and asked the Manager On Duty if there were any positions available. She told me to call the manager the next day and talk to them, which I did. My interview was scheduled for today at 1:00 pm.

I was pretty much told I had the job before I even had a seat. The manager also said that I was overqualified for the job but after telling them I needed a change, they didn’t seem as intimidated by my professional experience. I filled out a few forms, took the drug test right there, and now I await the results. Provided I pass (and I’m sure I will), training will begin the following Saturday.

And that’s that. As for my last blog post in which I was obviously ticked off, I feel it was definitely justified and my feelings pretty much remain the same toward everything I mention in that post. In fact, I might have a little more spite for the EDD after reading this story which claims that 90% of calls go unanswered. I can tell you that after trying to get a hold of them for a simple question, it sure seems like they don’t answer. They are practically impossible to reach.

Oh, and Congress? I may be starting a new job soon but you still suck more than I can put into words for ruining peoples’ lives by not extending unemployment benefits.

It may be part-time and minimum wage but considering the time it took to find something and ultimately get the job, Ann was more excited than she was when I got a job paying 3x more. It’ll be tough but I’d rather survive on a little than worry about when Congress makes up its mind about EDD extensions – and get nothing in the meantime.