Thursday, April 30, 2009

Twick or Tweet?

So I went and researched my options for getting my next dental adventure (two crowns) done down in Peru. It looks like they will likely cost me about a quarter to half the cost by going to one of the best doctors in Lima, plus my insurance will cover 50% of the work done (even in a foreign country, they'll even translate documents!!), so that will be half of THAT cost! So now I just have to figure out how to get it all done, logistically, and talk with the doctor about some more details (oh yea, he speaks fluent English, of course). I wonder if he'll have the awesome DVD goggles to keep me entertained while he's giving me new teeth....

Summer seems to have arrived - at least it did last weekend. So, we celebrated it in style, starting immediately at 5:00pm on Friday. We headed down to Brooklyn to catch a sushi dinner a theater performance with some friends of ours. I thought it was some nice classical music performance, and it was Bach, which was impressive. It was St. Matthew, the Divine. Ever seen Passion of the Christ? Yea, it was like the movie. Only it was all done in opera style, and there was no acting :o|. Three hours of chorus singing interspersed with solo performances, and only one intermission. Yikes, it was rough. No wonder two of the four of us fell asleep (not me, I survived through it, counting down each minute).

Saturday, we slept in a bit until 9:45, when I had to get up to hook my laptop up to my TV and watch the Liverpool game. There's been some pretty crazy games with them lately, unfortunately not in their favor, but they did the job on Saturday, knocking around the opposition in a 3-1 fashion. Afterwards, Erika went to get her haircut for the first time in the US. Being that we live in a heavily Euro/Brazilian immigrant neighborhood, she got a referral from one of her friends to get her haircut at a super-Euro, Croatian place called Gigi. It was great, full of fashionable gay guys with mohawks, techno music blasting, wine or beverages available to the guests and clients. And, to top it off, Erika got a great haircut and walked out looking like Paula Abdul. Which is not a bad thing!

We had some free time then, and it was hot out, so we decided it would be great to take a mass-transit road trip to check out some beaches. Three subways, one express bus, and two hours later, we ended up at the Far Rockaways, where we were met with cold gusts of wind and NO heat! We were lost in the middle of nowhere after cruising through some serious ghettos to get there. Every other building was either shuttered, an African braid salon, or a laundromat. Thank got I live in Astoria! We got off the bus and started walking and asked a guy we were walking by, "Where's the beach?". Of course, he didn't speak English. Having about seven languages covered between the two of us, we asked him what language he wanted to converse in and he said "Russian". We started doing hand-hyrogliphics and using words like "water", "beach", and "why don't you know English, you live in freakin Far Rockaway!" Anyway, after a very anti-climactic visit to a cold beach, we got back on the local bus and I proceeded to fall asleep until we got back - to Jamaica, Queens (another ghetto-fantastic neighborhood). That's a long ass trip home!

Well, at least there was one positive thing to do on the way home. Since we were taking the E-train home, we got off in Jackson Heights to try to find our Peruvian Restaurant of choice - Pio Pio. There are several elusive restaurants that we tried to find using phone-a-friend, but Jackson Heights is in desperate need for . We walked all over JH trying to find Pio Pio and ended up really enjoying the neighborhoods there. Big, roomy, historically protected apartments, leafy streets, 182 languages spoken (fact!), more restaurants than you can imagine from more countries than you can imagine, and still relatively close to NYC. I think we decided that if we were going to settle down in the NY area (a BIG if), it would probably be somewhere like JH. A pitcher of sangria and a pollo a la brasa later, we were feeling good, so we got on another bus that took us to the ghettos of Astoria, from where we could walk home and crash after a long day.

Sunday was even hotter than Saturday, reaching a full 90 degrees! It was gorgeous, as was our plan for the day - entertaining out of town Vince by giving him a whirlwind tour of some of what Astoria offers the occasional tourist. Naturally, we started off with pitchers of imported Czech beer at the very popular Czech beer garden. There must have been at least 600 people there with the sun shining through the giant, overhanging Euro trees that provide just enough shade to prevent my chalky skin from changing into a pigment of red. Further stops included a self-proclaimed Greek-fusion restaurant for Greek beer, and a hip burger cafe aptly named Fatty's for some righteous, original burger flavors (that would provide me with 2:30am heartburn) and some fresh German hefe-weissen to whet my whistle (that would provide me with a 9:00pm bedtime).

A glorious weekend it was. And now, onto the subject of this blog. Twitter. Do I need it? No. Really, who cares what I'm doing every day? Who wants to read, "wow, just read an interesting article about industrial espionage" (besides Ryan), or "I just found out that E*Trade is paying 2% on their savings accounts" (besides Cathy and Melissa), or "Sweet, Adriano is going back to Flamengo!" (besides Daniel), or "Stefan just bought a new computer to install Linux on so that I can install an awesome photo album software" (besides Roland), or "Just finished an hour of downward dogs" (besides Paul). Really, do people want to read my "tweets"? If the masses want it, it will come! Comments please....

J. Riley, "just finished writing my blog"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rug Doctor Doo-lot

In the last post, I talked about how excited I was to get to weekend cleaning and putting the Rug Doctor into action. Well, the first part of my plan was successful: renting the Rug Doctor in the wee hours of Saturday morning to make sure I had enough time to clean the carpet and return it on Sunday. We came home from a movie and gluten-free pizza at Sean's at about 2:30am and picked up the unit at our local grocery store before dragging it home. But, unfortunately, there was no way I was going to vacuum half of my apartment at 3:00am, especially considering our thin walls. I imagine the neighbors would not be pleased about that.

So Saturday, at around 9:00am, I woke up and got into the action of it all. The plan was to vacuum half the apartment, take a two hour break for the Liverpool game, and then vacuum the other half of the apartment. Supposedly, the carpet is supposed to dry in like three hours. It turned out that I vacuumed almost the whole carpet before the game, but the carpet was still sopping wet when the game was over. However, the water that got sucked up was filthy dirty, super nasty, so I know that even if it didn't work as well as advertised, it was certainly doing something.

Later in the evening, the carpet STILL wasn't dry but since we were going to take the doctor back, I went ahead and did another round of vacuuming and, again, the water was super nasty. We spent extra time on the vacuuming part (as opposed to the watering/cleaning part) to try to get as much moisture as we could out of the rug and the next morning it was STILL wet.

My verdict on the Rug Doctor: It didn't work quite as well as advertised and it took way too long to dry, but the rug is definitely cleaner, as evidenced by exhibit A: my feet are clean after walking around barefoot all day on the carpet. So it was definitely worth the $42 I spent renting the unit. Next time, I just have to remember to spend that extra time on sucking up the moisture.

I certainly enjoyed my experience with that doctor, but didn't enjoy my experience with the next doctor: my dentist. There are three DMDs in the office that I visit to have my teeth cleaned, one of which I hate. At the last visit, she told me I grind my teeth and needed a mouth guard. Uhh, fact: I don't grind my teeth anymore, so don't sound so convinced before you know my medical history. She seems to take extra special joy and sounds excited when she finds the inevitable problems with my teeth. In fact, in this particular visit last week, I thought she was going to bust out the Don Perignon when she told me that I was going to need to come back in a few weeks to have some problems fixed. She told me I need a crown put on the tooth that I had a root canal on like three years ago. Hello? Why didn't someone tell me this before? In fact, this was the same office that told me I needed a root canal, it woulda been nice for them to mention or suggest that at the time. If it weren't for the hi-tech cleaning techniques and their DVD goggles that I get to wear when they fix my teeth (i.e. cavities, etc.) , I woulda left a long time ago.

But it gets better. Not only do I get to get a crown, but in addition I also need a cavity filling and a porcelain filling, or so the receptionist told me when I was about to check out. Uhh, what's the difference? A porcelain filling is another crown! TWO F'ING CROWNS and a filling. No wonder the DMD was acting like she was sniffing her laughing gas and so happy to see me. I guess there's no recession for her when people like me have to pay four-figure fees to get my teeth fixed. Next time, I'll stick with my regular DMD, thank you very much.

J. Riley, now that was a rant. I'm looking into dental services (crowns) in Peru, certainly will save significant cash with the same/better quality of service.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Doctor is On-Duty

Those of you who have had the privilege of visiting/living in my
apartment know that cleanliness is of vital importance and is probably
the most enjoyable activity I can possibly engage in during my
free-time :o|. Or you could ask Erika, who will tell you that when
there are dishes that need to be washed, I can't sit still until I
make sure they are all hand-washed, hand-dried, polished, and gently
laid to rest in their proper cabinet space.

But seriously? I am actually looking forward to cleaning my apartment
this weekend. Earlier this week, while clipping my toenails in the
bathtub (is that too much information?), I noticed that my feet were
leaving dirty spots in the bathtub when they got a little wet. And I
had just taken a shower a few hours earlier. Clearly, there was no
other reason for this than the fact that our grey carpet is
disgustingly dirty, despite the fact that we vacuum. Frequently.

So, off to the internet I went to find a solution to my woes. I
dreaded the thought of hiring somebody to do something like this, so I
was looking around for some steam-cleaning unit to rent. And I found
it! The Rug Doctor. It's reasonably priced for renting, is available
at my local grocery store, and supposedly does a dang good job. Just
spend half your evening watching the cheesy demo-commercial on their
website ( What worries me is that this video is
STRAIGHT out of a late-night informercial; and cue memories of buying
the flat hose for mother's day one year. What a disaster that was.

Has anyone else out there used this thing? My boss gave it good
reviews, but he's from New Jersey. I'm thinking about getting it
tonight at midnight since it's a 24-hour rental. And I'm totally
stoked about getting on with this!

J. Riley, Rug MD.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Cheaper Cheap-Skate

Last weekend, we had a group of folks over to our house to watch the wedding video, see the wedding pictures, eat delicious, home-made Chinese food (courtesy of Erika's Taiwanese friend), and generally engage in liquid-fueled debauchery.

I was chatting with Melissa early in the evening about exciting subjects like budgeting, finding out where we were spending all of our money, how much housing prices have fallen, etc. etc. We started talking about websites that we used to track our expenditures and she introduced me to, a site were you can load up all of your savings, checking, and investment accounts and track your expenditures, create budgets for different categories, etc. Think of it like Quicken, only it's free and it's web-based.

I had used a competitor of theirs called and had played around with it for a few days before deciding it was too much work and my general concerns for allowing a third party access to all of my account data plus the username and passwords to those accounts. I mean, I should be concerned about these things, considering my job is to protect financial information at a bank!

So Sunday, I dove in a little deeper to try to understand the security behind these sites and started trying to guage how usable the sites were. Throughout the past week, I've done more and more investigative work and I feel pretty comfortable with both sites. actually stores the authentication data on the user's computer and does not store it at the site if you don't want it to (which I don't). uses a third-party - Yodlee, which is an industry-wide service company used by banks and subject to banking regulations - to store this information. Security-wise, wins.

Next, I started messing with the functionality of the sites. The big difference is that Mint has a very clean, easy-to use site that automatically labels your transactions (if it can figure it out, as it did for most of mine) and, the big difference, allows you to connect to your investment sites to track those - including a neat chart area that shows your performance versus the indexes. Wesabe has most of the same features, but I understand that it doesn't immediately label your transactions (I can't remember, I set it up a while back), although it does remember how you label certain items so that it minimizes the amount of input and changes required. The interface is not nearly as clean, however, and - the big problem - doesn't really track your investments. It's a "Wesabe Labs" feature that's bare-bones and doesn't have many sites you can connect to. Mint wins here.

Most other features like budgeting, reporting/charts, etc. are pretty much the same. Wesabe has a social networking feature that is debatable in value (I don't think I would ever use that), has pretty good help forums, and is less advertising geared. Mint offers a lot of "offers" that are paid for by the company offering the services, but I know a thing or two about finances, so I wouldn't look at those regardless. But I guess in this way Wesabe wins.

So Wesabe wins 2 out of 3, but until they clean up their interface and offer more options for tracking my investments, I think I'll stick to Mint. But I will try to use both for a while to see if any other deal breakers pop up.

J. Riley, as if I didn't already think about finances enough. Erika just *loves* that I'm tracking every expense now :o|