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March 2019
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June 2019

So long, Esquire (sort of)

I have subscribed to Esquire for at least 30 years. I can't even remember when I first subscribed, but I have always enjoyed what I considered to be America's best magazine. Except that the last few years have seen a decline in quality. Losing David Granger as the Editor was a big hit, and they also lost several writers that I just adored reading (such as the great Tom Chiarella.) So today, I pulled the plug with no small measure of wistful remorse.

I'll still perusing the magazine via Apple News+, but make no mistake, this is not the result of digital killing print. It's because of the sad decline in quality.

I love the history of the magazine, and I love what it used to be. I might sign up for Esquire Classic to savor its past archives.

Best ankle compression sleeve

I used to suffer from chronic swelling in an ankle that was injured long ago. I've tried a lot of compression methods -- which do help -- but by far the best one was this Kunto Fitness Ankle Brace. Not only can you buy just one (instead of a pair), it was the most long-lasting of the several different ones I have used. Both in overall wear and in elasticity retention. I wouldn't call it a "brace," though as it doesn't provide any significant ankle support beyond compression. Being a big guy, I also appreciated that the size "large" is actually sized correctly. If you need something like this to help your ankle, I recommend it!

My Allstate Debacle

Several years ago I was in a serious car accident. On my way home from work, over the Christmas break, I was "t-boned" at an intersection by a homeless person driving a '70s Monte Carlo at high speed. The other driver didn't have insurance, naturally, so the cost of repairing my car fell to my policy.

My Honda Accord was deemed worth about $12K, and the Allstate-preferred repair shop estimated $8K in repairs, so Allstate authorized the repair work. About 2 weeks later, when the car was supposed to be finished, I learned that it wasn't done yet and that the shop had found "hidden damage" so they were waiting for Allstate to authorize an additional $3K in repair work. It was authorized, and two weeks after that, I picked up the car and discovered, to my shock, that the total repair bill was now $14K.

I called my Allstate agent, Dave Gragnola of Cupertino, California. I learned that repair shops are allowed to amend their bill, and greatly exceed their estimate, with impunity. Even when, as in this case, the estimate was so wrong as to be nearly 50% of the final cost.

I explained to my agent that, in my view, the repair shop was running a scam . Clearly, my car should have been totaled, as the cost to repair the damage exceeded the value of the car. But by submitting a low estimate the shop ensured that the repair would be approved. The result was a job that took weeks longer than expected, and left me with a car that was so heavily repaired it was never the same again, and could be sold for only a fraction of its former value. Both I, and Allstate, were ripped off, in my opinion.

All these years later I remember Gragnola's response, said with the lilt of a shrug: "What do you want me to do about it?"

Two weeks later I ended my 12 year relationship with Allstate. Eventually, with the Honda suffering from poor handling and persistent electrical problems, I traded it in for a Nissan. The dealer who assessed the Honda's trade-in value remarked that more than half of the car had been rebuilt and that "somebody spent a fortune fixing that thing." Indeed.

The best crappy DVD player you'll ever own

This Craig DVD Player is simultaneously horrible and fantastic. (Yes, Craig is still in business, or at least it's a brand that survives. I remember them from when I was a kid.)

It's made from the thinnest, ugliest plastic you'll ever see. And overall it's so light that you have to use two hands to close the disc tray as the force required to push the door is greater than the unit's mass.

But it is $22 and it works. It even plays discs that my $1500 player balks at. The DVD format is rapidly going extinct. If you have a drawer full of DVDs you ever want to watch again, buy this as insurance against obsolesence.

Know when Alexa is listening

The news is filled with stories about the Amazon Echo devices are spying on you. Well, that's overstated and ill-defined. (You've consented, so technically it's not "spying'.)

The Echo devices do indeed record what's going on in your room. They are constantly listening for the "wake word" that activates their processing. Unless you've changed it, the wake word is "Alexa." Determining if "Alexa" has been spoken takes place locally, on the device, so your recordings aren't constantly leaking out of your home.

But, if the device determines that you did say "Alexa" (even incorrectly) the recording of what you said after is sent to Amazon's servers for analysis. You didn't really think your $49 plastic computer was doing all the processing itself, did you?

In the Alexa app, you can set your Echo devices so that it plays a tone whenever it thinks the wale word has been spoken. This is well worth turning on because you will discover just how often the Echo mishears you. (Spoiler alert: very, very often.) And what you say following that tone is uploaded in a recording to Jeff Bezo's personal email.

Or maybe it's not. The problem with all of this is that Amazon, unlike Apple and even super-creepy Google, hasn't documented what they do with your recordings. You can go into the Alexa app and delete all your recordings (if you're able to figure out how) but there are no assurances that they are truly deleted. It's possible they're are only removed from the list you see. Unless and until Amazon becomes transparent about their practices, all you can do is hope and trust them.

The Best Long Shoulder Strap

I'm a fan of Timbuk2 bags (based in San Francisco) but not too long ago they made the foolish decision to shorten all the shoulder straps on their bags. I'm sure this saves them a few cents, but it makes the bags less usable for big guys (me) or those that live in a climate where you sometimes have to wear a bulky coat (also me).

And before you suggest that perhaps it is me that has gotten larger while the straps have remained the same size, I confirmed the shortening with personnel at their Chicago store and via the corporate customer service.

And thus began the search for a long replacement strap. This 51-71" strap on Amazon is the very best I've found. If you're looking for a useful replacement strap, and you don't need a wide one, you just found it.