Dollar Shave Club – Initial Impressions

How many times have you needed to shave and you either can’t find a sharp razor or the razor you have is full of hair and it’s not your hair?  Between my three daughters and wife I may get a chance to use my new razor once before it is taken away.  Hey, it’s just the way it is and everyone needs to shave sometime.  The only problem is that razors aren’t cheap.  I feel that when my girls use my high dollar razor blades on their legs it’s wasting money.  Replacement razor blades in the store can cost $15, $30 upwards of $50!!  So looking for a solution to my problem I came across the Dollar Shave Club.

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The Dollar Shave Club is a company that provided razors, handles, and lotions via online order.  You sign up online and establish an account.  You have three choices…the $1/month double blade “the humble”, $6/month Multi blade “4x” and the $9/month mac daddy “executive”.   One small catch is that the $1/month is actually $3/Month because this is the only level that charges delivery.  The other two higher levels are free delivery.  For Blade choices you can follow this link www.dollarshaveclub.com/blades.

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I went for the lowest level of entry thinking that if it wasn’t good enough I could upgrade to a nicer blade.  My package arrived yesterday so I wanted to share my opinion of the first shave with the “humble” razor.

Bottom line…it’s good.  It’s not spectacular but its a solid razor for a really inexpensive price.  Beyond the razor this is what I like about the program.  I no longer have to remember to get razors.  I no longer have to worry if the store has the correct kind of blade for my handle.  I won’t get upset when others use my blades…there are more coming next month.  AND…the shave is pretty good.  Keep in mind this is the entry-level so I didn’t expect the shave to be the best but it’s actually better than I expected.  In the kit I received a cool box, a razor handle, five razor blades and some shaving “butter”.  Not crazy about the shaving butter but its ok.  I prefer the old-fashioned shaving cream.

So, initial results…thumbs up.  I will check back and update to let you know how long the blades last and the opinions from my girls.  So far so good, you may want to give it a try.

Update:  July 13, 2015 – I have used the first blade for the first week and it is still shaving close.  I think my face is adjusting to the angle of the blade.  5 shaves and they are still clean and close.

Update:  October 21, 2015 – Tracey from Dollar shave club contacted me to thank me for giving DSC props and to request a link to the blade choices…done.  🙂

SONOS – SIMPLY MUSIC

 

 

 

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I thought with the recent sale going on with Sonos it would be a good topic for a blog entry this week.  I have had Sonos now for about a year and I have to say its been very enjoyable.  A few years back Sonos took a different approach to music and I think it has really paid off for them.  Until Sonos there were speakers that needed wires and/or bluetooth to operate and play music.  Sonos did away with the connection point and created a listening “ecosystem” for music.

What is Sonos?

Keeping it very simple, it’s a wireless speaker that uses you’re in home network to play music.  That doesn’t sound too impressive.  Sonos isn’t even battery operated or portable.  It needs to be plugged in all the time.  It doesn’t use bluetooth and only a few devices allow for a wired connection.  Who would want that you might say?  A lot of people!

This is why…

Sonos uses you’re in home network to connect to the internet.  The Sonos is independently smart.  What I mean by that is even though it can be controlled by a device (iPhone, iPad, smart phone etc.) it doesn’t need one to operate.  Sonos has its own “brain” and uses music services as its source for music and playback.  Setting up Sonos is super easy.  You plug it in, download the app on your iPhone or smart phone and follow the steps.  It will connect to any in home server you may have with your own music as well as any music services you are a member of.  The services include but aren’t limited to Pandora, Spotify (paid account only), Slacker, Iheart Radio, Songza just to name a few.  There’s a bunch to choose from.

Versatility  –  Lets say I am having a party at my house.  I have a Sonos (doesn’t matter which one) in the family room, living room and study.  To get things going I decide to connect all three to the same music source (rock).  Into the app I go and I can choose all locations and set them to play the same music.  It will play in synch perfectly in all three locations.  I can adjust the volume in each location independent of one another or all together at once.  Now, once the music is playing and I have set it up on my iPhone, my wife says she needs ice.  I run out the door like a good husband and guess what.   Nothing changes, the music keeps playing.  A bluetooth or wired speaker couldn’t do this.  Sonos has it own connection and internal “brain” and software so the music is being streamed to and through the Sonos not the phone.  The iPhone app is simply a remote control.  Now, my wife goes into the living room with a friend and decides to change the music to classical.  She grabs her phone, picks the zone, chooses the station and done.  Now you have rock in the other two rooms and classical in one.  Anyone with the Sonos app can connect and change channels, volume or whatever they choose.

Configuration  –  I would say the single greatest selling point to Sonos is the ways it can be configured.  So its Sunday morning and I want to listen to some smooth jazz in stereo.  The Sonos devices are mono so how the heck do you do that?  Simple, into the app and pick the two Sonos devices you want to use as a stereo pair and bingo, you have left and right stereo channels.  Sounds nice but I need more bass.  Open the app and add your subwoofer to the mix and now you’ve got a stereo pair with a subwoofer.  All wireless, all in synch and guess what…the Sonos stuff sounds great!  I would put it on par with anything built by Bose with similar sizes and configurations.  Too bad it doesn’t handle surround sound.  It does!  You can use the sound bar, add the sub, add two like Sonos units for the rear and you now have 5.1 sound.  See sample configuration photo below.

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Scalability  –  This ties into configuration but this I wanted to break out to discuss two points.  Low cost of entry and limitless growth.  I really like the Sonos system as it allows you to grow when and how you choose.  You can buy the least expensive product and its only $199 which is a deal for what you get.  Right now you can get two Sonos Ones for $349 which is $50 savings.  I have had my “one” for a year and haven’t purchased another Sonos yet.  It has a really full and nice sound and I haven’t really needed to add another yet.  When I am ready I can just pick my product and I know it will integrate seamlessly.  I can have one or thirty Sonos in my house.  It’s up to you and what you want.

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It’s not all perfect.  Yes, no battery means you’re always tethered to a wall outlet but there are many of those in a house.  The surround configuration has two limits…its only 5.1 capable not 7.1 but for me that’s good enough and it will only play surround with the surround bar being fed a 5.1 signal from a TV, Blu-Ray or TV Box optical output.  The best way to configure for surround is using a TV with 5.1 pass-thru but that TV is not easy to find.  Vizio and Sony are a couple of brands that can do this but that’s a little limiting.  It will play sound out of all speakers if its being fed a 2.0 channel configuration but it will be simulated surround but that sounds ok.

One last thought…Sonos is a perfect gift for Weddings, Graduations, Students…if they don’t have one they’ll love it and if they already have one they can add to their network!  You can never have too many :-).

If you haven’t experienced Sonos get a Sonos One to start and give it a try.

 

See how the application works on an iPhone.  Click either link below.

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Video to Demonstrate the Sonos App

 

 

 

Understanding Exposure With The Exposure Triangle

A great video that explains the relationship between Aperture, ISO and Shutter speed.  Once you understand this relationship its much easier to dial in the look you want and get great photos!  A little long winded but stay with it as it is very informative.

 

As nice description below

Exposure-Triangle

Meerkat – Live Stream Video on the App Store on iTunes

 

 

 

This is a cool new app that was brought to my attention by Chris Fenwick who hosts one of my favorite podcasts (FCPX Grill).  Meerkat is a live streaming app that uses the twitter servers to stream live video and audio.  The cool thing is once you have an account and you go “live” it notifies all of your twitter followers that you’re sharing an event live.  You can also announce and schedule events so viewers can plan to watch.  I think of it as turning your iPhone into a news van.  You can up link and stream anything anytime to the entire twitter world.  The uses are in their infancy but I expect cool things to come.  Check it out.

Read reviews, get customer ratings, see screenshots, and learn more about Meerkat – Live Stream Video on the App Store. Download Meerkat – Live Stream Video and enjoy it on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Source: Meerkat – Live Stream Video on the App Store on iTunes

Royalty Free Music Library from PremiumBeat.com

One of the hardest things for videographers is finding reasonably priced and good quality music.  Premium beat is one of the best websites I have ever used to find great audio tracks.  The prices are very reasonable and once you purchase the music it is royalty free.  They also offer loop packs to allow you to make transitions and complimentary passages within your edit.  It is extremely easy to preview music with their built in web player and you can even start a “wish list” or a collection of music you like for easy reference.  If you’re struggling to find just the right song try them out!

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Source: Royalty Free Music Library from PremiumBeat.com

Final Cut Pro X Plugins and Effects by Pixel Film Studios

For All the FCPX editors out there you may want to check out Pixel Film Studios.  They offer a wide range of editing effects, tools and transitions all made to work directly with FCPX as well as other software.  Most plug-ins are reasonably priced and some are really powerful.

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Source: Final Cut Pro X Plugins and Effects by Pixel Film Studios. FCPX Plugins and Effects

Germany – My Visit – Part 1

My daughter was awarded a great honor.  She received the scholarship for the CBYX program.  This scholarship is awarded by U.S. Congress, called the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program.  This allows a student to live with a host family and attend high school in Germany while becoming fluent with the language and having a culturally immersive experience.  Needless to say she jumped at the opportunity and now my second oldest is signed up and getting ready to go as well!

My family decided to go visit with my daughter, in Germany so I wanted to share the experience so anyone traveling there for the first time would have some perspective from this “first timer”.  This was my first trip to Germany and my first trip to Europe.  I am not a worldly traveler at all.  I am sure I will get few things wrong but I will do my best.

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Getting to Germany is expensive.  Flights ranged from $850-$1500 round trip so to get 5 people to Germany is about the price of a used car.  You have several choices of airlines and they all run specials at various times.  I think that if you’re like me and going for “best price” you’ll end up on Turkish Air or SAS.  We chose SAS.  The flight was about 8 hours to our connection and then about 1.5 hours once we made our connecting flight.  Our flight was delayed 2 hours upon arriving to the airport.  People told us that this is not uncommon with international flights.  Other than hanging out in the airport a little longer this was not a big deal.

Germany is 6 hours ahead of the US (east coast).  My friend said the quickest way to adapt to the time shift is sleep on the plane and to just stay up when you get to Germany and “push through” and go to bed at your normal bed time in Germany.  This would mean you have to endure one hell of a long day but it’s not too bad after that.

Upon arriving to Düsseldorf airport, in Germany, it was a little confusing.  It probably didn’t help that I was tired but it wasn’t clear where our baggage was and no one really told us.  We finally found it.  Luckily my daughters CBYX program liaison (Bianca) met us at the airport and took us under her wing.  So getting the rental car and getting to my hotel was easy.  We can’t thank her enough for all of her efforts.  We really appreciated her!

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Hotels, Rentals and where to stay.  Traveling to Germany is expensive and everything in Germany can cost a bit more than the US as well.  We found most things to be comparable as the Euro and Dollar exchange rate was working to our advantage on this trip.  We stayed in our first place and coordinated it through HomeAway.  HomeAway is a house rental site where individual property owners advertise and rent their personal properties.  It was a good alternative to hotels for us due to the size of our family.  You need to be careful what you choose and do a little homework but you can find some really nice places.  I think we lucked out.

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The first thing you’ll notice is the general size difference…of everything.  The cars, the streets, the stores, the houses, all are smaller.  Not a bad thing just a fact.  The byproduct of less space and smaller things is that you’ll find some pretty neat innovations.  Some are so cool you’ll think  “why don’t we do that, that makes so much sense”.  Example…all residential toilets have slim tanks or wall buried tanks mounted in the walls and have a small and large flush button.  Saves space, saves water…why not?   One of my favorites was the windows.  They have windows that are full panes of sashless glass unlike our typical double or single hung windows.  The view out of this type of window is unobstructed by grilles and sash frames.  They are double hinged too…you can tilt the window in at the top allowing a breeze while being kid safe or change the handle position and the whole window will swing in allowing for max breeze.  Opening windows in Germany is important because there aren’t as many places with central air conditioning so the air exchange is not like our homes.  Opening windows becomes necessary to freshen up from time to time.

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Germany is old, real old.  We in the US consider our country history…independence, civil war etc. “a long time ago” but the US time scale is like a few hours relative to Germany’s time line in history.   Not making our history any less important but what you’ll notice is this age and historical character oozes from all areas of the German surroundings.  Architecture, monuments, churches…its a real eye opener and really quite an experience. Have you heard of the Neander Valley?  No?  Neanderthal Man?…yeah, that’s Germany.  Pretty cool.

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Just a sample of the “Age” you feel while walking around the city.  A simple window sill that you can tell has been there a really long time.

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On Easter Sunday I took a walk in the city and while the Church bells were going like crazy I snapped a picture of this church.  I am sure the people of Essen don’t even notice it but I really found it incredible.  This type of building and architecture is everywhere.

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We were welcomed by my daughters host family and even invited to an Easter bonfire that is an Easter tradition.  The community will gather, socialize, eat and yes…drink a little beer.  🙂

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We thought we would bring a little USA to the event and had brought Smores makings all the way from home.  So out came the graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows.  It was so funny to see the locals with marshmallow stuck to their fingers but the German children really appreciated the sugar.  We were introduced to our own new campfire treat.  The Germans place uncooked dough on a stick and actually bake bread on a stick at their campfires.  It is less mess and more filling, so cool!

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I would say one of my favorite features of Germany that stuck with me is the stone work in the streets and sidewalks.  Even in modern cities they use stone for streets, walkways and various areas that really give the city a unique character and texture that’s hard to explain unless you’re up close and can see it.  My photos don’t do it justice but gives an idea.

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The photo below is actually from a Schloss (castle) that we visited.  The modern city stone work is not this rough  but you get the idea.

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The other feature I like about the German mind-set is that they are willing to walk.  People walk a mile or two like its nothing.  Go to the store, grocery shopping?…just walk.  Mass transportation is readily available too.  It’s not uncommon for Germans to catch the bus, jump on a train, go to a city an hour away and then back.  This is an area where I really think the US could improve.  Then again we have such immense land and space its a harder thing to accomplish this network for travel but our cities and surrounding suburbs could certainly benefit from better mass transportation.

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Lets talk Castles…”Schloss” in German.  I think Germany has more Schloss’s than the us has 7-Eleven’s.  All kidding aside there are literally too many to visit.  We started our trip in Essen visiting my daughter in a nearby city.  While there we branched out to neighboring towns and visited a couple of Water Castles surrounded by water motes.

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The two water castles were very different but equally beautiful.  From old statues and monuments to a guy offering paid drives in his Lamborghini (no I didn’t drive it…) there were plenty of things to see.

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I really wanted to take this Lambo out on the Audubon!

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You will see some interesting vehicles in Germany.  What I like most are the many models of the car makers that we have in the US.  It’s interesting to see a Mercedes hatchback diesel that’s smaller than a Volkswagen Golf.  I wish we had a wider range of models for BMW and Mercedes in the US like Germany, they certainly would sell more cars.  Also its fun to see the cars you have never even heard of.  My son and I were constantly asking each other “whats that?” as we walked the streets.  I still don’t know what the car is in the picture below but I want one!

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Driving in Germany is not too bad.  It’s important to know what german words mean “one way” and “do not enter” as there were a couple of those incidents on this trip.  Ha ha.  The driving location/position for the cars and streets in Germany is the same as the US.  Road rules are more or less the same too.  Two road rules that stood out…if there is a person even thinking of crossing the road you had better give way and you never turn on red, ever, not even a right turn.  They also have an “almost green” light.  Our traffic lights go from green (go) to yellow (stop if you can) to red (stop)…but the germans add one more sequence…after a red light you will see a RED and YELLOW light at the same time which means “it’s about to turn green” .  Not sure why but I think it’s allowing those standard, stick shift drivers to get in gear and get their foot on the clutch.  There are far more diesel cars and manual shift transmissions in Germany.  It would be wise to make sure if you rent a car to let the rental car company know if you are unable to drive a stick shift.  I actually drove a VW Sharan, diesel, stick shift…that’s a stick shift mini-van!  Took a little getting used to.

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Ok, I know you’re wondering about the Audubon. Yes I drove it and contrary to popular opinion it isn’t always “speed limit-less”.  It ranges near cities from 80-120khr that’s 50-75mph approximately.  On the country side while driving in more rural areas it was time to rock though.  I would drive on average from 100-115mph and there were cars passing me like I wasn’t even moving.  The best thing about the German highway driving is that people live by a rule…if you drive slow stay in the right.  You can pass on the left but if you see a rapidly approaching vehicle in the rear view mirror you better move over!  They take that rule very seriously and I have to say it works well and traffic moves along nicely with this simple concept.  You can actually get a ticket for driving too slow in the left lane.

Check back in a few days as I will outline my trip and list all of the places I visited and share many photos of the journey.

Stay tuned for Germany – Part 2

 

 

 

My Switch to T-Mobile. A few things you may want to know.

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I have been an AT&T customer for a long time.  A really long time.  Let me first say that my move to T-Mobile had nothing to do with a problem or deficiency with AT&T.  Loved them, still do.  Service was second to none.  Now thats out of the way lets move on.

The AT&T family plan that I was on was affordable but if I were to upgrade phones/devices then my plan pricing would have skyrocketed.  I have 7 lines on my plan and everything starts to add up.  I was sitting at about $255 month for AT&T but heres the thing.  For every phone I upgraded there would be an upgrade fee ($99, $150 or whatever) and then a monthly charge for that upgraded line of like $25 or $35 dollars per month.  I had four iPhone 4s’s, one iPhone 5C and two iPhone 5’s.  So upgrading all the devices would have added $200 per month or more.  Basically unless I purchased my phones outright then my plan pricing was going to be in the high $400’s at least.

I had always discounted T-Mobile.  I assumed it was a struggling 3rd place wanna be carrier that was using gimmicks to lure customers away from their current carriers.  The more I read about them the more I became intrigued.  T-Mobile in the last couple of years has been making a march on their service increasing speeds and overall coverage.  No they aren’t as good as AT&T or Verizon (yet) but keep reading before you judge.  I will give you the rundown in just a minute.

This all started because I wanted an iPhone 6 plus.  So I started crunching numbers.  Here is how T-Mobile is set up.  Family plan $100/month includes 4 phone lines at a level of 2.5gb of data per line for the first year.  Not sure what happens in year two.  Think data probably drops back to 1.0gb with the option to upgrade but the family plan price is guaranteed not to change.  Each line after the four comes at a $10/month additional charge.  The data is handled differently than Verizon and AT&T.  Its per line and not a family “bucket” of data.  There are both advantages and disadvantages to this.  Advantage, when I need more data I can pick the actual line that needs it.  Something very cool is that T-Mobile does not count music streaming as data usage so Spotify, Pandora, 8 tracks and quite a few other music streaming sites can run all day and not cost you data.  Another cool feature is that its teen proof in that if they run over their data limit T-Mobile doesn’t charge you more, they just throttle the data hungry user back to 3g speeds.  I think T-Mobile is also starting a data roll over program where your unused data from the month before gets pushed to the next month.  Cool!

Back to pricing… $100 for first four lines, $10 per for the next three lines (remember I have 7) so $130/month for 7 lines.  Each line has 2.5gb data and unlimited text and talk and free music channels for streaming.  Not too shabby.  Wait, I still have old phones!  Upgrading and purchasing phones is fairly cool as well at T-Mobile.  T-Mobile sells you the phone at full retail and takes the price and streams the amount into 24 equal, no interest payments over the next two years.  You pay zero down on certain versions of phones…IF…you have excellent credit.  I do, so no worries with this.  Its not zero down for every phone.  The more upgraded/features the phone has the more up front money they require but what ever you give them up front comes off the price of the phone and its payments.  You always get what you pay for.  Its fair.  After two years your phone is paid off, its yours and you can upgrade or buy another and sell your old one on eBay.  Nice thing is you don’t have to pay that upgrade fee like AT&T and then pay off the phone too!  The big boys are double dipping.  This chart shows the breakdown of the iPhone 6’s and the upfront and monthly fees.

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Pricing…$100 first four lines, $30 for three more lines, I bought four iPhone 6’s and on one iPhone 6 plus so $140 per month for these.  I increased my personal data to 4.5gb  at $10 a month and picked up insurance on the iPhone 6 plus with early upgrade option for another $10 a month.  Grand total with tax I roll in at about $300 per month for seven lines and five have been upgraded.  I am only $45 dollars more than with AT&T.  Yes, its more but AT&T with the same phones…$480 or more.  They also offer some buy outs and trade ins for your various equipment and current service.  Don’t be fooled there will be some out of pocket expenses cleaning up your old phone account and getting things on track at T-Mobile but it will all come out in the wash in the end.

How is the service?  Pretty darn good.   Not bad at all.  I live in Northern Virginia outside of DC so I have very good coverage.  This is something you will want to be careful with.  If you live in a rural area and T-Mobile service is sketchy then stick with your current carrier.  I get 3-4 bars of 4G LTE in most places near me.  I even ran a few speed tests with my buddy and in some tests I bested his Verizon speeds.  When you get T-Mobile LTE its fast.  When you don’t, you just don’t.  I traveled from DC to North Carolina (rt-66 to rt-81- to rt-77) and two thirds of the trip I was without data.  I could always make a phone call but data was in and out.  One feature to note is that T-Mobile phones have the ability for wifi calling.  That means that if you’re in a location and you have wifi then you can make calls through the internet on the network.  This is good because lets say when you’re home your service is weak.  Well, in the house once wifi kicks on your phone you’re good to go.  I tested and converted only my personal line to T-Mobile for the first month.  I was able to test the service and fortunately it worked out.  I would suggest trying before buying to make sure you’re ok with the service before jumping in both feet.  I expect the service to only get better in the next two years.

Lets talk people.  Fairly impressed so far.  The retail staff seems very competent and the call in phone support is always very knowledgeable and courteous.  I had a problem finding an iPhone 6 plus and one of the support managers went out of his way to chase one down and called me back two hours after the call and let me know he overnighted the phone to me for FREE!  Two thumbs up for that kind of service.  Verizon isn’t even in the club.  Sorry, everyone knows its true.

I must say that so far I am fairly happy.  Out of 5 stars I would give T-Mobile a strong 4.0.  Pricing is great, service is great but I would take away 1 point just to be objective and say that the service when not LTE is not great and I had a tough time finding iPhones but that may totally have been an Apple issue and not T-Mobiles fault.  Give T-Mobile a look.  They might be a good choice for you.  Do your homework first but I can honestly say so far so good.

 

 

Nations Capital Cottage, Clifton VA

Check out our new airbnb cottage available for rent!  Don’t stay at a hotel or suites.  Stay in a real home!

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Nations Capital Cottage, Clifton VA in Clifton

House in Clifton, United States. This home is located in the heart of Northern Virginia. It is convenient to Dulles and Reagan National airports. In addition to the easy access to Washington DC there are many other sights to see in this area. This home will provide the comfort … View all listings in Clifton

Spilled Bleach…How to fix

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-laundry-bleach-image7310015

 

This is a little off my normal topic of cameras and gadgets but I thought this was interesting.  Yesterday, my wife purchased bleach at the store, dropped the container and cracked it.  She was unaware of the crack and placed the jug in my car.  It leaked all over and through my carpet.  Interestingly the carpet did not discolor (props to Ford).  Its a 2004 Ford f150 by the way.  But it did burn my nose hairs right out!  I thought it would be days before I could drive the car due to the smell.  After a little research I found out that peroxide is a neutralizer for bleach.  So I purchased a bottle of 3% peroxide at the store and poured it all over the spill location.  They recommend a 1:1 ratio for spill vs. neutralizer.  The oder immediately started to subside and this morning it seems all good.  Anyway…

Tip of the day.