Skype Etiquette: A Few Suggestions

I love Skype. It’s helped me out a lot and given me the cheapest phone line to use for my business and keep me connected with friends around the world, but there are a few things that I think people need to understand so that they make it a more polite experience for all involved.

1. Skype is not a phone. Yes, it’s kind of a phone, but it in most cases is locked down to your computer [I’m ignoring the mobile market for the moment]. When you are at your computer you might be doing work or playing a game or in a meeting or otherwise occupied. If you get a phone call during this time on your cell you can just send it to voice mail, but if you’re working on something on your computer you suddenly get an unexpected pop up window. Sure you can decline it, but sometimes that just cuts the person off and doesn’t send them to voice mail [yes, even if you don’t pay for it Skype will give you voicemail, you just can’t customize it.

If you really want to have a voice chat with someone I feel it’s best to check their status first then send them a text chat message asking if they have time to talk. Some people still need to get their headphones ready or find them and plug them in. Not all of us can use the camera and built in mic on their computer. I find this to be especially useful if you have a friend overseas who might leave Skype running all day and night, but isn’t around the computer.

2. Don’t be a lurker. There are people who like to stay in invisible mode so they aren’t bothered by other people. If you’re going to do that then do others a favor and don’t bother them. People don’t like receiving text chats or calls from people who don’t want to show that they’re online. Besides, if you call someone and you’re in invisible mode then they won’t know if you’re there to call back.

3. If you call someone and they don’t answer, follow through and leave a message. I get calls on Skype and my cell where people don’t leave a message. If you don’t leave a message the person you’re calling won’t have any idea why you’re calling them.

4. When adding a contact use more than the standard supplied text. People don’t have to use their real names on Skype so that means I won’t really know who you are when you request to add me. I’ve received requests from people like Matt81265 and I’ll have no idea who they are so thinking they are a possible troll or spammer I will block them and report them as abuse. The only time it’s OK in my book to use the standard text is when you’re in the same room with somebody and you want to do a quick add.

5. Don’t expect a response to your chat message right away. I’ve gotten up and gone to the bathroom and come back a minute later to see that not only did someone send me a message, but there are 4-5 Are you there? added in after it. Maybe I got it on my cell phone and I can’t type quickly on that tiny iPhone keyboard or maybe I went to the bathroom or I was called into another room. I’ll get back to you when I have time available.

6. Respect the status. If I have do not disturb as my status that doesn’t mean I’m sitting there waiting for your call. That means I have work to do and don’t want to be disturbed. I actually think, but am not sure that if you use do not disturb that you can’t receive text or voice calls. If that’s true then thumbs up to Skype.

7. Video eats up bandwidth. If you want to talk and don’t really need to see the person keeping the video off is a good idea. They’ll sound clearer and you’ll get less packet loss. If both of you have super high speed bandwidth and you know it then go at it, but also remember to be oh, wearing clothes before you start the chat. I had a FaceTime chat with a friend who didn’t realize he had switched to the back camera and sitting in his underwear giving me a macro shot of his crotch. [side note: I don’t apply these rules to FaceTime because there’s not text chat function there.]

Skype is an awesome tool. Facebook has integrated it now, but I turn off Facebook contacts because I’d never get anything done with my 650+ friends on Facebook along with my 200+ friends on Skype. I use it to set up conferences with friends around the world, done business overseas, hell I’ve even had friends give me a tour of their new homes using Skype on their mobile phone. I have a couple of friends who rent out a lovely house they own in Barbados that gave me a tour of the place while I was putting their website together and even got to meet their personal chef while taking the virtual tour over Skype.

If you stick to these seven simple rules you’ll find that you will be considered a better person especially if you’re using it for business. It’ll also make you less annoying to people you want to communicate with and you’ll find it opens doors for you. I’m sure someone from Skype will read this and I hope they do. I’d like to ask them to shrink the real estate on screen of their UI. It’s way too big and forces me back to using an older version that doesn’t work as well all of the time.

The Manly Art of Shaving

I have decided for a number of reasons to go back to old school shaving. Part is the cost of the modern day cartridges and foaming gels and the other is because there’s just something about pulling out that old mug of soap and lathering it up with a brush that I want to get back into. There are many upscale stores in San Francisco that will charge you a pretty penny to go old school, but it doesn’t have to be that expensive.

I moved up from double blades, to triple blades, quadruple blades and finally five bladed cartridges. These cost me close to $5 each. Now I only shave every other day so I can get a lot of life  out of a blade. I take good care of my blades and after I’m done shaving rinse them off in water then dip them in 90% isopropyl alcohol to completely dry them. I can get close to a month out of one of these blades. It starts to show at the end of the month when it makes it harder to get a close shave, but I never get any cuts.

I did for awhile use shaving soap and found out that a single bar lasted me about a year. I actually used the cheap Williams soap that I think including the mug cost me about $2.99. That’s a good price for a year’s worth of shaving cream. When you add hot water to the soap and then soak the brush in hot water for a few seconds and start building up the lather the first thing you’ll notice when it goes on your face is that it’s warm, not cold. This including the liquid helps soften your beard to make it easier to remove. I’ve even heard now of men who use a pre-shave oil on their face to help relax the beard stubble. Many of these are expensive, but you can use Cornhuskers lotion that you can get for about $3 and save your money.

I’ve never tried a double edged safety razor before, but Dad swore by them. I’ve found them online ranging in price between $15-$150 and while price does matter to some extent you don’t have to go top shelf at the start. You’ll have to find the blades as well which so far I’ve only seen online. I’ll start with five blades at first, but if it all goes well I’ll get 100 which will drop the price down to around 20¢ each. I’ve heard you can get about 5 shaves out of each side so with me shaving every other day that means it’ll cost me about $3.80/year for razor blades. Far less than for the cartridges. Merkur blades seem to be the standard of excellence people are recommending. There are many suggestions for how to use a safety razor and youtube has tons of videos. Some of them are quite good like the one posted at the bottom.

You’ll have to consider the brush as well. There are three types, boar, badger and synthetic. Boar is the most common, but comes in three grades the cheapest and worst usually what you find in stores. Synthetics have varying results, so I’ll suggest a badger brush since from what I’ve read they seem to be the most consistent and best overall quality. It’s also what I’ve had in the past after trying a boar brush. Badger brushes hold water better and you can find them in a few stores in San Francisco at a relatively cheap price. Oh, and by the way skip the after shave lotion and just use a squirt of witch hazel afterwards followed by a few splashes of water on your face followed by any decent after shave balm or moisturizer.

Overall, it looks like from my research that I can get into this for about $30 investment and that should hold me at least a year with only having to buy a bar of soap and some new blades for the next year. Which would add only another $5 each year. Sure the disposables and cartridges are convenient and I’ll probably take one along when I travel, but I think for the overall cost savings I’m going to give it a shot.

Park Cafe: My Kind of Dive

I like going out for breakfast when I can. I love me some bacon & eggs with a side of toast and hash browns. I don’t really need an upscale kind of place to eat, just one that’s clean, quick and cheap. That’s where the Park Cafe comes in because you’d never know it was there. It’s small, hidden in the Stonestown Medical building and you’d never think about it and probably miss it when you’re walking by.

My wife and I decided to try it one day after I had a dentist appointment. It was close to noon and I hated going to the dentist because he always treated me like a five year old tell me how awful my teeth were and how they were all going to fall out if I didn’t brush them 3-6 times a day with fluoride rinses afterwards. Needless to say, I changed dentists and found one who was nicer and cheaper. I digress a bit. We decided to try the Park Cafe, at the time bacon and eggs with toast was just $2.99 each and you got coffee with it. This of course was prior to the dot com bomb, but today they prices are now $4.99. That’s still a deal in my book. The nice part is they can scramble your eggs well so their fluffy and hard and overcooked and you get three slices of bacon, not the skimpy two most places offer. You can also swap out the toast for a bagel at no extra charge.

Hardly anyone goes there, except probably the doctors in the building during their lunch who are too lazy to walk across the mall. There’s no windows inside the place so the best view you’re going to get is of beverage container. I was always a kind of odd duck there as I used to get Martinelli’s apple cider to go with my breakfast there. I can’t stand orange juice unless you add in some vodka [which I don’t recommend for the mornings] and apple juice for some reason made me want to drink more water. I think we were one of the only houses prior to having kids that stocked apple juice.

To find the place you walk in the front door of the building and walk straight toward the elevators then turn left. They have no website and you’ll hardly find anything on them if you search google. My apologies for the shaky picture, but it was a quick shot on the way out of the building this morning. We would have stopped in to eat, but our daughter doesn’t like doctors too much yet because she’s been getting vaccines every time she’s gone, so I could understand her wanting to get the hell out of there, but if you’re ever out that way check them out and tell them I sent you.

The Saddest Playground In San Francisco

I’ve seen lots of changes to the playgrounds in San Francisco and a lot of them have been really good. Being a parent and having to take your kid out to a place where they can run around and work off some energy so they don’t destroy your house is always a good thing, but there are some places that still need help. This one is on 24th Avenue and Quintara Street.

This playground, really a mini playground has looked like this for close to 50 years. They did put in some of that spongy stuff down and have replaced the benches, but it’s still the same. For some reason it even warranted a plaque. I’m not sure why because other than a few swings, small slide and sandbox there’s really nothing else left.

It’s also not fenced in and a quick run into the streets. It is also used as a staging point for Abraham Lincoln High School’s PE teachers before making the kids run around the reservoir so when PE is happening the teachers and students don’t really care much if you’re a parent with a child there to actually use the playground. We were lucky in that we only visited this playground when our daughter was very young and she was just learning to walk. Now that she knows how to walk and can run around by herself there are plenty of other places to go to that offer much more energy releasing activities as well a mentally stimulating forms of play.

While there have been great improvements to other Sunset neighborhood parks so as Frank McCopping playground and West Sunset playground, this one has pretty much been forgotten. My suggestion to our local Supervisor Carmen Chu is to either upgrade this mini-playground or just remove it and add in a few of those concrete chessboards and leave it as a meeting place for people who often use it already as a place to meet up and have a chat. It’s a small area so you wouldn’t need much there, but leaving it in it’s current state of looking like it was built during Russian industrial era times just isn’t San Franciscan. Email Supervisor Chu or tweet her about this and maybe we’ll see something get done.

John Dobson: The Hippy That Made Astronomy Hip

The Dobsonian telescope named after it’s inventor, John Dobson brought the heavens to a great number of people. It was fairly cheap to make, but gave you the ability to see things in the sky that most store bought telescopes would never let you see. The first time I got to see Saturn for myself was through a Dobsonian telescope and Jupiter looked huge and I could even make out more than the four moons you normally can see.

I’m not sure why, but John popped into my head over the weekend. I haven’t seen him in years and figured he had probably died. I think I was 10 when I last saw him and my parents and I took a class from him to make our own Dobsonian telescope. We met him one night outside the California Academy of Sciences with the group the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers. They had brought telescopes out and had them set up and were inviting people to have a look. They were really quite simple reflector type telescopes. They had a mirror at the end of a big long tube which focused the sky’s image on to what he referred to in the class as the spider which had a mirror that reflected what it saw into the viewing aperture.

My Dad had always been into astronomy and when he asked John were he bought the telescope [this one was called the Zebra and painted with psychedelic zebra stripes] John told my Dad that he made it and offered classes on how to do it and you’d end up with one when you finished. You had to do all the work yourself, but I think it only cost around $50 at the time and my Dad was sold. The first couple of classes were just discussion and then we were given two round portholes and grit and told to get to work.

The process of making the big mirror for the telescope consisted of mixing some grit with water and putting it between the two portholes and rotating them in small circles. I think most of our neighbors thought we were crazy as my Dad on weekends would take the portholes out in the driveway and he and I would sit there for hours grinding away at the glass. Since my Dad only had weekends to work on the mirror and John always focused on perfection in the grinding we never finished the mirror, but we did get it as far as the pitch lap which I’m still not sure what part that plays in the mirror, but I remember it was the last step before your porthole became a mirror for your telescope. That and the tube for our 12″ telescope sat in our house for years until my astronomical friend Patty took them off our hands a few years ago.

One of the interesting things about John was that he wasn’t a child of the 60’s although he totally fit the bill when you saw him. He was actually born in 1915 [turns out he’s a Virgo like me] in Bejing, China which made him the same age as my Dad. He had a ponytail and probably still does. I don’t know how old the picture I found of him is, but that’s how I remember him. He, unlike my Dad is still alive today and still talking about Astronomy at the ripe old age of 96. I bet he still gets on his knees and grinds portholes into mirrors to this day. The San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers [which John helped found] and their urban guerrilla astronomy are still thriving today. You can find them showing up around the city on clear nights holding star parties to entertain and teach the people passing by.

Because of John, I took up a big interest in science and still have a love for it today. I actually even worked at the Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences for a while as a teenager because I though the planetarium projector was just so cool and the fact that it was built out of spare parts during WWII gave it a kind of Dobsonian feel to it. John doesn’t have his own website, but he’s got a Wikipedia page and he’s mentioned frequently on the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers website. They have a calendar, but I didn’t see any upcoming star parties listed. You can also follow them on Twitter where you’ll probably here about their next star party. Check them out and you’ll be able to check out the stars for yourself one day.

Today’s Post is Dedicated to my Mom

Two years ago today I had to unpleasant surprise to find my Mom had died. I can finally say after two years I have been able to move on. We had great times and bad times together. She didn’t like to have her picture taken very often so I had to go back to her High School graduation picture [1946], one of the few pictures i have of her that does her any justice. Yeah, I miss her, but there’s lots of things that I’d want to tell her today that she wouldn’t want to hear, like the price of gas or that two boys she knew from the neighborhood that I grew up with are now women.

Wherever you are, just know that I’m doing fine and I’ll continue to do so. Oh yeah, your grand-daughter says hi. For Parking Meters

When I’m out driving around I’ve found that I’ve started to take every quarter in change I have and put it in my jacket pocket, that way if I have to use a parking meter I know I’m covered. Sometimes though I might need to be there for a couple of hours and don’t have enough quarters on me. This happened to me today and I tried out to pay for the parking.

I had to have an allergy test done which for some reason I’ve never had done in my life. The hospital I go to has parking garages, but that would have cost me around $12 for the 2 hours I was there. I found a meter and saw that you could pay by phone. I had no idea how long I would be there, but I guessed an hour and a half would be a good amount to start with. I called the number entered my credit card number and created a PIN number and then entered the code on the parking meter. I was all set. I did have to pay a 45¢ convenience fee which I didn’t like, but the company that runs this has to of course make some kind of money.

As I’m going through the allergy test which was carried out in a Pediatrician’s office [and I didn’t get a lollypop afterwards for not screaming and crying during the test!] I noticed that my time was running out so I opened up the web browser on my iPhone and found that the page was still available and had an extend button so judging from what the doctor said I figured adding another 30 minutes would work. I was then charged another 45¢ convenience fee on top of the last one. In the end I don’t have any allergies and it turned out I had to pay only $4.90 vs. the $12 it would have cost me in one of the lots. Not too shabby, but it would have only been $4 if I had the quarters on me.

When I got home I went to their website and saw that they have a mobile app for iPhones and Androids which is free. It’s much easier to use and doesn’t require a phone and is much more secure. Most meters around the city have the stickers on them so if you’re going to be somewhere for a couple of hours it makes sense, or you can just keep $4 in quarters handy at all times. I did that once and frankly I didn’t like the jangling all those quarters made as I was walking around, so now I keep $2 in quarters as my maximum all of the time. Oh and if you really want to know, I don’t have any allergies.

The San Francisco Unified School District

If you have a child in San Francisco that attends public school then you’re very aware of the lottery system for which school your child can get to attend. I’ve yet to hear about this happening in other cities, but it is a crazy system for San Francisco to have and we were lucky…WE BEAT THE SYSTEM!

I’m not sure why we did, but it could be because our daughter is autistic so there’s a smaller pool of kids to draw from. You can put down up to 16 different schools you want your child to attend and you’ll hopefully get one of them. Most parents put down 10 schools [note this is for elementary school, middle schools and high schools have less choicees]. From comments I’ve read there are many parents who put down 10 schools and didn’t get any of them and ended up having to in some cases drive their kids across town to attend school.

When I was a kid you went to the school in your neighborhood and we had class sizes of around 20-30 kids. We didn’t have any problems back then even though there was talk of over crowding. Then when I was getting ready for fourth grade bussing started which brought kids from bad neighborhoods to good neighborhoods and vice versa. Please note the bold/italics is the equivalent of doing the old finger quotation thing. At least they had bussing to get the kids to school back then. They only have that for kids who are in SDC classes now.

It was not a good time as I was supposed to be sent to Aptos Elementary [note it wasn’t a middle school or Junior High as we used to call them] and my Mother was down at the Board of Education kicking and screaming. In the end I ended up going to Lawton Elementary which was the closest to my house since they split out fourth-sixth grades [elementary schools before that were K-6].

What we have today is similar, but we have managed to fare through it very well. We only put down two schools that had SDC [Special Day Classes] that fit our daughter’s needs. We would have been happy with either. We knew the Kindergarten teacher at her current school and he’s a great guy. We got to meet the teacher at the school closer to us and knew that she mentored some of the people who were therapists for our daughter. Everyone had wonderful things to say all around.

Once we got accepted that’s not the end of things. You have to go to the school and fill out enrollment paperwork. We did that yesterday and after a few hiccups we got everything done. Note to parents of SDC kids, while the paper they send you says you don’t need to bring a birth certificate and proof of residence if you’re already enrolled in the SFUSD, ignore that. They sent us home to bring that back.

My Wife sent an email to the teacher that our daughter will have and she promptly sent back an email saying that she wants to visit our daughter at her school and talk with her current teacher as well as coming by our house to meet with us and see how she is outside of school. Some of you may think this sounds like a Child Protective Services thing, but it’s not. Autistic kids think different than other kids. My daughter can barely talk, but she can make music on her iPad in Garageband with very little help from me. The teacher wants to understand how your child’s mind works so she can incorporate the appropriate classwork into her daily life.

The Principal at the school even remembered us and had a long chat with us while the paperwork was being processes [it turns out she taught at my elementary school and knew many of my teachers. She even tried to flatter me by saying she might have been one of my teachers, but we only had old prune faced teachers close to their 70’s when I was in elementary school].

All in all I knew that it would work out for us. My Wife who worries more about these things is ecstatic at the moment so I’ll just shut my trap and let her enjoy it. Sometimes the world isn’t always out to get you and things work out in the end.

How to BBQ in San Francisco

Someone once said you’re a real San Franciscan when you put on your winter coat to go out and BBQ in July. People who live here understand that because the weather throws a few monkey wrenches into being able to properly BBQ here depending on what part of the city you live in.

When I did my brief stint in the Mission we generally had good weather most of the year so BBQing wasn’t too difficult. When you live near the coast in the Sunset or Richmond districts things get a little more challenging. We get cold and wind here. I skipped the corned beef for St. Patrick’s day and decided to grill some steaks. It was a very windy day so I knew I had to start the grill early. We’ve got a propane grill so it needs some time to warm up. It took about a half hour before the grill got up to 400°. I figured I’d be going a little longer for the steaks and I opened the grill and dropped the steaks on it and the thermometer now said it was 300°. So much for the sear and grill lines.

In warmer weather like we get in our Indian summer later in the year I can usually get the grill up to over 500° in under 15 minutes. That’s when cooking outdoors is fun. Prior to the propane grill I remember that El Niño year late in the 90’s when I grilled on a hot New Year’s Eve when it hit 80°. My little Smokey Joe charcoal grill got so hot that I singed the hair on my arm. The steaks ended up cooking too hot and where blackened on the outside while raw on the inside.

These are things you need to understand when you grill in the outside lands. If it’s windy or cold your grill won’t get as hot and on a hot day it’s better to indirectly grill unless you have a propane grill that lets you control the heat. I’ve been grilling for years and have learned how to take the weather into effect even mildly enjoying grilling in a heavy fog where the water sizzles on the grill [which also cools the top area creating a circular effect which cools your grill.

So take these tips into account if you’re out in the windier areas. We unfortunately have a gorgeous view because we’re up on a hill, but that also puts us into a direct line of attack from the salt air off the beach so it can get very windy. I’ve even had my propane grill blown over with the wheels locked.

Triangle vs. Square

So I’m sure you all know by now that I hate PayPal, I hate them a lot. Yesterday they unveiled their new product for mobile merchants: Triangle umm PayPal Here. I’m not buying into it for a number of reasons and yes, I’m about to pretty much tell you all of them.

First thing that was kind of funny to me was that they’re undercutting Square by .05%. What that means is that if you charge someone $100 you’ll be giving Square 5¢ more of your money. 5¢ out of $100 isn’t going to hurt me too much.

Second, the PayPal app looks like it was a complete reverse engineer of the Square app. The only difference between the two is that you have to enter the CVV number after swiping the card which you don’t have to do with Square.

People are talking about the 2.7% fee vs. the 2.75% fee of Square and then following it up with, but you get a free debit card that any money you charge someone is immediately available on the card which gives you 1% cash back making the effective rate 1.7%. While I’m good at math I’m not so good at bait and switch economics and something just didn’t sit right with me on this one until I saw a comment made by someone using the name SounderJunkie on The Verge that said:

Umm, the 2.7% is charged to the merchant, the 1% cash back goes to the customer using the card. The only way this becomes an effective rate of 1.7% is if you are charging your own card. Interestingly, this is classified under US law as money laundering.

Money laundering? Interesting idea. So they give you a debit card that accumulates your charges without the need for a bank account. As a freelancer I’ve run into times where I have to prove to a company that I was employed by showing them bank statements verifying PayPal or Square deposits to my bank. From what they’ve said so far they won’t be issuing bank statements for you and I can only suppose that they will show up on your PayPal account which looks more and more like a bank statement every time I have to look at one and at one time in the past they were acting like a bank encouraging you to keep your money in your PayPal account and earning interest on it through their Market Rate program or spend it with your PayPal debit card [something that when they got that started years ago I applied for, but never got.]

Third, PayPal is an established online payment juggernaut. They are virtually the only form of online payment that online businesses will accept. I just happened to check their site and noticed that they’re previous fee of 2.5% + 15¢ transaction fee has now been raised to 2.9% + 30¢ transaction fee. So in order to offset the extra .05% they’re giving you to undercut Square they now have to raise their rates for normal online PayPal exchanges unless you can get approved as a non-profit or make more than $3000/month. They also have some policies that are a very draconian in nature. They’re already telling book sellers that if they want to sell ebooks and accept PayPal payments they cannot sell erotica. Yet there is on eBay an ahem Adults only section where you can buy also sorts of erotica as well as some other rather bizarre sexually fueled devices and pay with PayPal and that’s OK because, well eBay owns PayPal and they love their monopoly status.

If you make a mistake and accept a payment for something they they don’t like you to sell [online raffles are a big one that people get hit with] they will suspend your account and hold all funds for 180 days and not even let you refund any payments. At the end of 180 days you can remove the money, but your account while still existing cannot be used because you have been banned for life. As a matter of fact anyone living at your address is also banned for life. If you sell your house and someone moves in that uses your old address they may end up being banned for life as well [in a call to PayPal that one caught them off guard, but they did say it could possibly happen].


Now Square, a San Francisco based start up that has been getting rave reviews since it’s beginning has also become pretty well established for mobile payments. Most of the food trucks around the Bay Area use Square. Small coffee shops and bakeries are using it. Sure there are a few other options around, but they usually charge more to process credit cards than Square does and the .05% lower rate for PayPal Here won’t help them overcome PayPal’s hatred by those who have used it in the past. I don’t think Jack Dorsey at Square will be quaking in his boots anytime soon.

If you want to get away from PayPal for online payments that don’t require a card swipe I suggest you check out Venmo. There are no fees associated with it unless you’re making a lot of money through it which in the future they say they will be instating fees for businesses to use it, but keep it free for individuals.