Friday, September 19, 2008

Reviewing iPhone applications - iFlags

One of the more interesting iPhone applications I have downloaded is called iFlags. It displays an international flag and presents the names of three countries. You touch the country name that you think matches the flag. The app tells you right away if your selection is correct. If it's wrong, you get to select again or you can move to the next flag.

There is something about the quiz-like format that makes it fun. It feels like your knowledge is being tested. (Can you recall all 200 countries in the world?)

Recalling iPhone 3G USB power adaptors

Apple announced today that some of the iPhone 3G USB power adaptors are faulty. The metal prongs are prone to breakage and might remain in the outlet, creating risk of electric shock.

Apple has initiated an adaptor exchange program where you can replace the adaptors starting October 10. In the mean time, you should charge the iPhone by connecting the it to the computer using the supplied USB cable.

For details about the recall, see the Safety Notice at the Apple website.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Reporting Unsafe Products

To report an unsafe product, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC). You can get the contact information from their website.

I ended up calling the USCPSC directly. Surprisingly, the organization was very helpful. The person who responded to my call took time to ask a lot questions about what happened. Then she mailed a report for us to sign to confirm its accuracy. After they receive the signed copy, they will review the report and, if deemed appropriate, initiate an investigation.

The USCPSC, as well as family and friends, asked if Holmes offered us anything for this incident. The company rep offered to replace the heater with a newer model. We declined and then filed an incident report. We might get a letter from them some time in the future (timeframe unknown) to follow up.

At the end of our conversation, the Holmes rep tried to sell us other products. (Can we say outrageous?) She wasn't the only person. Every time we called, the rep tried to market other products at the end of the call. It was very frustrating that the employees don't use their judgment to assess the situation and determine when it is not appropriate to market new products. But the blame falls on the company for not bothering to train their employees properly.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Recalling all Holmes Oil-Filled Heaters

My Holmes Oil-Filled Heater literally exploded last night, spewing hot oil all over our bedroom and onto the new carpet. The image below shows how the explosion caused a bulge in the heater (third vertical bar from right).

During the service call to Holmes, I found out that my heater (model HOH2520) was recalled. If you have a Holmes portable heater, check and see if it was recalled. For more information and recall hotline, see the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website. When calling the hotline, make sure you provide the model number and production code. If you don't have both, they cannot help you. The production code is located on the same label as the model number.

The oil-filled heater was advertised as safe. Based on my experience last night, I disagree completely.

First, the hot oil could have caused severe injuries. Although the user guide explained that the heater should be placed at last three feet from everything, the exploding heater caused oil to spit up to four feet away. We got lucky because the heater was at the foot of our bed. In addition, we were tucked under blankets when the explosion happened.

The hot oil also produced a vapor that smelled like petroleum. The room got foggy from the vapor. We were breathing that all night even though the windows were wide open everywhere in the house. I cannot imagine that this is safe for anyone, because we got headaches and felt nauseous from it. We ended up sleeping in the farthest room away from where the accident occurred.

During the service call to Holmes, I was told that the oil is mineral-based and is perfectly safe. When asked, the rep didn't answer the question but kept repeating that it was a "safe oil". She was either trained to not reveal the type of oil or perhaps she really didn't know.

The Holmes rep also mentioned that the company no longer sells oil-filled heaters and will be releasing a new water-filled heater later this winter. This seems like a better solution. I hope the newly designed heaters have better containment for the heated water or include pans and containment fields should an explosion occur. At least you can be assured that breathing steam/water vapor won't make you sick or nauseous.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Updating the LG EnV review

It's been 1.5 months since I had the LG EnV, and I still love it. The photos taken from this camera are phenomenal for cell phone cameras. See the image attached.

I've been able to use the built-in Bluetooth to transfer files to and from the cell phone to my laptop and to my friends' PDAs. I understand that you can also transfer music from iTunes to the phone (via Windows Media Player to the WMA format and into the music folder on the micro SD card).

One interesting tip I learned is that if you get a micro SD card, make sure its capacity does not exceed 1 GB. Apparently, the EnV only uses 1 GB even if you insert a larger capacity card.

These last two tips I received from an EnV owner who posted on For additional tips, go to, look for the LG EnV, and then search for comments from Jeffrey D. Hauenstein "iPoder".

Demystifying the 2006 telephone tax refund

One really good tax CREDIT everyone can take for the 2006 tax year is the one-time telephone tax refund. It allows you to reclaim some FEDERAL tax you paid for using the telephone (landline, cell phone, and voice-over-IP) over a 41-month period after Feb. 28, 2003, and before Aug. 1, 2006. State and local taxes you paid during this period are not refundable.

You can use one of two ways to claim the refund:
  • Use the standard amount.
  • Calculate the actual dollar amount you paid using old bills during the 41-month period.
For those who do not have or do not want to dig through old phone bills and add up the federal tax paid, you can take the standard amounts:
  • One exemption, the standard refund amount is $30;
  • Two exemptions, the standard refund amount is $40;
  • Three exemptions, the standard refund amount is $50;
  • Four exemptions or more, the standard refund amount is $60.
For those who have access to the old bills, look for the following independent section or line on each bill (landline, cell, or voice-over-IP):
  • Federal
  • Federal Excise 3%
  • Federal Excise @ 3%
  • Federal Excise Tax
  • Federal Tax
  • Fed Excise Tax
  • FET
Again, state and local taxes do not apply. Federal fees also do not apply.

If you want to calculate the actual amount, you'll need a few bills from this time period. You don't need every single copy of the bill during this period. You just need enough to support your claim for the refund if you get audited.

If you have some old bills, it might be worth it go check through them. The total from adding up the actual amount can be greater than the standard amount. For example, I can claim the standard amount of $30. However, after going through some old phone bills, I found that I can claim $170. This more than double the standard amount. So I think it's worth it.

Another reason this is well worth claiming is because it is a tax CREDIT, not deduction. A tax credit means that the dollar amount you claim will be returned to you. For example, if you claim a $50 credit, you get $50 in refund. If you claim a $50 deduction, you might get a $5 refund (the actual amount can vary, depending on what you are claiming, your tax bracket, and a multitude of other factors).

For a full description of the telephone tax refund, visit the IRS website. They explain the history and reason for the refund.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Envying the new LG EnV

If you have been wanting more than a basic cell phone but do not need all the features, high price, and expensive monthly charges of smartphones, your search is over. Check out the LG EnV, aka the Vx9900. This phone is small, light, fun, and has just the functions you need for middle-of-the-road users:
  • Clamshell design with a screen on the front and a larger screen inside
  • Right-sized QWERTY keyboard that allows you to comfortably add or edit contact info, write notes to yourself (for example, shopping lists), type text messages, and type search keywords
  • 2-megapixel camera with flash, day/night modes, single-point autofocus, white balance adjustments, resolution selections, video mode, and special-effects options (the pictures taken by this camera is incredibly nice for cell phone cameras)
  • Mobile Web 2.0, so you can surf the web and check web email using AOL, Yahoo, or Gmail (for extra charge per month)
  • Bluetooth, for transferring photos and videos to/from your computer, and for accessories such as wireless headsets
  • MicroSD slot, for storing pictures and videos
  • Speakerphone
  • GPS-like technology and Navigator application (for extra charge per month or per use) so you can receive turn-by-turn voice prompts
  • VCast program (for extra charge per month) so you can download the latest movie trailers, news clips, segments from TV shows, games, ring tones, and so on
  • Great battery life

There are probably many more features. But the best part of this phone is the monthly service charge. Sold through Verizon Wireless, you can buy this phone and keep your current voice plan using this phone. If you want the extras, such as accessing the web, you can pay $5, $10, or $15 in addition to your current voice plan. This is an incredible difference compared to the smartphone service plans, which start at $80/mo ($40 minimum for voice plus $40 minimum for data).

For reviews of this phone, see the following links:

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dodging the real estate bust

There has been a lot of talk about the housing market lately. A number of economists or experts have expressed concern about the extent of the housing bust. Is it done, or will it continue to fall?

In the Wall Street Journal this week, there was an article about renters who feel vindicated, because they did not buy homes during the boom. Some sold their homes at the peak of the market and are now renting, while others have been waiting on the sideline for years. One renter, in particular, has been a strong advocate of renting over buying. He makes some very logical arguments. Check it out.

It's not clear what you should do if you don't have a house and want to get into the market. Only you know how much house you can afford. If you follow the traditional lending rules (see Patrick's website), you should be OK. This rule is possible to follow in some areas of the U.S. However, if you live in the San Francisco area, where the median price of homes are above $650K while income levels have not risen much in the last few years, following those lending rules might not get you into a house. In this case, you'll have to stash as much money away as you can and wait with Patrick. (Note: The tax advantage of owning a home is only an advantage if you follow the traditional lending rules. See Patrick's website for details.)

If you already have a house/condo/townhouse and you don't mind the hassel of moving, you might want to consider selling it and socking that profit to build your wealth, increase your net worth, and plan for early retirement. Be aware that if the gain from the sale is greater than $500K per couple or $250K per person, you'll be subject to capital gains tax.

If you are holding onto the home in hopes that housing prices will resume their skyrocketing trend, you should keep that hope in check. Don't gamble. It's the worst thing you can do with any investment.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hunting for jobs

Try, a website that simplifies your job search by listing jobs from other websites like,,, and others. also lists jobs from recruiter websites and company career pages.

For salary research, try The salary information is localized so the results are comparable to your local market.

To check company culture, you'll have to ask around and do some research. Companies that have high turnover rates tend to raise red flags in my mind. Also, when you interview at the company or if you go to trade shows, check and see whether the employees look happy. Happy employees can mean good management and good company culture.

Don't forget to check blogs and other web postings for disgruntled employee complaints. For example, in the biotech industry, you can check the Biotech Rumor Mill. A large number of complaining employees might indicate bad company management and culture.

Seeking legal help

Thanks to Nolo, legal help is accessible, affordable, and understandable for U.S. consumers and small businesses. Nolo is an organization of lawyers who produce plain-English do-it-yourself legal guides, covering everything from tenant-landlord rights, how to buy a house, estate planning, marriage and divorce, how to start your own business, employee rights, patent rights, and much more. You can check out the high-level information on their website. For detailed information, you can purchase their books from their website or from