Kevin on July 8th, 2013

DuckDuckGo logoWhether you’re using a PC, Mac, or smartphone, if you’re irritated by the government’s PRISM Program, check out DuckDuckGo, and its new smartphone app, DuckDuckGo Search and Stories for iPhone and Android.

As we’ve mentioned before, DuckDuckGo doesn’t collect any of your information when you search the interwebs; if the government were to demand their records, DDG doesn’t have any to turn over.

I installed the app on my iPhone 5 a week or so ago, and have tested it alongside the Google app.

home

The app combines a standard search field at its top with a news feed of stories from sources ranging from The Wall Street Journal, to Time, to The Onion.  You can adjust which feeds appear in Settings; more on this in a bit.

stories

As with Google, suggested search results appear as you type:

search wordsworth

If images associated with search results are available, they’ll appear next to the link:

fire

Clicking on the orange icon at the top LH corner of DuckDuckGo’s app brings you to a recap of your recent searches and to Settings…

home screen

As mentioned, this enables you to see your recent searches, and to adjust the settings:

settings recent searches

In Settings, you can set whether the home screen shows the news feed, or your recent or saved searches.  You can also specify your region or country in order to “boost” your search results.  Finally, you can turn Autocomplete on or off.

DuckDuckGo – whether on your home computer or smartphone – is definitely worth a look!  Thanks for reader and site contributor Michael W. for the suggestion!

 

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Kevin on June 23rd, 2013
Lobby, Lubbock TX Embassy Suites

Lobby, Lubbock TX Embassy Suites

Who hasn’t experienced crappy customer service?  Disinterested or downright surly retail workers, waitstaff and hotel employees are everywhere, and sadly, tolerating poor service has become the norm rather than the exception.  This is why my experience at the Embassy Suites in Lubbock was such a stunner.  I don’t know if what I experienced was the product of a corporate cultural change or unique to this property as I hadn’t stayed at an ES for a while, but someone has turned the employees at the Lubbock Embassy Suites into customer service zealots.

A colleague dropped me off last Thursday evening.  While I was getting out of the car, a young woman came out of the hotel and asked if I was checking in.  She took my name and said she’d get things started at Registration.  I retrieved my bag from the trunk, and as I approached the front doors, another employee who was obviously going off shift welcomed me to the hotel and added, “Thanks for staying with us!”  As I entered, a young bellman also offered an effusive welcome.  Walking up to the front desk, I was expecting the regular routine – credit card, license, etc. – instead, the front desk clerk said, “Thanks for staying with us, Mr. Connolly, here’s your room key – you’re on the third floor, and are all set.”  Why aren’t all hotels like this?  An hour after checking in I received a call from the front desk, asking if everything was ok and if they could do anything else for me.  The entire stay was like this:  employees falling over themselves to make sure I knew my business was appreciated.

I am a Hilton HHonors Gold member, but that doesn’t usually generate special treatment, and I certainly didn’t walk around the property with GOLD tattooed on my forehead.  Every employee I encountered was upbeat and welcoming; this even extended to when I was leaving the property.  Sitting in the lobby near the front window so I could see my ride arrive, an employee approached and asked if I’d like a bottle of water or a coffee while I waited.  Amazing.

The hotel itself is what you’d expect from an Embassy Suites:  suite-style rooms arranged in a courtyard fashion, free breakfast and “Manager’s Reception.”  My room was clean and well stocked with towels and extra coffee packets for the coffeemaker.  Free internet access.

If you’re going to be in Lubbock and need a hotel recommendation, now you’ve got it.

Embassy Suites Lubbock

5215 South Loop 289, Lubbock, Texas, 79424

USA TEL: 1-806-771-7000

FAX: 1-806-771-7100

Exterior at Night

Other than being a Hilton HHonors member, I have no connection to Embassy Suites or Hilton.

 

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Kevin on June 20th, 2013

If you ever find yourself on the road and forgot to pack shaving cream, lather up with some hand soap and use the conditioner provided by the hotel:

conditioner

This week I’m on the road and somehow lost or didn’t pack my (small) bottle of Shave Secret, so I had to go this route; it works great!!  Also, if you somehow manage to forget your razor, ask your hotel for one of those emergency baggies they have for stranded travelers – they usually include a cheap plastic razor.

Have you discovered any improvised ways of dealing with stuff you’ve forgotten to pack?  If yes, please comment.

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If you’re an IHG/Priority Club member, you can snag an extra 1550 points for a one night stay.  Although this promotion is positioned as being for new Priority Club members, existing members can get the points as well.  Just click on the link below, enter your Priority Club membership number and the code 4648:

1550 Point Bonus – Priority Club

Please note that in order to receive the bonus points, your stay must take place within 90 days of registering for the promotion.

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DM Dining Welcome BonusFor U.S. cardholders:

Get 1000 Dividend Miles when you create a Dividend Miles dining account, dine once, and review your experience.  Signing up takes all of 2-3 minutes (you’ll need your DM # and a credit card).

Sign up here:  Dividend Miles Bonus – Dining Account

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After a dearth of attractive miles credit card offers recently, finally a solid offer from Barclays.  You can get 50,000 Miles & More points through this offer, 15K more than typically offered by Barclays:

  • Earn 20,000 award miles after your first purchase
  • Earn an additional 30,000 award miles when you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
  • Cardholders receive a companion ticket annually.
  • Enjoy 2 award miles per $1 on Miles & More integrated airline ticket purchases
  • Earn 1 award mile per $1 spent everywhere else
  • No mileage expiration with monthly qualifying purchases
  • 0% Intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after account opening, after that a variable APR currently 15.99% to 24.99% depending upon your creditworthiness.
  • $79 annual fee
  • This is a U.S. card

50,000 Miles & More miles are enough to fly round trip from the U.S. to Europe in coach on Lufthansa or either of the other Miles & More carriers,  SWISS or Austrian.  You can also use the miles in a variety of ways with Star Alliance members:

  • Adria
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian
  • Blue1
  • Bmi
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Continental Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • Egyptair
  • LOT
  • Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shanghai Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Spanair
  • Swiss
  • TAP Portugal
  • Thai
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United
  • US Airways

This is a great means of adding to your point total if you’re targeting a Star Alliance award, particularly if you’ve maxed out the lucrative offers from Chase.

You can apply here

NOTE:  I have no connection to Barclays or Lufthansa

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One could argue that Warby Parker is well on its way to transforming the eyeglass industry by eliminating the middleman, cutting prices, and selling direct to consumers.  Now Warby Parker co-founder Jeff Raider, along with longtime friend Andy Katz-Mayfield, is trying to do the same thing for shaving.  The two launched Harry’s about three weeks ago, featuring low prices and, like Warby Parker, a charitable angle.

Harry's Home Page

Harry’s offers two models, the Truman and the Winston.  (No explanation is provided for the company’s name, but it’s clearly an homage to famous Harry’s of yesteryear.)  Harry’s worked with an American industrial designer who modeled the razors after classic ballpoint pens and butter knives; the razors and blades are produced by a German firm that’s been in the business for 80 years.

The Truman handle is $10; the Winston, $20.  A Truman kit (contains the handle, 3 blades, and a tube of shave cream) is $15; the Winston kit (same items), $25.  What’s more remarkable is that eight multi blade replacement cartridges cost a mere $15!  18 cartridges sell for $25.

As a comparison, 8 Gillette Fusion cartridges will set you back $29.99 at Walgreens (18 for $37.99); at Walmart.com, 6 Fusion cartridges are $30.47 (12 sell for $39.47).

I’m a sucker for a deal, and love (like Warby Parker) the product’s classic design, so I ordered the Truman shortly after the company’s launch:

Harry's:  Packaging

The packaging is faithful to the retro vibe, and is nicely executed:

Harry's:  razor packaging

I ordered 8 blades in addition to the 3 which come with the Truman kit; they were shipped as 4 packs:

Harry's 4 pack - cartridges

The Truman features a polymer handle bonded to a solid zinc rod.  The handle features the Harry “H” logo:

Harry's:  Truman handle

The cartridges feature five blades, a lubricating strip, and of course remove easily.  The cartridge installed on the handle is shipped with a protective plastic sheath:

Harry's:  Truman handle / blade

The handle has a satisfying heft to it.  If you shave in the shower, however, you may find it slipping downward in your fingers, due to the smooth surface:

Harry's:  handle detail

A close-up of the cartridge:

Harry's:  cartridge detail

Like Warby Parker, Harry’s has a strong charitable angle.  For each pack of blades purchased, the company donates one blade (or its equivalent dollar value) to a charitable organization.  Its first partner in this regard is The Mission Continues, an organization that benefits veterans of recent wars.

To learn more about Harry’s, click here:  Harry’s

 

 

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