A quick summary of Uber offers

Chase (link here): First two rides = 50% off (up to $15 per ride). Use your Chase card to sign up for a new Uber account, enter promo code CHASE50, and take your first two rides by 7/31/17

SPG (Starwood preferred guest): this is target offer. I got it in the email, quoted below:

Get started with Uber. Enter promo code SPG2017 during sign-up or on the Uber app “Payment” page, and you’ll enjoy your first ride for free (up to US$20*). Offer valid through March 1, 2018.

Amex Platinum (“How to Get $200 in Uber Credits From Your Amex Platinum Card” by TPG): I don’t have the Amex Platinum.

Note I live St. Louis, in which Uber has not grown popular yet. But I plan to take it sometime this winter.

A few small app or card offers

Amex: Amex Offers has a Quiktrip in store (order via QT app) off $5 offer, can be used twice. And the Amex offer appears only available via the Amex app too. So basically you should install the Amex app, check if there are offers, add them if yes. Then install the QT app. The food items in QT actually are the best in gas stations (they actually have a kitchen :-) Tried today: the philly cheese stake and chicken flat bread. Total $7 (tax included, minus $5 makes it $2). Plus a large drink which is about $1.50 separately.

Chase Pay order ahead $5 off (first use): similar to the QT app, except in the case of Chase, they have a lot more restaurants, subway seems is the most popular (most stores), but I tried chick fil a, which I have not eaten for a while. You will also need to install Chase Pay app. Note I includes the links to iTunes app store here.

Last but not least, the Panera is offering $10 bonus card if one purchases $50 gift/egift card. I already got one, and plan to get another one (I am not too greedy since sometimes it takes time and effort to track down e-gift cards). :-)

Colleges cultivate work ethic

Deep Springs College: I heard about the college first time today. Apparently this is a very small college (26 students enrollment per Wiki). But they emphasize work (labor), the college is free. All male for now until the lawsuit can be settled.

College of the Ozarks: I knew this college a while ago, and I heard about it in the news on their “absolutely no alcohol policy” (even off campus). It’s a christian college, and the Berea college below is similar in this aspect.

Berea College: in Kentucky instead of Missouri, similar size as CoFo above, about 1,600 students. Both CoFo and Berea require students to work, and the tuition is waived. It looks like there are at least 7 work colleges in the US. Quote: “Each student receives a tuition scholarship worth nearly $100,000 for four years.
The College is one of only seven federally recognized Work Colleges in the United States…”

Earning and burning points

Recently I started to realize buring (use) rewards points efficiently is as important as earning, if not more.

Chase Ultimate Rewards, Hyatt
I made a small mistake about a month ago when I transferred some Chase UR points to Hyatt. The impetus for doing that was I needed to book 3 nights of hotel at Hyatt Regency in Chicago (magnificent miles). And I found booking via Chase UR website costs about 45,000 points. But in split of a second, I mistook Hyatt charges 40,000 points for 3 nights (it’s actually only 2 nights, but my mind short circuited). And I did the 40,000 points transfer (1:1). After that I no longer have 45,000 UR points, and had to use some 6,000 points plus $430 for those 3 nights.

So there was the cost of my small mistake. But the story did not end here, as I heard from one of my friend Hyatt points was a big saver in his family Florida trip. So I looked for Hyatt Place or Hyatt House for the summer trip we are taking in the east. I was able to book the free night (yearly) at Boston Harbor, also booked 5 nights either at Hyatt Place or Hyatt House in Owings Mills (Baltimore), Amherst (Buffalo), Morristown (NJ), and Boston Braintree (south Boston). Note both Hyatt Place and House have free breakfast.

Starwood Preferred Guest SPG
I know SPG points are valuable, and I have used them in various places including Shanghai, and this one with more pictures. Recently Marriott and SPG joined forces, and I have some points in MR and SPG but could not make a booking from either. So I transferred 5,000 points from MR to SPG (worth 1,666 SPG points), combined with 1,400 points I already have, I was able to make a booking at Aloft BWI (baltimore airport). I stayed at Aloft ORD before and have some ideas how it feels.

Lego deals

I buy Lego mostly for my daughter and her friends’ birthday gifts. There are 5 stores I usually go (both online and offline): Lego official website, Amazon (probably bought the most), Walmart (both online and store pickup), Target (online, free shipping with red card), and Toys R Us (both online and store pickup). Note in the online cases, I usually got the free shipping.

A ballpark for deal or not is see if the per piece price is 10 cents or not. For example, for an 100 piece lego set, a fair price is $10. If it sells below $10, then it maybe a deal.

Deals usually got sold out fairly quickly. I recall once in holiday season I had it in the cart, but I was a bit greedy in terms of using shopping portal (Discover Deal) and also tried to find a nearby Walmart store, during the process the lego was sold out. Today I learned my lesson, as soon as I saw the deal from dealsea, I click on it and ordered from Toys R Us. I actually bought two because a friend asked. This afternoon when I go to the store to pick up (btw, I feel the physical stores are in big trouble, as the parking lot was pretty empty at Mid-river Mall). The store clerk said they were a bit puzzled about two orders in the morning, I said they are both mine :-)

I think Lego is good for kids toy because they encourage creativity, and in the case of I don’t know a kid’s hobby (for birthday present), a Lego set is a safe bet as it’s pretty liquid (they can give away easily).

Kids Rewards System

Recently my wife and I are having some trouble find out a way to manage our old daughter’s at home behaviors, esp. around good working habit (wait until last minute to do homework or play piano), clean up the mess after playing, be nice to her younger sister, and last but not least, playdate with friends went over the time we set initially.

Since I work in the reward space for my day job, and I thought there may be something we can do in an app. We did tried stickers, and charts, but nothing really stuck for a while. I think with the popularity of smartphones, a smartphone app may stick. Looked around I am seeing two; iRewardChart and Choremonster.

Last but not least, I came across two articles on this topic, Reward system: Goodbye to the sticker chart and How Experts Discipline Their Children.

(Update 03-20-2017) This is partially inspired at the teacher/JA volunteer (my coworker) rewards kids with chocolate/candy for good behaviors in classroom (see this post about my JA experience).

Summer camp recommendations

There are many good summer day camps in St. Louis area. STLToday recently has a good piece on this topic.

Personally my old daughter has been to the JCC Day Camp, and Andrews Academy. We like both, with a bit preference over Andrews: for its after care, and overall quality. Note cost-wise, Andrews is a bit more expensive than the J (about $1,300 per month vs $220 a week for the J). We also thought about the Arts Camp at COCA too but the pickup and dropoff is a bit challenge (due to half day schedule). Note they do have 2 locations: the U city campus and the Whitefield school at Ladue/Mason. My daughter was very much interested in the arts, that’s why we signed up the art camp at the J when she was 5 (incoming kindergartener). This summer we are thinking again sign her up at Andrews (4 weeks Science camp and 4 weeks Outdoor camp). Both the J and Andrews do swimming once a day.

For the little ones, the summer camp at Hope Montessori (Mason road, Creve Coeur) is very good. We are thinking about signing up younger daughter this summer.

Other camps I heard about: the mad science summer camp, and the Lego (Robotics) camp at Maryville U. Both are half day, so it’s a bit challenge if both parents work full time and in office.

Btw, I wrote about the summer camp about 3 years ago.

Last but not least, found a summer camp search website here.

Junior Achievement Volunteering at Northview Elementary Jennings

Today I had opportunity being a Junior Achievement Volunteer at Northview Elementary School (Jennings). This is the first time I volunteer for JA, also my first time really being a teaching position at school. Almost 18 years I did some brief teaching (Abaqus finite element analysis) for some civil engineering graduate students. More recently I started volunteer for Math Facts Scholars at my daughter’s school, but this is mostly testing and some one on one tutoring.

Back to topic, JA is a program teaching kids about community, business, jobs, work readiness and entrepreneurship. It reminds me of this Warren Buffett SMC program this evening after I came back from the school, and cooled down a bit. The day went by fast, and we (my partner, myself and classroom teacher) did the best we can, considering all the factors: the classroom is a bit crowded, 28 kids for 2nd grade. I also started appreciating the hard work of teacher, in the beginning of afternoon session, because I felt my knee is really sore, and I just feel like to sit down. It’s also very interesting to see the teacher got many tricks (gestures, rhythms, and routines) to help calm down the kids. Also there are bright and hard working kids everywhere, despite the fact they may not have the latest and greatest facility or equipment. For example, I noticed they have Windows, and small Dell laptop (chromebooks?). While in many area private school and the public school my daughter goes, they have macs.

For me this is quite an eye opening moment for me, as I listened to the morning announcement in the broadcast, from pledge of the allegiance, to birthday annoucement.

PS, I was quite nervous before the event, as I said earlier I did not have much teaching or public speaking experience. One thing I try to remind myself: as Woody Allen said, 80% of the work is to show up. So just show up and we should be mostly fine. Also, I try to set my expectation low, as long as I have impact one student, I will be happy. It seems from the students response, I wildly beat this low expectation: as I was leaving, students gave me hugs and high fives.

Also, it’s interesting some of them were very curious about China, they asked me questions on China. I never have similar experience like that in my daughter’s school, probably because I never got to talk, and they have many Chinese kids in school (not as curious).

Fund raising at non-for-profit orgnizations

(Update 28-Feb-2017) Just got back from the book fair in Spoede school, camp read a lot. It’s a lot of efforts from the volunteers and the teachers. At the same time a lot fun for the little kids and the families. Part of the profit goes to the SSA (the parent association of the school).

(Original) I have some experience on this topic, when I was a new graduate student at Rolla, I worked on the phone asking the alumni for donation during phonathon. That’s from the asking end.

When I started to working, I listened to local NPR station (KWMU) for news and english learning, I know from time to time they also have the fundraising campaign. During that time they pause the program, and ask people to call in and give money. After a few years, finally I pulled the plug and called them.

Nowadays as my daughters started attending schools and they usually have parents association that support the schools. The St. Louis Children’s Choirs my old daughter participated is a non-for-profit organization too. There are a few common ways to raise the money: silent auction (or not-so-silent-auction), trivial/bingo games, the affiliation programs such as scripts program at Schnucks, Amazon shopping, and box-on-top. There are also some events like eating out night (restaurant donate a part of revenue/profit to school). So really it’s whatever it works: bring money from multiple revenue streams. For the trivia night/silent auction or live auction, usually people bring own drink (alcohols), unless it’s a family friendly event in which alcohol is not allowed. It seems to me sometimes the bidding become more intense with all the alcohols :-)

This year my daughter’s school did something different, they did a raffle. I think raffle (sweepstakes) is not uncommon, except in this case I think the each entry is a bit too costly ($100). I think $100 is not small money in many families, also keep in mind in some culture or religion sweepstakes (gamble) is not a good idea :-)

So here is my 2 cents. I think small non-for-profit organization fundraising is a bit like a small business trying to survive, again I feel this is one reason the multiple revenue streams. Some passive (affiliation); some active (trivial/auction/eat out). Coming from China which does not have this sort of thing, I feel this is interesting.