Hotels in Shanghai I stayed in recent years

Courtyard in Xujiahui (formerly Tibet hotel, as you can see the rooftop design, tripAdvisor, marriott website). Good location and friendly people. I recall the first time I visited (2011), I used my Marriott rewards and silver status, the front desk especially got the leader over and greet. I suspect at that time, perhaps there were not many guests with Marriott silver status. In fact for me it’s just a benefit of Marriott card via Chase. The location is really nice. There is a restaurant next to the hotel. And some convenience stores in walking distance. It’s within the walking distance of Xujiahui business district. It costs 10,000 points Marriott points or about 700 to 800 CNY per night. I stayed there a few times.

Four Points by Sheraton in Pudong (starwood hotel website, tripAdvisor). It costs 4000 SPG points. It’s bigger than the Courtyard Xujiahui, in fact many things in Pudong is bigger than Puxi, think it as downtown vs. suburban in the US (as one of my Haigui friends once said). The cash rate is between $72 to about $200 per night (depends on room).

Another hotel, I have not stayed, but will stay this June, is Park Hyatt in Shanghai Pudong (tripAdvisor). I am going to use my Hyatt free night there. The going rate is a bit expensive, I think.

Note I used to stay at budget hotels in Shanghai back in 2006/7. Now with family and kids, I can no longer do that.

Time to say bye to Yahoo mail

I know I know, I must live in stone age by using Yahoo mail. I do have gmail, but since I had Yahoo mail earlier than gmail (1998 vs. 2004, I think), I still rely on yahoo mail for some online accounts. This is even after some horrible incidents happened, in which someone stole my yahoo mail and sent out spams to everyone on my address book. Another reason I kept it, is all these archives. Sometime I search information from the Yahoo mail, e.g., my frequent flyer number I could not remember, etc. This means I could not divorce from yahoo mail that easily. But it’s something in my mind, and today I started to pull the plug. It could take a while.

The main reason I did this, is in last 2 days, I received 2 spams in yahoo mail, that on the surface both looked credible. This and the incident above implies one thing: Yahoo could not keep up with the modern email esp. security and spam filter technology anymore. I expect Gmail could tell the difference between spam and good email, and I expect them to keep my email account safe. Btw, the 2 spams appeared sent from Amazon and Paypal. So the first thing I did was to change may email for those 2 plus eBay from Yahoo mail to Gmail. I will change more as times goes. And will share if there is any tips or gotchas. Stay tuned…

Inflight wifi

I’d read this one first, because it explains the technology and the players.

Gizmodo (Adam Clark Estes 5/04/15 3:41pm): Every Major Airline’s Wifi Service, Explained and Ranked

Some background why Gogo is the dominant player at this time.
Bloomberg (Sam Grobart | August 26, 2015): Why Gogo’s Infuriatingly Expensive, Slow Internet Still Owns the Skies

RunwayGirlNetwork has a lot of articles on this topic, such as the following:
US transcon war heats up as Virgin America taps ViaSat for Internet By Seth Miller

Gogo to launch global Ground-to-Orbit connectivity (a bit old, note 2014/03)

14 Oct 2015 JetBlue hits major milestones with Fly-Fi rollout By Seth Miller →

Now you know carrier wise, Jet Blue is the leader in terms of inflight wifi. This is consistent with the Gizmodo article above.

The Gogo AA dispute
Bloomberg: Gogo Plummets as American Airlines Eyes Competitor ViaSat Michaela Ross Mary Schlangenstein

16 Feb 2016 American looks to swap Gogo for ViaSat on 200 aircraft By Seth Miller →

Beyond sky
Wi-Fi on Cruises: Five Popular Ships Ranked Written by Cynthia Drescher May 15, 2015. Note the newer generation technology behind the inflight wifi and cruise ship wifi are similar: satellite. The thing impressed me (quote below): Speed tests on a preview cruise, with every passenger provided complimentary access, measured an average of 5.00 Mbps download and 4.33 Mbps upload.

Some thoughts on wechat hongbao (red packet)

I came across a good discussion on the topic here at Baidu. Interesting discussions.

Btw, I thought about it before reading that, and decided to give most of my earnings to OCEF. Today I saw my name on the report. Good: really I don’t care too much about my name there, and I know my contribution is small, but I want the money to be in good hands. And I know they are doing good work for kids in disadvantaged economy condition.

wechat hongbao

Tax

(Update 02-23-2016) Got the refund from Uncle Sam. From filing to receive refund only takes 7 days via turbo tax web version. Now I am waiting till 4/15 for the state because I owe money to show me state :-)

(Update 02-16-2016) I filed the tax last night, since I got almost all the forms I need. In case some other form showed up and it it’s meaningful, I can always do an amended return. Again I used the Fidelity deal mentioned below ($15 off $55 for premier version).

(Update 02-09-2016) I found a possible meaningful deduction or credit for those with High Deductible Health Insurance Plan. I found I can get about $1400 more back after filling in the HSA (Health Saving Account) information, it asked me do I have HDP plan on Dec 1st 2015, the answer is “Yes”.

(Original 02-02-2016) It’s that season again. I received two W-2s lately (I know I know :-), and tonight I started working on it. Note I’ve done Federal tax using TurboTax online version since 2001 (ever since I worked full time). I know we can get discount from the PC version from time to time, but I felt it’s worth the money to use the online version so that I know I always have a copy somewhere on the cloud (note back in 2001 cloud was a far far place compared to today, I recall I was using dial up Internet at the time). This could come handy when sometimes I need a 1040 for home refinance etc. I know one can have a backup of desktop version too, but it better be kept in a safe place and personally I prefer turbo tax (intuit) do it. It’s a bit like personal safety deposit box at bank.

Back to the topic. There are still places we can get some discount using the online version, note there are many versions too, I used mostly Deluxe or Premier version. Some of the places I have used (or knew of) in the past: essentially an affiliate link from bank, brokerage website etc: vanguard, ADP (seems no longer available), Bank of America, Scottrade etc. More recently I think the deal offered by Fidelity, Discover are good. Both have up to $20 off: $7 off (Deluxe) or $15 off (premier version, that’s what I used last year 2015 tax season, for $40). And I used this one again this year. It seems both links are available to everyone. I know in the past someimes the links are just for customers. Last but not least, Southwest offers 1000 miles (roughly $10, so not as sweet as the fidelity or discover deal if you go for the premier version, but still good if you are into the LUV miles :-)

Federal Only, features, and free to use
I don’t use their State version very often though. I recall once I used it, probably because I was expecting a meaningful federal refund and decided to spent a little. And it backfired. The problem was I put a negative amount in the income field for my wife, and the software did not detect it. But the state revenue department noticed it and sent my return back. I was very angry initially at Turbo Tax. But their accountant was very calm and professional. So I corrected it eventually.

Over the years I saw Turbo Tax software improved consistently. There are two modes: wizard mode which walks one through the steps, ideal for new user; or the topic mode which is better suited for experienced user, basically I know which topic (income, deduction etc.) I need to jump into and it saves me time this way. It also added the “import” capability over the years: from W-2 to 1099 to stock trading records. It implemented 2 factor authentication too, so gives a peace of mind.

All those features are free to use as long as you don’t file tax via them. For State tax I actually used it as a verification tool. So this is a free tool for verification for those DIYers. I do file tax using Turbo Tax as I think its checking mechanism reduces the chance of being audited, and it gets refund faster.

Refund
Most of the time I got some federal refund, and due a small tax for state. Also I do direct deposit all the same for refunds. That’s usually faster than check. Once I joked with one of my coworker, he said he always get some tax refund, but he was not in a hurry to get it. I asked him why. He said because if he gets it, his wife will spend it, and they would not have money for summer vacation. I really love his thinking, and his wife’s spending habit. I think we as consumers have this trend more or less, because we feel a lot richer when we get a big chunk of money :-)

Buy low

This is an email I received recently, it notified me that my former employer withdrew the unvested petition of 401k from my account. You may think it’s bad. But I still think it’s a good deal because I contributed about $17,365 of my own money bewteen 2008/11 and 2010/02. The money doubled in about 6 years. Note during the time there’s financial crisis. 

  

So after all my gas gift card was NOT stolen

I purchased a $100 Circle K gas gift card via eBay a few weeks ago, a few days ago I started to use it, and I found the initial balance is $75 instead of the $100 as advertised. See below, I spent $12.xx on the gas (imagine that a few years ago), and I saw $62.xx remaining.

IMG_1556

So I was worried the card is stolen, and I filed a claim on eBay and whined about it on wechat. This afternoon I decided to cash out the card via other gift card, and to my surprise, it has the correct value: after I bought $75 other gift card, it still has $12.xx remaining. I was wrong. The reason I worried it could be stolen is I saw people talked about stolen gas card (same brand), and it’s not too hard to crack a 16 digit code.

You may wonder why I just pay credit card for gas, and go through the trouble of buying gas gift card, and had to use it at a specific store, also keep track of balances. Well, there is some savings, to be short. Basically I can get some rebate via eBates (going to eBay), I also get some eBay bucks, plus sometimes I buy $100 eBay GC at $95. Last but not least, I paid $95 for $100 gas card. So the savings add up. I spent somewhere between $85 and $87.5 for a $100 gas card. On the other hand, nothing is truly free, with the savings comes with risk. I think from now on, I will stick to credit card: this quarter I can use either Chase Freedom/Discover Cash Bonus for 5% cash/points back, and in normal times I could use the Sam’s Club MasterCard, which also gives 5% cash back (in a check issued once a year).

Sick

Serenity got sick last few days. It’s a bit frustrating for us as she usually got sick once in the winter months (Jan to Feb, saw this post 1 year ago, and this post 2 years ago), I recall that happened more often last year. I got sick from time to time too, esp. in last few years (since 2008), some are minor headaches, some are “cannot stop coughing” due to infection, cold or something. But nothing major, I recall couple times things got real tense, e.g., once when Serenity was very little (infant), she got fever, and I took her to Mercy hospital for testing (X-ray) after visiting the pediatrician. Not to mention I was wondering around to find the outpatient lab, I was a bit scared when they put my little girl on the table for X-ray. Things turned out to be fine. For myself, I had a similar scare doing the CT-scan.

Sometimes, I think those minor illness is just God‘s way to tell us slow down, cleanse the body and make us healthy overall. This applies to me especially. As I usually continue to work even after getting sick. Or got sick due to overwork. Recall once at 10pm, I was still checking iPhone, something happened at work, I decided to open up the computer, fix the code, etc. etc. The second day I got sick. Shortly after that incident, I had to take off one afternoon to see my doctor to get some diagnosis, as my condition did not improve.

Also, when I started at a new place, I usually try not to take sick day. I recall one day last July, I got headache, and was very sleepy driving in. Had to take breaks from time to time. I was thinking if I could take a nap sometimes. After that incident, I decided to take it easy. Not more work when I got sick. I would either call in (email in) sick or work from home. It’s just not worth it to try to work when I’m sick. The qualify of work will suffer. Also, a related matter, I found usually after I work over time in the evening, the second day my work will suffer. I would just be a bit tired.

Eat

I have covered sleep, walk (exercise), today I am going to talk about the good we eat. As I came to the US about 18 years ago, I recall a friend and a fellow Chinese graduate student once said: food, sleep and exercise are 3 key elements of being healthy. This was very relevant as we were both new to this country, and trying to adjust to everything in the US. For most Chinese students and coworkers in my era, I understand our main food is still Chinese food (rice, stir fry, etc.). Many Chinese coworkers bring lunch to work. I do that sometime too. Also, as I was aging, I started to pay more attention to breakfast. This is different from when I was in graduate school or new to work. I think in about 2005 since I moved to my current condo, there is one Panera Bread (St. Louis Bread Co.) in walking distance, and I started to enjoy the bagel and coffee in the morning. Two reasons I got coffee there instead of brewing my own, or get it at work: 1) The coffee there is good or better; 2) I just get one cup and that’s done, trying to control the caffeine intake.

That bagel habit stuck to me for almost 10 years now. I passed that habit to my old daughter Serenity. She started eat bagel as a toddler. I tried bagels and bread from other places too, e.g, bagels from Einstein bagels and bagel factory (New York Style water bagel). They are different from Panera’s (Panera are more sweet or sugary).

For lunch, I bring my own lunch more often these days. But I usually go out to eat if I join a new place new. From Fazoli’s (fast Italians), Panera Bread, Chick-fil-a, to Culvers (midwest hamburgers), to most recently Picklman’s (sandwich). I usually stick to one thing for a long time before exploring. For example, I recall eat their grilled sandwich until one day I found there is a bug in the lettuce. Then I switched to Pastas, etc. For Panera, I started with Frontega Chicken panini. Later on I expanded to their soup and salad. Chick-fil-a is always good, I usually got their calendar each year ($7), which pays itself quickly with monthly free food/drink. I visited Culver’s the first time when I visited a client at Rockford, IL, which is close to Wisconsin (Culver’s home state). I liked the buttery flavor of burgers. Picklman’s is a sandwich shop started in Show-me state (Columbia, MO, where Mizzou is), I liked their Italian beef sandwich. Since that I have not gone back to Subway. :-) I was never big on lunch at work place. I recall at one time I did eat a few times at Unigroup cafeteria, their food is fair and cheap. Probably because they don’t pay people as well as other places :-) They only take cash. At current place, I only been there a few times, and all I got was pizza.

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