Save money at Amazon with camelcamelcamel

Save money at Amazon with camelcamelcamel

If you like to shop at Amazon, you really should be using camelcamelcamel. This service tracks prices at Amazon and allows you to set alerts to tell you when prices drop on items you want to buy.

Here is a real world example: My wife and I wanted to buy some dishes that, at $76.48 per place setting, are quite a bit more than we are used to paying for dishes. We set a price alert and sat back to wait for the price to fall. Fast forward a month or so, and I got an email letting me know that the price dropped to $58.62, a savings of over $18 (counting taxes) per place setting. It took almost no effort on my part, just a few moments to copy and paste a URL to camelcamelcamel.

They even have a handy Chrome extension called the Camelizer. It adds a button to all Amazon pages that, when clicked, shows you price history and lets you set a price alert.

This works for pretty much anything that you know you want to buy, but don’t really need immediately. I’ve successfully used it to save money on new smoke detectors (the old ones still worked, they were just close to the expiration date), several books, a mattress for my daughter, a NAS, and more.

They also have a version for Best Buy. I don’t shop there so can’t really vouch for it, but looks like it works the same as the Amazon version.

Featured image is a creative commons licensed flickr photo shared by Ted.

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LEGO DUPLO QUATRO

LEGO DUPLO QUATRO

I spent hours and days and weeks playing with LEGO bricks as a kid. I had a huge bucket of LEGO with a handful of DUPLO mingled in.

At a yard sale a few years ago we found a bucket of QUATRO, a lesser known variety of LEGO bricks that were only produced for a couple years. I wasn’t excited about the purchase, but Becca talked me into it. I am so glad she did. They are awesome for young kids!

lego-comparison

The coolest thing about LEGO, DUPLO, and QUATRO bricks is that they all work together. LEGO stacks on DUPLO, which stacks on QUATRO, which stacks on DUPLO, which stacks on LEGO. I thought this was common knowledge, but have recently discovered that many people are completely unaware of this wonderful design decision.

lego-duplo-quatro

This makes it possible to create some really cool things. For example, you can use QUATRO to build huge walls, then stack some DUPLO and LEGO on top to provide a place for your minifigures. Inside the walls, perhaps you could use some DUPLO bricks to make animals and trees. Maybe you have a small castle or house made of LEGO with a big DUPLO baseplate as a foundation.

I avoid non-LEGO brands. LEGO is the only brick system I’ve found with a consistently high quality, attention to detail, and guaranteed compatibility. If you really must choose a non-LEGO brand, go for a Mega Bloks Probuilder set. The Probuilder quality tends to be more consistent than the competition.

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git: Ignoring files during development

git: Ignoring files during development

I use git a lot, and often find myself needing to make changes to a file that I absolutely don’t want to commit to the repo. For example, a default configuration file may be in the repo, but I want to change which database it is pointing to during development. Or maybe I’ll gut a CPU intensive method during preliminary testing, but I obviously don’t want the gutting method committed back to the repo.

Sure, I could stash these changes before and after every commit, but that can be a real hassle. What I like to do instead is use the assume unchanged feature.

To tell git to assume a file is unchanged, use this command:

git update-index --assume-unchanged 

To undo this, use this command:

git update-index --no-assume-unchanged 

A file that has been marked as assume unchanged won’t show up when you run git status. It won’t be added to a commit when you run git add -a. Pretty awesome.

If you need to figure out which files have been marked as assume unchanged, you can use this command:

git ls-files -v | grep "^[[:lower:]]"

The ls-files list with the -v option will show every file and its status, with lowercase letters for the status of assume unchanged files. The grep command will only show files that have that lowercase letter.

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Block all AWS traffic to a server

Block all AWS traffic to a server

AWS servers are cheap and plentiful. Unfortunately this makes them the frequent source of screen scrapers. My servers aren’t running on AWS, and there isn’t any legitimate reason for an AWS server to be talking to my servers, so I decided to just block all AWS traffic.

You can get my AWS Blocker bash script on GitHub. It is free and public domain.

Amazon publishes a list of AWS IP ranges in JSON format. The bash script uses curl to download this file, then jq to parse it. It then adds each range to iptables, rejecting any connections made from an AWS IP.

The script is safe to run as many times as you want. It only takes a few seconds to run. The AWS rules are put in their own chain, and the chain is flushed before running. I’d recommend running the script as a cron.

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Get your belt tension right with this inexpensive tool

Get your belt tension right with this inexpensive tool

I love maintaining my 2007 Toyota Yaris. It isn’t a perfect car, but it is incredibly reliable and easy to work on.

One issue I’ve had is that the serpentine belt loves to squeal. It is such a common issue on this model that Toyota actually increased the recommended belt tension after the car came out. So to fix the squeal, you just have to tighten the belt more.

But how much more? Too loose and it will still squeal (and ruin the belt). Too tight and you can damage more expensive components in the car.

The solution is an inexpensive Gates 91132 belt tension tester. I paid about $11 on Amazon. The price fluctuates a bit so you may have to pay a few dollars more if you want it now.

gates-91132

This little gizmo is very easy to use. You simply align it in the center of the belt and push. When you hear it click, you stop pushing and check the value.

To check the belt tension on a 2007 Toyota Yaris, you have to crawl under the car and push up on the middle of the belt between the crank and the air conditioner. The proper tension is 102-103 Ft. Lbs.

It also helps to have a belt tensioner. I added one to my car a few years ago, and it has saved me so much time when changing the belt.

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30 day challenge: Drink a gallon of water a day

30 day challenge: Drink a gallon of water a day

My sister shared an article on Facebook about a month ago: This Woman Drinks a Gallon of Water Daily for 30 Days. See What Happens! I think this person’s before and after has more to do with lighting and Photoshop, but my wife and I decided we needed to drink more water anyway so what the heck, we’d give it a try.

The first week was miserable. I had to pee. All. The. Time. It was hard to remember to drink water. And I was still thirsty all the time. If anything, I was more thirsty. It was a bit strange.

But after the first week, things changed a bit. I started to notice the benefits, and I didn’t have to pee so much (or maybe I did and just got used to it?). I also wasn’t thirsty all the time. Drinking water was becoming a habit.

Here are some of the benefits I noticed:

  1. I started sleeping better. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go nearly every morning. It was an awesome and very welcome change.
  2. My blepharitis cleared up. This is a frustrating condition that causes inflamed, irritated, itchy eyes and eyelids. I had to have surgery on one of my eyelids because of this awhile back, so this is a huge deal to me. It isn’t completely gone, but it is vastly improved.
  3. The dark circles under my eyes are lighter. They aren’t completely gone, but I no longer look like I got punched in the face.
  4. My lips aren’t as chapped. Again, not a perfect remedy but much improved. I’ve been a chronic ChapStick/Vaseline user for years.
  5. My allergies aren’t as bad. My wife is using more Kleenex than I am, which I don’t think has ever happened before.

I found a free app called Water Your Body that has been helpful. It isn’t a great app, but it was the first I tried and works well enough. It makes it easy to track my water intake throughout the day, and lets me know if I am ahead or behind schedule.

My wife gave up partway through the challenge (although she is still drinking more water than she was before we started) but I plan on continuing to drink a gallon a day.

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