• Personal

    Miles to go before I sleep…

    I know so little about poetry that I needed Google to even recall that the phrase above is from a Robert Frost poem. Needless to say, this isn’t a post about poetry. Rather, it’s a post about why I’ve been so bad about posting anything over the past quarter or so!

    Back in September, I posted about a crazy effort to undo eight pounds of weight gain in eight days, the efforts of an evil imitation projector bulb to foil this plan by burning out before I’d reached my goal, and how my Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook saved me by sitting perfectly on top of our elliptical machine:

    I conveniently failed to provide actual data on my weight, noting only that I was *way* too heavy and definitely into the realm of obesity. So this time, I’ll confess to actual numbers; I hope that sharing this will motivate me not to return to my old weight, at least not too quickly. Unless Google serves some really nice dessert! Which it… often does.

    I knew I’d gotten at least somewhat heavier, but it wasn’t until I got the scale back out after Valerie and the kids left for Toronto that I realized just how heavy I was – 204.6 pounds. And that was even my weight after doing some moderate exercise, meaning my real fully hydrated weight was probably even higher. I just couldn’t ignore this, so I set aside the plans I’d made for the time the family was in Toronto, and focused on making the biggest dent I could in the 8 days that I had.

    Though I hit what I set out to do in that limited time, even with all the physical exertion I wasn’t delusional enough to think that 196.6 pounds is even a remotely healthy weight for my height. So from the outset, I had a second more modest phase of the plan – to trim another 30 pounds off over the 24 weeks following the trip. This seemed like it should be easier – but in many ways it was harder. This post is about what happened, and some things that worked for me. Though I should note that many of these things are the opposite of good practices, and are probably pretty stupid…

  • Personal

    Product shown may not be actual size

    Back in the spring, Valerie got the urge to add a number of fruit trees to our home – in spite of the substantial sum the prior owners of our home had spent on professional landscaping.  On top of that, she was convinced that the last remaining Asian pear tree for sale was over on the far side of Seattle, and that we had to leave right now just in case someone else bought it first.  But, she promised, the tree would rapidly bear lots of delicious fruit that would make it all worthwhile.  I was somewhat suspicious, especially since Costco carries fairly nice Asian pears year round at a not-exorbitant price, but the non-mutual excitement level was already so high that there was only one way the story could go from here.

    Well, sure enough, the tree wound up bearing fruit!  And unlike the other trees and plants we have in our garden, the location of the Asian pear tree prevented the entire harvest from being lost to a mysterious combination of slugs, bugs, raccoons, rabbits, moles, birds, Leo, and who knows what else.  Here’s a picture of one of the delightful fruits it produced:

    Indeed, everything seems perfect until you put things in perspective a little:

    Considering that the Asian pear tree is among the most successful plants in our garden, it’s safe to say that our weekly produce bill hasn’t been shrinking. But I am assured that trees need time, and that next year, things will be different :).


  • Personal,  Technology

    Internet Weight Loss Scams

    It’s been an incredibly long time since my last post – not for lack of interesting things to share, but for a number of reasons.  One of those was returning from Toronto with 700 photos – after aggressively deleting while in Toronto – to process.  Another was being a little busier with work.  But perhaps the most significant contributor was having realized, shortly after Valerie and the kids left for Toronto a week before I did, that I weighed way too much, and really needed to do something about it.  So I decided, to start, that I should try and lose 8 pounds of actual weight (not just retained water) in the 8 days before heading to Toronto, attending family dinners and a wedding, and eating myself silly again.

    Now, you occasionally hear that the maximum safe rate for losing weight is 1 or 2 pounds a week, but clearly that wasn’t going to cut it here. So, what to do other than turning to the Internet for a magic low-effort solution, right? OK, not so much; I’m not too prone to believing things that seem to be against the laws of physics or chemistry, so I did some planning with simple math; 8 pounds = 28,000 excess calories, so I’d have to burn on average 3,500 a day more than I was eating.  Eating less than 1,500 calories a day would likely have triggered starvation responses from my body given the higher level of physical activity; at that level of intake and my current weight, I could count on losing 1,000 a day via food, which meant losing 2,500 more a day via exercise.  Anything high intensity was out, as there’s no way I could sustain than for 8 days without my muscles quitting on me, so it’d just take 4-5 hours a day of medium intensity exercise. Realistically, even with moderate breaks, it’d probably take 6 hours a day. Ouch!

    Fortunately, this realization happened just after the 4th of July, so I was able to use some of the generous time off work that Google provided to get a head start, knowing that once the work week resumed, it’d be nearly impossible to find the requisite time. While I did get a good portion of the necessary exercise from walking, the sun does set, and that meant needing to use exercise machines. Fortunately, we have a really nice setup in our basement that leaves no excuse for not exercising:

    Unfortunately, I hate exercise machines. Spending an extended period on them feels like torture, that’s bearable in this setup only because of the entertainment system directly in front of the exercise equipment. I managed to go through almost the entire Fullmetal Alchemist anime series, not to mention some movies and a bunch of Starcraft 2 games on this 8-day quest. And this is where the “internet scam” part of the post comes in.

    About a year and a half prior, the lamp on my projector had started getting dim after roughly 2,000 hours of service – so I replaced it. I just needed a model number LMP-H200 bulb, so I did what I always do – searched for one online, and ordered a replacement. This turned out to be much more complex than usual; places like Amazon didn’t carry them directly, but there were lots of 3rd-party sellers. I chose one with a decent online rating, got my lamp, installed it, and was good to go. Or so I thought.

    As it turns out, the majority of projector lamps available online are essentially 3rd-party replacements. Yet for some reason I don’t understand, they all get away with calling themselves a “Sony LMP-H200”, even though they’re not made by Sony. In many cases, even when on sites with very high reseller ratings (4.5+ stars out of 5), it’s difficult to tell whether you’re buying an original or not. The only reliable indicator seems to be the price – the original Sony products are basically $300; the knock-offs start as low as $80, but get up into the $200’s.  And unfortunately, there are so many knock-offs and so many knock-off vendors, that it’s hard to tell which might be a viable solution, and which replacements are total garbage. Some claim to use exactly the same Phillips bulb in a refurbished enclosure, others try and define seemingly arbitrary terms like OEM, OEM Compatible, Genuine Compatible, etc. But fragmentation is so high, and meaningful trustworthy user feedback so low, that it’s hit and miss.

    Just search Amazon for “LMP-H200”, and sort by popularity – of the 10 most popular items, 4 have no rating, 4 have a single star, one has 1.5 stars, and one has 4 stars (with a single rating).  I’ve never seen a product category with such universal dissatisfaction from customers, and I’m surprised Amazon even tolerates this.  These ratings aren’t reflective of people discovering “hey, this isn’t genuine” – read the comments, and it’s reflective of the products not working – or in most cases, surviving a very short period of time.

    So, as I’m several days away from my 8-day goal, on target in terms of actual weight loss, the replacement bulb I bought in ignorance burns out – after just ~420 hours out of a rated 2,000-3,000 hours (my original Sony bulb was over the 2,000 hour mark when I felt like it was getting dim). It was already painful to force myself to spend all that time suffering on the machines – what would I do now? Give up? Chromebook to the rescue!

    I have one of the newer Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebooks from work, and it seemed just made to fit atop the elliptical machine in my time of need. It has great Netflix performance that somehow seemed to provide all the battery life I needed without even being plugged in! My usual disclaimer, I work on the Chrome team and I’m biased, but it really was a lifesaver in not giving up on my rather arbitrary and excessive goal.

    With that temporary solution in place, I was able to finish the 8 days as planned, and lose the 8 pounds the math said I would (plus a little more that I attribute to temporary reductions in water levels), allowing me to go from an outright obese weight to something merely at the high end of being overweight. Yay! Then I got to Toronto, and faced this:

    It’s amazing how much easier it is to eat 28,000 calories than it is to burn them!

    Most of the information on projector bulbs I shared above was from my purchase the 2nd time around. Ironically, despite the risks involved, I still wound up buying the best non-original bulb I could find, in addition to an original bulb, simply because the original bulb was on indefinite back-order (it took more than a month to arrive). If you’re interested, I bought the original replacement from Adorama; it cost almost $300 and looks like this:

    Given the performance of the first original bulb I had (that came with the projector), I strongly recommend sticking with originals and avoiding the knock-offs.  But I’ll post again when my temporary knock-off dies; who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky this time.  But probably not!

    On the health front, I’m unlikely to do something as crazy again soon – unless I manage to balloon back up in size again – but even trying to make much slower progress towards a healthy weight requires a surprising amount of time. Especially when the kids triumph in their perpetual quest to avail themselves of junk food. So I’m hoping to work through a backlog of things that I had wanted to share – we’ll see how I do!

  • Personal

    Leadership vs. Management

    Six years ago, when we our small company was being acquired, one of the acquiring execs asked what I guess is a fairly standard management question: what’s the difference between leadership and management? I don’t remember how I answered the question at the time, though I didn’t get sent to the basement to work on “special projects” by myself, so I probably came up with something within the boundaries of a normal answer. But now, I have a new answer.

    This is Mommy, being managed by Olivia to produce a birthday cake for Leo:

    Okay, it’s not the greatest looking, but that’s what going dairy-free does to a mousse cake!  This is Daddy, being managed by Olivia to produce a birthday cake for Mommy:

    I shared these pictures before in the Mommy Cake, Daddy Cake post.  But a collaboration under Olivia’s management produced something even nicer for her birthday:

    Each of these three cakes involved decreasing levels of micromanagement and direct involvement; quality seemed to increase as a result.

    When it came time to make a cake for a belated birthday for Uncle Peter, Mommy decided that Olivia was finally ready to take a leadership role; she would not just supervise and direct an aging workforce bound into servitude – instead, she would lead, setting the artistic vision and inspiring others with her direct involvement in the project. The results speak for themselves:

    Most answers to leadership vs. management seem to imply that leadership is what organizations need more of. I humbly submit that this isn’t always the case!  Yes, those are M&Ms you see scattered in the cake.  And there’s a hole through the whole middle of the cake, filled with the same custard you see in the abstract arrangement on top. It’s kind of like an exploded Boston Creme donut, in some ways.

    Fortunately, Mommy had a secret backup plan that was a little yummier:


  • Personal

    Now I know why people fear the taxman here

    I posted a short while ago about what worked for me and what I wish I knew in advance when it came to taxes/finances and moving to the U.S. I mentioned noticing from my own searches that the penalties for not knowing that you have to file an FBAR are nothing short of draconian.  I’d heard that penalties were as high as 50% of the account value. While I can understand these incredibly punitive measures for active tax evaders that moved money out of the U.S. to cheat on their taxes, taking half of an account because someone didn’t know they had to file a form seems downright ridiculous. The only reason I discovered this requirement is because co-workers were complaining about it on the internal list for Canadians.  If I worked at a different company, or hadn’t subscribed to the Canadians mailing list, I might not have discovered this at all until the tax man came knocking.

    I still believed that the stories I read online must have been worst case scenarios that represented the exception, rather than the rule.  Then I read about the 2011 OVDI – Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, a program to allow people to voluntarily disclose foreign assets that they hadn’t previously declared.  I’ll scale the numbers for effect, but let’s say you left Canada in 2003, and left $10,000 in a bank account there that earned $500 in interest each year through the end of 2010.  In 2011, you learn about your mistake and voluntarily disclose the account to the IRS. How much do you think you’d pay? How much do you think you’d pay if the IRS discovered this and you didn’t voluntarily disclose the information?

    If you voluntarily disclosed the error, you’d pay $5,180 – over half the original balance in the account.  If you did *not* voluntarily disclose the error, you’d pay $45,430 in penalties.  On a $10,000 account! That’s because the FBAR penalty of 50% of the account value applies for every year that you failed to file an FBAR!  So if you lapse by two years, they take everything; if you lapse by four years, they take twice what you had overseas.  The IRS uses large numbers in it’s examples – $1,000,000 in a foreign account, resulting in a $4,543,000 penalty – which makes it pretty clear that they’re thinking about rich people evading taxes – but the law itself applies to every immigrant that left $10,000 or more in their country of origin.

    Next year, when mailing my FBAR forms (I do still have an RRSP in Canada), I think I’ll send duplicates and ask for signature confirmations :).

  • Personal

    Mr. Leo: Like a Boss

    Leo usually sports a look that’s at least a little on the dopey side, but this weekend, he was carrying a water bottle around and just looking like a boss.  Don’t even think about taking his water:

    Planning his next move:

    Taking a cool sip from a bottle that’s taller than his head, and as long as his forearm:

    Questions, anyone?



  • Personal,  Photography

    Playground Before & After

    Last weekend, we spent a little time at the playground and park/path of the elementary school near our home (which Olivia and Leo will presumably some day attend). It was around 6 in the evening, so the sun was getting a little lower in the sky, a giving off a nice warm light – but it was still direct enough to make many shots very challenging for one reason or another. As always, neither the kids nor the playground could be adjusted, and unlike one dad I saw today holding a reflector/diffuser in one hand and a camera in the other, I still don’t ever head out of the house with equipment to bend the sun to my will. Valerie reminded me, as I pointed out the reflector dad, that she will pretend not to know me if I ever head out that conspicuously. Reflector dad did joke to me that it was easier to hold both camera and reflector himself than to give instructions (his wife was standing next to him); in my case, I’m pretty sure handing over a reflector disc to Valerie would result in it being repuropsed as a frisbee!

    This post is essentially yet another appeal to other non-photographers shooting their kids to shoot RAW and use Lightroom 4.  The new local adjustment features really help a lot, and compared to something like Photoshop, Lightroom is pretty simple and fast to learn and use.  But rather than write an 8,000 word post about this, I’ll just share 8 pictures (4 before & afters) that say it better. These are 4 shots I’d probably have discarded, but even my amateur level of skill with Lightroom was enough to make them worth keeping (to me).


    Example #1: I may have overdone this a little – it almost looks HDR-ish – but the new shadow slider (both the global one, and the one on local adjustments) really make it easy to make simple adjustments like this.  The nice thing about something that’s too dark against a light background is that when you do local shadow adjustments on it, even if you aren’t precise with the area you select, it doesn’t spill over and create a halo.  Likewise with highlight adjustments.

    Example #2: I’m always astonished at how much the D7000 captures that can’t be seen by default. With the sun directly behind her, salvaging a shot like this seems hopeless, but ultimately winds up being possible. No adjustments to a JPG could possibly have worked here.


    Example #3: The whole original was too bright, and with no cloud cover, the original shadows were very harsh. But it was really easy to selectively bring down the highlights on the ground while pushing up the shadows a bit, preserving more or less what Olivia looked like. I like the picture mostly because the sun makes the fern Olivia is carrying look like some kind of magic wand. The original framing was terrible, but I was far away and that was the longest my lens could go (70mm). This is one of those cases where more megapixels helps.


    Example #4: Shooting towards very strong light from the sun totally destroyed contrast in the original, but with some adjustment, things worked out in the end.

    It’s still true that the best shots seem to come when little to no adjustments are needed; in the last shot of the evening, there started to be some cloud cover softening the light, and I had to do almost nothing to the following shot. Too bad I can’t control the clouds at will!


  • Personal

    Tax tips when moving to the U.S.

    It’s been almost a month since the last time I posted anything, and while the reasons are varied, one definite contributing factor is that it was tax time.  Twice, actually, since I had to file a return in both the U.S. and Canada.  This isn’t the first time I’ve moved across the border (though I was considerably more ignorant the last time), and now seems as good a time as any to note what I learned – some parts via reading and planning in advance, and the rest via sometimes unfortunate after-the-fact discoveries.

    Disclaimer – I’m not an accountant, lawyer, tax professional, or even astute in these matters. I might be arrested and thrown in jail by both Revenue Canada and the IRS once they process my returns this year, for all I know. Treat everything here as a pointer to go do your own reading!

    1.  Make sure you’re a [deemed] non-resident!  If Canada deems you to be a resident, it will tax you on your world income as opposed to just the income you earn in Canada. Since Canadian tax rates are substantially higher than the U.S., it’s strongly in your interest to ensure that Canada doesn’t deem you a resident. You can read more here and also on this page, but what’s important is ensuring you don’t have residential ties.  Having a home, spouse/dependents, or car in Canada can all trigger deemed residency. So be careful!

    2. Sell Everything (and bring the proceeds to the U.S.). While you don’t want a home or car due to #1, what I’m talking about here is any non-RRSP accounts & investments you might have. What I didn’t know the first time I moved back in 1999 is that Revenue Canada treats leaving the country as a deemed disposition of all your assets (like stocks, mutual funds, etc) even if you don’t actually sell them.  The IRS will similarly treat the purchase price for any investments you bring as the fair market value on the day you become a resident.  So tax-wise, it’s as if you sold everything – and it’s a lot easier if you actually do.  It was probably time to re-balance anyways, and you’ll probably also need more cash than you anticipate.

    3. File an FBAR for your foreign accounts.  The IRS requires that you disclose foreign accounts if you have $10,000 or more in total abroad, using form TD F 90-22.1 (also called the FBAR).  You need to do this every year – and must report the peak value of the account for the year.  You have to file this separately from your tax return, and the penalties for not doing so are very severe – $10,000 minimum, possible jail time, and some sites indicate the penalty is actually 35-50% of the value of the foreign account.  Even if you’re just late!  This story indicates that penalties hit 50% even for a voluntary late filing; in this case, an 80-year old woman who inherited accounts she wasn’t fully aware of was hit with a $120,000 penalty.  So if you leave an RRSP or anything else in Canada, make sure you file or you risk losing a ton!

    4. Make a Article XVIII(7) election on your RRSP.  Assuming you have enough in your RRSP that you’d like to maintain it, you need to file form 8891, or else the IRS will treat your RRSP account as taxable.  If you’re going to withdraw from your RRSP soon and will be in the U.S. when you do so, then it may be more complicated, so if you’re nearing retirement, consult an accountant.  If you’re still 20+ years out, make the election (it’s permanent), and you’ll only pay taxes on an actual distribution.  It’s hard to correctly file your US taxes if you don’t do this, because Canadian financial institutions don’t issue T3/T5 equivalents for RRSP accounts!

    5. Disclose your foreign accounts again thanks to FATCA. Wait, what?  First an FBAR, then an 8891 for RRSP accounts, and now yet another form to the same organization about your accounts? The thresholds are different for FATCA, the time period it covers is different (in your year of arrival only), and what accounts are covered is also different. Seeing why #2 said “sell everything” so you could avoid this mess? Form 8938 is the one you need for this, though the threshold is much higher ($50,000 aggregate value). Note that RRSP accounts don’t need to be included, but due to IRS form bugs, you need to report form 8891 as if you had filed form 3520, at least in this years forms.

    6. Get an ITIN for your dependents. We messed up on this one, and it had a $1,500 impact (which I’m hoping it’s possible to correct with an amended return later). As a newcomer to the U.S., you might naturally assume you should try and get your dependents a social security number. But if you’re on a visa, which is usually the case, you’ll discover that you can’t. What you might not realize to later is that there’s an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) that you can get (form here). From the name, you’d think this unnecessary – unless your 2 year old is fabulously more talented than our Leo, and is out there earning an income somehow. But you can’t claim tax credits for your dependents without an ITIN for them! So file for one as soon as you arrive and are getting your own SSN.

    7. Beware Paperless Statements. Save the planet!  Think of the children! Switch to paperless statements! Really, how can you not go paperless with arguments like that? Paperless is probably still better than cutting down trees – but when you close your account, with many institutions, you can also lose access to the entire history of paperless statements you had for that account. So as you sell & close everything, make sure you’re capturing your transactions, cost basis, etc. – or you’ll be expending a lot more effort once you realize you need it at tax time. Like me.

    8. Leave enough to pay Revenue Canada. While moving all your funds to the U.S. is a good idea for tax reasons, if you’ve held investments for a long time, make sure you have enough Canadian funds to pay Revenue Canada for capital gains taxes that you might have incurred as a result of selling all your investments (including deemed dispositions; see #2). You don’t want to be scrambling at the end of April to find a way to write a Canadian dollar check that Revenue Canada will be able to cash!

    Again, use your own judgment and certainly don’t treat this list of things as comprehensive, but I thought it might help others avoid items they didn’t already know about! At least the upshot of this is that taxes in Washington are much lower than in Ontario!

  • Personal

    Secondary Markets

    While I might not like the Groupon model all that much, there’s one common practice that I despise without reservation, and that’s no-value-add secondary markets on new consumer products where supply can’t meet demand. The particular manifestation of this that bugs me is as follows:

    This happens with many product launches; the most pronounced recent example I can think of was the Nintendo Wii, which had significantly higher-than-new prices on eBay for an extended duration. The practice harms consumers in a number of ways:

    • It reduces the availability of the item through legitimate channels, and increases the difficulty of buying the item through those channels. One random sampling of a lineup during the Wii craziness indicated that half of them were just there to resell the item. The survey probably wasn’t accurate and I don’t think the problem was quite that acute, but it did mean that if the resellers were willing to line up starting at 4am to get at a new shipment of the item, you had to be too – or your odds of getting the item were 0%.
    • It’s incredibly inefficient. Instead of being able to check stock online and even purchase for in-store pickup, you get to deal with a bunch of sellers through a variety of channels (eBay, craigslist, kijiji, etc), each of whom has exactly one item, and who’d back out of a deal with you 10 minutes before meeting if they got a higher offer.
    • It’s unsafe. Not only is the buyers desperation a great way to lure an otherwise cautious consumer into a scam, you’ve got to meet a stranger somewhere carrying (in this case) $4,000 of cash – or pay and trust that they’ll ship something. Perhaps that’s an acceptable risk to save money, but in this case, you’re paying more.
    • It may void or at least complicate getting warranty service on an item, especially if it was bought on one end of the country at a local store and then shipped to you.
    • It’s worse for the retailer, especially online because pre-ordering is effortless. Speculators can buy an item, and if the price on eBay goes above retail, they sell it there and make a profit. If it doesn’t, they return it at no cost.
    • It’s even worse for the product manufacturer. Sure, they sold out their shipment, but this would have happened anyways. But now, instead of delighted customers who bought into the product at launch, they have frustrated customers who don’t understand why so few were available. And sometimes, especially in the case of gifts for a birthday or Christmas, the consumer will buy a competing product instead.

    There’s nothing here to like – it’s bad for the consumer, the retailer, and the product manufacturer alike. The secondary reseller is the only beneficiary of the practice, and they only benefit by creating scarcity and inconvenience for others.

    Sports & concert fans have had to deal with scalpers for quite some time, though there, measures have generally been taken to prevent the practice (including making the practice illegal in some places, or requiring ID in others). With products, it’s harder; you can’t forbid people from selling property that they legally own.  Is there anything product companies can do? Sure:

    • Price the product via auction until supply catches up with demand. The product is still more expensive to the consumer this way, but the benefits at least accrue to the product maker – and the issues of risk and inconvenience are address.  By definition, no intentional reseller will participate, because they could only pay a price at or above what the remaining long-term buyers are willing to pay.
    • Same as the above, but with a dutch auction on each batch. This reduces the price to consumers, and is probably the way to go, except you’ve got to do this in batches which might be tricky (with a straight up auction, each time an item rolls off the factory line, you could send it to the current highest bidder).
    • Yet another auction variation, in which the gap between the normal selling price of an item and the price paid by a consumer is donated to charity. This ensures the manufacturer has no incentive to create scarcity, and early adopters can feel good knowing that the premium they were willing to pay is doing some good in the world.
    • Fans first. Let past fans of the brand have access a day before (or have higher priority pre-orders) than the general public. This is easiest when it’s easy to prove your allegiance to the brand (e.g. bring in your D700 to pick up your D800, provide your Xbox gamertag when ordering the next Xbox, etc).
    • Price higher, with published, gradual, frequent price reductions. Consumers can decide whether to pay $3,300 now, or $3,200 next month.

    Many products seem to get priced and sold as if we still live in an old retail world, where you need to post one price for everyone and stick with it for 6 months. The reality in the Internet age is that things can be much more fluid – and secondary market resellers are essentially taking advantage of this. Instead, the product makers themselves should recognize what’s going on, and build a product launch model that’s designed for the time we live in.

    Consumers can help too, of course. If nobody ever paid more than retail on principle, this practice would vanish. Sadly, I don’t think this is likely to happen.

    And yes – I’m still waiting for my D800 pre-order to ship, as you can imagine from this post :).

  • Personal

    Deal or no deal?

    I talked a little about Groupon, and why I think the model in general is ultimately challenged, in an earlier post after using up my Photobook Canada Groupons. I haven’t gotten to see the photobooks yet, so I’m still looking forward to seeing how that turned out.  I’m also hopeful that Lightroom 4 support for creating PDF photobooks will help to push adoption of a standard that isn’t tied to a particular tool, since right now I have no option of reprinting the books I made with a company here in the U.S.  We’ll see how that goes!

    My reservations about Groupon has absolutely no effect on Valerie, though.  Last weekend, when we were heading out, we had three of these group buying coupons to use on a single excursion!  One from Groupon for entrance to the Seattle Aquarium, another from Livingsocial for lunch at Henry’s Taiwan, and a third from Google Offers for a Chinese bakery.  And no, none of the barcodes in the above image are still valid, in case you had any bright ideas :).

    There’s a cost to the consumer to going deal-crazy, though. We had to go to particular locales in Seattle for each of the above; understandable for the aquarium, but the other two places were not ones that we’d normally trek to and when you factor in time and the cost of gas, the deal is a little less sweet.  And while Valerie is at least a little cautious on ensuring that the rating of places she buys deals at warrant an actual visit, perhaps due in part to past complaining on my part, it remains true especially for food that most good restaurants are busy at mealtimes anyways, and don’t need to give away 50% of their revenue to be even more full. For instance, we like Din Tai Fung in Bellevue Square – but every time we’ve been there, it’s been packed with a wait of a decent length to sit down; I don’t think they’ll be doing a group deal anytime soon!

    I have no complaints about the aquarium Groupon; it was already on our list of places to take the kids at least once, and the Groupon made it half price for one of us – though the aquarium might have gotten as little as $5 (vs. $20 usually) on entrance fees. Looking for value is great too; indeed, last weekend, shopping for clothes, I managed to stack a 30% off coupon, a $5 credit, and a donate-$5-get-$10 offer with an outlet store’s usual “50% off and then an extra 20 off!” prices to pick up some ridiculously cheap stuff, from a brand I bought before I ever knew they had an outlet place. But generally, I’m still not a big fan of the group deal model!