Consumer Power

Every once in a while, I am wronged by a company. It is a very frustrating feeling. Once you’ve gone through every possible support channel, escalated to managers and complained publicly about it, there’s little left to do but pursue legal action.

A legal move is very time consuming, and can be quite costly. In many cases, it is just not worth it. The situation makes me feel quite helpless. The only thing left is to swear the company will never see another penny from me.

This is when things get tricky. It turns out if you really don’t want a company to get your money, you have to boycott quite a wide range of companies.

Take Meta (formerly known as Facebook). Let’s say you are offended by their policy and want to boycott their services. Did you know they own Giphy since May 2000? When you use animated GIFs on iMessage, Snapchat, Slack, Signal, Telegram or Mailchimp, to name a few, you’re using a Meta service. Of course, Instagram, Oculus VR and WhatsApp are all Meta owned companies, too.

How about Coca-Cola? Let’s say you got a bad product and couldn’t get any compensation or even a proper apology. If you want to boycott Coca-Cola, you will end up cutting a lot of companies off. For example, did you know Costa is owned by Coca-Cola since 2019? Of course, that’s just a drop in the ocean.

And don’t even get me started on Disney

My list of boycotted brands and companies keeps growing. John Lewis wouldn’t refund me on a faulty belt without an original receipt, the owner of Wetherspoons actively promoted the divisive Brexit, Apple and Dell both turned out to be such huge disappointments I’m never coming anywhere near them again. With Apple comes a ban on Beats, with Dell comes a ban on Alienware.

Standing by your principles isn’t always easy. On the other hand, it beats feeling utterly helpless in the face of injustice. It’s also encouraging to see you may be able to cut your spending with offensive brands to a greater extent than you initially thought.

If only there weren’t so many reasons to boycott so many companies.

Fix It

Stuff breaks. I can’t begin to count the times my phone screen broke. Laptops stopped responding.

I used to just replace any broken product. Unfortunately, this was both expensive and not so great for the environment.

Then, just once, I thought I’d look up ways of fixing my broken stuff rather than replace them.

The latest thing that ran its course were my Bose headphones. If you are following, you may remember I mentioned them before. Unfortunately, the earpads wore down to the point of me considering throwing the headphones away.

However, saying goodbye to such an expensive product wasn’t easy. Plus, turning a perfectly working product into waste felt like a… Well, waste. So instead I searched Amazon for a replacement. What do you know. With only a minor setback, I managed to get a replacement.

Two days later, my headphones are as good as new. I didn’t generate much waste (only the old pads, but they were hopeless). I didn’t spend a fortune. I didn’t even spend much time. This feels great!

I replaced everything from phone screens to memory cards and laptop batteries. I saved so much money bringing old appliances back to life. I paid £12.95 for the replacement pads instead of £199.99, which is the price of my headphones on Amazon at the time of writing. I saved so much waste. And every single time, it feels like I got a brand new product.

You’re welcome, pocket. You’re welcome, planet. Did I mention this feels good?

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

On A Positive Note

I once read somewhere that smiles (much like yawns!) are contagious. I found that observation interesting. I had to see it for myself.

I started consciously smiling to people. What do you know. It works. It gets better. It seems that smiling actually makes you happier. So by spreading smiles, you’re actually making everyone around you a bit happier, too.

But it isn’t just about smiling. Positive thinking goes a long way, too. As a software consultant, I am often asked to do the impossible. Or, I’m asked to do things which are simply not smart.

Instead of saying no, I try to suggest better alternatives. This often works. Even if it doesn’t, it leaves people with a feeling of collaboration, rather than resistance.

These habits make my life a bit less stressful. It also helps people around me feel better, which is an added bonus. It’s great that it is so simple to feel better. And hey, if all else fails – there’s always chocolate.

Mix And Match

I used to spend a lot of time choosing what to wear. In all honesty, my choices were not great. They’d often clash, and weren’t always appropriate for every situation.

My wife came up with a great solution. She took me shopping. Now, to make things clear, there are few things I dislike as much as I dislike shopping for clothes.

The reason I played along this time was that this was a part of a plan. This was to be the last shopping I’d have to do for a long while.

What we bought was:

  1. A few plain t-shirts. All were of neutral colors that go well with anything: black, shades of grey (one or two, I don’t need 50), olive green.
  2. A couple of long-sleeve denim shirts.
  3. Two or three button-down shirts (plain colors again).
  4. A few trousers. These were all elegant black and dark grey jeans.

Now, when I go out, I can just mix any shirt with any pair of trousers. The button-down and denim shirts also let me work with layering. This arrangement saves me time, and it always looks as if I spent time deciding what to wear.

If your time is too expensive to spend choosing clothes, want to always look tidy and dislike shopping as much as I do – commit to a similar one-time shopping session like I did and you’ll be sorted.

I still love my playful t-shirts. They just don’t fit every situation. Some situations don’t seem to call for Optimus Prime.

My Long Term Relationships

Every once in a while, I buy something that should serve me for years. Whether it’s a kettle, a TV or a smartphone, picking a specific model is hard.

My goal is to find the best product I can afford. How do I find it?

One way is to google for reviews. However, I find these are often biased or very superficial.

Another way is to stick to brands I trust. Sadly, it seems to me no brands are consistent enough to trust blindly.

That leaves me with my preferred option. I compare specs. For smartphones I usually use GSMArena. They have a great tool for comparisons. For other product types, it usually takes a bit more work.

Once I am down to a couple of options, I look for online reviews. Whether it’s on Google or Amazon, you can usually see what other people’s experience is like.

So, if you want to borrow my strategy, follow these steps:

  1. Find a handful of potential models, potentially by different brands.
  2. Try to find a good comparison site that had all your candidates.
  3. If you can’t find such a site, list all important features in a spreadsheet or on paper. Write down the appropriate information for each model.
  4. Pick a couple of models that look best to you.
  5. Find customer reviews for your top models.

You should be able to end up with the best possible model.

Oh, just one last thing. Avoid the gimmicks. You don’t really needs a toaster that plays music (yes, it’s a thing).

One For The Ladies

I’m glad I wasn’t born a woman. Life seems hard enough as it is being a man. Wiser people said it before. John Lennon comes to mind. I don’t want to cover the pay gap, the differences in working conditions, or even the relative absence of women in IT despite their clear added value. These are all known issues.

I want to focus on a small bit that may interest you, especially if you are a woman. I want to talk about the pink tax. The pink tax is the tendency of companies to up the price on feminine products. What does that have to do with optimising my life, you ask. Well, I’m glad you asked.

It turns out that the pink tax often applies to gender-neutral products, too. Take the shaving razor, for example. 8 blades for men cost £12.00. 8 blades for women cost £15.49. How about this set of DIY tools in pink (£26.99) vs the same set in black and red (£25.99, also available in blue with an extra tool for the same price)?

These products are virtually identical. You won’t get better results with the feminine blades or hammer. So why pay the pink tax?

The next time you are about to buy a product, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this product targeting girls or women?
  • Is there a male-targeting equivalent?
  • Does the alternative satisfy your requirement?

If your answer to all of the above is “yes” – don’t throw your money away. Buy the cheaper product. Then let others know, and maybe the pink tax will eventually go away.

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Seek and Destroy

One of my favourite ways of keeping my computer secure is passive protection. It keeps my CPU and memory free to focus on the work at hand. I never did like the idea of paying top dollar for a top-of-the-line CPU and fast memory only to spend a large portion of them on anti-virus software running in the background.

One great way of achieving passive protection is updating your hosts file. Another is the free Spybot – Search & Destroy tool’s immunisation feature. They don’t seem to update their list as often as they used to, but running it once should provide you with significant passive protection. It configures your web-browsers and computer to block requests to known malicious websites. It also blocks tracking cooking and dangerous browser plugins.

Spybot is, unfortunately, a Windows only application. If you know of an MacOS equivalent, let me know and I’ll update this post.

Now sit back, relax, and watch the bad guys hit your passive wall of protection.

I Guess This is Obvious

A lot of the decisions I make rely on assumptions. It’s so much easier to work with assumptions than to validate every bit of information that is factored into a decision. It can also prove to be a terrible mistake.

Assumptions are risky shortcuts. What if your assumption was correct at some point in time, but things changed? What if it was never correct to begin with?

Imagine I go out to the store assuming it’s open. It was open the last time I checked, and it was about the same time. Only since then, it may have changed its opening times, or closed altogether.

What if I assumed if I left my cup by the coffee machine, someone would assume I wanted coffee. I’d likely not be getting my coffee anytime soon!

This is true at work, too. When I review someone’s code, and I’m not certain as to what that code should do, I’m much better off asking the question than assuming. I can’t begin to count the number of times this saved us from introducing a bug.

My point is simple: always challenge your assumptions. Always ask questions. In many cases, it would save you a lot of time you’d have wasted going down the wrong path. But I assume that’s obvious.

Hmm… Let’s Get Those Crisps

One of the most time consuming menial tasks I have is grocery shopping. It is also one that can easily become a money drain. This is why I spent a lot of time trying to optimise it. Here are my takes to date:

1. Don’t shop when hungry

The first thing I did was not go to the supermarket hungry. It is amazing how short your shopping list gets when you’re not hungry. Snacks don’t have as much appeal, and it’s much easier to rationalise your choices.

2. Shop online

Next, I cut on my commute and browsing time by shopping online. This also helped me save a lot by having easier access to sales on products I consume frequently and can stock up on. Most vendors have decent interfaces nowadays for finding sales.

3. Learn your routine

Then, my wife and I learned our routine. This helps us cut on waste. We know exactly how much we need of everything, and buy accordingly. We never throw away expired goods anymore. Nothing has to wait that long to be consumed.

4. Book time slots in advance

Lastly, if we learned something during the pandemic it’s that it is hard to book delivery slots last minute. So we book slots a week in advance, and edit the order right before delivery.

Do you have any advice on optimising your grocery shopping? Please do share!

Also check out The Apple Scourer™

Heavy Weight

Keeping my pc software up-to-date should have been easy. I mean, look how easy it is on your smart phone. You go to the app store, it lists all relevant updates, and with a push of a button you have the latest and greatest.

There is no such central place for PCs. This means it’s up to the individual vendors to inform you of updates. Many don’t. What a mess.

Luckily, from time to time someone comes up with a solution. Currently, this comes in the form of Sumo. Sumo scans your computer for installed software and lets you know what updates are available.

Unfortunately, the free version does just that. It doesn’t help you find the download link. That’s on you. But really, for the most part, that’s the easy bit.

Sumo also has a sister app, Dumo. Dumo does the same thing, but with your hardware drivers.

Between Sumo and Dumo, you can once again stay up to date. Shiny!

  • Note: I’ve linked to older versions of both apps intentionally. These seem to be the last versions that are still fully free.