All posts by Dan

Wave Accounting: I HIGHLY recommend it!

I’ve been very busy lately, but I just had to take a minute and write about Wave Accounting. Wave is an online accounting app (their new domain name is www.waveapps.com).  I watched Wave Accounting for about a year before I finally decided to go with it for my small business this year (switching from QuickBooks Simple Start).  I discovered early this year that Wave had gotten the interface to my bank working (so that transactions download automatically) and that they had also built an account reconciliation function.  Incredibly, this software is free to use (including allowing one or more collaborators such as an accountant or business partner) until you need payroll.  This model strikes me as extremely logical.  Even when implemented, payroll is very cost-effective.  The best thing about the software is the outstanding design and how easy it is to use.  Also, it is particularly good for small business owners because it includes a personal accounting section as well.  I can’t recommend this product highly enough.

IDT Energy Complaints: Our Experience

More than a year ago we switched our electricity supplier to IDT Energy.  At the end of last year I called them with the intention of switching suppliers, but the rep said that they would send me a rebate check since I called to ask about the charges (they were only slightly higher than the local company at that point, so I waited the six weeks or so for the rebate check to arrive).  Unfortunately, though I intended to switch suppliers after receiving the rebate check (approximately $111), I was busy and didn’t switch.  Today we discovered that our power bill for the past month is $446 (it had been running less than $200 per month).

(The local power company fee adds around $50 to take it to the approximately $446)

I called IDT about the bill this morning, and the rep said that they are always and only a variable rate supplier and that electricity prices had spiked with the cold weather.  She said that there was nothing she could do and that we are going to have to pay the bill.  She said that IDT does shop for rates.  Before calling IDT, I had checked PA PowerSwitch to see what IDT’s rates were listed as there.  IDT’s rate on PA PowerSwitch is 14.9 cents per kWh.  When I asked the rep about that, she had no answer.  In fact, the HIGHEST rate listed on PA PowerSwitch today is 14.99 cents per kWh for Respond Power LLC.  I also asked the rep why IDT’s rate was so much higher than the local power company rate that is listed on the bill for comparison (5.61 cents per kWh) but didn’t receive a definitive answer.  The date of our bill is February 12th (just five days ago).  I will be checking with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to see if they can tell me what IDT’s rate was listed at five days ago.  I can’t imagine it was 50% higher just five days ago.  I had the rep cancel our IDT account.

Follow up (3-1-2014):

I called IDT Energy back and was able to get an additional $50 off.  I also called our local power company to ask them if I could enter a reading so that the change back to them as our power provider could happen immediately.  Unfortunately they said that it is in the law that changes can only happen one time per month at the regular billing – so we’re stuck with one more month and will almost certainly have another bill at least as high as the last one.  Someone where I work also mentioned to me last week that they had also been using IDT and had gotten hit with a large bill just a few days before the same as we had.

I wasn’t able to find anyone at the Pennsylvania PUC that could help me, so I called the Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate and they provided the information I was looking for.  They said that the rates on PA PowerSwitch are introductory rates.

So to summarize:  We were never without power due to IDT, so the quality of service was fine in that regard.  This situation, of course, is a case of buyer beware.  I did not monitor this closely enough when I could have changed and saved us a LOT of money.  I don’t think I would ever consider switching from our local supplier again because I’m too busy to monitor a power supplier for all the more savings that would be achieved.  It’s just not worth the risk to me.  It seems that choice of power generation makes more sense for commercial and industrial concerns than for consumers.  If you WOULD switch, you would definitely want to go with a fixed rate.  In that case you would also want to have a reminder set to ensure you’re getting a new contract well before the end of the fixed rate period.  This would be very important because if you happen to forget that your fixed rate period is ending and you would change over to a variable rate, then by the time you find out that your bill has skyrocketed, you would have to continue with the current supplier ANOTHER month before you can switch from them (at least in Pennsylvania).  The PA PowerSwitch website does have an email subscription service through which you can be notified of rate changes, but it lists all power suppliers (quite a few) – you can’t narrow it down to your own supplier.

To conclude:  Here is an interesting press release just out from the PA PUC.

Are You Worming Your Pet Regularly?

One evening in August of 2011 my wife mentioned to me that there was something odd in the cat’s water bowl.  Later on, after dark, I was outside finishing up some work and thought to look at the bowl.  It contained a rubbery looking, stringy and tightly packed ball.  I took it out and, for some reason, laid it on a small piece of plastic in the flower bed.  A little while later I looked at it again and was a little incredulous at what I was seeing.  I ran and got the iPod to take some video, and here is what I saw (WARNING:  You might not want to watch this if you are squeamish):

Router Review – White List Router with Time of Day Restrictions: Gargoyle Router

After a great deal of searching, I discovered Gargoyle.  Gargoyle is actually router software based upon OpenWrt.  The Gargoyle website indicated that the software supports the combined white list and time-of-day restrictions that I was searching for.  Since the D-Link DIR-655 was not in the list of supported routers (see previous post about why I moved on from the D-Link), I decided to just purchase a pre-configured Gargoyle Router from the Gargoyle site rather than attempt to flash the D-Link with the Gargoyle software or order a supported router and flash it.  The shipping was very prompt and the router showed up two days after it was shipped.

The router brand is TP-Link and it came pre-installed with Gargoyle version 1.47.  After setting up the time-of-day restriction and putting in a few white list items for the restricted time period, I tested it.  It didn’t work.  After trying a number of things to get it to work, I finally thought to check to see if there was a later release of the Gargoyle software than 1.47.  There was, but when I checked the chipset of the router, (Atheros AR7240), I couldn’t find a corresponding download for the AR7240 among the latest firmware releases (1.5x).  Further searching revealed that there was NO version of the software (including versions 1.3x or 1.4x) for the AR7240 chipset.  Everything listed was for the AR71xxx chipset.  Therefore, I figured that either the AR7240 chipset was a typo or maybe it was backward-compatible with the AR71xxx series, and so I decided to take a chance and flash the TP-Link with the latest version of the Gargoyle firmware (1.59).  The 1.5x series is labeled experimental, so I was prepared to brick the router.  I started the flash, and walked away.  When I came back just a few minutes later, the login screen was back up – the flash had worked perfectly.  It is impossible to preserve settings from previous versions when upgrading to the 1.5x firmware, so after re-entering the time-of-day restriction and a few whitelist items, I tested again.  This time IT WORKED perfectly!  The Gargoyle software-based router has continued to work perfectly ever since.  General Internet access is set to go off at 9:30 p.m. and come back on at 5:30 a.m. with the white-listed sites available during these hours if we need them.

A few final comments.  One great advantage of the Gargoyle router over the D-Link DIR-655 (besides the fact that the time-of-day whitelisting actually works) is that the number of white list items appears to only be limited by the amount of memory available in the hardware while the DIR-655 allows a maximum of 40 white list sites.  I have approximately 60 white list items in the Gargoyle so far with nothing telling me that I can’t add more if I need to.  I was also very pleased to find that the Gargoyle software comes with Universal Plug and Play turned off by default.  See this podcast transcript if you have any questions about why this is so important in terms of Internet security.  At some point I would like to see the Gargoyle software include the ability to define a guest wireless zone, but it does come with many advanced features like WPA2 wireless encryption, IP reservation by MAC address with the ability to limit access by computer, and much more.  Overall, I am extremely pleased with Gargoyle and would now recommend a Gargoyle software-based router as the first choice for anyone who wants white listing with time-of-day restrictions.

 

Router Review – White List Router with Time of Day Restrictions: D-Link DIR-655

I wanted to set up a router with combined time-of-day restrictions and whitelisting during the restricted hours.  This set of features prevents endless reading of news late into the evening while allowing us to check the weather or pay bills during the restricted time if necessary.  This combination seems to be an uncommon set of features (at least among the features mentioned online by router manufacturers).  The router that initially looked the best was the D-Link DIR-655.  This feature combination can be viewed in the manual online on scribd, or D-Link has an online emulator that actually lets a user click through the router interface software.  After creating the appropriate schedules, filling in my whitelist sites, and enabling access control, I tested the results.  It did not work.  Even after flashing the router with the latest firmware (DIR-655 Rev B v2.10NA), the desired features still didn’t work – and the Guest zone also quit working with the latest firmware.  Therefore, I scrapped the D-Link DIR-655 and started searching again.

 

How to Get Rid of Stink Bug Smell

This evening I accidentally bumped a stink bug and got the odor all over one finger.  I have used soap before to try to remove the odor, but it hasn’t worked, so I tried to think of something else.  We use coconut oil, and there was some sitting on the counter, so I put a little of that on.  It melted in no time and covered the area where the smell was.  When I smelled it, all I could smell was the coconut oil.  I then used soap to rinse the oil off and the odor was gone.