Raze, rebuild, repeat: why Japan knocks down its houses after 30 years

Unlike in other countries, Japanese homes become valueless over time – but as the population shrinks, can its cities finally learn to slow down and refurb?

This fascinating look at Japanese housing type and market examines the lifecycle and recyclability of houses across Japan. Perhaps the most interesting revelation in the article: a Muji home.

Source: Raze, rebuild, repeat: why Japan knocks down its houses after 30 years

Whistle 3 Pet Tracker is a Scam

I’m not sure what it is with me and tracking devices. After a recent attempted break in, I decided that the most valuable “thing” in our house is Molly, and that if she got out and lost, that we’d be lost without her.

So, after a failed attempt at using a Tile device to track her whereabouts, I did some research and found what seemed to be the perfect product, the Whistle 3 Pet Tracker. Unlike Tile, which relies on Bluetooth for tracking, Whistle 3 has a GPS unit that works with wifi and cellular to track pets no matter where they are. The added bonus is that Whistle 3 also tracks activity for your pet (kind of like a canine or feline FitBit.) Cool, right? The Whistle 3 sells for just about $100 and requires a $9.95/month subscription to allow the tracking feature to work.

Molly and I started using the Whistle system in early October and it was AWESOME. You can see from the picture, that the device attached to her collar — it looks kind of big, but it’s pretty lightweight, and Molly didn’t seem to mind it at all. The device has a significant battery life (it needs a 10 minute charge about once a week), and the tracking information was very accurate and interesting.

And then it all went South.

For some completely unexplained and unexplainable reason, Whistle “changed” the software that runs the app and speaks to the Whistle device. While the tracking feature still worked, the activity reporting stopped working completely. So, I’ll spare you all the fine grain details, but I asked the folks at Whistle for some help, and they were (initially) very responsive. They walked me through some troubleshooting steps and agreed that for some reason, the original Whistle device had stopped tracking activity properly. They promptly replaced the device.

Device #2 didn’t work either.

The second round of troubleshooting was more intense and involved banging the device (hard) on a counter or floor. It seemed peculiar, but it also seemed to work… for about a day. After a few weeks, Whistle decided to replace the device with a third replacement.

Device #3 didn’t work either.

By this point, my issue had been “escalated” to a woman named Trizza that appeared to be either an owner or a knowledgeable partner in the Whistle operation (she is listed as part of the “leadership” team.) She admitted that they had “recoded” the software and that for some inexplicable reason they had decided to change the manner by which activity data was shown in the app to reflect “minutes rather than intensity.” The issue is that the tracker now didn’t show minutes OR intensity. The problem, Trizza admitted had caused quite a bit of confusion among customers and that there was an outstanding request to the “product team” to allow customers to choose to see either minutes or intensity. Trizza asked me—point blank—to “bear with them” as they worked through this change, and assured me that she would send me a brand new tracker, and re-start the entire experiment. She went on to say that if I wasn’t fully satisfied at any time, that they would refund my entire out of pocket cost—for the device, and for any subscription months. Molly and I were willing to try to help the Whistle folks figure out what was going on, and agreed to give device #4 a risk-free try.

Device #4 didn’t work either.

And that’s when things got sketchy. Trizza stopped responding to e-mails, and when I asked to cancel the entire subscription and asked for a refund, the request was denied. I tried explaining the situation to Katelyn, Alexis, and Madilyn at Whistle customer service (and indeed, they had access to the entire archive of conversations between the many interactions I had that led up to Trizza’s request and promise of refund… but my request to cancel was still denied. After five months of well-intended troubleshooting and reporting, all came to a grinding halt when I (politely) blew the whistle on the entire experiment.

Which, naturally, prompted me to poke around on the Internet a bit. I found that I wasn’t the only unsatisfied Whistle customer. Apparently, this entire process is some sort of scam, where they hook you in for more than 90 days, and then refuse to refund the cost of the device, and require you to spend down your entire year of subscription, a $200 “risk-free” bargain, that in effect is an outright scam. I’ve filed a complaint with AMEX and will follow up with further action to ensure that other customers aren’t getting scammed or promised service/products that do not exist or are not operational.

I am officially blowing the whistle on Whistle, and would strongly warn anyone considering a Whistle 3 to investigate other options and to avoid doing business with Whistle, because they are a company that doesn’t live up to their own hype and doesn’t keep the promises they make to well-intended customers. It’s another great example of a sham company that can dodge regulation and hide behind the murky darkness of the internet, while legions of customers get scammed.

Fall Virtual Garage Sale Auction

It’s that time of year again… time to clean out and move on. Folks know that I am a shopper (maybe slightly compulsive.) Folks also know that I absolutely hate eBay and Craigslist. So, below is a list of things I have for sale … I’d rather sell them to friends, and you’d rather buy from a friend… so lets get cracking.

Rules of the road:

  1. First come, first served.
  2. All payments via Square Cash app or Apple Pay (if you’re using iOS 11.2+). My cashtag for Square Cash is $alexbitterman
  3. All items are used but in very good (at best) or decent/working shape (at worst) but may show signs of wear from light use.
  4. Highest bidder wins. All bids due by December 1, 2017 at noon Eastern Time.
  5. All sales are final. No refunds. No exchanges. No bullshit. This is all solid stuff and any exceptions are noted, this isn’t Best Buy, but it’s definitely a solid deal. It’s also not GeekSquad, so getting things set up is your responsibility.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Browse the items below.
  2. Place a bid using this link, or (like eBay), you can just “buy it now.” Be sure to indicate whether your bidding or buying.
  3. If you win, you’ll receive an e-mail. You’ll have 5 hours to make a payment via Square Cash or Apple Pay. If you don’t snag your deal within 5 hours, the next highest bidder wins the item and you lose out.

This is a private sale, and I reserve the right to refuse sale at any time.

What it is: Pisector GSM Alarm System

This is the product on Amazon (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.amazon.com/PiSector-Cellular-Wireless-Security-Quad-band/dp/B007GP3JUA/ref=redir_mobile_desktop?_encoding=UTF8&keywords=PiSECTOR&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&qid=1510969529&ref_=mp_s_a_1_1&sr=8-1>

Why I’m selling it: This was a really solid alarm system and I used it for two years with zero problems. I wanted a new one (following an attempted break in) that integrated with video support.

Details: Comes with everything shown in the Amazon link, though the remotes in this system (there are 3) are white, not black. Comes in its original box with a yard sign.

Opening Bid: $75.00
Buy it now Price: $150.00

Bid Now

What it is: 11″ MacBook Air

This is the product at Apple (for comparison and product details only): <https://support.apple.com/kb/SP631?locale=en_US>

Why I’m selling it: This was a solid computer for me for a long time. It’s perfect for browsing the internet, sending e-mail, and using Microsoft Office, etc. I tend to do some graphic design work and I wanted a newer one with a faster processor.

Details: Yes, it’s a 2011. No, it’s not horribly outdated. You can check the Apple site for tech specs and see that the MacBook hasn’t changed dramatically over the past 10 years. This is a powerful computer, enough for most people. If you’re a super-power user, head on over to the apple store and grab a new one. Comes in original box with power block.

Opening Bid: $150.00
Buy it now Price: $275.00

Bid Now

What it is: HP Office Jet H470 Mobile Printer

This is the product on Amazon (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.amazon.com/HP-OfficeJet-H470-Mobile-Printer/dp/B0010Z3KZG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511031946&sr=8-1&keywords=officejet+h470>

Why I’m selling it: I rarely use this printer, because I have a color laser printer that works just fine.

Details: HP made these amazing printers for like a millisecond. They are intended to be mobile, and can run off battery power (purchased separately), and can print in mobile environments (like job sites or the trunk of your car) drawing power from a 12v cigarette lighter or a 120v 3-prong plug. Incredibly versatile and durable, the print quality will blow you away. Comes with USB cable and 120v 3-prong power cable and power block.

Opening Bid: $50.00
Buy it now Price: $80.00

Bid Now

What it is: Hidden Radio Bluetooth Speaker (with built-in FM radio)

This is the product on Amazon (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.amazon.com/HiddenRadio2-Wireless-Bluetooth-Speaker-Packaging/dp/B0147E5DK6>

Why I’m selling it: I really like this speaker, but I replaced it with the Apple HomePod

Details: This speaker is very cool and the battery holds a charge forever. It’s a workhorse and has great sound from such a tiny speaker. Comes with USB charging cable.

Opening Bid: $75.00
Buy it now Price: $110.00

Bid Now

What it is: Apple Airport Express

This is the product on Apple (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.apple.com/airport-express/>

Why I’m selling it: Our Apple Extreme covers our house and this isn’t needed anymore.

Details: This is a device that creates a wi-fi hub in your house. It comes in the original box with power cord.

Opening Bid: $25.00
Buy it now Price: $60.00

Bid Now

What it is: Logitech Keyboard for iPad mini

This is the product on Amazon (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-Ultrathin-Keyboard-Cover-iPad/dp/B00BJVJV9A>

Why I’m selling it: I sold my iPad mini and forgot to send this along with it!

Details: This turns your iPad into a tiny little computer. It works extremely well and the battery lasts forever.

Opening Bid: $15.00
Buy it now Price: $30.00

Bid Now

What it is: Apple USB Mouse

This is the product on Amazon (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.amazon.com/Apple-Wired-Mouse-MB112LL-B/dp/B002TLTH7K/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1511032635&sr=8-3&keywords=apple+usb+mouse>

Why I’m selling it: I have a wireless mouse that I use instead.

Details: In very good working order, doesn’t skip or jump.

Opening Bid: $5.00
Buy it now Price: $20.00

Bid Now

What it is: Apple External USB CD/DVD Superdrive

This is the product on Amazon (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.amazon.com/Apple-USB-Superdrive-MD564LL-A/dp/B011K4XZQ0/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1511032753&sr=8-3&keywords=apple+external+dvd+drive>

Why I’m selling it: I don’t use DVDs or CDs anymore.

Details: In very good working order, has only been used a handful of times.

Opening Bid: $25.00
Buy it now Price: $50.00

Bid Now

What it is: Apple Wireless Keyboard

This is the product on Amazon (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.amazon.com/Apple-Bluetooth-Wireless-MC184LL-Packaging/dp/B002TMRZOQ>

Why I’m selling it: I was using this for my Apple TV, but now the newer Apple TV doesn’t require a keyboard anymore!

Details: Barely used, battery holds a very good charge.

Opening Bid: $30.00
Buy it now Price: $65.00

Bid Now

What it is: Apple iPhone 4

This is the product on Amazon (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.amazon.com/Apple-iPhone-32-GB-Black/dp/B004ZLV5SG>

Why I’m selling it: These were my “backup” and “Europe” phones for a long while. They are in good working order.

Details: I have three of these, one is in its original box, the others are not. They are unlocked (not locked to a carrier) and ready to use. The boxed one comes with a USB power cable and plug. The others do not. Bid is for ONE phone, top three bidders will qualify. The phone, again, is solid enough for daily use for a kid or grandparent, but a power user isn’t going to be happy with and older phone. No scratches or dead pixels.

Opening Bid: $25.00
Buy it now Price: $50.00

Bid Now

What it is: Apple iPhone SE

This is the product at Apple (for comparison and product details only): <https://www.apple.com/iphone-se/>

Why I’m selling it: This phone was my mom’s. She dropped it and broke the screen, so the screen was repaired with OEM equipment and works like new. In the meanwhile, she bought a new phone.

Details: In original box with power cable, plug, and headphones.

Opening Bid: $75.00
Buy it now Price: $125.00

Bid Now

$5 Off at Poshmark

As much as I am a minimalist, I love to buy things. Recently, I read Mari Kondo’s books The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. While I can’t say that either book changed my life, they were thoughtful reminders that I have too much stuff. Even when I don’t have a lot of stuff, I still have too much. So I embarked on a tidying spree.

That yielded piles of stuff. The piles fell into 4 big categories:

  1. Stuff I really wanted to keep.
  2. Trash.
  3. Stuff that was brand (or nearly) new and that I regretted buying.
  4. Stuff that was used that I didn’t want, but still had some useful life.

I kept streamlining and cleaned out my attic, my closet, my basement, my car, the airstream, my kitchen, and next, I will tackle my office.

  1. The stuff I wanted to keep now has a comfy home.
  2. The trash is gone.
  3. The stuff I didn’t want, I donated to friends or organizations that can use it.
  4. The brand new stuff… is sitting around. Kondo doesn’t really tell you what to do with it, because it’s not serving me, but is way too good to toss.

So, enter Poshmark.

My friend mentioned it in passing to me one day recently, and I was intrigued. I hate selling things to people (because it involves, well, people.) But Poshmark is a great way to unload some decent stuff, easily, and recoup some of your bad decision-making losses. It’s easier than eBay (which I H A T E), and it’s a friendly site with a lot of energy. When you have a moment, check it out: <https://bnc.lt/focc/i2QTSMkC6H>. Use the code: ALEXBITTERMAN to get $5 off your first order! Just in time for the holidays!

Two Border Cities Share Russian History — and a Sharp European Divide

Where one world ends and another begins.

I had the good fortune to visit Narva/Ivangorod this past summer, and I was struck at its similarity to Buffalo/Fort Erie in terms of being an international border divided by a narrow waterway connected by a bridge. One can even walk under the bridge along a pedestrian promenade on one side (Narva and Buffalo, in these instances) but not on the other side.

From The New York Times and definitely worth a read:

While attached to Russia by ethnicity and emotion, residents of Narva, Estonia, say they would never actually want to live there.

Source: Two Border Cities Share Russian History — and a Sharp European Divide