Not Martha

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you are full of great food and very happy.

· comments [0] · 11-28-2013 · categories:uncategorized ·

Chip and PIN or Chip and Signature credit cards for travel

We recently spent a month in the UK and Ireland and one of the things we did in advance was get travel credit cards with smart chips, which you’ll mostly hear referred to as chip and PIN cards. Credit cards with smart chip technology are normal in most countries other than the US. Why just us? The reason I’ve read most often as to why we don’t have them here is that it’s far more expensive for credit card companies to manufacture them so until smart chips are required the banks are going to keep with our swipe cards.

One of the things that isn’t necessarily clear when you set out to find a chip and PIN card is that at the current point in time there are very few true chip and PIN cards available in the US, instead most cards offered with smart chips are actually chip and signature cards. The tricky bit? Lots of banks (including my own, urgh) go ahead and call them chip and PIN cards or talk about the smart chip benefits in the description, never quite letting you know that there isn’t actually a PIN involved. It’s very confusing. Dig deep into some travel forums and you’ll find that you can get a true chip and PIN card from Andrews FCU or the State Department FCU, but only after you join the credit union.

So, chip and signature cards. They have a smart chip but no PI number attached to it, which means you still have to sign a little slip of paper when you use them. There is a good list of currently available chip and signature cards here at The Points Guy and other over at Nerd Wallet.

I previously spent two weeks in England and had no trouble using my chipless credit and debit cards. But, there were situations where having a card with a chip would have made things a lot more convenient — for example I struggled with getting a ticket at an Underground stop because the machine just didn’t want to recognize the first card I tried to use. Frustrating because the station was busy and there was a group waiting for me to get my stuff together and frankly having a card refused is never a good feeling. I spent some time reading traveler forums and the only spot where people said that their chip and signature card was refused were automatic pay stations on toll roads or train stations in small remote towns (and always, of course, in the middle of the night when the stations were unattended). Scott and I spent a month in the UK and Ireland in some far away spots and didn’t have any trouble with the chip and signature cards, unless you consider the mild annoyance of some waiters needing to go fetch the machine that prints out a receipt to sign. We took to saying “this will ask for a signature” as we handed over the card.

So, do you need a chip and signature card if you are going on a trip outside the US? Probably not unless you’re going to be gone for a long time and even then it will just make things a little easier. Deciding on one is a matter or what convenience it can offer, transaction fees and how getting another card might affect your credit score. If all the things I just wrote make your head hurt don’t worry, the cards you have already will be just fine. Have a great trip.

We chose chip and signature cards that had 0% foreign transaction fees and either had no annual fee or had perks that we would definitely use and would balance out an annual fee. If you check your current cards you will likely find a 3% foreign transaction fee, which might add up if you use your card a lot or plan to do some serious shopping.

update: Jen mentioned this in the comments and it reminded me, other features that are great to have in travel credit cards are rental car coverage, trip insurance, lost baggage coverage and the like. These seem like pretty obvious benefits but enough of the cards I looked at didn’t have one or the other that it’s worth combing through the fine print to be certain. A note, credit cards generally will not cover rental car coverage in Ireland. A few other countries too, but Ireland seems to be the surprise. Before you rent a car there check with your card, read up about CDW and super CDW and ask a lot of questions. Good luck.

Do you have a favorite travel rewards card? I gave some serious thought to one of those that lets you into all sorts of airline lounges but the impressive annual fee was way too much for me and my three flights a year.

· comments [16] · 11-27-2013 · categories:travel ·

links: food

Wine Glass Ring Pops Make The World A Better Place, at The Frisky.

The best macaroni and cheese: traditional vs. Modernist at Science Fare. Fun experiment, have a macaroni party and let your diners choose which is better. I gotta try this.

Campari Shandy, by those geniuses behind Essex and Delancey. This is part of a new cocktail column and I bet each and every one will be outstanding. Evidence: The Queen Mary is my very favorite cocktail at Essex and only available when there are ripe tomatoes from their garden. Out of season now but well worth keeping around for late next summer.

Julia Child Was Wrong: Don’t Wash Your Raw Chicken, Folks : The Salt : NPR. “But science, says Quinlan, is really giving the lazy a free pass — nay, an imperative — to cut out this step.” Lazy for the win!!

Food Worth Growing: Mexican Sour Gherkin | You Grow Girl. She calls them “Barbie Doll Watermelons” because they are so very wee.

Best Food Bloggers of All Time | I have geeked out over most of these, some of them right to their face (which was awkward, I admit).

Bonavita’s Porcelain Immersion Coffee Dripper: The Best of All Worlds? | Serious Eats: Drinks. I think I need one of these.

Sprinkle Bakes: Raspberry-Champagne Layer Cake with Victorian Cake Pulls. A sweet lesson on cake pulls and how to keep them tidy.

· comments [2] · 11-26-2013 · categories:food · links ·

links: technology

The Ultimate Responsive Web Design Beginners Resource List » Target Local. Via Swissmiss.

Neil Gaiman reveals haunting-puzzler ‘Wayward Manor,’ his first video game | The Verge. (!!!)

Indie game Gentlemen! was bought 144 times, pirated over 50,000 | Joystiq. A few factors that lead to a big number, yikes.

You’re Spending Too Much on Your Gaming PC | Product Reviews |

I Pixel U an iOS app that lets you pixelate photos. At Kottke.

· comments [0] · 11-22-2013 · categories:links · technology ·

Seattle’s Gingerbread Village

Each year here in Seattle chefs from the Sheraton hotel pair with architects from various firms to create a Gingerbread Village display that is truly stunning. The village is free to view and donations are taken for the JDFR. This is the 21st year and the theme is “there is a rhyme and reason this holiday season” and the various structures are based on classic nursery rhymes. If you’re here in Seattle I highly recommend making a visit to see the gingerbread village part of your Christmas tradition. It opens this year on November 27th and stays up for viewing in the Sheraton lobby under the new year. If you like to avoid the crowds, or if you just want to extend the holiday as long as possible, going in to see the village after Dec. 25th means you’ll have more time to linger and study the details.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to get a peek at the gingerbread structures in the midst of construction. I managed to play it cool but I was so excited to learn what goes on behind the scenes.

From the factoids I got: “The gingerbread creations are made from an estimated 1,200 pounds of dough, 800 pounds of icing and hundreds of pounds of chocolate, almond paste and candy. Creations are designed in partnership with Seattle’s top architecture firms and trade associations, and are made possible by more than 2,500 volunteer hours from the Sheraton’s hotel staff.”

Chef John Armstrong told us that people keep an eye out for candy they can use all throughout the year.

Since the display is up for over a month they do have to use some non-edible interior support. By the time this is ready to be viewed by the public nothing inedible will be showing.

He also showed us the industrial oven which was massive and has eight surfaces that can each hold a bunch of full sheet pans. Yet in order to bake some of the gingerbread pieces needed they had to extend the baking surfaces to be large enough to hold them. That, people, is some serious gingerbread.

This boat has to be built in pieces because, no joke, it’s too tall to fit inside the room where it’s being constructed.

Kids respond most to the past gingerbread creations that have lights and movement so almost each sculpture will incorporate some of that. This entire ship will sway back and forth, I cannot wait to see it’s finished state.

All the details in the walls here are hand carved into the gingerbread before being baked.

The clock shown here was created by coloring dried pasta then embedding it into a pane of sugar while it was still hot. So smart.

Figurines awaiting showtime.

I love the Gingerbread Village every year but I think this year is going to be really special. Thanks again to the Sheraton and Chef Armstrong for taking the time to show me behind the scenes!

· comments [3] · 11-21-2013 · categories:christmas · seattle ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 22

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This egg was bought at a Sainsbury’s grocery store.

It’s a monolith!

Oh, nope. It’s another Monsters University figurine. That’ll teach me to buy three eggs from the same store. One thing to note, all of the tops and bottoms of the eggs in this bunch from Sainsbury’s had slightly flattened tops and bottoms. At first I thought it was intentional but they were actually slightly crushed. Are these brand tie-in runs treated less carefully than other Kinder Surprise eggs?

· comments [1] · 11-20-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 21

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This egg was bought at a Sainsbury’s grocery store.

A hand.

Oh my god it’s only got one eye! Oh wait. It’s another Monsters University figurine. Hi.

· comments [9] · 11-19-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 20

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This egg was bought at a Sainsbury’s grocery store. You know what I learned there? An American chip-and-signature card used in the self checkout area will still require a human to come over, print a receipt, hand you a pen and get you to sign even if you’re spending less than two pounds.

The suspense.

So many eyes!

It’s a Monsters University figurine. Yay?

· comments [2] · 11-18-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 19

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

I found this not-Kinder Surprise egg at a train station in Brussels. The writing in the box was in Dutch but it clearly said figurines so I only bought one.

It’s a very cute egg, one half is in white chocolate and other other in dark chocolate. Each half had stars in the chocolate. This chocolate was ok, a little softer and less salty than the Kinder Surprise chocolate, but still not great quality.

The capsule was a little bigger than the Kinder capsules.

It’s a figurine all right.

Cute, it’s got a little base to stand in. The little sheet of paper that came with it indicates there is a whole set. I’m assuming these are all from a cartoon or toy set that I am not familiar with.

· comments [14] · 11-15-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 18

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

The one came from a grocery store in Bristol, I think it was a small Sainsburys.

Gears? Wait, we’ve seen these before.

Yay, it’s another Princess Magic Face!

This one looks eerily like a friend of mine.

· comments [4] · 11-14-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 17

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

Another egg purchased in Belgium. I, uh, went a little crazy while there and kept going into grocery stores just to see the number of different kinds of chocolate sprinkles they had in the baking aisle.

Sad trombone, it’s a figurine.

It’s a kangaroo. It’s cute. It looks cold though, poor thing.

· comments [2] · 11-13-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 16

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This is from an egg I bought in Belgium. I forgot to photograph it in it’s unwrapped state, oops.

Little paper cards?

It’s a set of photograph cards of wild animals. You match them up to their spot on the included sheet and learn animal facts.

They weren’t that much fun except for this, they were textured! The mammals were flocked and the snake here was bumpy.

· comments [1] · 11-12-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 15

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This is a Kinder Surprise bought from a grocery store in Belgium.

It’s… uh.

It’s a woman in pieces, a puzzle woman.

Cinderella! The detail on her face is really impressive, and that is glitter in her plastic that makes up her skirt.

· comments [6] · 11-11-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Washington Outdoor Women’s Weekend

This month on Friday the 13th I found myself at summer camp on purpose. I know. I wasn’t there for purposes of making a horror movie come true, though, I was there to learn how to read a map and shoot a bow and arrow.

I attended the Washington Outdoor Women’s weekend workshop and it was held at an honest to goodness summer camp. There were girls’ and boys’ dorms, a bonfire circle, a cafeteria and a gong to call everybody to meals. The camp was entirely filled with women who gathered to learn or hone outdoors skills. After listing my top choices for classes I realized that they would all apply to things I’d need to know in the case of the Zombie Apocalypse.

My first class was Map and Compass where I learned how to read a map, work a compass, account for declination and how to find myself on a map when I’m not quite sure where I am. I was surprised at how much fun it was, very much puzzle solving, and I might just get into Orienteering.

Next I took archery and I managed to hit at least somewhere on the target every time, which I counted as far better than what I expected going in. I even hit the very middle of the target once! I’m pretty sure it was a mistake, but it still counts.

My last class was Wilderness First Aid. We used oranges to learn to clean wounds and got the inside view on how to stock a first aid kit. I always suspected but now I know that those first aid kits you can buy aren’t worth it, you’re better off making your own collection.

The only bad part of the weekend was the dorm situation. I barely got any sleep and it made me a grumpy human. The trouble was that the bathrooms were in the dorms and those dorms held about 80 women and there was no way to shut out the noise of running water or industrial toilets flushing late into the night and very, very early in the morning. It was a huge downside to an otherwise amazing weekend. (The weekend was held at a different camp the year before so the reports I got from friends didn’t apply to this weekend. I’d much rather have been sleeping in a tent outside.)

Washington Outdoor Women is a great organization that uses experienced and enthusiastic teachers. For the map and compass class one of our instructors worked with Search and Rescue and had just finished hiking the Pacific Coast Trail at age 68. Our archery teacher had finished first in nationals several times and was able to talk us through all the different forms of archery for competition and hunting.

If you are interested in the outdoors I can definitely recommend looking into Washington Outdoor Women, it was great to learn new skills surrounded by supportive females. And you don’t have to live in Washington there were women attending from Oregon, Montana and Idaho. It was indeed like summer camp, only you didn’t have time to get homesick. See you there next year?

· comments [4] · 11-7-2013 · categories:events ·

iPad games I’ve been saving for travel

I’ve been saving up a few games on my iPad for our upcoming trip

The Cave
This is a Sega game from Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert an Double Fine Productions. I have not played it yet so I’m just hoping that the on screen controls all make sense. Yay for vintage games. (iTunes.)

The Walking Dead
What? I know, I have been holding onto this game for a long time. I played the first chapter and decided to keep it for the upcoming long plane ride. (iTunes.)

Tiny Thief
I actually played all the way through this and have been trying to forget all the good stuff so I can play it again. This game is so very charming and sweet, I actually played each level as a sort of bedtime story. This is a simple and entertaining point and click animated game. (iTunes, also on Android.)

Draw A Stickman Epic
I played through this before but they’ve added a levels and completeist elements since then. Also it’s all Halloween themed right now! (iTunes.)

This one is a suggestion on my part, I played the PC version of this a few years back and really really enjoyed it. I’m not sure how the on-screen controls will translate. In this game you are a little mermaid creature who wakes up with no memory and have to explore the underwater world, memories come back as you explore. There is a little combat but you can largely zoom past all the nasty creatures instead of fighting. (iTunes.)

Are there any iPad games you’ve been playing lately? Any that were surprisingly amazing?

· comments [7] · 11-4-2013 · categories:technology ·