Esurance Review and Report

Esurance.com esurance

This is a review and user experience (mine) after switching from Geico to Esurance (a Safeco company). After being with Geico/Travelers for several years I made my first claim - my front deck collapsed after snowfall from my roof this past winter. Gieco paid quickly and in full - all good.

Sadly - this resulted in a substantial jump in my insurance premium so I began searching for alternatives. The Esurance website was easy to find and easy to use - and after soliciting quotes from several other companies - ended up selecting Esurance because they were the cheapest home owners insurance I could find.

The problem started after Esurance "placed" my policy with an underwriter. The underwriting company was based in California (I'm in Vermont) - so they sent out an inspector to check out my house. The inspector arrived on a day when i wasn't there - and did not contact me before or after the inspection.

A few weeks later I received a notice of cancellation. After two months!

The reasons given? 

*Peeling paint on my garage.
*No railing around my tree house (under construction - no access).
*no fire hydrant.

We live in Vermont and no one in our neighborhood has a fire hydrant. The tree house has no access - no stairs or ladder. The peeling paint was on our garage only.

After calling to complain I was told that the decision was final and made on the part of the "underwriter" who I was never allowed to talk to them. After getting stuck on hold multiple times I was finally told that "that was all there was" and told to go away. End of story.

My take away on all this? Stay away from Esurance. Stick with a known brand or better yet a local agent.

Esurance Review: One star

Xcel Infinity wetsuit review

Xcel Infinity Wetsuit
The Xcel infinity wetsuit promises "less seam and more stretch" - in my case I was looking for a comfortable suit that would work for August surfing along Cape Cod - hopefully without getting chomped by a shark (several sightings this summer) or hammered too hard by choppy surf.

First impression  - this is a very stretchy comfortable suit. The inner lining has an almost fleece like feel - two different thicknesses and colors along top and bottom halves.

Infinity - arm seam and wrist gasket
 I have fairly small wrists and the wrist closure fit very snug - good for keeping water out - but hard to get on.

Xcel infinity ankle gasket
 The ankle gasket was this bit of zig zag rubber - was pretty easy to get on and off.
excel infinity neck opening

Hard to tell from this photo but the zipper doesn't go down as far as many other suits - and there is a flap that stretches from one side to the other. This is intended to catch water coming in through the zipper - but it makes the suit a bit hard to get on.

Overall - the suit is well constructed and very comfortable to wear. On the down side - the short zipper combined with very tight wrists and forearms makes this a tough suit to get off.

Use test coming after my August trip to the Cape...


Creating mobile websites quick, cheap and easy with Go|Mo

By now pretty much everyone has acknowledged the importance of delivering web content in a mobile friendly way. Typically this is done through one of 4 strategies.
1. Create a stand alone mobile website
2. Use "responsive" design to ensure that your website renders well on small screen devices.
3. Create an iPhone/Droid app
4. Do nothing and hope mobile browsing was only a fad.

The best strategy for your particular situation depends a variety of variables including:
1. Site complexity. More complex sites are harder to move toward responsive design.
2. Budget
3. Mobile traffic
4. Audience
5. "Must have" features

While responsive design is the current hot topic in web dev I've found that for clients with highly complex "must have's" (and large enough budgets) native phone apps and stand alone mobile sites are still the way to go.

As you are trying to decide on a strategy take a quick read of Google's recent post (http://analytics.blogspot.com/2012/07/mobile-websites-vs-responsive-design.html) on this subject. They seem to come out in favor of responsive design - but in the end I think taking a case by case approach is the best bet.

One interesting approach is to create a test version of your site using Google's free tool for creating mobile friendly sites - http://www.howtogomo.com/en/d/ - and then using this as a test case for your mobile efforts.

Go|Mo allows you to quickly create a mobile friendly version of your site (or any site!)  - interact with it - share with friends and customers  - and really get a sense of how your existing content could be formatted for mobile. The mobile version of your site won't be as professional and well crafted as it would be starting from scratch with a good developer - but in a matter of minutes you'll get a sense of how your optimized site could look.

As a test case I decided to create a mobile optimized version of noaa.gov (my favorite weather site). Their website is complex and poorly designed (for both traditional and mobile visitors) - and gets even worse when viewed from an iPhone. In spite of the poor design I still favor this site because of the lack of ads and the quality of data. The solution? Use GoMo and create an awesome mobile friendly version of my favorite site.

Getting started required simply copying the URL of my forecast page:
http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?zoneid=VTZ017 and then entering this into the GoMo home page.

The GoMo tool allows you to choose from a variety of "skins" and also allows you to modify the layout (and even included content) by adding or removing blocks of content from the mobile version of your site. The actual "mobile friendly" version ends up hosted on duda mobile - this is the URL for my GoMo forecast site (Chittenden Vermont only):


While I'm not recommending that anyone use GoMo to create the final mobile friendly version of their site - it is a good way to see the possibilities -and also garner feedback from friends and customers. It also allowed me to create a mobile friendly version of one of my favorite sites with very little effort.

Happy coding!


Best free online food journals

Recent news has highlighted the importance of keeping a simple food journal in an effort to lose weight. The interesting part of this study is that no fancy features were rquired - in one report:
The best food journal is the one you'll use

So - what should you look for in a food journal?

1. fast and easy
2. customizable
3. free (of course)
4. mobile friendly
5. flexible

If the journal isn't easy to use - you won't use it.

If you are like me - you don't want to have one journal for food, another for fitness, another for habit tracking or sleep patterns, etc. Look for a comprehensive journal that lets you record a wide variety of activities.

As for mobile - this is obvious. I'm not a fan of 'apps' - simply because they have to be installed and updated. Instead I look for 'web apps' - basically mobile optimized websites that make it very easy to use from any mobile phone (android, iPhone, etc.)

Flexible just means that you can record a wide variety of types of information in the same system. The more flexible and more likely you are to use it.

My favorite free online food journal is LogsItAll.com - this site is free and, although targeted to athletes, is flexible enough to support a wide variety of activity recording (including food journaling). The calendar view makes it easy to see what you have been recording and the mobile site is fast and easy to use.

There is even a chrome extension that lets you quickly record details from within your chrome browser without even having to start a new tab.

Give it a try and let me know how you make out!


Best rock climbs by grade

I was asked yesterday what my favorite climbs were by grade - and it brought back memories of road trips - from vw camper van 9 month dirt bag trips to quick weekend drives to the gunks. I thought I'd start compiling the list - more than a few awesome road trips are required to tick these all off!

Best all time 5.9 would have to be Birdland at the Gunks.
This is an uber classic - most readers who are climbers have probably already ticked this one. I think it is now listed as 5.8+ but the first time I led it, I figured it was pretty close to 5.9

Curry's Diagonal, Veadauvoo, Laramie WY
vedauwoo, Laramie Wyoming
Haven't been to vedauwoo just outside Laramie, Wyoming? What are you waiting for? This place is beyond description- crazy wind sculpted blocks jutting up from the scrub pines set among a huge park (with National Forest 'free' camping just beyond the park. I've spent many a night camping there at night, climbing during the day and wandering around downtown Laramie in the evening.

The stone is incredibly tough on the fingers - one climb is called "Sex never did this to my hands" which sort of sums it all up. Although famous for off-width hell, Vedauwoo also has elegant face climbs, some classic hand and finger cracks and some interesting boulder problems - all set within a magical place.

Curry's Diagonal is one of the most prominent lines just off the main parking area - a proud crack with a "thank god" tree set in the middle of the line for bomber protection for the final run to the top.

Foops! Tragic that this is now closed (except for the most creative and persistent)
This is one of the original test pieces at the gunks - first done by Henry Barber. I wasn't sure what to expect when I first led it - so had been training hard on boulder problems in Rhode Island and the gunks. I'd heard stories of Barber training by pulling up on Popsicle sticks glues to a beam in his basement and the crack looks incredibly intimidating from the ground. We were climbing on doubles back in the day - and on my first try I got to the lip completely wound up in rope - desperately looking for a heel hook to help turn the corner.  This was based on the great photo of Kevin Bein (long since passed on a tragic honeymoon trip to Europe...) using a heel hook. Turns out there was never any heel hook - this was a classic sand bag by one of the great gunks legends. Next try I just campused from the jug at the lip to the solid horizontal holds just above the jug and stood up. The harder part was getting off - since there was only one piece of old tat hanging out on the ledge - and there was too much rope drag my my crappy lead on double to get to the top...

Tie: Sultans of Swing, New River Gorge
My small contribution to hard trad pieces in the New. We rated it 12b(r) but after returning there 15 years after my first ascent I got shut down on the first crux sequence. This was after flashing some other 12a/b at the new. I think our grade might have been a bit soft. I'd love to hear from anyone who has repeated this thing...

Guillotine , American Fork
AF is a crazy climbing spot outside Salt Lake City. All limestone, all polished and hard. First trip there after starting work at Black Diamond and the posse I was with started warming up on 12b - I realized I wasn't in New Hampshire anymore... Guillotine lies just beyond the cave shown in this photo and pulls up and over a steep roof with a mandatory throw to a small hold. After that there is a balancy move above the last good bolt to the final stance. I worked on this after watching Jason Cambell nearly flash the thing - only to fall and end up 4' above my head as I belayed him.

Middle Cathedral, Little Cottonwood