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My mindless maze of memberships

I have recently become cognizant of how many memberships I have. Suddenly, without paying much attention, I’m paying monthly memberships for all manner of systems, products and services of all types.

The economy has shifted to a focus on memberships over one-time purchases

Quietly and slowly, the American economy has shifted.  We pay monthly or annually (if you want a discount) for the opportunity to have access to the products and services we enjoy.  I, for one, have apparently bought into this shift wholeheartedly.  While I noticed it as I was gradually buying in, I’m now in way over my head and had not realized until recently how deep into memberships I really am.

clubs memberships herd crowd

When I was younger, I would buy a software package at the store, install it on my computer, and use it until I needed something new. Now, these same software purveyors sell me a membership.  The monthly membership fee I pay gives me access to the software as well as all necessary upgrades so long as I’m paying them.  If I stop paying them, I lose access to their software.

Two software companies that come to mind quickly are Adobe and Intuit, both of which have switched their core software packages to monthly pay online services.  But even the traditional boxed-software behemoths like Microsoft have jumped on board.  Newer companies launch under fee-based monthly setup from the start and never even use the box-in-a-store model.  I use several web applications and software systems that have never been packaged in a box but have instead been served up on a monthly fee basis from day one.

Everyone wants access to my credit card for a monthly membership charge

Retailers and service providers are offering me wonderful conveniences and benefits for monthly fee.  If I just give them my credit card information, they will open up a world of wonder for me.  I have memberships to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Pandora, Spotify, Sam’s Club, Quickbooks, Consumer Reports and many, many more. The reality is that these services are all just ongoing fee-based services.  By creating a membership feeling, they are going the extra emotionally connecting step to try to make me feel special, a part of their “exclusive” customer family.

hbo-go-netflix-hulu-amazon memberships

I can remember when I thought people were crazy to pay Netflix monthly fees for DVD access.  Somehow Netflix eventually won me over when they began offering streaming media access. Now I’ve apparently drunk the Kool-Aid and bought into many more services.  When I think back, I realize the biggest shift came when I turned off my DISH Network, cut the cable and started using streaming services for my family’s television viewing.  The list of memberships and monthly services grew exponentially in that moment.

Recently I’ve been listening to Stu McLaren, who consults and trains in the arena of creating membership-based websites. Stu does a good job of explaining the shifts in the US economy away from single event purchases and more toward membership based revenue.  It’s incredible how my brain steps backs and notices how everyone out there is trying to sell me a membership to their service, product or software application.

Are the memberships and monthly fee services I use actually worth my money?

It boggles my mind when I stop and think through the number of memberships I hold right now that keep everything flowing in my personal, entertainment and business life.  Any service or product I want can be available at my fingertips if I’m just willing to commit to a monthly relationship between the provider and my bank account.

As I’ve started realizing how much money I spend towards memberships, it’s made me wonder how much practical benefit I actually get out of these memberships. They’re everywhere! I’m surrounded by them, and they’re swarming me and I realize that I’m giving into their sales pitch, but do I ever actually take a solid look at the benefits they offer?

I’d noticed this shift to monthly memberships overall, but I hadn’t stopped to really look at their impact on my own life. Which memberships are actually worth my money? In an uncertain economy that keeps me double-checking my family’s budget and bottom line, it’s worth taking a moment to decide which memberships are worth my time.

Can I learn from the memberships I enjoy to build a better business?

It’s worth slowing down and analyzing which memberships are working and which are not. As a consumer, I have all these memberships stacking up.   From a business owner’s and entrepreneur’s perspective, I can learn from this. If I switch on my analyst mind, I can sort through the incentives and emotions to see which memberships keep my consumer mind coming back and why. I can learn from these companies and build my own business models around them.

In coming posts, I’m going to start analyzing my membership experiences in detail and figure out what’s working, what’s not and share what I’m processing

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Daily Download: October 8, 2013 (Obamacare sticker shock, Reid’s refusals, Mid East gay death penalty, nuclear fusion)

Obamacare’s winners and losers in Bay Area — Here’s a good representative article of the sticker shock that some are now feeling now that Obamacare is officially in effect. Some with preexisting conditions are seeing some relief in their premiums, while some who are healthy with no preexisting conditions are seeing an increase, and it seems the difference is primarily based on where they live and how much they make per year with those living in nicer areas and making more money being the ones seeing premium increases. (Can anyone say “class warfare”?)

The story recounts a self-employed father of 4 whose annual family premiums went up by over $10,000. He says that he was laughing at the Republicans in Congress until he got his insurance bill in the mail, and now he suddenly realizes that the Affordable Care Act wasn’t intended to be affordable for him.  Another whose rates went up gave this classic Obamacare quote:

“Of course, I want people to have health care.  I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.”

In the article, the woman who has previously had breast cancer has seen her insurance rates fluctuate from $317 in 2005 to $1,298 in 2013. Her new rate is now $795. She’s the protagonist in this article, closing out the story by citing the benefits of the new law and encouraging optimism:

“Obamacare is a huge step in the right direction for those of us without employer coverage,” she said, adding that she hopes everyone will “join in and make this new legislation a success for all.”

Can it be a “success for all”? According to the article, the new law will “often” make “some” policies more expensive because it limits out-of-pocket expenses to $6,350 annually for an individual and $12,700 for a family. In addition, the law restricts the minimum and maximum premiums that people can be charged based on their age. Before the new law, a 64-year-old could be charged almost five times more than a 21-year-old, which one would assume makes sense because a 64-year-old is more likely to have health problems. But, beginning Jan. 1, the difference will be a 3-1 ratio, although 64-year-olds didn’t get any healthier overnight. I’m just concerned that these increased costs aren’t sustainable long-term, especially as our population ages.

GOP congressman: We stumbled into war over Obamacare — An anonymous GOP congressman lays out what happened to cause the fight over Obamacare and the ultimate federal government shutdown, showing that it was really caused by Harry Reid’s refusal to negotiate on anything offered on anything by Boehner.  While Boehner takes the blame in the press, the article seems to show that the real fight started because Reid was surprised by the strength of Ted Cruz’s campaign against Obamacare, and Reid in turn sought to embarrass Boehner before his GOP conference, ultimately leading both sides to dig in. The congressman makes a good analogy using the Battle of Gettysburg and how neither side intended to have a battle but instead stumbled into a pretty intense and historic moment.

Gulf states to introduce medical testing on travelers to ‘detect’ gay people and stop them from entering the country — I’m really curious what kind of medical test these Middle Eastern Gulf states are developing to detect homosexuality and how intrusive it is. Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) member countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – outlaw homosexual acts.  I’m surprised to learn that it’s illegal to be gay in 78 countries, with lesbianism banned in 49 countries. Even more, 5 countries will sentence gay people to the death penalty  – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and Mauritania. Since 1979, Iran has executed more than 4,000 people for committing homosexual acts. In Sudan, the death penalty is issued to men after their third offense, but women may be stoned after their first offense of a lesbian act, or if not, they’ll be given thousands of lashes. Mauritania will stone publicly anyone caught in an “unnatural act”.

Nuclear fusion milestone passed at US lab — This is a big deal. Nuclear fusion would revolutionize the energy industry, but it’s been elusive for so long. It’s great to hear that a US-based lab is leading the way in developing nuclear fusion technology.

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Daily Download: Sept. 12, 2013 (The Pope and atheists / “Boy World” / Mass hysteria from Facebook)

Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven – For a Pope, Pope Francis is really putting himself out there. In an open letter to founder of a newspaper, the Pope wrote:

“You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.

“Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

The response is being referred to as “him seeking to have a more meaningful dialogue with the world.” Even the party who asked the question noted that the Pope’s comments were “further evidence of his ability and desire to overcome barriers in dialogue with all.”  I don’t foresee other critics being so kind.

‘Boys Have Deep Emotional Lives’ — Rosalind Wiseman, writter of Queen Bees and Wannabes and Mean Girls has now tackled the world of boys with her latest book, Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World.  I have 3 boys, all of whom I’m trying to help develop into men of character and wisdom, physical and mental strength, who are closely connected with God, the people around them, and their world.  Here’s an interview with Wiseman about today’s world of boys (which seems much like the world of boys I knew back in my younger days).  It sounds like the book might be worth the read.

What Witchcraft Is Facebook? — Could Facebook cause events of mass hysteria much like the one attributed to Salem, Massachusetts during the witch trials? Could you “catch” a disease and really believe you have it simply because others are posting about it on Facebook? Sociologist Robert Bartholomew thinks it may already be happening and that we may soon see epidemics of physical symptoms (primarily in girls) where the contagion is actually a mass hysteria propogated by social media.

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Daily Download: August 29, 2013 (Will Smith wasn’t watching Miley, underrated sci-fi & shrimp boudin)

No, That Wasn’t Will Smith Reacting to Miley Cyrus — I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong.  The other day when the Miley Cyrus story broke, I posted the photo of Will Smith and his family that went viral.  I am guilty, along with lots of other people, of believing that just because Twitter says something it’s true, it must be.  That photo is a perfect case of how things can take on a life on their own on the Internet (and in the media) out of context but with the right tag line.  That photo was actually taken during Lady Gaga’s performance, and it’s actually just one of those moments where everyone in the family got a goofy look on their face all at the same time.  It’s not in response to Miley Cyrus or even anything specific.  The above link actually shows the video feed of what was going on alongside the video of the Smith family.  I hereby declare my error and announce this correction.  Sorry.

The improbable truth — Have you ever noticed that when Solomon comes to his conclusion at the end of the book of Ecclesiates in the Bible, it’s not with much fanfare?  He just makes his conclusive statement and moves on.  John Fischer has a knack for noticing these moments in Scripture and attempting to explain them.  Here’s a great real life take from John Fischer on the book of Ecclesiastes, its place in the canon of Scripture and what you can take very simply out of that moment.

What happens when the pastor of a megachurch loses his faith? — Peter Enns writes good blog titles that catch your eye.  This is one of them.  But the blog post is actually about a book that really sounds like it’s worth reading.  I’ve added it to my Amazon wishlist, so I wanted to share.

10 Websites that Teach Coding and More — I wrote about the value of teaching kids to code the other day.  Here’s another resource that 10 lists sites, paid and free, where you (or your kids) can learn to code.  Get to it.

The Five Underrated Sci-Fi Movie Masterpieces — I’m a fan of sci-fi movies.  I was intrigued to see what movies were listed in this “underrated” list.  I’ve only seen 1 of the five — “Gattaca” — and I’d agree that it was a really good movie you don’t hear much about.  I need to find the others to see what all the hubbub is all about.   I found several on Netflix, but I’ll probably have to watch them without my wife because they all sound somewhat ethereal and not very mainstream.

Seafood Boudin Recipe — I learned something new in the food world today.  I had no idea what “boudin” was or that people even make sausage from seafood.  Who knew?  I saw a reference to “shrimp boudin” on a menu, looked it up, and now I’m intrigued.  I stumbled upon the recipes linked here from Emeril Lagasse.  I probably won’t make it, but I need to try this stuff.

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Daily Download: August 27, 2013 (Teaching kids to code and schools quitting the healthy lunch program)

This 12-year-old kid learned to code on Codecademy, built 5 apps, and is speaking at SXSW — I’m all about kids learning to code as it’s a practical skill that can be used for fun or to make money in today’s marketplace, much like fixing cars was in an early day in American history. Several options are out there to learn to code, with two of the more popular options being Codeacademy and Treehouse. For a younger audience, teach the basics of computational logic through visual programming to grades 4-8 using the Tynker platform.  Also, in addition to its math and science educational content, Khan Academy has also delved into teaching the basics of computer science and programming.  The article linked above about Ethan Duggan and his apps that he has created also includes links to app-creation frameworks, including PhoneGap and Appgyver.  There are all kinds of ways to get codes into programming, but those are few to get things started.

Some school districts quit healthier lunch program — Over the past year and into this new school year, my kids have noticed the healthier fare in the school cafeteria and, while they continue to eat the school lunches, they are not thrilled with what they’re eating. My oldest, who is in sixth grade, is consistently unhappy about the lunch options, and he’s not a junk food kid by any means. I’ve encouraged him to start taking his lunch, and it’s interesting that the article says that children are stepping off lunch programs to opt out of the new menu.  And the macroeconomics of the decisions of multiple families to take their lunches has started eating into the finances of the school district lunch programs.  Beyond the economics, I hadn’t really thought about it, but there would also be a resultant educational effect on the kids who continue to opt for school lunch but don’t like the food and end up throwing it away:

“Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn’t eat,” said Catlin, Ill., Superintendent Gary Lewis, whose district saw a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch sales, translating to $30,000 lost under the program last year. “So you sit there and watch the kids, and you know they’re hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behavior and some lack of attentiveness.”

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Daily Download: August 22, 2013 (Ancient spices / Yahoo overtaking Google / consciousness & awareness)

6,100-year-old crock pot has earliest evidence of food spicing — The oldest evidence to date of humans spicing their food has been found in a Denmark and Germany. The spice is a garlic mustard seed, and the evidence shows that the seeds were finely crushed to create the flavoring. The researchers involved in the discovery actually reformulated the spice mix and tried it for themselves, and they said that it still tastes good.

Yahoo! Overtakes Google In US Web Traffic — How interesting! For the first time in over 2 years, Yahoo sites have had more pageviews than Google sites. Interestingly, that ranking doesn’t take into consideration search engine usage, which is dominated by Google, or mobile services, but it also doesn’t include traffic from Tumblr, which has huge pageviews and was recently acquired by Yahoo. From my own personal experience, Google killing off its Google Reader and Google Notebook and announcing that it’s killing off its iGoogle landing page are pushing people to other platforms for those services. And, if you haven’t noticed, I was using Google Blogger service for this blog, but yesterday I shifted it over to the WordPress service because Blogger has some idiosyncrasies that were driving me crazy. I love Google’s services, but their strategy and branding is odd right now.

How Consciousness Works — Excuse the pun, but this is truly mind-boggling information. Neuroscientist Michael Graziano walks through his theories of consciousness, attention and awareness. The basic concept is that we have a constantly updating model in our brains of ourselves and the world around us. The model of “ourselves” is consciousness and the model of “the world around us” is awareness. That model, like a military commander’s map of his battle units in relation to the enemy’s, is updating our relation to things and people around us, is attributing our response to those things (emotions, thought processes, whatever) but is also attributing perceived responses of the other things around us, such as our perceptions of what other people are feeling at the moment. And our brain is updating this model with a vast number of calculations about a vast number of objects at any given moment while also giving us the ability to zoom in and focus on certain specific elements, becoming more intimately and specifically aware of the things we’re focusing on at any given moment. He then rolls into theories of false awareness when you hear voices in your head or when someone believes a squirrel is in their head and how the brain process all such items. It’s an engrossing theory, and then the comments continue on in critiquing and discussion these concepts.

 

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Daily Download: August 21, 2013 (Paglia on Hillary / Apologetics deals / Birth of a star)

Camille Paglia: “It remains baffling how anyone would think that Hillary Clinton is our party’s best chance” — Camilla Paglia unloads on Hillary Clinton’s experience in an interview on Salon.com as she says it’s time to move on from baby boomer candidates and openly dreams of a 40something governor with actual executive experience to step into the fray of presidential politics and become the next hope of the Democratic party:

As a registered Democrat, I am praying for a credible presidential candidate to emerge from the younger tier of politicians in their late 40s. A governor with executive experience would be ideal. It’s time to put my baby-boom generation out to pasture! We’ve had our day and managed to muck up a hell of a lot. It remains baffling how anyone would think that Hillary Clinton (born the same year as me) is our party’s best chance. She has more sooty baggage than a 90-car freight train. And what exactly has she ever accomplished — beyond bullishly covering for her philandering husband? She’s certainly busy, busy and ever on the move — with the tunnel-vision workaholism of someone trying to blot out uncomfortable private thoughts.

I for one think it was a very big deal that our ambassador was murdered in Benghazi. In saying “I take responsibility” for it as secretary of state, Hillary should have resigned immediately. The weak response by the Obama administration to that tragedy has given a huge opening to Republicans in the next presidential election. The impression has been amply given that Benghazi was treated as a public relations matter to massage rather than as the major and outrageous attack on the U.S. that it was.

Throughout history, ambassadors have always been symbolic incarnations of the sovereignty of their nations and the dignity of their leaders. It’s even a key motif in “King Lear.” As far as I’m concerned, Hillary disqualified herself for the presidency in that fist-pounding moment at a congressional hearing when she said, “What difference does it make what we knew and when we knew it, Senator?” Democrats have got to shake off the Clinton albatross and find new blood.

20+ Apologetics Books on Kindle from $0.99 TO $2.99 — I’m into Christian apologetics, which is the study of the evidences, proofs and facts that support the Christian faith, and I even once started the process of getting a certificate in apologetics studies from Biola University, but then my life got crazy with having kids and running a business.  But, for those of you who are into apologetics as well, there are few things better than a good book to read.  This link is to a list of apologetics books you can get on your Kindle for cheap.  Have fun!

The birth of a star, captured in stunning photographic detail — Astronomers have captured photos of the development of a star called Herbig-Haro 46/47 that is located in the southern constellation of Vela, 1,400 light-years from Earth. The photos reveal massive jets of gas, such as carbon monoxide and ionized oxygen, shooting away from the forming star at speeds of up to about 621,000 mph. According to Hector Acre, an associate professor at Yale University who is studying this star formation, newly forming stars send out large jets of gas, even as they pull gas and other matter toward them in the process of their formation.

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Daily Download: August 16, 2013 (Scientology compound / suicide website / nifty maps / pool noodles)

Scientology’s ‘alien space cathedral and spaceship landing pad’ built in the New Mexico desert — This is cool!  Scientology apparently has a complex in New Mexico that includes a mile-long landing strip, purportedly for alien (or humas coming from space) landings, massive circles and diamonds etched in the ground to make sure the aliens (or humans returning to Earth after a nuclear catastrophe) can find the place, and a 3-story house built into a mountainside that supposedly has chambers and tunnels into the mountain for the safe keeping of L. Ron Hubbard’s writings.  That’s full blown sci fi movie material!  These Scientologists have great toys and parties and complexes!  Where do they come up with the money to do all of this and maintain it all?  My understanding of Scientology is that it’s very money-driven, but how many people have the cash to dump into their religion to build desert complexes like this and pay the staff to maintain them?  I wonder how much the custodian of this New Mexico complex gets paid to run a super-secret, end-times enclave.

Former Kansas City Star sports journalist creates website to explain his suicide — In what appears to be a first, someone has created an entire website to explain their suicide.  Sports journalist Martin Manley, who left the Kansas City Star in early 2012, killed himself Thursday on his 60th birthday in front of a police station.  Even more surreal than that, the website seems to point to a $200,000 treasure of his remaining gold and silver coins buried in an Overland Park, Kansas botanical garden, identified by GPS coordinates on his suicide website. Investigation has since shown the this treasure of coins was actually given away last year.  In the site, where he explains “Why suicide?” he notes that he doesn’t have any health issues driving the suicide, and under the “Health” link, he goes deep into his health history to show that he doesn’t have any major health issues.  But one report notes that he was “suffering from grapheme-color synesthesia and his mind was deteriorating rapidly”, although  he has a page about his synesthesia but doesn’t seem to have any concern about it beyond novelty.  I think the “mind was deteriorating rapidly” is actually a separate thought from the synesthesia discussion, as he discusses that he has memory problems but they don’t seem related to the synesthesia.  Regardless, the site he created to commemorate and explain his life and his ultimate suicide (there is also a mirror site — the site in general seems to have some issues and certain pages are inaccessible, and I can’t access a few of the pages on the main site or the mirror) has been prepaid for 5 years and is a pretty intriguing read, walking through his life story but also simply working through personal facts about himself that he finds worth remembering, even down to discussions of gun control, 9/11 conspiracies, his traffic ticket history, the benefits of living in Johnson County, Kansas and more.

Adverse possession (from Wikipedia) — I’m simply linking to the Wikipedia page on adverse possession because it’s a novel legal topic that I explained to a friend today.  It’s one of those things that you learn about early in law school in real property law, and when it’s explained to you, you ask, “Is that really legal?”  It’s essentially the idea that if you treat someone else’s property as yours and act like you own it for a continuous 10 year period, you can get a judge to enter an order that it’s now yours.  It lines up with the concept of “squatter’s rights”, but it’s actually something that’s come up quite a bit during my legal career.  There are several elements that must be fulfilled to have a successful claim for adverse possession and it can easily fall apart if you’re not diligent in pursuing your fake rights to property that isn’t yours.   The Wikipedia entry does a good job of walking through the particulars, but if you’re looking for a fun legal topic today to learn today, check out adverse possession.

40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World  — These maps are amazing.  They’re a great visual way to synthesize information and research from around the world.  I was enthralled.  Even cooler was the map of Pangea, the supercontinent made up of all other continents that was apparently  broken up by continental drift.  Back in third grade, I made the connection that the continents sure seemed like puzzle pieces, and this map is a concept of what it would look like with all the puzzle pieces put back together.

6 Silly But Clever Uses for Pool Noodles — As we start wrapping toward the end of summer, here is  a useful list of things you can do with pool noodles besides using them as pool noodles.  I like the floating drink barge idea.  But, beware, you’re going to have to cut up your pool noodles to make most of these work.

 

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Daily Download: August 15, 2013 (stunt jump death / food inspections / smart thermostats

Stunt jumper who parachuted into 2012 Olympics as James Bond has died in wing-diving accident — Stuntman Mark Sutton was killed in a jump while on location with the Swiss Alps, jumping as part of a group of the world’s top wing-diving pilots for an Epic TV event.  That’s really sad.  In wing-diving, the goal is to fly very close to the ground or a mountain side, and divers can reach speeds up to 125 mph in the process.  That’s amazing, but yes, it’s dangerous, too.  I wonder if someone’s created an iPhone game where you wing-dive.  Tiny Wings is like that, I guess.

Greene County, Missouri food inspections  — Waffle Houses — 2 of them —  top the restaurant inspections list this week with the North Glenstone store having 5 critical violations and 3 non-critical, while the East Sunshine store had 4 critical violations and 4 non-criticals.  Other big hitters on the multiple critical violations list this week are Ziggies North on North Glenstone (4 critical and 5 non-critical),  Lucy’s Chinese on East Sunshine (with 4 critical violations and 3 non-critical), Crosstown Barbecue on Division (with 3 critical and 4 non-critical) and La Hacienda on Glenstone (with 3 critical and 4 non-critical).  Also snagging multiple critical violations this week are Big Easy Grill on Sunshine, College Street Cafe, Heritage Cafeteria, Panera Bread on South National, and Steak ‘n Shake on South Glenstone.

Smart Thermostats  — I need to get a programmable thermostat at my house, and I’m intrigued by smart thermostats that are connected to your wifi, learn your temperature habits, and is controllable by your phone.  But, wow, they’re over $250!  I can get an old school 7-day programmable thermostat for about $50.  Or if I go fancy and go with a touchscreen, it’s about $65.  My friend says that a smart thermostat  “can be controlled by smartphone or laptop.  That’s nice.  On your way home from work you can turn it up or down so that it’s comfortable by the time you get home.”  Who does this?  I change my thermostat when we wake up, when we leave the house, when we get home, and when we go to bed.  Who are these people who are in constant phone contact with their thermostats, changing temperatures on the fly from their car or office?  Next, we’ll need to make sure there a Nest app for our Google Glasses so we don’t have to touch anything with our fingers to change our thermostats, making sure that we can always see the temperature in our houses on our Glasses display.  Or better yet, maybe I can just tell Siri to change my thermostat!  How fancy would that be?

 

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