The Travail of Canceling SugarSync: A How To.

[Update: 10/28/16 – Some international users of SugarSync have reported issues using the link I included in this post. Thanks to Bill & JN for an updated link that appears to work internationally as well: https://www.sugarsync.com/account/cancel]

I started with SugarSync many hears ago and I’ve been a paying customer since October 2009 and have been a fairly avid supporter of them.

Over the last year or so I’ve found myself moving away from SugarSync and towards Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. I decided to cancel SugarSync and assumed I’d be able to login to my account and quickly cancel…if only I were that fortunate!

One can upgrade one’s account via the website, but you can’t cancel it.

A Partial Snapshot of Plan Details in SugarSync
A Partial Snapshot of Plan Details in SugarSync

Okay, slightly annoying. So how do I cancel? There is no contact info. I can find on the main site but there is a “Contact Us” link in the footer of the support page – that seems hopeful…

Nope, just a mailing address and instructions to use the support site from which I found the Contact Us link.

Screenshot of Contact Info on SugarSync

Fine, lets try searching the help desk (okay, I actually did this before looking at the contact info., not sure why I record this out of order). Entering cancel into the search area returns a link to this article: “Canceling a Paid Account.”

Here is where things get really frustrating. Take a look at the screenshot below:

Screenshot of Cancel SugarSync Help Article
Screenshot of Cancel SugarSync Help Article

Notice anything? Let me highlight three items:

  1. The cancellation department is only open from 10 am to 2 pm (4 hrs.) Monday – Friday. What?!
  2. In step 2 one is directed to “Open this article” and provided with a link, this link leads back to the article you were already viewing.
  3. The screenshot with “Chat with Cancellation Department” button is really great, except for the fact that it doesn’t exist outside of those 4 hours each day! It isn’t greyed out, it simply doesn’t exist.

(Okay, let me rephrase that, there is a chat button down at the bottom but clicking on it outside of hours makes it disappear (and nothing else) AND the button is in a different location than where it is shown in their screenshot)

Great. I’ve now let several months go by, I am no longer using SugarSync but every time I remember to cancel it it is outside of the specified hours or I’m busy. Finally, today, I decided to give it another go.

I happened to notice when I was logged out of the site a phone number for sales questions (1-877-442-1693, there appear to be multiple versions of the homepage, the phone number only sometimes displays). The automated menu had an option for billing so I selected it and was soon speaking with a nice man who assured me he would help me. He put me on hold and then sent me an email which he asked me to check. I opened it and to my surprise saw that he was not going to cancel my account, instead he was just directing me back to the same window:

Screenshot of SugarSync Support Email
Screenshot of SugarSync Support Email

I reached a real person who was responding to billing questions but apparently couldn’t cancel my account.

I’ve typed out this email while waiting for SugarSync’s cancellation department to open for its very limited hours.

I finally got into a chat with a cancellation department representative. After all that they gave me a URL to visit to cancel my account: https://davidshq.sugarsync.com/account/cancel. My guess is that this URL will work for anyone just by changing the davidshq to whatever your SugarSync username is.

I’m also guessing that one can use this link 24/7/365 to cancel an account…but you might still want to go through their cancellation department as they could claim that it wasn’t properly cancelled, etc. and you might end up still being billed.

And thus ends the story of my travails canceling SugarSync (I hope).

What You Didn’t Know About Canceling Your Health Insurance Through Healthcare.gov

I recently moved into a new part-time position which then became a full-time position and thereupon provided benefits including health insurance. Up until that point Sheila and I had been being hit with fairly large insurance premiums every month, so I was quick to call the insurance provider and request cancellation.

I was surprised when they told me that I’d have to contact Healthcare.gov to cancel my policy. Annoying, but not the end of the world and my guess is it is an accountability measure to ensure that insurance companies don’t cancel policies of individuals without their consent.

I called Healthcare.gov (1-800-318-2596) and asked to cancel my plan effective the 19th of June. I was assured this would be done. Great! I figured I’d have a nice partial refund check sent to me in a few weeks time.

I did receive mail from the insurance company – but it wasn’t the check I had been expecting. Instead I received a bill for July’s premium.

I called Healthcare.gov back and was informed that there was a thirty-day period between when they received a cancellation and when they submitted it to the insurance company. I balked. Thirty days? This should happen (and technologically is feasible) instantaneously!

I pushed back a bit and when they stood firm I acquiesced on one condition – they provide me with documentation of the thirty-day period. At this point I was given a case worker and then I waited to hear anything. Eventually I did hear – they had rolled back my insurance cancellation date to June 30th. This meant I no longer owed the insurance company anything but also that I would not receive a refund.

Today I called in again and was told that there was a 14 day waiting period. That they were sorry I hadn’t been told this before I canceled.

I again request documentation for this new shorter period. They suggested there might be some on the website…I found it: Cancel your Marketplace plan.

I could have canceled 14 days before the actual date I wanted the cancellation to occur if I had known about this 14 day period. I’m sure this may have been tucked away in some long-winded legalese that I reviewed at some juncture or another. I’m not happy about it, but it is a real policy.

Screenshot of cancellation policy for Healthcare.gov
Here is a screenshot of the cancellation policy as found on Healthcare.gov

The reason I share all this is to hopefully help others avoid losing out on premium refunds or being billed after their desired cancellation date.

Vouch – A Nifty Idea for Lending

Technology has enabled a number of innovative financial technologies that provide advantages to the consumer – Bitcoin with its anonymity and ability to transfer funds without exchange fees, mobile check deposits supported by most major banks, peer-to-peer lending such as Prosper and The Lending Club offer, and the list goes on.

The official Vouch logo.
The official Vouch logo.

Recently I received an email from Credit Sesame advertising Vouch – a lender that gives one loans based on one’s network. In the past if you wanted to secure a loan but didn’t have a good credit history (or a history at all) you needed to find someone to co-sign on the loan (or pay exorbitantly high interest rates).

The biblical book of Proverbs warns against giving oneself to unwise pledges (or co-signs):

“My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
you have been trapped by what you said,
ensnared by the words of your mouth.
So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go–to the point of exhaustion–
and give your neighbor no rest!
Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.
Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the snare of the fowler.”
(Proverbs 6:1-5, NIV; see also 11:15, 17:18, and 22:26)

The danger in co-signing is that one essentially places one’s own well-being in the hands of another. If that other person defaults on the loan for any reason – you become responsible to pay it.

In this life there are few things we are truly in control of – part of the wisdom of life is recognizing what we can and cannot control. Vouching unwisely is something we can choose not to do.

Now vouch is a similar concept to co-signing, it just distributes the risk. Whereas previously if someone borrowed $5000 and you co-signed you would be liable for the entire $5000, with vouch you choose a level of liability – $25, $100, $500, etc.

Assuming you vouch only what is within your means to easily repay, the risk becomes fairly low. Most people can afford $25 out-of-pocket as a one-time expense, if necessary.

The idea behind vouch is to offer lower rates by essentially having numerous co-signers on a loan. I know they like the term vouch – its less scary than co-sign, but imho, it is co-signing, just distributed.

This idea is pretty spiffy, if you ask me (ohh, you didn’t? well, I guess I’ll just tell you anyways!), because it could open loans to a demographic (those with poor/no credit history) at affordable rates where there has traditionally been reasonable option available.

P2P is great if you have a good credit score – but it isn’t worth a hoot if you recently went through bankruptcy, a recession, etc.

Let me give a few examples of scenarios where I see Vouch being a valuable option:

  1. John lost his job in 2008 in the recession, over the next several years he built up $25,000 in credit card debt and his credit score declined as he had to sometimes delay paying a credit card bill to ensure his electric wasn’t turned off. At the moment he is paying 20% interest on this debt. He has recently secured a new job which pays well, has good benefits, and historically John has always been a faithful, hard worker – but his credit history is still horrible. John gets a number of friends and relatives to vouch (co-sign) $25-$100 for him and is able to refinance a significant amount of his debt through Vouch at 10% interest.
  2. Mary is heading off to college but needs an additional $2,000 to pay for her first semester. She has already taken available of all the grants and scholarships available and also the reasonably priced student loans. She now has a choice between taking out a loan from a lender who will charge her high interest due to her lack of a credit history, or she could use Vouch to allow a number of family members (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) to co-sign with her. Since her family knows she is responsible, they don’t mind “promising” to pay up $100 each if Mary should fail to meet her obligations. They know that Mary will not fail excluding some extraordinary circumstances.

This also makes sense for the lender. The lender is spreading their risk out. With a traditional co-sign loan one can pursue those who have signed the loan (say two to four people) to get back one’s money, but if these individuals are unable to pay, the lender is out of luck. Whereas with a system like Vouch one can spread the risk across dozens or hundreds of people – and statistically it is less likely that all will be unable/unwilling to pay (especially since it is a smaller amount) which means there is less risk for the lender of losing their investment.

This is a screenshot of the dashboard one is presented with after registering on the site.
This is a screenshot of the dashboard one is presented with after registering on the site.

I have not used  Vouch, I just think it is a neat idea. I’ve setup an account, it was fairly easy, and am waiting for them to reply to me with info. about what I would qualify for…and whether Vouch ends up being a great business or not, the solution is fairly ingenious and I hope it will take off.

Dear Spotify

I’ve been using Spotify for 2+ years now, it deserves a longevity award. It also deserves some sort of honor for being one of the few subscription services I dole out for on a monthly basis – placing it alongside Netflix – and everybody has Netflix.Spotify Client Apps

In spite of a number of other options, including from mega companies like Google and Amazon, I still prefer Spotify. It is entirely free if you don’t mind the ads and the premium account is $5/mo.

That said, I do have a few things I’d love for Spotify to incorporate:

  1. Tagging – Playlists are cool, they are like categories, but everyone knows that you need categories and tags (ala WordPress). I like creating playlists – but what if I want to listen to a song on a specific subject? Or what if the song is on multiple subjects? Yes, I can create multiple playlists – but this quickly becomes cumbersome.
  2. Listens – It would be great if Spotify displayed how many times one has listened to a song. I am an explorer – always trying out new bands, new albums – and oftentimes forgetting who I’ve listened to previously and which songs. If I could see how many times I’ve listened to the song it would allow me to more efficiently explore.
  3. Searching Artists, Songs, Albums – I’ve listened to a lot of artists and this list of artists (or songs or albums) can become overwhelming. Sometimes I know I want to listen to an artist that begins with some letter or word, but I can’t remember its name in its entirety, it would be great if I could search only what is in “Your Music.”
  4. Language / Topic Filters – I know that Spotify includes “explicit content” warnings on songs, but I’ve listened to far too many songs that had “explicit content” and weren’t marked as such. This becomes important when (a) one is playing the music in the presence of others who might find the content offensive, (b) one finds it offensive, or (c) one is allowing Spotify to post to one’s Facebook timeline and has an audience that includes individuals of young(er) age for whom such content might be inappropriate.
  5. Shazam Functionality – If I am listening to the radio in the car I still have to use Shazam to find out and save what song I’m listening to. Adding this functionality into Spotify’s mobile app would be huge…especially since Shazam now makes me integrate with Rdio.

Which of these features? Or what other features would you like to see in Spotify?

When is Good: Taking the Stress Out of Scheduling

Once upon a long time ago[1] I thought about[2] writing a review of Doodle, an online scheduling tool for simplifying the process of creating meets in which all participants can actually participate.

Recently I had the need to schedule another meeting with a group of individuals who have incredibly conflicting and variable schedules, so I decided to utilize such a scheduling tool again…and, of course, I went to Doodle first…

But I love to explore and curate and find the best way to do x and so I went through my semi-regular routine when evaluating something new I want to utilize[3]:

  1. Google relevant terms like “Doodle competitor,” “Doodle alternative,” “online scheduling tool,” “online meeting app,” and so on.
  2. Go to AlternativeTo and see what alternatives they had to Doodle.
  3. Visit a bunch of these options and review them in a hasty manner.[4]

I visited a number of options like Dudle, DO’ZZ, SelectTheDate, ScheduleOnce, and so on. For various reasons I didn’t settle on any of these…but then I returned to one of the sites I’d written off for aesthetic reasons (it ain’t very pretty): WhenIsGood. After playing around with it a bit I was quite happy and have been using it since.

Let me walk you through its pages and you’ll see how simple and fairly intuitive it is. First we have our dashboard (“your account”).

When is Good Dashboard Screenshot
When is Good Dashboard Screenshot

Its very simply – essentially you see a list of events you have created and you can view, edit, or delete the events. I assume that detach allows one to remove the event from your account (you can use this service w/out creating an account).

Somewhat hidden at the top right you see a link to create a new event. The enter results code is for those who create events w/out accounts – its a unique string that identifies their event and allows them to access it.

I’ve blacked out a few small areas – mainly b/c they had my email address…which is floating around the internet, but I decided not to make any more available than it already is. There are a billion and one ways to get in contact w/me.

Under the events I blacked out the actual links to the events, they are clickable and allow you to view the event.

Now lets say we decide to create a new event, here is what we will see:

When Is Good New Event Screenshot.
When Is Good New Event Screenshot.

It isn’t the most intuitive interface, but if you mess around for five minutes you can figure it out. Note that you can set the length of the meeting, give the event a name like, “My Super Awesome Surprise Birthday Party For Myself.” There is that strange little slider bar above the calendar, use this to make the size of the calendar (not how many days, just its dimensions on the screen) larger or smaller.

But there are really a few more options we need if we are going to create a helpful scheduling event, so we click on Show Options which shows us this:

When Is Good Show Options Screenshot
When Is Good Show Options Screenshot

That is better. Now we can select the days we want to have displayed on our calendar. In my case I was scheduling a recurring event, which When Is Good doesn’t seem to inherently have any options for, so I just chose a week in the future and let people pick off those days, knowing that the event would then recur on a weekly basis.

Now click Create Event and you are all set….Right? Nope. You’ll get an error message, you need to “paint” some time slots. You are the first visitor to your event even before it is created and you get to determine what days/times will even be an option to folks when they view the event. Once you’ve selected your desired days/times you can successfully create the event. You’ll be given a unique URL you can share with anyone else via  any method you choose (email, Facebook, Twitter, hand-written note, whatever). When someone visits this unique URL they will see this:

When Is Good Visitors Screenshot
When Is Good Visitors Screenshot

We could have customized the directions, as to me “painting” times is not very intuitive, I’d suggest something like, “Please click on each day/time slot you are available to attend.”

The individual wouldn’t see all the options I have at the top right, since in this screenshot I’m logged into my account, but at the bottom right they’d have a spot to enter their name and email and send the response.

Now we get to our last screen, the results screen:

When Is Good Results Screenshot
When Is Good Results Screenshot

Now I see the calendar I created with info. filled out by the individuals I invited to the event. The green highlighted spaces are the slots where all respondents are available (I told you, crazy schedules).

Next to each of the remaining time slots are little dots, the dots indicate how many individuals cannot attend at that day/time. If I put my mouse over a time slot it will show me who can/can’t come and if I put my mouse over a name (under responses on the left-hand side) it will show me all the slots they selected as available highlighted in green.

As you can see, it is a functional although not aesthetically pleasing tool. It isn’t entirely intuitive, but its simplicity makes it easiest enough to figure out with a few minutes stumbling around.

Why Not Doodle?

I decided not to use Doodle b/c of the pricing essentially. If you are a business or an organization that will frequently utilize online scheduling – go with Doodle, it has more features, the pricing is reasonable, and it is more aesthetically pleasing…but if this is just an occasional thing, When Is Good will do just fine.

Feedback for When Is Good

Here are a few unsolicited suggestions to the folks over at When Is Good to take their application to the next level:

  • Include dates on your What’s New page so we can tell if you have been working on the app recently.
  • Redesign the aesthetic layout, center the main screen elements, make new event stand out from the rest of the menu options.

Premium with When Is Good

When is Good does offer a premium version at $20/yr. which is around half of Doodle’s lowest paid plan. It adds a few more options, but nearly as many as Doodle. If I was you and willing to pay, I’d go with Doodle.

  1. [1]Okay…more like a few months or years.
  2. [2]But did not actually.
  3. [3]This isn’t normal for items I’ll be using once-off, but I plan on using the scheduling tool more frequently, and imho, it is a lot easier to get people using the tool you want from the get-go than to change to something new half-way…since it oftentimes takes dragging kicking and screaming individuals long distances to get them to use any such tool in the first place.
  4. [4]If I spent a decent amount of time on each site I’d spend my entire life reviewing these sorts of sites…which I don’t have time for…this means, that on occasion, I don’t always, always get the best tool…b/c a tool that I write-off early ends up being the best…Still, I like to think I usually find the best and almost always find a tool that is more than sufficient for my needs.

What You Didn’t Know About Your Local Library.

Growing up I went to a tiny local library. Its hours were sporadic and it sprawled over the first floor of an 1800’s residential home that had been retrofitted for that use. It was a very, very small library – but I loved it.

© Icyimage | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
© Icyimage | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

We’d make forays into Greenville to visit what became their much bigger library after they added a beautiful new addition and which also offered computers – which we could use to play games, etc. (I’m not sure the internet was an option for the first few years). Once in a while we’d even travel all the way down to Bethlehem to the monster library (which actually is decent sized, but not all that large).

Libraries where a second home for me. My mom would drop me off at one and I would stay for hours and hours. The library was a source of almost infinite knowledge – especially in those pre-internet days…and I loved knowledge.

I don’t go to libraries nearly as much these days – mainly because most of the information is now at my fingertips (and I don’t read fiction much)…but libraries aren’t relegated to irrelevance. They still house numerous books that provide deeper insights into a topic, they can get their hands on almost any book you could want (but don’t want to buy), and they offer a number of programs for children and adults – usually with an educational twist.

My local library is now the Langhorne branch. They’ve really done a beautiful job refurbishing the library – giving it a more coffeehouse/relaxing aesthetic. They have 10-20 computers that are available for public use and meeting rooms for special activities. Its a nice library – and if you want to make a trip out of the house – the library is an enjoyable (and free) place to go.

Ohh, and don’t forget about wireless internet access. Most libraries now offer free wireless internet access…and as the “Resources” page on the Bucks County Libraries’ website informs me – you can get access 24/7 by being just outside the library. Haha, this was kind of surprising – it sounds like they are inviting folks to come sit in the parking lot at all hours of the night? My guess is that in practicality, you might have a police officer visiting you one or more times during the night to see what you were up to…

In any case, what I really want to talk about is the digital resources that libraries make available. I can’t tell you exactly what resources are available at your library – but I will share with you some of the resources available through my library and I’d suggest that many (most?) libraries have similar offerings available…and they can be accessed directly from the comfort of your home (usually).

Magazines

Via Zinio my library offers access to a vast array of magazines in digital format. Here is a list of a few representative titles (but there are many, many more): AppleMagazine, Astronomy, Backpacker, Country Home, Bicycling, Billboard Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Car and Driver, Consumer Reports, Cosmopolitan, Discover, Elle, Esquire, Field & Stream, Forbes, Fortean Times, Harvard’s Business Review, Ladies Home Journal, Men’s Health, National Geographic, Newsweek, O, PC Gamer, PC Magazine, PCWorld, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Redbook, Rolling Stone, The Economist, Us Weekly…oh boy, excuse me while I go lose myself permanently in the vast amount of quality reading material available!

Auto Repair

The libraries offer a number of resources called the “POWER Library” – this is probably available at most Pennsylvania libraries. One of these resources is an “Auto Repair Reference Center.” This is a treasure trove of information. Look up your specific vehicle’s model and see detailed instructions with images of how to perform various repairs and maintenance on your vehicle – or watch videos that explain how different components of vehicles work! Need to get an idea of what a repair is going to cost you? This can help on that front as well.

eBooks and Audio Books

The selection is much more limited than is available in the physical library – but that doesn’t keep there from being some excellent options available – you can’t argue with the convenience of never having to leave your home, wait in a line, or worry about late fees.

You’ll find books by Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), John Grisham (the all-star of legal thrillers), Lee Child, George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Mitch Albom (The Five People You Meet in Heaven), J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame), and Ted Dekker (Christian thriller author) amongst the many fiction titles available.

And what about for us non-fiction buffs? How about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain, Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson, Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live (I recommend), Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body,  and so on.

Tutoring

Need help with a school subject? There is plenty of free tutoring available – including through Brainfuse – for K through College covering Science, English, Math, Social Studies, and Writing. Instead of guessing at your homework – or your child’s homework – here is a chance to improve your understanding and grades.

So Much More…

And there are all sorts of other resources as well as you can see here. Legal, research, film, continuing education. So go check out your local library’s website and see what vast resources have been sitting untapped at your fingertips!

Yes, My Toothbrushes Come in the Mail By Subscription.

Back in September 2013 I wrote about DollarShaveClub which delivers inexpensive and quality razors to your home on a recurring basis for an affordable subscription fee. Not surprisingly, others have jumped on the subscription bandwagon – one of them being ToothbrushSubscriptions – not quite as innovative a name as DollarShaveClub – but it gets the job done.

This is the Economy toothbrush from ToothbrushSubscriptions that I received today.
This is the Economy toothbrush from ToothbrushSubscriptions that I received today.

Do we really need a subscription program for our toothbrushes? Am I really too lazy to pick up a toothbrush at the grocery story? The answer to both is – no. I go grocery shopping semi-frequently, that is once every one or two weeks. I could pick up a toothbrush from the grocery store – but it is more convenient to have it delivered to my doorstep – and its not like I’m paying a premium for the service!

See, ToothbrushSubscriptions discovered a real niche. Everyone wants their toothbrush to be workable (yet oftentimes they get destroyed and we continue to use them b/c we forget to pick up another) and also cleanish (yet we oftentimes use them forever, forgetting to purchase another).

How often do we need to replace our toothbrushes? I don’t know…but every time I see those pictures of microscopic bacteria swarming all over everything, it makes me want to buy a new toothbrush. ToothbrushSubscriptions sends me one automatically every three months for $1 – flat. That means over a year’s time I receive four toothbrushes – which remind me to replace the one I have been using each time they arrive – and it costs me a grand total of $4.

Granted, I am using the Economy Toothbrush (their least expensive) and one could get a baby toothbrush for $2 or a luxury toothbrush for $3 or even the American Dental Association Approved Advantage toothbrush for $5. But even if you go all out and get the $5 ADA toothbrush, you still are spending $20 a year – not too shabby in the larger picture.[1] :P[/ref]

This is the ADA approved toothbrush from ToothbrushSubscriptions I'm throwing away.
This is the ADA approved toothbrush from ToothbrushSubscriptions I’m throwing away.

The packaging is pretty primitive – not nearly as attractive as DollarShaveClubs’ packaging. Maybe that is why its DollarShaveClub and ToothbrushSubscriptions – but I expect with time and growth the packaging will improve.

There isn’t the same humor either – you won’t find funny YouTube videos and you don’t receive humorous business type cards in most packages…but hey, its toothbrushes and there is less margin on toothbrushes (I’d imagine) than on razors.

Now the site isn’t amazing either. For the life of me I can’t figure out how to login to my account. I can create an account (I did) but where is the login page?!? I don’t know. Hopefully this will be remedied soon – it is a simple fix, adding a link to the page (which I am sure exists, I just don’t know where).

I’d also like to see ToothbrushSubscriptions diversify their product portfolio – I’d love to get my toothpaste and floss shipped directly to me. They do carry floss – but its the old-fashioned string kind instead of the new plastic disposables which are so much easier to use. They could also add mouthwash – that’d be nice – but I know its a liquid and a bit more difficult to mail.

Where ToothbrushSubscriptions could run into problems is if DollarShaveClub decides to diversify its portfolio to include toothbrushes – and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. That said, as loon as ToothbrushSubscriptions offers a reasonable price, a reasonable product, and reasonable service – I wouldn’t see any need to switch over to DollarShaveClub for my toothbrushes even if they began offering them.

So, go check them out.

  1. [2]
  2. [1]How could you ever justify spending $60 yearly on toothbrushes, Dave? First off, I don’t. Secondly, I don’t have cable – so there.[2]Aka, I can buy my gadgets with the money most folks spend on their cable bills!

How Good is Dr. Amen’s BrainFitLife?

Introduction

I’m a fan of Dr. Daniel Amen. I’ve read several of his books and think his ideas about SPECT scans fascinating – if controversial. I appreciate the way he tries to determine exactly what is causing specific mental conditions to refine treatment methods and also his use of non-medicinal and alternative medicine options for treatment.

In a recent email newsletter there was something about his Brain Life Fit program – I wish I had kept the email. It sounded like a new and revolutionary program for brain health – and I wanted to try it (of course).

I’m already a paying Lumosity customer – but I respect Dr. Amen’s work and it sounded like a much more comprehensive program than what Dr. Amen offered. Here are my observations on Brain Fit Life, especially in comparison to Lumosity.

BrainFitLife compares itself to Lumosity, CogniFit, and FitBrains - thinks it is the best. Is it?
BrainFitLife compares itself to Lumosity, CogniFit, and FitBrains – thinks it is the best. Is it?

Complicated Sign Up

The process started off easily enjoy, I clicked Join Now on the BrainFitLife site, but was soon transferred over to the MindWorks store on the Amen Clinics site. If I didn’t already have an account with MindWorks (I did) I would have had to create one. I had to order BrainFitLife through the MindWorks store.

Once I completed the purchase I received an email with a link to setup my BrainFitLife account. This account uses a separate username and password from the MindWorks account – so for anyone who is totally new to Amen Clinics, you have to setup two accounts just to get started.

Inferior Design

I really wanted to like BrainFitLife, but I’m afraid there is more bad news. During the signup process there are several places where one is invited to click on a link but no link exists. Further there are a number of grammatical and spelling errors – this does not represent the level of professionalism I expect from an organization as prestigious as the Amen Clinics.

The Dashboard

BrainFitLife’s Dashboard is called (confusingly) “My Homepage Journal.” It is somewhat aesthetically pleasing (the My Anchor Images ruins it for me) but is overwhelming with the number of icons. On the left-hand side one can choose from different sections of the site – and to the right are icons for tracking various aspects of your health. All of these icons are designed using the same basic pattern and colors – this makes it confusing whether the icons on the left are for different functions than the icons on the right (they are).

Assess My Brain

That is okay though – if the content is really good I can plod through a complicated sign up process, inferior design, and a confusing dashboard. Let’s try Assessing My Brain. This is where the site stands out a little – it allows you to take an assessment which then tells you what sort of brain it thinks you have – based on Dr. Amen’s methodology (see his books to understand more about this methodology). I have a “Impulsive, Compulsive, Sad, Anxious” brain – boy, doesn’t that sound cheerful and optimistic?

The Assessment also looks at brain health (e.g. memory, focus, impulse control) and then generates a customized plan based on your specific brain type, strengths, and weaknesses.

It gives you a list of recommended brain training games, recommended exercises, and recommended supplements. That is pretty nifty. In comparison, Lumosity doesn’t offer an analysis of your brain type – they are focused solely on strengths/weaknesses of your brain – not mental illness. Lumosity also doesn’t offer recommendations of exercises or supplements.

Design Issue:

  • If you click on a recommended game it takes you to the games page – a list of games – but not to the specific game you clicked on.

Know My Motivation

In the Know My Motivation section I can add “anchor images” – visual reminders of what matters to me. These are the images that show up on the dashboard I mentioned previously. Its a nifty idea – though the implementation on the dashboard is sub-optimal. Images can be much more powerful than words.

Then there are a number of forms to fill out, “5 Results from Being Healthy,” “5 Results from Being Unhealthy,” “5 People or Places that Support Being Healthy,” “5 People or Places that Support an Unhealthy Life,” and “Future of My Life.” This is a good process to work through – what matters, why it matters, what helps/hurts, and what we want out of life – but the presentation is quite simplistic and not much of a value-add. You can find pen and paper worksheets that provide similar processes and Simpleology offers a better implementation of the goals concept.

There is another “tab” called “One Page Miracle” – sounds pretty awesome…but it is basically another pen and paper form that talks about different life areas – children, grandchildren, significant other, other family members, brain, physical, spirituality, interest, work, finances, and friends. Hope you read the instructions at some earlier point – b/c there aren’t any now! Gahh! Once again, very simple functionality. I’d like to see Simpleology implement something similar.

Know My Numbers

In this section Dr. Amen suggests that you should know a number of values regarding your body and have them regularly updated – this is something he talks about in his books as well. I think it is a great idea – but he doesn’t say how to accomplish this. I would recommend WellnessFX and think a partnership with them would make great sense for Dr. Amen.

They make it simple and affordable to get your blood drawn and tested almost anywhere in the United States. They provide results and analysis via a web-based interface and also can provide personalized, live coaching regarding your results and recommended changes in your regimen.

They also track almost all of these “numbers” automatically – so why waste time reentering them?

I’d love to see Lumosity integrate with WellnessFX as well and provide charting of how these numbers correlate with brain performance.

Train My Brain

Ack! This page hurts my eyes! I recommend the designers go take a look at Lumosity’s site, it is so much more aesthetically pleasing…but I can overcome aesthetic issues if the product is good enough, how are the train my brain games?

Hmmm…Inferior. Well, at least they feel inferior. They are not as refined as Lumosity’s games, there isn’t as much explanation as to how the game helps your brain, and honestly, I have high doubts about the effectiveness of some of the games. With Lumosity you can feel your brain stretching – with some of these games (e.g. shooting a target with an arrow and adjusting for wind issues) I have a hard time believing it is doing anything for my brain health.

Another example is one of the thoughts for training your mind to think more positively. It shows up bubbles with words in them – some words are positive, others are negative – you are supposed to click on the positive ones and let the negative ones fall…I really can’t see this beign a big help.

They do have “games” in several areas that Lumosity does not – and these are interesting, though their functionality can be reproduced by other web applications and processes – many freely available. For example they have games whereby one can engage in relaxation techniques, but you could also use the free Calm.com service.

Grammatical Issues:

  • “the more the use it”
  • “selected for just for you and play one now”

Design Issues:

  • Once a game has completed your only option is to play again – there should be an exit option.

  • The names of the games are extremely uncreative, “e-Think Focus” or “e-Motion Faces.” Yes, everything is electronic – I am running this on a computer – which is electronic. I mean, e-Motion faces is a little cute, but all the games I looked at are practically name in this same exact manner – and most don’t have the cute factor – e.g. e-Think Focus – nothing cute or really informative there.

  • There are images associated with each game – they are clickable, but clicking on them does nothing. You have to click a separate button underneath the game to play it or learn more about it.

Train My Body

But there is more! Maybe the Train My Body section will set Lumosity in it’s place? I mean, Lumosity doesn’t have anything for physical training. Unfortunately, no.

This section has a few links to PDF articles with basic exercise instructions and a few blog articles. I wasn’t impressed.

Then there is the “Workout Log/Plan” – which really seems to be a workout log, not a workout plan. As far as I can tell you can set up a “plan” for a single day – but have to recreate the plan every following day – and can’t set up future days in advance.

The workout log is fairly basic. I’d recommend Noom as a free alternative that runs on your smartphone or, if you want to invest a few bucks, get a Fitbit – its workout tracking is pretty sweet.

Change My Thoughts

A basic method of reprogramming one’s brain to be more optimistic/positive is recognizing and countering Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). This portion of the site provides a very basic, simple workflow that takes you through the process of identifying your ANT, choosing a response to the ANT, etc. Again, can be replicated very easily with pen and paper. If I’m trying to help someone get the most bang for their buck, I’d much rather that they bought David Burn’s Feeling Good which provides a self-help manual of sorts based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with lots of helpful worksheets.

Design Issue:

  • The tool returns results like, “Guilt is generally not a helpful emotion. It often backfires and can be counterproductive to your goals. The problem is that when we feel pushed or guilted into doing things our natural tendency is to push back. It?s better to replace ?guilt beating? with phrases like ?I want to do this,? or, ?It fits with my goals to do that. ?” This occurs when one uses an unsupported font and is a rookie design mistake. If the correct font is used these question marks should appear as single or double quotation marks.

Take My Supplements

I like that Dr. Amen recommends supplements for me. I can figure out what supplements I should be taking using his book – but that is a bit complex and time consuming. The web application does it all for me.

Let’s see what Dr. Amen recommends for me:

Supplement

Price for One Month Supply

Components

Everyday Stress Relief

$50.95

Magnesium 30 mg, Relora 750 mg, L-Theanine 200 mg, Holy Basil Extract 600 mg[1]

Focus and Energy Optimizer

$39.95

Green Tea 600 mg, Ashwagandha 250 mg, Rhodiola Rosea Extract 200 mg, Panax Ginseng Extract 200 mg, Choline 55 mg[2]

Omega 3 Power

$24.95

Total Omega-3 Fatty Acids 1600 mg, EPA 850 mg, DHA 575 mg, Other 175 mg

NeuroVite Plus

$49.95

Vitamin A 5000 IU, C 200 mg, D-3 2000 IU, E 70 IU, K-2 45 mcg, B1 15 mg, B2 17 mg, B3 50 mg, B5 50 mg, B6 20 mg, Folic Acid 400 mcg, B12 500 mcg, Calcium 50 mg, Iodine 75 mcg, Magnesium 50 mg, Zinc 7.5 mg, Selenium 200 mcg, Copper 1 mg, Manganese 5 mg, Chromium 200 mcg, Molybdenum 50 mcg, Biotin 300 mcg, Choline 55 mg, Vanadium 25 mcg, Lycopene 3 mg, Lutein 3 mg, Quercetin 30 mg, Choline Bitartrate 55 mg, Broccoli Sprout Powder 50 mg, Hesperidin Complex 20 mg, Trans-Resveratrol 10 mg, Pterostilbene 20 mcg, Proprietary Fruit and Vegetable Blend 140 mg, Proprietary Brain Boosting Blend 575 mg, Full Spectrum Digestive Enzyme Blend 30 mg.

Vitamin D

$9.95[3]

Vitamin D-3 1000 IU.

SAMe Mood & Movement

$34.95

S-Adenosylmethionine 200 mg.

Serotonin Mood Support

$44.95

Vitamin B6 20 mg, Inositol 1000 mg, Saffron Extract 176.5 mg, 5-Hydroxytryptophan 100 mg.

Total Cost:

$255.65

$217.03 (after 15% BrainFitLife member discount)

 

Ouch! That is a lot of money! Over $200/mo. on vitamins? Well, you can’t put a price on health – right? What if the health you get is way more expensive than similar health someone else gets? Hmmm…I don’t like that. It seems to me there is a pretty huge markup on these vitamins.

Lets take a look at just one example – the Omega-3 supplement. It costs $24.95/mo. through MindWorks. I use Coromega, which is a tasty, yogurt-like ketchup-sized packet and pay $25.09 for a three month supply (wow, three months for the same price as one of Dr. Amen’s Omega-3?!).

But what about the ingredients? Here is a comparison:

Ingredient:

Total Omega-3 Fatty Acids

EPA

DHA

Other

Dr. Amen:

1600 mg

850 mg

575 mg

175 mg

Coromega:

2000 mg

350 mg

230 mg

650 mg

So, Dr. Amen’s are more potent – but if I take two Coromega per day, I still end up getting 1.5 months supply to every 1 months supply of Dr. Amen’s – and personally, I think Coromega’s form has better absorption than pills and doesn’t cause fish burps (and actually tastes good!).

I appreciate the breakdown of recommended supplements – but I can’t see myself buying them through MindWorks.

Eat Right to Think Right

Once again, not very impressed. Some blog articles and videos. All the blog articles and videos appear to be freely available via the BrainFitLife – so a subscription isn’t needed.

But there is a Meal Planner – errr, make that a meal logger? I don’t really see how it helps me plan meals (at least not more than a day in advance). It also has an incredibly small “library” or foods. I’d recommend Noom or Fitbit over this Meal Logger any day.

They do have a number of healthy recipes – and that is cool – and they include nutritional values – which is even cooler – but they are also freely available via the blog. The formatting of the recipes is nice – includes instructions, nutritional values, ingredients, and an appetizing photo of said food.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to hide steps you’ve completed – for example, there is a “Meet Tana Your Nutrition Coach” which once clicked leads you to a blog article. Great – now I know Tana – but I really don’t need to see a link to getting to know her every time I visit Eat to Think Right.

One other annoyance is that the blog posts reference all sorts of studies but then don’t provide any citation information. I don’t doubt that what Dr. Amen and Tana Amen are saying is true – but I’d like to know what the original studies/sources are so I can read up on the topic further!

Grammatical and Spelling Issues:

Design Issues:

Soothe My Stress

The Soothe My Stress section includes a few games – for example ones that help you practice relaxation techniques. This is one of the more unique and impressive areas of BrainFitLife – but not nearly enough to convince me to pay up. It also contains a number of meditative/hypnotic audio videos – but you can find similar videos across the web for free (see, e.g. Calm.com).

Break My Barriers, Cravings and Addictions

Ooh, I want to see what this section contains! I have an addictive personality – I’ve struggled all my life with sugar consumption, sometimes binge on TV, etc. There are three short videos – less than 20 minutes combined – and that is it. Bummer.

Get Better Together

There is a community aspect to the site – but I’m not sure what software they are using to power it, but it seems pretty basic. It allows for status updates, forums, live chats, and calendaring – but I don’t see notification options or other essential features.

On the positive side, there are live coaches who monitor the site and perform regular live coaching sessions…I’ve never been too big on them though.

Trackers

Trackers are cool. They let you track all sorts of things – mood, sleep, focus, energy, anxiety, cravings, memory, motivation, and so on. The implementation on BrainFitLife is fairly basic. If you have a Fitbit, it includes much more robust tracking…or you can try a free service like Trackthisfor.me. MedHelp also had fairly robust tracking tools for free. I do like the idea behind the “gratitude” tracker – which is a little different in that one doesn’t just keep track of numeric values but actual items one is thankful for.

Other Observations

  • There are a number of videos featuring Dr. Amen throughout, these are neat and informative and short (which I like) but the videos are poor quality (the way they were resized causes rough edges on whatever is on the screen – e.g. Dr. Amen). Dr. Amen is very expressive in the videos (lots of hand motions) – a little more expressive than I’d suggest, but to each his own.

  • There is a very simple but helpful help overlay when you first login…unfortunately if you click on Get Help later you get that same basic overlay – at least if you click on it on the Dashboard page. On some other pages (e.g. Change My Thoughts), clicking on it does nothing but reload the page.

  • It is neat that they have an option to receive SMS (text message) reminders at specific times to remind you to do certain tasks (e.g. update trackers, take supplements).

  • The “Manage My Account” link takes you out of BrainFitLife and back to MindWorks which is annoying.

  • In some places under Quick Links there are two “My Brain Type” links – they lead to separate places but share the same name – quite confusing.

Pricing

BrainFitLife is too expensive ($8.25/mo.) for what it offers. It claims this is a reduced rate from the normal $29.95/mo. – which is either a price they never plan to charge (but makes it look like a must-get-now value) or it is an outrageous charge.

Conclusion

BrainFitLife is a great idea, but a poor implementation. Lumosity is a definite keeper.

I don’t know why this happens but I notice that oftentimes as an organization/personality grows bigger the quality of the product decreases. I’ve felt similarly about some of John Maxwell’s materials. I’m not sure if it is the need to turn out a constant line of new products/services to keep income flowing, too little time, too wide spread of a focus, or what – but I hate to see it. One ends up with a lot of half-baked products/services from someone folks trust to provide them only with the best. This is a real bummer – I’d encourage folks to do less better.

I hope Dr. Amen will take this as constructive criticism and ramp up his endeavors with BrainFitLife. It has real potential – but it isn’t there yet. I’d suggest expanding the development and design teams and acquiring some other businesses or at least partnering with them to integrate their functionality. I mentioned some great places to start – e.g. WellnessFX, Noom, Fitbit, Simpleology, Trackthisfor.me, and even Lumosity!

  1. [1]Now Foods True Calm Amino Relaxer has Niacin 45 mg, Vitamin B-6 8 mg, Magnesium 13 mg, GABA 200 mg, Glycine 200 mg, Taurine 200 mg, Inositol 100 mg, Valerian 25 mg. It includes three months supply and costs $8.04 on Amazon. Now Foods offers a Holy Basil Extract product with three months supply at 500 mg for $12.07 on Amazon. A four month supply of Relora from Now Foods on Amazon is $18.90 with each capsule containing 300 mg. Finally, a two month supply of L-Theanine from the same on Amazon is $16.46 and has 200 mg per capsule. I’m not going to spend the time doing the math – but it should be pretty evident that this supplement seems exorbitantly more expensive than a similar mix from retail.
  2. [2]NOW Foods has Green Tea Extract, 250 pills, for $12.99; Ashwagandha, 90 pills, with 450 mg, for $11.46; Rhodiola, 60 pills, 500 mg, for $9.99; Panax Ginseng, 250 pills, 500 mg, for $18.02. You get the idea.
  3. [3]This is for 100 tablets.

Postable Expands to Holiday Cards

I wrote a while back about a nifty new company (Postable) that offered beautiful and humorous thank you cards at reasonable prices – which they mailed directly to your desired recipient with your message printed in a handwritten font (which was difficult, but not impossible to distinguish from real handwriting).

Recently I received an email from Postable informing me that they had significantly expanded their product line. From only carrying generic thank you cards they’ve expanded into specific niches – baby, graduation, and religious. They’ve also added holiday cards (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Groundhog Day (?!), Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, New Year, and Valentine’s Day), and cards for everyday occasions (congratulations, get well, birthday, moving, apologies). Wow! Now I don’t ever have to write a card again!

Okay, so maybe I’ll still need to write some cards – but point is – this is pretty exciting. In the email I received Postable provided a 20% off coupon for Valentine’s Day cards. The coupon code is LUVCARDS.

Now guys, I may be a dunce when it comes to being romantic – but even I know that one of the quickest ways to end up in the dog house is to give that special someone a printed Valentine’s Day card (errr…make that any card!)…So use this for those you care about – but don’t blame me if you find yourself in hot water if you choose to give a printed Valentine’s Day card to her.

Here are a few of my favorites designs for Valentine’s Day from Postable’s site (my horribly corny sense of humor may surface…):

 

Love Note by Silas Tom.
Love Note by Silas Tom. Haha. Get it? I’m drawn to you.
I'm Head Over Heels by Old Tom Foolery
I’m Head Over Heels by Old Tom Foolery

 

I Would Get Really Hurt for You by Postable
I Would Get Really Hurt for You by Postable
I Want You Luchador by Viva Greetings
I Want You Luchador by Viva Greetings. This is the sort of card I would give to male friends…I think it is the first Valentine’s Day card I’ve ever thought I would give to a male friend…Giving it to a female would probably end in incarceration.
I Love You by Old Tom Foolery
I Love You by Old Tom Foolery
Be Mine by Old Tom Foolery
Be Mine by Old Tom Foolery. This must have been made with Overly Attached Girlfriend in mind.
A Dozen Roses Just For You by Postable
A Dozen Roses Just For You by Postable. I don’t know who half of these people are – but I thought it was funny…especially giving away Pete and Charlie Rose!