The $5 Challenge

I found $5 blowing past me while walking down Clement street. No one was chasing it, so it was mine. I was so inspired, I came up with the $5 challenge. I’m going to track this $5 and see how much I can make out of it by buying and flipping things. Of course, the actual spend went on a credit card, and this inspirational runaway bill is being saved for posterity, but you get the picture. Here’s a picture. Of the actual $5 bill I found

My first transaction was these two Bodum Yohki glass storage containers (68 oz) for $1.99 each

and this vintage red Dymo labeller for $0.99

I’ve posted them for sale, and we’ll see where this goes.

Total spent: $4.97
Total earned: $0.00
Total remaining: $0.03

Feel free to join me with your own $5 challenge if it would amuse you.

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Maximize Discover Cashback Redemptions

I read, with interest, about the possibility of getting more than the cash value of your cashback from Discover from Miles Per Day. The method mentioned by his readers involves being a bulk seller on a certain exchange though, and I’ve just started in the world of MS about a month ago, so I’m not quite there yet.

I’ve found a method that is maybe even more lucrative. It’s more complicated and less instant though. But if you have patience, you don’t need bulk seller status. Discover Cashback also has $50 Overstock e-gift cards available for $45. Okay, so you’re looking at Giftcardwiki and seeing that you only get 75% and you paid 90%. But wait! There’s more.


You can sell these on Raise very easily for $49.50 — I’ve even made sales for the full $50. The downside is that Raise takes 15% of the sale price. So, at a sale price of $49.50, you’re getting $42.08. Okay, still losing money. But wait! Here comes the fun.


If you click through TopCashBack before you sell on Raise, they’re offering $10 cash back on gift cards listed for sale with value of $50 or more.

The math

$45 for $50 Overstock gc from Discover Cashback = -$45
$42.08 paid by Raise for selling Overstock gc for $49.50 = -$2.92
$10 paid by TopCashBack for listing gc of $50+ value = $7.08

Overall, you’re making $7.08 extra for each $45 redeemed in the Discover Cashback store. That’s about 15% more than if you took the cash. If you had $1000 in Discover Cashback to spend, you’d end up with $1150 instead. The downside is that it takes Raise about 5 weeks to pay out, and it may take a couple of weeks for your gift cards to sell on Raise. If you’re not in any hurry, this is very little extra work for a 15% boost to your bottom line!

These are my referral links for Raise and TopCashBack. Of course, you’re not at all obligated to use them, but I’m grateful if you choose to:

Raise ($5 off your first purchase)
Discover IT card application ($50 bonus cashback with first purchase)

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Cefalu and Isola di Ortigia

This is a the balcony of our rental near Palermo. Having meals with fat bumble bees and watercolor sunsets made me want to stay forever.

We took a day trip to Cefalu

There was a defense wall along the sea, and a path along it just on the water’s edge

Everyone wanted their picture beneath these arches

The old aqueduct system was accessible and the water, freezing cold. Refreshing!

Sort of attached to Syracuse is a small island called Ortigia.

On the recommendation of our host, we sought out the sandwiches made of smoked mozzarella. I watched in doubt as he made the sandwich: sun-dried tomatoes, prosciutto, smoked fresh mozzarella, then thin sliced lemon — with the rind, olives, mushrooms and mystery sauce. I shouldn’t've worried though. Best sandwich ever.

The magic of this island is that there are basically no cars. Just Vespas

And a beautiful old square

At night, one of the restaurants filled the night with old white people music, the pleasant kind: Frank Sinatra.

At one end, there was a fortress. Too bad, it was closed by the time we got there. So I peeked through the gate to get this pic

I was negligent and didn’t get pictures of our pizza from Mario’s pizza. We were proud of ourselves for eating at a place that wasn’t at all popular with tourists. And it was cheap. About 5 euros for the whole meal.

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Buy Yerdle Credits

Yerdle sells credits in-app, if you haven’t earned enough from giving away your things to get the things you want, but they sell at a rate of $1 = 1YRD (Yerdle Reuse Dollar). I’m offering you a better deal. $1 = 5YRD. That’s right — so if you want to buy $20 worth of Yerdle credits, you will get 100YRD.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Go to your Yerdle account and post a random item from your home with no description and the title “RESERVED”. Make the price the number of Yerdle credits you want to buy from me. So if you want to buy 100YRD, make the price 100. Be sure to make the post “Pickup only” by disabling the shipping option.

2. Pay for your Yerdle credits through Paypal:

Yerdle credits, Price

3. Be sure to include with your payment that has a link to the item you posted for me. I will buy your item and mark as received as soon as payment clears.

Not ready to buy? That’s ok. I’m feeling nice so here’s 25 free Yerdle credits:

PUZZLES (worth 5 credits)
ProPageLove (worth 15 credits)
MAMMAMIA (worth 5 credits)

See? I just gave you 25 YRD for free. Think of me when you’re considering buying Yerdle credits on an item you can’t quite afford.

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Mystery Shopping

Note: this post contains affiliate links, and while I greatly appreciate it if you use them, you are not at all obligated to do so. Thank you for reading!

One idea for a job that comes close to an Ideal Job is mystery shopping. Here, I’ll review a couple of companies that I’ve worked for.

Ace Mystery Shopping

payment frequency: monthly via Dwolla 

Ace jobs are mostly of the “menu audit” variety. They pay $7-$14 for you to visit a cafe or casual dining restaurant and take pictures of all the menus and food items available. Highly recommended if you have errands to run nearby, or if you can do several in one go. The shops are extremely quick — snap a few photos, upload them to the Ace website, and you’re done! No purchase or conversation or evaluation needed. Payments are issued around the 20th of the month for the shops you completed the previous month.


payment frequency: per job within a week of completion via check

Bestmark jobs are more involved. You usually have to visit a business, make a purchase and review the customer service received. But for the added trouble, you are usually paid more and/or reimbursed for expenses. For example, you could be paid $45 to go to one store and shop in 3 different departments. The best opportunity with Bestmark is free auto service. There are shops where you bring your car in for an oil change or tire replacement, and you get paid $20-50 on top of being reimbursed for the actual service. Other opportunities include restaurants, hotel stays, even events like the symphony or opera.

Goodwin Hospitality

payment frequency: 60-90 days after shop completion, via PayPal

Goodwin shops are mostly quick service restaurant shops, and the pay is enough to cover your required order, but not much else. Sometimes there are bonuses so you might expect to make $10 on top of your reimbursement, but that’s still not much when compared to other companies and also in light of the detailed feedback you are required to give. I would recommend Goodwin only if you like the restaurants or were planning to eat there anyway — think of it as a free meal in exchange for feedback.


This is an app and website through which you can access jobs from multiple mystery shopping companies. Payment frequency will vary, but it’s neat to be able to access dozens of companies from one website. I’m hoping this becomes more popular with the mystery shopping companies so that one day we’ll only have to go through one website.

I’ve signed up with a few other companies, but I don’t have experience with them yet, so I’ll update this post as I learn more about each company.

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Palermo and Monreale

Besides the general splendor…

And the total randomness…

(because, why not?)

(gives new meaning to the nickname “bread van”)

There’s also the food. In particular, arancini!

Not oranges, but deep fried rice balls with various savory fillings. Like bbq ribs (the Americana, of course). In Sicily, they’re really orange-sized, not like the sad meatball-sized ones you see here at Italian restaurants here.

We went to a market in search of street food and found this meat stand. Makes me think of my friend Ben, an avid carnivore.

We tried the intestine. It was shockingly delicious. So good that I kept trying to repeat the experience, looking for it in supermarkets and at roadside stands.

We also tried the octopus. Delicious, but probably even better grilled.

(Here he is before the chopping)

We took a side trip to Monreale, which is perched so high over the sea. And full of sleepy dogs.

It was one of the hottest days on our trip. Which meant dessert for lunch. Sicily is famous for the cannoli, as mentioned in the Godfather movies. With good reason. The filling is like a fluffy cream cheese, and its slight saltiness balances the rest of the sweetness well. Loved the candied orange rind.

This is called a brioche. Basically, it’s an ice cream sandwich. But with real bread.

I’ll leave you here with a nice memory from the beach near the place we stayed. There were a couple of feral dogs who decided they were our guards. They didn’t want food and they didn’t come close enough for pets, but they stayed by us all afternoon, one on either side. Just napping.

That thing back there is a “Singbox” — it’s a karaoke machine that (I think) actually grades you. Someone blasted Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and nailed it.

Here’s the sunset from up in the hills

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My ideal job

When I left my job as a software engineer, I tried to figure out what I really wanted in a job. There were a few options that seemed ideal, but don’t exactly have websites with giant “APPLY NOW!” buttons. You know, things like getting paid $10,000-$50,000 to tweet, or getting paid to travel and write about it.

But since those jobs are hard to find, I started thinking about the components of those jobs that make them attractive. Here they are:

Rewards efficiency

At my old job, being efficient meant you got more work. Even if you had a set number of tasks assigned at the beginning of the week, finishing them didn’t mean you could have the rest of the week as paid vacation. There was no incentive to work efficiently, besides that maybe after doing this for months or years, someone might notice and give you a raise. That process is opaque and subjective though, so it didn’t interest me. I want a job that explicitly rewards efficiency. Such as tweeting for money: if you think of what to say and tweet it in 1 minute, you’ve made $10k in a minute. If it takes you longer, your rate is lower.

Work as much or as little as you like

I used to have “unlimited paid time off*” — and you know what the asterisk means. It means “with the permission of your manager, so probably only about two or three weeks per year.” I don’t want that. I want the ability to decide each week, or even each day, whether I want to work. If not, the process should be as simple as emailing “Not coming today / this week / this month. Please find a replacement. Will return on [date].” And my job, when I return, would be right there waiting for me.

Does not require thinking (about anything I don’t want to think about)

If you’ve ever tried this, you’ll know it’s hard. Some people are lucky, and programming questions happen to fascinate them. But imagine if the world were turned inside out and the high paying jobs in the world involved dreaming up different ways of applying makeup. All day. That would get mind-numbingly dull pretty fast, right? I didn’t get paid enough to think about things I had no interest in. I can’t do it again.

Zero unnecessary commute time

If I don’t get paid to commute, there’s no point in me doing it. I find that working in an office setting is distracting, and commuting takes up some of my best thinking time. I get zilch out of meetings I couldn’t have gotten through a quick instant message or email exchange with the relevant party. Now, if I were getting paid to review a resort in Thailand, then yes, the commute is necessary. If it’s possible to do all of the work remotely but I’m not allowed to? Not the job for me.

High hourly salary

Clearer Thinking has a great quiz to get you started on evaluating how much your time is worth. I took the quiz and my time is worth about $100/hr to me. So it doesn’t make sense for me to take any jobs that pay less than that, as long as I’m managing to survive otherwise. Nb: I had to edit this section’s title from “high salary” because generally, high salary jobs reward presence rather than efficiency. (Think of investment bankers and lawyers who have to be at the office 80+ hours a week).

Does not benefit someone else more for working less

What’s this about? Well, think of the bulk of tech companies, where engineers make the product and the CEO earns several orders of magnitude more in salary/stock. What does a CEO do to justify this discrepancy? I haven’t heard any good explanations, but I’m all ears if you have one.

So, what exactly does that leave? 

These are the things that matter to me, personally, in a job. I’ve been trying to figure out for the past few years where this leaves me, and I have a few non-obvious ideas I’ll link here as I add full posts about them:

mystery shopping


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Palermo, part 1

Let me just whine briefly about the ferry between Sardinia and Sicily. First, it’s a 12 hour overnight trip. Second, they sell tickets that do not include accommodations. Even a seat costs extra. If you don’t pay for a seat — which is like an airplane seat, bolted to the floor and too close to all the other chairs — or a room (which has a narrow cot and barely enough room to turn around), then you have to sit at the “bar”. But they don’t let you get comfortable. We found a closed restaurant and slept for a few hours, but the boat police came around at 6am to wake us up. For no reason. Just to make our lives unpleasant enough that we’d consider spending $80 per person for a cot and freedom from molestation by the overeager boat staff. No thanks.

Did I mention that was my birthday? Well, at least when we got to Palermo, this was the beach

It was nap time! See how beautiful the world is with no other people around? It didn’t last. Within an hour there were too many rowdy others and hawkers of cheap inflatable balls and sunglasses, of ciambelle (donuts) and fruits, all of them hollering and hovering.

Palermo is home to hundreds of Baroque churches. These are just a few:

I might consider being religious just to go to services at this church

In the street, there was trash everywhere. Not just gum wrappers and cans, but enough clothes and trash bags to fill dozens of industrial sized dumpsters. Our host said it’s because the trash collectors are controlled by the mafia, and when the mafia’s unhappy, no one picks up the trash.

To be continued…

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Cagliari and the Feast of Saint Efisio

We almost didn’t make it to the Feast of Saint Efisio. But while we were in Sardinia, one ferry line actually failed, so we had to stay an extra day. That extra day was St. Efisio’s day. Now, I know this might not seem like any kind of a big deal to someone who grew up celebrating Catholic saint days in a big way, but to me, this was completely extraordinary.

To begin with, people from all over Sardinia come to Cagliari and march through the streets in traditional dress.

Some carry flags, some carried banners with the name of their town

Some had flowered and ribboned flags

And all the outfits were distinct and interesting

Some were a little nun-like

There were even a few little ones

Then there were parades of horses. They weren’t show ponies though. Some were badly behaved — crashing into each other or wandering off. At the end of the parade, they tossed baskets of rose petals so thick you could barely see the ground. Crowds were gathered as if for a huge celebrity.

There he is! St. Efisio!

Okay, I didn’t get the best picture hanging on to the back of a scaffolding. I tried. I think he starts out at the church he lives in, gets dressed in his ceremonial garb, participates in this parade around town, then goes to a different church to change into traveling clothes before continuing on along the coast for a week or so. There was a moment when one of his guards opened the carriage and let an old woman touch his robes. She was more moved than I think I have ever been.

Religion is an interesting thing. I’m glad to have witnessed this feast day, even if I don’t understand it. I could see how much it meant to others. This horse seems pleased with the day.

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Cagliari, Sardinia

We stayed at a b&b in Cagliari that was run by and old woman who, according to the website, speaks English. She spoke almost no English. She recommended restaurants that advertise “tourist menus” — here are three courses for one price and you don’t have to think at all, tourist! We were offered breakfast for a fee, but “breakfast” was knockoff twinkies you could buy at the supermarket, a dozen for a Euro. It was 20 minutes from town on foot. But town had gems like this polka-dotted mini.

Here’s the cathedral

In the crypt there’s a naked angel

(Forgive. I have a thing for intricate ceilings)

Cagliari has a beach called “Poetto” and it’s empty during the weekdays and supercrowded during the weekend. I had a nap and N went for a run.

After a day or so of Cagliari, we went further, to a different beach, where the fuzzy sea buddies were with us again.

Here, we found ourselves a mission: there was a pond of stagnant runoff water blocking the path.

We dug a canal. Using only sticks and other trash found on the beach

(Our public works project from another angle)

But most of the day looked like this. I think I managed to get sunburned for the first time in ten years.

Okay, I’m leaving you here for today with this picture of fries wrapped in pizza dough. It was probably called the “Americana”. I eventually asked a local about this obsession with putting fries in things and blaming it on America (I had seen it several times throughout Sardinia: in sandwiches, on pizzas, even inside kebabs!) Did they think Americans put fries everywhere? She said “No, no. We LOVE fries. It’s a Sardinian thing to put them everywhere.” Good to know.

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