Up Taipei 101 for free*

*Okay, it’s not really free, but at least you’re not paying just for the elevator ride.

You’re visiting Taipei with friends and they want to go up the Taipei 101. Cool. But the elevator ride is NT$600 (about $18 USD). What to do? You probably did a search for “Taipei 101 free” and found blog posts about the wonderful Starbucks on the 35th floor. This is another one of those blog posts, but with one bit of new information.

I did this search and got my information from Daniel Food Diary. The basic directions are:

1. Call the Starbucks for a reservation at least a day in advance at: +886 2 81010701
2. Be sure to write down the reservation number you are given over the phone, and bring it with you for your reservation.
3. Be in line ON TIME. Be first in line. They have changed the procedure and give numbered tickets. They let people in to the Starbucks according to this order, so whoever was first will get the best seat. This is a new procedure so you may see the opposite advice in other blogs posts from before the change in policy.

I recommend going around sunset, if possible.

Each person will be required to order at least NT$200 (about $6 USD) worth of Starbucks treats, but at least you get something other than an elevator ride for your money. The matcha cheesecake was good, but not a cheesecake. I recommend the rose latte (not pictured).



My solution to “chub rub”

If you have no idea what that term means, good. You can continue reading in morbid fascination or cut your losses now. This post was inspired by a similar one from a blog I follow.

Okay. It’s not similar. My solution is a bit different and doesn’t involve anything that can make anyone any money. What’s that? Fasting. A friend recently recommended The Obesity Code, and I finished reading it within 3 days. It’s written with the repetitive lilt of a science popularizer, but the content explains the strident mantra of the “Fat Acceptance” movement, that diets don’t work. While it’s true generally that your body adapts to any increase or decrease in caloric intake by increasing or decreasing energy expenditure, that just means that diets in the traditional sense of the word (i.e., caloric restriction) don’t work. But intermittent fasting does. The book cites only research done on humans, and on significant numbers of humans. Fasting has been shown in study after study to have a variety of health benefits, including lowering insulin resistance and yes, weight loss. Plus, it’s the simplest diet I’ve ever heard of. Having a chub rub problem? Don’t eat food until your thighs no longer touch. I’ll include a link at the end for those interested in trying intermittent fasting.

I find this interesting because I’ve subscribed to a variety of myths about metabolism and weight loss which have been busted by this book. Here’s a sample:

“You should always eat breakfast” — this is based on a survey of people who achieved long-term weight loss but is only a correlation (no proven causal link).

“You should eat many small meals and snacks throughout the day to boost metabolism” — there’s no evidence that this boosts metabolism more than having fewer larger meals, and there is clear evidence that this eating pattern contributes to insulin resistance (which causes fat gain).

“If you fast you’ll go into starvation mode and/or destroy your metabolism” — actually the opposite is true. Metabolism goes up during a fast. Note that this is different from caloric restriction: in that case metabolism does go down to adjust to for lowered intake. In the case of fasting, the body switches to burning fuel reserves (fat) instead.

This wasn’t meant to be a glib response. I’ve had the chub rub problem myself and used to buy in to the learned helplessness of fat acceptance. While I’m new to fasting, I have tried the Atkins approach (or generally low carb, high fat / ketogenic approach) with success, losing about 16% of my body weight last year. I don’t get chub rub anymore. Definitely a cheaper, simpler solution!


Intermittent fasting for beginners

Fasting myths

Signs you’re renting from a slum lord

I’m exaggerating. A little. But these are details that indicate a lack of care from the landlord. Be sure to look out for them before entering into your next rental agreement.

Things don’t work

This door leads to the patio. It is impossible to open it from inside the apartment because the wood was not properly treated to be exposed to rain. It has bloated stuck and grown mold. Before you rent, test everything: drawers, doors, switches, cabinets — everything.

Unfinished or strange structural features

What is that box? Why is there a gap between wall and ceiling? Why is there molding in parts and not others? What is the cut out square in the top left? I have no idea. But all of these indicate shoddy workmanship and shortcuts taken in construction. If this is how the property owner chooses to do construction, chances are they won’t be providing quality maintenance of your unit either.

Worn fixtures

How much does it really cost to replace light switch covers between tenants? Especially when they’re worn like this?

Unprofessional paint jobs

I’m not saying you need to pay to have a professional-looking paint job. You just have to know what you’re doing. In particular, moldings shouldn’t be painted the same color. Paint also shouldn’t be slathered on so thickly its drips harden into permanence.

Deteriorating flooring

Linoleum is the bane of my existence. Linoleum that is peeling is even worse. I hate to think of the horrors that live under there. Flooring that is damaged should be replaced before renting to a new tenant. Keeping it like this is a slumlord move.

Uneven floors or ceilings

The landlord/owner didn’t even want to splurge on an actual architect. How much do you think they’ll spend on your maintenance issues?

Leaking plumbing

The plumbing is fine, but it’s clear to me that this rotten portion between the sinks should not have been made of wood. Water pools there — obviously it will rot through and leak under the sink. The landlord’s solution? Paint over this part in beige! When we toured the apartment, the mold was completely painted over so we didn’t notice.

Duct tape fixes

This should be the biggest red flag. Who thinks duct tape is an appropriate fix? A slumlord.

Random holes and stains on walls

Units should at least be re-painted between tenants. Holes should be caulked. Random wires should be removed.

Individually, these issues may be small or even quirky, but taken together, they indicate a level of neglect that could mean you will have problems getting your landlord to adequately address any maintenance requests. Or worse — you could be moving in to a place with vermin problems. Aren’t you glad I didn’t post a picture of the mouse friend I’ve seen running around on the patio?

Mental decluttering

I’ve done a decent job over the last year decluttering my apartment with guidance from my bible (more on that here). But now that I’m done distracting myself with tidying, I’ve found that it’s my brain that’s cluttered with minor annoyances that keep me from accomplishing anything useful. Usually this causes me to rant to anyone who will listen, and that’s even worse because now I’m wasting someone else’s time too.

Basically, mental decluttering is a formalized version of the Serenity Prayer. Here’s what you do.

First, identify pointless trains of thought. I know, easier said than done. For me, these usually come from minor annoyances throughout the day. For example: a double parked UPS truck blocking the road. I get irritated and start fantasizing about policy changes like meter maids following UPS trucks around and giving them a ticket each time they stop. If it’s a deep dive kind of day I even start pondering what the fiscal implications of this would be and how UPS might respond by producing ad campaigns showing sad children who didn’t get Christmas packages on time to sway voters. Right. So. How to identify a pointless train of thought? Ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to change this?” If the answer is “No” or “Only if I put in a lot of effort that I’m unwilling or unable to commit” then it’s a waste of your time to keep stewing over it.

Now that you’ve identified the pointless thought, you’ll have to find some way of distracting yourself from it. Here’s where it gets fun. You could try:

Having a to-do list. When you see that you’re obsessing over something useless, do something from the list.

Read. Read things from your reader, or keep a book handy. I don’t know about you, but I never regret time I’ve spent reading.

Treat yourself. Positive reinforcement for identifying and distracting yourself from going down the rabbit hole. Do this enough and you’ll associate positive feelings with breaking away from pointless obsessing.

Ignore. Sometimes it’s not a solo act. Maybe you have friends that you go back and forth with over politics or policy. Maybe they have opinions you can’t stand and you feel the need to “call them out” on it. It’s a waste of your time. You probably won’t ever convince that person they’re wrong. But eventually they’ll see that no one is responding to them and stop saying the same things over and over. Any response only lengthens the amount of time you’ll spend thinking about (and being annoyed by) it.

Screen saver. I like the idea of keeping a few pleasant thoughts or memories at easy grasp to function as “screen savers” of the mind. To free yourself from brain clutter, hold on to a few of these that bring you joy. When you find yourself getting worked up over something you can’t fix anyway, think about one of these things instead. Maybe it’s a memory of your last beach vacation. Or your cat purring on your lap. Or something completely made up involving vampires and unicorns. Is this a better use of your time? Maybe not, but at least it doesn’t take up as much mental energy and it’s not as bad for your mood. Plus, once you get bored of the beach, you’ll have distracted yourself from the annoyances enough to get on with something else useful.

Yeah, you should quit your job

Disclaimer: I don’t have a degree in life coaching and no, you shouldn’t be taking advice from a stranger on the internet who doesn’t know you or your situation at all.

Lately several friends have asked “should I just quit my job?” They tell me they’re unfulfilled, bored, frustrated with management. I always tell them “If you can afford to, then do it.” Note: I don’t ask them if they have plans. I don’t ask what they would do instead and whether they’d make the same money. I’m just an enabler. Here’s why.

There’s a guy I knew, let’s call him Ol’ Mac. He’s the father of one of my exes. Ol’ Mac was a responsible family man with two kids, so he stayed for years at a job he hated. He woke up every morning at 5am to drive about an hour to work and would get home pretty late most nights. He hated his job so much that his wife would sometimes find him staring at his socks in the morning. When asked what he was doing he’d miserably say “I’m thinking about which one goes on which foot.” He stuck it out until his official retirement day so he could get a full pension. (Yeah, I know this isn’t sounding like a story about quitting your job. Just wait for it.)

So, you’d think he’d be delighted with retirement, right? Well, after watching golf on tv and snoozing most days for a while, Ol’ Mac began to feel bored and restless. He took on odd jobs to get him out of the house. Then word got around that he was looking to come out of retirement, and he was offered a job doing the things he liked about his old job (hands on technical stuff) with none of the parts he didn’t (bureaucratic managers who didn’t know what they were talking about). It was a more relaxed schedule: one week on, one week off. It even paid better than his old job.

What can we learn from this one anecdote? We all know that the plural of anecdote is not “evidence” but that being said, I’ve heard variations of Ol’ Mac’s story repeatedly. People quit their jobs without knowing exactly what comes next, but they figure it out. And in all cases, they’re happier than before they quit. So if you’re miserable or frustrated at your job and you live for the weekends, save money until you can live without a job for a few months, then quit. You’ll figure it out too.

Getting United to pay out for EU-261

If you’ve had a flight delay originating in the EU within the past few years, you probably got a flyer with detailing your rights under EU regulation 261. Without getting into the details, it requires airlines to compensate passengers in cash for delays starting at 250€ and going up to 600€, depending on distance and length of delay.


Our flight out of CDG in January was canceled due to a mechanical problem and rebooked for the following day. We were given a flyer about EU-261, and so sent a message through the customer service form on their website that day. After about a month, I received a letter saying that unfortunately, our situation did not qualify for compensation but that I would be granted a $175 voucher for my next flight on United. I declined. I went back and forth with United a couple of times via snail mail and they sent a letter saying that the mechanical issue was “force majeure” (an act of god) and thus exempt from EU-261 payouts — end of story: “We consider this issue closed.”

I didn’t stop there. I contacted the FAA. They responded that they would investigate. N contacted the French equivalent of the FAA. He heard back that they agreed that United should pay out under the regulation, but that they would need to contact United. After that, we heard nothing for months, so we didn’t hold out much hope.

Change of CEO

In September 2015, Oscar Munoz was named the new CEO of United. With new leadership, I think they re-examined EU-261 claims and I was contacted out of the blue in October with a new offer: a $1000 travel voucher, 30K United miles, or 600€. I filled out the form and sent it off — I should be getting cash in the form of prepaid debit cards within the month.

How this affects you

If you haven’t yet received a new email from United about a declined EU-261 claim you believe is valid, it may be time to contact them again. Just send them the same information you sent originally through customer service messaging on United.com and they will take another look at your case. I can’t be sure whether it was the CEO change or the FAA or the French FAA, but it’s worth a try! 250-600€ for 5-10 minutes of your time? Why not.

Citi AT&T Access More card with Sprint mvno

Citi has a credit card that comes with a $650 bonus after $2000 spend. The catch? It can only be earned towards the purchase of a phone directly from AT&T. So, if you were considering an iPhone 6s or something, getting this card would bring your total bill down to about $100+tax for the 16GB model. Not bad! But the cheapest plans on AT&T cost around $50 a month. What if you are on Virgin or Ting or RingPlus and you’re already happy with your service? Here’s what you do. Note: I have personally done all of the following, but used this Flyertalk thread as my guide. After buying the phone you want from AT&T, do this:

1. Immediately unlock it. Before opening the box or powering the phone on. Go to AT&T’s unlock request page. Once you agree to the terms and conditions, fill out the info from your phone on the next page, and for “customer type” choose “Non-AT&T Mobility customer” — it means you don’t have an account with AT&T. Now wait for the unlock email. Mine arrived within minutes of submitting the request. Follow the steps in the email to unlock your phone.

2. Activate AT&T service on it using a friend or family member’s account. To get the $650, you have to activate and keep service for 15 days. It’s ok if you don’t keep your friend’s SIM card in your phone for the entire 15 days*. Your new phone just has to be activated on AT&T’s network for it to count towards the bonus.

My network is Virgin Mobile. I already had a SIM card specifically for an iPhone 6s, but the website “swap a handset” functionality didn’t work. I kept getting “Invalid sim” or “No sim” or “Could not activate cellular data”. If you get these messages, it’s because your device is not on the Sprint whitelist. No amount of messaging Virgin Mobile through email, Facebook, or even calling them will help you. They will escalate to the tech department and tell you that they can only activate replacement iPhones directly from the Apple store, not unlocked phones. They will tell you that your phone is not in their database and that it’s impossible to add it. Do not deal with Virgin Mobile or any other Sprint mvno directly. Just do this:

3. Walk into any Sprint store and ask a manager “Can you put my phone into your system?” The manager will ask to see your phone’s info (IMEI/MEID/ESN, which will be in Settings > General > About on an iPhone), and enter it into their system which is called DNA 2. This will take about 20 seconds.

Now your phone will be recognized by any Sprint mvno.** Congratulations! Now your you can pay $9.99 (or less) for service on your shiny new iPhone that you got for $100!

* I don’t have proof of this, but there are reports that as long as service isn’t canceled within 15 days, you’re good to go.

** A similar process will probably work for Verizon mvnos but I have not tried it.