How To Fly For Free

I’ve been earning lots of airline miles and cash over the last several years with credit card offers. I often fly on miles alone. Here’s how:

  • The most important benefit is the signing bonus. Look for credit cards that offer things like “25,000 miles if you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months”
  • Keep track of your cards by putting notes on them. I print out a document in 5 point type and tape it to the card. They usually say something like “spend $2k by [date] for 25k miles. 2pts/$ on restaurants. Cancel by [date] or $95 fee” Then I leave a space to write how much I’ve spent on the card”
  • Always pay off your credit card in full every month. Always. If you are tempted not to, stop reading right now.
  • Keep 2 cards in your wallet, an Amex and a Visa/Mastercard that you are spending on.
  • Cancel the card before they charge you a yearly fee. Most cards say something like $95 per year, waived for the first year”. Sometimes it’s worth paying the yearly fee, usually it isn’t.
  • Get maybe 1 card per month, cancel maybe 1 card per month. Else the companies will worry something funny is going on and they might deny you a new card.
  • If you have a business, you can open cards under the business’ name and use more cards.
  • I use cards from all of the airlines. I keep track of approximately how many miles I have in a spreadsheet. When I have enough on an airline, I use them.
  • Sometimes you can spend your miles on points or trade them for cash. That is nice because I only fly so much.
  • Always consider the “exchange rate” of points to dollars when you are considering getting a card. Earning $0.01 per dollar is the “norm”, but when I pay attention to signing bonuses, I often earn $0.10 of travel or hard cash per dollar. It’s like getting 10-15% off EVERYTHING.
  • After doing this for 5+ years, my FICO score is something above 780 (excellent).



About Cell Phone Providers

So you are wondering if a cell phone network might have good service in your area. Here’s a hint: There are just a couple big companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) that have cell phone towers but there are many resellers. For example, the Sprint network is resold by several “mobile virtual network operators” like Credo, Virgin, Boost, etc. Here’s a list of what cell phone companies use what networks. All the secondary companies (like Virgin Mobile selling the Sprint network) are reselling a wholesale product at wholesale prices. That means they cost less and, like when you walk into a rug remnant store, sometimes parts are missing. What will work for you? I have no idea. Shopping for a new phone has been a big PITA for me. Caveat emptor!


In the US we’ve been doing the “2 year contract” thing with cell phones for a long time. There is a switch going on. Now the thing to do is:

  1. spend $10-$500 on a smart phone that is unlocked
  2. buy prepaid monthly service from your favorite provider

For example: instead of going to the AT&T store and getting a $100 Android phone and spending $100/month on a 2 year contract, you go to the Google Play Store and get a $400 Android phone and spend $50/month with Straight Talk. Note that over the course of 2 years, the second option costs $1600 instead of $2500. The downside is that most of the resellers have less friendly customer service than the “full service” providers.



Equity Insta-Set Clock

Megan has an Equity Insta-Set wall clock. I just wanted to put the manual for it someplace. Here it is:

Equity Insta-Set 40222B clock manual



Is There A Smartphone That Actually Runs 16 Hours?

I want a cell phone that:

  • Has service where I live, travel and work (North Berkeley hills, The BART train system, The Bay Area)
  • Run from 16 hours (7am to 11pm) on a single charge (like me)
  • Does smartphoney things including: email, calendar, web, view local documents (like PDF train schedules because sometimes the web sucks)
  • Doesn’t cost $1,500 per year

It appears that my only option is getting an unlocked Droid Maxx on Aio Wireless. Droid Maxx claims to run 48 hours on a charge. Aio Wireless uses AT&T Mobility (AKA the old Cingular network) for good coverage for $40/month ($500/year)

It is silly that I seem to have so few options for a phone. What am I missing?

On the matter of battery life, every cell phone rep I’ve asked (at least 7 now) has told me that their personal cell phones run until about 7pm if they use them during the day, and they all seem to be OK with that. After my phone died unexpectedly one evening, leaving me stranded, I knew that a dead phone completely sucks. I’m not telling the truth: one AT&T rep told me that all of her phones run well into the night, every night, apparently due to her own special pixie dust.

Virgin Mobile is inexpensive but has crap coverage everywhere in the east bay (their coverage map lies like a rug)

Using Dry Ice To Keep Food Frozen On A Plane

When I travel across country to visit home, I often bring home a few pounds of home-made frozen cappelletti made by my aunt Dorothy. The trip takes about 12 hours door to door. I tried to wrap them up in my luggage with newspaper and blue ice but when I get them home they are all a bit mushy. Yes, they refreeze but they loose some of their delicate texture.

I use dry ice, but you need to know a few things about travelling with dry ice, else will be trouble at the airport. Basically, it is best to not actually carry dry ice onto the plane. Here’s how I do it:

  1. The night before travel, buy 4 pounds of dry ice
  2. If the ice is in big blocks, break it into chunks with a hammer
  3. Put my my 6 pounds of frozen food in the center of my luggage
  4. Sprinkle the dry ice all over the food and the whole inside of the bag
  5. Let it all sit, closed up, overnight
  6. Before checking my luggage at the airport, open the bag and remove any remaining dry ice
  7. Repack the bag, letting my frozen shirts and pants keep the ravioli cold for the long trip home
  8. Discard the remaining dry ice outside

I have traveled like this successfully several times and my frozen ravioli make it home in perfect condition.

The last time I flew, I broke the dry ice up with a hammer and sprinkled it around the inside of my bag for about 2 hours before the flight. At the airport I removed the pieces that were left and checked my bag with hard-frozen ravioli and no dry ice to declare. The food made it the 12 hour journey home with no problem.


Don’t let the rest of this article frustrate you. The info above will work and you can stop there.

Don’t discard your dry ice in the bathroom of the airport. Running water on it will make it sublimate and go away but it could take 20 minutes and it’ll make a LOT of fog (hmm, sounds like the voice of experience!). And don’t throw it in a garbage can because this unseen hazard could be bad for a garbage collector. Maybe throw it in your backyard, or driveway, or outside under some plants.

What’s the fuss with dry ice? Despite all the paranoid mutterings you might have heard, it is worthless for making a dangerous bomb. One article I read claimed that 2 people have been killed by dry ice bombsEVER. And both were accidental. For comparison, lightning strikes kill about 50 people per year in America. The real danger, I believe is that a pet in the luggage compartment might suffocate on the carbon dioxide gas that the dry ice gives off. If you don’t label your dry ice luggage and they put your bag next to a pet in the luggage compartment, it could kill the pet!

United Airlines charges $100 to check a bag with dry ice. American Airlines doesn’t . At least that’s how it stands this month. Google “Dry ice [your airline]” to read more.

The FAA has rules about flying with dry ice. Your airline might be more strict (as United Airlines is about “hard sided luggage” and fees)
Allowed: Up to 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs.) of dry ice per person in carry-on or checked baggage in a package that allows venting of carbon dioxide gas.
Not Allowed: Dry ice in air-tight packages.
The actual regulatory text: (10) Dry ice (carbon dioxide, solid), with the approval of the operator: (i) Quantities may not exceed 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds) per person when used to pack perishables not subject to the HMR. The package must permit the release of carbon dioxide gas; and
(ii) When carried in checked baggage, each package is marked “DRY ICE” or “CARBON DIOXIDE, SOLID,” and marked with the net weight of dry ice or an indication the net weight is 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds) or less.

I had trouble flying United Airlines out of West Palm Beach in April 2013. I followed the dry ice rules on their website to the letter (see the bottom of this page for their rules) but they wouldn’t let me fly because of their EXTRA dry ice rules in the “Perishable” section of their rules. See below. They wouldn’t let me travel with dry ice in my hard framed, soft sided carry-on. Pshaw.


The United Airlines Dry Ice rules as of 1-30-14

United Airlines will accept packages containing 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) or less of dry ice as carry-on baggage or checked baggage. The container or package must be ventilated to permit the release of carbon dioxide gas. The container or package must be marked as containing dry ice and must show the net weight and the identity of the perishable item. Styrofoam coolers containing dry ice will not be accepted.

For tickets purchased on or after March 9, 2011, a $100 USD* service charge applies to the transportation of dry ice as checked baggage on flights within or between the U.S. and Canada, and a $200 USD* service charge applies to the transportation of dry ice as checked baggage on flights to all other destinations.

For tickets purchased before March 9, 2011, a $35 USD* handling service charge applies to the transportation of dry ice as checked baggage on all flights.

*For departures from Canada, the fees are $35 CAD for tickets purchased before March 9, 2011, and $100 CAD for tickets purchased on or after March 9, 2011, for travel within or between the U.S. or Canada, and $200 CAD for travel to all other international destinations.

All fees referenced here are for one direction of travel only, and apply only when checking in with United.

Dry ice in quantities greater than 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) will not be accepted.

Dry ice packaging used must allow the release of carbon dioxide gas, must be clearly marked as containing dry ice, and must show the net weight and identify the perishable item being preserved by the dry ice. Each container cannot have more than the maximum allotment per customer. Multiple customers cannot pool their portions together, even within the same traveling party.

And here are the EXTRA United Airlines dry ice rules, found in the “High-value, fragile and perishable items” section

Perishable items must not violate agricultural rules for the destination country. Perishable items may be packed in hard-sided ventilated containers with a maximum of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) of dry ice. United will not accept perishable items packed in Styrofoam coolers or in containers that include wet ice.

Psionics 13

I did the kinetic EL wire elements in another of Desiree’s pieces, a communications helm titled Psionics 13. Here it is installed in Santa Barbara :-)

Psionics 13 10 seconds of video.

It is installed at the Hotel Indigo Santa Barbara through the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara.