Book Review: Hard Case Crime

For the last twenty years, Hard Case Crime has been publishing gritty and fun novels. I don’t remember when I first discovered them — it may have been at the beloved Kayo Books in San Francisco — but after that first book, I was totally hooked. The stories are sharp, smart, and always interesting.

In celebration of their anniversary, Hard Case Crime has released a new compilation of short stories. “Death Comes Too Late” is the title. If you would rather not commit to a whole novel, this would be a great way to sample their world.

If you’re looking for another recommendation, “Somebody Owes Me Money” is the sort of fast-paced, intricate story that you’ll immediately want to read again, as soon you finish it. But I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t also suggest that you consider “The Colorado Kid.” By far, my favorite mystery story not written by Robert Parker. (It’s by Stephen King — yes, that Stephen King — but don’t let that color your assumptions about the story.)

Even if you’re not at all interested in fiction, at least check out the remarkable original covers that Hard Case commissions for each book. You can feel the love and respect for the genre in each one.


How to reset the Meross MSS120 Dual Outlet Smart Plug

This HomeKit-compatible smart outlet is well-priced and works great. But if you have to reset to factory defaults (in order to move it to a different home, for example) it can be challenging to figure out how to reset it.

The Meross website only has generic resetting instructions, and the way they are written it seems like they don’t apply to this device. Here, they say to hold down the power button. (The device has two power buttons.) Elsewhere on their site, the answer is illustrated by showing a non-existent button on the back of the device.

The correct answer, specifically for the Meross MSS120 Outlet, is to hold down the top power button for five seconds (while the outlet is plugged in). You’ll hear a click, and then the two power buttons will being to flash (one green, one yellow). You can then add the device to HomeKit.


First American Home Warranty woes

Often, when you buy a house, a basic “home warranty” is included by the seller’s realtor or the title company. The buyer can then upgrade to better coverage. Is this a good decision? Probably not, if the warranty is provided by First American Home.

Learn from my experience:

  • You’re going to have to spend additional money to get any value at all from the warranty. There is an up-front fee for each service call. (In my case, $85) This is less than a typical “show up fee” for most tradesman, but a downside is that the fee is paid before the work is scheduled. You’re basically paying to get on a waiting list to make an appointment with an unknown provider.
  • After paying the fee, you’ll (eventually) be contacted by the assigned service provider. You might have to wait several days before the job can even be scheduled, let alone performed. And, as noted above, you’ve already paid your scheduling fee. So all you can do is wait until they contact you. (Calling the service provider yourself might not be fruitful, as they haven’t received the assignment from First American yet.)
  • Once scheduled, the communication from First American and the assigned provider isn’t just slow, it’s inconsistent. Be prepared to get different arrival windows from each. I suppose, like any service appointment, you just have to have faith that they’ll eventually show up. (But hopefully not at the end of the day, see below.)
  • While you’re waiting for your assigned day to arrive, do not look up reviews of your assigned service provider. Clearly, First American hires bottom of the barrel companies to do their work.
  • When your tradesman shows up, if the job is too big, takes too long, or it’s the end of their day, they will declare that the work is not covered by your warranty, and then they’ll leave. (They can’t do any work that they deem out of scope, even if you offer to pay out-of-pocket.) Your only recourse is to call First American and ask for a different provider, which puts you back at square one with scheduling. When the new provider shows up, they will likely have a different attitude and might do the work under warranty. (This happened to me twice!)
  • If you have a repair that’s performed incorrectly, you can have First American schedule a re-visit. But this may get assigned to a different provider who shows up and blames the other guy for creating the problem. Now you’re stuck negotiating with First American to get the re-work accomplished, and they will want to send the first guy back to correct his mistake. Moreover, you had better catch the faulty work within 30 days, or you’re simply out of luck as, ironically, the warranty company doesn’t guarantee their work for very long.
  • If it’s not clear yet, the major challenge in the way this all works is that you are not the service provider’s customer, First American is their customer. You’re caught in the middle.
  • Beginning about three months before your warranty period expires, brace yourself for an onslaught of renewal offers (via text, email, and phone) from First American. Even though no sane person would look at the experience over the last nine months and think “oh, he’ll want more of this,” they will express great surprise and dismay that you’re not continuing your coverage. Additionally, on the first anniversary of your coverage expiring, you’ll get another barrage of renewal offers, suggesting that you miss doing business with them. Hardly.

Fair warned is fair armed.


Change Eve Home to Fahrenheit

Thanks to Ronald Reagan, I only have an intuitive understanding of temperature when it’s expressed in Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, but understandably, the Eve Room environmental monitor defaults to Celsius. (I almost wrote “centigrade” there, which should also tell you something about me.)

Finding how you to change the units from Celsius to Fahrenheit is surpassingly difficult. It’s challenging to Google, and it’s not part of the device’s “Frequently Asked Questions” (WTF?).

Here’s the answer: You have to use the Eve app, which is sort of bullshit, but there you go. As a HomeKit user, I didn’t have the app installed, and I had to download it just to change this one setting. (I only figured this out accidentally, by the way.)

On the whole, I’m happy with the Even Room environmental monitor. The build quality is great. But the battery life is poor. And it doesn’t alert you when the power is getting low, it just silently dies and stops working. Sort of like Reagan.


Don’t Watch the Junk Haulers

Until a few months ago, I was blissfully naive about “junk removal services.” Sure, I’d seen the garishly painted “Got Junk?” trucks in my neighborhood, but if I thought of them at all, I assumed they were in the business of salvaging old cars, tires, and similar debris. You know, “junkyard” stuff.

I was wrong. A big part of their business is emptying homes of items that are no longer needed. Either because a tenant has abandoned them, or because the occupant is moving and doesn’t want to/can’t sell or giveaway their belongings.

It was the latter situation that brought me to seek their services. I had several pieces of furniture that weren’t being moved to a new residence, but I had no appetite for an endless parade of Craig’s List looky-loos, hagglers, and no-shows — and especially not anyone incapable of safely removing the items from my home. So, I decided to find a service that I could hire to take the furniture away.

Many of these companies, as I discovered, advertise that they will donate or recycle your items whenever possible. The first company that I selected put a strong emphasis on the donation angle, and even specified that they work with the Chicago Furniture Bank — which serves refugees and low-income households. That sounded good, so I paid a couple of hundred bucks and booked them to remove the first batch of discards.

The results were at best disappointing, and at some level, horrifying. The crew showed up late, understaffed, and struggled to remove the items gently from the house.

But worse yet, observing what happened when my pristine and beloved furniture was loaded on the truck broke my heart. The heavy items were literally dragged down the sidewalk. One piece, a lovely cherry Ethan Allen armoire, fell off the truck’s lift and onto the street. (I later found pieces of it in the gutter.)

Clearly, none of my furnishings were going to be offered to other families. I concluded that the removal service was probably just a way to generate funds via the “donation fee” that they charged. My items became “junk” not because I no longer wanted them, but because of the way they were handled by the company.

After this experience, a friend referred me to a local company called Gone Guys. I wish that I’d called them the first time. Their crew was professional, courteous, and treated my home and belongings with respect. Did my items still end up in a landfill? Perhaps. But their behavior was far preferred and when the truck pulled away, my furniture was still perfectly usable.

If you’re in Chicago, call Gone Guys, and don’t even consider booking one of the franchise crews. But, like surgery, it’s still best if you don’t watch while it’s happening.