Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas shopping while delayed in an airport!

I used to travel pretty often for work, as long-time visitors to this space will attest.  However, I have been on a weeklong trip to my company's offices for meetings and now find myself with time on my hands.  Not only is it a Friday afternoon, but with weather rolling through parts of the southeast US today, the air travel system is chaotic, at the least!

So what better way to while away some of my delay than by sharing some ideas about Christmas gifts and shopping?

Now, I'm not dumb enough to reveal what those close to me may be receiving for Christmas this year (well, maybe not), but I can tell you somethings I like and I'll let you make the decision.

Are you or anyone you know in the market for a new phone?  I like my new iPhone 8 Plus, as this is the first trip where I've used it.  Love the brighter, more vibrant screen and the speed at which pages and apps load and react.  The sound is also quite something.  Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and I apparently agree on this.  And be assured that the iPhone X is a very nice phone, too, but if you plan to buy it for someone else, you'll likely have difficulty finding one until right before Christmas, if even then!

Continuing the electronics theme, I have really given my Apple AirPods a workout during this trip, and am really impressed.  They sound great, are comfortable for long periods of time and work very well for phone calls as well as for music and movies.  We gifted our son a pair of Bose QC 35 headphones with Bluetooth a few months ago, as he's a night law student and needs ample amounts of quiet time for his studies.  He proclaims these to be a great asset to his equipment arsenal!

Not long ago, I received an e-mail from a very nice contact with Reviews.com who had read a prior post of mine regarding tech reviews and provided this link about Bluetooth headphone reviews:

https://www.reviews.com/bluetooth-headphones/

If you're in the market for something like this, I hope you find it helpful.

I could go on and on (and on and on) about tech stuff, but I also have grandchildren, and three of them are of the age that they're not quite ready for heavy-duty electronics.  So for them, game and toys are it, and there seems to be no shortage of Star Wars-themed items, what with yet another Star Wars movie coming out shortly!  I personally like to give games and toys that have at least a little educational value, and we really haven't done our due diligence in that area yet.

And based on a long-ago pact, my wife and I do not give surprise gifts to each other, so no worries on that front, at least not for me!

Oh, and if you keep score of things I mention, we decided to postpone the purchase of a 4K HDR TV.  There's just not enough content out there for it yet, so we'll wait.

Hope this is just a little bit helpful.  Now I have only two more hours to wait until my flight departs!


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Apple II

Happy post-Thanksgiving Saturday.  Unusual day for me to post, but, well, I'm kind of off schedule in a lot of ways right now, as many of us who had the last two days off work probably are!

Wanted to share another experience with Apple (and, no, I'm not on the payroll).  My wife and I had planned to go to see a movie yesterday, opting for "Murder on the Orient Express," but were thwarted by our inability to get seats at our preferred multiplex at the time we preferred.  So I headed outside to do some yard work, and to run the gasoline out of our lawn mower.  My wife used that time to put away her Halloween and Thanksgiving decor in anticipation of decorating the house for Christmas during this weekend.

Anyway, after I got a shower and was ready to do something, we decided, unexpectedly, to go to the mall.  I have railed against doing so for some time, but we went with a specific purpose in mind.  I had finally decided to upgrade my iPhone 6 Plus and get an 8 Plus, and NOT the newest design, the iPhone X.  More on that later.

We could have gone a number of places, but having just done the same thing in upgrading my wife's phone, we knew what to expect at the Apple Store.  We also were confident that Apple would have its store well staffed in anticipation of the big Black Friday crowds.

So we made our way to the local mall (we only have one traditional enclosed mall remaining here in Lexington) and were not at all surprised to see parking spaces at a premium.  We parked in an area that was not a great distance from the Macy's department store, which is on the end of the building where Apple's store is located, and made our way inside and through the corridors and the many folks bustling along.

Arriving at the store, there were plenty of people inside, but we were also glad to see the number of red-shirted Apple staffers present.  I gave my name to the check-in person and only waited a couple of minutes to be connected with Mason, who helped me with my phone of choice.  Knew what I wanted, opted to trade in my old device, completed the transaction and moved seamlessly to the set-up area, where I essentially did it myself, despite help being available if needed.

The entire process took less time than to find a parking space and walk into the mall.

My wife had gone to get us a drink and was going to meet me when I finished, and we met and I was putting a new case onto my new phone when it suddenly stopped working.  Completely.  Luckily, though, we were seated on a bench right in front of the store, so the check-in person asked to give it a look and then Mason and I caught each other's attention, and he moved in my direction to also examine it.  Together we deduced that the screen had somehow failed, whether a power issue or otherwise, and he immediately said that we should replace it.

That was the easy part.  The hard part was that not only did I buy a phone, but I did so by having my carrier provide the financing, and then I traded in my old phone and the proceeds from the gift card were actually deposited into my checking account.  So Mason had to enlist the help of Marty, whom I assume was a supervisor, to undo and redo the multiple transactions involved.

This took about forty minutes, I think, and I probably received more apologies during that time than I ever have during any kind of sales or service hiccup.  In the end, I left with a newer new phone, plus some other related perks that I would not have expected but that were provided in recognition of my good humor and patience.

So, as you can see, I'm an even bigger fan of the folks at the Apple Store.  Busiest day of the year and multiple people stopped everything to make sure I was assisted until satisfied.

Oh, and why did I end up choosing the iPhone 8 Plus?  Several reasons, actually.  First and foremost, most of the internal components of this phone are identical to that of the glitzy iPhone X, and they share the same camera, which is a vast improvement over that of my 6 Plus.  Second, I've become very comfortable with the larger profile of the Plus phones, and this one is roughly the same size as my 6 Plus, perhaps just a touch thicker and somewhat heavier, but I liked the heft.  Finally, I examined both phones closely on several occasions, and while the X is a marvelous design, it just didn't seem to click with me.  I didn't see a major difference between the screen quality of its OLED screen and the high-resolution LCD display of the 8 Plus.

So what was the worst part of my Black Friday shopping experience?  The thirty minutes it took to get out of the mall parking lot!






Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gratitude

Thanks for stopping by, especially on this, the single busiest travel day of the year.  Did you see that footage of cars on the freeway in southern California yesterday?  I've driven that very road, but in mid-April and, thankfully, at off hours.

If you're traveling today or at any time during the holiday weekend, please be safe.

I'm grateful for many things, as most of us are, but want to express a few brief thoughts.  Most of all, I am grateful to my loving wife and family, and most thankful that they're all healthy and productive.  And as I've mentioned here, our family will grow by one in about a week with the arrival of our fifth grandchild!

I am also grateful for my friends.  As I've mentioned here, I have a lot of friendly acquaintances but not as many true friends.  All of you know who you are, so thank you for being my friends.  Your friendship means a great deal to me!

I'm also grateful that I have a decent job, a good roof over my head and enough to eat.  There are many who have none of these, of course.

And with that, I'll thank you again for visiting, today and always!










Thursday, November 16, 2017

It's that time again

Good Thursday morning to everyone.  Or, should I say, early Black Friday?

That's right, friends, it's already Black Friday, and I haven't even had turkey yet (though I did prepare chicken last night).  The retail industry finally figured out that they might sell more products if they go ahead and start their sales early a couple of years ago, so now the television blares announcements about Black Friday sales here and there.

Think about this....we're not that far removed from the novelty of stores opening early the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Now they're offering drastic discounts roughly a month BEFORE that holiday!  Consumers rejoice, right?

Not quite.  Experts have long said that many of the "deals" to be had on Black Friday and Thanksgiving evening are not that attractive, and while they create traffic, they don't necessarily offer significant discounts on the latest and greatest items that we want for our loved ones and ourselves.  Seems that someone analyzed the actual models of televisions that were marked down for the occasion last year and found that in most cases they were not the current versions of those products.

I honestly don't know what to even say about the state of retailing these days.  Rarely do we make a major purchase without extensive internet research and, in many cases, placing an online order rather than buying it from a store.  Time was, you'd buy stuff from people who could also provide service if something went wrong.  Now the service aspect is such a rarity that it matters little where you buy your new whatever.

Recently I read an online article about a phenomenon called "showrooming," wherein people go to retail stores to see and play with a given item (let's say a tablet, for example), get some input from a salesperson, and then go home and buy it online from an entirely different organization.  I've done this, but didn't realize there was a name for it.

My wife, on the other hand, is a traditionalist.  When we bought her a new iPhone 8 Plus recently, do you think we went to the cellular carrier's retail store?  Or an electronics store?

No.  We went to the Apple Store.  And were treated with their usual care and appreciation.  But that's my wife's approach.  If I want a GE microwave, and there's a GE store, that's where I should go.  But I could certainly go on about the current state of retailing and how I now prefer to go online to buy most things, as the people selling them are often woefully underinformed about the products or services that they represent (as mentioned here recently, Apple is a notable exception to this).  Unless it's a clothing item and there might be a question of whether it will fit, online works just fine in my opinion.

As always, buyer beware....

We already have neighbors who have decorated their homes for Christmas, too.  One young family just up the street has a little one at home and so they went all out on the outdoor decor this year.  I've spotted a handful of indoor Christmas trees, too....and let's hope they're the artificial type!

We're still thinking about Thanksgiving, as my wife and I came to the realization last night that we have not discussed where we're having our family feast or what we're having!  Lexington has lots of places to buy turkey and sides, so I'm not all that worried.  I may have mentioned this in this space previously, but growing up my family opted for ham more than turkey (never did figure that one out) and so I relish (pardon the pun) the opportunity for a traditional turkey dinner.  And lucky me, I work for a company that is completely closed on the day after Thanksgiving, so I'll enjoy the holiday more than last year!

So it won't be long before we're writing Christmas cards, wrapping presents and sharing holiday cheer, but at least we'll have the chance to give thanks to our many blessings beforehand.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Apple gang

It's Friday, people....we made it!  Well, we will have when this day is over!

Apple has been in the news a lot lately, first for their new iPhone X (pronounced "ten" if you're scoring at home) and then for problems people were and are having with their iPhone Xs.  Problems like how typing "I" in the Messages app produces a symbol and "!" right alongside.  Like how it won't operate correctly in low temperatures.  Little annoying stuff.

But I give them credit, as they figured out how to fix both of these issues and pushed out a software fix yesterday.  My wife is always astounded at how frequently we need to update our operating software, and with two iPhones and three iPads between us, it takes a little while.

I also want to share some credit for the folks in the Lexington Apple Store (or just "Apple," I think).  Over the past few weeks my wife has commented that the battery in her Apple Watch (yes, we each have those, too) was wearing down more quickly throughout the day than it used to.  Conventional thinking would be that some application was running in the background, so I went through her Watch app several times and eliminated non-essential apps and processes from operating when not needed.  Still didn't help.

I finally suggested we go to the Genius Bar to have them diagnose the problem correctly.  That way, we'd at least know if it's a hardware issue, a software issue or something altogether different.  So we set up an appointment for this past Wednesday evening at 7:15.

We went to get a bite to eat beforehand and then stopped by her preferred women's clothing store, almost making us late for this appointment, but we walked in right on time and checked in.  The nice gal at the front of the store (they're ALL nice there, really) directed us to a table near the back of the store and that someone would help us.

A young man named Trevor wearing a black baseball cap and the ubiquitous Apple t-shirt came over and verified my wife's name and introduced himself, shaking both of our hands.  He made small talk as he completed a couple of forms on his tablet.  Then asked a few questions about my wife's Watch, and proceeded to connect it to his tablet.  "Well, your battery is in excellent condition, so that's not the issue."  That's a relief.

But what's causing the fast discharge?

He said they would have to send it to a repair center, but that doing so was completely covered by the AppleCare coverage we bought when we purchased both Watches.  Said it would take five days or less to have the Watch returned to us at our home address.  Trevor added that it likely was a software or even a firmware issue, and that the engineers at this repair center would have to "open it up" and identify the problem.  And if they couldn't, they'd simply replace the Watch.  Nice.

The entire process took about fifteen minutes, and was interspersed with additional small talk about their store fixtures (I have long said that I would be very happy to have one of those light wood tables as my "desk," and he agreed), other Apple products, including the newest version of the Watch that can use your cellular account and data to place calls, stream music, etc.  And there was also a little discussion about the iPhone X.

We shook Trevor's hand and moved to the front of the store, and I picked up an iPhone X.  Nice.  Kinda heavy.  But not as overwhelmingly appealing as I expected.  I suppose that it's not revolutionary ENOUGH to make me feel it's a must-have, since I have an iPhone 6 Plus with the latest version of the software.  My camera and internal processor is not the latest and greatest but both still work satisfactorily.  And I have other devices, so my gut feeling is that this is an essential for those who rely on the iPhone as their only computing device.

I'll look at it again, but I'm not quite ready to commit to buying one and waiting four weeks for it to arrive.  Not that my hesitance will slow Apple's mammoth holiday sales quarter in the least, of course.

Word is that Apple is going to follow suit and revamp their iPad line in a similar way, pushing the boundaries of the display closer to the device's edges.  Sounds interesting.

But it's a comfort to know that if I want to keep my Apple products for a while and encounter a problem that I can't address myself, they're there to help.  Service is such a rarity these days that I really am happy when it's readily available.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Thoughts and prayers" are simply NOT enough

Good morning, my friends.  Once again, we have experienced yet another tragedy in the United States that might have been prevented.

I say "might" because we may never know whether better controls on the sale of guns, especially assault-style weapons, would have prevented Devin Kelley entering a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Sunday and opening fire on the congregation, killing 26 and injuring more.

Blaming individuals or organizations for this specific act of unspeakable violence isn't enough.  The United States Air Force, of which Kelley was once a member, acknowledges that it erred in reporting his court martial for domestic violence to federal authorities.  And he was shot and wounded by a person outside of the church as he exited following the shooting, an act President Donald Trump lauded as the action of a "very brave person."

The President also told the media that it was "too soon" to talk about gun regulations, preferring to instead focus on "mental health" as the driving force behind this horrific event.  As I recall, he said roughly the same thing after the recent shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.  This isn't a great surprise, given the constituency to which many of his policies are aimed.

I noted with interest some online comments by pundits and others that wondered aloud what the President's reaction would be if the shooter's name were Arabic.

Since that event took place, the majority of our elected officials at the national level have once again asked for our "thoughts and prayers" as we remember the victims and their families.

That's not enough.

The United States leads the world, civilized or otherwise, in gun violence and gun deaths year after year after year, yet nothing happens.  I wrote in this space after the events in Las Vegas that it appalled me that nothing happened after the Sandy Hook incident, which claimed the lives of mostly children at school.  NOTHING happened in response.

We can all thank the National Rifle Association and its seemingly endless supply of campaign funding for members of Congress for this inaction.  The NRA has so successfully cowed so many of the current Congressmen and Senators that opposition to widespread gun ownership would result not only in loss of NRA funding, but would also ensure that the NRA would back an opponent, either in the next primary or general election.

I'm sure you're wondering what I think should and could be done, aside from the undue influence of the NRA.

Well, for starters, let me say that I know people who hunt and use guns for their intended purposes.  My own son owns two guns, which belonged to his biological father, and he keeps them in his home in a gun safe, as many responsible gun owners do.  As is often stated, it's not those people who concern me.

But if I were in a position to make it happen, I'd like to see a complete ban on all semi-automatic weapons for individuals in this country.  Trained military personnel and in some instances police units should be the only entities with access to weapons of this type.  Home defense does not require a machine gun.  Hunting for sport isn't a good match for high-round-capacity ammunition clips.  Rural residents don't need bump stocks on their guns to ward off dangerous wild animals.

I also think that guns and items that can be used to modify them should not be sold online.  It is simply too easy for those who shouldn't have guns to buy them there.  And I am not referring specifically to larger gun dealers (where a quick check of a couple of sites shows semi-automatic weapons as the top "trending items") who in most cases operate within the law, but rather the individuals who are selling firearms online and otherwise without any background checking whatsoever.

And if President Trump is serious about this being a "mental health" issue, then perhaps he would put forward a plan for Congress to enact and to himself sign that would strengthen that component of the background checking process that seems so terribly flawed in the aftermath of events like this.

I don't express myself to political leaders online very often, but just after this occurred I tweeted at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (from my home state of Kentucky, no less), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  I simply said this:

@SenateMajLdr @SenSchumer @SpeakerRyan @NancyPelosi  Leadership is needed to prevent more tragedy.  Please work together toward that goal.

I hope they'll take that to heart.

I have four grandchildren, with a fifth arriving soon.  I don't want them to be afraid to go to the grocery or to church or to school or ANYWHERE because maniacs with a cache of weapons may be lurking nearby.

You don't, either.  Call or write to your Congressman or Senator.  Ask them to do SOMETHING.  And hope that everyone comes to their senses before the next unspeakable act happens to someone that you love.

Monday, October 30, 2017

All Hallows' Eve eve

Good Monday morning, everyone.  Looks like fall is really here in central Kentucky, as reported in this space last week.  Hard freeze the last couple of nights, and spits of snow were visible while I was wrapping up some yard work yesterday.

Will you be wearing a costume for Halloween this year?  I had to think about the last time that I dressed up for the occasion.  It was probably the Halloween that I was working at a nursing home, as employees there were encouraged to dress up.  We had bought our son a replica of a classic flannel Chicago White Sox jersey, so I appropriated that (already had the hat) and went as a quasi-baseball player.  Got high marks from my associates, who assumed I was too serious to come in actual costume.

This year?  I'll probably dress as "Bruce Wayne, eccentric billionaire," borrowing that character's phrase from "The Dark Knight Rises."  My Halloween job is to hand out candy at my son's house, so that he and his wife can take their kids out Trick or Treating.  So best not to scare anyone.  Depending on the weather I may don a Reds jacket and cap, but no more than that.

But I think it's fun.  My wife and I were at the grocery last night and there was a student age male there dressed in a full gladiator outfit.  Even had a plastic sword.  I actually tried to utter the phrase "strength and honor" as we passed but never got it out.

I've been seeing some pretty neat celebrity costumes, some ridiculously elaborate, others deceptively simple.  For example, fans of the movie "Se7en" will get the reference when they see Gwinneth Paltrow wearing a cardboard box around her head.  I also saw that Kim Kardashian and a male friend dressed up as a dead-on Sonny and Cher.

On to more pressing topics....

Based on numerous press reports, it appears that we may learn today who will be the first person or people charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the Trump campaign's possible collusion with the Russian government.  I have my theories about who will be named, as most people familiar with the figures and evidence that has so far come to light.  And we can all agree here, despite our political persuasions and opinions, that there is never a good time for our country to experience something like this.

It also appears that the avalanche of entertainment and business figures accused of sexual harassment is going to continue for a while, as people are now emboldened by those who've already come forward with their stories.  I applaud Jane Fonda's comments to the effect that most of those who have done so are "famous and white" and that there are far more such stories that should be taken equally seriously.

Kentucky beat Tennessee in football Saturday night, for only the second time since 1984.  In other news, ice was spotted in various parts of Hell over the weekend.






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