Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What works, and what doesn't

Good morning to all.  I'm still a bit off my regular schedule (did I even have a schedule?) of posting because of a lot of recent days of travel.  So allow me to share a few stray thoughts this morning.

The political landscape continues to become stranger and stranger.  Jeb Bush, the presumed Republican presidential nominee about a year ago, dropped out of the race (they all appear to use the word "suspended" in order to continue to have access to campaign funds to settle accounts) after another dismal finish in South Carolina.  Donald Trump continues to build on his lead in the delegate count as well as in the polls with his win there.  And Ted Cruz yesterday fired a top campaign aide for what was characterized as a dirty trick against Marco Rubio, but from what I read, the aide actually apologized to Rubio for an error before being fired.

I suppose that the Democratic race is less strange, only because there are only two candidates there and one is named Clinton.  Hillary Clinton held serve in Nevada over the weekend, largely by mobilizing minority votes.  Someone asked me yesterday if the caucus system worked.  Beats me, it seems more like horse trading or something like that to me!

It appears that the Cincinnati Reds are going to continue stripping down the team of more established players.  Late yesterday the rumors began circulating that they were working to trade outfielder Jay Bruce and would receive prospects in return.  This has been the norm for the last few months for the Reds.  I think there's a plan; I HOPE there's a plan.

Speaking of plans, my wife let me know about a week ago that our dryer, which we've only had for a couple of years, was showing a warning light regarding our dryer vent.  For background's sake, let me  mention that our laundry area is in a folding door space near the front of our house.  The dryer vents through a pipe that's embedded in the foundation slab and terminates in the rear of the house, roughly twenty feet away.  This has been a problem for us, but a while back we had it cleaned out and that made it largely workable again.

So when this warning light appeared, I used my wet/dry vacuum outside, near the end of that vent pipe, as well as inside, where it begins, and vacuumed what lint I could.  Knowing there was a lot of space in between, I told my wife that we would need to do something more involved to clean it.

I bought a LintEater.

This apparatus comes with a brush the diameter of the pipe, along with a set of flexible rods not unlike what are used for tent structures.  I also bought an additional set of rods.  You assemble this thing a section at a time, and attach it to a drill.  I don't know who came up with this, but I kind of wish that I had!  Anyway, after about an hour of using this thing, we got a notable amount of lint out of our vent pipe, along with a couple of chunks of drywall to which lint was clinging and causing more buildup.

The verdict?  Well worth the time investment and the money, too.  Dryer works like new, quieter, house is cooler, all good.

Nice when things work, isn't it?

The only casualty of the effort was our wet/dry vac began to make a horrible noise and it smelled as if the motor was burning up.  So that item has now gone away and awaits replacement.  We never used it much, but it is handy when needed, so I don't think there's much doubt that we will purchase another similar item.

I'm just past the two week mark as an Apple Watch owner, and I have to say that I like it very much.  It's attractive, comfortable, and pretty handy.  Yesterday, during a meeting, my phone began to vibrate with an incoming call (I know, I should set it for "do not disturb" but simply silencing it is so much faster!), so I felt it on my watch, tapped one button, and the call was dismissed.  Simple.  Battery life has been better than I expected, but I still routinely charge it every night.  Though I must admit I forgot to put it on when I went to the treadmill first thing this morning, I like the fitness tracking.  Even on days when I don't do some sort of scheduled exercise, it still captures my steps and movements and gives me a good estimate of how active I may have been in a given day.

Finally, worth mentioning that my ten-year-old granddaughter is now an active user of Instagram.  She's posted several photos there and from all reports was delighted to learn that I am one of her followers.

Of course!


Thursday, February 11, 2016

In a word

Greetings, friends.  Late afternoon post today, as I had some time and a couple of odd things on my mind...

Presidential candidate and Senator Marco Rubio got himself into some hot water during a debate Saturday night by repeating a portion of his stump speech in response to a question....three separate times. This made him look as though he cannot think on his feet, which he may or may not be able to do.

But what really got to me is the wording of his "rehearsed" comments, in which he said that it was time to "dispel with the notion that...."

Why did that bother me?  Well, if you look up the word "dispel," it means to "make disappear."  So one would "dispel a notion," not "dispel with a notion."  Not a big deal to most, but if one aspires to be President and is no more erudite than that, who's to say what else is lacking?  And, to be fair, he may not have written the line, which makes it all the worse, as that would imply that someone who is a professional speechwriter doesn't know the meaning of the word "dispel."

Oh, I'm not finished.

I travel regularly to Louisville, Kentucky from my home base in Lexington.  Along my path into Louisville I pass by an area that's rapidly developing with offices, businesses and recreation.  Not too long ago (before the holidays, anyway) a new multi-screen movie theater opened.  What's it called?

XScape

You are reading that correctly.  A business is so named for the common mispronunciation of the word "escape."  There may be reasons why this theater complex isn't called "Escape," and the owners may have wanted an "extreme" aspect to the name with this stylized misspelling.  But it engenders a level of stupidity in our society that I find disappointing in the least, and offensive after a fashion, too.

This all reminded me of someone in a very visible position whom we all watched and heard mispronounce a word repeatedly.  Recently I saw that former President George W. Bush will be campaigning for his brother, the former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  Our former President was well known for turning the word "nuclear" into "new-cue-lar."  Over and over and over again.

These are not difficult words.  They're not the names of foreign heads of state whose native language is not English, mind you, these are words from the English language.  And this is not a regional-accent softening of a word like "working" into "workin'," either.

Rant over.  Thanks for listening!




Monday, February 8, 2016

The winning team

Greetings!  Reporting from inside (thank goodness) here in central Kentucky, where we're receiving an unusual mixture of rain, sleet, hail and snow today.  This is predicted to last until sometime tomorrow, which should make things interesting tomorrow, to say the least.

We joined with most of America and watched Super Bowl 50 yesterday (no, I don't usually use the "number" of the game, but this one is a nice round figure).  We had too many snacks of varying types, prepared a very loosely structured taco bar, and had a good time.  And that was made better by a win by the Denver Broncos, who just two years ago had a terrible time of it against the Seattle Seahawks.

This time the Broncos were the dominant team, smothering Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers and containing their very potent offense.  The Denver defense was so dominant, in fact, that the game's Most Valuable Player was a defensive player, havoc-creating linebacker Von Miller.  Peyton Manning played well enough, although was forced into an interception and a fumble or two by Carolina's solid defense, too, but his errors did not really have a direct impact on the game's outcome.

Now the guessing game begins---will Manning ride off into the sunset, having equalled little brother Eli's output of two Super Bowl rings?  Or will he try valiantly to keep playing, against the advice of his own body and about anyone whom he might ask?  Time will tell.

The commercials were lackluster for a second consecutive year.  Nothing really stands out, except for a couple of previews for movies that I imagine my wife and I will want to see, particularly "Jason Bourne," starring Matt Damon in the title role for the fourth time.  Ironic that we just rewatched "The Martian" over the weekend.

I have a rather funny story to tell about computer connectivity.  As I believe I've mentioned here, I am such a fan of my Apple Macintosh computers that I make a point to use them for work, even though I am provided a computer (of sorts) by my employer.  In any case, I lost connectivity to our client's operations system on first one, then the other Mac, last week.  Tried a few things, then finally called the client's IT helpdesk.  This helpdesk, incidentally, is housed offshore and staffed by folks with ordinary names like "Pat" and "Betty."  The agent took down my information, apologized, and said that they would have someone get back with me with a possible resolution soon.

The next day I received an automated message from this helpdesk saying that they "hoped that your issue is now resolved."  No mention of having done anything to fix it.  I ignored that but realized I was on my own.  When a second instance of the same message arrived, I dug in my heels and went to work, and finally figured out that the company was supporting this application through a different Web address access point.  When I tried the other access point, it began to work again.  It's funny now, I suppose, but really way to symptomatic of how these help functions usually work.

Which brings me to my final thought.  About a week ago, we bought my wife an Apple Watch.  Not a heavily planned purchase, but one that already has paid dividends.  Saturday we were out and bought one for me as well.  And I must tell you, as someone who usually figures things out on his own, I was most impressed with the Apple Store's newly-purchased-product setup process, which I had never used.  A knowledgeable super-user named Matt introduced himself and went to work setting up my new device.  Once it paired with my phone, it pretty much did everything itself, and I did a few things  myself shortly thereafter.  But the ease with which Matt worked with me and others around the table (there were probably four or five people getting various new products up and running) was impressive indeed.

So far I have the Watch functioning as I would like.  "Taptic" but silent notifications of incoming messages, calendar appointments, etc.  Activity tracking is set up but I won't be able to use that during exercise until my sweatproof sport band arrives (due to sizing issues I had to order from the online Apple Store), but it already reminds me not to sit for too long without moving around.  And I dictated a series of text messages this morning using the Watch and Siri.  Pretty slick.  Or, as a friend of mine said, "you're really Dick Tracy now (a reference restricted to those of us over a certain age)!"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Software and stuff

Good midweek to all.  Hope your horse won in Iowa Monday night.

For some reason, lately I've been thinking about computer software that I've used, loved, hated, dreaded and endured.  I'm 55, and have been dealing with computers in one way or another for over thirty years.  Mine was the first generation to be converted over to primarily using computers vs. manual methods of writing, typing, financial recording and other functions, and I began long enough ago that MS-DOS was the first operating system that I used.

So let's review the recent history of the personal computer, and maybe I'll remind you of a program or two that will bring back some (hopefully) good memories.

I mentioned having started out with MS-DOS.  The first really big program business embraced for that operating system was Lotus 1-2-3.  I encountered this in a sales job, and while it was the "killer app" that helped my company sell computer equipment, it always baffled me, as it used an arcane set of commands for navigation, computation and printing.  I'm sure others who dealt with manual spreadsheets for a living rejoiced when they first got the hang of it, but not me.

Then there was WordPerfect, which replaced a number of other popular word processing programs.  My first exposure to that program was when I had just begun working in the temporary staffing industry, and when companies called in need of office employees, they were often asking for people with word processing skills on a specific software or word processing machine (Wang was the dedicated word processor that I remember most distinctly.  Anytime we found anyone with experience on that, we called the clients who used it.).  WordPerfect became something of the standard in word processing, which made things easier.  And we did some training in our office for those who wanted to learn more about using a computer in their work.

Important to remember--in the pre-Windows days, computer software was a lot like the Wild West, with little standardization, and each program's installed base was pretty small by comparison with the massive percentage of companies and people who now use Microsoft Office, for example.

One of my favorite programs I ever used was something called InfoSelect.  This still exists in a somewhat different form, but when I was using it in the early 90s, it was a free form database program that would allow you to type into a window that was not unlike a Post-It note and save it.  Then you could search based on anything in that note, meaning that if you mentioned a certain client's name in your search, all notes pertaining to that client would pop up.  It began to evolve and become more structured, but I loved how easy it was to use, and how flexible it could be!

Within a few years I was working for my first company that had e-mail for use by its employees.  I had used some e-mail programs on my home computer (and had already had a series of my own computers by this time) so was reasonably proficient in using e-mail.  My first experience was something that Lotus made called CC: Mail.  Wow, I loved that program.  Fast, easy to use, very customizable and it almost never ceased to work properly.  That program (and its close associate CC: Mobile, for use when you were out of the office and not connected to the corporate server) was a joy to use, and later became Lotus Notes, which was also a very good e-mail platform.

This particular company sold off the division for which I worked, so we became part of another organization.  They left us on our original software for a while, but eventually converted the e-mail program from Lotus Notes to a program called Groupwise.  As much as I liked Lotus Notes and its predecessors, I disliked Groupwise.  Not intuitive, cumbersome, slow, and, the way we were set up, prone to outages and failures.  By my next career stop that company and virtually all others were using Microsoft Outlook, as it comes with Microsoft Office.  That's still the case today.

I think I have mentioned on other occasions how much I love working with Macs, rather than Windows PCs.  I'm typing this on my desktop Mac right now.  And despite using a Mac, I have Microsoft Office on board, as it's just easier to use what everyone else uses and not have the worries about compatibility of a document file or a spreadsheet.  Apple makes corresponding programs that perform the same functions as Office, but it's the path of least resistance and allows me to use my Mac for work, as I have done for the duration of my time owning one (or more).

So what's my favorite software now?  Hard to say, but I'd have to give the blanket thumbs-up to Apple's OSX operating system, whose current version is called El Capitan (used to be named for animals).  Mail, web browsing, music and photo management, as well as many other programs, come with this operating system.  Fast and light and, of course, hardly ever does it just not work.  What could be better?

I would be interested in feedback from anyone out there who especially liked a program that I didn't, or vice versa.

Have a good rest of the week!


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