Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Not Such Deep Thoughts; Be Gone 2013!

It’s been a long strange year, and one that I’m very glad to see go.

Heading into 2013 I had some trepidations, not that I’m actually triskaidekaphobic, mind you, but that 13 stuck in my mind, and it made me feel a little uneasy.

Well, it turned out that my uneasy feeling was a bit of a premonition. I spent most of 2013 in and out of hospitals, and for a while there I was a little unsure if my life would ever return to normal. It did though, at least to some degree, and I learned a few very valuable lessons along the way.

First and foremost, I learned that whatever befalls us, it could be worse, and I learned this little lesson via a 2013 tragedy of horrific proportions. Funny how life works sometimes, the strange coincidences that happen.

I was in a local hospital, things were going from bad to worse, and the decision was made to move me to a large Boston hospital. It was a Sunday just before a holiday; Patriots Day, otherwise known as Marathon Monday, to be exact. Time spools out, as it always does in these situations, no room at the inn, etcetera, etcetera, you know the drill. Sunday becomes Monday, Monday drones on. My consolation is an 11am Red Sox game and my little magic plunger; relief is just a click, click, click away. About half way through the game word comes that my room is ready and an ambulance is on the way. As they unhook me and get me ready to go, I click off the TV so we can concentrate on what we’re being told, then my wife and I sit there in silence and wait.

When the paramedics arrive they come into the room very quickly and say something really weird; “Turn on the TV”. “Huh?” is all I can manage at first, but within a few moments I come to understand, as much as you can understand something so awful. The paramedics wanted to get right back into Boston so that they could help out, so they hustled us out and into the ambulance, and my wife and I got a ride we’ll never forget.

Things were crazy in the ensuing days, but the one good thing that came out of it all was that I knew that my situation paled in comparison to what others were experiencing, and it made it easy to keep positive and continue on. There’s always someone who has it tougher, always, and that very valuable lesson was seared into my mind.

The other things I learned were less jarring, but no less important.

When you’re not sure what the future holds for you, and you have lots of down time to think, you tend to focus on the things in your life that are the most important to you, the things you’d miss the most if you never got to do them again. You mentally reorder your life; family and friends become very important, work, not so much, and although it can be very hard for a crabby old man like me to remember, you never, ever want to end things on a bad note with someone you care about, or anyone for that matter, life is just too short.

I also learned that little mundane things can become huge life victories, and that’s really helped me to see things differently. I had a really great Christmas, awesome in fact, but the greatest gifts I received this December were not monetary; being able to take a shower without wearing a wet suit, and being able to roll over on my stomach in bed were nothing short of gifts from heaven. That last one was a great gift for my wife also, as I’m one hella-snorer when I sleep on my back. You’re welcome, babe.

Speaking of babes, and thank yous, I also learned how much my wife, family and friends care about me, especially my selfless wife, and there is no finer gift. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

2013 wasn’t all doom and gloom though. We did have that phenomenal run by the Red Sox, who if you ask me were inspired to overachieve by some of the same things that helped me to carry on, and I think our Patriots are borrowing a little of that magic also. No matter what happens or who they lose, the next man up outperforms the last, and they continue to win. There’s something pretty special about that.

I also made it a point to reconnect with as many people in my life as possible. I had plenty of spare time to fill, which made it pretty easy. That, and the fact that my 40th reunion was this year, and it happened to fall perfectly between a pair of surgeries. How lucky is that? It was good to see so many faces from my youth. I find that there’s an interesting side effect that comes from reconnecting with people who hold shared memories with me, regardless of how close you actually were; it reminds me of my family, and how things used to be in my youth, and it brings with it all sorts of bittersweet thoughts and memories. At one point in the weekend we boarded a school bus to take a tour of our home town, and it took all of about 10 minutes for us all to revert back to form, laughing and joking as we travelled back to another time. Amazing.

Anyways, on the whole I’m very happy to say goodbye to 2013, and I’m looking forward to a happy and productive 2014. Back to work, back to a normal life. You can’t imagine how much I’ve missed it.

Hopefully I won’t lose sight of my 2013 lessons learned as I march my way through the New Year. Normalcy tends to breed complacency, and I’ve come too far to revert to form. Life is way too short to be a self-involved wonk.

I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year. Try to take a moment to think about who and what is really important in your life, and what you can do to reorder things a bit, and to let those special people know how you feel. You’ll be glad you did.

That is all.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Not Such Deep Thoughts; Special Worst to First Edition

It’s that time again; the old brain pan is full to bursting with random thoughts and opinions, and it’s time to spew forth and relieve the pressure. I will now proceed to entangle the entire area.

What better way to start than with; How ‘bout them Red Sox?

Wow, from worst to first, and could these guys be any more likeable? In the words of the ubiquitous Bob, I doubt it. I was pretty down on them the last time I did one of these rambling pieces, and I speculated that there was only one way for them to get back into our good graces. Read for yourself:

Not Such Deep Thoughts – Freaky February Edition

“Spring Training is cranking up, and the question on all good Sox fan’s minds is; can they pull their nards out of the fire? The team has pretty much self-imploded and it appears that things can’t get much worse, so that’s something to hang your hat on. But how they fare in the standings this year is of less importance to me than how they act and play. As long as they give it 100%, I’m behind them. Any less and I’ll be turning them off.

Note to Red Sox; forget the fancy demographic studies and bringing in high paid mercenaries. If you want a successful and embraceable team, start with the basics; hard working players with integrity and a love of the game, add in a little inspirational leadership, mix well and bake for approximately 180 days. It’s a no fail recipe.”

I guess great minds think alike, and I’m convinced that Ben Cherington has a pretty great mind. I’m almost tempted to think he may have been much of the reason behind Theo’s initial success here. Almost. Same with John Farrell and Tito, but no one does it alone. There was a brain trust in those heady days, and although Theo was a bright guy, it was group think, strong leadership, and team camaraderie that turned the tide and made the Sox the team of the new millennium, and it took the same mix to bring them back from the dead. Success can be the great spoiler though, as we’ve seen, and I hope they remember that. There’s no telling how they’ll fare in the post season, but for now, I’m happy, and I have high hopes, finally. Go Sox!

While we’re on the subject of sports; how ‘bout them Patriots?

3 and 0 to start out the season, but a shakier start I don’t think I’ve ever seen. Tom has looked downright un-Brady like, but I blame a lot of that on his lack of receivers. With a timing offense, you’re either all on the same page, or you’re looking bad and getting beat.

It’s been the perfect storm as far as Pat’s receivers go; they lose Wes to the Broncos (for the life of me I still can’t figure that one out), Gronk can’t seem to shake his injuries, and then you have the whole Hernandez thing. Sheesh, what a mess. They pick up Amendola and the promising rookie TE Sudfeld in the off season, and they both go down. Who does that leave? Edelman, Hoo-Man and a couple of rookies. Sudfeld came back for game 3, but he wasn’t much of a factor.

The defense has been the only bright light so far, and has been keeping them in the games. Although it’s tough to watch, it may be a good thing. In previous years, Brady has carried the team on his back, running up the score. Problem was, the D wasn’t very good and a lot of teams were hanging in there, matching them point for point. When they’d hit a team with a tough D, one that could stymie their high powered offense, they’d invariably lose. The Giants and Ravens, for example. I think a few ugly wins courtesy of a tough D bodes well. When the Offense gets it together, and they will, the Pats just might have the whole package. They certainly looked a hell of a lot better in the second half of the Tampa game. Brady started to click with the 2 rookie WR’s, Thompkins and Dobson, and they got some good production from their platoon of running backs. They looked sharp and crisp for the first time since camp.

Gronk will be back, and Sudfeld will find his stride again, and both will draw coverage and take some pressure off of the wide receivers. I see good things in the future, time will tell. For now, let’s just say they’re a really lucky 3 and 0.

OK, time to talk some tech. File this one under; ooh, shiny…

The new iPhones are here, and “ooh, shiny” is really all you can say about them. The 5c is basically just like the 5, only it’s composed of cheap plastic and comes in a variety of gaudy colors. The 5s has a faster processor, a fingerprint reader, and is now available in gold, silver and graphite. Both models have slightly better cameras, the 5s in particular, and both come preloaded with iOS7, but that’s about it.

iOS7 is being pushed down to the iPhone 4 and 5 also, so there’s really no big advantage there. There won’t be as many features available when you run it on a 4 or 5, but that’s hardly a reason to sleep on the sidewalk, people. And you never want to be an early adopter when it comes to a major iOS upgrade.



Here’s the thing, if these were really new models, they’d be the iPhone 6 and 6c, but they’re not. 'Nuff said.

As for waiting in line to get one… OMG, please, these aren’t in limited supply, little children in China are cranking these out by the boatload as we speak. Whenever I see a news videos of someone coming out of an Apple store holding a new iPhone over their head in victory, my first thought is; there’s a sucker born every minute, and my next thought is; I bet I could sell them some really expensive accessories…

Speaking of tech, file this one under; the times they are a changin’.

Home entertainment has changed so much in recent years. Music has branched out from physical to digital mediums, allowing us to carry our entire music libraries with us wherever we go. Same with print. I can move seamlessly from my eReader to my smart phone to my PC, and always be on the right page. TV has gone High Def. The sets have gotten both larger and thinner, you can hang them on the wall like art, and there are literally hundreds of channels to choose from. Between the DVR, Video on Demand, the Internet and devices like Apple TV, it’s no longer necessary to watch on the network’s schedule anymore; it’s now possible to watch whatever you want whenever and wherever you like. Growing up in the Record Player, 3 channel TV generation, these are unimaginable advances.

Now I’m not telling you anything that you’re not already aware of here, but what’s truly amazing to me is that these changes have occurred in such a short period of time.

Digital technology makes all these things possible, and more. How cool is it that we no longer need film for our cameras? Way cool, and the list goes on and on. Why are things developing so quickly? I think in part it’s because we’ve hit a point where the workforce is largely comprised of people who have grown up immersed in 1’s and 0’s, never known a world without them. They don’t need to struggle to understand and accept the new technologies like my generation does, and consequently they see some things more clearly. Some things.

Anyway, it’s got me wondering what new technological advances we’ll see in the next 10 or 20 years, and I think we’re in for a mind blowing ride. Forget about 3D, I’m looking forward to the day when I can convert my man cave into a holodeck. Talk about getting into the game... that would be the ultimate.

Alright, that’s enough for now, but before I go, I’ll leave you with this; I saw a video of Louis CK on Conan titled “Everything's amazing nobody's happy” that’s worth watching. Pretty much sums up how we all tend to take amazing things for granted these days. Don’t.

That is all.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Windows Blue is Coming

Good news for those of you who hate Windows 8 with a passion, the Windows 8.1 update, code named Windows Blue, has been released to manufacturers, and a beta version is available for download now (Windows 8.1 Release Preview). The official release date isn’t until October 17th though, so I’d hold off until then, no matter how anxious you are for change, as I’m sure there’ll be some tweaks in the meantime.

Initial reviews are encouraging, looks like they’ll be addressing some of the biggest concerns users have had with the new OS. Here’s a sampling;

The start button returns, although not quite the way you remember it. Clicking on it will just dump you into the Metro/Start Menu that you now see at boot up.

Shutdown options are no longer buried under the Settings Charm and will appear with a right click to the refurbished Start Button, so it is good for something.

You can choose to boot up directly to the desktop once again instead of the Windows 8 Start Screen, and you can also change the Start Screen so it shows the Apps List (your old Programs List that used to appear when you clicked the Start Button) instead of the tiles it defaults to now.

Your Start Screen modifications can be synced across all of your PC’s.

There’s a Control Panel/PC Settings consolidation that will make it a little easier to find all the things you need.

You can turn off the annoying “Charms Bar” that keeps popping up every time you move your cursor too far to the top right of the screen.

You’ll be able to open up to 3 apps at a time and size the windows yourself. Any size you like, thank you very much. If you have multiple monitors, you can even have the desktop on one and the Metro/Start Screen on the other.

There will be a search bar overlay on the desktop and it will open in a window superimposed on your current screen rather than dumping you back to the Metro/Start Screen.

Improvements for easier navigation using a mouse and keyboard, for those who don’t have a touch screen device.

Faster performance, and a new version of Internet Explorer, IE11.

There are many other changes, some you’ll like, some not so much, so take a few minutes to check out the product guide on the preview page. It’s probably a good idea to download it for future reference as well.

As frustrating as Windows 8 can be, it has some very good features that will undoubtedly be made better with this upgrade. The biggest thing for me is that it won’t constantly be dumping me back to the Metro/Start Screen with all those useless tiles when I really want to be on the desktop, also the “optimization” of those old timey key boards and mice will be a good thing. The goal, according to Ballmer, is “refining the blend” between the desktop and the Metro interface.

As for those who think the only problem with Windows 8 is that the user community is afraid of change, I call BS. I’ve been rolling with the changes since the mainframe and teletype days, quite nicely, thank you, and I understand Microsoft creating an OS suited to mobile devices. What I don’t understand is their one size fits all OS dream. Forcing it onto desktop users just didn’t make sense, and it looks like they’re finally admitting it, to a degree, anyway. Optimizing 8.1 for keyboard and mouse, what a novel idea…


In comparison, Apple’s iOS and OSX look and smell enough alike so that you know they’re part of the same family, but they’re different depending on the platform, as it should be with Windows. Different keystrokes for different folks, I say.

OK, enough sermonizing. Version 8.1 will be pushed down for free to Windows 8 machines via Windows Update on or after the October 17th official release date. Read up in the meantime, it will help you through the transition.

That is all.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Trust Me, I’m With Microsoft…

Beware; scammers are cold calling households in the area and trying to scare people into giving them access to their computers and purchasing ”tech support services” that they don’t need.

I got a call out of the blue the other day from a gentleman who said he was from Microsoft. He asked me if I was Mr. Berryjooks of 1 Happy Lane, I said yes, and he proceeded to tell me (in a very heavy Indian accent) that a PC at my house, registered to my wife, Mrs. Belinda Berryjooks, was infected with a virus and was sending error messages out to Microsoft. He said not to worry though, he would help me clean things up.

I knew from the get go that the call was a hoax, Microsoft does not call customers, or keep watch over people’s computers, for that matter, but I wanted to find out what this guy was up to and how much of my info he already had, so I started stringing him along;

Me: “How do I know you’re from Microsoft, the caller ID says Out of Area 3241?”

Caller: “How would I know your name and address, and your wife’s name, if I wasn’t from Microsoft?”

Me: “Ah.., the phone book, possibly?”

Caller: “No sir, from when you registered your computers.”

Me: “My wife doesn’t have a PC, she has a Mac.”

Caller: “She must have a user account on one of the PC’s.”

Me: “Nope, hates PC's.”

Caller: “Sir, I cannot stress enough that one of your systems is very, very sick, and you are in dire need of professional help or you will be losing all of your data. It is critical that you allow me to help you immediately. Are you near one of your computers now?”

Me: “Why yes, I am.”

Caller: “Please go to the Start menu and select Run.”

Me: “OK.”

Caller: “Please type eventvwr at the run command prompt.”

Me: “Done”

Caller: “Now look through the event viewer for any errors or alerts, this is a sure sign that you have a very, very bad infection.”

Me: “There are always error and alert messages in the event viewer, it’s normal for them to be there.”

Caller: “Oh, no sir, this is a very, very bad thing. I need you to go back to the run command and type in the following, then I will be able to take control of your computer and help you clean it up before all of your files are destroyed.” He proceeds to give me a url to enter, which I won’t reprint here for fear of someone clicking on it.

Me: “Right. Who did you say you were, again?” Meanwhile, I’m doing a domain lookup on the web address he’s provided me.

Caller: “I told you, I’m with Microsoft.”

Me: “You are employed by Microsoft directly?” By now I know that the website he’s directing me to is based out of Calcutta and has no affiliation with Microsoft at all. I love the Whois command.

Caller: “Have you entered the address I gave you yet, sir?”

Me: “Nope.”

Caller: “Sir, I cannot help you if you don’t follow my instructions. This is very important. You are spreading viruses to all of your friends and family and all of their PC’s will be ruined.”

Me: “You didn’t answer my question, let me try it another way: If I call Microsoft’s main number, would I be able to reach you? Could the operator patch me through to tech support?”

Caller: “I can give you a number to call, sir.”

Me: “Not the same thing, but go ahead.”

Caller: “4XX.XXX.XXXX”

Me: “That’s not a Microsoft number.” I’d googled it as he read it to me and it came back as the number for a company called My Instant Support, which is owned by Edgesoft Technology Solutions, not Microsoft, and there is a slew of search entries about cold calls to users, mostly the elderly, who end up giving access to their computers and getting all kinds of dubious tech support charges on their credit cards, amongst other things.

Me: “Who Should I ask for when I call the number?”

Caller: “Brad Smith.”

Me: “Of course…”

Caller: “Sir, I have already spent upwards of 20 minutes talking to you and I can not waste any more of my time. You do understand that I cannot be held accountable for the horrible things that are going to happen to your computers if you do not allow me to log in and correct the problem?”

Me: “Understood, and I absolve you from all responsibility and consequence, Brad, and I thank you for alerting me to the danger I’m in. Above and beyond the call of duty, sir. By the way, what virus do I have?”

Caller: “The Trojan virus, sir.”

Me; “Which Trojan virus, Brad? There are many.”

Caller: “The Trojan virus, sir. I cannot help you if you don’t allow me access and have already wasted too much time on this call. Goodbye!”


Brad was definitely annoyed, and seemed to have finally grasped the fact that I was shining him on. This gave me great pleasure, but it wasn’t the end of my dealings with them…

Yesterday a different Brad Smith called me, same heavy Indian accent and same spiel. This time I stopped him midsentence by saying: “Wait, don’t tell me… you want me to check my event viewer and then give you access to my computer, right? And you don’t really work for Microsoft, you work for My Instant Support, and you are not calling on Microsoft’s behalf at all, correct?”

Brad Number Two: “ah, er.., *click*”

Damn, I lost him. Musta been a bad connection…

So, the takeaways here are:

Microsoft will never, ever call you at home.

Entries in your event viewer are normal, there should be alerts and warnings in there.

Never, ever give anyone you don’t know any personal information, especially over the phone.

Never, ever, give anyone you don’t know access to your PC’s.

These guys walk a fine line, they insinuate that they are calling on behalf of Microsoft to gain your trust, but it’s actually a carefully crafted script. When pressured, they will admit that they work for a Microsoft certified company, which only means that they are qualified to work on Microsoft products. It does not mean that Microsoft has hired them to contact you, and there is no way they are receiving error reports from your system.

There are posts from PC users worldwide complaining about these people, and all kinds of stories about large and repetitive charges on the credit cards of people foolish enough to believe them and give them access. Lord knows what type of malware is getting installed at the same time by these guys, or what data they may be stealing from the users.

Microsoft warns about these calls in their forums and recommends reimaging the PC and changing all your passwords (Computer, Bank, Credit Cards, etc.) should you fall prey to one of these schemes.

Do NOT fall prey to this scheme.

You can end up in a world of hurt if your accounts and personal information are compromised, I repeat, a world of hurt.

They seem to be targeting the Massachusetts area right now; I’ve seen a lot of entries in the local police blotters about people reporting similar calls. Probably just working their way through the local phone listings and they'll move on to another area soon. We can all help to move them along by not cooperating, and/or making their day as unpleasant as possible.

In a nice polite way, of course ; )

That is all.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Bluetooth Music Receivers

Bluetooth Music Receivers are a great way to connect your phone or iPod to non-Bluetooth devices. Most come with both a 3.5mm-to-RCA and a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable, so they’re perfect for connecting to that old shelf system at your vacation spot, a pair of powered speakers, or even to a hotel TV or radio, and there are a plethora of inexpensive options to choose from.

My favorites are the Belkin ($39), the Rocketfish ($49), and the Kanex AirBlue ($49). All score about the same in the device connectivity and distance departments. The Belkin is well thought out and dependable, as are most of their products. The Kanex adds a rechargeable battery, which is pretty handy if power is an issue, and the Rocketfish adds an Optical Audio Out option to the mix. As with all electronical gadgetry though, there are a couple of caveats you should be aware of;

First and foremost, these devices are not backwards compatible with all versions of Bluetooth. That means there’s a chance they won’t work with your particular phone. Check out the manufacturer sites for compatibility charts and user reviews before choosing.

Secondly, Bluetooth connectivity is pretty much same room, line of sight, remember this. I was surprised by reviews complaining about Bluetooth connectivity range: “I got a call and stepped into the other room and the music stopped”, or “I want to hide the phone/iPod in a drawer behind the couch, but then it won’t sync.” Same room, line of sight, with a max separation of about 20 feet, and people or objects passing by can block the signal (blocking interference is more prevalent at distances over 15’). I have seen these things work up to their rated range of 33’, but it was a straight shot across my pool, so technically it’s possible, but conditions have to be perfect.

If I’m syncing with a sound system, I prefer to use one of my iPods rather than my phone, and I place the iPod on the coffee table or somewhere near the sound system, and then use it like a remote. This way there’s no connectivity dropouts, and there’s also no phonus interruptus to the music flow. Plus, you won’t end up incommunicado should you wear down the phone’s battery while you’re busy jumpin’ and jivin’. Nice.

So, while Bluetooth Receivers are not the perfect, one size fits all solution for connectivity, they are a great alternative to docks and cables, and a very cheap way to upgrade old components instead of deep sixing them.

That is all.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Extended Warranties, Are They Worth It?

Retailers offer extended warranties on almost everything these days, but are they worth investing in?

For me, it depends on a combination of things; the deal being offered and the repair/replacement costs of the product. Black and Decker cordless screwdriver? No thanks, I’ll just buy a new one. It gets a little more complicated with higher end items, though.

It’s the devices that you’re likely to repair as opposed to replace that you might want the coverage on, especially if it covers you against accidental damage, e.g., dropping, spills, etc. and also covers consumables like battery replacement.

With TV’s, I usually balk. Most have a one year factory warranty, there’s no batteries or accessories to replace, and they’re not subject to a lot of wear and tear like a laptop or tablet, just mount them and forget them. Plus with the way the prices keep dropping, they’re more of a replace than repair device these days.

PC’s, laptops and tablets are similar in the fact that prices keep dropping; wait a year and you can buy twice the system for the same money, but they’re expensive to fix, and your first choice is always repair with this type of device. It’s a pain to move all your data to a new machine, near impossible if you haven’t been doing backups.

I purchased extended warranties on both my desktop and laptop, and both paid off big time. The power supply and motherboard on my desktop fried after taking a power jolt with only a couple of weeks left on the plan, and Best Buy fixed it with no questions asked, basically giving me back a brand new computer with my original hard drive.

I had purchased the same Best Buy extended warranty on my laptop, and once again with only weeks left on the plan I began having overheating issues with the video card. Because the video card was integrated with the motherboard, the laptop was deemed too costly to repair, so Best Buy gave me a gift card for the purchase price of a similar model plus tax, and I walked out of there with a brand new laptop. One with twice the processing power, memory and disk capacity, and a larger screen, no less. Nice.

I had also gotten a replacement battery for the laptop shortly before its demise, no questions asked. I just had to show my sales slip and warranty paperwork and they shipped a replacement to my house free of charge. Think about this; if a warranty covers battery replacement, you know you’re going to recoup most of the cost by ordering a battery before the warranty expires, they go for about $100, and what 2 or 3 year old laptop couldn’t use a new battery?

So, before saying yes or no to the extended warranty offer, here’s what I ask myself:

Would I want to get this product repaired?

Is it an “at risk” device, something that will see a lot of wear and tear like a laptop?

Does it cover things that are not covered by the factory warranty, e.g. power spikes, spills, drops?

Is the extended warranty for a longer period than the factory warranty, and is it a reasonable cost?

Consumer Reports warns against buying any extended warranties or purchase protection plans, saying that the odds are that most of the devices they are offered on will either never need repair, or the problems will surface during the original manufacturer’s warranty, however they do admit that the exception to the rule would be laptops, especially Macs, due to Apple’s skimpy warranty policies. They offer a chart (shown above) with average failure rates of products within the first 3 to 4 years that shows laptop failure rates at 43%, leading all electronics, appliances and yard equipment by a wide margin.

Personally, I think the Consumer Reports article is a little misleading. They come out so strongly against extended warranties, then halfway through the article backtrack when it comes to electronics. In my opinion, most people stop reading after the first few negative paragraphs and miss the important caveats. I do have to thank them for the failure rate chart, though. Very nice.

Bottom line, the choice is yours. Weigh your options and make the choice that’s right for you, and your budget.

That is all.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hope Springs Eternal

It’s been awhile since we’ve talked, and it hasn’t been of my own choosing; I’ve been on a little tour of hospitals and medical centers, lots of fun, but I’m home now, and that’s a blessing.

For a while there I wasn’t so sure that was going to be the case, and I was getting a little down. Lying awake at night in strange places, watching the horrific news of late unfolding in near real time on my little electronic portals to the world, it was pretty easy to get discouraged.

Some things I’ll just never understand, nor do I think I want to, but this I know; no matter how bad things get, you can’t get discouraged, and you can’t give up. You have to take things in stride and make the best of them, keeping in mind all of the good things in life and drawing hope and strength from them.

The beauty of a new spring, the love of your friends and family, the indomitable strength and spirit shown by the people touched by recent events, these are a few of the things I’ve chosen to draw hope from. Hope, love, determination and spirit; that’s some strong stuff.

Boston Strong. Wicked Strong.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Not Such Deep Thoughts – Freaky February Edition

Blackouts, Whiteouts, Pope-outs, asteroids and meteors, this has been one special February so far. Lots to talk about, so let’s get this party started.

Super Bowl XLVII was notable on a lot of levels, but will probably be best remembered for the second half blackout. In the first half, the Ravens romped, and it looked like the game was going to be a boring blowout. At halftime, Beyonce bounced, and that amped things back up a little, at least it did for me… but then the second half opened up with a Ravens’ runback and I started picking up and getting ready for the rack. Not being a Ravens fan, I had little desire to watch further. Then the lights went out, and everything changed. First off, it silenced Phil Simms for a while, and that was awesome in and of itself, but it also gave the shell shocked 49ers time to gather themselves a bit, and when the lights came back on, they made a game of it. An exciting one, no less, that came down to the final possession. In the end, the Niners came up a little short, but it was a valiant effort, and not without a bit of officiating controversy. Non calls aside, the 49ers lost the game by not showing up in the first half, and the Ravens won by hanging tough for the full sixty minutes. Gotta give them credit, no matter how much it kills me.

Note to football players; God does not decide sporting events. You win because you outplay the other team, period.

Note to conspiracy theorists; if I was getting ready to turn off the TV, how many others were? Is it possible that CBS and the NFL, fearing financial disaster, had a hand in the blackout? Faux News is said to be working on an expose piece and claims to have footage of Roger Goodell entering the control room just moments before the lights went out, carrying a huge bucket of Gatorade.

Just when I thought we might squeak through with another mild winter, bam, we get clobbered by a record breaking blizzard. High winds, whiteouts, bone chilling temperatures and over two feet of fine powdery snow; yikes, what a mess. The whole region came to a screeching stop, which is a good thing. The driving ban prevented people from getting caught on the roads, and it really helped out with the massive cleanup efforts. Some people were outraged by the ban, felt it was infringing on their personal freedoms, to those people I say; STFU. If you’re not a doctor, a cop, a fireman or a plow driver, you don’t belong out clogging up the driving lanes, putting people’s lives in danger to save your sorry butt.

The 2013 Farmers’ Almanac called the recent weather in the Northeast almost to a tee, by the way. Here’s part of their Zone 1 Northeast February prediction: 8th to 11th, unsettled; light snow and flurries. 12th to 15th, a major Northeast snowstorm develops, accumulations could exceed one foot with strong winds causing blowing and drifting of snow. 16th to 19th, lingering snow showers and flurries. Dead on, but just a couple of days late on the blizzard, it actually happened on the 9th and 10th. Still an amazing feat of prognostication though, considering it was written several years in advance. How the heck do they do that, you ask? Well, it’s complicated. I’ll let them explain; “The Farmers’ Almanac weather predictions are based on a secret mathematical and astronomical formula. Developed in 1818 by David Young, the Almanac‘s first editor, this formula takes many factors into consideration, including sunspot activity, moon phases, tidal action, and more. This carefully guarded formula has been passed along from calculator to calculator and has never been revealed.” However they do it, I’m impressed.

Note to all; the Almanac has also red flagged February 24th to 28th and March 20th to 23rd for major coastal storms along the Atlantic Seaboard. The February 24th to 28th storm was predicted to just brush the Northeast as it heads out to sea, and that seems to be the case so far, but the March 20th to 23rd storm promises strong winds and heavy precipitation. Methinks March will not go lamb-like into that good night.

Extreme weather is becoming a bit of a trend these days. I don’t know if it’s global warming or just a normal planetary cycle, but I do know this for a fact; never in the history of this beautiful little planet has there ever been as many people or as much industry. Never. Ever. Does it make a difference in the delicate balance of life? Well, I’m not a climatologist, nor do I play one on TV, but it’s hard not to think so. Manufacturing waste, vehicle exhaust, billions of humans and bovines breathing, belching and farting, it all adds up people, and it worries me a little.

Note to self; never, ever, buy ocean front property.

We got yet another February surprise when the Pope resigned without warning last week. The last time a Pope resigned was in 1415, almost 600 years ago, so you can see why it's caused such a stir, and just to make matters more interesting, there was a purported lightning strike on the Vatican the same day. Hmmm… Lightning has long been associated with the fortunes of Rome. From about 300 B.C. until 400 A.D., a group known as the College of Augurs looked to the skies for signs of Jupiter’s will in the form of birds, lightning and meteors. So, we’ve got the lightning, and we’ve got the meteors (I’ll get to those in a second), if something freaky happens with birds soon, I’m heading for the hills. All kidding aside, I think what the Pope is doing is a good thing. The church is in turmoil, and for once someone is saying “Hey, we need someone at the helm who has the strength to tack against the wind.” The time has come to stop leaning on tradition, and the fact that the Pope can make such a decision gives me great hope. Imagine the strength it took for him to do this; to give up the most coveted position he could ever imagine, I think that alone is a sign from God, a sign of hope.

On the 15th we had a very close encounter with asteroid 2012 DA14, a 45 meter, 130,000 ton space rock. It didn’t just pass between the Earth and Moon, it passed between the Earth and our geosynchronous satellites. That’s a pretty close shave, and as if to emphasize how vulnerable to this sort of thing we actually are, it was both preceded and followed by 2 unrelated meteor strikes. The Chelyabinsk meteor, a “smaller” 10,000 ton space rock, streaked across Russian skies on the morning of the 15th, exploding in an airburst over Chelyabinsk. The force of the explosion was equal to 500 kilotons of TNT, and the resulting shock wave injured 1500 people and damaged 4300 buildings. There was also a meteor sighting in the San Francisco area later that day. No impact was recorded, just an impressive light show. To put things in their proper perspective, if the 10,000 ton Chelyabinsk meteor did so much damage, imagine what a direct hit on a populated area by a 130,000 ton rock like DA14 would do. Can you say nuclear winter?

All right, enough weirdness, let’s talk tech. Here’s a quick update to my last post; My Love/Hate Relationship With Apple. We finally got our Snow Leapord disc delivered and successfully upgraded the iMAC’s OS, as well as iTunes and VirtualBox. I also added 4GB of RAM while I was at it. I didn’t continue on to the latest OS, Mountain Lion, thank goodness. I found out (just in time) that Mountain Lion breaks older versions of Microsoft Office, so we saved ourselves from another heavy dose of collateral damage. Phew… Anyway, now the little pink nano is set up, sync’d, and fully functional, and it is a pretty slick little device, but as I said in the previous post; this was way too much hassle just to set up a simple music player. Way too much.

While we’re on the subject of Apple, upgrades and collateral damage, I also upgraded my Apple TV’s firmware and guess what? Now my wired desktop no longer shows up in the connected devices/available iTunes library list. My laptop, my Touch and my wife’s wired iMac all do, but not my desktop. I’m not sure if it was my latest iTunes upgrade (10.7) or the upgrade of the Apple TV device to version 5 that messed things up, but it’s a real pain. When I’m streaming my iTunes music I have the Apple TV screen saver set to use the contents of the My Pictures folder so there’s a constant stream of our Kodak moments on the big screen, and the desktop is where the bulk of my pictures live. My suspicion is that although the iMac has a wired connection, it also has built in Wi-Fi, and Apple TV firmware has been modified to only look for devices that have their own built in Wi-Fi, and no longer looks for wired devices that are accessible via an external Wi-Fi connection such as a router. You’re killing me here, Apple…

Note to Apple; the short life span of your products (ie: new models or major software revs every 5 to 7 months) will be your undoing, we are not all Apple Fanboys.

OK, last thing, promise. Spring Training is cranking up, and the question on all good Sox fan’s minds is; can they pull their nards out of the fire? The team has pretty much self imploded and it appears that things can’t get much worse, so that’s something to hang your hat on. But how they fare in the standings this year is of less importance to me than how they act and play. As long as they give it 100%, I’m behind them. Any less and I’ll be turning them off.

Note to Red Sox; forget the fancy demographic studies and bringing in high paid mercenaries. If you want a successful and embraceable team, start with the basics; hard working players with integrity and a love of the game, add in a little inspirational leadership, mix well and bake for approximately 180 days. It’s a no fail recipe.

That is all.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Love/Hate Relationship With Apple

My wife got a shiny new 7th gen iPod nano in her stocking this Christmas, a pink one no less, and it put a huge smile on her face. The new nano is a nicely thought out little device and the perfect workout accessory; it holds a ton of music, has Bluetooth for wireless headphones, a built in pedometer, and it has the Nike+ personal trainer app, which is pretty slick.

She has an iMac and she’s had a couple of iPods and an iPad, so Santa felt pretty comfortable with this particular gifting. The only requirement for the new 7th gen nano is that it needs iTunes 10.7 or higher. Piece of cake, thought Santa.

His confidence was based on the fact that he has iTunes 10.7 running on both an XP and a Windows 7 machine back at the North Pole, both ends of the technology spectrum in the Windows world, plus the iMac in question already has iTunes 10.5 loaded on it, so upgrading from 10.5 to 10.7 on a fairly new iMac shouldn’t present any problems. iTunes 11 might be a problem, but 10.7 is just a simple rev bump.

That was his thinking, anyway, but Santa was wrong, way wrong.

First my wife tried to upgrade to iTunes 10.7. The download went fine, but her iMac balked on installation, informing her that she was running OSX 10.5 (Leopard) for an operating system, and iTunes 10.7 could only be installed on machines with the newest version of OSX, Mountain Lion (10.7).

So, Apple has a version of iTunes 10.7 for XP, Vista and Windows 7, both the 32 and 64 bit versions, but for their own platform there’s only 1 version, and that’s for their latest and greatest OS only. Nice.

Oh well, no big deal, we thought. Mountain Lion is available as a download on the Apple website, for a fee of course ($29.99). Wrong again…

To upgrade from Leopard (OSX 10.5), you first have to upgrade to Snow Leopard (OSX 10.6), and Snow Leopard is not available as a download. You have to buy the disc set from Apple, again for a fee, load it, and then you can download Mountain Lion.

Rather than order Snow Leopard online and wait impatiently, we decided to head out to the closest Apple store and pick up a copy. Seemed like a good idea at the time, we just wanted to wrap things up and move on at this point, but we were wrong yet again.

When we got there we were told that the brick and mortar stores don’t carry copies of the operating system, you can only order them online. Of course, they were very nice about it, even reminding us that we’d be able to download Mountain Lion once we ordered and installed Snow Leopard. It was small compensation though, and we trudged back home, extremely frustrated, and placed our order for the Snow Leopard disc set.

Now we sit and wait, knowing that once we get the software delivered, we have to do two OS upgrades and then an iTunes upgrade, plus we’ll need to fix the collateral damage; upgrading other programs so that they’re compatible with Mountain Lion. The collateral damage is the main reason we hadn’t updated the iMac yet. Our current version of VirtualBox, the program that allows us to load a second operating system, XP in this case, won’t run on Mountain Lion, and without it, my wife can’t work from home. So once we finish the OS and iTunes upgrades, we’ll need to do the VirtualBox upgrade.

Meanwhile, the pretty pink nano sits there next to the Mac, gleaming in its little acrylic box, unused and unloved, silently mocking me.

Great present”, it whispers.


I take solace in the fact that with gifts, it’s the thought that counts, and none of these upgrades are a bad thing in any way. Matter of fact, they we’re way overdue, but it shouldn’t be this hard to set up a simple music player.

If Apple can make a version of iTunes for every Windows OS, they certainly could do the same for their own, so why don’t they? Well, they have to cater to Windows users, they make up the lions share of their customers, and it’s not their OS, so they can’t force change. Ah, but Mac users, they’re the cash cow. They can get them coming and going; new iPod, new OS (or two!), sometimes even a new system. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Apple has released 3 OS upgrades since we bought the iMac in 2010, and countless versions of iTunes software and iPod firmware. Ideally, you always want to have your computers and gadgets up to date, it unlocks new functions and features, and can ultimately make a big difference in your device’s performance, but it gets very hard to keep up with, plus you have that old “collateral damage” problem.

The iPad, iPhone and Touch all have Wi-Fi and can sync to your iTunes account via the cloud, so you’re not as much of a slave to change as you are with devices like the nano that need to be physically connected to a system to sync and operate, but you can still get bitten, so beware.

The lesson here is; do your homework before buying any kind of software or hardware, especially when it’s for someone else. The last thing you want is to be raising stress levels instead of bringing joy and delight.

Oh yeah, and do your upgrades in a timely fashion, don’t be a slouch like me.

That is all.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Adios Rex

The passing of a true American hero today. Man I loved that guy. Here's a link to a post I did back in 2008 right after seeing him in the Wakefield parade:

Howdy Rex!