Monday, January 2, 2017

from dusty archives - Largo Lodge

[ed. This piece was written some time ago, but I found it recently while moving hard drives on a computer. I thought some folks may find it interesting. It wasn't written on an iPad, since the last edited date was 2002 - well before iPads, iPhones, and even iPods were part of our daily lives. But it's still a trip I remember fondly.]

Sitting amid patches of morning light filtering through palms, hibiscus, orchids, and other exotic plants, safe from the insects in my private screened porch, I savor a fresh cup of coffee and recap the events of the past few days. I have never been fond of Florida, and am, even now, stunned that I hold the kind of emotion that this trip has evoked. I am content, and would like to stay here a lot longer than the single night. Maybe a month? Nah, more like a season!

The Largo Lodge is hidden from view on US Highway 1 not only by a fence, but by a small rain forest of tropical vegetation. As soon as we pulled in out of the sun under the canopy of foliage, my wife and I sighed in awe at the variety and natural wonder of the short drive down the gravel path to the office. Coconuts were scattered everywhere in the underbrush. Blooming orchids peeked out from low-hanging vegetation. Exotic birds an d geckos played tag under the shelter of this oasis from the heat.

Although I dislike Florida, I had to make the trip, since my inlaws now live in Fort Lauderdale. Besides, my bride reasoned, a week of sun and surf in early May will get me ready for the summer. Not being a Summer person, I am not amused. My wife and I rarely get a night off without the kids, however, so we took the opportunity during the visit to drive down A1A into the land of Jimmy Buffett, just the two of us. My first trip to the Conch Republic and I was hooked! “You don’t think they’ll miss me at the office if I just don’t come back, do you?” But I digress....

Each cottage in this rustic enclave has two suites which include a bedroom area with two queen-sized beds, a bathroom, kitchenette, and a dining/sitting area. This is accessed across a screened porch that rivals the indoor sitting area for size. Upholstered and wicker chairs, ceiling fans, and rugs provide barefoot comfort throughout. Parking, while not always at the door, is adequate. Once settled, the problem is making yourself leave.

We had come for a snorkel trip out on the reef. I have never snorkeled, never been out of sight of land in such shallow water (the water is so clear, you can see the bottom!), or seen such wildlife before. Having grown up in the Carolinas, who would want to drive this far just to swim in the same ocean? But I truly enjoyed it, from the rusted cannon barrel on the ocean floor to the baraccuda sliding menacingly through the group. A quick rest in the whirlpool hot-tub once we got back to shore, and we’re ready to do some serious R&R.

Out behind the cabins, on the lee side of the island, one can sit in a lounge chair on the dock and watch the sun move across the sky toward the Gulf of Mexico. Although this looks inviting, the smaller wildlife in the area think my wife should be their dinn er, so we retreat to our cottage. After a shower and a nap, we decided dinner was in order. The manager proved to be a great source of information, both about eating establishments and about other sights we may want to see. During the meal, armed with this new information, we made plans for the next day. Afterwards, we decided a leisurely drive further down the highway should prove relaxing.

If you have never visited the Keys, you cannot appreciate the wonder of driving down this ribbon of concrete that sews these gemstones together. While the sun arched ever lower, we drove on, over bridges and through communities, across islands that had at different times housed native fisher-folk, soldiers, revolutionaries, pirates, and seekers of fortune. As the sun finally touched the water, we stopped to savor the moment. I thought of those previous visitors. The Spanish, who came in search of gold and legends of eternal youth. The Seminoles, who came from the north as Cherokee and made this new land their own. The ri ch, seeking money to add to their millions. The bored, seeking anything of interest. Those looking for adventure. Those looking for anonymity.

This place could give anyone what they seek, yet remains surprisingly rustic, natural, and unspoiled. We drove back in the dusk and the moonlight, our minds and bodies relaxed by the sun, the smell of salt air, and the happiness that comes from unscheduled time. At the entrance to the Lodge grounds, we paused again, looking into the cavern of the grotto in the darkness. We drove slowly, reverently, to our spot, gathered the groceries we’d stopped for, and snuggled into the cocoon of our cabin. Having “a little something” before bed, we sit in silence on the porch, listening to the sounds of the night. It’s good to be tired, good to have been outdoors with the water and the salt air, good to know that the sun will come back, but slowly. And maybe that’s the word for the whole experience: slowly. Reminds me of that Beach Boys song: “We’ll get there fast, and then we’ll take it slow.” Yeah. The hurry will always be there when we get home.

Monday, February 8, 2016

It doesn't happen often…

Walking into The Coffee Element, a narrow storefront in a non-descript strip shopping center, you wouldn't expect much. Sandwiched between hair salons, Asian food places, and chain shops, you walk past a few outdoor tables and through the typical glass doors. At that point, everything changes.

When you walk in, it's welcoming, clean, and bright. A seating area with decent fake-leather couches (not cheap threadbare thrift-shop cast offs), tables, and upholstered chair is on the right of the main aisle. To the left are neatly arranged square tables. On the wall, there are several 6-plug outlets. On the table between the couches, there's a power strip with 8 outlets and two USB 2.1A ports.
So, after this surprising sight, you walk back to order, past a well-lit case of pastries, all neatly arranged and plated, and place your order. I expected the barista to scream out my name after I sat down and got comfortable, but she walked out and brought it straight to me! Sure, it was after 5 PM, and the place wasn't busy at all, but still…
The cappuccino was foamy and tasty, served in a ceramic mug with the store logo on it. 

Like the title says, it doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's quite nice!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Recommended Reading

My brother Dave Wilder keeps us informed and challenged on a regular basis on his Think Wilder blog. This weekend, his first topic is the increased FBI involvement in local police shootings. I've been disgusted, embarrassed, and enraged as I've watched the videos that have surfaced online over this matter. There is never a good excuse to shoot someone who is threatening you with deadly force, when a wounding will end their threat, in my opinion. Self-defense does not have to end in a killing. If it was an isolated incident, I would think it's just a coincidence, but when suspects are shot with a full magazine, something needs to happen in the officer's head to change it from "destroy this person" to "stop this threat." Those are different goals, and will result in different actions.

I say this as someone who has never been in a life-threatening situation involving firearms, but I find it hard to believe that the police academies of this land are all teaching new recruits that the only way to stop a threat is to empty your weapon into the kill zone.

 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Of Storage and Stupidity

So, I talk to people a lot about their mobile devices. One of the things I hear quite often is "Apple only gives me 5 gigs of iCloud, and that's not enough." In the rumor news today, bloggers are complaining that the next iPhone (which, of course, hasn't been announced) will still come with a base configuration of 16 gigs (only four times the storage of the original iPhone!), and, again, Apple should give people more.

I use a lot of online and on-device storage. I know that, since I've been taking digital photos since the early days of this century, and was a user of flickr.com back in the days when you'd post a photo and could see it on the home screen of the site for an hour or so. I usually buy the largest amount of storage for devices, be they iPhones, iPads, or Macs, because I know at some point, I'm going to hit that limit, and I'd rather it be later than sooner. I pay for this, and have been since the iPhone 4 days.

What I don't understand about this is that there is a huge number of people out there who think this is a limit they can do nothing about, like Apple is cutting off their options to get more iCloud storage or to buy devices with more onboard storage. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, my mother uses her iPhone and iPad with iCloud, and is perfectly happy with 8 GB on her phone and 5 GB on her iCloud account. Of all the things she'll call me about, a storage overrun is not one. Same with my wife, and half of my kids. So, why don't users get more storage on their devices? Or why doesn't Apple have a larger minimum package?

I think the reason is sticker shock. Here in the USA, we're just now getting used to paying full price for phones, and moving up another C-note to quadruple storage is not something people want to do. Carrier reps, of course, want you to buy an Android device with a storage slot, since they get a spiff for the phone, as well as the add-on sale of the storage card and the reader you'll need for your computer. As a comparison, however, let's take a look at two things people pay a lot for on a regular basis: vehicles and living quarters.

Everyone lives somewhere. When you're deciding where to live, you consider several things: how much stuff do I have, how am I going to use my home, and where is it located? The first two also apply to your mobile communication devices: how much data do you want to have available on the device itself, and what all will you be doing with it? If you want to take photos constantly, or if you love having six different huge graphic-packed games, or you like to watch videos when you travel without having to stream them, my mother's phone is not going to be a good fit. You need one more like mine, with larger storage, because this is what you choose to do with your device. My mother should not have to pay more for her phone, just so you can have the phone storage you need.

Same with vehicles. I love small, manual transmission cars. My current car, however, is not this type, because occasionally one of the other members of the family have to drive it, and we need four doors, in case all of us go in the same car. I made that decision at purchase, and picked out a car that would do what I wanted it to, not the cheapest one on the lot. One day, I might be able to get the little Smart Car I want, but not now. With the larger car, I have to have a larger parking spot, pay more for gas, and deal with all the other issues of a larger car, but it fits how I use my car. If I didn't like squeezing into a smaller car with my Lovely Bride, the dog and two other kids, this is not the fault of the dealer. I'd just have to purchase or lease a larger vehicle. If the 5 GB that Apple gives you is not enough, it's very cheap and easy to add to that amount of storage. For a buck a month, you can get ten times the storage. And, you don't have to sign a long-term contract. You can drop it after a month, if you find you don't need the space. Try getting out of an auto lease after 30 days!


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Location:Memory Ln,Durham,United States

Thursday, August 13, 2015

I just don't understand some folks

I guess I should expect this. I know my folks kept a hard wired phone in their house for about 15 years until we finally embarrassed them out of it. They had been paying "rent" on it each month, so $1x12x15 means that in that time, they paid $180 for a basic desk phone, which could have been purchased for about $35. But, it was easy, and they already had it, and they knew how it worked, and if they ever had any problems, they knew who to call. And everyone else in their peer group had the same phone in their den, bedroom, and hallway. The wall phone in the kitchen was identical to their peers' as well.

So, now let's switch the thought to computers. Once the idea of a computer became obvious, everyone bought the same one their office had, and that their friends used - unless they had some radical artist friend with a Mac. But now, 15 years and three PCs later, why are they still going through the horror and irritation of software update and viruses to just surf, email, and play some games? 

I do phone support, and the new problem I'm having is people calling with upgrade issues with Windows 10. They all hated Windows 8, so either bypassed it, or couldn't get it off their computers fast enough. But now, they can't run apps they used to, their email is broken, they are getting security and privacy messages. Soon, I'm sure, they'll just go out and get a new PC, instead of using the updated one, and it'll work OK until the next major update. But there is a better way, and we do a disservice to anyone we don't encourage in this direction: they should move to an iPad-only world.

Forget the desktop or laptop experience, and use your iPad for everything! What do they do that needs a computer? This guy I just talked with has been working on his Windows 10 update for five days, and has already lost all his data, since he trusted the Windows 7 backup would be usable. In 2015. So I asked what he was using it for, other than syncing contacts and calendars to his iPhone. It's the list of usual suspects:

 • Email
 • Web surfing
 • Solitaire
 • Looking at photos
 • Watching streaming video (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.)
 • Write the occasional letter
 • Connect to bank/credit card companies

I do all of this on my iPad, all the time. I never have downtime due to viruses, and almost never have upgrade problems. On the rare occasions when the update is too large, I can either use a friend's computer, go to an Apple Store, or delete the largest of my apps until the install is done, then I can re-download them.

Of course, the other thing that I do is purchase online storage and devices that are appropriately sized for my usage. I don't have a 16 GB iPad, or an 8 or 16 GB iPhone. (See related post "Of Storage and Stupidity") This would be silly for me, because I like to have more stuff on my devices. But when I tell folks this, they act surprised, like I called up Tim Cook and Joni Ive and had them make a special one just for me. The iPhone I have currently I bought at Best Buy, for crying out loud!

I guess eventually (maybe after workplaces have moved to iPads fully) people will stop getting far more complicated machines than they need. Like those old rented landlines, they will become museum pieces. Can't wait.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Watch out, world!

The 
Yeah, I'm sure this comes as a shock, but I am now the proud owner of an Watch. I got mine about two weeks ago, and have been learning about it and integrating it into my life ever since.
Initially, (the first partial day), I was worried that the battery rumors were going to prove true - that the runtime was less than a day. I took the charger in the car with me while I drove to a play with my wife and a friend that evening, and let me tell you, keeping the watch attached to a magnetically attached charger while riding in a car is not my idea of fun. Next day, while helping someone on the phone with their watch, I decided to hard reset mine at the same time. To do this, you hold both the side button and the digital crown until the Apple logo appears. This same process can heal any other misbehaving iOS device by forcing a reboot without saving the preferences as they are, but reloading everything from the storage. Problem solved. I've rarely set it on the charger at the end of the day with less than 30-40% charge still on it, and I'm still in that "new gadget" stage where I'm playing with it all the time.
That said, I'm noticing some things about using this new gizmo. I'm not going to harp on missing features or 1.0 product shortcomings, but there are a few things I've had happen that you're sure to see as you integrate this new tool into your life.
1) Don't be afraid to turn things off and on. Glances and notifications, as well as third party apps for existing iPhone apps may work nicely, and may be a complete bust. Try them out, and keep your eyes peeled for updates. Sometimes, the developer acts quickly to add things as their own use of the watch with their app grows. If you decide not to use the glance, be sure to view the app and see if it has more useful information to offer.
2) Give the developers realistic feedback. They have a tough enough job executing their own ideas. Getting assistance from early adopters in the form of well-thought-out, constructive feedback and ideas can go a long way toward enhancing their vision of how to implement their watch app. The realistic part of the feedback is: Don't expect miracles. Saying something like "Well, if it can't monitor my blood pressure constantly, it's crap!" only makes you look foolish. Know the realistic capabilities of the hardware, and ask gently if these things could be implemented. Just because you paid someone a buck for their app doesn't mean they work directly for you. Same thing if you paid ten bucks.
3) Know how to give useful feedback. The developers I have worked with over the years have taught me this process, but I'm no longer a professional bug reporter, so feel free to add whatever you feel is beneficial to this list in the comments.
* Give your hardware and software configuration. Always do this first, in case it's something that has already been fixed in a newer release or is an otherwise known error.
* State the expected behavior and the unexpected behavior. "It's not working right" is not enough. "When I'm on the Glance screen and tap to launch the app, my watch reboots" is much better, in that it tells the reader where you are, what you did, what you expected and what happened instead.
* If you have an idea or additional information, add that. "I was on a run, and my phone was back at the house, so wasn't near my watch when this happened. Then, when I got back home, it worked as expected."

4) Don't give stars for unpromised features. If the app says "a simple app for displaying text on your watch", don't get riled up and give it one star if you can't show movies, enter text, dictate voice, capture location data, or anything else. The developer promised a way to view text. Does it do that? If yes, then it's working. Does it easily allow you to edit the text on your phone and update quickly? That's great. If you cannot ever change it on your phone without deleting the app and redownloading it - well, that is a bit limited. But it's still within the range of the description.

5) The last thing I'll suggest is that you don't use the watch just because you can. I work at home, so my family is used to me talking to devices, but the other day, I got a text from someone and thought "This is a short reply" and just tapped the reply mic on my watch. I suddenly felt like everyone in the place was staring at me and I was holding a cellphone in a restaurant in 1995. Everyone was looking at me like I was from the future - and had antennae growing out of my forehead or something. No one wants to use tech that makes them look conspicuous, so better to just pull out the phone and tap out a reply, unless you're among those who don't freak out and you can just tell Siri "Things are fine here. Proceed with the invasion as planned."

A few Options
I doubt I'll turn this blog into a full app review site, but I've found a couple of apps that have Watch apps included, which I find especially handy on the wrist. In no particular order, here they are.

Wunderlist
This is a multiplatform app, with an online and group use functionality that is hard to beat. There's a pro version which adds more storage and projects, but for personal and small business use, the free version is hard to beat. On the watch, there is a Glance view for to dos, assigned tasks, and appointments. The app, however, gives you read only access to all your project tasks. Sub tasks can be entered on the phone or computer versions, as well as unchecking to dos, but the watch is read-only, with the exception of being able to check off tasks from any list. I find this great for shopping lists at various places, where I can re-add, say, almonds to the Costco list (via phone, Mac, or iPad). Then, I can check things off on my watch while in the store, without having to juggle my phone while grabbing those massive boxes of wine or bacon.

Boximize 
This is a fairly new app for me. For all intents and purposes, it's a flat file database construction kit. You can put any number of fields in just about any format into any list. Then, as you enter records, you have the ability to sort and edit things on your phone. The watch app will only display the current saved version of the lists you have on the phone. There is no glance view for this, but you can see all of the values for each of the fields in each file. Personally, this is where I now store my current list of medications. It's very simple - med, dosage, active or not - and I can rattle them off to any medical person fast enough to scare them. Again, this is read-only. But if you're keeping up with serial numbers, server IP addresses, admin passwords…you get the idea.

Dash
Talk about a one-trick pony. This app will do one thing - allow you to enter one screen of data on your phone, and have it be on your watch. How useful is this? Well, right now, I'm showing a two-piece screen which has the current charge of my phone and a nice picture of me and my Lovley Bride. I'm waiting until my phone has a better charge before going out, but I'm not sitting at the desk where it's charging. So, when I get to a new thought or paragraph, I hit the app on the watch, and see that it's - hey 41%! Started out at 25% just a few minutes ago. So, you have two different things you can send to your watch. The top third of the screen can be your iPhone's charge, or a block of static text. The lower two-thirds can be one of three things: your iPhone's current wifi network, an image, or a larger block of static free form text. And that's it, but it's quite nice, if you tend to forget, say, your garage door code, or your email password, etc.

1Password
We all hate passwords. They are the 21st century equivalent to plowing the south 40 with a slow mule, or beating the rugs out in the backyard, or mucking the stable. This program had enabled me to have passwords easily at hand for hundreds of accounts, with nothing more than - wait for it - one password to remember. And, with TouchID, I only need that one when I restart my iPhone or iPad. With the Watch, there is now the ability to have certain passwords on my wrist as well. The Lovely Bride, as I've stated before, is not a Luddite, but definitely prefers to not use technology if there's a serviceable method available in the analogue realm. But, when she needed a password and all I had to do was pull up this program on my watch, her jaw dropped, and she said, "Now, that would make me want an Watch." I rest my case.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Protecting your privacy

While at the urgent care center for suspected strep throat, I read an interesting article on Time Magazine's site about the group Privacy Grade. This project, based at Carnegie Mellon University, looks at smartphone apps and grades them on their level of privacy violation.

There are highly granular tests that are performed, and links to third party libraries are documented for the "worst case scenarios", but the permissions given are all very real. You have to decide if getting that extra spin in a game is really worth ad networks finding out how often you are playing, and who your friends are and, in some cases, your call history and web browsing history.

Many of the apps are GooglePlay versions, which makes me think there are few if any iOS apps in there, but the ad networks accessed give the most access, and all it takes is permission, even if you think the app developer is okay. Once those gates are opened, the information is out there, whether it's used or not. And there's money in it for someone.


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