Category Archives: Blogathon

Briiiing Bling

Today I am trying to get through some of my busy work.  One of the incomplete items on my to-do list is replacing my phone.  You would think that as a Tech Whisperer, I would have no trouble Phone-Evo-1deciding what phone to get.  But knowing the pros and cons of most of the Android phones on the market definitely has its downsides.

I am an analyst, not a magpie. I don’t really care about any shiny features a phone might have. I know exactly what features I rely on and the remainder don’t interest me personally (although I do pay attention to them for my clients).   I care primarily about the durability of the phone because I am likely to keep it for 3 years or more.  For those who pay attention to these things, my current phone is still running Froyo, which should tell you just how old it is.

I am also price sensitive.  Less because of my own budget limitations (although, that is of course, a factor) and more because pricing on phone seems somewhat arbitrary.  I understand the wireless companies’ business model.  They heavily subsidize the phones because they make their money on the monthly charges.  What bothers me is that the cost of any given phone fluctuates so widely.  I am an Android girl all the way, but this is one area where I think Apple gets it right.  They have one price, period.  That price might be high, but there is no shopping around required.

Comparing between carriers is like comparing bananas to artichokes.  One might charge $X for the same phone that another carrier charges $Y.  But, if you look at the monthly fee structure, they might be very cost competitive.  In that case, I should just go with the most affordable model, right?  That is, until you look at the coverage maps and the data plans.  That is where we leave the fruit aisle and wander into the prickly vegetable section.

I have gotten as far as deciding to stick with my current wireless provider.  I have already ruled out all the phones running Ice Cream Sandwich because there is no need for me to start one version behind.  Now I am trying to decide between 2 phones.  Both are running Jellybean and have very similar specs.  There are just a few key differences and I am trying to decide how much they matter.  And if they do matter, how much are they worth to me?  Right now, my inclination is to think they are not worth the price differential.  The question haunting me is whether I will regret my decision in 18 months when my phone is outdated.  Because let’s face it.  There is no way I am revisiting this kind of paralyzing decision-making process until I absolutely have to.

Going Up to Eleven

brass-ringMy father used to take me on the famous Carousel at Coney Island. As the carousel went around the people on the outside horses could grab rings from a mechanical arm.  If you were lucky enough to get the brass ring, you would get a free ride.  I remember being small enough that my father would sit me on his lap while he sat on the horse.  He would lean over and grab the rings and then let me toss them into the fabric collection bucket.

I remember feeling a heightened level of excitement every time my father would reach out for the ring.  There was that moment when the next ring would pop into place.  Would this one be the brass ring?  Would we be the ones who got to hold it up high so the bell could be rung?  A few times we got lucky and the ring was brass, but more often it was stainless steel. I was always slightly disappointed when we didn’t get the brass ring.  But as soon as we got close to the mechanical arm again, I would forget my disappointment and get excited all over again.

So much of what happens in life comes down to luck.  I am hoping that my luck will be good, but it could be a while until I know.  Right now I feel the same excitement I felt when the mechanical arm would first come into sight.  The brass ring is still in play.  But its not quite my turn and someone else may grab it before me.

If I wrap my fingers around that ring and look and see brass, I would be thrilled.   If that happens, my luck will have gone up to eleven.  If instead, I look down and see stainless steel, that would be ok too.   Not quite what I was hoping for, but the ride isn’t over yet.  Who knows what will happen in the next go-around?

brains

Brain Fuzz

I did eventually make it home late Monday night.  I had a 7:30 am meeting Tuesday morning, which wasn’t too bad because my body was still on Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  I was even able to be productive the remainder of the morning.  But, my brain was pretty gooey by the time 2:30 pm came around.

Tuesday morning I woke up at 6 am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) which is the same as 9 am EDT.  While on the east coast, I always woke up before 9 am and was still functional by the time 5:30 pm came around. So why did I feel so drained by mid-afternoon once I was back on the west coast?  Everyone I spoke to blamed jet-lag.  But, if I wasn’t wiped out by the equivalent time on the east coast, why was I feeling so spacey on the west coast?

I am not sure what it is about cross-country travel that produces such mind-numbing effects.  Admittedly, the plane ride isn’t intellectually stimulating.  However, I use the time in many of the same ways I spend my leisure time at home: reading, knitting and listening to public radio podcasts.  At home, I often find myself energized by these activities. Why aren’t the same activities invigorating when done while traveling?  What’s the difference?

I have a friend who travels about a gazillion miles a year (ok, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but she does travel a lot) and she has a theory about why travel is so exhausting.  She thinks that moving through space, even while passive, is physically draining.  Ergo, the further we go, the more we are physically taxed.

I thought about her theory during a recent drive down to California.  We were in the car for 10 solid hours, but only traveled 630 miles. I didn’t do any of the driving so was a passive traveler the whole way.  Yesterday we were in the air for only 5 or so hours, but traveled 2,800 miles. The pilot did all of the work, so once again, I was an entirely passive traveler.

After the trip to California, I was tired, but not unreasonably so.  I was fine the next day.  No effects from the long car trip except for some stiffness from sitting for so long.  But, it isn’t really and apples to apples comparison because there was no time change.

This morning I seem to have reverted back to east coast time.  I am was up at 4 am PDT and despite my best efforts, I was unable to fall back asleep.  In some ways, getting up early was useful.  I have a lot of work to catch up on, and there are very few interruptions that early in the morning.  But, it is going to be a very long day, so I might change my tune come evening.

willow_bored-now

Bored Now

I should be on a plane to Portland right now.  But, there are thunderstorms in Dallas, which means I am spending quality time in the Philadelphia airport.  This was my home airport for 6 years, so at least I know my way around it.  Even so, there is only a limited amount one can do with 5+ hours of waiting time, so I decided to share my misery boredom with you all.

It has been an exciting week, filled with niecelettes and other assorted family.  Some of the family I saw included cousins I have known since they were born or at least very, very young.  At a family event I found myself discussing technology with the cousins, most of whom are now teenagers.  They gave me hope for the future of women in traditionally male-dominated fields.  There was the teenager entering a science magnet high school and a college-bound senior who sees no boundaries for women in science and technology. 

Those conversations reminded me of a conversation I had with my niecelettes a couple of years ago.  Until that point, all of the doctors they encountered (including their mother) were women.  Then a male doctor was added into the mix.  My niecelettes were confused.  They didn’t know that men could be doctors. 

I also got to spend time with my Best Friend, whom I get to see all too rarely.  Living 3,000 miles apart certainly has its disadvantages.  But, it does mean on the rare occasions that we do get to see each other, it is quite a big deal.  That was certainly a highlight of the trip.

Now my focus is entirely homeward.  I am looking forward to seeing my cats and sleeping in my own bed.  I also have a few WordPress projects that I am eager to begin.  I would work on them now, but I am on a borrowed computer and only have so long to use it.  So instead, I will use the time to contemplate solutions to the challenges ahead. 

 

frustration

Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, This Time

As if the gremlins massacring my technology weren’t enough, I have been fighting with one particular plugin to auto-post my blog to Facebook and Twitter. Really, this should not be so complicated. I had a great plugin that worked for a couple of years. But, the developer didn’t update it for the latest version of WordPress and it no longer works.

I thought I found a good solution in Leenk.me, but it has been causing me all sorts of headaches. While it will post a link, the link goes to my homepage and not to my blog post. I have checked the instructions and the code, but it all looks right to me. I can’t get the developer to respond to my queries, despite the fact that I actually paid money for it. I haven’t completely given up, but I am searching for an alternate solution.

This morning I poked around a little more and found a possible alternative. But going back to my gremlin issue, it requires a confirmation code to be sent to my cell phone. Right now, my cell phone seems to be having some…challenges with text messages. Hopefully, this will all be obviated when the new phone arrives.

But, this brings to mind a proposal I am working on right now. I have a client who is overwhelmed by the sheer number of themes and plugins available for WordPress. She has already narrowed down her theme options herself. One of the things she would like me to do is give her a list of the plugins that will do what she wants them to do without too much trouble.

Normally, I am happy to peruse plugins and their relevant reviews to help a client. But today I am feeling a little self-doubt creeping in. How can I do this for someone else if I am struggling to do it for myself? It was then pointed out to me that my struggles make me the perfect person to help my client. For one, I can truly empathize with her frustration. For two, I know first hand not to take functionality for granted. And even when something works, it requires monitoring because updates can upset the whole house of cards. That is also a concern that I know better than to ignore. Thank you unnamed person sitting on the couch next to me.

So, I will continue to fight the good fight and find a plugin that will automatically post my blog posts to Facebook and Twitter. Stay tuned, you will all know when I get it to work.

Coda: I found one that works, but only if I publish the post right away. It doesn’t work for scheduled posts. Back to the drawing board for me.

index

The Tech Whisperer Unplugged

I have been reading a lot about how networks are trying to capture people, like myself, who have “unplugged” themselves from traditional sources of television. I can easily remember the last time I watched broadcast TV.  It was Thanksgiving 2012, right after I bought a digital antenna last November so we could watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Other than that one instance, I rely on Netflix, Hulu Plus and the library to get my TV fix.

There are lots of advantages to being unplugged.  I benefit from the reviews of new shows before I decide whether to watch them or not.  Why waste my time on bad TV?  I wait for the reviews from people who’s taste I trust and start watching the shows that get good ones.  Hulu Plus lets me catch up a week or two into the season.  The same is true with old shows that I missed.

I can watch multiple episodes at a time.  I recently re-watched The West Wing (only the Aaron Sorkin years) and picked up lots of details I missed when there was a week or more between episodes.  I no longer need to wait to see the result of cliffhangers, unless they are the end of a season (more on that in a moment).

Lastly, I get television from other countries.  I have watched Australian, British, Canadian and Israeli shows that I have really enjoyed.  Plus access to some original series like House of Cards or the revived Arrested Development.

As with everything in life, there are disadvantages as well.  The worst one?  Spoilers.  I am still waiting for the second season of Game of Thrones at the library.  While I have done my best to avoid spoilers, lots of folks assume that they can reveal all at the end of a season.  There is also the discussion that happens after a particularly spectacular season opener.  Once again, I am referencing Game of Thrones.

Then there are the unintended consequences. Occasionally, popular commercials (beyond just the SuperBowl ones that I watched on Hulu) get referenced, and I have no idea what people are talking about.  So far, I have been able to find all of the commercials online people have told me about, so I eventually am able to catch up with the zeitgeist.

I had the weirdest experience at the airport the other day.  Have you ever watched commercials from another country?  Because they are outside our normal frames of reference, they are captivating in a way that our own commercials are not.   Enroute to New York, I was sitting by a TV at my gate and happened to catch a commercial.  I had the same feeling I get when I watch a foreign commercial.  It was somehow “shinier” and not in a Firefly kind of way.  I don’t quite understand it, but unplugging myself made American commercials feel foreign to me.

 

Karmic Debt

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the impact of music videos on the viewer’s level of aggression.  In order to collect my data, I needed to have some ungodly number (fortunately, I have since forgotten the specifics) of test subjects watch music videos and complete a pre and post survey for me.  In order to encourage participation I offered cookies as a reward.  All of my subjects were undergraduates themselves, so they pretty much said yes as soon I mentioned the cookies.

As soon as I decided on my experimental design, I knew I would owe a karmic debt to anyone in need of test subjects for the rest of my life.  The good news for me is that I generally enjoy surveys and don’t mind participating in focus groups.  I recently received a request from Multnomah County Library to participate in one of their focus groups and I saw it as yet another opportunity to repay my karmic debt.

But my decision to participate was not entirely based on the debt I incurred in my undergraduate days. In this case, I also owe a debt to the Multnomah County Library and the taxpayers (myself included) that support it.  As a voracious reader of somewhat obscure nonfiction with no available bookshelf space, I would be miserable without our great library.  This is not just conjecture.  I learned this the hard way when I lived in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia library system is underfunded and terribly outdated (or at least it was as of 2004 when I moved back to Portland).  The cataloging system was difficult to navigate and multiple copies of the same books were often shelved in separate areas of the library.  The publicly accessible catalog did not indicate whether the book was available, at a branch library or checked out.  Finding a book often involved a scavenger hunt through the main library. If indeed the book was already checked out, the hold system was a paper-based laborious mess.  I found this to be sadly ironic since Philadelphia was the home of this country’s first free library.

The Multnomah County Library is on the opposite end of the user-friendly continuum.  Their catalog allows me to search, place holds, renew books and keep track of the books I’ve read (or at least checked out) both on the web and on my mobile device.  I can also place holds and download e-books with the same ease. If I sound like I am shilling for the library, that’s because I am.  Those of us living in Multnomah County are incredibly fortunate.

All of this is why I completed the library survey as soon as it landed in my inbox and volunteered to participate in a focus group.  This is one karmic debt that I am more than happy to start repaying right now.

 

vinyl

Musical Youth

I was reading an article recently that explained why adults identify so strongly with the music we listened to as teenagers.  Apparently, as our teenage years are all about identity formation, we form an unconscious link between the music we listened to and our identities.  Ergo, once our identities are (somewhat) established, the music stays with us throughout our lives.

I also read a related article about how teenagers find new music.  Musical tastes are strongly influenced by our peers’ opinions.  That is why there are general generational trends in musical style. I was surprised to learn that the basic mechanism is the same, pre and post internet.  The only differences are in the tools we use to share the information.

I was thinking about this because I have been driving my parents’ and sister-in-laws cars around while I am in New York.  They both have XM radio in their cars and I have been listening to XM’s First Wave station nonstop.  The First Wave station has something that neither Spotify nor Mog nor Google’s streaming services have.  It has some of the same DJs I listened to as a teenager.

It truly feels like a blast from the past.  Between the DJ’s voices and the music, I am instantly transported back to my teen years.  I will admit, it is not entirely a good experience.  The wave of nostalgia comes with a whiff of teen angst and a small dose of sadness.  I feel particularly sad when I hear a band I went to go see with my best friend Rachel, who died this past December.

I have also noticed that I am not the only one hooked on nostalgia.  This summer the B52′s, Go-Gos. Howard Jones, OMD, Men Without Hats, New Order, Peter Murphy and Depeche Mode are touring (I know there are more, these are the ones I was just able to pull off the top of my head).  Not only that, but several are picking up on the trend of playing an entire album, in order.  And really, for those of us who grew up on vinyl, where we rarely skipped around, what could be better than listening to your favorite album performed live in its entirety?

 

Checkers

Games People Play

Yesterday my mother suggested that I play Othello with my father.  Her suggestion brought a whole flood of memories with it.  I used to play games with my father all of the time.  My father insisted that he would only play “thinking” games with me.  So, Parcheesi, Othello and Boggle were in.  Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Operation were out.

I see my father’s influence in the games my brother has bought for his daughters.  They play chess and “grown up” Monopoly, even if they need a little extra help at this age.  Most of games they play on the iPad or computer are educational games.  I suspect if I asked my brother outright if he was following the same rules we grew up with, he would say no.  But I think the pattern is fairly clear.

I also see my father’s influence in my own choices.  If you were to look at the games on my phone or tablet, you would find mostly word and strategy games.  I’m not sure if I am just rationalizing here, but I believe even the time management games I play to relax involve some strategizing.  After all, I need to prioritize tasks and weigh the consequences of my actions.

I keep a couple of mindless games on my tablet for when I am too tired to play a thinking game.  But I haven’t exercised that option in months.  I figure if I am too tired to play the games I want to, it must be time to sleep.

What I wonder is why this rule has stuck with me all these years.  What made this rule different than all other rules?  Why wasn’t this one of the rules I rebelled against as soon as I had the chance?  Is it because it matched my own natural inclinations? Or was it because I lacked a playmate?  My brother is significantly younger than me, so my parents were the only ones to play games with on boring Sunday afternoons.

The opportunity to play games with my father is now precious to me.  We didn’t end up playing any games last night because he just wasn’t up for it. My father’s memory is fading and there will come a time when he can no longer play games.  But until that day comes, I will keep asking him if he wants to play a thinking game with me.

2065996-475941-lyre-and-masks-symbols-of-music-arts-and-theater-isolated-black-illustration-on-white-background

Price Points

Manhattan is not a very family-friendly city for anyone but the wealthy. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that everything in Manhattan is over-priced. Stores sell groceries in small packages because both they and their customers have limited shelf space.  The small sizes used to run the same as the larger family-sized packages elsewhere.  In order to make life in New York more affordable, we, and many people we knew, went to New Jersey for clothes (no sales tax on clothing there) and the suburbs for groceries.

When I first moved to Portland, I was shocked at how affordable everything was.  I even contemplated buying my first house at age 18 because housing was just so affordable it was hard to resist.  Given how much housing prices have appreciated, one of my few regrets is not having acted on that instinct.

I spent my senior year of high school working for a theatrical agent.  [Point of pride: she is Tony Kushner's agent and picked him up before Angels in America.] One of the things I did for the agent was go see some off, off, off Broadway productions as a initial filter.  It was a fun way to see some great theater that I would have otherwise missed.

In the days before Measure 5, Portland was filled with small theater companies.  Tickets were so affordable that even a college student could afford to go out several times a week (assuming the student had the time, which sadly, I did not).  Despite my time limitations, I was fortunate enough to see some great productions before budget cuts decimated Portland’s theater scene.

During my time in Philadelphia, my best friend and I used to go to New York a few times a year on what she called “Theater Weekend Extravaganzas.” We would rent a cheap hotel room on Hotwire and go see as many shows as we could fit in to our weekend.  Most of the shows were off or off, off Broadway, but we usually managed to squeeze in at least one Broadway show.  Those weekends were expensive, but not jaw droppingly so.

David and I are planning on heading into Manhattan tomorrow and were trying to decide what to do.  Since it is a Wednesday, we were thinking of maybe catching a matinee of Kinky Boots.  When I priced the tickets, however, I discovered that it would cost the same for the two of us as an entire weekend of theater used to cost me and my best friend.  In theory, we could have gone into the city today, waited on line and possibly gotten half-price tickets to tomorrow’s matinee.  But that would have taken more time, money and energy than we wanted to expend on this particular show.

Instead, we will go to a museum (we are still debating between the Museum of Natural History and the Met) and entertain ourselves that way.  Then, when we get home, we will satisfy our theater cravings by going to see some shows at the Broadway Rose and Lakewood Theater Company that are both good and affordable.