31 December 2016

A Blog #Retrospective & Hope for the New Year #2017!

I did it! Whew! I made a pledge (to myself) to post new content daily for the month of December, so as to end the year with a bang. I enjoy writing, but had gotten out of the habit over the years. As a result, I'm a bit rusty. Coming up with a new post each day proved more difficult than I imagined. Writer's Block was ever right around the corner, beckoning.

I do not desire to create a "chitchat" blog, posting merely for the sake of posting, engaging in small talk. I'd rather make one quality post a month than go there. (Though obviously I hope to generate quality content more frequently than monthly.) In the new year, I hope to find a good balance, but I've no idea what that will be.

I probably won't post daily. I will post when I feel I have something worthwhile to impart. Castle Modern is a relatively young blog and I'm still sussing things out, determining my comfort zone, establishing my boundaries. An intensely private individual, I'm not a natural sharer, but I can talk about geeky stuff all day. I enjoy helping others. I love sharing knowledge and learning new things.

This blog project (and any other creative outlets that I develop under the Castle Modern brand) is an ongoing journey that will hopefully help to fulfill my dreams of creating a sustainable estate, my Castle Modern, and pursuing my idea of the good life. It's my hope to become healthier, wealthier, and wiser --- to launch my startup company, to make a home and to care for my family. To do better.

Stick around. It's the online equivalent of a barn raising, a gathering of helpful souls united by common purpose. Here's to a bright future household and sharing the knowledge of how it came about.

In the meantime, Happy New Year's! Hello 2017!

30 December 2016

Two Days of #Winter. Next Week a Return to #Spring. #WeatherGeek #MtnDew

North Georgia spent the last five or six days well above average temperatures. ('Twas 70+ degrees and muggy on Christmas.) Yesterday, a cold front moved through bringing rain and a tornado to the greater metro Atlanta area, and in its wake much colder, drier air has been rushing in. It was blustery all day yesterday and today more of the same is expected.

This morning and the next will get down into the thirties (below freezing), plus this morning has the addition of wind chill making it feel like the twenties. More rain is expected New Year's Eve --- about a 30% chance --- but it should be well above freezing by the time it arrives (no icing expected, thank goodness). Then there's about an 80% chance of rain through the day on New Year's, with more rain chances still next week.

However, temperatures are expected to climb once again close to 70 degrees, and this in the first week of January. This seems to be our new weather pattern: above average temperatures for several days, followed by a cold front and windy conditions that drop temperatures to a seasonal average or slightly below for a couple days, then it warms back up (and the bugs return).

As I've said before, a weather yo-yo, which wreaks havoc on my allergies. I realize that I moan about my allergies a goodly amount, but "quality of life" issues are important. My nasal passages are shot. Hopefully, it'll settle one way or the other soon. Give me Winter or give me Spring, but not this in between. For this is purgatory. (The Winter of our discontent?)

GLISTENING DEW DROPS?: Yesterday, Kroger had a digital coupon for a Free Mtn Dew 12-pack, any variety, available for a short time. Supplies (or the number of impressions/loads) were exhausted quickly, but luckily I was able to snag one in time. (Mtn Dew is someone's favorite soda.) It may be cold enough to make ice cubes for the soda outdoors this morning, but the gift of pop brings cheer to one man. Thank you, Kroger.

29 December 2016

Seen #RogueOne? Not I Said the Spider to the Fly... #MovieLover #StarWars #Leia #IMAX #MoviePosters

No, I haven't seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. After the recycled disappointment that is The Forces Awakens, I was afraid to give it a go, though it's helmed by a different director. (I've stated previously that I was very upset at the fact that JJ Abrams got to ruin not one, but two of my favorite childhood Sci-Fi series/franchises, Star Trek and Star Wars. I am NOT an Abrams fan.) I've heard and read both good and bad reviews of Rogue One and have decided to wait for the home video release. I felt it wasn't worth a theater trek. That said, I will give the production crew credit for creating appropriate imagery that gives me the feel of Star Wars.

I may or may not like the film once I see it, but I'll accept all the toys that come along with its launch. Cool posters, radio and/or app controlled drones, costumes, and action figures galore! (I spent quite a few years of my childhood playing with the action figures from the original movies. I constructed my own playsets from the movies and often created new story lines. A male first cousin and I once tried to recreate the Darth Vader funeral pyre scene by placing a Vader action figure on a stack of twigs and setting it afire. Let's just say burned plastic smells horrible!) Advances in technology and toymaking techniques has meant that some of today's Star Wars toys are cooler versions of yesteryear's. While I haven't run out to buy anything, I have kept abreast of what is being manufactured, and I may acquire a few choice items in the future.
IMAX Exclusive Rogue One Mini Poster

I have, however, entered a contest or two for the chance to win this or that. No skill contests unfortunately, these are merely drop your name into the hat, random chance sort of thing. But I won one of the IMAX Exclusive Rogue One Mini Posters. Yeah, could have gotten one by attending an early IMAX showing of the film, but that's the catch. This way I get the poster without leaving the house or having to sit through a (potentially) bad movie. Works for me. FedEx where are you?

NOTE: Thank you, Carrie Fisher being a fearless woman, a natural wit and a tireless mental health advocate ---- and for bringing Princess Leia, one of my favorite movie characters, to life onscreen. Rest in Peace.

28 December 2016

Living #History: #BingeWatch #SleepyHollow #Kurgen #AmericanRevolution #Armory

I never particularly liked the history courses in school. History was, unfortunately, a staid subject in the hands of the old hat teachers from whom I took classes. Thankfully, I did not allow this to deter my personal perusal. I sought and read far-flung (and at times far-fetched) missives of our past. Enmeshed in journals, diaries, maps and correspondence found through my own tutelage, I became a History buff.

I am overly fond of the Gilded Age, the American Revolutionary period, and the American Civil War/Reconstruction era, my favorite trio of historical epochs in modernity. (Periods of intense struggle and periods of enlightenment & growth speak to me.) I'm the sort of geek who would participate in historically accurate re-enactments of major events. History must remain alive to us, lest we forget it, and carelessly repeat the bad parts.

Occasionally, society requires a memory jog. This may take myriad forms; some of which employ a bit of a license, as is the case with historical fiction. If reading a trumped up story about what might have been makes one curious about what actually was then I'm all for it. If being entertained by borrowed elements of history, intermingled with Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Action/Adventure, gives one any sort of clue that the History of the World is alive and ongoing, it's a win for humanity.

I am not naive enough to believe everyone is interested in History as a subject, but in order for our society to progress, in order for humans to evolve, the layman should have some inkling of History, be it only glancing. (There is a reason history is generally a required secondary school subject.) It is when we live in obtuse denial that we get into trouble.

As important as it is to understand History, there's also nothing wrong in having fun with it, which brings me to Sleepy Hollow (2013-), the television series that I started watching yesterday.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) by Washington Irving is a favorite tale that I first encountered as a young child. I also adore the Disney animated short (1958) based upon the story, it was often shown on television around Halloween when I was a kid.
When I first heard about this new Sleepy Hollow TV series, I didn't rush to watch it, exactly because I so love Irving's short story as well as the imagery of the Disney short. I wasn't certain I wanted updated visuals (and a divergent storyline) tampering with my cherished childhood memories, so I stayed away. In the intervening years since the series debuted, I kept hearing good things about it. I became curious. When my sister mentioned she'd bought the first season of the show during her Black Friday shopping forays, I decided to take the plunge and asked to borrow it. (She loaned it to me on Boxing Day.)

I've only watched a couple episodes so far, but I'm glad I took a chance on it. It has proven to be both interesting and entertaining, which goes to show that challenging one's comfort zones can be a good thing.
An aside: Fun to see Clancy Brown, whom I've adored since he played the Kurgen in Highlander (1986) turn up in Sleepy Hollow. By the way, I'm fascinated by weaponry (and the associated defensive mechanisms), especially historical items like swords, battle axes, bows, maces, etc., and collect them. I have quite a nice little armory. I also have a particular affinity for the Scottish Highlands, in part due to my ancestry. I love the idea of the supernatural and am a rabid Sci-Fi fan, so obviously Highlander is my kind of flick.
Well, I'm off to watch the other episodes and enjoy the remainder of my holiday vacation before getting back in the saddle of the workhorse next week. Toodles!

27 December 2016

A Rainy Night in Georgia. Our Wild Weather Keeps on Trucking #WeatherGeek

Christmas Eve was in the sixties. Christmas Day started off in the fifties and topped out in the seventies. Yesterday, started in the fifties also, but pretty much stayed there as clouds, mist, drizzle and fog rolled in... which made the day simultaneously damp and clammy. Today, it's supposed to dry out a bit and return to almost seventy degrees.

My container garden, which utilizes seasonal plants that are supposed to go dormant over the Winter, is still blooming. The weather is like a yo-yo or a pogo stick, bouncing up and down, screwing with Nature's Clock. Air quality is consistently poor. My allergies are killing me, of course (literally and figuratively). I like the great outdoors, it loves me to death. Every time my system gets close to stabilizing, the weather pattern shifts once more.

So much for Winter. It's like I'm suffering through Spring in December. Hooray for January! Perhaps, next month will be more typical. But I'm not gonna hold my breath (it wouldn't be wise, I'm having respiratory problems as is). I might need a vacation from my vacation. I declare Tuesday a day of rest and binge watching. Borrowed Sleepy Hollow, Season One from my sister. Where's the popcorn? I need a Coke.

26 December 2016

The Legend of #Tarzan Blu-ray #MovieReview #CGI #MatingCall @wbpictures

On Christmas Day, I watched The Legend of Tarzan at the behest of one of my sisters who'd brought along her personal copy. (At family holiday get-togethers, we generally watch movies for at least a part of the day traditionally.) She went to see it in the theater, had previously said it was one of the better movies she'd seen this year, and bought a copy of it during Black Friday sales. Having seen several versions of Tarzan (including a Saturday morning cartoon that I watched as a child on our little B&W television), I was skeptical that this particular film could hold any charm, but I underestimated David Yates (the director).

It was a surprisingly decent movie. Not perfect (the overdone CGI featured in the end "grand fight" sequence seemed especially ham-fisted, for instance) but entertaining overall, mainly due to its sweeping lush scenery, CGI animals, a few inspired performances and some wry humored dialogue. It was a story told with a bit of umpf and I enjoyed it enough that I would purchase my own copy for a fair price.

I had never considered Alexander Skarsgård as a potential Lord of the Jungle. I've seen a few of his Swedish flicks (he wasn't nearly as buff in those days) and one or two things he's done since arriving in Hollywood, but he had not the gravitas of his father, Stellan. But he embodied Tarzan all out in this. His height and size were exactly what was called for, and his grace, in spite of the aforementioned traits, made the perfect counterpoint for a long lost English lord.

Skarsgård and Margot Robbie had a warm chemistry, and Robbie, in her turn, brought enough of an edge to Jane that the character was rescued from the ashpile of annoying females and reinvigorated as a sensible woman with spunk. (A welcome respite from Jane as pitiful damsel in distress.) Samuel Jackson brought his own brand of craziness as usual and Christoph Waltz proved that he is once again an enjoyable despot. To a man, the casting was spot on.

The humor was both unexpected and well-placed. The action punchy, sharp and at times laughable (purposely). The animals majestic, if unreal. And the use of the natural order, from fights for dominance to mating calls, to create tension and resolve plot was a deft touch. You could have pinched me. (My sister and I often disagree on films.) A good Sunday afternoon flick arrived unexpectedly and I'm glad I answered the door to admit it.

25 December 2016

All the #WorldsFair Game: A #Carnival Themed Room #FunFood #Nostalgia #Novelty #Cake

As a child, I loved it when the county fair came to town bringing its Calliope music, amusement park rides, games, ponies and plethora of concession stand foods. My mom would take us and we'd wander the fairgrounds for hours, imbibing all the sights and sounds. There were so many other worldly things to behold. It was heaven. A fair was such a place of magic for me that when I handed over my admission ticket and crossed through its gates being surrounded by hoards of people no longer fazed me.

I almost always won a little goldfish, which I would bear home excitedly in its water-filled plastic bag, my hands still sticky with cotton candy, my pocket bulging from a candy apple I'd tucked there to munch later. My closest sister and I would tally our spoils and regale each other with stories of how each item had been acquired, our tales getting taller with each retelling. We'd giggle long into the night, falling asleep with bellies full of mirth. The glow from a visit to the fair could illuminate me for days.

Being an unique individual, an odd duck as it were, I enjoy variety, novelty and strangeness and the fair packed all this in a plenty. There was no place like it on earth --- a window to worlds far removed from the staid, conservative box walling in my small town life. Unbelievably, as young and impressionable little nerd, I got to attend the 1982 World's Fair (or the Knoxville International Energy Exposition) on a field trip with the school's gifted program. In my reflections, the World's Fair marked the first time that I was able to personally witness working large scale ideas, which up to that point I'd only read about in books.

Encountering "dreams made real" altered my entire concept of thinking like a "county fair x 1,000,000" the World's Fair proved an event so momentous it would inform much of my adult life philosophy, from my hard-core support of solar energy to my desire to build a video arcade in the basement of my dream home. To this day, I'm still not certain how my mother managed to pull off paying for the trip. As an adult, I can well appreciate the sacrifices it must have meant for our materially poor family to scrimp and save the funds required. (My mother would move mountains for her children's education. Thank you, mom.) Oh, what memories --- still so vivid in my mind's eye!

With such far out experiences warping my psyche, it should be no wonder that I collect World's Fair memorabilia, automatons, puppets, marionettes and novelty kitsch, or that I love stuffed animals, pet fish, target shooting and concession foods like funnel cake, nachos and popcorn. My basement blueprint (consisting of a barroom, entertainment center and home theater) is centered around a carnival theme. When complete, it will have a sizable concessions area where all manner of novelty food stuff can be made on the fly.

Image (c) Kmart.com
Mini Bundt Cake Maker
Image (c) Kmart.com
Mini Bundt Cake Maker
I keep an eye out for deals on nifty small kitchen appliances and too bright decor in order to outfit my concessions grotto. (At this point, I own a good number of zany carnival inspired food gadgets made by companies such as Nostalgia Electrics.) Over the summer, I purchased a flipping Elite Cuisine Mini Bundt Cake Maker, ostensibly because I didn't like the fact that it will overheat the entire house if the oven is turned on in order to bake a cake when it's 90+ degrees outside. In truth, I simply adore kitchen gadgets, especially ones that make food fun.

I got it for a steal. Regularly priced $39.99 at Kmart online; however, by combining a Sears Gift Card (earned via Recyclebank), SYWR Points, SYWR Surprise Points, and a coupon, I only paid $2.25 OOP using my free cash Bluebird card --- and it was shipped to me for free due to my SYWMax program trial!
Yesterday, while watching a movie, I also baked a couple mini bundt cakes, just because I could. (Well, Kroger gave me a free box of Pillsbury Cake Mix during its 12 Days of Deals Holiday promotion and that strawberry cake mix kept staring at me, so I gave in and baked it. 1 box of cake mix = 2 mini cakes) Pup, who is ever a ready sous chef, tried to eat an entire mini cake. It ended up being a great afternoon in spite of a lackluster movie rental (Florence Foster Jenkins). A good time was had by all!

24 December 2016

What's Your Name? Call Me Procrastinator #LastMinuteShopping #Movies #WeatherGeek

Dinner + Movie Night was a roaring success! I'm still in recovery mode having only gone to bed a few hours ago. Lack of sleep isn't my problem, however, because my natural sleep cycle is only four hours. No, most often my day simply does not have enough time available within it to accomplish everything I need to get done.

Today is an exception. I haven't planned much beyond doing some last minute shopping --- Egads! I may actually need to venture out to a store. Oh, the horror --- and watching a few flicks (need to use some expiring Redbox Playpass Credits).

Due to various relatives heading this way for the holidays, things will likely be crazy for the next 10 days. We'll have to play it by ear. (I'm trying to keep to a posting schedule... Good luck with that, says a little voice.)

By the way, our odd weather continues. It's supposed to get up to 70 degrees on Christmas day. December? Where are you? I don't mind the mild Winter, except for the preponderance of bugs still giddily flying around. An amateur entomologist, I like bugs generally --- when they aren't dive-bombing into my eye, which has happened quite a lot of late. Perhaps, their sense of direction is being skewed by the weather, for these insect varieties aren't used to being active this late into the year. (To bastardize Yaz: How Winter Kills... or not.)

Well, I should get my gear together. It'll be time to brave the wilderness soon. Crowds. Ick. Wish I had a magic wand to wave and make them disappear.

On the bright side, I picked up French fries and Ranch Dressing (this week's Free Friday Download) at my local Kroger store to munch on while watching movies later. Not certain what I should rent. I'm interested in seeing Florence Foster Jenkins, but may lean toward something Sci-Fi or Fantasy based to unwind, depending on how the day has gone. Guess I'll take a chance on whatever is in the Redbox kiosk.

23 December 2016

Friday = #Movie Night + #Pizza Dinner @PapaJohns @vudufans #StarTrek #UltraViolet

It's a loooooong weekend for me beginning later today, so I've plotted out some fun activities... tonight is Dinner + Movie Night!

I'm planning to watch both Star Trek: Into Darkness and Star Trek: Beyond --- downloaded each UltraViolet Digital Copy from my Vudu library to my media server (basically a custom SmartTV box) yesterday, so the show is ready to go on this evening. While I don't mind streaming movies, I prefer to download a digital copy when I have the option in order to remove any worry about network performance issues. (One would assume) that the likelihood of a service slowdown or complete outage increases around the holidays as a lot off people get time off and use their breaks to binge watch. Nothing ruins the fun like having your movie watching experience disrupted.

I love movies and I love pizza. The two make a great combination. So, of course, pizza is on the menu for Dinner + Movie Night. In preparation, I also cashed out yesterday for a free Papa John's eGift Card reward at My Points that should cover the pizza. As a bonus, there's also a VISA Checkout promotion to get a free pizza later on, when you order a pizza now. (At least a penny of the pizza cost must be charged to your VISA card via said payment service.) This will take care of dinner tonight and another night, perhaps tomorrow. Two (nearly) free pizzas? One can never have too much pizza!

As luck would have it, my free 12-Pack Sparkling Coupons from My Coke Rewards Holiday Catalog are starting to arrive. (I cashed out for the maximum of four free 12-Pack coupons.) So, I'll probably pop by a store at some point later today and pickup beverages. Yes, you heard that right. In addition to free movies --- I received both Star Trek UV DCs for free from different promotions --- and free pizza, throw in some free soda. It's a Freebie Fiesta! Win, win, win!

I'm due to wrap up a client project today before officially starting my holiday break this afternoon, so right now I'm doing a fair imitation of Grumpy Cat. But if I'm feeling in a more generous mood once the day's work is done, I may invite someone special over and turn Dinner + Movie Night into Date Night. Wink, wink. Well, my Friday night is set. What's on tap for you?

DISCLOSURE: This post may include referral link/s.

22 December 2016

Adult Story Time? Being Read to vs. #Reading. #Audiobooks #SmartAssistants #DigitalLibrary

I am an inveterate reader. I was lucky enough to obtain a public library card at a young age and I made extensive use of it. As I have mentioned previously, I grew up materially poor (in poverty) but educationally enriched. Obviously, periodically lacking basic necessities like food, water and shelter made an impact on me. Poor childhood health care made an impact. But excepting daily sustenance requirements, the only thing I have sought my entire life is Knowledge.

To be honest, I didn't realize I was "poor" until I went to school and first encountered "rich kids". Prior to enrolling in kindergarten, I'd assumed with the naivety of childhood that being "working poor" was the standard, as it was all I'd known beforehand. I can't say I was much impressed with "the other side." Not being materialistic, the lack of having random things didn't matter to me, but "ownership" certainly seemed to be the end all and be all for many of my neighbors. (Don't get me wrong, I enjoy creature comforts and like having my toys, but at the end of the day it's just stuff and will never outweigh what truly matters.)

The other children with whom I went to school would often ask me silly questions. How'd I get so smart? (DNA and curiosity leads me to read.) Did my parents pay me for getting good grades? (As if.) Did I go home and read the encyclopedia for fun? (Sometimes.) Learning is fun. Not school, but the ability to learn. School is an often unpleasant institution. The majority of my learning occurred away from school immersed in books, often at the local library. Being self-taught also made me an oddity, as I would often know more about a subject than the person who was supposed to teach it to us in school. I'm not boasting, my expertise on specific subjects often resulted in my teachers turning over a class to me. For instance, I taught a mini-course on Greek Mythology in high school.

I guess it was difficult for other schoolchildren (not to mention the teachers and administrators) to understand me. According to what had been ingrained in them by a segregated, conservative, and patriarchal society, I was an anomaly or perhaps worse, an aberration --- a female child "from the other side of the tracks" who effortlessly outperformed everyone else by leaps & bounds. If since birth, you've been given to believe that you're special, that you're superior to others and that certain privileges are your God-given right (think Divine Right of Kings), then I suppose meeting someone like me is a rude awakening. Welcome to the real world, lad.

I did not apologize then, and I do not apologize now for being myself. My very existence does not require justification, regardless of what others were told. The very thought of which is ludicrous. And so went school. I ate the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge while surrounded by Philistines (Education is indeed a great leveler. It is not a perfect pill nor a magic wand, for our world is no meritocracy, though I wish it were, but Education is a boost that can make things more equitable.) In league with Descartes, I embodied Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore, I am).

I might have been born and raised in a small (and often small-minded) town, but I knew that the world was not flat. No, the world was pregnant with wonder, for I had read it. The existence of books and the Knowledge contained within their pages sustained me, kept me sane. Trapped in a society that could not give me succor, I chose to inhabit a world of my own creation inside my head. Reading became such an integral part of my personal development, I could not imagine my "self" without it. This is still true today.

As a result, it is difficult for me to accept being read to. As a wee child, attending story time in school or at the local library meant that I would fidget. Impatient, my mind would wander. I wanted to hold the book myself, to turn its pages, to see the words. Where was the excitement in having someone else tell you a story when I could very well read it for myself? This mentality has carried over into my adulthood.

In spite of the popularity of audiobooks, I can feel no warmth toward them. The voice inside my head is a much better narrator than those people speaking various books aloud. I have tried to adjust my abhorrence of audiobooks through logic mentally chiding myself with statements like "Think of the multitasking advantage, listening to an audiobook means your hands are free to do other things." It hasn't exactly worked. I usually give up on listening to an audiobook within 10 minutes.

The only audiobooks I have ever been able to get through is the Harry Potter series, and I believe this is for two reasons: 1) I already knew and loved the stories before I attempted to listen to them and 2) Jim Dale's (the narrator of the American editions) retelling of them is very similar to the narrator inside my own head. Thus, I am able to suspend my knee-jerk reactions at having a story read to me. (I know this second part is true because I could not, in turn, cotton to the British editions of Harry Potter audiobooks. You'd think the British editions would be more authentic, considering it's Harry Potter, but I prefer the way Dale does them.)

I'm trying to embrace audiobooks more than I have in the past. Audiobooks will never supplant books in my heart, and I wouldn't wish them to do so, but I hope to use them as a supplement for times when I have other things going. Ever the geek, I do like the idea of asking a Smart Assistant like Alexa to read to me while I tinker in my lab or experiment in my kitchen. But this will take some doing. Right now it feels like ripping a part of myself away, giving up the privilege of reading in order to be read to. It flies in the face of my mile-wide independent streak. I keep repeating that doing this will allow me to be augmented in other ways. But so far I'm not buying it.

21 December 2016

#Vegeversary What Can I Make with... #ingredients #recipes #pantry to Satisfy My Sweet Tooth?

Ever had a random craving that will not go away until it's satisfied? It happens. (Luckily for me, not often.) I hate it, but what does one do? The body is a strange and wonderful machine with a mind of its own. I try to listen to my body, but sometimes it speaks a foreign language I have yet to learn.
'Tis the season! Winter officially arrives at 5:44a this morning. The Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice each coincide with an important date in my life.
Yesterday, for whatever reason, I randomly craved sugar. Don't get me wrong, I like sweets perfectly well, but I tend to only eat sweets in spells. Day to day, if you were to find me snacking, it would most likely be on something salty or savory. So while I do eat sweets, I seldom crave them so intensely that I start searching the pantry for them, as I did then. Unfortunately, the cupboard was bare.

Frustrated, I resorted to examining the potential ingredients I had on hand in order to determine what I could make quickly and without hassle. As I have yet to do any grocery shopping this week, I used one of those recipes search engines that seeks matches based upon an ingredients list that one inputs. Out of milk, butter and oil, but with sugar, eggs and a few other sundries, I got a short list of results. I rapidly scanned down the page, until my eyes fell upon a recipe for a simple peanut butter cookie.

Who'd have thought that 1:1:1 egg, sugar and peanut butter would combine into simply the best peanut butter cookie. It was wonderful. Craving satisfied. (I believe in satisfying one's cravings within reason. I don't deny myself, instead opting to use moderation as a guideline. You only live once, why work at making yourself unhappy? There's enough crap in the world as is. Mindful indulgence works to the benefit of your mental health, if not your physical self. Both mental and physical health is needed, so a balance must be struck.) Have a cookie.

FOOTNOTE: I don't eat meat, but this was a natural progression for me, because I didn't desire it. Giving up meat, therefore, was not truly denying myself anything. Today is my vegeversary! I became a lacto/ovo vegetarian by way of a conscious choice to give up meat on 21-12-1989. Having spent more of my life without meat, than with it, at this point, I don't recall what meat tastes like. It has all the appeal of cardboard.

20 December 2016

When #Nature Calls, Sometimes It's a Wrong Number #GoodDog #Dogs #Wilderness #Fauna

So last night, er correct that, as 'twas 1:00a, so this morning. My pup comes to get me. (By the way, I will generally refer to any dog as puppy or pup, regardless of its age, because each is someone's furbaby --- or should be. To say, I'm a dog person is, putting it mildly.) Anywho, she's all frisky and dancing around and nudging me. So I ask her, if she needs to go out. Instant tail wag.

Know that normally, she sleeps through the night without incident, but like her human counterparts she sometimes over indulges during the holidays --- everybody who visits us these days brings treats, or so it seems --- and occasionally needs "an extra go." All she has to do is ask. I will get up and take her out, day or night. No argument.

She knows this, and as I found out this morning, counts on it. (We've had a few coyote sightings in our area recently, so I don't allow her to range unattended at night, though she'd no doubt be a proper match for any coyote. I'm not faulting the coyote, mind, we humans are the culprits who've encroached on his habitat.)
Rhodesian Ridgeback
Temperament: Dignified, Intelligent, Loyal, Mischievous, Sensitive, Strong Willed
So we go out at 1:00a-ish. It's already dropped down to 30 odd degrees outside. In other words, it's as cold as a witch's tit. But pup, my pup, she's out strolling like we're taking a Sunday morning constitutional, leisurely checking each and every tree, sometimes doubling back, pausing here and there. After a bit of this, I start to get the sneaking suspicion that I'd been snookered.

Of course, it being in the thirties outside is no matter to her. She has a nice full length fur coat, so frolicking in cold weather is nothing to her. I stop mid-step, I'm like pup, "Do you actually need to go?" She turns around and gives me the doe eyes, like "Whatdayamean? I thought this was a walk..." And there you have it. I discovered I live with a con artist.

We turned around and headed back toward the house. She came back in and went straight off to sleep. I, on the other hand, was wide awake from the effects of the bracing cold air. Shaking my head and laughing to myself. The rascal. Rhodesian Ridgeback for the win!

19 December 2016

(Re)Emergence of #InternetRadio: Hey @VTechPhones What happened to... #VTechIS9181? #GadgetGeek #GlobalNews #Trends #WorldMusic

Was flipping through the January/February 2017 issue of Men's Journal magazine (Liam Neeson!) yesterday, when I hit the Style & Design Notebook section and paused to check out the page of products being touted as "What's New". Under the heading "Tune in to the World" there's a blurb about a $300 standalone WiFi-connected Internet Radio player that allows one to "tune in to radio from all over the globe." The (unknown) authors go on to crow, "Reggae from France? It's our new favorite preset."

This, of course, immediately made me think of the standalone VTech IS9181 WiFi Internet Radio [See vtechphones.com/internet-radio/internet-radio] that I won in some random contest back in November 2010 and have been enjoying ever since. (Sadly, it seems VTech gave up on the product. I don't believe that it's still in production --- when one clicks [Buy Now] on the product page above it returns a "product not found" error --- but I absolutely love mine.)

For an information junkie and music maniac like me, it's nothing short of amazing to have access to 11,000 odd radio channels streamed on demand from around the world, particularly ones featuring my favorite genres Talk Radio, News, Opera, Early Music, Classical and Rai. I'm that geek who would tune in to obscure channels from around the world using my lowly desktop computer back in the day, so it's a treat to have a standalone player with good sound that can handle the same task, retrieve basic weather data, and function as an alarm clock, if needed. There's also a little remote which allows me to change settings on the fly.

Winning a VTech IS9181 WiFi Internet Radio as a contest prize back in 2010 was definitely a score! Nice to see that standalone internet radios are seemingly making a comeback and being touted as cool gadgets. I concur.

In what could certainly be viewed as a serendipitous move, I picked up the December 12-25, 2016 issue of New York magazine after finishing Men's Journal. Its "The Urbanist" column examines "The Globalization of Local Radio" through a lens which focuses on the local radio station as truly endemic of its surrounding community (formerly its broadcast area), i.e, what defines the culture, what makes the place unique. Of course, the beauty here --- as the column author aptly points out --- is that in modernity anyone with an internet connection and the appropriate hardware & software can eavesdrop on these "vignettes of local life", because so many local radio stations are now streamed online. The Internet morphed limited broadcast area local radio into Global Internet Radio. And we all can benefit.

The meat of the column is several pages --- which I scanned to compact PDF in order to save as a reference --- of interesting local radio stations from around the world, complete with show highlights, broadcast URLs and airtime. In other words, myriad new stations to tune in to using my VTech IS9181.

My listening future is so bright, I've gotta wear... Hey Alexa, close the shades. Ha! Ha! Welcome to the New Age of the Wireless!

18 December 2016

#Grammar Wrongs < An Author's Voice

Dear Grammarians,

I am a practitioner of the Language Arts in its definition as the art of language. I study language/s with relish. I'm a fan of Greek and Latin, Old Norse and Old English and these are merely the opening act. My vocabulary is writ large and multilingual, rife with dialects or cultural contradictions, accents and shorthand. Language is a Grand Old Party, preferably of the Lincoln vintage. (Sixteen is sweet for a number of reasons. Pun intended or at the very least intimated.)

I am well educated. This is said as a statement of fact, not as a boast, though I am an unapologetic snob in many regards. I became both a fledgling etymologist (and a budding entomologist, because I dig bugs (sometimes literally) and appreciated the tandem symbology) around the age of two. I was, to put it mildly, a precocious child. Words were my first Great Love. I am enamoured still. Agape mou (not meant in the biblical manner). Fuck Words! Oops.

To save you bother, know that Strunk & White are dear friends, but their ministrations are relegated to an electronic book these days. Have I mentioned that I am also also a techie (and Monty Python fan)? I know Grammar. Hi, Grammar! I often choose to ply or ignore completely its rules. Alas, poor Grammar! I do so intentionally... because I can. This amuses me. I'm laughing as I write this. My smile is wry. My humor chiefly British. (See the perhaps fabricated er, exaggerated "History of the State of Georgia, former 13th Colony". I'm the author. It's a work in progress, but I digress.)

Make no mistake; however, I am an American. I am "big on" personal liberty (and its kissing cousin personal accountability). By the way, I adore parenthetical phrases and hyphenated clauses --- and overuse them. And I occasionally start sentences with "and" or "but", use Apostrophe mercilessly and dangle participles as I choose. (In case you possess sensitive ears, I will state upfront at the getgo that I believe curse words are the pepper of language. I happen to like pepper in my cooking and my speech.) Odd to you, these predilections are my right as an Author. I believe language should be fun and exciting instead of being plainly utilitarian. Loosen up.

Please also note that I often employ vernacular, colloquialisms and turns of phrase which may offend your sense of what is right and proper. Sorry not sorry. Do not feel the need to "correct" me. Stay your red pen. I am woe to call anyone a "Nazi", a terrible term for a reason, but if the shoe fits wear it, Cinderella. I know Grammar. Bye, Grammar! I am no student Hell bent on proving to some teacher that I can memorize and regurgitate a set of arbitrary rules. This is not school. I have never enjoyed being spoon fed. I am an adult who strategically throws verbal tantrums. Take a deep breath, if need be. Deal with it.

I am an Author. Toying with language and grammar is the very foundation of my Voice. I've been at it a lifetime. For me, the Wonder of Language is in its active usage and we all know this alters over time. Words fall out of favor or return to fashion upon the whims of Man. In spite of this, nay, because of this, I always march to the beat of my own drum, which may or may not be in step with current conventions. For I am a true Southern Rebel. Also, a real American Revolutionary. Don't Tread on Me. Quote me.

Caveat Emptor! (Boy howdy son, was that fun to write!)

--- The "Sybilant" Southerner, the Snake in your grammatical Garden of Eden.

P.S. Go ahead, bite the Apple. Knowledge is Power.

17 December 2016

A Free One Year Supply of #Cheerwine? Land sakes! #Soda #Rewards #FanClub

Did it. Yes, yes, y'all. FINALLY!
Cheerwine logo
After having saved for nearly nine months, on yesterday I hit the threshold of points needed to cashout for the top reward available in the Cheerwine Authentic Soda Society catalog.
Give me the precious. It's mine!

With a rebel yell and a fist pump of triumph, I redeemed all the points I'd banked since last April for a free one year supply of Cheerwine (in the form of twenty-four coupons for a free 12-pack of Cheerwine). Holy Cow!

Hmm... Does one drink two 12-packs of soda per month on average? While I could easily guzzle it all by myself, don't worry, I plan to share the bounty with my family and friends. I mean, that's a lot of soda. I certainly wouldn't try to redeem all the coupons at once. But it will be nice to get some free Cheerwine whenever I need a fix. Besides, I do entertain a bit here and there, so this will make for great storeroom stock at my home bar. I've got plans to hatch.

What does one do with a free one year supply of Cheerwine? No idea, but I intend to find out. (I'm certain my "twin" will render assistance. He is such a helpful fella.) Yeah, I'm grinning as I type this. Mwhahaha! Happy Holidays to me!

P.S. I did lust after the "Set of Four Vintage Cheerwine Glasses + One Free 12-pack Coupon" reward and almost pulled the trigger on it, because I really want a set of those glasses for my home bar. But due to the fact that one could earn only ~20 points per month, it would be impossible to claim more than one upper tier reward this first year. So I decided to keep saving for the highest value reward. Alas! Perhaps Cheerwine will repeat the program next year. Hint. Hint. If so, I can opt for the vintage glasses set at that time. Fingers crossed.

16 December 2016

#Photography Fools and Public Pictures

I hate having my picture taken. It is anathema to me. I cringe on the inside. I sometimes can't help but flinch on the outside. My mother did not like having her picture taken, her mother did not like having her picture taken either. It is apparently hereditary.

I am thankful for the few photographs I have of my mother and my maternal grandmother. I will sometimes consent to being photographed --- mostly at the behest of friends and family who complain that they "have no pictures of me.." But neither of these things change the basic truth that I hate being photographed.
I will say that I have no issue with photography as an art form and appreciate its merits. I love the history of photography, the history of the development of the camera and the magic of early photographs. (I happen to collect daguerreotypes and large format prints.) 
Being that kind of geek, I eagerly took a course at uni to learn how to develop my own photographs. Except for the fact that I'm seriously allergic to the chemicals used to develop photos --- as I unfortunately found out during the aforementioned course --- I could see having my own darkroom in my home.
Living in an Age where cameras are ubiquitous and where (most) people seem to assume everything needs to be photographed relentlessly and posted onto social media has upon occasion proved a source of consternation. It throws people when you say "please don't take my picture". They think it's some vanity or affectation. It's neither. "How could you NOT want to be photographed?" they inquire.

Sad to say, our society is such that some people ignore my request. While I well understand there is not a legal expectation of privacy when in public, there is (or should be) a certain amount of respect for your fellowman. But humans can be animals! I stand my ground and draw a line at aggressive photogs. I've unfortunately encountered a few. Though tempted, I haven't punched anyone... yet.

I'm asocial. I don't like attention. I always seem to attract it, however. Regardless, I don't think I will ever be comfortable with being photographed. However, I've tried to become more open to taking pictures (of things) from a professional standpoint. Pictures can be helpful, I know, but it's not natural to me. I didn't own a camera, until I took that photography course.

Nowadays every gadget comes with multiple cameras. (Most of which I've covered with black electrical tape.) I accept that cameras are everywhere. I do not have to like it. This has nothing to do with how I look or being "wanted by the police" which are apparently the top two reasons for a person not desiring to be photographed. Ha!

If you've wondered why most of this blog is text, know that I mentally debate if a picture is necessary with every post I make. I'm trying to be more objective, but words were my first love. I'm a shaky novice with a camera.

I hope to become more proficient, to develop an eye. I hope to strike a balance on this blog where images become a graceful and welcome addition. (I created accounts on the major social media platforms, many of which are reliant on photographs, both to encourage my fledgling skills and protect brand identity.) It's a work in progress adjusting my frame of view. Bear with me.

15 December 2016

There Be Monsters Here. Pete's #Dragon & the Remaking of a Beloved #Disney Classic #Movie

I'm wary of seeing remakes of movies. Hollywood has been on a rampage, seemingly determined to remake every movie in recent (and not so recent) history; sometimes rebooting films mere years after the last remake. As a result, the quality of films being put out is at an all time low, in my opinion. There is little original, and the remakes are uninspired derivative drivel (for the most part).

Considering the landscape, it's a pleasant surprise when one discovers a remake with some merit. Sadly, this is not that tale. On a bit of a lark, a few days ago I rented the remake of Pete's Dragon (2016) on Google Play.
Google Play gave me $1.00 account credit + an "$0.99 Any Movie Rental" promotion = Free Movie Rental w/ 1-cent leftover.
I LOVE DRAGONS! Thought I should state this up front. I wanted a pet dragon as a wee tot, was fascinated with them and was sorely disappointed to be told such creatures did not exist. My personal video library is heavy on dragon flicks. I like them animated, animatronic and/or CGI. I will check out a movie merely because I heard a dragon makes an appearance in it.

Thus, I decided to take a chance on this new version of Pete's Dragon in spite of my distaste for remakes. Since it was a free movie rental, I figured if I absolutely hated it, I'd just stop watching, but I wanted to at least see the updated CGI Eliot. (In all honesty the original wasn't a spectacular film, but it gets a pass due to the gloss of my childhood nostalgia and because... DRAGON.)

Well, the movie started off very slowly. And initially I didn't gel with the fuzzy green CGI Eliot. Frustrated, I stopped watching for nearly 24 hours.
By the way, thanks for the longer active viewing window, Google Play --- so much nicer than "you only have 24 hours to view this title".
But I eventually went back, gave it another chance and finished watching it. Eliot grew on me, the human characters did not. (I actually desired to inflict violence upon several of them.) The storyline employs a good deal of heavy handed over-dramatizations, not to mention its plethora of "stupid human tricks".

I wouldn't purchase a copy and I probably would not watch it again --- unless babysitting a child who was interested in viewing it --- but there were moments of charm (mainly concerning the dragon). However, if Eliot does a spinoff without those pesky humans, I'm so there.

14 December 2016

Data Hog? #AmazonEcho on a Metered Connection? Without Internet Altogether? Not so fast...

As a new Amazon Echo owner, I have been debating whether I should embrace "always on". Beyond the Big Brother security and privacy concerns of having constant eavesdropping by Amazon and worse still personal recordings plumbed by unscrupulous third-party data-miners, I wondered how much data does Alexa eat? And the answer seems to be that she is a glutton.

Cursory research returned numerous complaints of users suddenly blowing through data caps. Apparently, learning a user's habits, predicting his likes, ordering items and checking the latest sports scores takes a unbelievable amount of bandwidth. I'm talking upwards of 50GBs IN A DAY, if reports are accurate.

Ridiculous! (I would NOT advise using Alexa on a metered connection. If you must try it, make certain to turn the unit off completely when not actively using it. As an alternative, consider using the Alexa app only, which you must select to activate in the case of the Amazon Fire Tablet.)

So far, I've only come across one mention of someone using an Echo sans Internet (as a Bluetooth speaker), but I want to know if Alexa can be employed strictly across a local intranet, without needing to phone home (i.e., report back to Amazon). I don't care about generating orders or asking random questions, my interest is in using Alexa to control "smart" things and this could be made an entirely localized activity, so I'm currently experimenting and testing limits, still early in the setup phase.

13 December 2016

Thanks @Target for Helping Make My #Holidays Brighter! That $10.00 #HolidayDecorations #Coupon. #PhilipsMiniLights @EnergyStar

Out of the blue, Target sent me an email titled, "Surprise! Coupon for $10 off holiday decorations inside." The coupon was one-time use, excluded food and beverage items, and expired on the 17th, but had no minimum purchase requirements. What? $10.00 in free merchandise, you say?
Word of this promotion spread fast online and led to much begging on the part of many of those who said they did not receive a coupon. Who knows what criteria put me on the recipient list? I simply said, "Thank the Maker," when I discovered said coupon in my inbox and planned a trip to Target.
I am an online shopper of old. I avoid Brick & Mortar like the plague with few exceptions, one being an in-store only deal too good to pass up.

After browsing m.target.com, I decided I might acquire a couple holiday lights sets. There were some Philips 100 Mini Lights strings rated for indoor/outdoor use that looked promising. They listed a limited 3-Year Guarantee, an Energy Star rating, multiple color options and a $4.99 MSRP. (I would have preferred an LED light string, but at least these incandescent bulbs carried an Energy Star label.)

I also noticed a Westinghouse 2-Outlet Indoor Wireless Remote Control for $10.99, which really got me excited, but I wasn't certain it would qualify as "holiday decorations" though it was shown on a page with holiday decor items in an old Target circular from the week prior, advertised as a way to control your lights and such I suppose.

I made the Westinghouse gadget my first choice and the lights my backup plan. Then my sister happened to mention that she was about to go out shopping when we were chatting, so I asked her if she could go by Target for me. I sent my short list and $10.00 holiday decorations coupon with her. (Saved me a trip. It was bear cold and blustery as all Hell outdoors.) I always try to write down exact items on a list whenever I ask someone else to pick up anything. Cuts down on confusion. Minimizes what's required of him (or her).

Philips Mini Lights
Philips Mini Lights
At the store however, my sister couldn't find my first choice, the Westinghouse Wireless Remote, and with this being the busy holiday season, also couldn't locate any Target employee to help her look for it. Frustrated, she moved on, and was able to locate the Philips Mini Lights sets. She came back from the store with a multicolored string and a red, green, white tricolor string. (As each box was $4.99, the net cost was $0.00.) Score!

I was disappointed that I did not get an opportunity to check out the Westinghouse Wireless Remote gadget, but I was still happy to get some free holiday lights.

Thanks, Target! Happy Holidays!

12 December 2016

Order Process Shortsightedness @Amazon Ignores #AmazonSmile

Dear Amazon,

Why do you keep pushing me to shop in-app or order with Alexa when neither of these entry points allow me to generate AmazonSmile eligible orders? What was the point of creating a charitable program allowing customers like me to give back, if you weren't going to support this program across the board? I will not shop using the Amazon app. I will not ask Alexa to order items for me. I wouldn't consider it.

I start all my shopping sessions at the AmazonSmile portal for a reason --- to support a cause, a charity I've chosen. It was incredibly shortsighted of you to ignore AmazonSmile when developing your apps and your voice controlled platform. Get with (your own) program and fix this! Or simply accept that I will never use your apps to generate orders, so stop flashing those "download our app" advertisements at me.

Uncharitably Peeved

11 December 2016

#DMR Prize Redemption: National Treasure Blu-ray/DVD

I've been saving up points at Disney Movie Rewards since February planning to get a Blu-ray copy of National Treasure as my next prize in time for the holidays. (I own a Blu-ray copy of National Treasure: Book of Secrets and wanted the set.) A few days ago, I hit the total points needed and redeemed in the nick of time for a projected Christmas delivery. (I celebrate Yule.)

I love arcane treasure hunter adventure movies (and books, too). It's like a calling. As a child, I wanted to be a swashbuckling archaeologist long before I'd ever heard the name Indiana Jones.
In an odd coincidence, I actually owned a real bullwhip as a child and became quite proficient in its usage. I found it in a thrift store and somehow convinced my mother it was only a toy. If she'd had any idea of how dangerous it proved before I mastered its snapping lash, she likely would have howled and burned it.
Deciphering clues to follow an esoteric trail thought lost and in order to discover secret knowledge or valuables seems like an ideal career.

I love Indiana Jones, of course, but I particularly identify with the Gates character (played by Nicholas Cage) in the National Treasure series. He's a mechanical engineer, historian, and licensed scuba diver, among other things. He understood that in the quest for Knowledge, the true Holy Grail, one must always be prepared. (I always thought that I should have been a Boy Scout.) It was, in many ways, like watching a version of myself on screen.

I enjoyed both National Treasure films (though the first one was a cut above the second) and look forward to watching them both again over the holidays.

I'm hoping to acquire the Robert Langdon trilogy of films next, but as these are Sony titles I'll have to get creative with the Sony Rewards program (or find them on sale). Perhaps, I can work out a redemption by my next spate of down time. Eventually, I'll have enough films in this genre to be able to setup an all-day viewing marathon.

10 December 2016

Setup Your Own Holiday Muzak Channel #DIY #MicrosoftStore #MP3 #Freebies

It's beginning to look a lot like... the gift giving season is in full swing. Promotions are popping up left and right and tons of free goodies are being parceled out. It's a wonderful time to be a bargain hunter-gatherer!

Before the advent of the Internet, one could always suss out what season it was by the type of music being piped into area department stores. Often tinny-sounding versions of the originals, this Muzak was either a bane or blessing depending upon whom one asked. I generally found it annoying, especially around the holidays. I'd rather listen to real music of my own choosi

In that vein, I was happy to discover that the Microsoft Store made a number of Christmas albums available for free download the other day, including the classic A Charlie Brown's Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio (a Jazz standard) along with some Motown and pop tunes. I snagged them all and plan to program my own Holiday "Muzak channel" Playlist to beam across the various Bluetooth soundbars and speakers strategically placed throughout my home. Nowadays I shop almost exclusively online, but this doesn't mean I can't enjoy all the trappings of the retail holiday season. As I get to pick the music, I can assure that it doesn't annoy me, however. And you wonder why I love tech.

NOTES: I adored the A Charlie Brown's Christmas animated cartoon as a child and watched it religiously every broadcast. (I still watch it every year, but I now own a digital copy, and thus, no longer need to wait for the television programming.) The accompanying musical score has always held a special place in my heart, and so it was an interesting aside to discover after I moved to the Bay area, that Vince Guaraldi had been born in San Francisco and had died just down the road in Menlo Park. This knowledge added another emotional layer to the music, learning that he'd been a "local boy" to an area I consider my other home. Made him seem almost like a long-lost family member reclaimed.

09 December 2016

The #WeatherGeek Weekly: Wintry Cold Rain

A good portion of the state of Georgia is experiencing a severe drought with several northern swaths of the state having reached extreme conditions. Sadly, due to such bone dry conditions, Wildfire Season started earlier this year --- it doesn't "officially" start until January --- and posed a greater danger to surrounding residential areas as the combination of drought and windy, blustery days meant any spark ups could travel far, fast. (Shout out to all the brave Fire & Rescue squad members who have battled the wildfires ravaging the South! We see you.)

The metro Atlanta area had gone through a period of 40 odd days with no measurable precipitation before severe weather invaded the state a few days ago (at least four tornadoes plowed through the area). We need rain, but it's difficult to appreciate it when it arrives with further danger in tow. Thankfully, the latest round of showers  that passed through did not reach severe storm level. Still these showers were coupled with some of the coldest air we've experienced so far this season which made things quite "nippy".

We're already below freezing this morning with a Wind Chill in the 'teens, and projected to go below freezing tomorrow morning and again Sunday morning, before "warming" next week. This is early cold for the South as (the official start of) Winter is still two weeks away. We haven't had morning temps this low since last February. In other words, what's more typical for the heart of Winter is occurring before Winter has actually arrived.

It's runny nose weather --- cold, windy and often wet. Time to break out the Duck Boots, knee socks and cable knit sweaters --- and mull some cider! (My tools of choice for surviving cold weather.)

NOTES: As someone who loves science, theoretical analysis and predictive models, I'm a natural born meteorologist. I have a digital weather station outdoors that beams data indoors. I check the various services radar outputs and make my own reports. I tend to be more accurate than the local news, pinpointing expectations to my own "block".

In spite of my love of all the accompanying weather tech gadgets, I consult local almanacs for historical data (predictive models at work). Poor Richard's was a childhood favorite. As a wee tot, I quite admired Ben Franklin. He was a man of science with a bright mind. My kind of fellow.

In my home town, people lived off of the land, by choice and by need. I was raised in a rural farming and equestrian area with storied traditions and a prominent history. (The local country club hosts one of the nation's oldest, still operating Old English themed fox hunts.) In "explaining" the South and Southerners to strangers, I often try to give a bit of historical perspective. But one must remember each Southern state has its own flavor.

I know Georgia. The state of Georgia was founded as a Royal Charter (Penal) Colony, thus, a lot of our history is strictly Old English (or more accurately Old United Kingdom, for we have strong Scots/Irish influences also). In many ways, the Old South in Georgia is equivalent to Old English Country Life. If you examine how closely Australia, another Royal Penal Colony, to this day mimics English society it may give you some idea about Georgia society historically. I have had British citizens remark that I seem British. Considering my background, it's not surprising.

This history lesson is by way of saying that you can expect me to discuss the weather as more than a mere conversation starter. I was taught to respect the weather at a young age. When you're a farmer (and I hope to grow/raise at least 90% of my family's food) weather controls your livelihood. We plan to live off of the land, as my ancestors before me did, so it helps to be a Boy Scout. Be Prepared.

08 December 2016

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel #AlexaDev #AlexaSkills

Of course, now that I have an Amazon Echo (and the Alexa app on my Fire Tablet), I can't go two seconds without coming across an Alexa Skill. People send them to me, often unsolicited.
Alexa Can Learn: Skills are add-on code snippets that allow Alexa to do new things. Amazon opened the Alexa platform to third-party developers, so there have been a lot of skills created. As with any newly emerging tech, people play around with it. Some skills are mundane, some silly, and others are dead useful. Browse the Alexa app to see what's available. No need to reinvent the wheel. If you need Alexa to do a specific thing/s, chances are someone else might have needed that same ability and there may be a skill for it already in existence. Users can rate Alexa Skills that have been accepted to the platform, so check ratings to find out what others think. Be aware that using a third-party service could mean that Amazon will share your basic user data with said third-party. ALWAYS read privacy policies and terms of use and be aware to which conditions you're agreeing. No commercial entity is entirely altruistic despite catchy mottoes like "Don't Be Evil", so YOU must be the safeguard of your own data. Weigh the trade-offs and limit sharing, when necessary. (This includes what you share with Amazon.com.) Turn off the mic. It's hysterical that the idea of "Always On" is used as a selling point. 1984, much?
The other day I received an eNewsletter from some Purina brand that offered an Alexa Skill to determine "What dog breed is right for you?" My girl (a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix and former stray who rules the roost) looked at me and cocked her head to say, "As if." Guess we're not getting a puppy for Christmas!

Between skills and IFTTT triggers, Alexa will be able to help me run my household quite efficiently once I've configured everything to my liking. I'm still playing around with the litany of things I'll be able to do with Alexa, testing this and that and having a loads of fun in the process. Oh, the Places We'll Go....

07 December 2016

My #HomeAutomation Intranet Hub #AmazonEcho + @IFTTT

Recently, I registered for an IFTTT account [ifttt.com/amazon_alexa] for my new Amazon Echo. I plan to use my Amazon Echo mainly as a SmartRemote to control household appliances, etc. This is the aspect of having an automated personal assistant that excites me.

Amazon Echo > Google Home

Who cares if Google Home supposedly has better search capabilities? I know how to conduct searches, I don't need to ask Alexa for random factoids. I enjoy researching things and don't like to be spoon fed data. But to each his own. For my current needs, Amazon Echo > Google Home. Amazon's two-year head start means Alexa is integrated into so many more products, Google needs to play catch up.

06 December 2016

#HomeAutomation Intranet Brain FTW! #AmazonEcho #Prize

I spent time over the last several months looking at home automation options. I determined that I wanted to automate security, locks, lights, blinds, thermostat, media center and any SmartKitchen appliances --- at the very least. Based on the current market of smart assistants (AI engines), I also determined that Amazon's Alexa platform is compatible with and in many cases integrated into most of these consumer product categories. Thus, I thought it worthwhile to acquire an Amazon Echo. (I planned to use it as the hub around which to build my home automation intranet.)

In addition to being DIY crafty (a natural born engineer), I'm also $ thrifty (a natural born economist), and as a result, LOVE contests and smart shopping deals. My motto could be: Why spend money on something if you can get it for free or very, very cheap? I knew with the holiday season upon us chances to win various "hot ticket gifts" would abound. I spent a few minutes on Twitter searching for contests featuring either an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. I probably entered 10 or so, most only requiring a tweet.

Obviously, random drawing contests are hit or miss. Depends on the number of entries received, the cycle of the moon, the crow of the cock, etc., etc., but as the saying goes "you can't win, if you don't enter". I'll throw my name into the proverbial hat, if entering is simple (a fill out a form, send a tweet sort of thing). I don't jump through any hoops for merely the chance to win.

However, I prefer contests of skill. Because I'm damn good at skill based contests. It's the nature of the beast. If the entry requires some talent (essays, equations, design sketches, etc.), I like my chances. I wasn't the star student in EVERY academic subject in secondary school, for nothing. I'm like "Bring it"! So I also entered a contest that asked me to tell a story built around a set theme for a chance to win an Amazon Echo. And what do you think happened?
My Prize

Roughly within a week of deciding I needed an Amazon Echo, I'd won one, told the contest organizers which color I wanted (blackety black black black) and accepted delivery of my prize. It came direct delivery from Amazon.com in a beautiful gift bag with a lovely card attached.

My niece, the one who calls me "the luckiest aunt on the planet" could only laugh when I told her about my new toy and ask me for the umpteenth time to pick some lotto numbers. I keep trying to get her to understand that my "luck" doesn't work like that. But yeah, I am laughing.

Having acquired a Brain, I can begin sewing together the Body Politic of my home automation network. Why do I feel like Doctor Frankenstein... wait a minute, did the label on that jar the brain came out of read "Abby Normal"? Oh, that's merely Amazon attempting to give Alexa a sense of humor. I got jokes, folks.

05 December 2016

Easy #GivingBack w/ @Kroger #CommunityRewards + #AmazonSmile

If you happen to shop at Kroger (or its family of stores) or online at Amazon.com, there's an easy way to donate to charity!

Kroger has a program called Community Rewards [kroger.com/communityrewards] which donates a percentage of your purchases to the designated charity of your choice (picked from a list of charities that have registered with the program). Purchases are tracked via your Kroger Plus card, so as long as you scan it with every transaction your purchases will be credited to your tally. Any funds for which you qualify are donated quarterly. It's free to join and makes for a simple way to send automatic donations to a cause you wish to support.

Amazon has a similar program called AmazonSmile [smile.amazon.com] which also donates a percentage of your qualifying purchases to the designated charity of your choice (picked from a list of charities that have registered with the program) as long as you start every shopping session at the AmazonSmile URL above. If you shop at Amazon a lot (and I do) you can easily generate tidy little sums for a favorite cause. It's free to join, too.

I have the same charity, a local Boxer Rescue, designated on both programs. If you know me, you know that I'm a dog person. I like dogs more than people generally and I specifically support rescuing Boxers in honor of my boy, the big brother of my current doggy, who's unfortunately no longer with us. (My girl was a stray pup on the streets who followed me and my boy home from one of our daily sojourns. My boy took her in and treated her like a little princess from day one.) 

My boy was generous to a fault --- a true Great Dog, whose memory deserves every honor I can bestow upon it. My neighbors still reminisce about him. They've all got hysterical stories featuring the big lug. He was a treasure of epic proportions, literally a big dog with a giant heart. I can't thank him enough for blazing a path of light through my life during the time I was lucky enough to share with him.

There's no excuse to prevent you from signing up and supporting a cause as dear to you. No excuse!

04 December 2016

#SYWR Holidays: Free #Velvet Throw + Free Toaster

Last week Sears/Kmart had several deals going for Black Friday, including offering free shipping on ALL orders with no minimum, no Max membership required (normally an order needs a $10.00 minimum to qualify for free shipping under the Shop Your Way Max program, which provides free 2-Day shipping on products sold by Sears/Kmart). It was possible to score some free products by combining points earned via the Shop Your Way Rewards (SYWR) program with the no-minimum free shipping promotion.

There are several ways to earn SYWR points, some of which require no purchase. In other words, you can score totally free points that can be converted into $ toward your purchases.

Using SYWR points earned from Sweepstakes Doorbusters (certain sweeps will award early entries free points) and a few Sweepstakes wins, I was able to get a free Cannon Velvet Plush Throw (70" L x 50" W) that will be great for snuggling while reading or watching movies and a free Proctor Silex 2-Slice Toaster --- which turned out to be a timely freebie considering that my sister somehow killed my toaster the last time we had brunch. (Unfortunately, she's accident-prone AND technologically inept which usually means gadgets in her vicinity often don't fare well.)

UPS delivered both freebies. My doggy loves Brown. So much so, she just wants to eat every UPS driver. Luckily, all the delivery people who come to my house know this. (The postman actually gets upset on the odd day that she doesn't fuss at him.) She is legend. You go, girl!