31 January 2017

Mundane Yet Mesmerizing: The First Wave of the #Robot Revolution #AI #Automation #Robotics #ProductDevelopment

While reading the Sunday paper [AJC 29/01/17], I noticed two articles on robotics being used to automate common tasks. The first concerned a European company called Starship Technologies that is developing rolling robots about the size of a large cooler to make parcel deliveries. (A pilot program is launching in the US and Europe.) The second was an overview of some retail friendly automation ideas on display at the National Retail Federation's Big Show, including a discussion of Softbank Robotics, an Asian conglomerate, that plans to integrate its Pepper humanoid robot into the retail environment with the hope of automating many common customer service inquiries. Taken together, the articles provide a snapshot of where mainstream uses of robots will first occur, namely in automating tasks that tend to be mundane and repetitive --- jobs often thought of as mundane and/or menial.

Getting a delivery is a fairly routine occurrence in many quarters. (For a time, shipping company UPS dubbed itself merely "Brown" --- the distinctive color of its employee uniforms --- because its drivers are so ubiquitous everyone understood the reference.) But getting a delivery made by a robot will wow many onlookers. Of course, as the technology develops robots will take on more complex tasks in our everyday life and we will become more accustomed to their presence. It remains to be seen whether one day we will be taken over by so-called smart robots powered by their own thoughts as predicted in many a sci-fi script (and some academic hypothesis). Are we developing our own robot overlords? I think not.

In spite of the dire warnings sounded by a few prominent scientists and engineers, I would like to think that human ingenuity will always outweigh programmed intelligence. This does not mean that AI robots won't accumulate more "knowledge" than the average human or that an AI program cannot outstrip a human in a specific, even complex arena (as has been demonstrated with chess). I simply believe that the totality of human engineering (our complex body systems and our still evolving brain organ) is more intricate than anything which humans can engineer. The robots will have to prove me wrong. (The possibility that things may go horribly wrong should not prevent our developing AI robots, but it should impart circumspection into said development.) Humans are the most fantastic machines in existence, but certainly man-made robots are cool.

On a personal level, I plan to use automation to an advantage in my home (and my business). I want to employ robots for many tasks from mowing the lawn to vacuuming the floors. The use of robots and/or artificial intelligence systems will allow me to manage the homestead without needing a lot of manpower. Home automation will allow for the creation of a one man run estate. I am fascinated by the promise of AI and what it could mean for reclaiming individual independence. I already use a Smart Assistant (Amazon's Alexa platform) and Smart Appliances. I do not fear the future, as a techie early adopter, I embrace it. And if need be, I will be one of the first to rally against Skynet ...should that day arrive.

30 January 2017

The "Irony" of Iron-Deficiency #Anemia: #Pagophagia #H2O

Due to a hereditary condition which causes my body to process iron poorly, I suffer from iron-deficiency anemia. When I work very diligently to get appropriate amounts of iron, I succeed in only being borderline anemic; however, the moment I let my guard down forgetting for one moment to regularly eat iron-rich foods (my body responds better if the iron comes to it naturally via ingested food sources, but upon occasion, when I'm deeply anemic, I'm forced to take iron supplements, generally as an oral tablet) the red rage of anemia returns, bringing with it the near uncontrollable urge to crunch ice.

Many people like to eat ice, but some, like me, are given to cravings so intense that nothing else counteracts them. I desperately want ice; Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall --- regardless of whether it's 99 degrees or 22 degrees outside. Rather like addiction I assume, including all the adverse side affects. (See pagophagia.) But, of course, as is often the way with such things, constantly eating ice can leech nutrients out of a person's system though humans require water in order to live and our bodies are full of it. (See irony.) In other words, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I suffer from iron deficiency anemia, therefore I crave ice, eating it by compunction. I eat a great deal of ice which, in turn, exacerbates my anemia. Round and round, we go.

Another danger of compulsory ice crunching is that it can be very damaging to one's teeth. The bigger the cubes and harder the ice, the more likely one will crack a tooth or something similar. I work to manage my pagophagia by distraction, I try to keep crunchy snacks at hand which approximate the feel of crunching on ice. It's not a perfect solution, but does help. Seemingly, I cannot stop myself from craving to crunch on ice and so I have decided to better manage it by making the practice safer (for my teeth at least).

I've been researching ice machines which allow one to make smaller cubes or even crushed ice. I plan to purchase one, once I find the features which I desire at the best price. Hopefully, I can score a deal soon. As a bonus, it will be a great addition to my home bar. I've setup one of those price tracker alerts for a Portable/Countertop Icemaker Machine that makes bite sized ice cubes. (I could spring for one of those commercial numbers like they have in motels, but the ability to make tons of ice easily might serve to encourage my habit.)

29 January 2017

What I'm Watching... #Movies #Television #Watchlist #NowPlaying #Queue

I've recently been bombarded with several limited time redemption codes for free movie rentals and have acquired some new movies (and television seasons and/or episodes) through promotions & sales/deals. Additionally, I'm also trying to see as many of this year's Academy Awards nominees as possible prior to the awards show broadcast. As a result, my movie + television watchlist of titles in my viewing queue is stacked. Luckily, there's no particular hurry to watch the movies that I own (the impetus here is desire), so, of course, limited term movie rentals take precedence. Check it out:

My Watchlist - Alphabetical Order
Bunyan and Babe (own)
Central Intelligence (Vudu movie rental)
Ghostbusters [2016] (FandangoNow movie rental)
In a World (Vudu movie rental)
Inspector Lewis, Season 8 (own)
Magnificent 7 (own)
Sully (Google Play movie rental)
War of the Arrows (own)

28 January 2017

#Eurus, the East Wind: #WeatherGeek #LifeLessons #MoralityPlay

I must stop. I have devolved into someone who incessantly drones on about the weather. I can't help it, it's been so unsettling. Fascinating and annoying. And now, surprisingly... Cold. I'm going to ground.

I really do need a break, but not of the sort I received. A fool vandalized my home. Here, I am working so diligently to make something, to build something, to renovate --- and some idiot decides it would be good sport to tear it down, batter it down. 

Still I rise. I will prevail. I will have the last laugh. Because, as the hoodlum rots in jail or dies in the streets, I will succeed. The choices one makes defines him. Split second decisions. I have chosen, and sadly, so has he. A reckoning is coming, laddie! You heard it here first. News at eleven.

27 January 2017

The Cold Returns #WeatherGeek #Winter

It's supposed to get down to freezing or thereabouts for the next 5 odd mornings, including this one. Considering yesterday reached 70 degrees that is nearly a 40 degree temperature swing in less than 24 hours. Brutal! I am quite tired of this new weather "normal". My allergies are killing me. I think I need a vacation. It has been one of those weeks.

Looking forward to the weekend, in spite of the fact that it's predicted to be cold. We get Winter for a few days before warming into the 60s by Tuesday. I'm starting to feel like a child of divorced parents who alternate custody. Spend a few days with Pa Winter, then Ma Spring comes by to collect me. This is not very fun. No wonder everyone is ill.

26 January 2017

#SadStore Run @BestBuy #BrickandMortar

I am an online shopper. I would guess that roughly 98% of my purchases originate online. (And it has been this way for over a decade.) As a result, I haven't been out to a general non-grocery Brick & Mortar store in some time. (I still sometimes go to grocery stores, or at least Farmer's Markets, though less frequently with each passing month.) But tonight I rode out with my sister to the closest Best Buy store as we each had received, as a gift from Best Buy, a $10.00 promotional gift code via email which was only good through the end of this week. (My non-techie sister doesn't shop online as much as I do. She still goes out to stores.)
$10.00 Best Buy Promotional Gift Code
I couldn't believe how sad this store looked. The stock displays in the movie section were abysmal. Barely anything on the shelves and what was there was in a seemingly random order. The entire store layout seemed completely haphazard. It was pitiful. To top it off, the free WiFi had the weakest signal of all the available networks, which rather defeats the point of offering in-store WiFi to your customers. I told my sister, "No wonder everyone shops online. If this is what you're confronted with." I remember back in the day being able to go to Best Buy and spend hours just wandering around checking gadgets, testing products, etc.. No more. I could not exit this store fast enough. I'm still shaking my head in amazement at how the mighty have fallen. I'm SHOCKED.

I still shop at Best Buy... but ONLINE. Guess Brick & Mortar stores really are going the way of the dinosaurs. I hope this was some sort of aberration, but I fear not. If one takes this store as an example, we're witnessing the end of an era.

25 January 2017

We've Got the #Oscars2017 Nominations List. Now It's Off to the #Movies!

Almost every year, after the Academy Awards nominations are announced, I gather a list of all the movies which garnered nods and make a point to see as many of them as I can before the Oscars ceremony takes place. Then I fill out my own ballot voting for the pictures that (and people whom) I think should win in each category. I will often host a viewing party (or several parties) to screen nominated films already available on the home video market, and organize treks to the theater with my friends to catch movies still at the box office. Once the awards show airs, I see how my ballot stacks up against the actual award winners. (I will generally host an Oscars party, also, or attend one.) I've been doing this annually since I was about 18. It's a fun way to indulge in my hobby of enjoying the cinema, and one of the reasons why I love having a great home theater setup.

This year marks no exception. The Academy announced the Oscars nominees yesterday morning (live on Good Morning America) and I "printed" a PDF copy of the nominations list along with a ballot. I've got to make plans to get in some serious movie watching in the next few weeks as I've been so busy with other things, I haven't already seen as many films that were nominated as I have in past years. But this will make it fun, as I scramble to watch nominated movies -- such a burden, not ---  each day in order to play catch up. Well, it looks like I'be got my work cutout for me. It's off to the movies!

P.S. Did you catch the Academy's announcement? Here's a list of the nominees:

Best Picture
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester By the Sea

Best Cinematography
La La Land

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Documentary Feature
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
OJ: Made in America

Best Foreign Language Film
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Toni Erdmann

Best Actor
Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea)
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best Costume Design
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land

Best Score
La La Land

Best Original Song
Audition (La La Land)
Can't Stop the Feeling! (Trolls)
City of Stars (La La Land)
The Empty Chair (Jim: The James Foley Story)
How Far I'll Go (Moana)

Best Sound Editing
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land

Best Sound Mixing
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours

Best Documentary Short
4.1 Miles
Joe's Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Best Production Design
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail Caesar
La La Land

Best Original Screenplay
Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester By the Sea
20th Century Women

Best Adapted Screenplay
Hidden Figures

Best Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life As a Zucchini
The Red Turtle

Best Animated Short
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea)

Best Film Editing
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land

Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Best Director
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best Visual Effects
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

24 January 2017

Fly the Unfriendly Skies: #UAV Commercial Pilot's License #Drones #FAA #DroneDatabase

I love flying. I became fascinated with all manner of flying machines at a very young age. I dreamt of being a fighter pilot when I grew up and was very disappointed to learn that women were still being barred from such service at the time I graduated from high school. (This is the main reason I did not go to a military academy, though I was heavily recruited by all of them due to my ASVAB scores being off the charts.) I thought to get my pilot's license instead, but got sidetracked by life. I still may get it one day, but my interest in flying machines has recently migrated towards drones.

There are so many practical uses for a drone on an estate. For example, I plan to use drones to inspect fields and crops on my farm, to aid with safety and security (one can survey the property for damage after a storm, for instance), and to monitor areas that could be cumbersome to reach otherwise (rooftops, border fencing, etc.). While I'm a moderately proficient hobbyist, I want to become an expert (commercial level pilot) and have begun researching the FAA qualifications for obtaining a professional drone pilot's license and looking for educational & training opportunities.

To this end, I was pleased to discover last night that a local library will be offering a class on drones. (I think I might have found out too late to attend, I plan to call later today during business hours to see what's required.) Regardless whether this particular class works out for me, I hope to eventually figure out a regimen that will get me properly trained and licensed. Additionally, I also wish to acquire a small fleet of drones to employ upon my private property, automating a list of tasks that previously would have required several people to undertake.

23 January 2017

The #Weather Gods Are Haters. #WeatherGeek #Tornadoes #Thunderstorms

Boy howdy was it one heck of a weekend! In case you haven't heard, the Southeastern United States got pummeled on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. (There were a reported 15 tornadoes in the state of Georgia alone on Saturday. Fifteen!) Seems we're experiencing our normal Spring weather instabilities in January. We saw thunderstorms, wind, rain and flooding in the metro Atlanta area.

This, came right on the heels of a record nine straight days of 70+ degrees temperatures. We needed the rain, because of the ongoing drought, but the rest was overkill, and we didn't get the worse of it. Places to the south and east of us were really put through the ringer, on repeat, with the Georgia coast getting kicked in the gonads for good some measure. (My thoughts are with all those around the globe affected by the crazy storms and natural disasters of late; it's been a beast of a weather year already.)

Personally, I'm still out of sorts. Pup hates storms and as we had several roll through during the overnight hours, this meant little to no sleep for several nights in a row. (She comes to find me whenever a storm gets going and we sit curled up, riding it through together.) During lulls we'd venture out to canvas the neighborhood, checking on neighbors and inspecting for damages. We were pretty lucky around here (sadly, others were not).

There will be a Wind Advisory in effect until 7:00p, but today is predicted to be drier eventually --- after a few morning showers. (Mere rain doesn't usually rile pup, but the last three days of high water storms proved stressful for her, thus, when it suddenly started pouring down around 2:30a, pup hopped up and came down the hall to get me and we've been up ever since.) Hopefully, I'll be able to crank things up a notch once she heads back to bed --- the rain sounds as if its finally tapering off --- and get stuff done. At the moment, however, all I want to do is crawl back in bed and do crosswords until the sun rises.

No such luck for me though. No rest for the wicked er, weary. Guess, I'll make coffee... On the bright side, the Atlanta Falcons are headed to Super Bowl LI --- a legitimate excuse to throw a party --- and I made Overnight Oats for breakfast. Small steps, small steps....

22 January 2017

Would You Ride in #AutonomousVehicles? #SelfDrivingCars #OnBoardComputers #EV #AI

I don't drive. It's not that I don't get cars --- I am an engineer and a gearhead --- it's that I never had reason to learn how. Don't get me wrong, I understand the logistics, but it takes practice to become comfortable with and proficient at operating a vehicle, and I've never really had the opportunity to practice.

(I grew up in a small town where pretty much everything was within walking distance. I had an over protective mother who drove me wherever I needed to go when the car was working in order to assure herself of my safety and keep an eye on my activities. We were poor and often any vehicles to which we had access were unreliable. Most of the guys with whom I grew up had cars and willingly chauffeured me around. I learned to rely on my feet to take me where I needed to go. All of these things contributed to my not learning to drive prior to going off to college. And then the college environment brought its own set of limitations. Starting with the fact that freshmen weren't allowed to bring cars and it was a fairly self-contained private campus. Taken all together, I was never pressed to learn how to drive, or more accurately, to put in the time to become accustomed to driving. I am also a big proponent of public transportation.)

With the Age of Autonomous Vehicles nearly upon us, I've decided that I'm OK with being driven and am waiting for self-driving car actuality. Recently, I saw a survey asking "if you would ride in a self-driving vehicle" and a good portion of respondents said "no." There's always an adoption curve with new technology, wherein the layman has to become accustomed to it, but I'm often a bleeding edge early adopter where tech is concerned, so I say bring it on, I can't wait! Autonomous Vehicles will provide a chance for me to become self-sufficient in one of the few areas where I need to rely on others. Being a green technology advocate, my self-driving automobile will, of course, also be an electric vehicle that I will charge via designer solar panels that I plan to have installed on my home. (And yes, I do lust after the Tesla Model S.)

The future of transportation is coming, or it may already be here, depending on whom you ask. It's going to be a watershed for people like me, who want to reclaim our independence.

NOTE: Above, I use the term car loosely, as a stand-in for any vehicle, be it a truck, bus, plane or train.

21 January 2017

My Future #ShoppingList (#NewProducts on My Radar) #Alexa #ProductTrials #ProductLaunches

Several new products have launched in the last year or so which have piqued my interest. I plan to test and try these out once I locate the products in stores and have a need for them. (I abhor waste, so I try to only buy new products when they fulfill a need --- or there's a deal that's too good to pass up --- versus grabbing anything new I encounter the moment I see it.)

Until then I keep a future shopping list, in alphabetical order, of products to locate and test, which is updated as necessary. The fun part (other than finding and trying the products) is that I can use my Amazon Echo in order to verbally instruct Alexa to manage this shopping list for me, which has greatly lessened my reliance on sticky notes these days. (Saves paper. I transitioned to a paperless office years ago, and now I'm working on becoming a paperless household. Having Smart Assistants helps.)

My Future Shopping List (Grocery)
Beyond Burger
Brazi Bites (free product coupon)
Cheerwine Holiday Punch (also a recipe available)
Cheerwine Kreme
Cheerwine Squeeze
Green Giant Riced Veggies
Green Giant Veggie Fries
Just Mayo
Veggie Fries Tots

NOTE: I keep future shopping lists for household items (where I keep tabs on not necessarily new products, like appliances, that I think will fulfill a need or desire in my quest to create an "efficient household"), for health care aids and for clothing, jewelry & fashion accessories that catch my eye. This is merely my grocery list.

20 January 2017

#Noted: A New Line of #Veggie Products from #GreenGiant: #VeggieFries + #RicedVeggies

It seems that all the foodie magazines to which I subscribe are currently featuring advertising for a new line of vegetable products from Green Giant. There's a veggie fries product line which claims to deliver healthier alternatives to standard potato French fries and a riced veggies product line which claims to deliver healthier alternatives to white rice. As rice and potatoes (particularly in the form of French fries) are two of my favorite food groups in the whole world, if these new Green Giant products are actually healthier and taste as good, I'll definitely buy them often. I haven't encountered any of these new products in the wild (in stores) as yet to verify nutritional contents (as listed on the product labels), but they do sound appetizing.

Once I've had the chance to check them out, I'll report back (with a product review). Generally, I like Green Giant products --- and I loved the animated Jolly Green Giant commercials as a child --- so I have high hopes that these new product lines will live up to their advertised billing. The proof will be in the taste test, however. (You could say that cardboard is healthy all you want, but I still wouldn't eat it.) As it stands, I've added these new products to my future shopping list, which simply means that I'll buy some if and when I find them at whatever future date and time. Hopefully, this will be sooner rather than later, but new product distribution can be somewhat haphazard.

19 January 2017

The Postman Delivers... #MailCall Fun + Online #Rewards = A Good Day in the Neighborhood

The day before yesterday was a good day. As detailed in my earlier post, the postman delivered my Authentic Soda Society reward, One Year of Free Cheerwine (soda) and that was a win, but it wasn't the only thing I got in the mail. I also received a sample packet of Zuma Green Juice (healthy shake mix), a bottle of KFC 30 SPF Novelty Sunscreen (smells like chicken), a coupon for a Free Organic Valley Organic Balance Milk Protein Shake, a sample packet of Truvia Nectar and a coupon for $25.00 Off Mobil Oil (5 individual quarts or a 5-quart jug) at Advance Auto Parts. What a haul! I'm looking forward to trying out everything. Well, except the motor oil and the sunscreen, neither of which are intended for me, but are meant for my "twin" who will get a kick out of both, undoubtedly.

I was in such a good mood from receiving all this fun stuff in the mail, that I also cashed out some Kellogg's Family Rewards (KFR) points for a $5.00 Papa John's eGift Card and used it to buy myself dinner. I decided to try one of the new sides, the Wisconsin Cheese Stuffed Cheesesticks which are currently 5 bucks on promotion. Thus, I only paid a total of 35-cents, or the tax, OOP. (The cheesesticks were very tasty.) After dinner, pup and I took a nice stroll around the neighborhood and then sat in the front yard and watched the sunset. As it has been hitting 70 odd degrees the last several days, and we're now in the middle of January, supposedly Winter but more like Spring, we were quite comfortable. Turned out to be a wonderful day.

#Epic? #Listen to New @FaithNoMore Single: Signup 4 @Sonar_Works #TrueFi #Test #Audiophile #Headphones 🎶

As an audiophile, I'm always on the prowl for optimal listening experiences. So when I caught this post from Faith No More and Sonarworks (billed as the most accurate speaker, room and headphone calibration software) in my Facebook feed this morning:
"Sign up for an exclusive limited opportunity to hear FAITH NO MORE's single “Cone of Shame” in a revolutionary new audio format. You will be able to hear the song on your headphones exactly like the band mixed it in the studio."
I rushed to signup. Not only will I get to listen to new music from a band I like, but I will get to hear the track in authentic studio sound, Sonarworks True-Fi standard. I plan to post a product review (along with a music review of the new single) after participating the event. But you should check it out for yourself.
My Email Confirmation
You will need headphones to participate. The test will be released on 07-February. Reserve your spot now. Your ears will thank you later.

What Does One Year of #Free @DrinkCheerwine Look Like? Planning to Party All of 2017: It's the #Cheertennial!

The other day, my friendly neighborhood postman delivered an eagerly awaited envelope from Cheerwine in Salisbury, NC. Inside of the #10 envelope were 24 coupons for a Free 12-pack of Cheerwine, Diet Cheerwine or Cheerwine Squeeze --- One Year of Free Cheerwine! It's the top prize from the Authentic Soda Society, the Cheerwine Fan Club which launched in the Fall of 2015, and then announced a rewards program the following April. I saved all the points I earned from April 2016 launch to December 2016 close and cashed out for the grandaddy of fan club prizes, One Year of Free Cheerwine. (As the max number of points available to earn in the fan club last year equaled the amount needed to redeem for the top prize, this was necessary, but also worth it.) Thanks to USPS, just in the nick of time my Year of Cheer is here! And it's beautiful to behold.
One Year of Free Cheerwine
But it gets better... In a crazy odd turn of events, Cheerwine accidentally sent me the wrong prize, initially. I was expecting to receive a flat envelope with 24 coupons in it, as described above, but instead got sent a big brown box during the first week of January. When UPS dropped it off on my front porch, I thought to myself, "Either Cheerwine has the most inefficient shipping department on the planet or something is amiss." I carefully opened the box to discover a Cheerwine Logo Cooler, a Cheerwine Logo Beach Towel and a single Free 12-pack coupon inside which, by the way, comprised the penultimate prize in the fan club last year. WTF, right? Disappointed, I repackaged the contents of the box to return and, needless to say, sent the fan club a message alerting them of the error, for which they in turn apologized. This proved a good humored exchange, all was rectified and my correct order was dispatched on its way. I also inquired about returning the incorrect items, but generously was told to keep that order, too, as it was their mistake.

All told, I've ended up with 25 coupons for a Free 12-pack of Cheerwine, a soft-sided cooler and a beach towel, which is way more than I bargained for. Every few moments (I exaggerate, slightly) I take out all 25 coupons and spread them across my desk and stare in wonder. You'll have to excuse me, I'm a bit giddy. Love me some Cheerwine. In order to understand my near lifelong relationship with this iconic Southern soda, you'll have to read my earlier post on the subject: Harken Back to Childhood Nostalgia & Cheer ...wine. While you do that, I think I might have to make a store run, I'm in need of libations for the weekend.

This year (2017) marks Cheerwine's Centennial --- dubbed the (hashtag ready) Cheertennial --- and they have a bunch of fun and exciting activities planned all year long in celebration, including a big birthday party bash on May 20th in their hometown of Salisbury, NC. Tastemakers, the moniker given to Authentic Soda Society fan club members, were sent an email a few days ago, as a heads up. Looks like it will be a banner year for both the Cheerwine brand and its fans. Getting One Year of Free Cheerwine (plus that extra unexpected 12-pack) as a reward couldn't have come at a better time. It will definitely come in handy for all those celebratory anniversary toasts. Here! Here! Good Cheerwine!

Born in the South. Raised in a Glass. Since 1917. Happy Birthday, Cheerwine. Here's to the next 100 years! Let's get this party started.

18 January 2017

Amending the #GoldenRule: Treating People #InKind #Manners

I spent my life (up to this point) living by The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a nice thought. Unfortunately, humans are base creatures and when one treats them with civility and respect (which is how I wish to be treated), many of them view it as an invitation to take advantage. You treat people well, but in response they consistently behave as assholes, abusers, users and idiots (and sometimes as all of the above), which, of course, leads to your life being of out whack.

Now that I'm older and wiser, I have amended The Golden Rule to instead treat people in kind, to treat people as their actual behavior warrants. This means that if you act like an asshole, I will treat you as an asshole. Imbeciles are given no quarter. If you're an idiot, expect me to cut you no slack, etc., etc.. This little tweak has made my life much more peaceful and equitable. You should try it.

17 January 2017

Listening to @HamiltonMusical #OriginalSoundtrack @HooplaDigital #LibraryLoan #HamiltonDocPBS

I love music and intimately appreciate the first instrument, voice, but not all singing is equal, of course. For example, I love opera, but hate musicals. This has held true for my entire life. Hamilton the Musical may change that. (And this, in spite of the fact that I have always personally preferred Burr to Hamilton, historically.)

Usually when things get an inordinate amount of buzz, that's my cue to steer clear, as my personal tastes often widely diverge from the popular ethos. I am an odd duck and proud of it. Sometimes though, the hoi polloi figures it out and latches onto something interesting (to me). The positive press for Hamilton the Musical has been so overwhelming and deafening that I became curious as to whether it is merited or merely folks jumping on the bandwagon. (I staunchly advocate for meritocracy, though humans seem incapable of actualizing it.) I have not taken leave of my senses, however, I did not rush off to sell my soul in order to acquire tickets. No, I've taken a more measured approach.

First, several weeks ago, I watched what turned out to be a fun and informative PBS Documentary called Hamilton's America. As it was filmed long before the effusive press groundswell in praise of the Broadway show, I hoped it would provide actual information and not merely gush about how great the production is (or would be). PBS did not disappoint. After watching the documentary --- streamed via my PBS app --- and allowing it time to digest, a few days ago, I checked out the Hamilton: Original Soundtrack recording (a loan from my local library) via my Hoopla app. I thought it would make a good listening project to begin on the holiday, yesterday.

It's refreshing! Fun, informative, lyrically dynamic and musically adept. (I enjoy rap music as an art form and this helps.) It's not something I would listen to daily on repeat, as I can do with my favorite albums, but I wouldn't rush to change the channel if it came on, so to speak. What a pleasant surprise you are, Hamilton the Musical! Mind, I've not instantly converted into someone who enjoys musicals, that would take a miracle, but I am enjoying all that I've encountered so far in regards to this musical. My horizons have broadened. And isn't that the spice of life?!

P.S. I may next attempt an associated audiobook or Hamiltome! (Will have to check what Audible has available. I have a purchase credit to use.)

16 January 2017

#Dragons Exist! (Underwater) #H2O #RedSeaDragon #Oceanography

By now, certainly half the world has seen the video footage of an otherworldly red sea dragon (a new species, Phyllopteryx dewysea) in the wild. Not only was this a great moment for the study of sea life, but it was also interesting from a fantasy story standpoint as a sea dragon is a dragon! I want one. Perhaps, if I expanded my aquarium... Alas, it probably wouldn't be fair to the dragon... but a girl can dream. You do know I have a thing for dragons, right?

Two Months #Free #Audible Membership -- Two Free #Audiobooks

Although I'm not good with audiobooks, I'm trying to get better... as I genuinely like the idea of listening to a book (specifically, having Alexa read an audiobook to me) while working on other things. I'm having to retrain my brain, which expects books to be self-read. I've started slowly, listening to free audio shorts that I've found online. And I've reached a point where I can generally make it through a few audio snippets at a time without losing focus. (I actually enjoy the New York Times Audio Digest, but then again, I'm an information junkie and it's not a book, so this may not count.)

Recently, one of the group deal sites (I believe 'twas Groupon) put up a totally free offer: a voucher granting Two Months Free Audible Membership which includes a free audiobook purchase credit each month. And while I have no idea what to use said credits to purchase, I thought this would make a good opportunity to expand my digital library of audiobooks (without risk) and provide more fodder for my "learning to listen to stories told" experiment.

It's odd really, when one thinks about it, because I love radio. I can listen to music, news and even talk radio all day, without issue, but try a true audiobook and my mind wanders. I'm certain it's only psychosomatic and once I replace my negative childhood associations of "being read to" with enough positive experiences, all will be well. We'll see, however, as the brain is a quirky organ. Tiny steps...

15 January 2017

#PeriodicalsBrief: Quick Notes from #Magazines #GetCaughtReading #Reader #WrittenWord #InPrint

Spent yesterday afternoon catching up on my magazine & journal reading. I still receive quite a few magazines as (free) print subscriptions, instead of those increasingly popular digital editions. (I do plan to have a private library, after all.) One occasionally comes across worthwhile nuggets of information even in "fluff" magazines, and there are a few publications which still bring a hefty plate of solid articles and readily digestible blurbs. Without further ado, here are a few orts that caught my attention.

A Periodicals Brief

The December 2016 issue of Cigar Aficionado had a nice little Good Life Guide article on collecting maps with a couple links to check out:
1) The web store of The Map Man, a fellow named Murray Hudson, who "owns the largest private cartographical(sic) collection in the world" and who is also a purveyor of items of cartographic interest. www.antiquemapsandglobes.com.
2) An online Antique Map Price Guide published by Marti & Curt Griggs. www.collectingoldmaps.com

I love cartography (this rather goes hand in hand with being a history buff) and have a fledgling map collection that I hope to expand, so this was right up my alley.

NOTE: I don't smoke personally, but I have a certain fondness for pipes and cigars --- preferred vices of a favorite uncle --- as opposed to cigarettes, which I loathe, but really it's a lifestyle mag that covers more than cigar ratings.

The December 31 2016 - January 15 2017 issue of Wine Spectator had an interesting blurb titled "Clash Over Wine Merchant Shipping Laws Grows" which highlights the fight to allow interstate wine sales at the federal level, i.e., across the entire country without individual state restrictions. (Many states bar shipments of wine and other alcoholic beverages directly to consumers from sellers outside the state. Some also limit what can be shipped intrastate by local retailers just as many states had so-called Blue Laws which prevented or restricted the sale of alcohol on Sundays.) A team of lawyers is filing suits in some of the most restrictive states challenging the laws with the hope that the fights will eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

This was good to hear. As someone who enjoys alcoholic beverages, I've always thought states barring direct-to-consumer shipments from out of state merchants was a little too "self-serving." As a consumer, of legal age, I should be able to order beer, wine & spirits and have them delivered to my house, regardless of which vendor I choose. (I LOVE red wine, by the way.)

Both the January/February 2017 issues of Martha Stewart Living (MSL) and Cooking Light featured some interesting recipes that I want to try. MSL is also showcasing its American Made Awards, while the December/January 2017 issue of Garden & Gun is showcasing its Made in the South Awards. Both publications gave me a new set of places, stores, restaurants and/or goods to check out.

I'm big on supporting artisans, love slow food, local food, organic food. I support health- and environmentally conscious movements. I am a firm believer in "being a good steward" of this planet to insure the health and quality of life of future generations. So I appreciate awards series like these which shine a light on talent, craftsmanship and the desire to have a positive impact on the world around us.

Well, that's it for this edition of Periodicals Brief

14 January 2017

Those Wild & Crazy #Vikings! #Norway Ditches #FMRadio, Goes #Berserker. #DAB #BFF

I have a thing for Vikings, or perhaps, more accurately Vikings have a thing for me, because I certainly seem to attract all manner of them. (I kid you not, I was once handed a credit card and told to book myself a flight to Sweden in order to rendezvous with a certain Swede at his cabin in Göteborg --- 'twas quite the pickup line.) It's appropriate then, that one of my besties is a Viking... er... mickay... I mean, he's Norwegian.

The two of us have been good friends for well over 15 years and presumably we'll remain as such for the rest of our lives (baring his or my turning out to secretly be a serial killer or something worse). We met in California when I was still a student at university and he was working as a Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist and afterward spent a LOT of time in each other's company. We were so close that people often assumed we were a married couple when encountering us out & about, and I seemingly picked up a Norwegian inflection to my speech at times.1

My friend and I continue to keep in touch via Skype (mainly in-app txt & Skype-to-phone), regular txt and email though he's since returned to his native Norway and I'm back in my native Georgia. We crack each other up, as we both have a sometimes acid sense of humor, coupled with a VERY secure sense of self.
An etymological aside: The English word "berserk" meaning crazed or crazy is derived from the Old Norse term bearserk, the frenzy into which bear-skin wearing Vikings or bearserkers would work themselves with all that raping and pillaging, which apparently takes a lot of energy. (You've got to respect a culture that gives yours the word for crazy.)
We spend a good deal of time ribbing each other over the various and sundry things which make our individual countries and cultures great. For instance, a month or so back an entire herd of reindeer were struck by lightning when a freak storm caught them out in the open on a random Norwegian plateau. After seeing the article on a news site, I sent him a quick Skype txt asking why Norway had it in for reindeer and pondered whether Santa Claus would be next on their "hit list."

Norway also happens to be one of the most oil-rich nations in the world and so, (circa 2003, i.e., the Iraq War) I would tease that he'd better watch out because America might "discover" Norway held WMD and use it as an excuse to invade any day now. In his turn, he, of course, laments American hubris and gets in his own zingers. We argue good-naturedly over who's selected for the Nobel Peace Prize each year ---- Norway names its recipient, while Sweden picks the recipients of the remaining Nobels --- and sometimes watch the annual Nobel concert together virtually. Between us, nothing is sacred.

On 11-01-2017 at 11:11a local time, Norway began turning off FM radio transmissions, becoming the first country to officially ditch the band, and started moving to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) which proponents say will be cheaper to operate and provide more clarity of signal. Opponents, of course, worry about the Norwegians who live in far flung rural areas and who travel in older vehicles who might not be able to receive digital signals. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but either way, it was so kind of Norway to act as world guinea pig in taking on this endeavour. I sent my friend a quick txt asking if he could still hear me now or if the broadcast signal was fuzzy where he is and attached the article. (He lives in an Oslo suburb, so I was obviously being facetious, but that's the point.)

As for the transition to DAB, as a tech geek, I like the idea of a crisp digital radio signal. And I also believe America will have to cross this same bridge soon enough --- rather like our recently completed transition to DTV. But as someone who grew up in a rural area, I can definitely understand the concerns that Norwegians in rural areas are voicing. As America is a much larger country with huge swaths of wide open spaces, such issues will no doubt be compounded for us and a solution (potentially a subsidy like that employed to assure rural America could get telephone service) will have to be found. Fun times are ahead!
1An explanation for my Norwegian accent: At a friend's house party in San Francisco one evening, I happened to end up standing next to some guy who was regaling everyone with tales of the years he'd spent working in Finland. He'd also traveled extensively throughout Scandinavia, he said. He kept trying to cozy up to me and at one point asked if I wanted to go back to his place, which so happened to be right around the corner. Shaking my head "no," I made an offhand excuse which elicited a very odd look from the guy (odder than being politely turned down should have elicited). When I inquired as to why he suddenly looked as if he'd seen a ghost, he responded, "This is so strange, but you just spoke with a Norwegian accent." I laughed so hard I think I probably snorted my drink through my nose. In between my peals of laughter, the poor fellow tried to find out why on earth this was so funny. I finally gasped that as I spent nearly every day hanging out with a Viking, I suppose that was fair consequence and that I'd also never hear the end of it, if said Viking ever gets wind of the fact that he's succeeding in "turning" me Norwegian.

13 January 2017

#Music in the Air! #BluetoothSpeakers #InternetRadio #Victrolas #Gramophones #MusicApps #RadioApps #StreamingMedia #Bluetooth

Am really loving my home stereo setup. I decided to have a main central stereo located in my entertainment center with satellite Bluetooth speakers and soundbars placed around the open floor plan. I also have smaller stereo systems in other rooms like my office and my workshop. As it's all networked, I can synchronize play across systems and speakers or have a different sound style for each area. I can control playback with a Smart Assistant, tablet, smartphone, laptop, or remote control, and can access my cloud music libraries, music and radio apps, locally stored media and play internet and broadcast radio, plus physical discs. It's pretty rad! I'm still building it out. Certainly, I'll add more wireless speakers and I'm leaning toward a turntable for vinyl.

SIDE NOTE: By the way, this is merely my audio setup on the new-fangled side. Opposite, I have desperately desired a Victrola or other big "belled" antique Gramophone, since I was 5 years old. My mother had one that I can still picture as clear as day. I didn't care that it was perhaps valuable, I simply thought its big gleaming horn was beautiful.

In what seems to be a fairly common occurrence in poor rural areas, where people were often not well educated, were desperate, yet were trusting of their neighbors and displayed hospitality to strangers, a dishonest itinerant junk antiques dealer swindled ME out of it, thinking nothing of telling a bald-faced lie to a small child --- and I have never forgotten it! It takes a despicable person to take advantage of anyone as he did; however, it takes a no account bastard to take advantage of a five-year-old little girl who has been taught to respect the words of her elders.

The theft of my mother's Victrola (which is exactly what the stranger's deceit amounted to) marked the loss of my childhood innocence. Afterward, I became withdrawn. I became wary of anyone who professed anything without showing me proof. I became skeptical of human motives. I began to distrust people. It was a dear and precious lesson to "give" a 5-year-old. My mother, bless her, was furious on my behalf when she returned from a neighbor's, not even caring that I had "given away" her prized Victrola, but only concerned that some stranger (and a grown man, at that) had taken advantage of her baby girl. Of course, by then, the lying scoundrel was long gone.

I made a promise to myself that I would acquire a replacement for it one day, so its something for which I keep out an eye. It will require the perfect specimen. I am fascinated with early record players (and cylinder players) as a result, and recognize that this is likely another personal library collection in the making.

12 January 2017

#Democracy at Work? Help Decide the New #Monopoly Player Tokens #BoardGames #TokenMadness #VoteMonopoly #PopularVote

It seems the folks behind the family board game Monopoly are looking to give it a makeover of sorts by updating and/or replacing the iconic player tokens with a brand new set. We, the people, can go to votemonopoly.com and voice our opinions on what little player tokens should be included in an upcoming new release of the popular board game.
Monopoly Token Madness Promotion
Not certain how I feel about this, I know there are various themed Monopoly game versions with specialized player tokens that have been put out over the years, but apparently, this is tampering with the original, which was practically my favorite board game as a child. (I haven't checked the website as yet in order to verify all the actual details, I merely saw a blurb about this promotion on the local morning news.) I still haven't gotten over the previous game alterations.

Will the popular vote be honored? (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

11 January 2017

#Travel Back in Time: #ColonialWilliamsburg #History #AmericanRevolution #EarlyAmericana #ReEnactments

As part of a secondary school field trip years and years ago, my class traveled to the "living history" city of Colonial Williamsburg --- and I loved it! The costumes, the setting, the reenactments, the demonstrations (to this day I still want to take up glass blowing, because of a demo I witnessed there), the houses, all of it was so interesting to me. As I've mentioned previously, I absolutely love the American Revolutionary period of our country's history and visiting Colonial Williamsburg is like being there as the war broke out. I could totally get a job there as one of the docents and be happy as a clam. (Are clams really happy? But, I digress...)

Just the other day, I requested a 2017 Colonial Williamsburg Wall Calendar that is (or was) being offered for free. I do hope I get one. (Because online free offers often get slammed with requests once freebie deal sites get wind of them, any request tends to be hit or miss, of course.) The pictures shown in the sample calendar online were some great shots and instantly transported me back to Colonial Williamsburg. Memories came flooding over, vivid images bubbled to the surface of my mind. If it shows up, this calendar is definitely going on the wall. I think the library is a perfect location considering. Now I'm thinking I'll have to plan a trip and return to Colonial Williamsburg one day.

10 January 2017

#NerdAlert: I Was a #Cordcutter When #Cordcutting Wasn't Cool. #OTA #DTV #DVR #Timeshifting #VideoDownload #Streaming #HDTV #JustSaying

I grew up in a rural area where over the air (OTA) TV reception meant you got PBS and a few local channels, if anything. I loved the educational programming offered by PBS and my Saturday morning cartoons, but never felt that television was integral.
Television was mainly an afterthought in our house, we only had a black and white TV. I didn't see color TV until I was in high school and recall finding it jarring, as the colors I'd imagined things were during all the years of watching in B&W often didn't match the colors items turned out to be.
Considering as a child that I'd rather be reading or out climbing trees, or chasing frogs or almost anything other than watching television, I was at a loss as to why anyone would PAY for Cable Television. Sure, you got more channels and sometimes got better reception, but as most TV programming when I was a child seemed a bunch of junk, so what?

No, I've never been a television fanatic. I enjoyed (some) television but could easily do without it. I never set my schedule around air times, no matter what the show. If something was due to broadcast and I was otherwise engaged I'd simply miss it. Broadcast television (like broadcast radio) was simply too haphazard, with seemingly little quality control. Depending on someone else to create programming I appreciated was a crap shoot.

Then came the Internet, and suddenly the user was (more) in control. Look, I've been watching Internet video since... well the Internet (or at least since the WWW became established, yes, back in dial-up days). Getting most of my entertainment via online conduits was a natural fit for a geek like me. I could find something entertaining or educational whenever the mood struck. I didn't have to count on some amorphous producer coming up with programming I wanted to see. It was a liberating, if slow process in the early days of the Net.

As comparatively faster internet connections expanded, my online world exploded. And, as truly fast internet --- which allowed for easily streaming video --- became the norm, videos of everything were being uploaded in droves (initially, often by mere bootlegging fans versus content creators or licensees), and it was a godsend. Being a savvy searcher, I could find whatever I wanted to see and watch it on my schedule. Content from all over the world. It was heady stuff. And a great time to be a techie!

Of course, it soon became obvious that being tied to a computer screen, or worse the handheld devices (early iPod Video, anyone?) that followed, was not optimal. If the best home viewing experience was a large screen television, why had consumers suddenly been sent on a tiny screen detour? (I have no problem with mobile video out and about on the go, but if given the choice between watching something on a tiny screen or a large one, there's no contest. Go BIG or go home! Or more aptly, go big when at home.) Funny that we had handheld video devices BEFORE SmartTV. We soon got back on track as (clunky) web-enabled television add-on boxes that weren't necessarily tied to Cable services arrived. (Cable services got with the program, too.)
Remember WebTV? Yeah, me either. I did an on-site, in office, beta test at its headquarters in downtown Palo Alto and lambasted the (at the time) clunky service, which was not an upgrade compared to using my desktop computer and would not have encouraged me to return my entertainment media back to the "television as entertainment center hub" concept.
Later these boxes evolved, shrunk to dongles and eventually became just the software pre-installed in a TV/Display. (Many modern "televisions" no longer come with built-in tuners and are actually merely displays or monitors. However, as a "free broadcast digital television" or OTA DTV advocate, I will always opt for a built-in tuner, given the choice.) Suddenly, I could watch "television" from almost anywhere in the world on an actual TV with the push of a remote button.

But throw it in reverse for a minute... with the arrival of the (clunky) web-enabled boxes and early media center software, users could now stream almost anything broadcast onto our actual TV sets instead of being tied to a desktop computer, but what to do when one wanted to watch stuff at another time than when it aired? A second component was necessary to achieve total programming control, Personal Video Recorders or PVR that would allow an individual to timeshift viewing and skip past commercials at his leisure. Pair it with a physical media burner, if desired, and users had won the lottery. (There was some rudimentary timeshifting going on, as geeky hobbyists would upload recorded video of shows, etc. but one had to count on finding a specific video, not to mention willfully participating in a bit of copyright infringement, as opposed to legally recording from a broadcast source or downloading and/or streaming from a licensed service provider.)
The third component of licensed service providers wasn't required, but is an augmentation which allows users to pick and choose catalog items to view at will, whether by individual purchase or subscription. Such services provide a pre-packaged convenience, instead of setting up the recording of one's own copy (which requires an investment in either software, hardware or both).
In January 2011, I won a top of the line (at the time) Samsung 46" 3D 1080p HDTV. I stumbled upon specs for the European model of the same unit and discovered it included a built-in PVR, software that would allow the TV to record almost anything pulled from its built-in tuner. Of course, I contacted Samsung to ask why the American unit did not also have this very cool feature and was told US "regulations" prevented it. (The thought of average folks being able to directly record OTA content apparently scared the stuffing out of the Cable lobby. And well it should.)

I was angered at what I saw as US over-regulation, but being a tech geek simply worked around it by rigging a computer to act as an on the fly recorder. Years later now, there's no need for such MacGyver-ing, as everyone expects a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) and commercial platforms like Tablo TV and TiVo Roamio have emerged to offer OTA DVRs that don't require a Cable subscription (though in a somewhat backwards move TiVo still thinks one should subscribe to its television guide service). With all the options available nowadays, I can easily record free DTV pulled from the airwaves and watch it when I want; I can choose to transfer the recordings to physical discs; I can pick and choose content to download (my preference) or stream on my schedule.

It was a long, long and winding journey, but between cordcutting, timeshifting and a plethora of streaming + download services, we can finally spy somewhere up ahead the (entertainment) promised land where the individual viewer is the one who determines what constitutes Must Watch TV. I am in the pilot seat. Buckle up.

09 January 2017

Please Tell Me I Didn't Just See an Ad for a #RealityTV Series About Tracking Down Ethnic Groups??? #Hunted #WTF #BadIdea #JumpedtheShark

Flipped the TV channel to catch a news program while making breakfast this morning. An ad came on and the voiceover said something about "nine fugitive pairs" and "that's eighteen people on the loose" while displaying little headshot photos, then it zoomed in on one set of pictures and cut to a "live" interview with a featured pair, two Muslim guys of (presumed) Southeast Asian descent who were talking about being dropped off in an altogether different Southeast (that of the United States) and knowing they'll stick out like a sore thumb (not blend in) and thus, be found quickly. It cuts to the show title, Hunted.

My head swiveled. I was like, "Did I just see an ad for a "humans as prey tracking show" that uses ethnic and/or religious identity juxtaposed with the idea of a "homogeneous" society to thwart cover options?" I was only half paying attention as I tend to tune out ads when waiting for actual TV programming, but zeroed in as the gist of the show concept unfolded. I'm hoping that I misheard or at least missed a crucial detail of the show overview. Otherwise, expect the proverbial crap to hit the fan in 10, 9, 8... once it gets out that some Hollywood-type greenlighted a show where the concept is to hunt down humans using gross stereotype as a point of "tension" (and this occurs, not in a suspended disbelief movie set, but in a "real footage" television show). Who thought this would be a good idea? Social media is gonna have a field day, on both sides of the aisle. If we ever needed any proof that Reality TV jumped the shark (a long time ago), we could simply cue this commercial.

No wonder I avoid (most) regular TV. Thank the Maker, I can filter out nonsense like this. As a cordcutter and a timeshifting viewer, I control my media programming. (I seldom see ads, period, and never "just watch" whatever happens to come on the TV.) Entertainment is one thing, idiocy is another.

It's on! @Quaker #OvernightOats -- #Oatmeal #Nutrition "Cooked" While You Sleep! #oats #milk #fruitarian

I absolutely love oatmeal! I should probably own Quaker Oats stock at this point as I practically grew up inhaling the stuff.
Oats are low cost yet nutritious, can been eaten cold or hot and can be added as an ingredient in many other dishes. Oats are also shelf stable, with a long shelf life, and are easy to store. In other words, oats make a perfect staple for poor folks, as we were, or anyone for that matter.
The most awesome part about oatmeal is that it actually tastes good! So it wasn't a chore to eat, and I looked forward to it as a child. So good is oatmeal that it can be made with either water or milk and it's still edible, though, of course, making oatmeal with milk is preferred. (And it needn't be cow milk either. Oatmeal is very versatile.)

Lately, in many of the magazines to which I subscribe, I've been seeing a bunch of Quaker Oats advertising featuring Overnight Oats recipes, it's basically a cold oatmeal "parfait" wherein uncooked while rolled oats + milk form a base (as opposed to the ice cream used in a traditional parfait, meaning "perfect" in French) which is then layered with other add-ins like yogurt, fruit --- I'm secretly a fruitarian masquerading as a vegetarian --- and nuts. Afterward, the whole concoction is put in the fridge overnight to set. I've been salivating at the thought of making myself some, saving any recipes I came across and jotting down my own ideas, excited to try my own variations. In preparation, I made a verbal note for Alexa to "add oats or oatmeal to my shopping list."

The next morning, as I was browsing via AmazonSmile looking for doggie stuff and checking on pup's Subscribe & Save subscriptions --- by the way pup often gets more mail and shipments than I do --- I noticed an Amazon on-site ad that stated Quaker Oats products had a 30% Off coupon available. Needless to say, it worked, I surfed over to the Grocery department and found a bulk box (128oz) of Old Fashioned Quaker Oats that was only $6.56 after the coupon. Click! And just like that, oats are on the way.

This happened yesterday morning and I've been gathering other ingredients to get ready ever since, because (to quote Donkey from Shrek, which happens to be one of my favorite animated films) "You know what else everybody likes? Parfaits! ...Parfaits are delicious! ...Parfaits may be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!" You got me, Donkey. I'm so there. I can almost taste the oatmeal layered goodness... Yum!

08 January 2017

Attempting to Watch the #GoldenGlobes But...

I am not an awards show fan. I don't cotton to self-congratulatory, pat oneself on the back sort of things. I love movies, not Hollywood ego. (Actually, ego, period.) However, I keep hearing that the Golden Globes is the most fun/relaxed/casual of the big tent awards shows. So I am curious enough to give it a try, because there are some interesting (to me) films and TV series under consideration this year. We'll see how long I can stick with it. Likely, I'll simply end up reading a winner's list tomorrow. 

Saving Points for a @Vizio #SmartCast Crave 360 Speaker #WiFi #Bluetooth #MultiRoom #Fandemonium #Rewards

After I redeemed $250 worth of points for a Vizio 32" E-Series SmartCast™ HDTV, a fast USB wall charger kit and a free digital copy of Star Trek: Beyond last November, my Vizio Fandemonium Rewards points balance was pretty much shot. No biggie though, for this is what the rewards points are supposed to do, exchange for stuff. Since then, however, I've been earning points and slowly replenishing my account balance, which has grown back to approximately 39,000 points. (The rewards exchange rate is roughly 1000 points = $1.00.)
Vizio SmartCast™ Crave 360™ Multi-Room Speaker
I think I have enough TVs --- all HDTVs --- at the moment between a Vizio 60" 1080p, a Samsung 46" 3D 1080p, the aforementioned Vizio 32" 1080p and a Seiko 20" 720p (the only upgrade would be going 4K+). Instead, I've decided to aim for the 2016 Vizio SmartCast™ Crave 360™ Multi-Room Speaker Model #SP50-D5 [MSRP $249.99] as my next reward. Currently, I have an eye out for WiFi + Bluetooth speakers and/or soundbars with a goal of having one in almost every room, but there's no hurry.

The 2016 Vizio SmartCast™ Crave 360™ Multi-Room Speaker is "a portable 360° 2.1 multi-room speaker featuring amazing clarity, 8 hours of power and a wireless charging base" according to its specs. (See vizio.com/sp50d5.html.) I might change my mind regarding which reward I should next claim between now and then... I've got a ways to go yet in order to save up $250 worth of points again. As long as Fandemonium rewards continue to be offered, I'll get there eventually. Besides, it's my idea of fun to earn cool freebies!

07 January 2017

#WeatherGeek Update: #WinterStorm #Ice #Snow #WindChill #BelowFreezing

We did have a Winter Storm hit overnight and North Georgia got socked with ice and snow. Colder air is now swooping in adding considerable wind chill. Not expected to get more than a degree above freezing today, and only for a few hours before plummeting overnight. More of the same expected tomorrow though it should top out a few degrees above freezing before dipping again overnight and then finally warming (comparatively) on Monday. Weather Alerts are advising folks not to go out unnecessarily, especially if driving (as roads are iced).

About four hours ago, pup and I bundled up --- she got Vaseline rubbed over her paw pads in a protective layer --- and walked around the neighborhood to do a welfare check on a few of our immediate neighbors. It was silent as the grave, a Winter Wonderland of clear ice and white snow. Luckily, everyone that we checked on is doing OK.

Walking back toward home, we encountered a lone Georgia Power truck creeping along, crews are out checking power lines. (Trees are completely iced over in our area and with this brisk wind outages from falling limbs are a definite concern.) Shout out to ALL the folks out there working, making certain everyone else stays safe! We see y'all.

We're home now, snug and eating a hearty chili. (Pup thinks she should get a full bowl though she had her own breakfast before 6:00a.) Hopefully, it'll be a nice quiet day and I can get some more work done. (I'm still Winterizing the house.) In accordance with our new weather "normal" in these parts, it's expected to be nearly 70 degrees again by this coming Friday. Like I've said, yo-yo weather.

New #Football #Batman #BarGlassware! #SYWR #Deals #StorePickup #Guarantee #Kmart #BadCustomerService

After Christmas, being that I was on holiday, I played a few games, entered a contest or two, and caught up on the telly. (I am the epitome of a time-shifting viewer, with the exception of news and sports, I seldom watch anything at the time it first airs.) One of the fun things I like to do in my spare time is to enter Shop Your Way Rewards Instant Win Sweepstakes, because these contests give one a chance to win random amounts of rewards points. Catching a Doorbusters period on a specific sweeps is even sweeter because points are earned merely for entering.

I can usually earn several bucks worth of rewards points per week just by fooling around. Add to this any surprise points I'm awarded and any relevant coupons I load to my account, and I can easily end up with a free $5-$10 worth of points available to use on a near weekly basis when time permits. Combine all this with free shipping on items $10+ as a perk of an ever-renewing Shop Your Way Max trial or free store pickup for items under $10, and it becomes very obvious that I get a LOT of free merchandise from Sears and Kmart. (And I'm not the only one, if the various freebie and deal sites are in any measure accurate.)

It's no wonder Sears Holding Corp (SHC) has been flirting with bankruptcy for years, it gives away far too much money value! Don't get me wrong, I love free stuff as much as the next guy and I've surfed the freerider wave along with all the other deal hunters. But you'd have to be obtuse to not recognize that giving away multiple times the amount you take in is not a sound business practice. I'd crudely estimate that I've gotten at least one free $5-$10 item (and often greater value ones depending on sales and promotions) from Sears and/or Kmart every other week for the last two to three years without even trying too hard. (Think of the deal hounds that actually work at it.)

Just a guess, but based upon my own personal experiences, SHC probably gives away at least $15 for every $1 it earns. You can't sustain that sort of loss and expect to be a profitable business. But I'm not a company executive, I'm a consumer who likes deals. So while I shake my head, it's not my fault if the company is being run by idiots. The fact that SHC also outsources most of its customer service operations to a call center that seems perpetually staffed with incompetent fools further complicates matters. When your hallmark is atrociously bad customer service, eventually your (presumed) customer base starts rooting for your demise.
Libbey Football Tumbler, 4-pc set
DC Comics Batman Tumbler, 2-pc set
Meanwhile the fire sale is quite fantastic! My latest SYWR scores are some nifty themed glassware sets, a 4-pc Libbey Football Tumbler ($7.99 on sale) and a 2-pc DC Comics Batman Tumbler ($11.39 on sale). I got the football set totally free (excepting the time and gas required for store pickup) using $7.99 worth of points. Then because the local Kmart store pickup was an abysmal nightmare --- as always --- and Sears/Kmart have a guarantee that you'll get your order in 5 minutes or less, most of those points were refunded, by which time I'd earned some additional points, and so was able to order the more expensive DC Comics set for free, too. And as this second set cost >$10, it was also shipped to me for free.

Both sets will make fun additions to my home bar. I've previously mentioned that my "basement entertainment complex" is being developed around a carnival/fair/circus theme, so novelty glassware is just the ticket! Besides, it's a family bar room, so there'll be as many EANABs available as there will be alcoholic beverages, perhaps more depending on the event. Watching the upcoming Super Bowl is gonna rock while sipping soda or beer out of the football tumblers. And Mardi Gras? POW! BLAM! Batman!

06 January 2017

Are #Bats #Bootiful? @USGSWildlife #BatHouse #Entomology #Halloween #HelpfulMammals #OrganicFarm #WhiteNoseSyndrome

Eek! What's that? A flying bat. Run for your lives! Or preferably, one could display some uncommon sense. The motif of a swooping bat as an object of fear and terror is so common that children's cartoons and youth comics employ it regularly, indoctrinating us early, implanting an idea that bats are to be run from, are to be reviled, are to be eradicated. I'm Batman, anyone? The entire concept of a "batman," a vigilante crime fighter who strikes bad guys under cover of darkness, relies heavily upon our collective fear of bats. (In fact, this misguided fear is literally what inspires the comic book character Bruce Wayne to take up a bat's image.)

How many Halloween cartoons did you view as a child that featured at least one scene with a swooping black cloud of bats? (Every "spooky" one of them.) And what is always the response of anyone encountering a bat/s in any of these cartoons? (Abject terror. Shrieks and screams.) Bats rely on bio sonar or echolocation. When sound is how an animal "sees," can you imagine what it must be like to have nearly every human contact involve bombastic tones? Poor bats. Traditional Halloween imagery has unfortunately done a great disservice to bats. (Don't even get me started on the whole vampire bat thing.) We have taught the common man that bats should be avoided at best and dispatched on sight at worse.

As misfortune oft has it, bats desperately need our help these days. Enclaves of bats are being wiped out wholesale by a horrid spreading disease called White Nose Syndrome which is caused by Pseudogymnoascus desctructans, a cold-loving white fungus that burrows into the hibernating mammal and kills indiscriminately. [See NWHC WNS data.] In many areas the bat populations have thinned considerably and the disease is not yet contained. It does not aid the situation to have humans be squeamish (and shrieking) on top of things. These are dire days for bats. We must step up to find a cure obviously, but we must also try to bolster healthy bat populations in the meanwhile in order to prevent the possibility of a catastrophic extinction level event for bats. This is happening on our watch. Therefore, we must deign to stop it.

It is well past time, we citizens reclaim the bat for the good side. I will lead the charge, as someone must. Here's a tidbit: a single insectivorous bat will eat approximately 1/3 its weight in insects each night of a successful hunt. You heard me. This is nature at its finest, natural pest control. A word to the wise, if one plans to farm organically then there had darn well better be some bat houses placed strategically throughout his farmland. Not a farmer? If one is a proactive community resident, a so-called good neighbor, it wouldn't hurt to build a bat house or two around his property. In this new Age of Insect-borne Pandemics in which we live, the benefits of cultivating animals which help control insect populations cannot be stressed enough. If you're unable to build a bat house, consider surveying bat populations in your area and submitting your findings to the National Wildlife Health Center [Go to www.nwhc.usgs.gov for further instructions]. As if chowing down on pests weren't sufficient to make us adore bats, these helpful mammals also pollinate flowers and disperse fruit seeds. (There goes your food chain.)
Bat drawing, vintage sketch
Time to spread some bat love! As much as I would like to believe otherwise, I do realize it may not be feasible for everyone to build a bat house in his yard; however, there is something that anyone can do and that is to work to reclaim the bat's image, restoring its identity as a helpful mammal that should be appreciated. We don't have to remove bats from Halloween celebrations, we merely need to adjust our thinking. If we must think of Halloween when we think of bats, then let's create anew, coining positive associations. I'll start. I declare bats are bootiful! Hopefully, the next time someone encounters a bat/s unexpectedly, the person might recognize that the bat is likely as startled as he, and respond accordingly, by stifling any screams. Remember, be kind to bats!

P.S. It's my hope to write and illustrate a children's book using the term "bootiful" as an image altering descriptor of bats. I have a rough idea for it in my mind now --- it'll make for a perfect Halloween book release, providing the entire North American bat population hasn't been wiped out by then. In order to truly counteract the negative imagery of bats in our society, we've got to (re)educate everyone, starting with our young.

05 January 2017

#GWCRD: George Washington Carver Recognition Day! #Peanuts #SweetPotatoes #STEM #ChildhoodHero

As an asocial geeky little girl, I gravitated toward the life stories of those who used their intelligence and ingenuity to overcome adversity and contribute to society. (I've mentioned my esteem for Ben Franklin in this vein before, but) This day belongs to a man who held particular significance in my juvenile mind. Today is George Washington Carver Recognition Day. Salute!
Born into slavery in the Deep South (Missouri), Carver became an inventor who made lasting contributions to the field botany, in part by promoting alternative crops to cotton that would allow poor farmers to not only provide food for their tables, but also provide products that could improve their quality of life. (Because he spent a good deal of his life at Tuskegee University in Alabama, which is only a hop, skip and a jump away from my native Georgia, I read a children's version of his biography at quite a young age. His extensive use of crops like peanuts --- a mainstay in Georgia's agriculture --- and sweet potatoes, which were very familiar to me as a poor rural Southerner only heightened my interest.) He also took a lead in advocating environmentalism. George Washington Carver was a man ahead of his time. Thank goodness.