28 February 2017

Playing Fun #Sweeps - #SYWR Points #ShoppingList #VeggieSpiralizer #Coffee Grinder #MyWants #Rewards #Prizes

I'm not much of a gambler. I don't like having the odds stacked against me. As a result, you can forget about my playing the lottery or table games in Vegas. (I play penny and nickel slots for the fun of it.) The only "gaming" I tend to throw my hand in are the contests which require no initial outlay on my part (free entry). So I will "spin the wheel" for sweepstakes at Shop Your Way, because it's free to enter. I earn random rewards points and use these to get free and nearly free merchandise.

Yesterday, I won 10,000 rewards points or $10.00 in one of the SYWR sweepstakes games, which added to my "pot of gold" (the amount of rewards points available to redeem in my account). My earliest won sweeps points won't expire for a few days yet (most sweeps prize points are only good for 14 days after they're won), so I'll keep playing and (hopefully) adding to my stash. Then I'll cash out for a nifty gadget on the last day possible to maximize my rewards discount.

So now I'm thinking about low-cost kitchen gadgets --- I love small kitchen appliances! I'm torn between a coffee grinder and a vegetable spiralizer. Hmm...

27 February 2017

The Morning After #Oscars2017 + #MardiGras Prep

Was up late partying and enjoying the movie mania surrounding the Oscars last night. And now, basically have a day's break before the next party... Mardi Gras. So, there's a lot to do today. I'd better get to it. (Surprisingly, there were some good moments at The Academy Awards last night, by the way --- and the crazy mix-up with the Best Picture winner, still processing that one.) Congratulations, to all the winners!

26 February 2017

Morning: #Annular #SolarEclipse #Skywatchers + Evening #OscarsParty #Oscars2017

There will be a "Ring of Fire" or Annular Solar Eclipse visible in South America and Africa this morning. Would have loved to be able to witness it from here, but no such luck for us North American skywatchers. Will look for pictures online later. I'm certain somebody will get some spectacular shots and post them.

Meanwhile, I'm prepping for our Oscars 2017 Party this evening. We generally don't actually watch the awards show itself (which is most often too long-winded and self-congratulatory) except for the original song performances, but we will have it on the telly as background noise during the festivities. We're making 7-Layer Nachos, assorted veggie fries (including French fries) and jalapeno poppers for snacks. There's also Key Lime Pie and (in a nod to the Oscar statuette) Golden Oreos for sweets. For beverages, we've got Cheerwine Milkshakes, assorted Coke products (for floats, shakes & mixers) and a full bar.

We play movie trivia games and debate our own award selections. Should be a fun evening. And then early next week, we'll be partying more, because... Mardi Gras! I happen to adore the idea of surprise trinkets hidden in food --- as long as one is forewarned --- so, of course, I love King Cake. (So help me, I'm finding that baby this year.) Looks like February is going out with a blast!

25 February 2017

#Garden #VeggieStraws @SensibleP -- A Sharp Flavored Crunchy #Snack #ProductReview #GlutenFree #Kosher #NonGMO #SensiblePortions

For roughly the last week, I've been sampling a newish product named Garden Veggie Straws by a brand called Sensible Portions. These are crispy puffed "straws" made out of sweet potato and other vegetables that pack a satisfying crunch and a bite of flavor. They are also gluten-free, low sodium, low fat and low calorie, if you care about that sort of thing. (A serving is about 18 straws.) They remind me of Frito-Lay's Munchos --- which I enjoyed as a child --- if you are familiar with this product, the taste of Garden Veggie Straws is very similar, except more robust and with flavor variations. In case you are unaware, Munchos are white potato puffed chips (potato crisps), whereas these straws taste like spinach, tomato, carrot and white potato, but both products are "puffed crisps."
Sea Salt Garden Veggie Straws
I had a huge bag, so I would put a handful or two in a zippy bag and carry them in my pocket to snack on throughout the day. I like them and will continue to purchase the product as an alternative --- not a replacement --- to potato chips. I love potatoes in pretty much all forms, so I love chips, but I also like to mix things up and vary the palate. (By the way, I use moderation as the guiding principle for my diet or eating regimen. I do not "diet" or deny myself things.) Sensible Portions also makes several other "straws" varieties, including apple and sweet potato, and various veggie chips, crisps, puffs and crackers. Its motto is "better-for-you snacking." According to the company, a Better-for-You Snack is Non-GMO, Gluten-Free, Kosher, Cholesterol-Free and has no artificial flavors or preservatives. Sounds good to me.

I've only tried the Sea Salt Garden Veggie Straws, so far, but I plan to check out other Sensible Portions products, too. I'm on the lookout for the Apple Straws.

24 February 2017

National Something Something Day? Overzealous Marketing Calendar

When did each day of the year get claimed in promotion of some product or other? I enjoy celebrations, I like having fun. However, this whole marketing ploy of claiming a day for carrots, magaritas and chocolate milk has gone a bit overboard. I mean, really? Not that this can't be a fun excuse for an impromptu party, but come on... 

If tomorrow is National Kumquat Day, I'm rolling over and going back to bed. It's just too much! (Sorry, kumquat.)

23 February 2017

With Ill Will Toward None? #Health #ImmunityBoost

Guess it was bound to happen, sooner or later, with all the yo-yo back and forth Winter to Spring weather. I've taken ill. Nothing too serious, thankfully (or so it seems), but I think today will mostly be a "day of rest." I do have a few emails and such to get out, but otherwise I'm going to try to rest and recover, and allow my immune system to reset.

It would seem my body is trying to tell me something. I would do well to listen. Back to bed, for now.

22 February 2017

Estate #IntellectualProperty: #WhoisPrivacy #DomainRegistrars #IoT + #Gardening #Composting

I spent a good part of yesterday registering, transferring and setting up domain names. What should be seamless and simple invariably turns into a hassle, because each registrar has its own matrix. But I've finally gotten all my domains with a registrar that includes Whois database privacy as a default service (i.e., free). It's patently ridiculous to expect one to pay extra fees to keep his information private. (And yes, I hate the telephone directory, too, for this very reason.)

Privacy is an inalienable right. It should not be something for which one has to barter or pay a fee. Yes, I understand "privacy guard" registrars provide generic contact data for the Whois database and forward inquiries to the actual domain registrant, but big whoop! This should take almost no effort on their part. Charging for keeping domain registration contact data private is like charging for air. At any rate, all my estate or household domains are now setup.

As it rained a bit last night, the ground should be easier to breakup today. This afternoon, I'm hoping to finish expanding my compost pile which sits in a slightly recessed pit. I'm widening and deepening the pit, so I can turn the compost more easily and keep it well separate from any surrounding growth.

Once all this is done, there will be more cowbell er, milkshakes!

NOTE: With the ongoing IOT explosion in home market products, consider that it may be helpful to employ a household domain name/s (think thejoneseshome.com). This will allow one to setup everything from email to IPs per device, if necessary, and keep everything uniform, organized & connected.

21 February 2017

Great Shakes! @DrinkCheerwine #Milkshake #NostalgiaElectrics + Early Spring Yard Work #Gardening #WeatherGeek

On yesterday, instead of making a soda pop float, I blended vanilla ice cream with Cheerwine in my new Nostalgia Milkshake Maker and made Cheerwine Milkshakes. It was delicious. That's all.

Also, as it's supposed to be 70+ degrees all week with only slight chances of rain each day, I'm taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and working outside in spite of the elevated pollen levels, prepping garden beds, drawing an irrigation blueprint, expanding my compost pile and thinking about a chicken coop. Pup is loving this early Spring, though she gets allergies, too. She can sit outside for hours just lazing in the sun.

Well, off to work...

20 February 2017

#PresidentsDay #Milkshakes #FrenchFries #Democracy + @vudufans @LegionFX

My Nostalgia Milkshake Maker is scheduled to arrive today. (Brown needs to get a move on it.) I'm planning to knock out work today, so that pup and I can party this afternoon for the Presidents' Day holiday (officially observed as Washington’s Birthday). We're making milkshakes and Cheerwine floats! (I recently discovered this recipe and figured this was a good excuse to try it out, because I have Cheerwine on hand, of course.)

In the spirit of the day, we're planning to watch the expected wall-to-wall news coverage of all the Presidents' Day protests and counter-protests in regards to the current presidential administration. We may have French fries, too --- though termed "French," this common side dish is all American, and thus perfect for such a patriotic holiday.

I'm also planning to watch Suicide Squad --- I borrowed the Blu-ray --- and the pilot episodes for some new television series, like Legion and Mad Dogs, that I downloaded via Vudu. (I use free pilot episodes to determine which programs to start watching, if any. And Vudu tends to offer the "first episode free" for most debuting television programs.) Our afternoon party should provide for a nice respite, before getting back to the grind tomorrow.

19 February 2017

Heard #ArrivalMovie Is the Thinking Man's #SciFi? Don't Make Me Laugh!

OK, so I watched Arrival. I rented it at Redbox using a $1.25 discount code, so the 1-night movie rental was only $0.27. It was a very slow starter. (I nearly feel asleep.) It was oddly predictable in spite of its desire to be mysterious. It was pedestrian. Yet, it still managed to pose a few interesting questions. But only this. I had heard it was an "academic" or deep thinking Sci-Fi film.

I would be very surprised if it won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year. (And I do not think the lead actors being "overlooked" was a snub.) It was simply too underwhelming in every aspect. I am actually surprised it garnered the nominations that it did. That's not to say it didn't have any merit.

All I have to say is that if the aliens arrive tomorrow and we humans have to hope for a translator to save us while an incompetent military looks on, then we are already doomed. Just saying...

Well, that's another Oscars nominee checked off my list, at least.

18 February 2017

Spreading Good #Cheer! @DrinkCheerwine #ROAK

I happened to catch a tweet the other day, wherein a fellow Tastemaker in the Cheerwine Authentic Soda Society stated that although she loved telling others about Cheerwine, she loves the soda so much she's had a difficult time sharing her coupons. This made me chuckle.

I'm lucky, however, I've got more than enough Cheerwine to share. As mentioned earlier, I ended up with 25 coupons, each one good for a Free* 12-Pack of Cheerwine, Diet Cheerwine or Cheerwine Squeeze. Yes, twenty-five free 12-Packs of soda! So far, I've redeemed 10 coupons (and have 15 left). But don't worry, I'm not drinking all that soda by myself. I've been sharing with everyone, family, friends and neighbors alike. Sometimes handing out single cans, sometimes handing over entire 12-packs --- introducing new folks to this iconic soda brand.

I enjoy spreading good cheer and good Cheerwine. In my book, these are one in the same.

*Note: The Cheerwine Free 12-Pack coupon is good for up to $4.49 value, which is apparently the going rate for a 12-pack in the Salisbury, NC area, but here in the metro Atlanta area 12-packs regularly cost $4.99+, thus one will generally end up having to pay $0.70-$1.00 difference when redeeming a coupon.

17 February 2017

#Nostalgia 2-Speed #Milkshake Maker Kmart Score #MyBar #Carnival Concessions Stand #IceCream Parlor #SYWR #SavvyShopper

This is so cool! Yesterday, I scored a Nostalgia 2-Speed Milkshake Maker machine from crazy Kmart for $0.35 OOP (out of pocket). It will be perfect for the concessions stand in my "Carnival - Circus - Fair - Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor - Old Timey Soda Shop - Old Picture Show Cinema - Novelties" themed basement barroom come home theater entertainment center. (That's a mouthful!)

How I Did It: I won 10,000 Surprise Points or $10.00 (off a $20.00 minimum purchase) in Kmart's Billion Point Giveaway Super Bowl LI promotion. I got another $2.00 SYWR Points for downloading and installing the Fount app, a Sears Holding Corp (SHC) outlet, and registering for an account using a special SYWR promo code. And then over the last week or so, I also won a further $9.53 SYWR Points total via various SYWR sweepstakes (including some "Spin to Win" ones via the Win It! app, another SHC outlet). Altogether, this gave me $21.53 SYWR Points available to spend at Kmart.

After a rough week, I needed a fun pick-me-up, so I searched Kmart's website for small kitchen appliances in the $20.00-$25.00 range (the "what could I get for nearly free" price range based upon the SYWR points available in my account) and my eyes fell upon a spindle milkshake blender almost immediately. The regular price is listed as $29.99, but I caught it during Kmart's Home Goods savings event, so it's on sale for $21.86. After my SYWR Points discount, this price was decreased to $0.33 plus $0.02 tax for a grand total of $0.35. I also get it shipped to me for free ($6.29 shipping fee savings) due to my SYWMax trial.

Nostalgia 2-Speed  Milkshake Maker. Image (c) Kmart.com
Nostalgia 2-Speed Milkshake Maker via Kmart.com
Just like DJ Khaled says, "All I do is win!" (Yesterday, at least. And I needed a bit of that.) I love, love, love ice cream in all of its incarnations, so I am a certified milkshake fiend. The shipment should arrive by Monday the 20th. I'll probably commence making old fashioned milkshakes approximately two minutes after it gets here. I've got my colored straws ready and my milkshake glassware standing by.

For now, however, we'll have to see what today holds...

16 February 2017

#WeatherGeek: That One Day of Winter Really Kills #Yaz #AT40 #Nostalgia

The temperature is supposed to continue to drop this morning, down to 34 degrees or thereabouts. Today is our one day of Winter before rebounding to Spring-like temperatures come Friday. While such yo-yo weather has become the new normal around here, this doesn't make it fun.

The pollen count is already hitting very high marks (the equivalent of late Spring totals), as the unseasonably warm weather which occurs most days has convinced trees, plants and flowers that it's much later in the year. So the Winter temperatures shock. Oh, how Winter kills to paraphrase the band Yaz. (By the way, Upstairs at Eric's formed a seminal work in my musical education. Oddly enough, I won the vinyl LP as part of a prize --- along with another LP that left little impression, a 19" color TV, a class ring and some trendy clothing outfit --- in a trivia contest on Casey Kasem's American Top 40 Countdown, circa 1983, I believe. Winning this radio contest altered my perspective in several arenas; my family had only owned a B&W TV up to this point. Color television marked quite a transition. But, I digress...)

As it's difficult for anyone (or anything) to adjust to these drastic swings in temperature quickly, illness has been rampant. This weather pattern wears one down. It will be nice when Spring truly arrives, providing it doesn't continue to return to Winter-like temperatures once a week. If that is going to be the case, I'll need a vacation. Pronto.

15 February 2017

#HomeSecurity Testing: #WirelessCameras #OutdoorLights #MotionSensors #Recording #ArchivalFootage

Spent a good part of yesterday afternoon (after finishing work) working on my home security configuration. Currently, I'm testing wireless camera placement to determine a layout that gives the best overall coverage. The property has a lot of odd angles, so the goal is to overlap camera viewing angles to minimize blind spots.
A nice feature: The recording equipment for the camera video feeds allows one to archive recordings to disc, if desired.
I also surveyed the outdoor lights, noting areas that were not well lit --- which I plan to fill-in with new lights --- and started installing strategically placed motion sensors in order to trigger certain lights automatically. And I'm planning to employ an UPS (uninterruptible power supply) to insure the system can be active 24/7. This is one area that the concept of Always On does not bother me.

This has only just begun. It will take some trial and error to develop a blueprint with which I'm satisfied. However, working on a comprehensive DIY home security plan has helped to calm me down and channel my anger (from the vandalism of my property) proactively. I feel better, but "there are miles to go before I rest."

14 February 2017

#ValentinesDay: #DoRight #RAOK #Love #Hallmark

In my early twenties, I worked at a Hallmark Gold Crown store for a time (while on leave from university) and I unfortunately worked on Valentine's Day that year. It was not a pleasant experience. Never have I encountered so many grumpy, crass and downright rude people in such a short amount of time. It's really sad that a holiday which is supposed to be about love (and not only romantic love, mind, but love of one's fellow man) seemingly brought out the worse in people. I told myself to never turn out like all the people I witnessed in the Hallmark that day.

Personally, I've never been one to harp on holidays, I don't need an arbitrarily approved date to be nice, give gifts, forgive transgressions or play fair. That said, there's nothing wrong with celebrating Valentine's Day. (One can never have too much love.) It's merely an observation that if you have to get so bent out of shape and overwrought in the quest to impress someone on this one day, then things probably aren't right the other 364. Valentine's Day, if anything, should be an enhancement of bonds, not a catchall panacea for all the crap accumulated throughout the rest of the year. But to each his own.

I try to treat the people about whom I care well every day of the year. Certainly, I fall short of this goal upon occasion; I am human and can be a grumpy cuss at times like anyone else. But I would like to think I succeed much more than I fail. (My family and friends would have to confirm this.) Thus, I don't have any special plans for today. I'm not out running around buying gifts at the last minute, in a harried attempt to make the day special (as an afterthought). No, I plan to go about the day much like I go about each day, with a smile and a wave. As for me and mine, I do know there will be pizza and cake (though sadly, not by the ocean, as I'm landlocked this year). And, that's a pretty good start to one fine day, let me tell you.

Happy Valentine's Day! May the true spirit of this day not elude you (or those whom you encounter).

13 February 2017

#GRAMMYs Performances #Talent #Music #Singing #Mondays

I actually watched (most of) the Grammy Awards show last night. I don't like awards shows generally, but I sometimes make an exception for shows which feature live performances. And in this case, I'm happy to have done so, as there were some interesting performances on tap. I appreciate talent. It was a good way to close the week.

But now, it's time to get this week started. Monday...

12 February 2017

#FoodSafety #PSA: #Sargento #Cheese #Recall Due to Potential #Listeria Contamination

Sargento Foods, Inc. is voluntarily recalling several cheese products due to potential Listeria (Listeria monocytogenes) contamination.

The recalled products:
  • Sargento Ultra Thin Sliced Longhorn Colby, 6.84 oz., UPC 4610000228, with "Sell By" dates of "12APR17B" and "10MAY17B"
  • Sargento Chef Blends Shredded Nacho & Taco Cheese, 8 oz., UPC 4610040041, with "Sell By" dates of "H14JUN17" and "H12JUL17"
  • Sargento Sliced Colby-Jack Cheese, 12 oz., UPC 4610000109 with "Sell By" date of "11JUN17B"
  • Sargento Sliced Pepper Jack Cheese, 12 oz., UPC 4610000108 with "Sell By" dates of "12JUN17B", "09JUL17B" and "10JUL17B"
  • Sargento Chef Blends Shredded Taco Cheese, 8 oz., UPC 4610040002 with "Sell By" dates of "H14JUN17" and "F28JUN17"
  • Sargento Off The Block Shredded Fine Cut Colby-Jack Cheese, 8 oz., UPC 4610040014 with "Sell By" date of "F05JUL17"
  • Sargento Off The Block Shredded Fine Cut Cheddar Jack Cheese, 8 oz., UPC 4610040076 with "Sell By" date of "F05JUL17"

Concerned consumers should call 1-800-CHEESES (1-800-243-3737) or email the company via the "Contact Us" page on Sargento.com.

For the full company notice, go here:

UPDATE: As of 17-Feb17, this product recall has been expanded. Please visit the above link for the full updated list of affected products and the most complete information from Sargento.

Packing & Moving #History #Atlanta #Cyclorama Off to a New Home #ArtHistory #Engineering

This week, the Battle of Atlanta, a 6-ton, 132-years-old, $7.5 million cyclorama painting was divided (into two parts) bundle up, rolled onto very large spindles, loaded onto a flat bed semi truck and moved to its new home at the Atlanta History Center. Not only will the painting be restored to its original glory (replacing pieces truncated over the years), but the Atlanta History Center's Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building (built expressly to house the painting) should insure that it's maintained for generations to come. Not bad for an artwork that was painted in 1885 and only intended to be a temporary event piece. (Cycloramas were rather like the circus, traveling from town to town for viewing shows. These "living" paintings, erected as a mise en scène, were precursors to motion pictures. At the height of the genre there were hundreds of them traveling around offering everyman a front-row seat to historical events. The paintings were often simply discarded once their run was over.)

For me, a history buff --- and specifically a Civil War history enthusiast --- a native Georgian and an Atlanta area resident, this is great news, as I was one of the countless school children who made secondary school field trip visits to the Atlanta Cyclorama Building in its old home at Grant Park. In fact, visiting the Atlanta Cyclorama with my elementary school classmates and watching as the Battle of Atlanta "occurred" right before my eyes while moving seats ferried us around the circular backdrop and smoke & gunfire special effects puffed and boomed in time to a recorded narration that gave a play-by-play battle tour is a main reason I became fascinated by Civil War history in the first place. I was pleased to hear that the piece is to be restored and installed in a new home as it's a now rare and important historical artifact. It was also neat seeing all the video footage of the engineering feat/s that it took to safely move the ginormous thing. (It took over 18 months of planning to get to the point of the actual move this week.) I'll definitely plan to visit once the painting goes on public display again (estimated to be Fall 2018). It will be like seeing an old friend.

11 February 2017

#Skywatchers Delight: #Eclipse, #Comet and #FullMoon Last Night #Astronomy #HomeSecurity #StarGazing #SnowMoon #TheGreatOutdoors

I love astronomy. I grew up in a rural area where one could actually see the stars amid the pitch darkness of the night sky away from city lights. I spent countless nights gazing at the sky, with naked eyes, binoculars and telescopes (bought and made), tracking the passages of stars, planets, comets and other space phenomena. It was good fun in the cow pastures and open fields of my childhood! As an adult, I still camp out for celestial events, though my equipment is a bit more advanced. Sometimes, my friends and I will have sky watching parties for big events when visible from our area.

Last night and earlier this morning showcased a triple event for skywatchers like me. At 7:43p Friday evening a "penumbral" eclipse of the moon occurred. (Not as good as a total eclipse ...of the heart... but still neat to witness.) Of necessity, of course, there was also a Full Moon, called the Snow Moon due to its occurrence in the heart of our Winter when there is a high likelihood of powder on the ground --- it was a bright white ball. Then about an hour ago, Comet 45P was visible in the early morning sky streaking through the constellation The Rock Hercules. Beautiful!

It's a brisk morning, and in spite of the thermos of hot cider and the cozy blankets that kept me alert overnight, I am now turning in for a power nap before getting up to seize the (remainder of the) day! I've got more repairs to do from where my property was vandalized by some ignorant punks two weeks ago. I'm still smouldering about it, but am soldering on. (I'm also configuring a state of the art home security system, but more on this later as I test, build and adjust it.)

Though it's starting off cold today, it'll be quite warm by this afternoon, and temps will be back up to 70 over the next few days. (Our Winter/Spring yo-yo weather continues.) Enjoy the weekend!

10 February 2017

A Healthy #Fryup? The Search for an #AirFryer #Tempura #FrenchFries #Foodie

I am a native Southerner. I love fried foods. (Old style Southern cuisine relies heavily on frying. There's a joke that Southerners will attempt to fry anything.) But obviously, all that oil and grease tends to mitigate many of a food's health benefits. There has been a recent push to reshape Southern cuisine by employing alternative methods of cooking. While this has met with some success, for many Southerners there is no substitute for frying. I am in that number; I may enjoy baked asparagus, but make it tempura and I'm in heaven. As a result, I've decided the best solution is to make "frying" itself a healthier method of cooking.

Luckily for me, technology has my back. The kitchen appliances industry has recently introduced into the mainstream so-called airfryers, gadgets which rely on air convection (and sometimes a small amount of oil) to crisp foods. As is the case with any consumer market, not all airfryers are created equal, so I've been researching these small kitchen appliances and reading reviews --- the latest issue of Men's Journal magazine has a one-page comparison and rating of four leading airfryer models, for instance --- with the idea of acquiring one.

I'm not giving up French fries, but if I can make fries healthier and still achieve that comfort food level of satisfaction that comes from "fries" then it's a win. Airfryer reports and reviews are promising overall. It seems the technology may have actually arrived to achieve a healthier fryup in the home consumer market. But it's a process to find the right machine for my needs. I don't expect to make a purchase tomorrow. However, the airfryer is on my radar and one will eventually make a debut in my kitchen (most likely, post-renovation, however).

09 February 2017

#NationalPizzaDay: May I Have Some More Please? #Cheese #Quikly #GiftCard

Pizza is one of my four main food groups, along with potatoes (preferably in the form of pomme frites or French fries), rice and ice cream. Hey, this is kosher for a lacto-ovo vegetarian like me. I LOVE cheese! I LOVE bread! Cheese pizza is like "manna from heaven." (I believe this means pizza is very, very delicious.) Take-out, frozen or homemade.

Today is National Pizza Day. In spite of the fact that I think that all of these "holidays" are mere marketing gimmicks, on a day like today where the celebration coincides with my personal tastes, I'll willingly give in and play along. I'll probably have pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe for a snack, too. Like Oliver Twist, I ask, "May I have some more, please?" You can't have too much pizza, right? That's impossible!

I scored a promotional gift card from Domino's in its Quikly giveaway yesterday and I've also got a couple of frozen pies stashed in the freezer. So I have options. I expect it to be a fun day.

UPDATE: It's also apparently National Bagel Day. So now I'm making bagel pizzas (like those Bagel Bites thingies). I admit it, I love a good bagel and schmear, too. (Bagels are bread.)

08 February 2017

Why #AlwaysOn #HomeAutomation Needs an [OFF] Button: #IoT #Wiretapping #PrivacyPolicies #DataMining #DoNotTrack #Supercookies

As commercial entities rush to Internet-enable everything (can the smartflush toilet be far away?) consumers should hit the [PAUSE] button and examine the cost of all this "convenience". One should always remember that technology often outpaces legality (and unfortunately, ethics); if something can be achieved with technology, it likely will be, with or without license.

When the Internet first became the domain of commerce, online shopping early adopters were the first to test the waters and bear a share of the cost. As more and more people --- across various socio-economic strata --- went online, businesses realized that potential consumers could be drawn in by offering something for "free." There is no such thing as a free lunch; the exchange always consists of the consumer giving over some detail/s in order to obtain said freebie. Sometimes it's merely a name and address, but increasingly it's become a request for more and more extensive demographic information. (Fill out this survey, get a free pack of gum. Oh, did we forget to mention the gum is extra sticky and will track you for the rest of your life?)

Once businesses realized that consumers were willing to trade all sorts of data in exchange for a perceived "freebie," commercial exploitation of the Internet commenced in full measure. The Age of Freemium Enterprise was born. A entire global enterprise ecosystem has sprung up based upon the repackaging and selling of you (your data). Some of the biggest Internet tech companies make most of their money from advertising and advertising is lucrative for these companies because they take the Freemium Model to extremes: Offer a consumer a free service, get reams of personal information in return; tack on another free service, get more data; rinse and repeat. And because they realize that the average user is either too lazy or too ill-informed to bother to "unjoin" something included at signup, these companies use opt-in as the default --- you have to take action to opt-out --- automatically gaining access to tons of data, often from unwitting consumers.

The Freemium Model soon evolved into the Convenience Factor Model: Consumers were willing to pay for a service or gadget with perceived convenience for everyday life tasks and still give access to their data in return. (Yes, we literally buy into being spied upon with the advent of smart devices.) And the big boys took notice. Companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon have expanded into the home automation market because it's a most hallowed step, an open doorway into your most private space, granting access to information that previously might have been off limits. All via a consumer invitation to come on in.

Companies can now get real-time stats on your security setup (smart doorbells and smart cameras), your energy consumption (smart thermostats and smart meters), your entertainment choices (smart TVs, radios and gaming systems), your food consumption (smart refrigerators and smart crock pots) and even your linguistic patterns, random ruminations, shopping habits, and personal preferences (smart hubs or smart assistants) and much more --- all attached to location data and to a person or household. (There's a reason you're encouraged to sign-in with your often long-standing personal account to use all these new home automation tools and services offered by the behemoth tech firms.) Consumers are being quantified at every level and on every front.

Previously, much of this data could be intimated by tracking web search and online browsing habits, but it was an incomplete picture. IoT devices deployed in the home are allowing businesses to fill in those data gaps --- currently with little to no oversight as the arena is so new. For advertising and consumer sales dependent businesses, this is much better than the ill-advised supercookie Verizon used. (I'm paying you for what?) Better than stating "websites are not required to adhere to a Do Not Track request." Not only are many of these smart devices designed to be "Always On" but consumers are being sold on the idea that this is for the sake of our convenience, for our benefit, to help make our lives easier. Yes, it's a great boon for advertisers, vendors, and the data miners who feed them.

Think about it. Not only is an "Always On" smart device with an omnidirectional microphone and/or camera essentially an unhidden wiretap or voyeuristic eavesdropping box that can potentially record everything, but we're being told to think it's merely a cute toy or a dead helpful essential gadget. The convenience of getting on demand answers and actions, is supposed to blind us to the IoT connected home trade off. Namely, that "All Your Base Are Belong to Us." I would caution anyone to be aware to what data you are granting access when using any so-called smart device. (I've touched on this subject before, but the IoT consumer market is so new that the learning curve is still expanding.)

This can be difficult because some companies do not disclose how their device/s tracks your information or the disclosure is limited or buried in reams of other jargon. (Vizio is currently all over the news for surreptitiously tracking the viewing habits of its Smart TV users for years and selling the data, all without consumer consent. Samsung pulled a similar stunt several years ago with its early Smart TVs and so did LG to mention but a few cases.) Recall what I said earlier about technology often outpacing legality and ethics? It is apparently too tempting for a commercial entity to gain near unfettered access to you in the intimate setting of your home and not go overboard. Any web camera or Internet-connected Mic not only presents a potential security risk from hackers but also from the very purveyors of the devices. You would do well to never trust any device that is programmed to automatically phone home.

I'm not telling you to abstain. (Though certainly that is a choice, the ultimate opt-out. While it may keep you relatively safe at home, the outside world is now rife with Internet-connected devices. Cameras and microphones are everywhere in the public sphere. Short of moving to Mars, it helps to have an auxiliary plan.) I'm not saying these devices have no use. We all like convenience and the idea of tasks being accomplished for us effortlessly. I'm a techie, a tech geek and an engineer. I love my tech toys, too. I'm simply saying be aware, be educated, be proactive, especially when allowing any device with its own brain into your castle. (I'm an AI advocate, not a patsy.) As a consumer, the responsibility assuredly rests upon the individual to safeguard his own information. Do not count on a "business that depends on access to as much of your data as possible in order to insure its bottom line" being altruistic. Do not count on human decency. Better safe, than sorry.

You are the commodity. Realize this and act accordingly. Always check privacy policies and disclosures about how your information is collected and used (and if this isn't stated upfront contact the vendor), check the vendor reputation, keep abreast of the industry news and legislation that governs how companies can use your data (become active in lobbying for government regulations & consumer protections, if necessary), check device/s settings and controls (whether you're allowed to opt-out or limit data collection, turn off or limit device Internet access without affecting functionality), consider setting up a separate user account only for your device distinct from your personal account/s (I often do this) and if all else fails to stem the flow of your information remember to use the [OFF] button or simply unplug the thing when not in use.

Know that if a vendor, any vendor, tells you that having an "Always On" device in your home is not an invasion of your privacy, this vendor is full of it. It may not automatically be a nefarious intrusion, but it is still a third-party potentially gleaning access to things where previously the expectation of privacy was the default. Consumers should pause and come to terms with this before rushing head first into the coming dawn of data siphoning and purchasing the shop vac for it.

NOTE: I know that the popular refrain used by many folks whenever someone sounds an alarm regarding the potential for third-party observation in certain areas (police cameras in the streets, for instance) is "Doesn't bother me, I have nothing to hide" as if anyone concerned with personal privacy must be wanted by the law and on the lam. Instead, my concern is for the potential for misuse. Once your data is out there it's rather difficult to call it back, therefore any safeguard must occur prior. If you trust a third party with your data and later find out a fourth party hacked it, you may not have anything to hide per say, but you might still find yourself taken advantage of. But by all means, feel free to remain cavalier in your attitudes, it's what keeps unscrupulous businesses, identity thieves and other unsavory characters in the green. Just saying.

07 February 2017

#SuperBowl #Party #Snacks & #Beverages @BraziBites @Popcorners @DrinkCheerwine #Rebelicious #ProductReview

Had a great time at my Super Bowl party in spite of the Falcons' losing. It was an intense game and I like the Patriots, too (was merely hoping for a new dynasty to emerge and rooting for a Georgia team, in addition to enjoying being able to joke with my "twin" BFF who is a Pats fan). Besides the good company with whom I enjoyed watching the game, there were some tasty nibbles on offer --- if I do say so myself. I had the opportunity to try some new products and enjoy some longtime favorites. The revelry carried on 'til quite late... or early.

One of the new items I picked up to serve at the party is Brazi Bites, a Brazilian Cheese Bread. I'd participated in a manufacturer's promotion online recently and received a free product coupon in the mail. When the coupon first arrived, I'd used the store locator on the product's website and discovered that in the metro Atlanta area, Brazi Bites can be found at Sprouts Farmers Market and Whole Foods stores. As I planned to go to Sprouts for a few party provisions anyway, I took my coupon along to look for this new product, too. (As an extra bonus, the Sprouts app had a mobile coupon available to load for a free bag of Popcorners chips.)
Brazi Bites are found in the freezer aisle [Keep Frozen] and come in several flavor varieties, though the Sprouts to which I ventured only had "Cheddar & Parmesan" or "Garlic & Asiago". I selected the "Cheddar & Parmesan." The product comes is a re-sealable plastic pouch containing 18 pieces [Net Wt 11.5oz (330g)]. It's naturally Gluten Free (uses a tapioca flour base), but also Trans-Fat Free, Sugar Free and Soy Free. It's ready to bake (goes from freezer to oven) and done in approximately 20 minutes. So quick and easy!

I cooked mine in a toaster oven, that's setup on the Carnival-themed concession stand in my home entertainment center. A serving size is considered 3 pieces (6 servings per pouch) and packs 126 calories (53 calories from fat). Personally, I don't count calories; I'm passing the information along for edification. To cook, place the bites about an inch apart on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake until golden brown. And boom, cheesy, toasty goodness in your face! These were quite tasty and completely no fuss. I'll definitely buy them again. (These were on sale for $5.49 at Sprouts with a regular price of $6.00, I believe.)

Using my Sprouts app mobile coupon for a free bag, I chose "Smokin' Jalapeno White Cheddar" Popcorners popped corn chips. I'd had tried a plain buttered Popcorners variety a few months ago, but had thought those meh. This flavor variety, however, turned out to be very good. Crispy, crunchy, fresh and spicy cheesy. A great snack for watching television. (Will buy these again.) I simply poured them out of the bag and into a bowl to serve.
And of course, I used a few of my Free 12-Pack coupons to pickup some Cheerwine soda at my local Kroger store on the way back home. Love me some Cheerwine! I definitely wanted some on hand to offer my guests. This was but a last minute store run. I'd been planning a menu and gathering various ingredients & ready-made foodstuffs for about two weeks. Once everything was done and set out, it made for quite a delicious spread. I'm still stuffed.

06 February 2017

#HomeAutomation 101: Avoid #FutureShock Employ Basic #IoT #Security Now - A Separate #WiFi #Network #Firewall Go #Intranet

I believe in the smart home, connected home concept. I think that basic home automation will be as common as water & power in the future, specifically because utilities will become (are becoming) the first mainstream commercial early adopters of the technology. When you move into a new residence, you'll get your utilities and by default these will be routed through smart "pipes" (monitored with smart sensors) to smart meters and controlled via interfaces like smart thermostats. This will occur, and not because of altruism, but instead because of the nature of business.

Utilities will employ (are employing) smart infrastructure because of the pinpoint data that it provides per user. Data that in turn becomes a gold mine, insuring return on investment or ROI ---data mining will generate income streams that compensate for smart infrastructure deployment and maintenance costs --- as well as the bottom line (utilities will be able to customize services by user, upsell with greater ease, more accurately predict usage patterns across the service market, and depending upon government regulations and corporate privacy policies share slices of customer data with cohorts and competitors alike for a fee).

It behooves utilities to go "smart." In example, think of what having a smart power grid means. The power grid becomes a "living, breathing thing" rife with feedback at every juncture. When the power company can say with confidence user A will bill X amount for nine months of the year and X amount times 3 for three months of the year and respond to fluctuations in real time, it changes the landscape. The amount and types of data generated by smart utilities systems will affect everything in the utility industries supply chain from energy futures to the price that customers pay. This is happening. Smart Utilities will be the standard. Unless planning to go completely off-grid, customers have little choice but to get on board. The user's option this arena is to insure the safeguard of information shared by advocating for industry regulations, verifying privacy policies and opting in or out where allowed (including changing providers, if applicable).

The second phase of home automation comprises what you allow inside your residence. The level of integration of everyday objects into the "network" is more open to individual determination. Do you want a smart bed, smart crock pot, smart blinds? These are the decisions to be made per user, though the desire to "keep up with the Joneses" may influence the decision making process. And again, it will be up to the individual to police his shared data and to protect his residence from virtual intruders (with the same alacrity he uses for the potential physical ones).

The average person looks at home security and plans obvious things like alarm systems, locks, lights, reinforced doors, burglar bars, fences, landscaping, etc., in the modern age however, nearly every one of these things can be a smart device. (The home security industry is also an IoT early adopter.) So a person may have an internet connected security system he can monitor via his smartphone in real time. He may have smart lights, a smart doorbell, smart motion sensors all potentially feeding data to commercial purveyors. (Not all home automation is internet-connected, it can be merely mechanical or operate on a closed network if the user decides. The industry advocates IoT because it wants access to your data. Remember this.)

Because the advent of IoT is so new, many people haven't thought about securing these things. People tend to lock their doors when they leave home, yet many of those same people leave the passwords for internet-connected devices set to the default. These same people often don't consider basic security for their WiFi network. It's like leaving your door wide open. Virtual intruders are all but invited to poke around, to commandeer all those unsecured IoT devices for nefarious purposes (slave devices used in DDOS attacks, for instance), to hack into your personal computer, etc..

However, taking a few simple steps could minimize the likelihood of such a breach. First, setup a basic firewall for your WiFi Network, if you haven't already. Second, make certain that any IoT devices which connect to the internet have distinct passwords, if configurable. (If you cannot set a password, then use what settings are available for the device to limit it's ability to connect online. If all else fails, simply turn off the device and unplug it when not in use. Remember that "Always On" devices equate to vunerable points in your network.) Third, consider using a separate WiFi Network reserved only for IoT devices. (Do not use your personal computer or smartphone on this IoT network.) This way if any IoT device is compromised it does not make an easy entry point to the sensitive files held on your personal computing devices. And finally, for devices that allow it, consider going full intranet allowing devices to communicate only on a local network without an internet access point.

Remember, securing your home is your responsibility. Don't lock your doors and leave all the virtual windows wide open.

05 February 2017

#SuperBowl Sunday #RiseUp @AtlantaFalcons #SB51 #Party Rooting for the Home Team #WeatherGeek #Smunday

Welcome to Super Bowl Sunday! I will spend a good part of the day setting up for my Super Bowl Party this evening. We're homegaiting. There's still a lot to do. I prepped most of the food yesterday and put it in the fridge overnight, but will cook, bake, and grill today. It's all good. I've got all sorts of snacks and a full bar of beverages, plus I'm also making an actual dinner as the game isn't scheduled to start until 6:30p and probably won't end until 11:00p or later.

Hoping the Atlanta Falcons cap off a great season by winning Super Bowl LI, but looking for a good game, win or lose. Between the good company, the entertainment, the anticipated new commercials and the Atlanta vs New England showdown, it should be a fun evening at any rate. We may not wind the party down until dawn. Good thing tomorrow is Smunday ---in honor of which I'm taking the day off. (I plan to get some yard work done as it's supposed to reach the upper 60s again. Yes, after two days of seasonal or Winter weather, Spring weather returns.)

04 February 2017

Has Spring Sprung? #GroundhogDay Reflections on a #HellWeek

This past week was perhaps the most horrific set of days I can recall in such a short span. It started off bad and kept getting worse. I distinctly remember thinking, 'When does it end?" Yesterday afternoon, I finally got a bit of good news. One little tidbit to say that the world hasn't imploded yet. It was enough to calm the nerves. Just.

I need a change of venue, which got me to thinking, "When the various groundhogs advance different predictions which one's word do you take?" It seems the northern rat predicted more Winter while our southern one said early Spring. Being a native Southerner, I'm partial. Still, after the lackluster Winter we've had so far, I'll stick with my wish for an early Spring. I could do with a bit of sunshine and warmth.

03 February 2017

#FalconsFriday #RiseUp #NerdNation @AtlantaFalcons @NFL @Stanford @GoStanford #SB51 #Smunday

In honor of the hometown (and home state) team making it the Super Bowl this year, Georgia Govenor Nathan Deal has proclaimed today Falcons Friday. Yeehaw! Everyone is being encouraged to wear Red and Black (the Atlanta Falcons team colors) and to Rise Up --- the slogan for cheering the team onto victory. (We're hopeful --- and we're partying, regardless.) There have been numerous Falcons pep rallies and parties all week long at various venues around the city and today is expected to bring more opportunities to cash in for supporting businesses and enterprising individuals alike. Time to make merry with a state-sanctioned blessing. (Football is big business, after all.)

I'm a football fan, but lately I'm more into college football than NFL football. (The NFL seems to have become a league of very public spoiled brats --- and I don't mean only the players --- and it has dampened my enthusiasm. I am also concerned for player health & safety in light of all the current data on concussions and other potential repetitive injury. It is a violent sport.) I still love the game, but nowadays watch it eyes opened. As a Georgia native, I am a (default) Falcons fan without being rabid about it. I hope that the team does well each season, but I may not watch. (I do check sports scores on Monday though.) I only loosely followed the current NFL season, but was happy for the Falcons when the team gelled and performed so well throughout.

I've known quite a few football players (past and present) at all levels of the game, including a few who made it to the pros and some who've gone into coaching or other tangents of the game, so I have some inkling of the ethos, the camaraderie, and the dedication relating to the sport. (As an amateur athlete who participates in several sports and enjoys more still, I definitely get it.) I am excited for the players who've reached the pinnacle of their sport. (And for the team personnel who've worked behind the scenes to build and support the franchise.) It is a rarified feat, win or lose. Congratulations, Atlanta Falcons! Y'all earned this. Relish the moment.

I'm also excited for the Falcons faithful, the long-time fans who've supported the team through thin and thinner. (In the 51 year history of the team, this is only the second trip to the Super Bowl. The one other instance came during the 1998 season when the Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos. I watched.) These are the people who attended games and cheered from home year in and year out when the team was down in the proverbial dumps. It has been fun to witness the sheer giddiness of hardcore Falcons fans as they watch their team gear up for the Super Bowl. People have been going batty, with often comical results.

And I will also give allowance to the casual fans (myself included) and even some bit of leeway to the Johnny-come-lately fans who showed up yesterday, because it has been nearly impossible to remain unaffected by Falcons Fever living in the metro Atlanta area, at least. (Can't speak for the rest of the state, but the metro area is in the throes of a Red and Black wave with people, pets, homes, cars, businesses and lampposts decked out in banners, pins and other assorted paraphernalia.) It's quicker to note the passing cars without Falcons Flags flying than to count the opposite number.

Thus, the unofficial holiday on the Friday before the Super Bowl was to be expected with or without the governor's proclamation. Naming it Falcons Friday merely added kindling to a raging fire. The city of Atlanta is bonkers for all things Falcons right now. No one is immune. Falcons Fever might strike without a moment's notice. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if some folks took personal time off or ahem, called in sick today, in addition to the coming Smunday (Heinz corp created a petition to make the Monday after the Super Bowl a national holiday, and started things off by stating it was giving all of its employees the day off. Promotional tie-ins expected.)

I am very excited for Super Bowl LI (SB51), especially because my "twin" is a Pats fan and the upcoming Atlanta vs New England gridiron face-off gives us more about which to yak. I am, however, at somewhat of a loss in my ability to display Falcons pride on their day, today. You see, I don't have any Falcons gear readily at hand. It's not that I didn't try. I had an Atlanta Falcons banner in my possession --- acquired prior to the season start --- but it was recently swiped by one of my sisters to display at a party, presumably in her office downtown. Thieving city employees! (Sorry sis, I couldn't resist with the local news full of a bribery scandal engulfing City Hall.)
Here's some Red Cardinal and Black for ya!
When I grumbled good-naturedly at this re-appropriation, I was told as I work from home, no-one would see it in my office except for me and the pup, and that the point of a banner is public display. How can you argue with such logic? Finding myself fresh out of Falcons Red and Black but wanting to be a part of the action (albeit virtually), I, a left-out lowly telecommuter, have devised a stand-in using the collegiate colors of my alma mater. I do hope that Cardinal and Black will suffice. Considering that several Stanford Football players --- shout out Nerd Nation --- have gone on to play prominently for the Falcons over the years, with several on the current roster, it seemed somehow appropriate. Rise Up!

#Bunny in the Back Forty: Oh #BeatrixPotter!

For the last several years, a family of rabbits have taken up residence in the back yard, up near the woodland. One day when out walking with pup, I spotted a good sized rabbit. The backyard trail we were following is along the edge of a wooded area, but also in the middle of a fairly developed neighborhood. I thought perhaps a child's pet had escaped back into the wild, as the bunny seemed only mildly curious at our presence.

Originally, it seems there was but a single rabbit, a pregnant mother that gave birth (or such was my assumption). But each Fall since this first encounter, whenever we're out walking around daybreak or dusk, we'll often spy several young rabbits of varying colors hopping about eating grass and seeds. (As it has been several years hence, these are presumably the children or grandchildren of the original rabbit.) I guess there's good eating in our woods, enough to sustain several generations of bunnies, at least.

They drive pup bonkers! I think she has dreams of coursing after hares (like those dogs do in Snatch, one of my favorite flicks), but luckily so far I have been able to prevent her undertaking of the sport. I have a fondness for Peter Rabbit, after all.

02 February 2017

#Books Are Not Your Trendy #HomeDecor #Read! + #GroundhogDay

Lately, I keep seeing decorating tips involving books in various home + garden magazines that I read. Everything from people color coordinating the spines by shelf (How do you find anything? Must you recall "Mathematica had a blue cover" in order to remember to look upon the blue book shelf for it?) to those advocating stacking books sideways in order to have them act as pedestals for flower pots. Water much? While these ideas may be attractive, they aren't exactly practical for an inveterate reader.

My books are there for reference, for entertainment, for edification. They are not meant as mere decoration though many of them are exquisitely beautiful. And yes, I understand that one may acquire discards or "junk" tomes to use as decorative pieces, but that seems a waste. I cringe at the thought. I suppose if a book were damaged beyond repair I might consign it to some purely decorative use, but I still don't like it. Far better to use a faux book (a block wrapped in a book jacket or some such), for using an actual book seems somehow like sacrilege.

We each must make our own interior design choices, but, fair warning, if I happen to visit your home and the only books in it are glued shut, stacked sideways and holding up a begonia, I will look at you askance and make up an excuse to quit the premises pronto. I read.

P.S. By the way, we're hoping for an early Spring. Today is Groundhog Day, and that meteorological rodent had better NOT see his shadow.

01 February 2017

#Muscadine & #Scuppernong the Local #Grapes: #Viticulture & #Oenology #FruitoftheVine

Yesterday, not long after I'd finished browsing the latest issue of Wine Spectator magazine, I was checking messages online when --- my mind still apparently focused on wine --- I noticed a post on a Facebook group about an upcoming annual fruit tree sale at a local non-profit. The event ad listed apple, pear, and pawpaw among the kinds of trees that will be available to purchase and also noted there would be fruit bearing vines like muscadine for sale. My heart must have skipped a beat. KERTHUNK.

There are a few things which will always instantly recall to me the idylls of my childhood in rural Georgia and tart dark purple muscadine grapes, Vitis rotundifolia, and their sweeter "cousins," bulbous green scuppernong grapes (actually a large variety of muscadine) are one of them. My maternal grandmother had plentiful muscadine vines at her house, which were laced over and around a rough-hewn trellis approximately four feet tall, creating a dome that hid a secret "cavern" underneath. As barefoot children, we would crawl through the vines and pry an opening, then sit in the little cave while we ate our fill. The sun would dapple the leaves, casting odd shadows and warming the earth beneath us, as grape juice stained our tongues and T-shirts. Such good memories!

Therefore, I would love to cultivate my own little vineyard featuring our local grape for both food and wine. (Creating a small private vineyard is actually on my "To Do" list for my homestead once developed. Part of my desire to "live off of the land" as well as an indulgence of my interest in viticulture and oenology.) I'm so very tempted to attend this fruit tree and vine sale, but would no doubt come away with far too many things that I fear would go to waste, because I have not yet reached a point where I can accommodate a burgeoning orchard or vineyard. (I hope) by next year's sale, however, it's a date!