myPhone

technology2There are a number of things that I don’t mind, but at the same time it’s sometimes fun to wave my metaphorical Cranky Old Man cane at the durn kids with their newfangled doohickeys and double-you-step music.

Case in point: Apple.  I don’t mind them.  I own a 2009 iMac and an original iPad mini.  Both are quite good at what they do, and I continue to use them.  Despite that, I like to thumb my nose at the ‘Apple guy’ in the office (there’s always one) and have back-and-forths with him about why I feel Microsoft is better.  As if in retaliation, my original iPad mini has been slowly inching towards obsolescence with each iOS update.  Recently, I was frustrated at not being able to play the neato new Fallout Shelter game for more than a few minutes without the poor thing crashing.

While the thought of getting a new iPad has crossed my mind, the thought of dropping a few hundred bucks on another one is not a pleasant one, especially since my Windows 8 tablet has proven to be quite capable, Microsoft Office notwithstanding.

Because of its creaky performance, I have been using the iPad mini as a hotspot more than anything else as of late.  I would use my cell phone as a hotspot, but Cricket Wireless has internet sharing disabled on my Lumia 530.  Jerks.  So I send a few bucks to Verizon, turn on the iPad’s hotspot feature, set it down, and then use my Windows laptop or tablet to get things done.

Which brings me to my next point.  I am, for better or for worse, married to Microsoft Windows as well as their ecosystem.  Windows 8.1, Word, OneDrive and OneNote have all served me well over the years and I have no reason to stop using them.

In spite of that, I have decided to get an iPhone for my next phone.  As I am not on a contract, I can make the jump whenever it pleases me, but more practical concerns such as home and vehicle maintenance take precedence. Nevertheless, whenever I am financially ready to make the jump I will be more than happy to for the following reasons:

  1. Apple makes pretty good hardware – My iMac and iPad have been pretty durable and dependable over the years.  I’ll likely have to get a case for an iPhone, but I’m pretty careful with my phones; I’ve never cracked a single screen over the years.
  2. Apps apps everywhere – This is the Achilles’s Heel of Windows Phone; the limited app selection wouldn’t be so bad if Microsoft would keep their own apps up to date.  The iPad version of Word blows the Windows Phone one out of the water, too.
  3. Accessories – Because I often get cheaper (or Windows) phones, cases and accessories are rare or nonexistent.  Stores seem to have three sections for phone accessories: Apple, Samsung, and one with a big sign above it for everyone else that says EFF-YOU.
  4. Microsoft is on board – The fact that I can get Microsoft Word on iOS and Android means no more Brand X Office apps.
  5. Hotspot! – I travel, and it would be nice to be able to fall back on my phone as a hotspot instead having to carry another device to do so.
  6. Android = suck, WinPhone = bleh, iPhone = ? Android devices have been craptacular for me over the years and Windows Phone trips at the finish line despite its nice interface.  I have never owned an iPhone so who’s to say I won’t like it?
  7. Get rid of iPad – I still only have my iPad mini for two reasons: to use as a hotspot and for work.  If I get an iPhone I can do without it completely.
  8. Updates for all! – With Android and Windows Phone, you are at the tender mercies of your carrier for updates unless you buy an unlocked device.  My Windows Phone is one update behind because of this.  iPhones, on the other hand, usually get all updates.

Of course, there is some bad with the good:

  1. Increased Cost – I am currently not on contract with Cricket Wireless and its been pretty sweet: $35 a month for 2.5GB of high speed data and unlimited minutes and texts.  To get an iPhone I’ll either have to pay a few hundred for the device up front or go on a contract again.  Either way that means more money.
  2. Durability – It is out of sheer luck that my Lumia doesn’t have a cracked screen given all the times I’ve dropped it (thank you Nokia).  I will definitely have to get a case to ensure my iPhone doesn’t meet an unfortunate fate.  It will remain to be seen if the iPhone is ‘Eduardo-proof’
  3. Apple EVERYWHERE? – Despite having an iMac and iPad, I am barely invested in Apple’s ecosystem.  Except for backing up my iPad I don’t use iCloud for anything.  That should stay the same with an iPhone…I hope.

I was on the fence about getting iPhone before writing this blog, but now that I’ve jotted down all the ups and downs, I’m all but certain I’m going to pull the trigger on one…eventually.  $35 a month for cell service is going to be really hard to give up, though!

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Pre-Paid, or Pre-Pain?

As my cell phone contract nears its end, I find myself metaphorically drooling over the thought of getting a new phone.  Well, okay, so maybe I’m doing a little bit of real-life drooling, too.  While the Samsung Moment I got from Sprint has been fairly reliable these past two years, it would be nice to get something new, and yes, there is some gadget-lust feeding that desire to upgrade as well.

While my desire to keep up with the virtual Joneses is strong, it is tempered by my desire to be more responsible with my finances.  I recently consolidated all my debts and am working on boosting my savings, which, of course, means cutting back on expenses.  I currently pay just under eighty bucks a month for my cell phone plan.  That isn’t bad, but it would be nice if I could get that number to drop.  I recently learned that I can an employee discount through my job.  Even then, I think I can shave even more off my cell phone bill by going with a pre-paid provider.  Doing so will come with a few caveats, but before I go over them, I should mention that I had pre-paid cell service from T-Mobile way back when because money was tight.  It was pretty good, but it was quite some time before I had a smartphone.  Now on to the issues:

The biggest one has to do with the carriers themselves.  While some of them piggyback off of the big boys (for example, Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network) and some are run by the big boys (Verizon and AT&T each have their own pre-paid services) others have their own networks that are not as robust as the ones the “big boys” have.  This probably won’t be a big deal when I’m at home in San Antonio, but once I go to other cities for conferences or events things just might not work!

Related to this issue are the phones that are offered by pre-paid providers.  They aren’t nearly quite as nice as the new ones the major providers carry.  From what I have seen in my research, some of them are just downright awful, as they are often made by second- and third-tier manufacturers.  Adding to this is the fact that you have to pay the full cost of a pre-paid phone up front.  That is one of the reasons that pre-paid service is less expensive, those carriers don’t subsidize the cost of their phones.  This isn’t quite as big a deal as it sounds, because the phones that I can get for free from the big boys are about as lousy as the one I have now.  If I want something better, I’m going to have to fork out some cash up front either way.

Another reason the ‘lousy phone’ thing may not be an issue is the fact that I just don’t do a whole lot with my smartphone.  For all the “OMG THOUSANDS OF APPS” available on Android, I barely have any apps installed and use less than ten on a regular basis.  Non-smartphones have gotten smarter these days, so I might be able to ditch a smartphone completely and go with a much cheaper non-smartphone plan.  If I can find a messaging phone that does Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, that would be just about perfect.  The obvious downside is that I would probably be very limited to what I could install on that not-so-smartphone.

One final consideration is the porting of my current phone number.  I’ve had the same phone number for a few years now and have gotten pretty attached to it, so I’m a little jittery about moving to a new provider.  I get even jitterier (yes it’s a word, BTW) when I consider that a lower-cost operation may not have all of those nice people answering phones for them in customer service.  I’ve actually received good customer service the few times I’ve had to call Sprint, and shudder at the thought of talking to who knows who from who-knows-where.  That isn’t an “I hate Indian call center” thing, either.  In my AT&T debacle from earlier this year, I was actually glad to get a polite person with an accent instead of all the home-grown jerkasses I had been dealing with up to that point.  Yeah, the ‘USA-based support’ they were so proudly trumpeting was that bad.

While the thought of getting a shiny new phone with a nice big screen, new operating system and fast CPU is a pleasant one, the thought of being caught without enough money in the event of an emergency is enough to make me think over the amount of cash I’m currently shelling out for my phone service.  On the other hand, the service I have been getting has been pretty good, even in the boonies of my hometown and I’m not sure that going with someone different for the sake of saving a few bucks is the best plan in the world.  My bill should be dropping thanks to the employee discount, so I’m wondering if perhaps going pre-paid isn’t worth the trouble when things are working well as it is.

And yeah, those shiny new phones in the Sprint Store are looking pretty nice!

Saying Goodbye

My brother Roland’s funeral was yesterday.  It was a big shock to see him go so soon and so quickly, and so everyone in the family has had a hard time coping with his death.

My brother told us to carry on if he were to go first.  Go on with your lives, he would say, don’t mourn me, don’t feel sorry, just keep going.  Its a great sentiment, and I knew he meant every word, but in practice, it is a lot harder to do.  Every time I convinced myself that I was done crying, the tears would start rolling again after seeing old friends, or hearing the wails of our mother and his widow.  Something I noticed during the funeral Mass helped me out a lot, though:

Growing up I was in the church choir (don’t be too impressed, we only had like 5 people) and during his funeral Mass, the choir played the song “Pescador de Hombres” (Fisher of Men) which I tried to sing.  It is a song I am familiar with and so I didn’t think it would be a problem.  At first, though, my voice was pretty awful and I would choke up at the line “En la arena/he dejado me barca” (In the sand/I leave my boat) because it made me think about my brother and his fishing boat.  I kept on trying, though, and the song became a little bit easier to sing with each verse.  By the fourth one, I was mostly back to form, I would still tear up a bit but I managed to hold it together for the rest of the song.

Moving on from my brother’s death is going to be like that.  It will be hard at first, but as I keep trying eventually the pain will reduce to the point where will be able to go on without him.  It won’t be easy, but I will reach that point eventually.

Judging from the number of people that showed up for the funeral, I could tell that my brother had clearly touched the lives of many people.  I was glad for the time that we had together, but now that he’s gone, I’ll keep moving forward as best I can…just like I did when I was singing that song.  Good-bye big brother…thanks for everything.

Cheesy New Year Fun!

I’m not a fan of big gatherings (anime cons nonwithstanding) and thus, I usually spend New Year’s Eve at my parents’ or at my apartment if I’m not up for making the drive to visit them.

A few years ago, I was living with my parents during some rough times, and it was New Year’s Eve.  Thanks in part to the crappy job I had at the time, I had decided to just stay in and really not do much of anything.  It was a pretty lackadaisical evening, and I soon had a craving…for CHEESE!

Not just any cheese, mind you, but melted cheese with Ro-Tel diced tomatoes made in a Crock-Pot with tortilla chips dipping into the melty cheesy goodness…mmmmm.  I told my folks I was going to the store to get the ingredients, and suddenly inspired by the power of the cheese (or perhaps the power of the suggestion of cheese, but that’s being anal) they went to the store as well to get shrimp, cocktail sauce, vegetables, ranch dip, and drinks.

Soon, I’m cubing cheese, Mom is cutting vegetables, and Dad is going next door to invite family over.  What began as a humdrum evening soon became a fun time with family and friends, and all because of THE POWER OF CHEESE!

Fast forward to December 31, 2009…I decided to stay at home for New Year’s Eve because there was an anime convention I wanted to go to that weekend.  As I’m at my desk working (and seething over having to work on New Year’s Eve), I soon had a craving…for CHEESE!  I was practically drooling as I punched in the ingredients list into my phone, intending to stop at the store on the way home.

I arrived home at my apartment, and went to rinse out the Crock-Pot before getting started.  I figured it would just be me and the cheese hanging out at home for New Year’s, oh well.  I then got a phone call from a friend, it seemed he and his wife had just gotten home from their holiday trip and were wondering what I was going to do for New Year’s.

I replied that I was going to make some cheese and probably play some Rock Band, so I figured what the hey and invited them over.  They said yes, and a few invites sent via text message later, I had a group of friends over hanging out, playing games, and just having a good time…all because of THE POWER OF CHEESE!

Some folks have black-eyed peas for New Year’s, my mom makes menudo (which I sadly often miss *sniff*) but I’ll be whipping out the old Crock-Pot next New Year’s Eve in order to UNLEASH THE CHEESE!

Side note:  I never use Velveeta, I have found that the generic/store brands (HEB in particular) have less sodium and more cheesy goodness!

The Night The Nueces Flowed Upstream

Oct 20 1984, AP News Article

Oct 20 1984, UPI News Article

U.S. Geological Survey Report: “Odem Flood”

It was 25 years ago.  In my hometown of Odem, Texas somewhere between eighteen and twenty-five  inches of rain fell in a matter of hours.  To this day, it is simply referred to as “The Flood,” and nearly every Odemite I have ever spoken to still has memories of that night.

The memories I have of that night are those of a child.  Two months prior, I had turned eleven years old, and a month after that, I started the sixth grade.  The playgrounds of elementary school were gone, and the steady march to becoming a teenager had begun in earnest.

I remember Tia Maria was in town visiting us, as she would do every so often.  It was a Friday; and the skies getting dark as the evening progressed.  The rain was welcomed at first, because we were in a bad drought.  I remember wading through my backyard in waist-deep water to get to an aunt’s house, where we would stay the night.  The power went out at one point, I remember a bottle of cologne being used as an improvised  lamp.  The water rose to the steps of my aunt’s house; some parts of the floor were wet.

I remember waking up late, my parents had already gone to the house.  The power was back, I was told I had to stay at my aunt’s house, so I watched the Smurfs with one of my cousins.  Once I got home, I saw the line on the walls where the water had been.  My brother and I slept in bunk beds at the time, I was on the bottom bunk and my bed had been ruined by the water.  My mother was upset, we had lost nearly all of our pictures, I remember stacks of ruined Polaroids; seeing rainbows of plasticky color where family memories had once been.  Dad had already pulled out the carpet from the living room, he was not upset, instead he was very busy around the house, and talking on the telephone.

I remember throwing out stacks of wet magazines, and wondering if my collection of Atari 2600 cartridges would still work.  I remember the truck from the Red Cross that went through our neighborhood that evening, and going out to the curb to pick up peanut butter sandwiches and lemonade.  I remember hearing about the bus full of kids that got stuck and the man down the street that had to make a hole in the ceiling and roof of his house to get his family out.

The furniture and carpet would eventually be replaced, the house repaired and life would return to normal, but I doubt that anyone who lived through it will ever forget that night.  Even though my own memories are the scattered remembrances of an eleven-year old, I know I won’t.