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The Weekend

It’s Sunday night, 11:02pm, April 13, 2014. I am dog tired.

My wife’s Uncle passed away last week. His funeral was Saturday in Ocean City, NJ. So Saturday began nice and early so we could leave the house by 7:45am. G had a Lacrosse game and J had an all day cub scout event so we dropped everyone off with coaches, scout leaders and friends and picked up my Sister-in-law at 8:30am. Got to the church for the wake around 10:30, mass at noon, burial, luncheon and then back on the road so we could get the sister-in-law home in time to pick up her sons. Pick up J at the scout leader’s house and Kathy drops J and me at home. She then goes to the end of G’s Lacross game, gets her and picks up the baby sitter. Why the baby sitter, you ask?. Because Saturday was my soon-to-be brother-in-law’s 13th annual Conshohocken birthday pub crawl. Kathy and I hit a couple of bars with that crowd and had dinner at the Great American Pub. I took the baby sitter home and then passed out in bed around midnight.

Today was simpler – all I did was rip out and relay 25-30 feet of brick walkway that had sunken from all the snow and rain this winter. There’s another 10-15 feet to go. We’re preparing for my J’s First Communion party in a few weeks and I was hoping to have the walkway completely relaid this weekend. Oh well.

I’m going to go upstairs and crawl into bed now.


Ooohh… Darlene

I work from home and have nearly a decade. My setup consists of

  • 15-inch MacBook Pro
  • 24-inch external HD display
  • Apple Bluetooth keyboard – the smaller one, without the numerical keypad
  • Kensington Slimblade Trackball Mouse
  • Plantronics Savi W740 DECT Headset.
  • Logitech C910 WebCam
  • iPhone 5s
  • iPad 2 (I will upgrade to an iPad mini when it comes with TouchID)
  • Parrot Zik Bluetooth Noise Canceling Headset (love ’em)

With all of these devices, many wireless, there are periodic odd behaviors I can’t resolve. For example, over the past year – seemingly at random – my Bluetooth Keyboard would just stop working. I’d try all the usual fixes… change the batteries, reset the keyboard, delete it from the MacBook settings, re-pair the two devices, etc. Nothing would work – until it magically would be fine. That’s where I was this morning. My MacBook could not see my keyboard no matter what I did. I was so frustrated I tested the batteries with a voltmeter to validate that the battery tester was working.

Then it happened. The kids are at school, my wife was out and yet, out of the blue, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Darlene’ starts coming from the family room. What the hell? Turns out the music was coming from my original iPad, which my wife uses. After checking that this wasn’t an alarm sounding, it hit me.

I had, for the first time in forever, decided to clean the keyboard. Just before the music started, I had been rubbing a Clorox wipe back and forth over the keys. The Apple Bluetooth Keyboard has keys specifically to control iTunes … or the music on an iOS device. And once, literally once on a business trip, I had paired this keyboard with that iPad. The random connection failures weren’t random. My keyboard was pairing with my wife’s iPad every time she got within 30 feet of my office… a situation that only became possible when we moved into our new house… about a year ago.

I haven’t figured out why the keyboard prioritized the iPad (20 feet away through a wall) instead of my laptop (18 inches away). But it doesn”t matter because the the fix was easy… just tell her iPad to forget my keyboard. Entertainingly, when I relayed this to my wife… she noted that this explained why her iPad would randomly start playing music on her, too.

Always loved Darlene.


Ice Storm 2014

Tuesday night we all went to bed, ready for a full day on Wednesday. Mother Nature had other plans and gave us the great Ice Storm of 2014. When we woke Wednesday morning, there was no power. I work from home, so don’t normally get the day off when it snows (much to my kids chagrin). But now…

  • No power at home = no internet = no ability to work.
  • No power at school = no heat = the kids stay home

We braved it out on Wednesday… playing a lot of Uno, sitting in front of the fire and exploring the cold, dark house with flashlights. Entertainingly, I can now answer the question, “What do I have to do to get my kids to practice the piano?”. Thursday, we got out of the house and found other places where we could keep warm. And then, Thursday night the electricity magically turned back on around 11:30 PM. We’re lucky as about half of my family in the area is still in the dark.

Oddly, we’ve had one major utility problem during the winter at each of our homes. In Pittsburgh, “new homeowner-itis” led to a night without heat a few weeks after my first daughter was born. (“HVAC’s have air filters? And if you don’t change them every so often the system shuts down? No, they didn’t mention that during the walk through.”) In Durham, the first floor HVAC system outright died right after my son was born. (In that case, the house had separate systems for the upstairs and down, so we were able to keep warm on the second floor.) We didn’t have any problems after my 3rd child was born… but we were still in Durham. Although she’s almost four now, we’re less than a year in our house in Broomall, so I guess it was time.

Hopefully, that will be it for this house. But, in the off chance it isn’t, I think I’ll pick up a generator when they’re on sale this summer.

The constantly evolving entertainment situation

When we bought the new house, I managed to convince my wife that we could live without cable and a DVR (and save some money). We hooked HD antennas to the TV’s for local programming and sports. We subscribed to Netflix for movies and TV shows and use the streaming options from the network websites for most other programs.

Netflix has been fantastic. There is a ton of content there and the kids haven’t missed a beat. Actually, they’re enjoying a lot of the 80’s cartoons I used to watch as a kid. The tabletop HD antennas have been ok. Bad weather or people standing in the wrong spot can kill the signal. I should really put a big antenna  in the attic and will probably look at that in the summer. We briefly tried Hulu Plus because they offer current season programming (unlike Netflix). Unfortunately, they show a lot of commercials on top of their subscription fee. If we had started with Hulu it might have been ok, but Netflix’s commercial-free experience spoiled us. That’s when we turned to apps like WatchABC and the CBS app to watch current shows. That’s worked well as shows are available the day after the initial airing and stay for a few weeks. However, we had to sit around my 15-inch laptop or one of our iPads to watch anything. So, I ordered an Apple TV (3rd generation) and it arrived yesterday. (It was half off… so why not.)

The Apple TV mostly solves the problem. Some apps, like Youtube, will stream content from the iOS device to the Apple TV in full 1080 resolution. Other apps, like WatchABC, don’t enable streaming at all. To watch an ABC show on the Apple TV, I have to enable my iPad’s Airplay Mirroring capability. Since the iPad has a 4×3 aspect ration and the TV is 16:9, I lose a big part of my screen to black bars to the left and right. It works but is less than optimal. I really wish more broadcasters would implement the Airplay streaming mode.

Let me say that the whole setup only really works because we have a Logictech Harmony One remote. It’s programmed to set up the TV and receiver for any option with just one touch. Absent that, I think my wife wouldn’t care that we were saving $150 a month.


Impressions of the iPhone 5s from a long time iPhone 4 user

Last week, I finally upgraded to an iPhone 5s (32GB, Space Gray). This is my third iPhone; the first being a 3G and and the second the venerable 4. As a looooong time iPhone 4 user, I wanted to offer a few first impressions.

My upgrade had both push and pull aspects. The battery on my 4 was on its last legs – two to three hours of heavy use would exhaust it. If that were the only issue though, I could have just added an external battery pack. It was the Touch ID sensor that really got my attention, so let’s start there.

  • Touch ID
    I work for IBM and we are a very security conscious company (which should make all of our customers happy). However, being security conscious comes with a cost. Specifically, I am required to have an 8-digit alpha-numeric passcode on my phone and change it every 90 days. It is i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y cumbersome to enter this every time I need to use the device and it takes all the joy out of this always-on, instant availability technology. I know many IBM’ers that carry two devices so that they don’t have to put the passcode on their iPhone. But Touch ID has changed that. I can still have the complex, strong, secure passcode that IBM requires… but the instant access that I want. This is a huge plus. It’s such a plus that I may wait to replace my iPad 2 until the Mini gets Touch ID too.
  • The Weight
    Yes, the 5s is a lot lighter than the 4. Interestingly enough, I prefer the feel of the 4 in my hand. It was incredibly solid. I carried that device for the last year without a case and it survived several drops without material damage. The downside was that I always felt the 4 in my pocket. It was heavy enough that it would tug my suit jacket to one side and I knew whether it was in my pants pocket. In contrast, I barely even notice the 5s. Even though the 5s doesn’t feel quite the same in the hand, the tradeoff is worth it. This is a strong positive… at least until the first time I leave it behind.
  • Siri
    I don’t get all the jokes about Siri. This is incredible technology. The only problem is I want more. I was driving today and asked Siri for directions. It was spot on fantastic! I wouldn’t have had to take my eyes off the road at all if Siri could toggle settings for me. I normally leave my Location Services off to conserve the battery and Siri can’t turn them on. While It’s smart enough to know it can’t do that, and told me so, I hope it gains the ability in the future.
  • The Battery
    So far, I’m not all that impressed. Remember, I’m coming from an iPhone 4 that only gave me a couple of hours of decent usage. During my early usage of the 4, I could charge it every other day so that’s my benchmark. On my new 5s, I can literally watch the battery meter drop a percentage point every 15-30 minutes. And this is with just about every bell and whistle turned off – background app updating, background app refreshes, Location services, etc, etc. I finally cranked down the screen brightness to 30% and that seems to have had a positive impact. Fortunately, the screen is more than bright enough for this to work fine. Right now, battery life is a minus.
  • Screen Size
    This is one I find fascinating. I think I agree with Apple that the screen size on the 4 was the optimal experience for one-handed operation. The 5s is just tall enough that I cannot comfortably work the controls at the top of the screen without repositioning my hand. (I have to ask my wife her impression as I have reasonably large hands.) I expect this will be less of an issue over time as I retrain my muscle memory to hold the phone ‘correctly’. Although I also have a Galaxy Note 2 – with a screen larger than the entire 5s itself – I never noticed this problem. I’ll have to pay attention more when I use the Note 2, though. Since it is so large, I doubt I’ve even tried to use it with one hand.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased. This is a strong upgrade and with the big A7 chip, I’m hopeful my new 5s will have enough of horsepower to keep pace for the next couple of years.

Camp Del Pizzo Pines

One of the reasons we bought our house was the big back yard. Ok, our actual yard isn’t all that big. Our property is only about a third of an acre. However, there is at least an acre of ‘common space’ behind us that is all but inaccessible except through our property… so it might as well be ours.

Over the summer, the kids and I camped in the back yard. We set up a tent, had a fire, made smores and slept outside. They loved it. That gave my wife an idea. It turns out that my 5th grader’s new Girl Scout Troop had never been camping before. So last weekend, we hosted them here, at Camp Del Pizzo Pines!

1377286_10202160722808302_593645689_nWhile I helped with logistical support – getting the equipment where it needed to be – the troupe and the troupe leaders did all the real work. This wasn’t a sleep over. The girls set up tents, cooked, had a scavenger hunt, slept outside and policed the entire area the next morning. I was really proud of all them. They had a ton of fun and we really enjoyed hosting them.

Of course, my 3rd grader wasn’t happy about not being part of it. But, he’ll get his turn when he and I go camping with the Cub Scouts in a few weeks.

Home Sweet Home

Sunday night was our first official night in our new home! We’ve actually had possession for about 3 weeks – enough time to repaint the living room, family room, two bedrooms, have new carpets installed on the second floor and stairs and move most of our belongings in. Yes, there are boxes everywhere.

The kids are excited about the basement with the big TV and pool table; that each has their own room; and there are other kids who live across the street. My son has been alternating between the upper and lower bunks in his new bunk beds. My oldest is thrilled because she has the biggest bed room (of the kids) and it’s purple. Meanwhile my youngest has graduated to a big girl bed. 🙂

A couple of quick stories. I am officially a big fan of Allied Moving and their North Carolina affiliate, Excel Moving & Storage. They took our possessions on January 14th and held them in storage for four months, delivering on May 15th. We’re still packing, but other than a handful of really minor dings or scratches, just about everything came through unscathed. The big test was the baby grand piano. It was purchased new, delivered without a scratch and never acquired so much as a ding in our old home. Other than my kids, the piano is my wife’s most prized possession. She was very relieved when the guys set it up and it looked just as good as when it was packed. All the people we dealt with – from the sales rep to the moving coordinator to the pickup and delivery teams were fantastic.

I can’t say the same thing about working with Wells Fargo to originate my mortgage. The people were very nice. However the requirements kept changing all during the lead up to close, they kept asking for the same documentation over and over and, since I didn’t have access to a fax machine, they wanted me to email them unencrypted PDFs. After all, I was informed, their email was secure. They couldn’t quite seem to grasp that in between my account and their ‘secure’ system was a whole lot of not secure. Moreover, it blew my mind that they gave me access to a very pretty web site to track my mortgage’s progress, but I couldn’t upload the documents directly to them through it.

But enough of that. How about a couple of pictures?Image - Front of House

Image - The Back YardImage - A view from the deckImage - Child Labor

Yes, we even put the kids to work painting their closets!