For several years I was a loyal T-Mobile customer. I loved their service. I paid one simple price per month, which included unlimited data, unlimited texting, built-in tethering, and a generous amount of voice calling. In addition to that, their service allowed for travelling overseas with your cell phone at no extra cost; carrying your cell phone out of the country was simply covered by your plan.
There was only one fatal problem which I ran into that made me have to change carriers: I had no cell phone coverage in my home office. This was a deal-breaker for me. I have two-factor authentication (2FA) turned on for work and most of the websites where 2FA is available, so having no coverage in my office meant that I had to login initially for work or a website on my computer, then walk outside and stand in my backyard until I received the call or text message to complete the authentication process. This was obviously unacceptable, so I begrudgingly realized that I would have to change carriers; which was really too bad, since T-Mobile worked great for me when I lived in Seattle.
So my wife and I started shopping around between the different carriers; e.g. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, etc. Eventually we decided to go with Verizon since their coverage seemed to be the best. However, once the honeymoon period of having cell phone coverage in my office had passed, I realized the shocking revelation of just how expensive Verizon could be.
As I mentioned earlier, T-Mobile was a flat fee which was reasonably-priced and provided lots of great features at a low cost which easily beat the competition.
Verizon, on the other hand, wants to charge you for everything. They have found dozens of ways to exceed the airline industry by nickle-and-diming its customers for everything on their phones. You want Caller ID? You'll have to pay for that. You want to use your phone overseas for a few weeks? Prepare to pay hundreds of dollars. You want to use data services on your phone? Prepare to pay through the nose. You want to use tethering with your laptop/tablet? That'll be another $50 or so for two phones. Pretty much any feature on your phone comes at an additional cost.
In addition to the exorbitant fees, for some reason which I have never been able to ascertain, using Verizon for the same data services which I used on T-Mobile required around four times the amount of data. Before I switched carriers, I saw that I was using about 1GB of data per month for the apps that I use; e.g. email, FB, streaming, etc. So when I switched to Verizon, I went with a 2GB plan just to be safe. But I used that up almost immediately, and I quickly upgraded to a 4GB plan. But that was also used up pretty quickly, and I changed to an 8GB plan. Of course, each data service upgrade increased my costs yet again, so cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching... The next thing I know I'm paying Verizon two or three times what I paid for T-Mobile services, with less features.
Oh, and one more thing: on our first-month bill, my wife and I had a huge data usage the first day. This might seem normal because of downloading apps to a new phone and such, but when I looked at the per-hour breakdown on my bill of data usage, the largest part of the data usage happened before I was actually given the phone. After my wife and I had picked out our phones, the sales guy at the Verizon store said that it was going to take a little while to get things set up, so my wife and I agreed to head out to lunch and run some other errands and return to pick up our phones later that afternoon. What I am presuming happened was the sales rep upgraded our phones with new versions of the operating systems after my wife and I left the store, which seems like a good idea in principle, but I didn't think that I should have to pay for hundreds of megabytes of data usage before I actually owned the phone; Verizon should have covered the cost of upgrading the phones with the latest bits just because that's good customer service. And with that in mind, I tried fighting those charges with Verizon, but - of course - I lost that battle.
I have only had Verizon for one year now, but that has been more than enough time for me to come to the following inescapable conclusion: I HATE VERIZON.
Early on the morning of April 16, 1972, which was exactly 45 years ago from today, my parents woke my brothers and me, bundled the three of us into the back seat of our family car, and started the long drive from the west side of Florida to the east. I was only six years old at the time, so I had no appreciation for what was to happen later; I simply wanted to remain asleep. But my dad had a bolder vision for us that day as he drove our family from Tampa to Cape Canaveral in order to watch Apollo 16 lift off for the second-to-last Lunar Mission.
When we arrived at the Kennedy Space Center, we were not VIPs, and therefore we had to watch the launch from a distance. We pulled up to the edge of Indian River, where we parked along with hundreds of other spectators to wait for the show to begin. In those early hours before the launch, my brothers and I played in the water, chasing skates around the shallows while my mom admonished us to avoid getting stung.
As the time for the launch drew near, my dad pulled us over to the car where he had a radio tuned to a station where we could hear the news coverage for the countdown to lift off. When an appropriate time arrived, my dad pointed across the water and told me, "Watch that big thing that looks like a smokestack, it's a rocket that's going to fly to the moon."
The countdown continued, and when the clock approached 00:00:00, the sky surrounding the massive Saturn V burst into flames in a colossal and terrifying display of unbridled power. Seconds later the mighty rocket slowly lifted off as it clawed its way into the air, fighting the earth's gravitational pull for each and every inch of altitude. If you watch the news coverage in following video, the footage from 1:48 to 2:20 shows what the launch looked like from my vantage point.
Moments after the Saturn V left the ground, the deafening roar from the first stage engines reached us and the whole earth seemed to quake. Too many years have passed since that day so I do not recall for sure, but I am willing to bet that a great deal of cheering from the assembled multitudes was taking place at the time.
As the launch vehicle soared higher and higher into the sky, our family joined the hundreds of spectators gathered around us as we collectively stood motionless while we craned our necks to catch our last glimpses of the rocket as it climbed out of sight. Shortly thereafter it was gone, and the crowds of spectators slowly began to pack their things and head off in whichever direction their homes were located.
In the past 45 years I have grown to appreciate the significance of that day's events, even though I was too young at the time to discern the magnitude of what I had just seen. Nevertheless, I am extremely thankful that my dad woke my brothers and me early that morning and made the multi-hour drive across the state for us to watch the launch; it has remained one of the most-impressive displays that I have ever seen.
PS - Here are a couple of extra notes:
- 35 years after the launch of Apollo 16 I was able to attend the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis (mission STS-117) as it carried part of the International Space Station into orbit; this launch was also an amazing spectacle to behold.
- Another view of the Apollo 16 launch from NASA's footage is available at http://youtu.be/KKbljFi0WBc. The footage in this video does not shift every few seconds like the news coverage; most of the footage is from a single vantage point, which makes it somewhat easier to appreciate the sequence of events from a spectator's point of view.
When I was stationed with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fulda, Germany, I lived in a sleepy little village named Kleinlüder, which was over the hill and through the woods from post. At the time that I lived there, a Surface-to-Air Missile Battery was situated on top of the nearby mountain. Actually, they were kind of annoying, because we could hear them from our apartment every time they had an alert. (Oh sure, they were protecting us from invasion and all that... but I still wanted a peaceful night's sleep.)
Anyway, it's been more than 25 years since I left, and the land where that missile battery was located has long-since been sold off. However, I found it interesting one day recently when I was scrolling through the area on Google Maps and I noticed that the SAM battery's motto has managed to survive on one of the old launch platforms:
Now, who says that the Military doesn't have a sick sense of humor?
Note: Click the following link for the original map: https://goo.gl/maps/1gAHfk62oYH2
I first mentioned this in my Ride Notes for Cool Breeze 2015 blog, but I like to rewrite classic rock songs with a cycling theme while I'm out on my weekly rides. As a reminder of past contributions, I came up with the following offerings during the Cool Breeze Century:
- Sung to the tune of "Safety Dance":
"We can pass if you want to,
We can leave your friends behind.
'Cause your friends can't climb, and if they can't climb -
Well they're no friends of mine."
- Sung to the tune of "Hotel California":
"Welcome to the Cool Breeze California,
Such a tiring race, such a grueling pace.
You'll question your mind at the Cool Breeze California:
I'm no competitor; why'd I register?"
- Sung to the tune of "Margaritaville":
"Climbing the hills again in California,
Wondering why I'm still here at all.
Some people say that there's a friend I can blame,
But I know - it's my own dang fault."
During this week's ride (on a particularly blustery day) I penned the following:
- Sung to the tune of Jim Croce's "You Don't Mess Around with Jim":
"You don't coast on all of your downhills,
You don't ride into the wind,
You don't pass the leader before the first mile marker,
And you don't buy a bike from Schwinn."
I saw two good-sized Gila Monsters and a four-foot rattlesnake during this evening's bicycle ride around Saguaro National Park. I won't stop for the rattlesnakes, but I did manage to get a photo of this little guy as he was crossing the road.
And of course, this leads to the question: "Why did the Gila Monster cross the road?"
- To get to the other side.
- Because of his crimson hide.
- He was chasing some stinkbugs and flies.
- If he bites you you'll swell up and die.
One of the big buzz words being thrown around these days is "Fake News," which is a perfectly-descriptive term for an all-too-frequent occurrence these days, and it became a significant factor in the United States' most-recent Presidential race. As a brief description "Fake News" is when hearsay, rumor, conjecture, propaganda, conspiracy theories, or even outright dishonesty is passed off as legitimate news correspondence. This behavior is currently in practice on hundreds of websites, and by lackeys from both the liberal and conservative sides of the country. (Note: This does not count satire from websites like The Onion or The Babylon Bee.)
The real danger that arises from "Fake News" websites (or Facebook pages) is that, to put it bluntly, many people are far more gullible than they think they are. And as a result, these beguiled patsies see an article with which they agree, and rather than establish the article's veracity through a reputable news outlet, they share it to Facebook or post it to a blog, and in so doing they perpetuate the inaccuracy. To be fair, in recent years the number of "reputable news outlets" has decreased significantly as the major news sources like NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, NPR, and FOX have all resorted to pushing articles which meet their underlying political agendas at the expense of honest reporting. (Note: For this reason I prefer the BBC, which has a slightly left-leaning take on the news, but its generally pretty unbiased and blunt where the United States are concerned. Besides, no one with an English Accent would ever lie, would they? [Snicker])
In any event, after today's inauguration ceremony, the following image popped up from the folks at Occupy Democrats, which is one of the most-nefarious "Fake News" websites in existence:
This is a perfect example of "Fake News" in action; the two photos in this image are taken from opposite sides of the mall in order to exaggerate the crowd sizes. In addition, there is no indication that they were taken during the same hour of the respective inauguration ceremonies; the photo from 2009 might be an hour after the ceremony began, and the photo from 2017 might be an hour before the ceremony began. We have no context, but considering the source (the O.D. website) and the fact that the photos were already falsely utilized in order to support an opinion rather than an accurate portrayal of the facts, it's pretty easy to dismiss this image. And yet, I have seen dozens of people posting this image to Facebook with comments of overwhelming approval.
In this specific instance, it is far too simple for anyone to discredit the image. The video listed below from CNN shows an actual side-by-side comparison of the crowds during each inauguration ceremony:
Inaugural crowd sizes: Trump v. Obama
It is evident that there was a larger crowd for Obama's inauguration, which is as it should be; the nation's first African American president is considerably more-significant to history than Trump's election. However, the disparity was nowhere near the level of imbalance which that image was trying to convey.
Returning to my earlier point, this particular example of "Fake News" perfectly illustrates why the acceptance of these sorts of deliberately inaccurate images and stories do so much damage; these hoaxes replicate like viruses through social media, and they rapidly enter the collective psyche of those who eventually believe that these images and stories are true simply because they want them to be. This where another new term needs to be defined: "Post-Truth," which describes an all-too-common situation where opinions are formed and defended based on emotions rather than factual evidence.
Through honest self-examination, I think everyone can agree that we have all let our emotions get the better of us, (on more than one occasion), and we have all agreed with something simply because we wanted it to be right, even when common sense would argue otherwise. This philosophy led to a situation which was all-too prevalent during the election: everyone who was passing along inaccurate information created their own false reality, with which many of their friends actively participated, and yet no one was anywhere near the truth. After the election this syndrome was referred to as an "Echo Chamber," where people were simply hearing others repeat back what they said or wanted to hear. One such example was the poll numbers which everyone kept sharing on social media, which always seemed to indicate that Clinton would win the electoral college by a landslide, and yet on election day she lost the electoral college in a humiliating defeat. Of course, the 24x7 news coverage from all of the media outlets added a never-ending supply of fallacious data to the debate, but still - there were plenty of indicators that the election was a lot closer than the false narrative which everyone kept repeating; people just needed to take the time to look.
Nevertheless, we should all try to do better where "Fake News" is concerned. As a general rule, if you see something which seems too good to be true - or too bad to be true - please check with other news sources before posting anything to social media.
I think the following image sums up that sentiment quite nicely:
POSTSCRIPT: The following blog contains a small list of "Fake News" websites which everyone should avoid:
Please Stop Sharing Links to These Sites
There are many more, of course, but it's a good place to start.
01/21/2017 UPDATES: As another example of "Fake News," there was a bogus story making the rounds over a year ago about the Obama administration ordering guillotines in order to perform executions. On the one hand, I hate to include the link because I don't want to drive traffic to their website; but on the other hand, I want to show an example...
Obama Orders Guillotines To Be Used For Executions
There are hundreds of thousands of stories just like this on the Internet, so don't believe everything you read.
One additional point which I should mention is something that a good friend said to me earlier today: a fabrication isn't real just because you agree with it, and something isn't fake just because you disagree with it. (Wise words, my friend.)
Two years ago I wrote a post which was titled Anti-Vaxxers are Idiots, in which I explained in great detail how important it is for people to be vaccinated and to vaccinate their children. So it came as something of a depressing surprise for me to witness another needless debate fueled by ceaseless drivel from uninformed conspiracy theorists who still cling to the long-disproved belief that vaccines cause autism and other maladies. I am simply amazed at the level of denial from most of these people; it's like they belong to the "Flat Earth Society." Nevertheless, these fools are most-likely alive and healthy and able to voice their misguided opinions only because previous generations were vaccinated sufficiently enough to halt the spread of diseases which would otherwise have killed the parents or grandparents of these naïve nitwits.
Despite any protestations to the contrary, vaccines stop diseases. Period. If you deny that fact, then there is no other way for me to put this - you're just an idiot. I wish that I could put that nicer way, but that's just the way things are.
However, because someone was positing the theory that vaccines are ineffective since occasionally some people still get sick, I thought that I should point out another point of truth: sometimes a vaccine doesn't just lessen the chances of contracting a disease, sometimes it lessens the severity of the disease.
Here is a true story: during my time in the Army, all of the soldiers were forced to have flu vaccinations every year. This decision was passed down from the Pentagon because diseases run rampant throughout the military, which is due to the deplorable conditions in which we had to live in order to do our jobs. (See the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic for an example.) In any event, there were several years when I was vaccinated and I still got the flu, although I was over it after a day or two. So when I left the military, I decided to stop having my annual flu shot.
However, two years later I contracted the flu during another domestic outbreak. The illness wreaked havoc on my system for several weeks, and my life was spared only because medicine has continued to evolve over the past few decades since the last devastating pandemic. But make no mistake - 20 or 30 years ago I probably would have died from that strain of the flu.
I have learned my lesson, and now I make sure that I get my flu shot every year. Sometimes I still get sick, but never as sick as that year when I skipped my flu shot.
Okay, I have a confession to make - when I was very young, and by that I mean several months younger than the age of two, I was traumatized by the letter "Z."
Now I know what you're thinking; and it sounds ridiculous, right? But I knew that the letter "Z" was out to get me - and I had proof.
First of all, I was convinced that the letter "Z" was a real, live animal. And I knew this for a fact because I had learned that on Sesame Street. Here is living proof:
You can see my point, can't you? The letter "Z" obviously had a mind of its own; it had an attitude, it was reckless and passive aggressive, and it seemed to bring out the worst in Kermit the Frog. There was no mistake about it in my mind: the letter "Z" was a nasty character, and it was something which I wanted nothing to do with.
And yet, the letter "Z" had somehow followed me home, and it was living in my backyard. I saw it there - every day - lurking just outside the sliding glass door, and watching my every move.
But what was even more unsettling for me was the fact that my parents, who were supposed to love me, would plop me down in my high chair and turn it so that I was facing outside. And there I would sit, staring at my nemesis, who wouldn't move an inch. The letter "Z" was sizing me up, and I knew that it was waiting to see if I would fall asleep in my high chair... and then it would attack. So I kept my eyes open, and I never took naps in that house. Oh sure, that meant that I was cranky toddler, but that wasn't my fault; I was a victim of my circumstances, and my parents needed to pay for their transgressions.
Thankfully, I no longer live in that house. Our family moved, and the letter "Z" did not appear to have followed us. But I remember vividly what that terrifying scene looked like every day, and here is my feeble attempt at an artist's rendition...
You can say what you want, but I'm telling you the truth - that letter "Z" was out there; and somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm sure that it still is.
I just read the following article about Hasbro's desire to modernize the playing pieces for its best-selling game Monopoly:
Will the shoe get the boot? Board game fans to vote on next Monopoly tokens
The article was amusing for me to read, and I was reminded of the many years throughout which I have played that game with family and friends.
To be honest, despite my admitted sense of nostalgia where this game is concerned, I couldn't care less whether Hasbro decides to update the game tokens; this change will not affect how the game is played, and it might help to attract a new generation of players. I am certainly not one of those people who feels honor-bound to voice their opinion that everything should remain the way that it was in the past.
However, there is one point that the article's author has completely missed: the playing piece in question is not a "shoe," it is a "boot," and the distinction - however small it may seem - is somewhat profound.
A shoe is just that - nothing more. But the boot has a subtle, underlying meaning which most people do not see. When you look at the boot, it has a small loop on the back, which is called a "bootstrap." It is from this appendage on a boot that the English language obtains the word "bootstrapping," which means to "pull one's self up from their current position;" in other words, to take charge of your destiny and to make your life better. This is one of the main points in Monopoly; all of the players are attempting to pull themselves up from their common, humble beginnings, to build their respective real estate empires, and to crush their competition.
The entire principle of the game of Monopoly is condensed into that single playing piece, and it represents one of the deepest metaphors in any board game. However, Hasbro might replace the boot with a T-Rex, which represents... um, let's see... a dinosaur... which is a metaphor for... well, I guess... nothing more than an old, dead, bird-like reptile.
An old Army buddy of mine recently posted the following joke on Facebook:
WHY I JOINED THE AIR FORCE
DoD was conducting an "All Service" briefing and the leader posed this question:
"What would you do if you found a scorpion in your tent?"
A Sailor said, "I'd step on it."
A Soldier said, "I'd squash it with my boot."
A Marine said, "I'd catch it, break the stinger off, and eat it."
An Airman said, "I'd call the concierge desk and find out why there was a tent in my room."
Truer words were never spoken.