Changing Cell Phone Plan to Google Fi

I transferred my personal cell phone (not the family’s, just mine) to Google Fi a few days ago. So far it seems to work well, although I’ve not had a chance to use it far and wide yet given the pandemic.

The only downside I’ve found thus far is that when dialing a local (607) number I have to use the 607 prefix or the call goes wonky–selecting its own area code to call. So I end up dialing 10 digits instead of 7 for local calls. But given 99% of the time I’m calling someone in my contacts list anyway, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal.

I’m estimating given my low usage of data the plan I’m on will cost me around $30/month for my phone.

I didn’t transfer the fam’s phones to Fi because they use iPhones and there’s some hangup with reworking the settings for texting to non-iPhone users. I’m an Android, everyone else is an iPhone. Supposedly a change to the iPhone’s settings is easy and quick, but every time Apple does a major upgrade you need to redo the settings to be sure you can text to non-iPhones. No thanks.

The thing I’m most excited about is that my particular phone model (a Motorola G7) can automatically change the network it uses for Fi–GSM or CDMA or secure Wifi hotspots. The Fi service uses Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular networks for its signal. My phone can switch and use whichever signal is the strongest, automatically.

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Calling All Trekies: You’ll Love Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek BeyondWe’ve all heard the trite but true phrase: Be careful what you wish for. That’s the sentiment behind the newest Star Trek movie, Beyond.

I grew up in the late Sixties and Seventies. I still recall my first memory of watching the original Star Trek series at a neighbor’s house–when I was around five years old. It was magic. It fired my imagination and along with NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon, instilled in me a life-long love of space and technology. A few years later I watched re-runs of Star Trek (the original series) after school in the afternoons in my tween and then teen years. Syndication is a wonderful thing. Over and over and over again I would watch those episodes. I still recall the plot lines for many of them. I learned important life lessons from those old episodes. I’m sure Gene Roddenberry would be happy.

These days I watch re-runs of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, both available on Amazon Prime. I alternate between the two. In the modern canon of Star Trek series, I had thought that I liked Deep Space Nine the best, but lately I’ve changed my mind. I think the writing and plot lines in Voyager is the best of the modern series. It excites me that there’s a new series on the way in 2017.

It’s a big responsibility to reboot a beloved franchise like the original series. I loved J.J. Abrams’ reboot in 2009, simply called Star Trek. Kirk and Spock were adversaries starting out in the Abrams reboot. I liked his fresh take on familiar characters.

I also liked J.J. Abrams’ second movie, Into Darkness, but not as much as the first movie. Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Khan in the second movie, is one of my favorite British actors.

Abrams is now directing Star Wars movies and so was not available to direct Beyond. He is, however, an executive producer, so Abrams’ fingers are still in the pie. Directing for this newest film fell to Justin Lin. In my opinion he did a superb job.

I attended a showing of the non-3D version of Beyond last night. Before going to see it, I read a few reviews. While not completely poo-pooing the new movie, most reviewers weren’t exactly enthusiastic either. The consensus (for reviewers) seemed to be the new movie is like watching an extended version of a television episode. Too much action, not enough existential angst and philosophical dilemmas woven in the plot, apparently. I say “horse, er, a manure!” (You’ll get the reference if you go to see Beyond).

Beyond opens with Captain Kirk growing tired of the routine and life aboard a ship in deep space for going on three years. I once read that one of Gene Roddenberry’s inspirations for the original series was the old TV show Wagon Train. It seems Kirk is tired of just going from place to place to place (like the old Wagon Train) without any real purpose. So he’s decided to throw in the towel and ride a desk as a Vice Admiral. He hasn’t told his shipmates and closest friends, Spock and McCoy, just yet.

Meanwhile, Spock is facing his own personal crisis. An older version of himself from an alternate timeline, the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy, referred to as Spock Prime), who appeared in both the first and second “new” movies, has died–both in real life and as part of the movie Beyond. This causes our new Spock (Zachary Quinto) to question what he wants to do with his life. With the planet Vulcan destroyed in the first movie, and now with Spock Prime’s death weighing heavily, our new Spock now feels an obligation to procreate his species.

Both Kirk and Spock are planning to leave the Enterprise–but neither is sharing that with the other, just yet.

While visiting Star Fleet’s newest Starbase, Yorktown, for supplies and a bit of R&R, a mysterious alien arrives with a plea for assistance to rescue her shipmates stranded in a distant nebula. The Enterprise is just the ship for the assignment. Kirk recalls the crew and off they go.

WARNING: SOME PLOT SPOILERS

What we learn, in pretty quick order, is that the plea for help is a trap. The Enterprise is attacked, savagely, and ends up utterly destroyed. The crew, the ones who survive, are stranded on a nearby planet. The evil antagonist (there’s always an evil antagonist) who engineered the trap, Krall, is hunting for something. Let’s leave it at that. I don’t want to completely spoil the plot for you.

Stranded on the planet in small groups, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Checkov and Scotty must rescue Uhura, Sulu and the rest of the crew, who are held captive by Krall. Our rescuers get a little help from a local.

The script for Beyond was co-written by Simon Pegg, the guy who plays Scotty. He grew up as a Star Trek fan. I think he captures the feel of the original series–in movie format. So often movies these days have plot lines that double and triple back on themselves, making them hard to follow. The brilliance of this movie is that you can follow the plot. It’s simple. Yes there’s a few twists and turns–it’s not THAT predictable. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a Star Fleet engineer, to figure out what’s happening.

The chief complaints I’ve heard about Beyond, as previously mentioned, is that it’s too much like a TV episode. I beg to differ. While Beyond captures the energy and zest of the original series, this is its own script, worthy of a movie as grand as Beyond. I liked the writing, the timing, the humor, the tension. I liked it all! And I plan to see it again before it disappears from theaters–perhaps in IMAX or 3D.

A note about the special effects for this film, which were stellar (pun intended). In the series and in the movies prior to 2009’s Star Trek, you might get a camera shot of someone in front of a console or computer, but it’s not a close-up because that console or computer is likely cardboard and fake. In this movie we get a number of close-ups of the tech, and you “feel” like you’re looking at a real computer, from the future.

The cast is terrific. I think all of the characters are perfectly matched for their roles. What a sad tragedy that Anton Yelchin, who plays Checkov, was killed in a car accident in June. We’ll see if they recast a new person in the role, or write it out in the next installment. And you can be sure there will be a next installment. Yeah, Kirk decided not to ride a desk and Spock isn’t looking for Vulcan bride anymore.

As a postscript, near the end is a touching moment when new Spock opens the the final belongings of Spock Prime–left to new Spock upon his death. As you can imagine, when Spock Prime slipped through into an alternate reality years before, he didn’t plan on staying the rest of his life. He only had a very few worldly possessions. One of those Spock discovers as he looks through the belongings. I won’t spoil it for you, but let me say what new Spock finds is a fitting and final tribute to the original cast members. Even now as I write this it brings a tear to my eye.

If you love Star Trek, no matter your age, you won’t be disappointed with Beyond. Go and see it.

Carnival Sent a Cruise Ship into Hurricane Irene – And I was on it

Hurricane Irene at 10:10 am Saturday, Aug 27My wife Judy and I have been married 25 years this August (2011). Our Silver Anniversary! While planning how we might celebrate, we both decided a cruise would be the thing to do. We’ve never been on one, although we have a number of family and friends who have. They rave about it. So we took the plunge and scheduled a cruise with Carnival. Nothing overly glamorous—leave from New York City and cruise to the Canadian Maritimes. Make a stop at St. John, New Brunswick, and a second stop at Halifax, Nova Scotia. With a day or so spent getting there and another day back, the entire trip would take five days in total. We would get to see some of Canada, gorge ourselves on delicious food and watch live shows and listen to live music along the way. Perfect! Or so I thought.

As the date of departure drew close—August 27—Hurricane Irene also drew close. The media certainly overhyped the hurricane as the “storm of our lifetime” for the northeastern coast of the U.S. I compulsively checked the Carnival site throughout the week before the appointed day. Nothing listed—no delays, no cancellations—nothing about our cruise until two days prior when it became clear the itinerary would change. We’ll stop at Halifax first, then St. John, because Hurricane Irene would come very close to, if not hit, St. John. “No problem,” I thought. “Carnival must have meteorologists on staff who will know how this is going to play out.” Denial is a very strong emotion.

The day before we set sail, on Friday, August 26, we received a notice from Carnival that we should arrive early at the cruise terminal in New York—they moved up the departure time from 5 pm to 3 pm. So it was clear the cruise would actually take place. I wasn’t too worried, but I kept thinking, “That storm is 500 miles across, and the swirling bands are already reaching up to New Jersey and perhaps even off the coast of New York.” But denial is a strong emotion. No way were we going to forfeit the money we paid and not turn up! If Carnival canceled, we could get a refund. Otherwise, we would be out the money if we didn’t go. In retrospect, I would have gladly given up that money.

Saturday arrived and we left for New York, a three and a half hour journey from our home in the Binghamton, NY area. I won’t bore you with details of arriving and embarking—it’s a lot like boarding a large jetliner with long lines and security checkpoints. Once we were on the ship and in our room, we were so excited! The room, on deck 8, was large and well appointed. We had our very own balcony, something I paid quite a bit extra for.

We snapped pictures from the balcony of our room, looking right up some of the streets of midtown Manhattan as we waited to leave. As I snapped those pictures and gazed at Manhattan, I couldn’t help but notice the gray clouds hovering across the city, obscuring some of top floors of the tallest buildings. A light rain had started to fall. But denial is a strong emotion. What I was looking at, and frankly could not accept, was the beginning effects of Irene—right there in New York before we had even left port.

The ship finally departed around 3:20 pm and we cruised gently down the Hudson River, past spectacular views of buildings. I love New York and seeing it from the river is one of the best ways to see it. We floated past the Statue of Liberty. And then we were called to our posts for a mandatory safety lecture—so we would know how to use our life preservers and which life raft to hop aboard should it become necessary.

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Being Present in a World of Distraction

No Blackberry On a recent trip to New York City I was (yet again) struck by how millions of people crammed onto a small island can be so efficient at isolating themselves from millions of their fellow humans who are literally inches away from them. I’ve also noticed the same thing in London, and to some degree in smaller cities, like my native Binghamton. Walk down the sidewalk through Times Square, or get a coffee at one of the ubiquitous Starbucks in New York, and you’ll see more people than not with their noses stuck in a Blackberry, iPhone or other communication device—often texting—completely oblivious to those around them.
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Friday the 13th – Remembering Laurie Bartram

Laurie Bartram On Friday the 13th I always pause to reflect on someone I once knew. Her name was Laurie Bartram. If you’re of a certain age you may remember the original “Friday the 13th” movie released in 1980. Laurie was “Brenda” – one of the camp counselors in the movie. Before becoming a movie star, Laurie played Karen Campbell on “Another World” (soap opera) in 1978-1979.

Laurie decided to give up her acting career and instead attend Liberty University, which is where I met her. We were both on the same singing team (called SMITE back then).
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Nicholas Negroponte Predicts E-Books Will “Kill” Physical Books within Five Years

Nicholas Negoponte Nicholas Negroponte, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and also the founder of the One Laptop per Child Association made a rather bold prediction at the Techonomy conference in in Lake Tahoe, CA last week. His prediction? Printed books are “dead” within five years. Here’s a summary of his comments from CrunchGear’s Devin Coldewey:
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Jazzed About Helping Authors Create Their First Blogs

blog One of the highlights of this year’s Montrose Christian Writers Conference (MCWC) for me was the opportunity to work one-on-one with a number of talented authors and writers to help them establish a blog for the first time. One such author is Marsha Hubler, bestselling author of The Keystone Stables Series of books for young people. Marsha writes about kids and horses—and what young person doesn’t love horses! Marsha is now blogging at: marshahubler.wordpress.com.
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