Sunday, October 26, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #182 - My Head Is In The Clouds, Somewhere Over The Southern U.S., October 2014

If there were a rainbow in this photo I'd burst out into a rousing chorus of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." But, don't fret, no rainbow and I'm not singing. All is good in the world.

I was flying back from San Antonio a week ago yesterday and, while I usually prefer an aisle seat when I have to hurtle through the sky in a big silver (or whatever color) tube, on this trip back to Dulles International, I had a window seat (my second choice). This photo was taken on the Dallas to Dulles leg of the trip.

I honestly don't know where we were at the time I pulled up my window shade and glanced out. But, this cloud formation was below us. I'm not sure if these were altocumulus or cirrocumulus clouds. They look very much alike, but the altocumulus are lower level and the cirrocumulus are higher altitude clouds. You can usually differentiate from the ground because the altocumulus will have visible shaded areas and the higher cirrocumulus will not. I was over the top of the formations looking down, so I couldn't tell. The plane was probably at about 30,000 to 32,000 feet at this time and frankly, I couldn't tell if these were higher altitude altocumulus clouds or lower altitude cirrocumulus clouds.

What intrigued me was I don't believe, in the hundreds of thousands of miles I've flown over my lifetime, I've ever seen this kind of cloud formation from above. You can see the Earth below the clouds, but I knew the ground was at least 6 miles below the plane. The other thing that really grabbed me was the stark contrast of the sky above the clouds as it became a very deep blue toward the top of the photo. Being at this altitude I knew I was looking into the outer fringes of the atmosphere of this remarkable biosphere we call the Earth that is our home.

Beyond that blue is the stark blackness of the universe. It's a place we know, to the best of our knowledge, to be stark and inhospitable to our kind. Yet, here we sit, this tiny particle of space dust and us believing we are all so important. Interestingly, we can also dive into the oceans and find places that are so far beneath the surface that light doesn't penetrate there, either. It is equally as stark and inhospitable.

It made me think of just how insignificant each human actually is and how simple the basic truths of life are. As far as we know, Earth is the only place in the universe where life, as we know it, is supported. But, IF, just if there is life somewhere else in the universe, is it anything like ours and are their lives as complicated as we've made ours?

Hey! Is there anything more interesting to do while hurtling through the sky in a miraculous creation of human ingenuity with all kinds of digital devices around you clicking, binging, whirring, playing music and so on than to wonder at the wonder of it all.    

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Apparent Demise of Millenicom

Boy, wasn't that a shocker about Millenicom? Something very unsettling there. I used the word "apparent" in the title of this article because no one knows what really is going on and if Millenicom might move in a new direction.

I don't know if they were doing something that violated their agreement with Verizon or if Verizon, being the typical greedy fire breathing behemoth dragon they are, with their new promotions, decided to confiscate Millenicom's business - which wouldn't surprise me in the least. Personally, I've never been a big fan of Verizon - wireless or otherwise. I also wonder if Verizon "bought" the accounts from Millenicom or is just pirating them.

Since Millenicom is a no contract wireless data reseller, there is no guarantee that any or all of Millenicom's customers will stay with Verizon and for those who do, will they be bullied by Verizon? I guess we'll find out the answers in due time. Millenicom is pretty silent on the whole thing though I've heard (hearsay) they've let their staff go. So, I guess they don't have enough business left to sustain full-scale operations.

Still With AT&T

I am still with AT&T, so I'm not personally impacted by this change, though I could have been had I followed through on my plan to set up a Millenicom data account. Here's the story and the rationale I used for staying with AT&T.

I've been with the AT&T service since about 1999 when they were under the Cingular brand. A few years later they dropped Cingular and went back to using the AT&T brand, supposedly for better name recognition and credibility. Cellular One was also part of this mess. It's a very confusing and incestuous series of mergers and takeovers. Suffice it to say that it's all now AT&T Mobility and I've heard rumors they may go back to using the Cingular brand again. I think they're just playing head games with us customers.

At any rate, Early this year, February, I believe, AT&T offered me a chance to early terminate my last two year contract about 5 months early with no penalty and switch to their no contract Family Share Plan. So, checking my usage and overage charges with the 5 GB of data I had on my contract plan, moving to the no contract share plan doubled my bandwidth to 10 GB per month.

Additionally, it gave me unlimited calling to replace the 450 minutes (with roll-over minutes) cell phone service and added unlimited texting to my plan. This was nice since I had no texting on the contract plan and paid $.20/text - sent or received. My monthly cost actually went down a little. So, double data, unlimited phone, unlimited text and lower cost - it was a no brainer. 

Until then I was seriously considering going with Millenicom for their 20 GB data plan and just moving to a $45/mth Straight Talk plan for unlimited phone, text and data. I only considered the Straight Talk data as standby since after the first 3 GB, they the data speed is throttled back to 2G or slower and I couldn't tether or create a personal wifi hotspot.

When I ran a spreadsheet on it, even though I had half the data on the Share Plan - it was more cost effective to stay with AT&T - and I guess, now, under the current circumstances, I'm glad I did. 

I'm taking advantage of the special promotion this month of adding 20 GB of data for an additional $30/mth. I end up with 30 GB of data (3X as much as I currently have and I've already run over the 10 GB several months paying $15/extra GB or fraction their of). My total bill will cost me $160 (or maybe a little less) for unlimited phone, text and 30 GB of data compared to $126 for the unlimited phone, text and 10 GB of data. These costs include the taxes and little extra fees that are added on.

So, in reality - that cost will only be about $20/mth more than the $90 Millenicom 20 GB plan and the $45 Straight Talk plan for phone and texting. I have 10 GB more data AND only have to use one device, my smart phone, for phone and tethered modem (or wifi hotspot). I think I'm coming out ahead on this deal. Advantage, Ed!

AT&T Service And Coverage

Despite all the naysayers and AT&T haters (they actually aren't loved or hated anymore than Verizon - they're just another behemoth bully corporation), I'm generally pleased with their service overall. That's why I've stayed with them all these years. Are there cell hell holes in their coverage? Yep! But, if you come to Keyser, WV, where I am right now as I write this article, with your Millenicom (or any Verizon phone or) jetpack you'd have no service here since Verizon, Sprint and T Mobile have zero coverage in this region.

When you look at the coverage maps of AT&T and Verizon, they really aren't all that different. Both companies claim services, 4G and LTE and coverage areas that don't meet their advertising (always read the small fine print). It's all marketing hype. Additionally, I like AT&T because they use the GSM service and not the CDMA service that Verizon uses. GSM is pretty much the worldwide standard. It allows you to be on the Internet AND make phone calls and text at the same time. CDMA you can only do one or the other.

When everyone finally goes LTE (which is still mainly in the future) both providers should be pretty compatible, finally. Also, with GSM you can take your phone overseas and simply buy a local SIM card in most places and you have local service in that country. That's a nice plus for anyone who travels outside the U.S. very much. My son has done this all over the world during his global trekking.

There is one other aspect of my telecommunication plan. I plan to buy a very inexpensive prepaid phone service (they call them "burner phones" in the spy and cops & robbers movies and TV shows). I only require minimal minutes that can be used during a 12 month, 6 month or 3 month period before the minutes expire and the account has to be refilled.  The longer the period, the better. The service must be on the Verizon network.

I'll use this phone as a standby and for emergencies in situations where I have no AT&T service, but need to make a call or receive a call. The formula is simple - cheap phone - least calling cost - most minutes - over the longest duration. Lots of compromising to be made. But, since this phone will mainly be for standby and emergency use, lowest cost is the most important element. I'll be sure to use up whatever minutes I have on it before I "recharge" it.

In Conclusion

So, thar she blows. My plan won't be right for everyone, but it's the most cost effective plan for my specific needs. And, with the 30 GB of data, I'll be able to download (and upload) plenty of YouTubes as well as movies and TV shows when I'm in an area where there is no wifi available.
I just set up my friend, where I have my base camp in Keyser, WV, with a new, economical (is there any such thing with cable TV companies?) Comcast basic cable TV service with cable Internet. She is also on an AT&T Share Plan, but decided she finally wanted cable TV and high-speed Internet now that she's in the process of retiring. I bought and installed a cable modem and wireless router for her.

This Comcast service offers a pretty neat on-line streaming service. It provides a reasonable selection of movies and most current, plus vintage TV shows and series as part of the service package. So, I can stream them wherever I am off my AT&T data or local wifi. Of course, I can also reinstate my Netflix subscription and stream from them as well. So, I'll pretty much have plenty of entertainment choices on the road almost anywhere I might be without having an off the air TV capability or resorting to Red Box at the Walmarts I may overnight park at. 

Apparently, no one knows what Verizon is going to do or offer the former Millenicom customers. It's my guess they are holding everyone in the air until after the 10/31 promotions end - thus, taking away one major option. 

This is MY plan. Hopefully, it gives you a significant amount of information if you are considering the AT&T option or need to create a comprehensive wireless telecommunication and Internet plan. BUT, remember, the AT&T 30 GB promotion ends on 10/31 - so, you'll have to do some quick homework.

I also suggest you keep up with Chris and Cheri, the Technomadia couple who continually research and update everyone on this kind of information. Also you can check with the folks at the 3G Store who were Millenicom resellers and are doing their best to keep up with the transition.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #181 - The World IS Flat, San Antonio, Texas, October 2014

I'm in downtown San Antonio, Texas about 10 or 11 floors over the famed River Walk in the center of downtown. The Alamo is nearby as are a number of other things I recall from my first time in San Antonio when I was newly enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.

From my vantage point in the Grand Hyatt Hotel it appears that the world is truly flat, at least for as far as the eye can see to the horizon. I can't gauge the distance to the horizon, but my best guess on this very clear morning is that it's probably 75 miles to maybe 100 miles, or more, away. With the sun was behind me and being pretty early in the morning, I'd say this photo is looking in a westerly direction.

Much has changed here since the slightly more than eight months I was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base between mid-August 1969 and the end of April 1970. For example, the building I took this photo from didn't exist and wasn't even a blip on anyone's radar screen. It was actually completed in 2008.

The convention center next to the hotel, the two Marriott hotels across the street and most of the other structures in this area, including an interstate connecting highway weren't in the plans back then, either.

This land was actually part of the Hemisfair '68, a sanctioned World's Fair that closed less than a year before I arrived in San Antonio. Today, part of this land is occupied by the convention center. Another part of it is now HemisFair Park where the Tower of the Americas, at 750 feet tall, remains the tallest structure in San Antonio.

Times marches on, but from my vantage point, the world IS flat.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #180 - My 6th and Final Home in Clifton, New Jersey, September 2013

My regrets for there being no other Living Free posts this past week. I've been working on several ideas. However, I still accept some freelance consulting, book production, audio recording and production and an occasional video project. This week my time was consumed with deadlines on the current book project that is now at the book manufacturing plant. Of course, as soon as I post this article, I'll be putting my already packed bags into the van and beginning a week long trek by car and plane for a recording gig in San Antonio, Texas. After that, quiet for a while, which is great since I have a lot to post here.

These two photos are of the last home my parents owned in my hometown of Clifton, New Jersey. Unfortunately, this house harbors only negative feelings for me. It was and forever will be, the last place I lived in my hometown and New Jersey. I will never return to live in any part of New Jersey. It was in this house that my father died at 42 and when I was 21. It was in this house that my family and I lived under the same roof for the last time. I was the only member of the family who continued to live in the house from the day of my father's death until eight months later when I moved to Syracuse, New York and left New Jersey.

I had to show the home in two photos because the large multi-colored tree covered part of the house from either angle. It was just a tiny thing not much larger than a sapling, if it was even there, when I lived there. I actually have a photo of the house, black and white, I believe, when it was new and we had just moved in. I'll have to find it and see if that tree was there, yet. 

It was a split level house with two stories on the left and two stories on the right with the garages being the lower floor on the right. On the left side of the house, the window on the first floor next to the front door hidden by some shrubbery, was my bedroom. I was a college senior and beginning to slide out of the nest so, I could come and go easily at all hours without disturbing the rest of the family. The other three bedrooms were upstairs.

The photo of the right side of the house is the one that is the most painful for me to look at since it was in the left side of the garage where my father died and my family ended with his last breath.

Both of my sisters have had the opportunity of going into several of the six homes I've shown in this series. I imagine I could have knocked on the doors and introduced myself and had the opportunity to revisit each of them. But, to be completely honest, I had no desire to. I remember what I want and need to remember about each house and that's how I want it. I've found that almost invariably, each time I've revisited someplace of significance to me, it hasn't been what I remembered. I like my memories as they are. They are mine and mine alone.

I should mention that from my window on the first floor and from the large picture window in the living room over the garages, there was a direct view of the entire Manhattan Island skyline and the meadowlands, towns and cities between our home and Manhattan. It was a beautiful sight. The distinctive art deco Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building were the most prominent features of the view. This was prior to the construction of the twin World Trade Center towers demolished on 9-11. Unfortunately, there is now a tall two story house directly across the street from my old house and that view is no longer there.

This is the end of my life in Clifton and New Jersey. I have some other photos that represent some significant memories. They'll appear in the future.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #179 Just Another Sunset, Ocean Pond, Osceola National Forest, Florida, February 2014

Sometimes, as I scan through the thousands of photos in my archives for my Photo-of-the-Week, a photo just doesn't jump out and yell, "Pick Me! Pick Me!" that particular week. Well, this is one of those weeks. Usually something will jump out and I'll know that's it, but nothing did this week.

Sunrises and sunsets are two of my favorite subjects to capture graphically. It's a combination of the stark contrasts, the silhouettes and the beautiful colors created by the amount of moisture in the air, the clouds and the location I'm shooting from. When something else doesn't seem to appeal in a specific week, I search out my sunrise and sunset files

So, here we are at sunset, just before the golden disk disappears behind the horizon. This series begins several minutes before sunset and several minutes after. But, this one just seemed to stand out for this week's choice. The location is the campground on Ocean Pond in the Osceola National Forest in north central Florida and the time was the end of February of this year, 2014.

It's just such a beautiful and inspiring ending to a day. Once the sun has set, I'm pretty much ready to climb into My McVansion and prepare for a nice, warm night of pleasant dreams. So, I hope you enjoy this gorgeous photo - at least in my opinion.