Friday, May 29, 2009

The Bane of the BlackBerry

Mars as seen from the Viking orbiter
I read a book once about the colonization of Mars. In that book there were many fanciful ideas of what life would be like in the future. Advances in medical science allowed people to live to well into their hundreds of years due to abilities to replace bodily organs that had failed. Cancer had been eliminated. But people still had to deal with each other's personalities, habits and idiosyncracies, and that is part of what the book was about along with the difficulties of surviving in the climate of Mars.
An interesting part of the story (at least to me) was about what they called AI (Artificial Intelligence) devices that everybody had and used on a regular basis. They were worn similar to wristwatches, had communications capabilities and computing capabilities as well. They were entirely voice activated and operated. Essentially they were sort of a cell phone and computer all in one device.
About the same time I read this book, (probably close to 20 years ago), I had attended an accounting seminar about changes in technology in our industry. Usually these seminars were about computer technology and software capabilities. Keep in mind that PC's had been around for awhile, but were not nearly as capable as they are now. We were told by one instructor, who thought he had a good vision of the future, that by 2010 we would all be carrying devices that were essentially the size and function of a small computer screen, entirely voice activated and operated and would serve as a phone, internet connection and computer all in one device. We all laughed and snickered at the time. It was hard to imagine.
Then of course came the "smart phone". I use the word smart in a loose manner. I am not sure how smart they are sometimes nor am I proclaimimg that they they are the AI devides that I referred to above. But they are close and in many ways are an amazing little device. Then, in April 2008, on a date, like FDR once said, "that will live in infamy" I was temporarily possessed by the devil and purchased a 'smart phone'.
The Blackberry 'Pearl'
A device that I love and hate at the same time. Not only is there a love hate relationship, but I paid $289 for this so called 'smart phone' that at times is an unbelievable pain in the ass. Many names are given to this device. I had a client that told me that they are referred to as "Crackberry's". Actually it really is an amazing device. I can get e mails, read blogs on the web, talk on the phone, take pictures, makes notes to myself, listen to music like an IPOD, bluetooth capability, store complete names, addresses, phone numbers, websites and many features that I do not use and never will.
It just seems to me that this device that is so capable of so many things is almost entirely dependent on one tiny piece of hardware attached to the keyboard.
I'm speaking of the "TrackBall". 'The Bane of the Blackberry'
Almost all of the navigation around the various functions of the device are enabled by the use of the TrackBall. It is just amazing to me that they can design amazing software and capabilities into a smart phone and have it be controlled by such an inept little pointing device (And I do mean INEPT!) that operates essentially as a mouse.
For the first few months all was well. I learned the many features of the device, played games on it, explored the web and generally got to know it as my friend.
Then, like it was possessed by a demon, it turned on me like a dog chasing you down the road and trying to nip at your heels while you tried to speed by on your scooter. I started noticing that the TrackBall would start to stick occasionally, sometimes in only one direction. A little while later the problem would go away and all would be fine. But eventually the problem became more frequent.
Just an additional word about me. (In a whisper) Sometimes I am not a very patient person. When I pay money for something, I expect it to work, and work well. I recently bought a new mouse for my office computer, because the old one did not survive me throwing it against the wall one day during 'tax season' when the computer did something it shouldn't have.
(Back to normal voice) The problems with the TrackBall eventually led me to the internet so I could get information on trying clean the device and/or repair it so it would work better. I was incensed that I had entered into a 2 year agreement for the 'smart phone' and the TrackBall was failing less than one full year into that agreement. I tried various solutions such as very carefully removing the TrackBall out of the phone with a very tiny screwdriver and cleaning it the best that I could with alcohol and reassembling the device. It was then that I had discovered that the little teeny plastic prongs that hold it into the phone were apparently meant only to be inserted once into the phone, because once it was removed, parts of the prongs would either bend or break and be weakened. I don't dare try and take it out again because I don't think I will ever get it back in again.
The intial cleaning effort improved the situation a little bit, but eventually it has gotten to the point where the Trackball will move adequately in all directions except to the right.
Up, Down, Left? No Problems!
But to the right? At times it works close to adequately. But at other times it seems to stick completely and only by the mercy of the Almighty above, does it ever seem to revive itself and begin working again.
I haved now lived with this situation for many months now. I recently visited a Sprint store and inquired as to whether I could buy a new TrackBall. Ever had that feeling you were being laughed at? Not just chuckles or giggles, but uncontrollable fits of laughter? I was told that they could repair the phone, but since I didn't buy the insurance on it ($7 per month), it might be close to $100 for them to fix it for me. Not only that, but they could not just sell me a TrackBall. They just didn't do that even though I bet that they have hundreds (maybe thousands) of them in the back room.
I mean, How Hard Can It Be? I already had it out of the phone 3 times by now. It's not Rocket Surgery! Why can't you just sell me a TrackBall, you Frickin Bas^%rds? I'll even give you a cash tip under the table! No such luck.
(More cackles of laughter as I left the premises.)
So I googled 'BlackBerry TrackBall'. I eventually landed at and purchased a ball for $4.99 plus $6.72 shipping and handling. (I should own stock in UPS). I suppose I could have found one eventually in this fair city, but I had lost patience a long time ago. Not only that, but I discovered that I had my choice of colors, so I went with the red color because it matches my helmet.
I rejoiced the day that the TrackBall showed up at the house. I had decided that I should have a good stiff drink, get my camera ready and photograph the 'minor surgery' about to occur and make this operation the subject of a blog post. Call me crazy if you want, but it's my blog and I'll Cry if I want to, Cry if I want to, like the old song says.
The moment approached. I examined the contents of the shipment I had received. I gathered up the tools I thought I would need. My wife was faithfully standing by in case of emergency. The cats were going to supervise, the dogs asleep on the floor as per their usual nature. There was much tension as a hush fell on the room.
Then we started.
As I began to remove the ring holding the trackball, I thought back to the days when the trackball operated adequately. I was excited about the return of those days. It has been a long time that I have put up with the trackball that operated in a somewhat dysfunctional manner.. I got the ring off and the old trackball came out easily. I was thinking that only in a few moments, my relationship with this phone could be restored back to its glory of the first few days after I first bought it. I removed the new trackball and the new ring from the package and began to insert the new trackball into the phone. The trackball is small and it reminded me of trying to thread a needle. My eyes are not good and it can be difficult for me to work with such smal items.
The new trackball didn't want to go in easily. A moment or two later I realized that I wasn't putting it in by lining it up in the correct manner. There were 2 very little pins on two sides of the trackball and I needed to line them up from right to left rather than up and down as I had originally tried. I remained patient.
I tried again for the next couple of moments. It was not going well. It seemed that there was another little metal piece that appeared to be slightly bent on the new trackball and it was preventing me from getting it properly in its place. After a few more moments though I was able eventually to get it in the phone and install the ring to hold it in.
I was beginning to feel relief and joy at the prospect of the new ability to operate the new trackball. I reinstalled the battery to the phone, replaced the back cover and patiently waited for the phone to go through the 'boot up' process. About a minute and a half later, the phone seemed ready to go with the new red trackball glowing proudly in its place.
My assistant, Jake Falkenstein
What is it about Murphy's law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I remained patient as I experimented with the phone and the new trackball as I watched in near horror and realized that the new trackball worked perfectly from right to left, but not worth a damn either up or down.
I considered cussing, but there was no one to hear me. I knew my wife was outside and would not hear me. What good is cussing If nobody can experience your frustration with you. I remained patient.
Like Casey at the bat, hope springs eternal and I rationalized that maybe the problem would correct itself. (Maybe the new trackball just had to get used to its new environment). I even took a couple of new pictures of the new red ball and how it matched my helmet.
Look at that red glowing Son of a ..............
In the future may mount here as a GPS device.
It felt perfect, smoothly moving in all directions, but for some reason it just didn't seem to send the proper signal to the rest of the phone for up and down movement. I could get from here to there eventually, but the movement appeared jerky on the screen and sometimes slow to respond, even occasionally not responding at all.
I thought to myself that this is not good. Instead of having difficulty in one direction only, like the original trackball, now I had trouble with 2 directions.
I was considering putting in the old trackball again when I had the thought that maybe a little cleaning of the junction points would help solve the problem. This would require taking the trackball back out again, but what did I have to lose?
This is how my blog appears on the BlackBerry browser.
I got out some alcohol and a nice piece of cloth and proceeded with trying to clean. By this time I was feeling a lot of disappointment, but remained hopeful. As I was in the process of this my wife returned home from the grocery store. She can be very adept with little electronic gadgets and I showed her the problem and asked her to help. She is abashedly unafraid of tackling these types of tasks and proceeded to jump right in and examine the situation.
She agreed that the one little piece of metal on the new trackball appeared to be a bit bent. We even got out an old pair of hemostats and attempted to straighten it. Keep in mind that the entire assembly is smaller that the width of a finger.
I heard the dreaded word "Oops" from her lips. I looked over and saw that the new trackball was in pieces on the counter. She looked embarrassed at me and thought I would be mad (not at her directly, but after 30 years she knows me pretty well), but all I could do was start laughing. We laughed together for a bit and then I proceeded to carefully put the old trackball back in the phone.
The sad vision of the new TrackBall (in pieces and virtually unrepairable)
I didn't dare throw the phone against the wall as I have been known to do with computer mice.
After all, I really like this phone.
That night and into the next morning I developed a new plan. I mulled it over repeatedly in my mind overnight.
My plan was this. March forcefully into the Sprint store where I originally bought the phone and demand satisfaction!
I carefully planned out what I would say and how I would say it. At this point I was ready to threaten moving my account to Verizon. In essence my plan was to either get the phone fixed or get a new phone. I was so tired of all this crap!
Now the other Sprint stores I had been to recently were not the store where I had bought the phone. There was one person there at 'my' store who really seemed to know his stuff and was knowledgable about the phones and the various plans. I was hoping he would be there and save me from any further pain inflicted upon me by this phone. But I was also ready to get really angry. Maybe a temper tantrum right there in the middle of the store would help them to 'see the light' and help me out.
Alas, Murphy's law again applied and the guy wasn't there. I inquired at the desk and was told by a nice young man that couldn't have been older than 20, to go see the 'dude' in the back of the store.
When I went back to the window at the back of the store, I was ready for battle. I told him I needed a new trackball. He said no problem and he could fix it in a minute or two. I asked how much it would cost because I didn't carry the $7 per month insurance. He said that was only a little problem, he would sign me up for the insurance for one month, fix the phone and I could cancel the insurance later.
I said 'Dude' you got a deal!
Four minutes later I walked out the store with a working trackball and a little confidence that somewhere within that phone company there are at least a few people that place some importance on customer service. My only disappointment was that I didn't get to throw my temper tantrum.
The end of the story is actually a bit anticlimactic, but I don't care because I actually have my phone back in working condition.
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone with SprintSpeed

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Weekend

Part 1: The barbecue My son bought a new car this weekend, a Honda Fit. It's a pretty nice little car and to celebrate we had a sort of impromptu little barbecue that evening at our house. It was late in the afternoon and I went to the grocery store for a few supplies. Of course, I am always looking for an excuse to take the scooter. Got 3 small bags of groceries on the 'purse hook' and bungeed a bag of charcoal on the rack in front of the topcase. We didn't get real fancy with the food. Just grilled some burgers. My 'smoker' has a side firebox that is designed to slow cook, with indirect heat, foods like ribs and briskets by burning wood over a long period of time. I sometimes use different types of wood such as oak, mulberry, green apple, and the normal types such as hickory.
For the burgers though, we didn't use the side firebox, but instead just grilled the meat over the coals. Added a couple pieces of hickory to the charcoal.
Here's another view of the cooker. Was a Father's Day present a few years back.
We also had some strawberries, hummus, grilled onions, 2 kinds of cheese and of course a little bit of alcohol to wash it down . I like rum drinks so I fixed myself a hurricane, my wife had a scotch and soda, my son had some wine, and my daughter and her main squeeze had some beer. Some people come up with the strangest (my opinion only) beers that they like. I had never heard of these.
I am not really a big drinker, but my favorite beer is called "Fat Tire" from a micro brewery in Fort Collins Colorado. I bet Dom Chang has ridden by there.
We had a great time, the weather was almost perfect for a barbecue. A nice relaxing evening.
Part 2: The cemetary
My wife is the 5th of 6 children in her family. I am the 4th of 5. Unfortunately the next oldest sibling for my wife died just before reaching the age of 2 of leukemia. Her family lived in Wellington Kansas at the time that Geoffrey passed away. Wellington is a small community about 25 miles south of our fair city.
For many years, on Memorial Day, we have made the short trip down to Wellington to place some flowers on his grave. For the small town of Wellington, Memorial Day is a big event. The lanes of the cemetary are lined with flags. This is not unusual for many small towns in Kansas, nor anywhere else for that matter. I always find it interesting to look at some of the graves that are adorned with flowers and emblems showing which war the decedent might have participated in.
In our immediate family, there were very few deaths from our country's past wars. My father served in the navy, my wife's father in the army, an uncle was in the Battle of the Bulge and served with Patton. But almost all survived the war, physically.
Mentally is sometimes another matter. It wasn't that they suffered permanently from combat fatigue or whatever you would like to call it. But for many of them, it was very difficult for them to talk about their war experiences. They preferred to keep the feelings and horrors they experienced to themselves.
I remember one Memorial Day about 8-10years ago where members of our church were sort of enlisted to speak about some of their experiences to the audience. One of them talked about flying troops and supplies over the Himilayas from India to China during World War 2. Another landed on Omaha Beach. The experiences they had were varied and geographically very different. But one thing they talked about, and cried about, was the number of friends that they had lost. In many cases these friends were people they had barely met and didn't get to know for very long. Let us also not forget how hard it was on the wives and families of those serving overseas, knowing that every day could bring the possibility of getting one of those telegrams.
I am not a veteran myself. In the 70's, I actually was one of the last people required to get a draft card, but was just a little bit too young to ever get called up. I am thankful about that even though I would have been willing to serve. But the thought of serving scared me.
The rock singer Sting (of the group The Police ) has a line in a song that I relate to very much. It says:
"I never saw no military solution that didn't always end up as something worse."
War sucks!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Commencing a new journey

After some encouragement from some other bloggers, many of whom listed on my link list, a new journey starts for me today. I've started a blog! Not sure where this blog will be headed but I am looking forward to the adventure. I am learning this on the fly, so to speak, so forgive me if the postings seem a bit amateur. But that's the way it is. Actually, the start of this blog is a new journey for me, but the real journey started in July 2008 when I purchased my scooter. There were many reasons for the purchase, economics, fun, etc. But little did I know how much fun and excitement there would be. Since I bought the machine, I have commuted to and from work almost every day. I only missed a few days in the winter due to icy streets and have ridden in just about all weather conditions imaginable (even down to 10 degrees or so). On this day, it was about 30 degrees, and some snowplows had cleared off a parking lot and piled all the snow and ice in a big pile. Silly me, I took a picture with my blackberry. Yes I had to be careful that day, but the streets were relatively clear. Riding in multiple weather conditions is a bit of a challenge, but with much experimenting, I have found many ways to survive. The weather here in Kansas varies a lot, blazing hot in summer, and some occasional snow in winter. I have also become an ATGATT advocate mainly because of the many very informative posts I have read on other blogs. On that day I took the ice picture, the ride to work was great, even exhilarating. In fact almost every day I ride to work is great and memorable in one way or another. This morning for instance, I passed by a bakery on the way to work. There was very little wind this morning, and the smell of the freshly baked goods permeated the intersection where I was stopped at a light. I would have never noticed the smells if I was in a car. Just one of the little things I enjoy about Scootin', and there is a veritable plethora (always liked that phrase) of little things about Scootin' that I enjoy. I have been thinking about starting a blog for some time, but have hesitated because I was afraid it would take too much time. But it has been a bit easier than I thought, and even though it will take some effort, I think the introspection involved will be good for me. I will try and make it interesting. I do not profess to be a good photographer, but would like to continue that hobby, and blogging will keep me going. I actually take a lot of photographs with my Blackberry which has a 2mp camera, and I have a pretty decent Canon digital camera as well. In fact, all the pictures on today's post, except for one were taken with the Blackberry. I live in Wichita. Some of my friends and myself used to jokingly refer to this city as "The Mistake on the Plains". It's actually not that bad at all. I have lived here for close to 30 years now. It's actually not a very old city, founded in 1870 or so. Other parts of Kansas are a few decades older, but the city is partially defined by the meeting of 2 rivers near the downtown area and was for many years before the city was founded a native american trading post. A relatively famous native american artist known as Blackbear Bosin designed a sculpture that is situated where the two rivers meet. Here's a link for more information. The 2 rivers that meet here are known as the Little and the Big Arkansas Rivers. Of course the Big Arkansas river starts in Colorado and ends up at the Mississippi. The smaller one is just sort of a tributary, but has always been known around here as the big and little rivers. One word of caution however: Do not pronounce the name of the river like you would the state of Arkansas (Arkansaw). In Kansas the river has the same pronunciation as the state of Kansas does. A sort of side note: With the help of some friends, we have recently started a little scooter club here in Wichita. Here's a recent picture:

Although we just getting this club off the ground, it looks like we are going to have lots of fun and hopefully safe miles together It is an interesting group of people, with scootering in common.

Since this is my first post and I am just barely learning how to do this, I'll keep this relatively short with a promise of more to come later. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, and otherwise give me lots of help. I need it!