Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Monday, April 28, 2014
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Why the Switch?
I have been using iPhones for about seven years. In that time, I have used the iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, and 5. While I liked the iPhones, I have increasingly found myself wanting to use Google software products. Chiefly, I use Gmail, Chrome, Music Manager, and Google Maps. There are other applications I use in lieu of iOS defaults that further exacerbate this. Unfortunately, iOS wants me to use their native applications and I have grown weary of it, so much so that I am willing to gamble on a new device and tackle the hurdles of changing seven years of habits.
I have always been a technophile and I have spent most of the last decade as a technology strategist. I enjoy learning new things and I would like to know firsthand, in detail, what it is like to use an Android phone. This is not so much a driver to change as much as a mitigation for what might otherwise be concern at switching platforms.
3. Interesting Features of S5
I have heard/read good things about, or am simply intrigued by exploring, the following:
- S Voice
- Water proof/resistant to 1m
- More Google-friendly functionality
- Better support for letting me choose what apps should be my default
- Remarkably greater choice in memory up to 160 GB, as opposed to the 64 GB cap
4. Competitor Maturation
Frankly, the market has great options. I feel like smartphones have reached that point, like PCs vs. Macs, where both options are great and roughly equally capable in providing the basics, bringing the choice more to taste. Apple makes a great product, but given a choice of equally capable technologies, I would favor customizability.
The "it just works" approach is great for many users, but that inherently depends on constraints on customization. It's not my preference. However, until recently, I did not feel that the competitor's devices were good enough. Now I do.
5. No Fiscal Barrier
The vendors are smart when it comes to making it painless/easy to get a phone. I just have to pay the sales tax and then a tiny amount a month, and there is no interest charged on the amount.
So, I Switched
So, I decided to make the switch and I will try and capture my observations as I go for my friends that might be considering the same.
Friday, April 25, 2014
Do It Yourself...The Rest of the Story
If you know me, you know that I am a bit of a DIY guy. Unless it's going to violate a code or put my family at risk, I will try to do it or fix it myself. We are all accustomed to DIY resources on the Internet. What is not readily apparent with such resources is that there are often many details and complications left out of the discussion. That's where this post comes in to fill in the blanks.
This post is not meant to repeat what you can easily find on Google. Rather, I try to capture the rest of the story, as I have experienced it, so that your road may be a little smoother if you take the same trip.
Fixing a Leaky Outdoor Faucet
If you search the interwebs, you will readily find discussions of how very easy it is to repair a leaky faucet and, frankly, that is true. In a nutshell:
- Turn off the water to your house
- Empty the faucet
- Loosen the packing nut on your faucet and pull out the guts
- Go replace the worn/broken seals (gaskets and o-rings) [potentially the hard part]
- Replace the guts and tighten the packing nut
- Turn the water to your house back on
- Check faucet functionality
If you have everything on hand, this repair can take less than ten minutes from start to finish. But you probably won't and you might hit a few wrinkles.
Turn Off the Water to Your House
This should be pretty straightforward, but you will likely need a "meter key". You can get one of these at your favorite home improvement supply store. I opted for the meter key with box lid key from Home Depot.
Note: I owned a meter *wrench* with box lid key, but the positioning of the meter prevented me from seating the wrench properly, so the tool was useless for this water meter.
Empty the Faucet
This step *should* take very little time. However, when you turn off the water to your house, if you have a two-story house, it might take many minutes for the water to completely drain out. In my case, it was still dribbling after an hour. It is not crucial that the water flow *completely* stop for you to perform the repair, but it is safest to wait. If it does not stop, you may need to have your water company come look at the valve (I did, and our valve was fine).
A slow drip will not affect your ability to repair the faucet, so you might consider tossing a bucket under the drip and getting on with it, as I did.
Loosen the Packing Nut and Pull Out the Guts
This should be simple. This should be the first large nut you see behind your handle. To be safe, I placed a pipe wrench on the main body of the faucet (see above) to make it easy to provide a counter torque when I was loosening the nut.
Once the packing nut is completely loose, just gently pull out the guts of the faucet. As you can see from the picture above, the guts can be quite long. In my case, it was about a 9" stem (23 cm). You can find an image on the web pretty easily. It may help to know that this type of faucet is a "frost free sillcock". Say that ten times fast, but not at work. You might have better luck searching for "frost free faucet", however.
My particular faucet had three seals.
- A gasket at the end of the stem inside the wall - this is the one that stops the flow of water when I tighten the faucet [If this is worn, the water will still drip/flow after you turn off the faucet]
- A gasket near the end of the stem nearest the faucet handle - this is the packing seal [If this is worn, you will probably have water leak near the handle]
- An o-ring in the piece the handle mounts to - this allows the faucet to turn without water shooting out of the handle [If this is worn, you will probably have water leak near the handle]
Go Replace the Worn/Broken Seals
OK, so you have faucet guts in your hand. You are feeling very plumber-y, and if you watched a DIY video, they may have suggested that you head to your local plumber supply. Congratulations if that works for you. Here is my story...
I knew that I probably needed to replace seals #2 and #3 from above, because my leak was a slow leak around the handle. So, off I went to find replacements.
I called all three vendors in my city that professed to be plumber supplies. ALL THREE 1) tried to convince me that the faucet was beyond repair (without seeing it; only knowing there was a slow leak around the handle) and 2) confessed that they sold primarily complete faucet sets and very few, very specific parts for some of their brands. I do not have a good opinion of the integrity or competence of these folks. Moving on...
I hit up a local mom and pop store and although they did have parts for some faucets, they did not have mine. But they recommended a faucet supply half an hour away that was "the king of faucet parts".
"The 'King' of Faucet Parts"
I called "the king" ahead of time. They had me text them pictures I had taken of the faucet. They explained, with some disdain, that my faucet was probably made in Taiwan. I let that slide and asked if they could help. They said they could, so...road trip!
When I arrive, they take the opportunity to once again point out that my faucet is from Taiwan and they do not sell them. However, they do provide a replacement gasket that is the same size as my #2 seal. I will need to modify it, but that's nothing compared to the stuff I had to do in grad school to make apparatus work.
As for the o-ring, he "eyeballs" it and grabs an o-ring from a drawer. The charge? 25 cents.
I get back home, whip out a scalpel, crudely shape the gasket, slide on the o-ring, and prepare to feel a sense of accomplishment...
Replace the Guts and Tighten the Packing Nut
This is dead easy. Just slide the parts back in, tighten the packing nut (I recommend providing counter torque as before), put the handle back on (if you removed it), and you are done.
Turn The Water Back On
When you use the meter key to open the valve back up, you will immediately see indications of flow as the pipes fill back up with water.
Check Faucet Functionality
Turn the knob and see what happens.
In my case, the leak was even worse than before. So...what happened?
Standard O-Rings Are Not Quite as Standard as You Might Think
The gentleman at "the king" had given me an o-ring that was too small and skinny. In a nutshell, there are a few key dimensions for an o-ring, inner diameter, outer diameter, and cross-section (how fat the actual material is).
The standards o-rings in the range of what I needed are #7 and #8. One was too skinny and the other too fat. I had not bothered to question the gentleman's choice of o-ring. It looked about right to my untrained eye, but it turns out it was about 25% too thin, and that was just enough to compromise the seal.
I spent twenty minutes with a kindly gentleman at Home Depot trying various "standard" o-rings. No luck.
So, it dawned on me that maybe a metric o-ring could be the trick. Sure, the Taiwanese faucet had to be adapted for US fittings, but that does not mean the inner o-ring was English measure.
So, I called an o-ring supply and asked about metric o-rings. They could probably help, but the minimum purchase was $25. Um. No. They were kind enough to recommend NAPA auto parts or a local mom and pop hardware store for options. A quick call to NAPA confirmed that they had metric o-rings in the right size range.
After about five minutes at NAPA, using the digital micrometer they kindly loaned me, I identified the two best options, neither of which matched the old o-ring or the stem diameter properly. Only one (the slightly too large one) would really fit. They charged me nothing for the o-rings. Note to self: go to NAPA when I next need auto parts.
I popped it on, assembled everything, and...it worked beautifully!
So, yes, this is a very simple repair. I probably spent 15 minutes total actually fixing the faucet, and that includes pulling it apart twice. However, I probably spent two hours driving around, and thirty minutes calling and shopping to get the two seals. And probably thirty minutes the day before getting the proper meter key.
But now I know...
May your repairs be smooth and effortless.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
About three weeks ago, I was poking around for a good dish drainer for the (relatively) new house. I was not satisfied with the stuff I could get locally and, within minutes, I found a great choice online. Among the choices of places to order it was Amazon. They also happened to have one of the lowest prices. So, I headed over to Amazon to investigate. The drainer cost was a mere $20, but the shipping and handling was NINE dollars for regular shipping and I wanted it as sooner.
And then there was that little nag to try Amazon Prime for free. Normally, I blow off the free trial membership for Amazon prime. In general, I sort of hate those kinds of things, because I feel like the merchant is just trying to shake me down for more money. However, this was just the right combination of factors to encourage me to give it a try, if only for the free 2-day shipping on this item.
Well, as soon as I flipped that switch, Amazon became part of my shopping process. I went to Petco to pick up some stuff and, out of pure curiosity, checked if the items I wanted were on Amazon. They were. Not only that, but they had more selection and fantastically better prices. I saved $23 on what would have cost around $100.
That same day, I picked up Titanfall for my nephew and saved $5.
The next day, I found the little doggie poop bags we use at a fifth of the cost we normally pay at local pet stores. I ended up with about an 18-month supply for what I might normally spend for a few months. So, if I take 2/3 of what I spent, that is about $40 saved for the year.
- $20 saved on some jeans
- $13 on a mouse
- A few cents on an appliance I could not find *anywhere* locally
It's Really Easy to Buy From Amazon
Once I had the Prime Membership, I installed the Amazon app on my phone and it makes it very easy, perhaps too easy, to look up things and buy them with a single click.
Not Everything is Prime...
I came to learn that not everything qualifies for Amazon Prime, but so far I have not been affected by that. There is also a handy filter for Amazon Prime items if you want to insure that you take advantage of it when you shop.
A Clear Savings
Without accounting for the savings in shipping or the time and money wasted hunting down these items at local stores, saved over $120. Which is to say, in just a few weeks I have saved more than the cost of the annual membership ($79 when I bought it, but it recently went up to $99). Admittedly, I am not always buying things at this rate, but it's nice.
At the $79 value, it was a no-brainer to get it. At $99, I start to wonder, but when I think back to last Christmas, I can't imagine losing money on it.
Basically, it translates into a frequent shopper rewards program with an up front investment.
And There's More...
I had no idea that the membership included access to free books and video-on-demand. But it does. Is it as comprehensive as, say, Netflix? I don't know. I don't think so. According to the interwebz, it is not as good as Netflix yet, but, it is competitive. Since this is more free stuff from my perspective that's just icing on the cake.
And they have app for my Xbox One, so it's as easy for me to use as my Netflix. However, I understand that they lack applications to deliver content to Apple TV, Chromecast, and some Android Devices. That's not overly surprising, giving that iTunes and Google Play are competitors, but I expect that it will be resolved. Or not. It works where I would use it - PC and TV (via my Xbox One), so it's great for us.
What Did I Learn?
- Not everything on Amazon qualifies for Amazon Prime (i.e., no free 2-day shipping); but it has not been a problem for me yet
- When you have Amazon Prime,
- You buy a lot more stuff from Amazon
- You come to realize that 2-day shipping is pretty damn convenient
- The lack of shipping (on Amazon Prime items) unlocks a lot of savings on Amazon
- Your desire to have an Amazon app on your phone increases greatly
- Amazon Prime is absolutely worth the money for us right now
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
I have been needing to get a real pair of hiking boots for some time. Not so much for "real" hiking, but for walking the dog in the park in wee hours across dew-laden grass and working in the yard. Hiking is certainly in my future, as well.
Unless you count combat boots, I had never owned a pair of real hiking boots. So, I really had no idea what to get. I had heard good things about Red Wing Boots. They have a subdivision, Vasque, that specializes in hiking boots. That also happens to be the brand that my wife has (and she likes them).
Red Wing Stores Apparently Don't Carry VasqueI tried heading to a Red Wing store, only to find out that, although we had many of them in the area, they generally only carried the main Red Wing line and Irish Setter, the hunting and fishing subdivision. Further, the sales person at the store I visited seemed to just read the labels in front of me, as opposed to being remarkably knowledgeable. I called their other locations and, while they were willing to *order* Vasque, none of them stocked them.
So, I headed to my local REI.
REI Knows Hiking Shoes And Their Clerks RockI was taken aback at the clerks at REI. This was my first time to set foot in an REI, so I have no idea is this was typical. However, I visited two REIs that day and every single person was surprisingly helpful and knowledgeable. Maybe I have low expectations...
What I WantedWe discussed options at length. I explained that I needed a hiking boots with the following qualities:
- A true boot, for protection against limbs, rocks, debris
- Waterproof, but still able to breathe so that they don't become a sweaty bath in the Texas summer
- Good for long hikes
- Not sure if I will need to hike with a heavy load, but let's assume that
- Wide fit
What I Tried
I tried a host of different boots, to include Vasque, Merrell, Asolo, Oboz, Keen, and Lowa. Among those, I tried around a dozen different boots, 2-4 lacings per boot, and a few repeats. I probably laced up a pair of boots about 40 times that afternoon.
The clerks guided me to boots 1 and 1.5 sizes bigger than my foot measurement. Five years ago, that would have been startling, but lately, I am relieved by that tendency, as I have come to learn that, for some reason, shoes designed for your foot size often end up smashing one or more toes in heavy use. I had a pair of cross-training shoes that literally smashed one of my toes so much on a 5k power walk that the nail gave up the ghost and fell off. Ouch.
REI has a fake rock formation for trying out the shoes and the clerks tell you how to use it to evaluate sliding along the boot, adequate room for toes, and sliding along the back of the foot.
Every clerk was infinitely patient and courteous.
The only boot that was a contender was, humorously, the first pair I tried - the Vasque Breeze. It was also the winner.
What was fascinating is that the pair I tried at the first REI felt too tight across the foot, but the pairs at the second REI did not. Further, for two of the pairs of Vasque I tried, the left foot created an uncomfortable pressure on the medial malleolus. Just the left foot. On two of four pairs I tried.
Given the fantastic service, I was obliged to buy the boots at REI, but the researcher in me couldn't help but check out the cost on Zappos for the same shoes. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were the same for the pair I wanted and only 15% less for a pair I did not. Well, given that 20% discounts are somewhat easy to come by, and they had one that day, it turns out that REI was cheaper overall; another pleasant surprise.
What I Learned
Here is what I learned from my excursion:
- Hiking boots would be a nightmare to shop for online unless you already know with certainty exactly which brand and size works for you
- REI has incredible customer service (at least in Plano and Dallas, Texas)
- The shape, support, and toe boxes vary wildly across brands and models; be prepared to try them on
- The fit of the boot really requires a good 5-15 minutes to get any real sense of how well they fit
- Vasque boots work great for me
Good luck with your hiking purchase!