Friday, September 4, 2015

New iPhone Update and Review

I'm writing this using my iPhone 6+. It's actually easier to use the laptop, but it's also good to demonstrate.

Actually, now I've switched to my laptop, which is faster and allows for establishing links and such much more easily.

As I mentioned in an article on my bicycling blog, "One Apple 6+ Smartphone Equals 6 Electronic Devices," the 6+ has replaced a pile of electronics I've been packing on my bicycle:
  • Kindle eReader
  • Canon movie/still camera
  • Tracfone (buy minutes of phone time)
  • HP mini computer
  • Verizon MiFi wireless 
  • Garmin Edge Touring GPS
Well, the weight and compactness cannot be beat!

I think the camera and video functions better than my previous camera, although I have to admit that I had not yet mastered all possibilities with the Canon FS10. The 6+ is pretty slick, though, as a visual recorder. I have also found the provided iMovie editor app very usable; in fact, I've been making all my bicycling videos on my iPhone. I'm still learning the software and plan to improve the audio, but the move to the new software was easy. Check out the videos on my YouTube channel.

Because I bought the 6+, the entertainment possibilities are very robust.  Watching movies or reading e-books when I'm traveling Amtrak is comfortable. The screen size is great for both movies and e-reading. Because I bought the 64G memory, I have plenty of room for all my entertainment.

I also have been writing, using the iPhone. If I'm writing straight text, then although the hunt-and-peck touch keyboard is slower, it's still functional. When writing blog posts, I've found it easiest to write the text as a Google Doc and then to paste it to the blog. After that, I add a photo, centered. Getting fancy with the formatting doesn't work well or quickly. Perhaps I'll learn more with time, but (for instance) I switched with this blog post because I was still trying to find how to locate and copy the URLs I needed for establishing links. Using Google Docs is easy, and making them accessible offline is great for when I'm out of mobile range, like in the Rockies.

As a phone, the Apple 6+ is fine but a touch big. It's one of those trade-offs that come with "one size fits all." One size doesn't fit all, but packing one 6+ in my pocket is a lot more convenient than a bagful of electronics. If I mostly used the smartphone as a phone, then I would probably have purchased the 6 rather than the 6+. I really like Facetime for talking to my grandson or talking to my wife when I'm traveling. The face to face communication keeps the kid happy and keeps me from missing being home as much.

As a bicycle traveler on daytrips and overnighters, I've found the GPS function works well. I was at an unmarked gravel crossroad in SE Iowa and didn't know which road to take. The GPS had no suggestions for getting home (not enough information, it said), but I expanded the map and used some orienteering and common sense to choose the right gravel. In California I was on a dayride and didn't want to turn around and retrace my route home, so I checked the GPS, which gave me a new route home. Very pretty and enjoyable to continue on new roads! Therefore, I can say the 6+ can supply my GPS needs, and the screen is much larger than my Garmin Edge Touring, which is great for my older eyes. I've also found than I can save maps and locations for offline use, so if I'm out of mobile range, I've still got a map. If I were heading on an Adventure Cycling route, I'd probably still get the physical maps because of their anecdotal suggestions (and because they are so colorful and fun to open and look at).

As a bike traveler, I also have to say having a compass, flashlight, and weather forecasting service at hand in one device is also great. The charger that I bought at the phone store, which was touted to be able to charge the phone "many times," appears to be a rip-off, but I'm going to work with it some more and talk to the store before naming the brand. It's probably best to check out the reviews online before buying a charger. My charger purchase was a "Gee, I'm in the store and why not? purchase--and the phone folks must know what they're talking about" purchase. Oops!

I have to pay my mobile phone fee every month now, but I consider it a communications utility fee. It's really easy to use the 6+ for my communication and electronics needs. I find myself using it at home just because it's so quick and portable. I don't have to fire up the laptop to check emails.

The other day I read an article that used the word "phablet." I hate the word, but for me the Apple iPhone 6+ really is more a small tablet I use as a phone. Since I spend 4 days out of every 3 months traveling Amtrak (or two weeks a year), and since I spend a lot of time on my bicycle on country roads, having a phone that's a touch too big and a tablet that's a touch too small but all my electronic needs in one highly portable unit is juuuust right!

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Trapping Chipmunks Ain't So Easy

Two chipmunks have been relocated.

They were tunneling in the window wells and burying the drains, threatening a flooded basement in a deluge. And deluges do happen in SE Iowa!

We all know chipmunks are cute. Sometimes we feed them when camping or at the park. However, the chipmunks that came to dinner at my house decided "tu casa es las casa de nosotros," so I bought a live trap to get rid of them. It wasn't as easy as the instructions of the box indicated.

My first learning curve was the trap. The trigger for the trap was burred and did not trip easily, resulting in several days of loading the trap and finding the next morning that the bait (peanut butter and sunflower seeds) had been eaten. Using a screwdriver and some bike chain oil, I created a hair-triggered trap. Look out, rodents!

The next morning, the trap had been triggered, the cage door had fallen, the bait had been eaten, but the cage was empty. I'm still not certain (and this has happened several times, including last night), but I think mice eat the bait and then squeeze out of the wire openings. It's that or really smart chipmunks.

I finally caught one chipmunk and relocated it to the Pleasant Plain lake area, dropping it off in the weeds at the edge of the parking lot. Go, Trapper Tom! Then several days of tripped, untrapped, baitless failure.

Last night I saw a chipmunk near my coiled garden hose in the front yard. It looked at me as if saying, "Hey, what do you think you're doing in my yard?"

I baited the trap and set it next to the hose. Success! A second chipmunk was relocated, right where I'd dropped off the first, in case they are friends.

I baited the trap again, leaving it in the same location. This morning the trap was sprung, the bait gone, and the cage empty.

It's a mystery, but I'll keep at it. I don't want to wake up in December with Alvin and his chipmunk friends singing "Christmas Time Is Here."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Movie Review: The Expendables 3

Just viewed The Expendables 3, and I can remember the entire script even after only one watching.

"He's one of us. We gotta break him out. You in?"


(15 minute action sequence. Things blow up.)

"We gotta new job.  Got your guns?"


(30 minute fight sequence. Things blow up.)

"The bad guy . . . ain't he supposed to be dead?"

"He needs to be. Let's do it."

(30 minute fight sequence. Things blow up.)

"That SOB's got half our team. We gotta get 'em back. You with me?"


(45 minute action fight sequence. Things really blow up.)

(Denouement: a bar. Drinking. Man hugs--even from the women woman. Vocalizations that resemble human speech. Credits.)

It's OK to mute this movie if things blowing up get too loud. Any dialogue you imagine will probably be better than the original. Or you can just read lips. Yo.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Book Review: The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth, by S.M. Stirling

Alternative history and speculative fiction author S.M. Stirling has published soon-to-be twelve books from his "Emberverse" world where in 1998, the "lights went out" and the laws of nature change, setting the world back to where only Middle Ages technology was functional. Now Stirling has edited and shared a short story along with fifteen other established writers in the anthology The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth.

It would be fair to say that the sixteen short stories add just as much insight into the Emberverse reality as the eleven novels of that reality that Stirling has written. This, of course, is true because as editor of the anthology, Stirling could ensure that the vision remains true, or consistent.

At one time, "California" was just an idea, a name for the lands of western Mexico and the U.S. west coast. It is speculated that the name came from a popular Spanish novel of the 16th century, Las Sergas de Esplandián, which describes a land ruled by black women. The new discovery of the west coast of the Northern Americas came with rumors and speculation, which gained the land the appellation Las Californias. Travelers visited Las Californias, reports returned to Spain, and fact replaced rumor.

The anthology The Change, in somewhat a similar manner, provides readers in Stirling's Emberverse a similar experience--focused reports of how "The Change" occurred in different parts of the world, progress reports on humanity's efforts to rebuild during the first three generations after change, snapshots from around the world: the Mediterranean, Britain, Australia, and Mexico. Also, tales in the former USA are set in Alaska, Florida, California, Utah/Idaho, Nebraska, and Colorado/Wyoming.

Here's another description: the lands of the Haida, enclaves that existed in the death zones on the east and west coasts of the United States, the birth of New Deseret, survival and re-settlement of the High Plains and the Midwest. The writers of these short stories give to readers people and places, the sweat, the blood, and, yes, the tears of the wrenching Change Stirling's alternative history chronicles. Stirling has granted traveler visas to fifteen other historians, and our knowledge of the Emberverse is enriched.

The stories are filled with interesting characters, research is evident, and the culmination is a real pleasure to read. Get the know the demons of Witmer Hall, or Bernie of the apes, or the Seeker of the Chihuahuan Desert with his friends Thought and Memory. Travel the necropolis of Sydney, Australia, seeking treasure, and fight with the heroes of Topanga Canyon in the Dead Zone of Southern California. Trail along with an alternative history Louis L'Amour-styled hero in the American Southwest deserts.

For those of you that have read all of Stirling's Change novels and have sat back and speculated on how things went down and on--enjoy these tales where thoughtful and creative writers have done the same thing, their words letting us be the boots on the ground.

Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Helping Mom Make Her Bed

I see Mom in her bedroom, changing her sheets. 

"It's so much harder because I can't see," she says. "Everything's all fuzzy."

"Let me help."

"No, I've got to do things myself," Mom says, but I pitch in anyway. 

"Sandy and I do this together at home. It's a lot faster that way."

Mom pulls the sheets up with me on one side and her on the other. She touches the edges, feeling if the sheet is even. I notice she tucks the corners in with precise hospital folds. I make mine just like hers, only backwards. 

With the bedspread added, she touches the side seam and says, "Oh, we have this backwards." We flip the spread ninety degrees, and her fingers trace the seam, ensuring the fit is even. 

"I wish I could see better," she says. 

"There are a lot of people who are ninety who wish they could do what you do."

"There are a lot of people who are ninety who are dead. The only thing they're doing is pushing up daisies."

"I'm glad I can help."

"Both you boys are good boys. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"We don't know what we'd do without you."

"Well, you'll just have to get by."

"But not for a while."

"A while will be OK."

(Posted from my iPhone. Copyright 2015 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved.)