Monday, August 11, 2014

Boston Comic Con, Cosplay, and My Inner Child

In a little over a week, I will turn 70, but I know, and those who know me, know that there is a kid alive and well inside me. It's there just below the surface, coming out as a joke or a bad pun, but the outer adult, constrains the inner child to fit the social situation.  This weekend, the kid got loose, if only for a little while.

Jill and I decided to spend a weekend in Boston and do the tourist thing. We hadn't been there since my daughter graduated from B.U. We were going retrace the visits of 20 years ago, hit the shops on Newbury St., visit Faneuil Hall, eat a Durgin Park, and stroll the Freedom Trail, but our plans changed about 5 minutes after we checked into the Harbor Marriott.

As we looked out our 10th floor window, we noticed a group of costumed super heroes gathering in the courtyard across the way. A minute later, Jill and I were walking toward the group.  We had no idea Comic Con was in Boston the same time we were, let alone a block from our hotel! We had chanced upon a small photo shoot of a group of folks from the Boston Super Heroes Facebook group during one of two photo shoots we caught during the weekend.

The kid inside me smile as I remember the summers on the farm in the 1950s, and long hours of playing Flash Gordon and Superman with my brother and cousins.  I began snapping pictures, and flashed from the 50s on the farm to the 70s, my first years of marriage, a Halloween party, my wife as a hot Cheshire cat and me in my homemade a Captain Klutz costume.

 A few more pictures and I flash forward another 30 years to when I was presenting at a national education conference.  It was again Halloween, and it was New Orleans!  Nuff said?  A friend and I went out to get costumes for partying later that evening. He was the Grim Reaper, and I was Cousin It.  The kid in both of us came out as we crashed one of the major sessions given by another friend. 

As I snapped a few more pictures the inner kid sighed, realizing his costumed superhero days were gone.  Comic Con would be cool to visit and rekindle memories, but there was little chance that the 70 year-old was going to don a Spider-man costume and participate. Just about then I heard, "Let's get Stan Lee into the picture!"  

As I looked around looking for Stan Lee, I realized he was talking to me. I doubt that the Cosplayers saw it, but I know my wife saw the inner kid take over as I went from observer to participant.

I didn't get to formally meet any of the Boston Superheroes Facebook group, but formality was not needed then.  I joined the Facebook group and hope to get to know more of them, not because of the super hero thing or the kid thing, but because of the spirits that live under those costumes.  The atmosphere and the feeling I got from them was one of openness, comradry, and acceptance.    

Even though it was just for a few minutes, the kid was loose, but now that he is out, he's already getting ready for next year.  Thanks Boston Superheroes!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ya Can't Make This Stuff Up

Our family has had its share of incidents with doctors and hospitals making careless mistakes, but has prevailed through it all.  Recently, my sister had food poisoning and was admitted to St. Peters Hospital.  Unlike some experiences in the past, her care was exemplary.  It was only after she arrived home that the fun began.  Here's the story in her own words.

On April 25th I was unfortunate enough to find myself on the receiving end of Campylobacter food poisoning.  On the 29th I was admitted to the hospital dehydrated and six pounds lighter.  Because they did not know yet if what I had was contagious, I was put in isolation on the Oncology floor of St. Peter's Hospital.  First, let me say that the care was wonderful and every single nurse, doctor, aide and worker that entered my room was attentive, friendly, and knowledgeable. They even asked what was the one thing that was important to me.  I wanted to know that the call bell would be answered promptly and it WAS every single time. 

Once they knew what was causing my distress, a course of antibiotics was prescribed and I was sent home two days later to finish recuperating at home. I received a call from the nurses  to check on my progress and finally after two weeks I think I have turned the corner to normalcy. 

Fast Forward to May 16th and the mail delivery.  In the mailbox was a card with a return address from St. Peters.  "How nice I thought" and quickly opened the card.  The cover read, "In Deepest Sympathy." On the inside," Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this most difficult time," and it was signed from the Nurses on the Oncology Floor of St. Peters.  

After doing a quick once over to convince myself that I did make it through this ordeal and with good humor,  I called to speak to the nurse in charge.  They answered promptly once again and I identified myself as a former patient who was still alive and kicking but wondering why I had been sent a sympathy card.  The response was , "OH NO not you too! I just got off the phone with someone else.  We always send cards to patients who are discharged. My secretary was out sick and a volunteer sent the wrong card to everyone who  was discharged."  After many sincere apologies, I was told that I was going to receive something the next day.

Saturday:  I pulled into my driveway to see a delivery person with a beautiful fruit basket.  I tipped the young man and lugged the massive basket into the house.  Attached was a card that read, "Sorry We Sent You The Wrong Card, Hope Your Feeling Better And On The Road To Recovery" From Avril and the Entire Staff at St. Peter's University Hospital. (Spelling error compliments of the Flower store-sorry the teacher in me).  Again, I thought," How nice!" 

Then I looked at the name and address.  I am assuming that someone else in Monroe Township is holding a sympathy card sent for getting well AND a beautiful fruit basket with my name and address, because this one had someone else's name  and address.  

NOW I called the Flower Store and spoke with someone there.  I as quickly as I could recounted the entire sympathy card incident and told him that I believed some other nice, perhaps elderly person (the address was for one of our adult communities) was probably wondering why he/she was in possession of a fruit basket with my name on it. After, he stopped laughing, the person on the other end, said, "Boy this just doesn't end for you does it?" He did a quick search and confirmed that, yes indeed we both got the same basket and apology note.  He apologized and thanked me for my good humor and promised to call the other person whose name also started with a V like mine. 

And so here I sit, alive and well with a story to tell!  Ya can't make this stuff up!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Connor Bottling and Squamscot Beverages

A few days ago we took our grandson on a short ride to Newfields, NH to visit the Connor Bottling company where the make Squamscot Beverages, a wide variety of flavored carbonated soda.

Their website tells us this local business has been run by five generations of the Connor family since the Civil War. They are still in the same building, with very few structural changes.  In 1863 they got their start by producing a spruce beer, which came in returnable bottles. (Remember them?)

During prohibition, Squamscot Gingerale became the outstanding drink in New England.  Growing the bottling works to nearly 26,000 cases and 14 flavors in 1930.  In 1938, they purchased their first bottling machine and named it Dixie.  She is still in the same place she was installed and is still cranking out product. From there, they never looked back and today produce 27 different flavors!

We got to see Dixie in action.  She has lost a little of her edge and sparkle, but she still makes a splash was still fun to watch. as you will see in the video.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Back Pain, Diets, and a New Blog

In January, I went back to the gym and within a week, my back started acting up. I have had sporadic chronic back pain, but my chiropractor, Dr. Callahan, was a magician and was always able to resolve issues when they cropped up, but this was different.  The pain was different, it was more intense and when I stood up, it just got progressively worse.  After three sessions, two more than usually needed, I decided to see a spinal specialist.  It turns out my past caught up to me.

You might say I over taxed my body.  In high school, I wrestled in the 115 pound weight class. In my senior year, I entered the AAU's, the 1960's version of the Olympic trials. Part of my prep was practicing bridging.  I used to do it with our heavyweight (250 lbs) sitting on my chest.

In college, I wrestled at 123 pounds at a Division I school.  When we wrestled other Division 1 schools, most of the time it was against state it was against a state champion. Being in the lowest weight class, I the competition was tougher, because high school wrestlers from 98, 106, and 115 were vying for the spot. That meant even when I wrestled a Division II school, I often met state champs.  That resulted in more injuries.  My nickname was Johnson & Johnson.

After college, I coached wrestling and as part of my team building it wasn't unusual for me to wrestle everyone on the varsity squad from 130 lb. on up through heavyweight.  While remaining relatively injury free during coaching, it still took it's toll.

All this is leading up to the obvious medical conclusion as shown on my X-Rays.  I had degenerative disc disease and arthritis in the upper and lower back.  Dr. Ahn, the neuro-spinal specialist prescribed an anti-inflammatory and eight weeks of physical therapy.  He felt that would do the trick and I would be fine as long as I kept it up.

The PT began improving my situation right from the first visit.  I'm going to Access Sports Therapy here in Raymond, NH, and the really know their stuff. On April 1, I had my very first pain free day since the beginning of January, and that's no April Fools joke! 

I also resolved to do all that I could to get better, because sitting on my ass for 14 hours a day was not the quality of life I was seeking. In March, I decided to start a diet to get rid about about 15-20 pounds of belly fat that was not doing my lower back any good.  It's a low carb diet, though not an aggressive one.  For me it was about cutting out processed flour and sugar, junk foods, pastries, and soft drinks.  I'm limiting my carbs to 100g a day.  By doing that, without even counting, my calorie count has DRASTICALLY fallen. The diet is just a few days short of a month long and I have lost 7 pounds!

After a few weeks, I decided to start blogging about the diet to share experiences and recipes.  I considered doing it here, because some of the entries were appropriate for this blog, but I didn't want TLRR to have a narrow focus or become a diet blog.  In line with the low carb diet and my effort to spread the word, I settled on the name of Art's Carb-Orator .   

After a month of dieting, I can truthfully say, I am eating healthier than I have ever eaten and feel better than I have in years.  The 100g of carbs a day isn't a starvation diet and I do have hunger pangs once in a while, especially late at night.  However, the results make it well worthwhile, and once I reach my goal weight, I will begin to quest for the carb level needed to maintain my weight. Based on what I'm seeing now, even a 200g a day diet will keep me well under 2000 calories a day, which I know will maintain my weight.

It's really fun looking for and tweaking recipes for my favorite dishes.  I've had stuffed cabbage, chicken paprikash, and even brownies, and peanut butter cookies.  If  you have a few extra pounds to shed, check it out.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Knee Jerk Reactions and 10 Ways to Kill a Cat

Last week, I was greeted by an email from YouTube information me that one of my videos had been deactivated because it was reported to be in violation of community standards.  It went on to detail the consequences of further violations and informed me that I could appeal the decision, and appeal I did.

The title of the video was 10 Ways to Kill a Cat.  The video shows (with the aid of the FX Guru app) our cat being the victim of a flame thrower, a hand grenade, a rocket launcher, a cruise missile, and half-dozen other non-traditional euthanasia devices.

By now you are probably convinced the movie was rightly reported. Now, if you are saying, "No wonder it was reported" you are may be guilty of the same knee jerk reaction that probably resulted in the reporting of the video.  The fact is that I love cats and would never harm one.

It was obvious from some of the comments and the reporting of the video, that some people didn't read the description or watch to the end.  I made that clear in my appeal where I simply told the YouTube reviewers the video was NOT about killing cats.  It was about man's inhumanity to man. 

I then asked them to watch it until the end as I requested in the description. I'm pleased to say within a few hours of my filing the appeal I received the following message.

Thank you for submitting your video appeal to YouTube. After further review, we've determined that your video doesn't violate our Community Guidelines. Your video has been reinstated and your account is in good standing.
— The YouTube Team
Since then, I have gone back to the video and examined the detailed statistics provided by YouTube.  It quickly became obvious to me that most people were NOT watching the video to the end.  Cat lovers were clicking off of it before they got to the end message, and cat haters were stopping as soon at the ending text screens started, and sharing it.

It appeared that my attempt at pointing out man's inhumanity to man was missing the mark.  In an effort to get more people to watch the video all the way through, I have gone back to the video and added more text along the way. 

You can make up your own mind as to the message and my success in getting it across.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My First Par

I want to tell you the story of my first par on the golf course. It was 1960 and our high school wrestling team had a vacancy in the 156 pound weight class. My good friend, Ben, fit the bill and I convinced him to join the team.

Over the course of the season, Ben helped us a lot. Even in losing, Ben netted us point that would have been taken away by forfeits, and when he won, which he did, it was a great boost to the team, but what does that have to do with golf and my first par? For that, we have to fast forward to the beginning of golf season. Ben was on the golf team and they needed a fourth player. It was payback time, and I became the fourth player on the golf team.

Believe me when I tell you Ben was a better wrestler than I was a golfer. I may have set the Guinness record for the most lost ball, even before our first match of the season. In that match, I spent more time looking for my balls in the rough and the woods than I did walking the fairways.

After a frustrating few hole of playing hide and seek with my golf balls, I teed off on a par three hole.  A big part of my problem was the fact that because of an eye problem, I have the depth perception of a one eyed man.  As a result, I often lost sight of the ball after it left the tee. This hole was no exception It looked like it looked like it hooked to the left. So after spending the next five minutes searching the rough and the woods, I was just about to give up when someone said, “Who has a Titleist 4?”

That was my ball and it was resting just six inches from the cup!!! Not only did I just miss a hole in one, I was set up for my first birdie, even before I got my first par.  With a big grin on my face, I walked up to the cup and if you remember the title of this blog entry, you know what happened next.  That's right. I TWO putted!

Well I never got a birdie, but I did get first and ONLY par.  Mercifully, a few matches later we picked up a fourth who was considerably better than me  Arnold Palmer breathed a sigh of relief as I slipped into retirement and ended my golf career.  

Friday, February 28, 2014

Norton Mobile Security Epic Fail Update

This is an update of my Feb. 24 post on Norton Mobile Security's failure to pick up on malware on my phone, poor first level tech support, and not receiving a follow up call as promised.

In that blog joked that if tech support might be on Venus whose day is 243 time an earth day.  In that case, based on a call promised after 2 hours,  I could expect a call sometime around March 15.  Apparently I was  wrong.  They may be on Pluto which has a day only six times the length of an earth day... or maybe there is another explanation.

The interesting thing is the the fact that the call back was not from the next level tech support.  It was from a Norton case manage who said he "noticed" that my problem was not solved and wanted to know if he could help me.

Are you kidding me???  I have no idea how many calls Norton first level support gets in one day, but I know it's a LOT!  I've been around computers since 1979 and I feel comfortable saying that the chances of a case manager coming across my case, seeing that it wasn't resolved, and calling me personally, are probably worse than the odds of me being struck by lightning on a sunny day.

Could it be that this blog actually made its way to someone at Norton? Could it be the screen shot of a popup ad sitting on top of the Norton Mobile Security dashboard was not the kind of image Norton wants to project? Could it be someone directed the case manager to follow up?  If so, calling and insulting my intelligence is really not the best way to help either of us.

At the bottom of every email I sent, is my contact information along with this signature line.  "I am perfectly capable of learning from my own mistakes.  I will certainly learn a great deal today!"  We learn by acknowledging our mistakes and extracting lessons from them.  Making excuses doesn't cut it.

Perhaps if you asked for suggestions on how Norton could improve their product or support, I could have offered some.  As it turned out, when I solved the problem myself, the source of my infection became evident.  It was a mistake I made and I learned from it. At the very least having that information would have been useful to you and I could have shared it.

I'm usually a glass half full  type of guy, but in this case the first level tech support was a fail, the product was a fail, and the very late follow up read more like damage control than concern for a customer.

If you want to call again, please do so and let's talk about what I learned when I solved my own problem.  Let's talk about how Norton can also learn from it, and prevent others from experiencing the same problem, because I can bet you that MANY OTHERS are experiencing it.

If we chat, maybe the next blog will be one about a company that listens and learns. Maybe there will be a few less calls to first level tech support and a few less failures to follow up with second level support.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Norton Mobile Security - EPIC FAIL!

If someone was sitting on your face, you would probably notice it, but apparently that's not the case with Norton Mobile.  Just check out this screen shot of aggressive ad-ware sitting on the face of Norton Mobile.  Norton didn't see it when it invaded my phone.  Norton didn't see it when I ran a scan manually, and Norton didn't see it when the ad sat on its face!

I would like to tell you the saga of how I got infected and lessons learned.  It's a bit lengthy, but for those of you who might not not want to spend the time, I'll cut right to the chase. 

At $29.95 a year, Norton Mobile is probably one of the most expensive apps the average user will buy, but if you ask me it is a waste of money. For me, it performed woefully compared to SeCore Antivirus, which offers the lite version for FREE.

I also learned an important lesson about a very popular and highly rated free app, but you will have to read on to find out more about that.

It started about a week ago, when my phone began suffering from aggressive pop-ups that would show up at random times. There was on way to close the pop-ups and the ads would stay on the screen until you clicked on them.  When you clicked them one of a number of things would happen.  In once case, it would automatically, without my permission, download a app called Mobogenie.  In another case, it would to the marketing website, which would immediately redirect me to to Google Play to download the software in the ad.  Other times it would go to a website or directly to Google Play.

The only real harm done was the time wasted in deleting Mobogie from the download folder and the process of backing out of the process and getting back to what you wanted to do on the phone.  Incidentally, if you don't delete Mobogenie, they will continue to back up in your download folder.

Yesterday, I went to the Norton website and started a chat with a support agent, a process that resulted in nothing but frustration.  After going through steps that I had already taken without the aid of the script he was probably using, his solution was to do a factory reset on my phone. 

I have 135 apps installed and I told him I didn't pay $29.95 to be told that the solution was to wipe a year's worth of software off my phone and then spend days reinstalling it. 

At that point, he said he would escalate my call to the next level tech support and that after 2 hours they would call me to solve my problem.  Here is that full chat LINK,  That was YESTERDAY and I did not receive a call.  Perhaps tech the next level support is on Venus.  A day there is 243 Earth days.  In that case, I can expect a call sometime after March 15th.

While I was waiting, I decided to look for other software that might solve my problem.  After downloading and trying a few, I found SeCore.  When I installed an ran a scan, it picked up one virus and eight pieces of aggressive ad-ware.

I allowed SeCore to remove the virus and questionable apps, and my problem was solved.  Right after posting this, I will remove Norton Mobile from my phone and upgrade to the full version  SeCore.

If Norton's second level tech support calls from Venus sometime after March 15, I may update this blog.  Until then, don't waste your money on Norton Mobile!