Monday, February 28, 2011

Hot Air Meets Cold Air

And the result is a series of severe storms from Kansas to Indiana. As I type this, I’ve seen a variety of debris and nearly 50,000 people in metro St. Louis are in the dark (including one of my fellow bus passengers, a local Schnucks and an entire neighborhood on the north end of my commute.)

I had one leg in bed when the storm sirens began going off shortly before 11:30 last night. I got back up and got flashlights and our Red Cross radio handy, just in case. Luckily, we didn’t need either.

While my community had some nasty damage (including my neighbor across the alley and other serious wind damage within a mile of us) we appear to be OK. Or, in as much as I can tell in the pre-dawn light. As for my neighbor, her backyard looks like a war zone. The combination fort/swingset she has for her young granddaughter is mangled and strewn about as is most of her lawn furniture.

As I drove to the bus station, a drive which takes me down one of my city’s main drags, I saw business sign after business sign shred or thrown into neighboring yards. One, a wood frame on posts, had been topped into a neighboring yard, some of its lights still aglow.

The good news is that it doesn’t sound like anyone was killed or even seriously injured. I am SOOOO glad.

Whether or not we suffered anything beyond what the streetlight can reveal remains to be seen. I’m sure the mother will be out on patrol at first light so I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday ToolTalk: Kindle 3G +WiFi

There’s something about a book …

I’ve felt that way as far back as I can remember. I love the feel and texture and smell and weight of a book. And I love feeling the cover yield to you as you crack it open the first time.
It’s those feelings that initially dissuaded me from buying an eReader.

I read any number of product descriptions and reviews. I idled at in-store displays, flipping back box covers, reading all the information. I combed over titles offered by various free and paid websites. I discussed options with my own personal gadget girl, the MonkeyGirl.

When my department gathered recently for a celebration at work, the discussion turned to reading and eReaders. When I recommitted myself to reading a few years ago – a commitment that lasted for about two years – I managed to read 30 or more books during each of those years.

“Thirty?!” One of my coworkers nearly shouted. “Seriously? And you don’t own a Kindle or a Nook or something?” I shook my head. “You should. You’re the perfect candidate for one.”

I’d thought that getting an eReader might encourage me to start reading again. After all, I spend 60-90 minutes a day commuting, much of this time I could spend reading. I used to do it a lot but then the whole carrying a book around thing got a little inconvenient because I already lug a 20-pound satchel (including my laptop) back and forth each day.

So I bought a Kindle,’s eReader. I considered a Nook (Barnes & Noble) and a Kobo (Border’s). With the latter, I was a little unnerved by the state of Border’s financial house. And for the former, I don’t need a backlit screen. I stare at a computer all day. That’s the LAST thing I want when I want to read a book. Kindle uses Pearl (not to be confused with my Pearl), the latest in eInk technology with 50% better contrast and the sharpest text. This also means you can read outdoors – even in bright sunlight – without glare.

I will admit that I was tempted though by the Nook’s color screen and add-on capabilities.

I went with “the whole enchilada” Kindle getting the 3G + WiFi. There are two reasons. First, I don’t have wireless at home and I don’t want to have to wander into Starbucks or make sure I’m in another hotspot to get new reading material. All I have to do is make sure the wireless function is on! Blammo – downloaded!

Pros: It’s light, easy to read, easy to carry. The battery life is great. There are literally MILLIONS of titles to pick from, many of which are free – this includes books AND games. And, new free and discounted material appears EVERY DAY; you just have to watch for it. Lots of blog sites are dedicated to these finds. There are a host of up and coming authors in almost every genre to pick from, too. Combine these with the thousands of classic lit and contemporary titles and it literally puts an entire library into your hand! Items download uber fast, too. Choose a book and you could be reading it a minute later. At the end of the year, Amazon added “lending” capabilities to the Kindle – a prior criticism that sent many to buy Nooks. However, not all materials are lendable no matter what eReader you own.

With the 3G version, you CAN browse the Internet, making a Google search or Wikipedia entry easy to access – but it can be hard to read, not helped by being in black and white since Web pages were never meant for that.

Cons: Books can be expensive. But, hey, you'd pay the price if you were buying a hardcover. Cases can be expensive (both sleeves and covers can set you back at least $30-$50) but I’d say they’re a requirement if you’re taking advantage of the portability. You can’t access free library downloads, at least not instantly. The Kindle uses a MOBI format; most library books come in ePub. But with all the free content out there, this hasn’t been the issue I’d thought it might. (And there is a program, Calibre, that will supposedly translate ePub items into MOBI but I’ve not tried it.) Black and white can be disappointing on games, for me it’s with Scrabble in particular. The Kindle doesn’t have an SD card slot, meaning you can’t increase your memory. (I don’t see this as being a big problem for me.)

Conclusion: For what I want it to do, the Kindle is a great eReader option. I already have about 35 items on my Kindle, including two games. The majority of these items were free. Those that weren’t free were mostly 99 cents with a handful costing more than $3. Not having had it a full seven days, I’ve read a novella, a book and am halfway through a second book. (And this is almost all bus-riding and lunch time reading.) So, it has given me back the gift of reading in less than seven days!

Availability: $189 at (A WiFi only version is available for $139.) You can choose graphite or white.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Everything Counts in Large Amounts

Confidence taken in
By a suntan and a grin.
Grabbing hands, grab all they can
All for themselves after all,
It’s a competitive world.
Everything counts
In large amounts …
Depeche Mode, “Everything Counts”

I can’t let events of the past week pass without making some comment. (If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know I have opinions and I’m not shy about sharing them. This is a rant, so skip if you want. You’ve been warned.)

I feel a serious Howard Beale moment coming on. (Or, Hollywood’s answer to primal scream therapy …Seriously, check this out. You might be amazed by just how much of it sounds familiar.)

All of the turmoil in the Middle East is not new; the region has been fighting with someone since Day One. What is new is the domino effect that one successful overthrow seems to be having.
America is not blameless. When we prop up dictators in faux democratic governments for decades – dictators who loot and milk these faux democracies for their own benefit without any regard for their citizens – how long do we think those shams can withstand? Especially in a part of the world where there is little if no distinction between the religious and secular worlds when it comes to government.

Granted, there is a large secular population in Egypt and I support their rights to reclaim their government. Nearly 50 percent of their population lives below the poverty line. FIFTY PERCENT. What I hate to see though, in Egypt or anywhere else, is even a faux democracy being replaced with a theocracy. Again though, it's their country. NOT ours.

Meanwhile, we’re looking at a government shutdown right here at home. I’m not going into all of my individual problems with the Republican Party but I will say only that history has an eerie way of repeating itself. Does anyone remember what came of the last government shutdown? I do. Go ahead. Do it! I triple dog dare ya! (This may be the one benefit in the perpetually short memories of voters.)

The worst of it is what’s going on in Wisconsin – and preparing to go on in about a dozen other states – are these barely veiled attempts to bust the remaining unions. It doesn’t have anything to do with finances or budget crisis. It has EVERYTHING to do with destroying the last bastion of financial support for the Democrats. After allowing corporate America to run roughshod over campaign spending limits, Big Business and the Banks own us all. In God We Trust, my ass.

If it was merely a financial issue, the governor got what he wanted – the union is caving to financial requests. And I agree that people should contribute to their own health care and retirement. No one should get a free ride. But this a**hat isn’t accepting amendments from anyone – not even his own party. He will not back down from stripping the collective bargaining. This is a democracy? Last time I checked, that more closely resembled a dictatorship.

What boggles my brain is how these kinds of people can keep getting elected. DON’T raise my taxes … but do all these other things for me and rail about how bad the government is. I'll elect you and let you do whatever you want to anyone. Oh, wait. That's ME you're attacking!!! That appears to be the average voter mindset. A Republican acquaintance recently said to me, “Well, we have to balance the budget. If we keep giving money away, we can’t do that.” I had to politely excuse myself from the conversation.

There are entire groups of people who don’t want to have ANY kind of assistance programs. No welfare. No unemployment. No Social Security. No Medicare. Really? As if cutting taxes EVER fixed a deficit or put people to work! (Not to mention, this IS a form of welfare … but for the wealthy.)

I wish they WOULD raise taxes. I’ll fork over my 3 percent – if these millionaires and billionaires will do the same. How much freakin’ money does anyone really need? Apparently, this is only the view of people who don’t have money.

Now I hear them adding that the retirement age – for those of us under 55 – needs to be jacked up to 70. Really? Corporate America is generally glad to see top wage-earners and older workers (which in certain categories are synonymous) go out there. Who is going to employ us into old age? And for those of us who won’t be able to afford any retirement much less early retirement (thanks in part to getting screwed over by Wall Street investments) will our options be to shed ourselves of any property just so we can eat? I shudder to think.

I literally had to turn the television off over the weekend. Yes, Howard, I’m mad as hell. I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Another Night at the Symphony

Man ... hard to believe that it's Monday. Not sure where the weekend got to, but it left like a rocket.

Part of that is due to having spent Saturday night at Powell Hall for the second time in less than a month. Took the mother to see jazz trumpeter Chris Botti in his debut with the St. Louis Symphony. (For whatever reason, plans always make the weekend move at warp speed.)

We were able to circumvent I-70 on the way there, thank God, as it was a virtual parking lot. Armed with my trusty GPS, we maneuvered through some fun parts of St. Louis, some of which would not be unfamiliar at all to my dear friend, CD, including a certain street (begins with H and ends with T) and a park ... We got there without incident, found a parking space in a secured lot not far from the concert hall, and, at that point, the weather remained unseasonably pleasant.

In addition to being a talented trumpeter, Botti is a showman. This is probably why I like these shows almost as much as the mother. (I'm not a huge jazz fan, though there are songs in the genre I like as well as anything.) His humor never fails to punctuate the night staccato-style.

Botti always has guests and this show was no exception. However, the guests were exceptional. The first was singer Lisa Fischer. In addition to doing her own solo gigs, she's done backup for a variety of performers from the late Luther Vandross to the Rolling Stones. She's been touring with Botti for the past year or so and she was a welcome addition.

The lady belted out a mean version of "The Look of Love" but her coup of the evening was singing Botti's "Italia," a song practically written for and popularized by famed tenor Andrea Bocelli. Fischer showed her range by singing in Bocelli's key!

His other guest was violin soloist Caroline Campbell. She joined Botti for Emmanuel, which, if you don't know Botti and you check out nothing else, definitely CHECK THIS OUT. It is a truly beautiful song. (That's Lucia Micarelli, who recorded the song with Botti. Campbell did a great job of living up to the bar Micarelli set for this song.)

She blew it out of the water performing Puccini's Nessun Dorma, though. There's debate about which instrument is closest to the human voice -- the sax, cello, and clarinet are usual suspects. And the violin. If you heard Campbell playing this, I don't think there would be any doubt.

The only disappointment of the evening was that Botti played so little. Not that he didn't play and play in his normally superior state ... but with all the guests and giving due to both his band (including recent Grammy winner Billy Childs on piano) and the Symphony, we didn't get nearly as much Botti as his shows generally afford.

It was starting to rain as we left Powell. Not hard, so we made it back to Pearl sans umbrellas. (And of course it would rain. I scrubbed the hell out of Pearl on Saturday afternoon, not that you could even tell it now.)

The miracle of the evening is that we didn't get shot on the way home. Washington Avenue was blocked up for miles and having the mother slip into 2-year-old mode and into an Ican'twaittogetoffthisstreet whine, I tried to detour. For some reason, the GPS chose some of the city's meanest streets to take us down. At one point, a little fearful of my surroundings, I started defying it.

Turn right on Mulberry, the GPS directed. I drove past. Recalculating ... This went on for 10 minutes, during which I SWEAR the GPS was getting infinitely more frustrated each time it uttered "recalculating."

Finally, I started seeing familiar street names again. And, while they still weren't in the best neighborhood, they were high-traffic, familiar and a stone's throw from my bridge back into Illinois! With the bridge in sight, the rain really began to fall. I felt lucky that we hadn't gotten drenched earlier as we made our way back to the car.

All in all, it was a fun show and a good night. It was very nice though to hear the GPS utter (since I hadn't shut it off once we were back on familiar ground) "now appproaching HOME."

Monday, February 14, 2011


On Saturday, it was 51 degrees. Yesterday it was 65.

After weeks of cold, filled with snow and ice, there is only one word to describe the weekend weather: glorious. I’m happy to say that I got to enjoy some of it, being out and about on Saturday and spending a few hours yesterday clearing some of the 2- to 4-inch thick ice from the driveway and deck.

Despite all the sun, which created a lot of melting, mega-slabs of ice still lined the drive. I was kind of shocked by just how thick some of it was, even after nearly two days of bright sun and 50+ temperatures. That said, it really has done a remarkable job of clearing this stuff much faster than I would have believed possible.

For the first time in weeks, Ladybird left the driveway. I drove her for a few blocks yesterday and this morning she delivered me to the bus station. YAY! She’s finally back on the road. I managed to confuse the bus driver who greeted me this morning with, “I looked for you at the stop but didn’t see you!”

It’s around 40 this morning and as I type this, I am watching a particularly pink and red sunrise blanket the sky. The gorgeous sunrise, the rising temperatures and a few greetings of “Happy Valentine’s” from random male commuters have all made me smile. (By the way, Happy Valentine’s to all you lovebirds out there! I’d not even thought about it before those greetings!)

Good thing I’m already smiling – This day is sure to result in heartburn. Lot’s going on (which is really good) but I’m not necessarily sure I’m up to the challenge.

Grabbing a cappuccino and puttin’ on my gameface …

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Kindle Report

Within two hours of lodging my complaint with Amazon, I got an email response.

Apology, blamed it on weather, will follow up with me ... and they were crediting me with a $6 "promotional certificate." Great! That means my first ebook purchases will be on Amazon.

But no. Read the fine print on this peace offering and it says it cannot be used for ebooks or other downloadable content.

Really? You're giving me a credit that I can't use for the thing I most want when I'm already really unhappy with you?

To add insult to injury, my Kindle is now in at a UPS facility in St. Louis. It arrived from Nashville yesterday morning. To me, this means it should be delivered tomorrow -- not "by end of day Tuesday."

I guess we'll find out tomorrow ...

Friday, February 11, 2011

What I Chose

Wow! You guys are terrific! I asked for opinions and you gave them. THANKS!

Whether you own a Kindle, a Nook, or an iPad, one thing is for certain: People are fiercely loyal to whatever eReader they use. They LOVE, LOVE, LOVE them. I'm hoping this is going to be contagious! Because I bought ...

a Kindle. I got the 3G+WiFi in white.

Not very long after the first responses to this post came in, I got an email from Amazon. FREE TWO-DAY SHIPPING on all Kindles it proclaimed. It was enough to get me back to my abandoned cart. That meant I could have it by this weekend. I thought that was so cool that I bought it. Estimated delivery: Feb. 11. That's today!

I've been very excited. Until this morning.

I've always had very good luck and experiences with Amazon and this wouldn't be so bad EXCEPT I was very excited about it. I thought it was a little odd when my shipping information hadn't been updated AT ALL yesterday. Then this morning, I find that it's been updated ... my Kindle left Florida about two hours ago. Projected delivery date: "by end of day, Tuesday, Feb. 15."

WHAT?! So much for two-day shipping. And I really shouldn't complain. It's just another couple of days but ... the anticipation and expectation had been set. I don't set myself up to look forward to too many things, so when I do, the excitement is usually palpable. (So, yes, I feel cheated and I'm not happy. Waaaah. *momentarily sinks into 3-year-old mode, whines*)

OK. We'll let that pass. I'm sure I'll still be just as thrilled with it when it arrives on Tuesday.

Maybe ...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kindle vs. Nook vs. Anything Else

There’s a showdown shaping up in my world these days. And each time I think it’s come to a resolution something else draw as me back into the fray. So, I’m doing what any self-respecting blogger would do on the horns of such a dilemma: I’m asking my readers!

The debate: What kind of eReader should I buy? Pretty much every year at tax time, I set aside a little of my refund money for something I want or that I can use for the house. It’s one of those things that’s usually not a question of need. Consider it a little extra retail therapy. Sometimes it’s an awesome tool. Or maybe it’s clothes. This year, it’s an eReader.

The truth is that I’ve practically made up my own mind. More than once this week I’ve been at Amazon. com, on the Kindle 3G+WiFi page … and yet I can’t make myself put it in my cart. Why?

Because every time, just about the time that I do, I am drawn to an article about the Nook. Or Kohl’s emails me an ad with a Literati eReader for $69. Or some other such thing happens to distract me. And it’s in those moments of distraction where I start questioning – and requestioning – my choice.

In fairness, during the past week, I’ve actually held a Kindle. I know that it supposedly will hold up to 3,500 books. 3,500. I mull that number over. That’s a lot of books! I know that for $5 (on top of the purchase price of said Kindle) I can play Scrabble on it. 3,500 books and Scrabble – yes, that’s plenty to keep me occupied.

Like I said, I’ve been having this internal debate for some time. I even have taken it out externally already, talking to my boss ( a Nook fan), a fellow commuter (a Kindle diehard) and the original Gadget Girl herself, the Monkeygirl. Of course, when the MonkeyGirl had this same argument with herself, she promptly went out and bought an iPad! That’s not an option. (Well, it could be. It’s just not one I’m including in my choices.)

Do you have an eReader? What do you like/dislike about it? What do you think I should buy? PLEASE let me know. Thanks!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Storm ... That Wasn't

Well, that's not completely accurate.

If you live 30 to 40 miles west of St. Louis, it's COMPLETELY inaccurate. They got a foot or more of snow. St. Louis, however, got a couple inches of sleet ... and then about 3-4 inches of snow.

To the Weather Service's credit, if the storm had moved just a little more off its course, St. Louis would have gotten the 10-12 inches of snow they had predicted. And, if the storm had changed from sleet to snow sooner, same outcome.

But it didn't. THANK GOD!

Please stop bitching that everyone overhyped this storm. (I've heard several people grumbling about this since yesterday.) The good news is that WE DIDN'T GET THE SNOW and we would have been READY FOR IT if we had. So, just say thanks for the heads up and go on about your business already. They don't control the weather. Their forecasts, though greatly enhanced by technology, still remain little more than a guess.

And now, it's just ccccccccccold. This morning, 6 degrees. Hard to believe it's going to be almost 10 degrees COLDER tomorrow!

While we didn't get all of the predicted snow, the sleet that we did get, and the city's plowing left me with an unenviable task last night. I left work a little early yesterday. I did good to get there at all. I developed a sudden fever (nearly 102) on Tuesday as I camped out on the sofa to await the storm. As the day wore on, I felt progressively worse. By yesterday, it had dropped a degree but I was still feeling it.

I needed to go get some drugs. So, when I got home yesterday, the first order of business was to dig out the edge of the driveway. Yeah. And unlike the previous snowfall, this was ICE-FILLED, super wet and uber heavy. By the tenth shovelful, I was ready to lay down in the yard and die.

But I persevered and I just focused on that edge. Had I tried to shovel the whole drive and the walkway, I guarantee a trip to the ER would have been in order. I got my meds, took a shower and went to bed. By 10 p.m., I was fever-free.

Today, I remain in my Nyquil-induced fog. Even feel a little better, I daresay. But, I need to remove myself from the cloud and get crackin'. There's a lot to be done.

D*mn, it's been a long winter already.