Gym Class Heroes


Bennett Junior High School, 1976

I stood there alone staring at the slats of the huge hardwood floor.  I was aware of the others in the room but I was trying desperately to be invisible.

I knew that there were two groups of people staring at me.  It was dead quiet, except for the far-off sounds of other kids doing whatever kids do in the quad of a junior high school.

As I stood in the gymnasium, a hulking brick building that made up one side of the quad, I wished I was out there.  I wouldn’t feel any more welcomed or part of something out there than I did right here, but at least I wouldn’t be trying desperately not to cry and end up making this situation far worse than it already was.   In my mind I was pleading with some unknown force to save me.  I don’t know who because I knew nobody would help me.  I tried to believe in a god who, even if I believed existed, had betrayed me over and over again, so my hopes weren’t high.

The two groups of boys in their regulation blue gym shorts and white T-Shirts started to stir and mumble.  The gym teacher, Mr. Freeman, was a big, tall, hearty, white-haired man.  He had two personalities – gruff or laughing.  Most of the time he was gruff – all business, but when he laughed, he did so with his whole body.  He had capped teeth and a smoker’s laugh, which, at the time, I thought odd for a gym teacher.  But this was in the 1970’s.  You could still smoke inside parts of hospitals. On this day, like most, he was in a gruff mood.

I wasn’t afraid of Mr. Freeman.  He always treated me with respect, although I have no idea why.  In fact, most teachers treated me with a great deal of respect.  I was never really afraid of adults that I wasn’t related to.  In fact, I felt more comfortable with adults than with kids my own age; or any age.  I related more to adults.  Most of the time I felt like an adult trapped in a kid’s body.

In those last moments of studying knots in the wood grain of the hardwood floor. I heard Mr. Freeman clear his throat, and then I heard him say, “Do you ‘captains” have any clue what you are doing’?.  The two teams of boys who had been picked by the aforementioned captains, and the captains themselves, shifted uncomfortably.  I don’t recall how the two team captains were selected.  I don’t recall getting a vote.  But two had been chosen and the age-old, archaic ceremony of picking whom each wanted on their basketball team for this gym period, went on as they always do. The pecking order was well established.  The athletic kids and buddies of the captains were picked first. Then that middle group, who were not so popular but in some way acceptable in the school’s hierarchy, was selected for a team.  And then, in the final, gut-wrenching moments, as the “remainders” were scoffed at, and as the captains begrudgingly pointed and waved over a few to his respective team, the remainders weren’t staring at the captains or at the floor anymore.

We were staring at each other.  We were pleading with each other.  We were imploring someone in this group of misfits to honorably accept being the last one picked.  We had sympathy and empathy for each other.  It was also an intellectual fight to the death. We were terrified.

I was one of those remainders.  And on this day it turned out that there were an uneven number of boys.  So when the picking got slim, the remainders all knew that someone would be the final one standing with no hope of having an obvious home among the two teams of boys.

That’s where I stood in that moment – fixated on the hardwood floor, when I heard Mr. Freeman clear his throat and ask the team captains if they knew what they were doing.

I didn’t know what Mr. Freeman meant and I don’t think the captains did either.  As Mr. Freeman waited those few seconds after his question, I don’t think he really expected an answer.  And I stood there, trying desperately to block out who I was, and where I was, and what was going on around me.  I fought desperately to hold back tears.  I ran through different scenarios in my head at lightning speed as to how I could flee, and hide.  I accepted my fate, once again, and the humiliation and abject terror on not being wanted by anyone.  I tried to make my eyes and my soul as dead as possible, hoping that nobody would see the fear.

Then, I heard Mr. Freeman’s voice again.  “If I were you, I would have picked Steven first, and do you know why?”

Silence.

What the hell was he talking about?  I lifted my eyes from the floor, up toward him and he was looking back and forth between the two team captains.  Mr. Freeman continued:

“Before we picked the captains and picked the teams, what did we do?  We practiced shooting baskets, dribbling the ball, passing the ball, just a little warm-up, right?  Well, did any of you notice that Steven here has one of the best senses of rhythm and timing I’ve seen in a long time?  Did you watch him run down the court while dribbling the ball in front of him, or at his side?  Did any of you, and especially you team captains, take an honest look at the field of players, or had you already decided which of your buddies you wanted on your team.  Timing and rhythm is an essential part of being a good basketball player and if I were you, I would want him on my team.  He should not be standing there because nobody picked him.”

No. No. No. Oh God. No.  Please don’t look at me.  What was he talking about?  Was that true?  I don’t know what he’s talking about.  I’m not good at sports.  I’m not good at anything.  Why is everyone looking at me? I don’t have anything special about me, or anything someone should take notice of.  Nobody has ever said anything like that before.  I’m just the overweight, non-athletic 12-year-old, trying to get through the 7th grade without anybody seeing me.  I don’t know what he’s talking about.  PLEASE don’t involve me.

I looked back and forth between the two team captains, yeah, two “fellow seventh graders”, and I implored them silently not to believe Mr. Freeman and without words, gave them permission to continue looking down on me.  I was nothing.  Nothing to see here.  Go about your business.  I can handle the humiliation.  I’m used to it.  I’m comfortable here.  Let’s just forget all of this and go about our business, separately.

While my eyes shifted back and forth between the captains, and occasionally back down to study the grain in the hardwood floor, there was mumbling, and whispers that I couldn’t make out.  And Mr. Freeman may have said more things but I had tuned him out, too.  And then my internal turmoil was interrupted by Mr. Freeman nudging me from behind, gently, not forcefully.  It was more like an encouragement.  I came out of my haze and the two team captains were saying “I’ll take him” and the other one said “No you had the last pick, I’ll take him”. And they went back and forth a few times until Mr. Freeman nudged me far enough along and he decided which team I would play on.

I don’t remember a single thing that happened after that.  I don’t remember whose team I was on.  I don’t remember a single name of any of the kids that were there.  But as I sit here 35 years later, I still remember the smile on Mr. Freeman’s face when I stood with my “team”.  He looked at me.  And I looked at him.  We never spoke about it.  Not during that day in gym, or ever again.  And from that day on, I do remember that every day in gym class when it was “basketball” day, I wasn’t picked last anymore.

Some kids were afraid of Mr. Freeman, many simply didn’t like him.  He had some measure of silent joy in being able to intimidate kids.  He was loud and unrelenting.

I wasn’t one of those kids.  I understood him.  What I didn’t realize is that he understood me.  Because of that day 35 years ago, and for every day since that I am reminded of him and what he did for me, he is my hero.

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Frank and Oak is Frankly a Joke


Update (8/23/13) – see recent post: https://noagenda.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/frank-oak-is-taking-itself-seriously-finally-offers-discount-code/

Original Post:

Frank & Oak is one of a growing number of web sites that offer “convenience shopping” also called “crate services” on the web.  These services deliver products to your door monthly.  Some call it a crate, some call it a gift box, or just a box, but the theory here is that you sign up for their “service”.  They do you the favor of hand picking items just for you.  Each month you receive package.  Sometimes it’s a surprise and sometimes you are allowed to specifically pick what you want.  Products available via one of these “crate”services range from clothing, to home goods, to cosmetics and personal care items, and even food.  They sound like a good idea until you get down into the nitty-gritty.

Make no mistake, you aren’t saving any money (although some of these web site would argue with that).  The bottom line is, as it always is – BUYER BEWARE.

Frank & Oak is an online clothing store.  You don’t have to, but if you sign up for their “Hunt Club” you will be a member of the “crate” brigade.  On the first of the month you get an email informing you that they have released the hounds.  Supposedly, you can pick between one and three items of clothing and/or accessories that they are offering for that month.  You can’t pick from what will be their entire monthly collection; they hand pick certain items to offer the Create People.   Dress shirts,  Tees, Ties, Accessories, etc.  They claim it’s all hand picked, high-quality, and made locally. For them, locally is Montreal, Canada.  Frank & Oak claims to help “twentysomethings” dress better and they claim there is NO COMMITMENT.

Here’s how it really works.  First, you are notified on the First of the month that the Club is open for members.  You log in and TRY to select a few items you might like.  The first problem is that they aren’t prepared for that many users logging in and the site crashed the first time I tried it.  When I finally got in (the NEXT DAY), everything that “looked” decent enough to try was already SOLD OUT.  So for those exclusive members who got a chance at early pickings, there was nothing available – it was all sold out.  Except for a few scraps that nobody wanted.

I finally found ONE T-Shirt that I thought I would try just to see how this works.  After I placed that order for my crate, I got an email saying that since I picked something, they wouldn’t charge my credit card (already given to them when I joined) a $45 fee.  What?!. Yes, apparently if I decided I didn’t want to try anything and didn’t tell them that I wanted to officially “Skip this month”, they would have charged my credit card $45 and credited it to my Hunt Club account.  OK so I get it.  If I don’t want the crap you’re selling, or if one or two of the quality items are sold out, I have to tell you officially that I don’t want it or I’ll get a “store credit” for something I never bought.  Got it.

Now, the shirt I ordered was sent to me with no shipping charges and I had 5 days to decided if I wanted to keep it.  I didn’t.  My god, is 50% polyester/cotton considered high quality?  You can buy that at Walmart.  This was the most cheaply made T Shirt I had ever seen in my life.  The web site doesn’t give exact specifications on most of it’s clothing in terms of the exact materials the clothing is made of.  It will say “cotton blend” or something like that.

So I immediately sent the shirt back and I was not charged for it the shirt or for return shipping.

The following month came, and the same thing happened.  I got the email saying “release the hounds” and almost everything offered for the “membership has its privileges” crowd was sold out in seconds and the site crashed.  That left scraps for the rest of us.

Let me interject here.  The way these sites attempt to make more money and increase their customer base is if you can get X amount of “friends” to join the site, you build up credits.  It took seven friends to join before I got a $15 dollar credit on my account.  I made that happen and I’ll explain more later. But since I had that $15 credit on my account, I selected a passable T-shirt from the site as part of my monthly “crate” in the second month.

Except, they changed the web site and even though you click on the email link to choose your monthly crate times, you suddenly had to then select an item or items, and decide whether it was going into your CRATE or your CART.  See what they did there??  They confused the customer base.  They changed how the system works.  And if you didn’t specifically request that the item you selected go into your CRATE, then it went into your CART and they charge your credit card for the full price of the item.  No free shipping, no 5 days to try it on and decide, you bought it baby. And all because they relied on your memory of how things used to work.

When I went to go return the crappy T-Shirt (and I mean this thing I wouldn’t let my dog sleep on) I went online to get return authorization like I did the previous month.  There was no such thing because I had bought it already.  After numerous attempts at trying to contact “Frank & Oak” by phone (which was next to impossible) I finally talked to someone who explained that they had changed the way “things work” and that the customer had the responsibility to read the fine print of the web site.  Long story short, I about had a cow.  I yelled and screamed and returned the item and removed myself from their “club” and told them to shove it.

The joke, however, is on them.  Do you know how easy it is to make up 7 fake email addresses with fake names on Yahoo, Gmail, etc.  All I had to do was keep track the accounts I made up and sign in and become a member under those name.  You don’t even have to join the Hunt Club. They just want these “people” to join the site so that Frank & Oak can bombard them with marketing emails.

But is the joke really on them, or me.  I’ve broken ties with Frank & Oak because honestly, their products are crap and their customer service is worse. If their clothing is what qualifies as “quality, low-cost fashion” we are in BIG trouble.  I now have a $15 credit on my Frank & Oak account that I will never use because there is not one thing this “men’s fashion” web site sells that is worth buying.  It is all junk, every last bit of it.  This brand new T-Shirt I bought (and returned) was pilled when it arrived, freshly packed in its original packaging.  God, if it pilled on the way over, what’s is going to do when I touch it, or wash it.

Do yourself a favor, Don’t buy the come-on of places like Frank & Oak.  Maybe some of these “crate” sites are worth it, but not this one.  It all sounded like a fantastic idea.  In fact, when I first found out about crate services, I really thought that this was what Internet shopping was morphing into – and I liked it.  It was personalized shopping and a birthday gift (so to speak) every month.  It was fun.  But after seeing what it was all about, it was a huge let down.  If only Frank & Oak truly offered high quality merchandise that was readily available to its members, it could have been a beautiful thing.  It wasn’t.  It was a joke.

I can guarantee you Frank & Oak will fail.  I know this because let’s face it, this kind of shopping service is tailored made for the gay crowd (yes I am a member).  We may put up with snotty customer service one in a while, but there’s no way in HELL we’ll put up with cheap clothes.

Installing BlackBerry Leaked OS files (RIM getting sneaky with the vendor.xml file)


It used to be rather simple to install a leaked version of a BlackBerry OS.   These updated leaked versions of BlackBerry Operating System software are often leaked by mobile phone companies so that people like me and many others will install them, like a beta install, so they can get feedback on what’s working and what’s NOT working.  In many instances, these leaked OS’s are fine.  Occasionally, you might find that there are “memory leaks” which is a fancy way of saying that certain apps installed with the OS do not properly use the allotted memory, but for the most part, they work just fine.  In fact, a BlackBerry Leaked OS usually has new features not available in your mobile phone companies currently available release (compared to the one readily available from their website, the RIM web site, or just already installed on your new phone).

To install these a BlackBerry Leaked OS you had to search for one for your specific model.  The OS is specific to the type of phone you have.  So you can’t install OS 7.1 for a BlackBerry Torch 9810 on a BlackBerry Bold 9900.  But once you find the file you are looking for (usually from sites like Crackberry or N4BB where they link you to a file share site like MegaUpload, MediaFire, SendSpace, etc), you simply download the file, and install it onto your computer.

I am the system admin and BlackBerry Support Specialist where I work.  I manage many different BlackBerry Users with different BlackBerry Models and different Operating Systems.  Trying out a new “leaked” OS seems like a daily occurrence for me and as I said it used to be easy.

  1. Download the OS File as I stated above (usually an EXE file but sometimes it’s a zipped file that you have to unpack first)
  2. Run the EXE file which installs the OS files onto your computer
  3. Plug you BlackBerry into your computer with the USB cable
  4. Run Desktop Manager which finds the new OS and asks you if you want to Upgrade.
  5. You say yes (making sure that the “backup the phone first” box is checked
  6. And that was it.

Later on, you had to delete the file called “vendor.xml” which is located in the C:\Program Files\Common Files\Research In Motion\AppLoader folder.  That’s right, simply deleting it would make it all work just fine. Very easy.

When that stopped working you had to disconnect from the Internet (in addition to deleting the Vendor.XML file) so that the BlackBerry Desktop Software (formerly Desktop Manager) would find the Updated OS.  Now, you have two “vendor.xml” files to delete.  On Windows 7 the additional file is in the C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Research In Motion\BlackBerry\Loader XML folder.  O Windows XP the additional file is in c:\documents and settings\XXXXX (user name)\Application Data\Research in Motion\BlackBerry\Loader XML\. You must delete BOTH vendor.xml files in order for BlackBerry Desktop Software to recognize the newly installed Leaked OS.

To install the newly downloaded OS onto your device.  It’s not just a matter of downloading it, you have to INSTALL the OS onto your computer.  That’s true whether or not it’s a leaked OS or not.  Installing the OS puts the files in places/folders on your computer where the BlackBerry Desktop Software (BDS) can find them.  THEN run (BDS).  Sometimes, that new leaked OS you just download and then installed, still won’t be recognized by BDS as a viable OS to upgrade to.  By default, BDS wants to check the Internet (your carrier’s web site where “official” OS files are) to see if an upgrade is available. That’s what happens when you use the menu to “update” your device.  To Force BDS to see the newly installed local installation of a leaked OS, you have to disconnect from the Internet – you need to disable your wi-fi and/or unplug your netowrk cable, THEN run BDS and it will look locally for new OS files.  You will see a little red star next to the OS version and you can then click the Update button whereby a pop up box will appear and you can select this new leaked OS you downloaded/installed.

Here’s what I don’t understand:  These “unofficial” OS versions are “leaked” on purpose. This is a way for vendors and RIM to get real world feedback en masse from the more technical BlackBerry users out there who know what they are doing.  It gives users like me a chance to sample the new features, give feedback on forums, and see how things like Battery Life are improved or not with the new OS.  It’s a vital feature to the BlackBerry OS process at large.  So why do they (and by that I mean RIM, AT&T, Verizon, and every other phone vendor) make it more and more difficult to install these Operating Systems.  Those of us that work with these leaked OS’s KNOW that we can’t call our mobile phone company with a BlackBerry problem if we have a leaked OS on it because they won’t help you.  So it’s not like we don’t know that it’s an “AS IS” kind of thing when you are installing a leaked OS.

RIM/BlackBerry has a Beta Program where, if you sign up, you can be a Beta Tester for new apps and upgrades before they are released to the public.  But I’ve NEVER seen beta testing of Operating System upgrades in that program. I am a member.  So what’s the deal?  I don’t know.  Without people like us testing these leaked Operating Systems in the real world, companies like RIM, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile would not get real world feedback that they can use to make corrections and modifications before releasing them to the general BlackBerry user population.  If anyone knows?  Please share.

The bottom line is this:  There are mobile phone companies out there, not in the US but around the world, who release the “leaked”  BlackBerry operating systems as final, even though in the US, they are considered unofficial leaked versions.  Leaked version typically never end up to be the final version in the US.  It’s people like me and the thousand of other technical folks out there willing to install these leaked operating systems on BlackBerrys that help to make the BlackBerry product line better, each and every day.  It’s time RIM and the mobile phone companies came out of the closet, to admit what is really going on with leaked operating systems, give credit where credit is due, and provide a simpler way for us to beta test these suckers.

Signs the World is coming to and End


There’s no other explanation for the events that have unfolded than the earth as we know it will cease to exist, just like “they” predicated.

I know because on February 9, 2012, I AGREED WITH SOMETHING THAT MIKA BRZEZINSKI SAID ON “MORNING JOE” ON MSNBC!

Now I know what you are thinking. That can’t possibly be true. But it is. And here’s what happened.

Most of you know by now that the US Department of Health and Human Services has mandated that Catholic institutions that employ non-Catholics must provide a health care plan that includes birth control coverage. Now, think about that. HHS is not saying that Catholic hospitals have to dole out birth control, and they certainly aren’t saying that Catholic institutions have to PERFORM ABORTIONS. Although if you listen to the right wing media, this is the spin they have put on it. What HHS said was that they must provide for birth control benefits in the insurance plan that they provide to their employees. And if by chance the Catholic institution is self-insured, they have the opportunity to arrange for birth control coverage FROM A THIRD PARTY. All HHS is saying is that under the law, everyone is equal. Just because birth control is a coverage offered in the health care plan doesn’t mean Catholics are forced to use it. But I can guarantee you that most Catholics would use birth control.

When it comes to Catholic Hospitals and Universities, the majority of the EMPLOYEES are most likely not Catholic. We’re not talking about the executives of such who probably are. We’re talking about regular people who applied for and got regular jobs that happen to be at a place of business operated by the Catholic Church. So not only are these non-Catholics not obligated to follow Catholic doctrine, even Catholics aren’t obligated to follow Catholic doctrine. It’s a well-known fact the most Catholics do not follow the churches teaching on contraception. Mika Brzezinski being one of them.

While Joe Scarborough and his republican cronies have tried to turn this into a first amendment issue (Freedom of Religion) and they are saying that Barack Obama is blurring the lines between church and state, AND he is trouncing on the rights of Catholics, the argument has also been expanded now to include abortion and the whole “slippery slope” bullshit. Anything to distract people from the real issue. And here’s the real issue:

The Catholic Church doesn’t want anyone to know that the majority of their own “flock” does NOT follow the birth control doctrine. All that’s happened is that the White House, by trying to provide equality under its health care rules, has exposed this dirty little secret. Catholics use birth control. The Pope doesn’t have as much control over his minions as he’s like everyone to believe. Nowhere in the Bible did Jesus say, don’t use birth control. And the Old Testament doesn’t talk about it either. Birth Control doctrine is a man-made doctrine.

Is there any difference between using a condom, or a birth control pill, and having a Man simply pull out before he ejaculates? Is pulling out before ejaculation a form of contraception? Of course it is. So birth control isn’t something that Rome is against, obviously. But they are if birth control involves a gizmo or pill, and it’s made public knowledge that Catholics use it. The Catholic Church is hypocritical on so many issues, but especially on this one. Why do they allow any man and woman to get married if they don’t plan on having children (“Be fruitful and multiply”)?

Now as far as Mika Brzezinski is concerned, she is a Catholic. I am a recovering Catholic (one day at a time, fingers crossed). She stated this morning that she believes that this issue is about Health Insurance Coverage and is not a cultural or religious issue. She also said that she believes in contraception, as do most Catholics. I agree with Mi……

I can’t even type it. I’ll try again. I agree with Mika Brz……. Nope, couldn’t do it. One more time. Deep Breath, Heavy Sigh.

I agree with Mika Brzezinski. THERE. I said it. She actually gave this some thought. She also talked to the White House, as a reporter, to get their statement on what was intended by this recent decision. She is not pro-choice and she knows that this is not about abortion. This whole argument is about two things. First, the right wingers want any chance they can to distort the facts and claim that President Obama is forcing Catholic Hospitals to provide abortions. Second, the Catholic Church doesn’t want the laid back approach that most Catholics have to contraception to be well-known. It diminishes the churches power, and exposes their lack of it.

Joe Scarborough and speaker of the house, John Boehner (get real, it’s pronounced BONER, NOT BAYNOR), need to check the right wing conspiracy shit at the door. The saddest part of all of this is that most American’s will only hear the filtered media frenzy of the right wingers and never do their own research to figure out what is really going on. The truth, I mean.

So today is the day I agreed with Mika Brzezinski. I will be watching the skies for meteors, comets, and asteroids.

Greed and Stupidity cause the music industry to lose money


I was on a web site recently. It was a discussion forum.  One forum visitor, replying to a another who was having a particularly difficult struggling with an emotional issue, posted a link to a music video.  I was curious so I clicked the link.  I was brought to YouTube and a video for a song called “Jealousy” by Will Young.  I had no idea who Will Young was, nor had I ever heard that song.  I loved it. (See bottom of this posting for the video link.)

After a little research I found out the Will Young was the original “Idol” from the very first year in the U.K.  The original version of the show is called “Pop Idol” and when it later came to America, “American Idol”.  But Will Young was the very first ever in that franchise to win. And he’s had a VERY successful carreer.  I couldn’t believe that even with all that I had never heard of him.  I’m not a kid anymore but I try to keep up with what’s going on in the world.  So finding the song, and the artist was a pleasant surprise.

I immediately fired up iTunes (as much as I hate iTunes, sometimes that’s just where you have to go) and did a search.  A pop up box said he couldn’t be found.  I was surprised and a little bummed out.  But the pop up box also said that what I was looking for was available on the UK iTunes site.  Cool!.  So I followed the link to there and found the song. When I tried to purchase it, I was asked for my iTunes account and after typing that in, I was told I couldn’t buy the song because I was in the US and I “wasn’t allowed” to purchase the song.  What?!  I suddenly remembered this happening to me a year or so ago when I tried to download some other song.  At that time I went through the process of setting up and account on the UK iTunes website, made up a UK address and all went well until I put in my credit card number.  I was told the credit card number belonged to a USA bank and therefore could not be used.  Fucked again.  At that time, I gave up, pissed off at how stupid this all was.

But not this time; I wasn’t giving up.  I went to Amazon.com and did a search and had the same problem with not being able to purchase it because I was in the US.  I was not yet deterred complete.  While FREE music download sites like Napster, Limewire and Kazaa are long gone.there are still ways to get free music.

Let me say, first and foremost, that I believe in paying for music.  If I could have handed Will Young the $20 for his CD personally, I would have done it gladly.  I would have paid him, his record company, a record store, or anybody else to legally purchase this music.  HOWEVER, THE MUSIC INDUSTRY ITSELF HAD MADE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO PURCHASE THE MUSIC I WANTED.

By using a torrent download site I was able to get the entire Will Young CD called “Echoes”.  I probably shouldn’t admit that I did it because it’s probably illegal.  But I will gladly pay the $20 to whomever should get it, if they can tell me how I can purchase the music without having to fly to the UK to do it.

So, music industry folks, I don’t know if you are dumb, greedy, or both.  It seems that one begets the other.  But you need to get you act together.  I believe that most people are like me.  I would gladly pay for ANY AND ALL MUSIC THAT I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE, JUST GIVE ME A WAY TO DO IT. Get your lawyers and your licensing and your greed in check and then people won’t be forced to steal music from the Internet.

Let me tell you something:  music is a very personal thing.  When a song hits you, it hits you hard and you will do anything to get it just so you can listen to it anytime you want, over and over again.  Some music is just like that – you simply must have it.  It’s innate.  I’ll say it one more time.  I WOULD GLADLY PAY FOR THE MUSIC I WANT IF YOU GIVE ME A WAY TO DO IT.  And I believe most people out there feel the same way. 

By the way, if you are interested in the song I was trying to find, here it is.  The dance edit called “Alias Edit” is fantastic, as is the rest of the CD.  If you are in the US, good luck.  Maybe I should send it out to anyone who want it.

BlackBerry Bold 9900 and why RIM is still #1


If you believe all of the media hype, RIM (Research in Motion, the company that makes BlackBerry) is about ready to shut its doors, its products are useless, and they have lost all of their market share. Nothing could be further from the truth.   BlackBerry somehow became the Microsoft of the smart phone world.  Everyone started to hate BlackBerry because they were at the top of the heap.  I’m not saying RIM hasn’t made mistakes, but like all global companies who grew very fast, sometimes the growing pains aren’t so easy to take.  But BlackBerry is getting itself back on track and is poised to retake the industry in the number one spot.

First, some house-cleaning.  Worldwide there are still more BlackBerry subscribers than any other smart phone.  Sure, maybe in the US, BlackBerry fell out of favor for a while, but worldwide, a BlackBerry is still number one.  And the BlackBerry does things that no other smart phone can do.  Three of the five top downloaded smart phone applications across all platforms are BlackBerry Apps.  They are BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter for BlackBerry, and FaceBook for BlackBerry.  I believe the number one downloaded app was “Angry Birds” – go figure.  Overall, worldwide the top cell phones are not BlackBerry, iPhone, or Android.  The top sellers are non-smart-phones, meaning regular old mobile phones, by Samsung, LG, and Motorola.  Consider that most people in the world can’t afford to purchase, let alone keep up with the monthly service charges on, a smart phone.

Now to the BlackBerry Bold 9900.  This is AT&T/T-Mobile’s version.  Each carrier  (like Verizon, T-Mobile, and other global companies like Vodafone-UK, Rogers-Canada) have or will have their own model with its own unique features.  Even the AT&T and T-Mobile 9900 versions are not the same.

As the mobile communications coordinator for my company, I have had the opportunity to work on many BlackBerry models including the 8800, 8820, 8310, 8320, 9000, 9700, 9800, 9810, and now the 9900.  I have also been exposed to iPhones of all types, and Android phones.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is the finest piece of smart phone hardware I have ever laid my hands on.  I LOVE it.  The full keyboard in a phenomenal achievement and never have I been able to glide and fly over that keyboard to type out an email or text like I can on the Bold 9900.  The phone is solid, the battery life is good, the screen images are crisp and clear; there isn’t anything I don’t like about the Bold 9900.

Here is why I like BlackBerry in general:

  1.  You don’t need to connect the phone to your computer to download and/or install applications. With the iPhone, you do, and that need to do so, is a pain in the ass.
  2. RIM/BlackBerry provides a full desktop software interface that can manage a whole host of things. This includes wirelessly syncing your media to your device whenever you are in range of your computer. The software can also help me rebuild a broken BlackBerry that won’t boot up.  It’s quite amazing what you can do with the tools RIM provides.  And the more technical you are, the more you can do on your own and not have to call someone and wait on hold.  Try to manage your Android with their desktop software – oops, there isn’t such a thing.
  3. Attachments – BlackBerrys handle them with ease.  It doesn’t matter if it’s an Excel, Word, PowerPoint or PDF, you can save it and view it later.  You can also edit it.  Try to do that with an iPhone.  If you don’t forever save the email that contained the attachment, you’ll never see it again.
  4. BlackBerry Messenger – think of it as the way Instant Messaging or Text Messaging should be.  Between BlackBerry users, there is no limit on the number of characters you can type into a BBM message, and you don’t need a special text messaging plan to use it.  It’s free if you are a BlackBerry subscriber.
  5. The BlackBerry Network – You probably heard something in the news back in October 2011 about how BlackBerry services crashed in Europe and eventually affected North America for a time.  It was bad.  But the truth is, there is an entire network of BlackBerry servers and services around the globe, all inter-connected, allowing for BlackBerry users to do the things they do, like BBM to people all over the world at no additional cost.  Everyone with a smart phone needs a data plan, but you don’t need a separate Text Messaging plan if you are messaging other people with BlackBerry’s.  When RIM experienced the big outage, they responded to it by offering several application from its App World for free to its customers.  And they weren’t silly apps like themes or games (although they offered some of those for free as well) but rather some of them were Super Apps, like Vlingo.
  6. BESX – The original product is called BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BES.  BES is used by companies to link and manage all of their BlackBerry devices, push out custom applications to its users, and connect the users to data on servers within that company’s network.  BESX is a somewhat scaled down version FOR FREE.  Smaller companies or companies that don’t need EVERY SINGLE bell and whistle that BES offers, will do just fine with BESX.  Our company moved from BES to BESX and had absolutely no problem with functionality, in fact, just the opposite, we actually gained some functionality that was not yet included in the standard BES product.
  7. Self-Service – While I don’t expect every smart phone user to have access to an IT guy like me, for the people at my company, I am that guy.  And I can fix any problem myself, load any operating system on any device, control which apps are installed, and through IT Policies on the BES or BESX servers, I can control what my users can and can not do with their BlackBerry.  For example, let’s say I didn’t want them to be able to download apps from App World and be able to charge them to our company cell phone bill (this is an option available within BlackBerry App World – try THAT with an iPhone or Android).  I can prevent them from doing that.  OR, I can allow them to do it if the company want to do it as a perk.  Overall, I rarely have to call AT&T for any repair, functionality, or maintenance issues.  I can do it all myself.  The only time I really have to involve our mobile carrier is if a phone gets dropped and broken, and we have to file an insurance claim, or if a phone is so far beyond repair that I can’t fix it.  I haven’t had this last one happen yet.
  8. NFC – stands for Near Field Communications.  The best way to understand it is to think of a Mobil Speed Pass where you wave a key fob near the pump, and your purchase is automatically charged to the account you set up (credit card, debit card, Mobil gas card, etc).  This is just one function.  You will also be able to tap (or bump) your BlackBerry against another to share media like music, photos, and music.

When people try to put BlackBerry in a box, and say that the company is “dead in the water” they seem to forget that RIM is truly a global company.  There are places in Asia where 70% of the population use BlackBerry for personal use – not for business.  BlackBerry is the most respected smart phone world-wide.  I was recently in Boston for the weekend staying at a very large, upscale hotel.  I was surprised that most of the young people I saw walking around with smart phones had BlackBerry’s, not iPhones, not Androids, like the media would have you think.  iPhones and Androids may have great sales right now, but customer loyalty for those platforms isn’t there.  Many people are returning to BlackBerry once they got their taste of being “trendy” and keeping up with the Jones’s and it didn’t work out quite how they had hoped.  And luckily, RIM is ready for them.  In 2012 RIM will be releasing even more new models and the new QNX Operating System (which was supposed to be called BBX but RIM got sued over the use of that name – it will probably be called simply BlackBerry X or something like that).   The new OS will bring the BlackBerry smart phone (and tablet) closer to a fully functioning computer in your hand.

So folks, don’t count out BlackBerry just yet.  Many predicted that when Microsoft Vista came out, it was the end of Microsoft.  There was a mass exodus to Mac….until Windows 7 showed up.  RIM is in the midst of readjusting, refocusing, scaling down, and paring out the dead wood in the company.  They got fat and happy, and then realized it was time to get to the gym.  Now they are well on their way to being sexy, and desirable, all over again.

AT&T and T-Mobile Merger – what were they thinking?


The Wall Street Journal Online recently posted a story about Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s top lobbyist, and his disappointment (well, he actually had a hissy fit) regarding the FCC’s report on the AT&T/T-Mobile Merger deal. (link to article at the bottom of this post).

What is AT&T thinking.  Right now, in the U.S., where both AT&T and T-Mobile are based, these are the only two major GSM network players of any note and size.  There are some other small regional GSM networks, but when it comes to the overall customer base, AT&T and T-Mobile own the GSM market.  Why would AT&T be surprised that the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) report said “no way”.  If the FCC agreed to it, that would be the same as if they said “if you want cable TV at your house, you only have one choice of providers”.  Oh WAIT!!  That’s exactly what we do have.  And that’s exactly why the consumer gets screwed, with no choice in supplier, resulting in price gouging.  That’s why the FCC’s report said it wasn’t a good idea for AT&T and T-Mobile to merge.  Because it would create the same type of monopoly that screwed the public with cable TV.

For those that don’t understand the GSM network issues, I’ll try to keep it basic just so you have the general idea.  AT&T and T-Mobile phones use a SIM card to identify the user, the device, etc., on the mobile phone network.  You can switch to another phone by putting your SIM card in another phone and that’s where your phone will now ring.  You can also go to other countries and buy a SIM card from a local phone company.  That local SIM card would come with so many talk minutes, and a data plan for using the Internet or email (if you have a smart phone like a BlackBerry).  Buying a local SIM card means you can pay significantly reduced rates over what you US based mobile provider would charge you while traveling.  This is a simplified version of the whole picture.

The two big players on the other side of the technology fence are Verizon and Sprint.  They use CDMA technology.  These phones do not require SIM cards in order to function.  But they are not as versatile as a GSM phone.  While CDMA network phone are beginning to have some usability in other countries, it’s still an evolving technology and not something that I, personally, would rely on.

The CDMA mobile phone network and the GSM mobile phone network, are two completely different technologies and never the two shall meet.

With the advent of 4G, the lines between the technology that each mobile carrier uses is becoming blurred.  Each mobile phone network can use 4G LTE and other 4G technologies.  However, AT&T and T-Mobile will still use a SIM card, while Verizon and Sprint will not.

If you, as a consumer, like the options available to you by going with the GSM network phones, you currently have a two main choices, as I said.  AT&T or T-Mobile.  Again, there are other smaller carriers out there using SIM cards but they are not big players in the market.  If AT&T and T-Mobile were allowed to merge, there would be virtually NO COMPETITION and the consumer would have NO OPTIONS if they want a GSM network phone.  It would be AT&T or nothing.

The competition between AT&T and T-Mobile is healthy.  AT&T allows users to multitask even when not in range of a Wi-fi connection.  With AT&T you can talk on your phone (using the speaker phone), while you surf the Internet, check email, look at your calendar, and use other apps on your phone.  With T-Mobile, you can’t, for the most part.  You have some possibilities of multitasking when you are in range of Wi-fi but it certainly is nowhere near the smooth operation of how AT&T does it.  Second, T-Mobile allows the use of Wi-fi to make phone calls; AT&T does not.  Yup, that’s what the current generation of smart phones is supposed to be all about.  Voice over IP (VoIP) calls over Wi-fi.  AT&T’s technology allows it, but AT&T as a company doesn’t.  T-Mobile does.

So, depending on what you want and what you are willing to pay for, you have options.  That’s good for the consumer and can drive prices down; including the prices of devices, and prices of service.  If AT&T and T-Mobile merged, the public would be left flapping in the breeze with only one option for this technology.  Keep in mind that conventional telephone service is controlled as a public utility.  Mobile phone service is NOT.  They can charge what they want, any time they want.  So with only one major company providing a service, the consumer loses.  This is why the FCC does not want to allow AT&T to buy the majority interest (52%) of T-Mobile, thereby creating one big monopoly; regardless of what Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s top lobbyist, says:

AT&T Slams FCC, Says Report on Deal Is Unfair Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204012004577072270368230262.html#ixzz1fOGwhm8P

Your comments are welcomed.

So long Stugazzi’s Restaurant


The last thing I ever want is for a local, small business in my town to fail.  But just because a business opens, doesn’t mean it will be successful, or deserve to succeed.  It is especially difficult for a restaurant.  One in four restaurants fail (or change ownership) in the first year.

Maine is place where even international chain restaurants like “Chili’s” can’t even stay open,  so a small, private restaurant has to have a lot of luck and something very special to offer the public if it’s ever going to make it.

I wrote a few reviews of Stugazzi’s Restaurant in Springvale, Maine.  I was harsh, and it spurned some lively debate.  That’s a nice word for “arguing”.  My reviews had hit a nerve.  I wasn’t being snarky.  I was being honest.  It it was awesome, I would have said so.

By all accounts, even by those who stood up for this restaurant, if anyone took an honest look at this restaurant, had to admit it was below average.   The truth hurts, I know.  Maybe one or two of their food items were good, but overall, a restaurant can’t call itself an “authentic” Italian restaurant and serve “chicken fingers”.  I don’t care if some people think that restaurants need to cater to the kids; Italian mothers in  “authentic” Italian kitchens in the Tuscan countryside don’t feed their kids chicken finger.  If you want to serve kids a crunchy, chicken appetizer, cut up an “authentic” chicken cutlet, pounded thinly, pan-fried in a very light and delicious coating, quick-cooked to perfection.  Top it with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a side of home-made marinara sauce, and you are good to go – without compromising your “authentic” principles.  It’s not more expensive for the chef to cook the real version than the insipid American concoction known  (which by the way started in American-Chinese restaurants) unless that restaurant is buying them frozen from a restaurant bulk frozen food supply house, in which case you’ve lost your way on the “authentic” road anyway so you should pack it in.

The food itself wasn’t the real problem with Stugazzi’s, it was the design of the customer experience.  Nothing worked.  From confusing self-seating, to “where the hell do I park”, to an uncomfortable entrance where the patrons landed right at the bar, to the rude staff, to the restaurant’s inability to properly pack take-out food —  the gaping holes in service were endless.  This isn’t rocket science.  And if there is one thing that Sanford/Springvale needs is more quality restaurant choices.  For god’s sake, the hot dog truck on Main Street is one of the better establishments.

It’s not my job to tell a restaurant owner how to run his restaurant.  But if the owners and their friends had read the clues (which could hardly be called clues since they were not inconspicuous in my writing; they were direct and on point) instead of firing off nasty emails and comments about my comments, then maybe their authentic Italian restaurant would still be open – and successful.  That would have been awesome!

I truly am sorry that a local business failed.  I really am.  It’s the last thing our little town needs. But I’m not sad to see a low-quality restaurant with poor service close up shop;  in my neighborhood or anywhere else.

Now, if the owners would like to re-open, with a new attitude, and a new outlook on how to serve quality food to the public, in a unique, satisfying, affordable, and authentic way, I’d be happy to help wherever I can.

The biggest problem with Stugazzi’s is that it appeared as if the owners never walked into their own establishment as a customer (incognito, or send in a mole with a hidden camera), as if they never had seen the place before, and experienced it from the customer’s perspective.  They needed to do that objectively.  Call in an order for pickup. Sit and order food, on several occasions on several different days and times.  Eat at the bar, and eat in the dining room.  Then they would have seen what most of us saw.  A successful restaurant is about its customers, not its owner’s ego.

I do wish the owners well, and I hope, maybe, they learned something that can take them on to their next endeavor, which will be successful.