Apple, Can You Hear Me Now?

23 October, 2015

I made a dreadful mistake when I bought my iPhone 5S. I bought the phone with a 16 GB capacity—even after the recommendation of the esteemed Robin Collins, a noted academic and all-around good guy who contemplates (and speaks and writes about) heady things like the relationship of science and religion. When he buys a device he pays the extra bucks for more memory–especially when the option of expanding the memory yourself does not exist (as in all things Apple)–because the point of the device is to hold your stuff. To this, I can add a resounding note to self: DUH.

I bought my iPhone 5S from my carrier, Verizon, at a time when they had shelved their happy habit of subsidizing phones.The helpful hint of the esteemed Dr. Collins did not echo in my cotton wool grey matter as I stood in the Verizon store on Mother’s Day, 2014, being wooed by an employee who threw in a free Mophie and lovingly applied a screen protector to my iPhone 5S with its paltry 16 GB.

Yes, I had the promise that I could upgrade to an iPhone 6 after six months. But when the iPhone 6 came out, I couldn’t see the point of making the switch. So I didn’t, and now I’m just about done paying full price for an iPhone even though I have been with Verizon for 15 years. Thanks, Verizon!*

More on the upgrade I missed: I reckon I should have checked to see how much of my 16 GB I was using when I first became eligible for the upgrade and before I started receiving the dread, daily message: “Your storage is almost full. You can manage your storage in settings.” Naturally, this message pops up when I’m taking a photo standing in the middle of Times Square and the Naked Cowboy happens by. (NB: He’s not really naked.)

Enter another science guy…my friend LT who works at JPL. LT is that lovely sort of science nerd who is always ready to talk about the latest Dr. Who. One day LT pulls from his pocket a marvel of human design, the lovely OnePlus One mobile phone. As much I as like the look of the Christian Louboutin Vampydoly Asymmetric Red Sole Pump in Black for $1095 (seen here), you’ll not see one on my foot because in all things sartorial, comfort is king for me and a shortened Achilles tendon is not an option. But show me a slick new device and I’m jelly-kneed, and a bit jelly-brained as well because my first thought is, “Oooh, pretty!” and not about the specs under the hood.

Turns out the OnePlus One is quite robust under the hood (if you can live with a non-removable battery) and quite reasonably priced. So I got one, took it to Verizon and BOOM. It’s a GSM phone that will not work over Verizon’s CDMA network. I knew about GSM vs CDMA before I bought the phone, but of course did not bother to check it out (oooh, pretty!). Besides, I wanted a phone that works in Europe without paying Verizon’s completely extortionary prices for the privilege.

Do I go to Europe frequently? Why, no, I don’t. But I intend to rectify this any year now. This past summer, I did go to Europe…France and England. I loved trekking down Oxford Street to the O2 store to get a SIM card. I loved, for a brief two weeks, having a UK phone number. (Of course in my case this is directly related to having lived in England as a teenager. Every teenager wants a phone, right?)

Back at home, I parted ways with my lovely OnePlus One–but not before it greeted me: Welcome to America! Reunited with my iPhone, I have been deleting apps, moving pictures elsewhere…yet still The Dread Message appears.

Let me take a little detour here and talk about why it is important to know (and remember) that there are simply some subjects that your significant other may not have the facility to handle. Simply put, know your significant other and trust that certain things Must Not Be Discussed.

My SO (aka: The Scout) has many wonderful qualities, but talking tech is not one of them–that is, if a discussion about cell phones and memory and data plans can even be considered true tech talk. It is possible that the Scout is so tech-adverse as to actually harbor a suspicion that mobile technology is a threat to our humanity—that it is eating away at true human interaction and replacing it with a simulacrum. In his mind, we are our true human selves in the wilderness, sitting around a campfire, wearing yesterday’s underwear and looking at the stars (he would allow a telescope in this instance).

I will confess that my screen-time habits are less than stellar. I wake up in the middle of the night and grab my phone. I’m not sure why it is critically important to me to read the New York Times “Your Morning Briefing” at 4:00 am, but I often do. The Scout rolls over and is met with an eerie lipid-green glow. He is sure that my soul is being sucked away. I try to tell him it’s not the technology that is a challenge to the soul–it’s the reading about Syrian refugees, unnecessary deaths, and all manner of impending doom…

In an effort to reunite with my OnePlus One, I’ve gone off the deep end researching other cell phone providers: the big guys and the MVNOs—Mobile Virtual Network Operators. I had to consider whether to leave Verizon so I could reunite with my ‘summer love’ phone. The short answer is No. Reasons:

  1. I get a nice 22% discount with Verizon thanks to my employer. (In other words, I’ve been grabbed by the short and curlies.)
  2. Verizon’s coverage is excellent, and it is especially good for the Scout—the self-proclaimed “Sultan of the Mojave Desert.”
  3. I have six people and nine devices on my plan. One of these six people is a true blue Verizon believer and his head will explode if I change to another carrier.
  4. Thanks to Verizon’s new data plan, we now share 18 GB of data for $100.00 per month.
  5. Verizon is throwing in 5 GB of cloud storage for “free.” That’s lovely. Too bad I don’t have room to download the app on my iPhone.

Once I realized that I will be wedded to Verizon for a while longer, I bought a tablet for The Scout (details below). He’s got an old flip phone, and this spiffy device gives him an easy way to check his e-mail or send a text when he’s out in the field. Not that he really wants to do either of these things, or the gazillion other things that are possible. Will he take a picture of the stars and upload it for all to see? No. He’ll insist you see the stars for yourself. I can’t say I disagree with him on that.

As for me and my summer love, I plan to play the field. I am going to buy a one month plan with an MVNO for my OnePlus One. More on that later.

*To be fair, Verizon has gone back to their two-year commitment pricing, so I could upgrade to another phone for less than full price.

Notes on the tablet: Costco is offering an LG GPad X8.3 for free (until 10/31/2015). “Free” meaning you pay $150.00 for the device and Costco sends you a $150.00 rebate to use at Costco. Of course, you pay Verizon an upgrade fee ($40.00–a bit nasty of them, I think), and you sign a contract for two years for the device ($10 a month). But this nifty little LG GPad has some nice specs: a USB port (rare for a tablet), expandable memory (Apple, hear that?), a stylus and a decent display. The CNET review is here.


Lakenheath Gathering in San Antonio

7 April, 2015

There was a gathering of Lakenheath Lancers in San Antonio over the weekend of 4-5 April (folks who attended high school at RAF Lakenheath, UK). Photos below and at:

FullSizeRender (1)

FullSizeRender (2)

Don’t take my picture!


Help Keep a Family Housed this Holiday Season

5 December, 2014

Easter update: Many, many thanks to all who donated to this effort. We raised $1,955.00 – a mere $45 from the goal of $2,000. The family still has their rental house and they are doing well. Thank you!

Happy Holidays and Welcome to those who have arrived here from Indiegogo. For those who’ve landed here from elsewhere, I’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign to help a family keep a roof over their heads this holiday season.

You can read about the campaign here: Help Keep a Family Housed this Holiday Season. The short version is: Family breadwinner with health problems without paid sick leave equals financial disaster and threat of homelessness for said breadwinner and her children.

Donors to the campaign have the option to claim a Perk. This campaign is offering photographs by Timothy Down, photographer and motion picture location specialist. All photographs are printed on quality photo paper and are suitable for framing.

Below are images of the Perks available to donors of “Help Keep a Family Housed this Holiday Season.”

1. Planet of the Apes Location – (Trona Pinnacles) – For a $50 donation to the Indiegogo campaign, you have the option to receive one of the following six images. If you have a strong preference for a particular image, leave a comment below and we’ll get in touch with you via e-mail.

Trona Pinnacles 1

Trona Pinnacles 2

Trona Pinnacles 3

For a donation of $75 or above, choose one of the following images:

Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica Beach, California

Mojave Desert Railroad Crossing

Mojave Desert Railroad Crossing, California

Butterfly In The Sky

Butterfly in the Sky, Los Angeles, California

Mars Attacks 1

Mars Attacks, Owens Dry Lake, California


All photos by Timothy Down.

Thanks for looking!

Art Appreciation

8 October, 2014

I’ve just discovered Niki de Saint Phalle. Love her version of The Three Graces:

trois graces

Photo courtesy of Arts Observer.

More Niki de Saint Phalle goodness via Arts Observer here.

These sculptures were a temporary installation, placed by the National Museum of Women in the Arts as part of the the New York Avenue Sculpture project, which is “…the only public art space featuring changing installations of contemporary works by women artists in Washington, D.C.”

Yay for public art!

But wait – there’s more. Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in Escondido is Niki de Saint Phalle’s only American sculpture garden. It’s been closed since last year for repairs, but it will be open this Saturday, 11 October 2014. Details here.

The Ability (a quote from David Foster Wallace)

7 July, 2014

“If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.”

(from “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace” by David Lipsky)

Ft Murray Cloudy Sky

Thoughts from Etty Hillesum

17 April, 2014

From An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum:

…And finally: ought we not, from time to time, open ourselves up to cosmic sadness? One day I shall surely be able to say to Ilse Blumenthal, ‘Yes, life is beautiful, and I value it anew at the end of every day, even though I know that the sons of mothers, and you are one such mother, are being murdered in concentration camps. And you must be able to bear your sorrow; even if it seems to crush you, you will be able to stand up again, for human beings are so strong, and your sorrow must become an integral part of yourself, part of your body and your soul, you mustn’t run away from it, but bear it like an adult. Do not relieve your feelings through hatred, do not seek to be avenged on all German mothers, for they, too, sorrow at this very moment for their slain and murdered sons. Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears his grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate. But if you do not clear a decent shelter for your sorrow, and instead reserve most of the space inside you for hatred and thoughts of revenge — from which new sorrows will be born for others — then sorrow will never cease in this world and will multiply. And if you have given sorrow the space its gentle origins demand, then you may truly say: life is beautiful and so rich. So beautiful and so rich that it makes you want to believe in God.’

forest road


Destination: Funeral

20 February, 2014

You know how some people have a destination wedding? Well, I’m having a destination funeral. Oh, it’s not for me, it’s for my dad. He’s going to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

I looked at the Shutterfly site to find a suitable funeral announcement, but there were none there. I thought about adapting a birth announcement–the one with the picture of the baby sleeping and the words “Pure Heaven” underneath. I have a photo of my dad in extremis that would work nicely.

My dad will be buried with full military honors. It sounds like it will be quite a production, with a caisson, a bugler, and a 21-shot salute (3 guns, 7 shots each). My dad converted to Catholicism during his adult life, but I was raised a Protestant so I opted for the chaplain of that stripe. Sorry, Pop.

I’m not much for the war culture, but it was the Air Force that gave my dad a job and the GI Bill, and it was the Navy that gave him a commission and sent him to Vietnam. He earned a place in Arlington National Cemetery, and it is my duty to see that he gets there.

His cremains (yes, that’s the word for cremated remains) are now sitting on top of the piano. His Vietnam Veteran cap sits on top of the box holding the cremains.  The box is wrapped in plain brown paper. I tied a bow around the box at Christmas time (my dad was a festive guy). When I thought to remove the bow in early February, I realized that Valentine’s Day was approaching and red was still appropriate.

I would like that box to stay on top of the piano. I’d like to decorate it with a green ribbon for St. Patrick’s Day. I’d like to put the red ribbon back on for Whitsunday. But by then, the box will be far away in Arlington National Cemetery.


Happy Holidays

6 December, 2013

Christmas 2013

The Power and the Glory: Driving a Red Corvette Through Cambridge

22 September, 2013


Obituary for James C. Russell

19 September, 2013

James C. Russell (Jim), aged 82, of Hollywood, California, died on 17 September 2013, at his assisted living home in Eagle Rock, California. He was born in Franklin, Pennsylvania on April 1, 1931, to Allen Cunningham Russell and Gwendolyn Romaine Leber Russell, the second of eight children. He was a graduate of the University of Maryland and George Washington University. He is survived by his daughter, Kelly L.C. Russell of Pasadena, California and her husband Timothy Down; his son, Kenneth A.C. Russell of Portland, Oregon; and two grandsons, Russell Burton and Colin Burton; and also siblings Don Russell of New Castle, Indiana; Anita Russell Mower of Escondido, California; Esther Russell Hicks of Grand Junction, Colorado; Timothy Russell of San Diego, California; and Jonathan Russell of Fort Worth, Texas. He also leaves behind numerous cousins, nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his siblings Allen Russell of Coral Gables, Florida; and Gwendolyn Russell Hicks of Parachute, Colorado.

During a long and varied working life, Jim shucked shrimp in a restaurant kitchen (and never ate shrimp again), and he was a teacher at Massenutten Military Academy and at LeConte Junior High School in Hollywood. He served in both the US Air Force during the Korean Conflict and the US Navy during the Vietnam Conflict. He spent many years as a teacher and guidance counselor with the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS) in Europe and in Korea, and he also held several positions in public affairs and in Army recruiting. A passionate Anglophile, he was fortunate enough to witness the procession for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. He was also in Berlin at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and he brought home a piece of it.

A life-long sports enthusiast, Jim enjoyed tennis, Washington Redskins football and Dodger baseball. He examined life with a writer’s mind, posting literary e-mails to nurture and entertain family and friends with an acerbic wit, always catching life in a humorous cross-hairs.

A funeral will be held at Church of the Angels, 1100 N. Ave 64, Pasadena, California, on Sunday, September 22 at 2:00 pm. A reception in the Parish Hall will follow.

Pop in yard


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