The Woman in the Window Reviewed – A horror-thriller that takes on fear itself.

Tags

, , ,

The Woman in the Window is a horror thriller with an emphasis on thriller. Yes, there are some quite horrific things that occur and numerous terrifying situations, but the real draw the book is how our protagonist, Sarah, responds to the terror in an authentic and humanly heroic manner. By humanly heroic, I mean she feels all the terror of one hounded by an apparently paranormal figure combined with the depression of someone who is not believed, yet she still fights on. Does she make some, shall we say, less than optimal choices? Oh yeah. Then again, so did I at her age and I didn’t have “the woman” haunting me. (Alas, all too often my decision making isn’t optimized for best rests.) Before I continue, let me disclose that the author is a friend and while that influenced whether I read the book or not, this book’s genre is not in my typical wheelhouse, I do not believe it influenced my evaluation of the book. Honestly, if I didn’t care for the book, I would’ve told my friend that it’s not my cup of tea, which, in this case, is true. But I’m delighted that I partook of this particular cup because it’s really a solid thriller.

womaninwindowcover

Sarah is a high school teen girl with friends, a golden voice, boy troubles as well as challenges at home, but all within the norm. That all changes with the woman in the window. I want to stay spoiler free at this point, so I’ll keep my comments at a high-level. I loved the authentic, genuine feel around Sarah and her circumstances: what it would be like to be terrorized but disbelieved, ostracized and even more on the “out” than she already was. I’m not quite sure how the author pulled this off, given he is very much not a teenage girl, but kudos to him. R. S. Crow does a phenomenal job of building up just the right amount of tension over the life of the story; it builds and releases at just the right moments even as it escalates. He also has a supporting character I love, Dr. Tariq, who takes on the whole set of expectations of a ”professional counselor.” The notion of a disinterested scientific fix to a theoretically troubled mind is, I think, misleading at best. One of my favorite quotes, which is devoid of any significant spoilers is:

“‘Do you believe in God?’ It was the oddest question he could have possibly asked. “No. Not really. Do you?” “More than I believe in my own existence.” “I didn’t think psychiatrists were supposed to believe in God.” Dr. Tariq smirked at that. Smirked at me. “Ah, Sarah, do not be fooled by the seat I occupy as a psychiatrist. It is true, this profession entices intelligence, small faith, and even smaller imagination. I am a psychiatrist. Yes. Yet, each of us is quite different from one to the next, for we are only human after all. But do not permit the title to fool you. This labor, this practice, is one of subjectivity masked by objectivity, and while we may pretend to have the answers, we are simply men and women ourselves, and at times, we are no better than blind leaders of the blind, as one once said. So, Sarah, I ask again, do you believe in God?”

rscrow

R. S. Crow

I also like Mr. Crow’s world building and story pacing; he keeps us moving while developing relationships and characters and filling out his world. I also appreciate the way that he takes on fear; he doesn’t over-sentimentalize its challenges but rather addresses it head on, in a no-nonsense way. Finally, I appreciate the notion that everything has a cost. Quite often in contemporary writing, authors are more than willing to allow bad stuff to occur and avoid a Disneyesque plot; sometimes, it seems that some of that pain and misery is fairly arbitrary. The woes in Mr. Crow’s world make sense; they are portrayed as a natural cost of what must be done.

There are some admittedly nit-picky areas where I would have taken a different path, but to discuss those I have to reveal spoilers so I will save it for a later section. Overall, I found The Woman in the Window a good, immersive read with a solid ride, authentic characters, and an intriguing paranormal world. Despite the horrors inflicted within, it’s really not about the horror, but how we handle our own fears. It does a great job in building the characters and their relationships even amongst those who inhabit the said paranormal world. Despite her foibles (or, maybe because of them), Sarah is a compelling and interesting protagonist who moves us to care about herself and her story.

maninwindowwwomaninwindow

A man in a window with The Woman in the Window – yours truly being meta

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any teen or adult who can handle the horror/thriller aspect.

Phrasing: 3/5

World Building:  4/5

Character:  3.5/5

Narrative: 3.5/5

A Little Book Music: This is the section where I suggest some music that matches the read. I spent a good deal of time listening to Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, Inception with its warping perspective. A little of the drive and ethereal nature of the book also comes through in his Interstellar soundtrack.

*****SPOILER ALERT – spoilers are revealed in this section.*****

So what are these admittedly nit-picky areas where I might make a different choice?

Once Sarah’s Mom comes to believe Sarah’s experiences with the woman in the window, why doesn’t she join the “team”? If we look at her responses when she didn’t believe, it’s clear that while she gives her daughter space, she is involved with her, she does care, and she will intervene to help protect her daughter. While we have a bit of an explanation for why she sits on the sidelines after she learns this is for real, it doesn’t seem to fit her earlier modus operandi or her character.

There’s a point where it appears that the witch is dead but apparently wasn’t fully dead (until after the burn). Unless that was on purpose, that was a little fuzzy.

While authenticity was a hallmark of the book, I’m not sure how realistic Clara’s reaction is when discovering Sarah will kill the woman, let alone place herself in that much danger again. Her ”go get ‘em” response seems a bit cavalier.

Finally, I felt a bit letdown after the buildup in Dr. Tariq’s office. While Sarah did operate on some of his advice and even tepidly attempted to pray, most of what occurred in that scene were wholly ignored for the rest the book. Now that may be a conscious decision. Surely teens in general sometimes don’t fully adopt adult advice especially when it doesn’t seem to work right away. It was just a bit of a letdown. It also could be that it will play a role later on in series, and it is a series. Even if it does come to the fore later, that still seems a little bit of a cheat but then again I think Agatha Christie cheats so the author is in good company.

Fitness Journey Continues: Health Goals

Tags

, , , , ,

Back in November, I celebrated meeting my BMI goal (the goal being “normal” at between 18.5 & 25); see: So I Met My Weight Goal. Now What?  I’m sharing this journey in hopes of encouraging any that might be on or wish to start their own health journey. My hope is that you can see it’s never too late and it’s not impossible. While your results may vary (and, if you’re female, alas, it almost certainly will be harder), it’s possible to make progress. Plus it’s always good to take moment in the journey to celebrate. For some more details of what I did on this journey see: Microsoft Band 2 – Real World Notes from the Field. Recently, I received my health assessment. Thanks in large part to Builders Mutual’s  great health program which provides lots of incentives and opportunities (like our gym), an encouraging family, and great tools like the Microsoft Band 2, my assessment proved out the benefits of the journey.

jtfnovembertonovember

November 2015 to November 2016 (I know – not great pictures but I typically take them, rather than being in them)

My lessons learned outlined in my previous post remain the same:

  • it’s not a diet, but a lifestyle.
  • Be you – don’t try to shoehorn into someone else’s plan for you.
  • Be patient – results will come.
  • Be healthy – you don’t need to be a super-sculpted fitness model (unless you want to be and it makes sense for your body).

So, yeah – let’s celebrate

As I’ve said before, I’m enormously grateful that I’ve been able to reach these goals. Indeed, it is grace upon grace that I could do so. Yes, I put in the effort, but it is the God in whom I live, and move and have my being, who has sustained me in it, made it efficacious and allowed me to do so with virtually no injury.

whats-next

Let’s take a lesson from Paul; it works for our physical life as well as spiritual:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 ESV

So, by God’s grace, I will continue in that work, looking for new personal bests and thankful for each day I can continue with a supportive family and work environment.

there-is-no-finish-line-50

Déjà vu – Returning to the Android fold – the good, bad and ugly – Part 2: The LG V20 Review

Tags

, , ,

I recently moved back into the Android fold from Windows Mobile (see my previous post for background and reflections on the move). When I knew I was going to switch over from Windows phone I then had to choose where I was going to go, Android or iOS, and if Android, which flagship phone. Here are my decision factors:

  • Apple / iPhone 7 Plus
    • Pros
      • Solid hardware
      • Software is well polished and, due to Apple owning the whole experience, optimized for the hardware
      • Consumer friendly
      • Independent of mobile carriers for updates
      • Robust ecosystem
      • Dust and water resistant
      • Well supported by Apple and Vendors
    • Cons
      • For my taste, iPhone 7/7+ phone and user interface are relatively stale and boring
      • It is very hard to use anything but Apple’s expensive services: from backing up to getting ringtones, it’s hard to do them on your own
      • For me, all but the basics are unintuitive to use. The vaunted user experience isn’t a good one for me.
      • No headphone jack (I have good, wired headphones). Yes, there’s a workaround, but it is a workaround.
      • Expensive ecosystem. Apps, music, peripherals mostly seem to carry an Applesque extra cost.
      • Won’t take an SD card
      • No replaceable battery
      • Expensive
      • Apple’s arrogance

apple-iphone-7-plus

I’ve come to these conclusions after supporting my wife and son on their iPhones (currently both iPhone 6) and my own experience on iPod Touch and iTunes. These are well-designed, mainstream devices whose basic workings are easy to use. This is the device I would recommend to most non-technical people. While I was tempted, I knew that I would go slowly insane trying to work within the confines of Apple and iOS. I had some experience with the S7 Edge and heard about the amazing DAC on the LG V20 so my choice would be between those two. Note: Google Pixel wasn’t an option since I’m on, and want to stay on, AT&T. HTC 10 wasn’t an option either, for the same reason.

  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
    • Pros
      • Cool, striking design.
      • immersive screen
      • Popular and hence well supported amongst the Android crowd
      • Great camera; automatic shots are consistently good and the camera is very quick
      • Robust ecosystem with well-supported peripherals by other vendors
      • A major player who isn’t going anywhere
      • Wireless charging
      • Water & dust resistant
      • Ability to take an SD card
    •  Cons
      • The Edge is challenging to hold, for me, and as much of I argued against phablets, I preferred the larger Edge to the regular S7
      • Uses micro USB instead of USB C. Since my previous phone was Lumia 950, I already have all the USB C wires and chargers that I needed
      • Comes with Marshmallow (Android 6) (I believe it’s now being upgraded to 7 but that wasn’t announced even a month ago when I bought it).
      • Reasonable but not great battery life
      • TouchWiz UI; stock is typically quicker and less prone to update delays (or complete failure to update)

samsung-galaxy-s7-edge

  • LG V20
    • Pros
      • Quad DAC for wired headphones
      • aptX HD Bluetooth (48kHz/24 bit) support
      • Beautiful screen
      • For me, easy to hold (feels good in the hand and not too slippery)
      • 2nd always on screen – quick actions, time/status quickly visible.
      • Prosumer content creation with well-designed manual controls for camera/video, high-end (24 bit) audio recording, 3 high-end AOP mics
      • Wide-angle lens on front and back
      • Swappable battery
      • Takes an SD card
      • Has 64GB on board
      • Comes with Nougat (Android 7)
    • Cons
      • No wireless charging
      • Expensive
      • Peripherals are not supported as well as Samsung
      • UX 5.0+; stock is typically quicker and less prone to update delays (or complete failure to update)
      • Automatic-mode camera is not as consistently good as S7 nor quite as fast (manual mode it pretty amazing and makes up for this)
      • Reasonable but not great battery life
      • Video stabilization still needs work

lg-v20-titan-2

What finally edged out the S7 (pun intended) was the audio capabilities of the V 20, swappable battery (powerful Android phones tend not to have great battery life), the V 20 being on the current Android release (in the Android ecosystem, you never know if you can get an upgrade or not) and USB C. I really like wireless charging. Both of my previous phones supported it (Lumia 920 & Lumia 950), so that was a real loss, but I just couldn’t see going back to micro USB. I know a lot of folks say SD cards are less important, but with the ability to produce high-level video and audio, comes the need to use up some serious storage. Trying to do this completely in the cloud could be slow and likely expensive. Most of my local music is lossless (mostly FLAC, some WMA) and that uses a fair amount of storage as well. Typically trying to stream it from the cloud is either going to be exciting or down-converted. So that’s why those features were important to me. This is for the first time in quite a while that I had the dilemma choosing my phone, mostly because, in the Windows mobile world, there’s only a single flagship phone available from the carrier at a time in each size (like Apple).

lgv20toneplantinum

So I’ve had this for about a month; if I could go back and make the decision all over again would I still make the same one? Yes. Why? The ESS Quad DAC is the real deal. Music sounds flawlessly wonderful through it (for a detailed explanation of the DAC, see this article on Android Authority); aptX HD Bluetooth is also the real. While not quite as full a sound as wired, it’s some of the best Bluetooth I’ve heard and better than most wired sound when coupled with LG’s Tone Platinum (which also support aptX HD) and Comply ear tips (the ear tips are needed to have robust bass). The manual controls for stills and video are intuitive, well laid out and really allow solid control over both image and video capture. The AOP (Acoustic Overload Point) mics are icing on the cake. They do an amazing job at capturing high-audio (with video or separately). Overall day-to-day use is a pleasure; the interface is quick and smooth (using Smart Launcher Pro 3), The design, while somewhat bland, is still nice with beautiful fit and finish, especially the removable back. It’s wonderful to have a button that releases the back, so you don’t have to feel like you’re going to break it prying it open. It all seems as flush and “tight” as a unibody aluminum phone. The phone size has not been an issue for me and I’ve been able to get what I need for it in terms of peripherals. I’ll dive more into the peripherals and daily experience in the next post.

 

 

Déjà vu – Returning to the Android fold – the good, bad and ugly – Part 1: The OS

Tags

, , , , ,

I’ve recently fallen back into the Android fold after having to, alas, leave Windows Mobile. While the app gap has always been a bit of a bummer for the Windows Mobile platform, I never found an app so compelling that I was willing to leave, until now. If you happen to follow my posts, you know that I recently joined the world of hearing aid users (see my post on Signia’s Primax Pure). Signia has a few apps, one of which, touchControl, allows me to control listening signatures, for example, one for listening to music, one for being outdoors etc., as well as a plethora of other features. I have an iPod Touch that allowed me to control this but I didn’t want to carry around two devices all the time; since there is no Windows mobile app, this necessitated moving to iOS or Android. While I appreciate iOS (and iPhones), this is just not the platform for me.  I have previously been on Android way back in the day, I think under Froyo on a Galaxy Epic (Samsung Galaxy S device with a physical keyboard). Diving back in allows me to see where the platform has come, including hardware, the OS itself and related applications. This is a first of a series of post on reflections around my experience moving back to Android. In this post, I’ll focus on the Android OS itself (but can’t completely divorce my experience from the device). I’ll then post about my new device, the LG V20 (hint – it rocks) and finally reflect a bit more on the ecosystem with a focus on supporting products like LG’s Tone Platinum Bluetooth headset (it too, rocks with help from Comply ear tips).

lg-v20-with-tone-platinum

LG V20 with Tone Platinum Bluetooth Headphones

The LG V20 is on Android 7 (AKA Nougat). While it has obviously improved from its Froyo days and is more consumer-friendly than it once was, a number of the platform’s challenges remain such as requiring too much active management and tweaks, a new one have arisen regarding notifications galore and some have mostly disappeared (the OS itself it fairly stable and no longer has the experimental/beta feel of Froyo). So, let’s look at the improvements first. Navigating within the OS is buttery smooth and quick with no glitches or hiccups. I didn’t mind LG’s skin (UX 5.0+) as much as some do; it’s relatively unintrusive and quick. However, I love Smart Launcher Pro 3 with Smoke and Glass theme. I love it when eye candy meets productive function; this combo does so in spades. The OS continues to support a lot of freedom in launchers, widgets and fairly fine, detailed control of the user experience, it works well out the box and the “tweaks” don’t seem to erode your experience. So, while Apple maintains control with the safer and more easily supported route of few customizations, Android continues to embrace the options. That freedom used to come at a higher cost of widgets, launchers or apps failing; that is much less the case now. Overall, the apps work well with two notable exceptions: Spotify will simply  pause for 30 seconds or more (mostly when the phone is handing off to a different network connection) and Disney Movies app crashes whenever you switch audio output (take out the headphone jack, use Bluetooth, or plug in a new headphone jack).

screenshot_2017-01-27-10-48-16

Smart Launcher Pro 3 with Smoke & Glass Theme

So, what are some of the advantages of moving to Android over Windows Mobile?

  • The apps – yes, there are more apps. Clearly, the relative dearth of active users of Windows Mobile means developers are less likely to support Windows Mobile apps. Even beyond the critical ones I wanted for the hearing devices, I do like having some additional native apps although my top five haven’t changed. Not only are there more apps, many are better designed and have richer features than their Windows counterparts. Unfortunately, Spotify is just as spotty (sorry, couldn’t resist) on Android which is a real shame. If it is consistently worked, it would be great. Ironically, Microsoft’s own apps are as well supported on Android as they are on Windows except for Groove (music app) and the fact that their services aren’t as baked in.
  • The expanded hardware choices and ecosystem. Again, due to the relatively small share of the smartphone market, Windows Mobile doesn’t receive the love Android does. Not only are there few phones to choose among, not a huge deal for me since I loved the Lumia 950 (a post some context on how I used it as well as my post when I moved from Android to Windows Phone), but there are fewer accessories (screen protectors, cases etc) to choose among as well as compatible equipment such as fitness wearables and smartwatches. Again, not huge for me right now because I love my Microsoft Band 2, but it will be an issue in the future. The ability to get high-quality screen protectors using Corning’s Accessory Glass 2, for example, is nice, and it’s non-existent for Windows phones. Lumia 950 doesn’t support aptX Bluetooth, let alone aptX HD which allows for better Bluetooth streaming of music; LG V20 does. Typically this competition allows for better quality at less cost. As much as I loved my 950, the LG V20 is a better phone for me.

What are some of the disadvantages of moving to Android from Windows Phone?

  • Microsoft services vs. Google services I actually prefer most Microsoft services over Google. I’m an Office 365 user; while Google’s docs, spreadsheet etc apps offer slightly better collaboration, Microsoft’s offerings are considerably richer and are quickly catching up or surpassing Google’s collaboration advantage. I prefer Cortana to Google Now (we’ll see if Assist is any better once (if?) LG V20 goes from 7 to 7.1. The good news is that nearly all Microsoft services are well-supported on Android even if they’re not as natively baked in such Bing Search and Cortana. I understand that, for most, Google services are preferred and, quite honestly, both work well.
share_temporary

Some of Microsoft Services on Android

I used to believe that one should drink the kool-aid of your ecosystem (go all in on Google with Android, Apple with iOS and Microsoft on Windows phones), however the cross-platform access to many services from both Google and Microsoft (and to a much lesser degree, Apple), I think that using other vendors’ services works much more naturally than it did previously. It also makes the transition simpler. So, I’m still mostly using Microsoft services even on Android.

  • Android Fragmentation, Upgrade Limitations and Lack of control of applications On Windows Mobile, upgrades are driven by Microsoft, not your carrier (unless it affects the radio stack on the phone). So, all Windows Mobile 10 users can update no matter the device and carrier, although some handset makers still fail to make some updates available. I can uninstall any application, included those added by the carrier. I can also push almost all apps to an SD card, where it’s really hit or miss with Android apps. My ability to update is controlled by the carrier under Android. You never know if you’ll ever get the next release or not.
  • Notifications This is probably the biggest pain point of moving over to Android. Dumb, multiple reminder notifications. I have turned off most notifications and keep to those apps that I really need to have. Android is known as a system that allows you to really tweak your experience but both in installed apps you cannot remove and in notifications (on or off at the app level and nothing in between – yes you can indicate to “show silently”, on the lock screen or whether they can kick through do not disturb but there is nothing to intelligently manage frequency and to turn off on any acknowledgement that you received it, for example on another device) are two places that really need some help. Not only do I receive multiple notifications for the same item, but there are ways I can acknowledge it where there is no recognition of the acknowledgment (AKA notifications keep coming). I really hate the way notifications are handled on Android.

Bottom line, my experience with Android is mostly quite good. Would I have moved over if the Signia hearing aid apps were on Windows Mobile? No. I think the overall user experience is still better in Windows. I believe that Apple iOS is the most consumer friendly but also the most restrictive and costly (and it comes with Apple’s arrogance). Android has the entire gamut of low to high-end phones and allows for much more freedom, but is a little less consumer oriented; while better than the Froyo days, it still feels a little like an engineering experiment. Windows, for me, strikes a nice balance. However, it’s not like my experience is bad on Android (except notifications). I’ll have to figure out what to do about Spotify – my challenge is to find another streaming service on Android, iOS, and Windows since I have all three in my home (2 iPhones, 2 Android, and 2 Windows). If Groove had a family plan like Spotify, I would move to it in a heartbeat. If Amazon Music, Apple Music or Google Play supported Windows devices, I would move to them. Alas.  If Spotify were stable, I would happily stay with them. Argh. I know, first world problems.

Next post will all about the LG V20; while I wouldn’t have encountered the cost of a new phone (I was fine with my Lumia 950), once I needed to move, I’ve loved the new handset. In the next post, I’ll tell you why along with highlighting its challenges.

Doric String Quartet’s Schubert String Quartets 12 & 15 – pure liquid loveliness

Tags

, , , , , ,

Have you ever had one of those moments when, checking out some new music, time seemed to stop, breathing halted and you seemed utterly and irretrievably transported to another place? I had this experience from the first note of Anne Akiko Meyer’s Air: The Bach Album playing “Air” from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068. I had this experience with Doric String Quartet’s new album Schubert: String Quartets Nos. 12 & 15. From the moment you hear the opening of the String Quartet No. 12 in C Minor, D. 703, “Quartettsatz”, you know you’re in for something special. Of course, your next thought is: “Drama much”? Schubert goes full tilt from the opening and the Doric String Quartet transport us into Schubert’s wide-ranging controlled chaos. There is care even in the initial intensity; it is fluid yet precise, sonorous yet buoyant. It is pure liquid loveliness.

doricstringqtschubertchandos

While I have listened to Schubert’s string quartets before, I’ll admit to not being hugely intimate with them. My bad. I love the playful dance-like quality that is interspersed amongst more reflective movements. They embody so much – ethereal light bonbon moving to an earthy cello repast, sweeping passages of quick action with slower sections evoking a more serious gravitas. I love how they bring out the sense of this mild-mannered Schubert smelling the roses then his inner Teutonic intensity bursts upon us. These various emotions, settings, and passages are ordered to fit like puzzle pieces so that it’s hard to imagine any different musical construction.

 

dsq

Doric String Quartet

 

This is my introduction to the Doric String Quartet, Alex Redington (violin), Jonathan Stone (violin), Hélène Clément (viola), and John Myerscough (cello), and most definitely will not be my last record of theirs. (I’m thinking the Janáček/Martinů for the next one). They have a lovely touch that mixes delicate precision with emotion and lyricism. Moreover, the recording seems to be a nearly perfect blend of intimate sound while preserving an open sound stage. While their recording venue, Potton Hall, Suffolk, seems low key (you’ll never confuse their control room with the one at Abbey Studios), the sound signature generated there is spot on. It doesn’t hurt that Chandros put these out in 24 bit, 96 kHz release (available on HDTracks in the U.S.) During some of the earthier passages, you can hear and almost feel, the grip of the rosin on the cellist’s bow. Pauses are utterly silent with no recoding noise. I had an opportunity to listen to this on my LG V20 (review to come – spoiler, overall I love it) phone alternating between Grado SR80s and Sennheiser Momentum headphones (more about these in Cans – A Personal Journey Through Soundscapes). The V20 has an ESS quad DAC capable of 32-bit 384 kHz PCM and DSD51 which is a geek-speak for “it outputs faithful sound for a smart phone.”

 

pottonhallrecordingstudiosm

Potton Hall Recording Studio

 

I think my teen son may have put it best – when done listening to ‘Quartettsatz’ (Quartet, D 703, String Quartet 12), he said “That was amazing. It started…” then he made a grrr sound while shaking his head, AKA said Teutonic intensity, “then…” and he waved his arms and slowly waved his head around apparently mesmerized by the more melodic movements. I feel. My son, Guy, is not inarticulate; attempting to put into words what Doric String Quartet brings out of Schubert in this recording is a Sisyphean task. So, seriously, just go get this album. Plunking down your hard earned cash will rarely be so rewarded.

Some Haydn from Doric as an introduction:

Available in Hi-Res on HDTracks (US) and Chandros (EU)

Also available on Amazon CD and MP3 (256K)

Signia Pure Primax – Bionic Hearing in a Small Package

Tags

, , , ,

Roughly three years ago I started experiencing a bit of ringing in my ears. This is known as tinnitus. I read various articles which all suggested that there wasn’t much I could do about it. There are various thoughts about whether cerumen (aka ear wax) buildup or dental issues may lead to this condition, as well as a host of more serious problems. So, all sorts of possible causes, including simply being related to hearing loss. Given that this ringing carried on, I was motivated to have my hearing tested at a recent company healthcare; there was some loss, especially in the upper end. Finally, it was time to do something about this. I went in for more extensive hearing test with the good folks, mainly in the form of Ronnie McVeigh, at Nutech Hearing which confirmed and refined the preliminary test. While this is a bummer, there is obviously help in dealing with this mainly in the form of hearing aids. The folks at Signia Hearing (formerly Siemens) like to use the tag line: “These aren’t your Mom’s hearing aids” and they’re not kidding but more about that later. This is something I didn’t expect to need, at least not for a number of years. Well, it was time to get vanity out of the way and get over myself, because while I could hear speech reasonably well, it wasn’t as clear as I thought. I was missing some aspects of music and I really want to see if there are some help with the constant ringing in my ears.

It turns out that, along with the rest of the world, hearing aids have come a long way. They’re not those huge, honking unsightly things that you used to see on that loud-talking uncle. You don’t need to cringe when you walk into a room with reverberating sound or worry about the squeal as you get next to some electronic device. In fact, you essentially get bionic hearing: that is to say, really spot on hearing of the detail that you may have been missing, in a relatively discrete package. While not invisible, they also don’t bring attention to themselves.

signiapureprimaxinearcollage

Clearly this doesn’t scream “Old dude wearing hearing aids” OK, maybe old dude.

As I said earlier, I could hear conversations relatively well, but wearing the Signia Pure Primax 5’s in a fairly large meeting was a huge wake-up call to how mediocre my hearing really was. All the detail came alive. It’s crisp. It’s clear. We tend to use the phrase “it’s in HD” with everything now. If high definition applies to hearing, it’s in HD with the Signia. It’s not just louder. These things are programmed to accentuate sounds in those areas where there is loss. The higher pitch (and some lower register sound) that would have previously taken louder volume for me to hear something in a particular range, I can now here at more normal and lower volume. Put another way, these are like having a personalized EQ for the soundtrack of your life. Now there are different situations where you want to do different things. Certain venues are quite loud; I used to use Dubs earplugs (acoustically accurate sound reduction of roughly 12 dB depending on the situation) and still highly recommend this to those without hearing loss. Now I can use an app (available on iOS or Android) to turn the volume down or off. I can also set their spatial recognition to have the hearing aid’s mics point forward or back, about which more later. The bottom line is there’s lots of control over your hearing experience and it will expand your ability to hear well. This is outside of the fact that these aids are constantly processing and learning your sound and adjust accordingly.

2476-pure-primax-up-close

In fact, the tech in these modern “hearing instruments” is pretty stunning. There’s a lot of processing going on to manage the sound coming around you and highlight what’s important and remove what’s not or is problematic. There is a feature called SpeechMaster that allows to focus directionality and reduction of noise to highlight what’s important. EchoShield reduces reverberation and eWindScreen™ binaural does an amazing job of mitigating wind noise which, essentially, it recongnizes which ear is facing the wind and channel sound through the other ear to the one in the wind. I’ve used a lot of fairly sophisticated Bluetooth headsets that work on noise cancellation and try to deal with the wind. I’ve never used anything that comes close to these hearing aids. Can wind noise come through? Yeah, but it’s got to be a bit of howler hitting both of your ears simultaneously.

 A virtual experience of the Signia Pure Primax:

And that’s simply the core of being able to hear well in day-to-day circumstances. With the app you can select programs that your audiologist adopts for you to have different ways to manage the tinnitus (for example ocean wave sounds as opposed to simple pink noise to reduce the effect of the ringing sound) as well as an HD Music program focused on listening situations with recorded music, live music or as a musician.  The two earpieces stay in sync via radio, all of which can be controlled and chosen from your iPhone or android device. The ones I use have a rechargeable battery where you set them in their recharging unit at night, magic occurs and you ready go the next day. They certainly last all day. If you’re ever in a situation where they run down you can put in non-rechargeable batteries until you have a chance to recharge the others. In other words, this is a thoroughly modern experience that takes your hearing to the next level. For any who have large loss, (which, thankfully, I do not yet), they provide the ability to understand speech that they may have missed in certain situations. So, for those you that have had no hearing loss, protect your ears. In any fairly loud situation, by which I don’t mean just rock concerts, but possibly at movies, church or football games, wear Dubs (or the equivalent thereof).

Now back to that ringing sound – there are various theories, but one suggests when you have loss of a certain range the brain “makes up” for that loss by essentially substituting a “sound” in that same range for what it was expecting. So, in my case, most of my loss is in the upper range and, hence, the “ringing” is there as well. The hope is that with the hearing aids both accentuating that range and providing a masking sound, this tendency will be mitigated. Only time will tell.

Primax features:

For those of you who have had hearing loss or think you may have hearing loss, get yourself checked out and see if it’s worthwhile to get some bionic ears. Now, they’re not quite going to make it the $6 million man (though they feel like they come close in cost), they can’t remove tinnitus or regenerate your hearing. However, this serious investment will be worthwhile for many of you. Apparently most folks live about seven years in denial of hearing loss before they do something about it. Don’t be one of those people. I guess my three is a little better than average but I wish I would’ve addressed it sooner.

As these get further refinements in programming, “learn” more about my hearing and I get more used to them, I’ll provide updates about the experience.

Pens, a Personal Journey

Tags

, , , , , ,

If you happen to follow this blog, you know I have a thing about headphones, well, let’s just say that thing extends to pens. Now, I don’t have some amazing collection of fountain pens or a Montblanc StarWalker extravaganza. No, my pens are decidedly on the practical side with a little bit of flourish. For example, I think Uni-Ball has some of the finest ink cartridges on the planet, but the barrels and related materials are typically inexpensive plastic. (I use their cartridges a lot). So, my little collection’s decidedly on the low end, but consists of more permanent pens than plastic disposables. You’ll also see that each has a purpose albeit a somewhat eclectic idiosyncratic purpose of mine. In this post, I’m going to geek out a bit (OK, more than a bit) about pens; I hope this inspires some to think of their own writing and to take up their own weapons; it is, after all, mightier than the sword. Here’s some of my favorites.

favoritepens

 

Now why would a guy who is as digitally oriented as myself be into such an analog device? Well, it turns out that the gulf between tech and analog are merging. Before diving into that trend, back to the question. In the tactile writing process, brain connects with thought, movement with ideas and, at least for me, it seems to make the words come alive. While I’ve largely overcome this over the years, I’m still old-school enough to think that if it’s in black-and-white typeface, then it must be done, right? I’m not quite as old as Yule Brenner’s Pharaoh, but I do have some empathy with “So it shall be written. So it shall be done.”

 

 

Pen moving across page seems to encourage a more free flow of ideas; it allows me to halt, edit, and pause to think through in a little more natural way. Of course, the vast majority of my writing is done digitally with keyboard and computer, but the tech world is coming around to merging analog and digital experiences. Especially the movement of Microsoft towards using pen on the Surface or a physical dial on the Surface Studio really brings this home. The fact that the sensors in the Surface Pro pen can provide variations of pressure so that the flow of the digital ink changes with pressure further bears this out. Microsoft sees us turning our focus more on creating and less on consuming, and doing so in such a way that virtual and the real worlds merge more. I tend to agree that we’ll see these tactile experiences flow more and more into our digital experience. Obviously the Surface Pro, the Surface Book and Surface Studio illustrate this with their emphasis on touch. Another illustration is Microsoft OneNote’s ability to search on cursive text or translate handwriting to editable text. Another example is Lenovo Yoga Book which allows you to use real link to create digitized notes. While this revolution is taking place, I’m not sure I’ll ever quite give up pen and paper and things like the Yoga Book give me hope that I’ll never have to whilst enjoying the benefits of being digitize. That is, having it saved, searchable, easily editable and easily shared.

 

pilot-axiom-collection-retractable-ball-point-pen-cobalt-blue-barrel-blue-ink-ea7947397a61a3653bdf5829c339477d

Pilot Axiom

 

Returning to my collection of pens (and pencil) themselves. There are two ballpoints, three roller balls/gel pens, one fountain pen and one pencil. While I’ve gone through many other pens, this set of pens and pencil have risen to the top as my go to products for different uses. One of the themes you’ll see is using Uni-Ball’s inks, but not so much their barrels. Another thing you’ll see is what I’d like to call stylistic practicality. In other words, while there are less expensive options that do roughly the same thing, there’s no less expensive option that really has nice fit and finish to the product with some heft; I like substantial writing implements without undo weight. There certainly are more expensive options as well, but this is the sweet spot where function and design come together to make a really good product. For a number of years now, I’ve considered Pilot’s Dr. Grip Center of Gravity line to be the best ballpoint. They tend to have a consistently richer look to the writing than any other ballpoint. The overall look of the script using this ink borders on a light rollerball. Pilot’s Axiom takes this line to the next level with a quite attractive barrel and mostly metal construction. Speaking of metal and heft, Franklin Covey’s combined stylus and ballpoint does a very nice job of providing great backup. Its pen borders on Cross quality.

 

yafaschmidt

Yafa Schmidt Capless Rollerball

 

The Yafa/Schmidt Titanium (color; the barrel is steel) Capless rollerball is really great for having a rich look but a less smooth writing action that allows for more control. It’s really good for more technical oriented writing, maths and diagrams. I know some who preferred that level of control over an ultra-smooth writing experience. Alas, this pen is no longer made. The next best alternative (nicer but a bit more expensive, is Schmidt Capless Rollerball)  Next is a pen I love and is also no longer made: Pentel’s Excalibur; I’ve chosen to use Uni-Ball’s 207 BLX fine (.5 mm). cartridge, This pen has a nice elegant look, but not extravagant. It’s also quite practical with rubber around the bottom part of the barrel to help with your grip and writing. A new addition to my collection is BigiDesign’s Solid Aluminum Pen + Stylus. One of the cool things about this pen is that it can take a wide array of cartridges (refills). My favorite, at the moment, are Uni-Ball’s  207 BLX series (like I use with the Excalibur), especially its blue/black ink. This pen, with its solid aluminum barrel, calls for a slightly bolder look, which is met with the blue-black medium (.7 mm) cartridge. This is my favorite all-around pen right now. It’s very smooth but still provides for good control. You can also choose to have a stylus part at the non-writing end or simply close it off, which I’ve done. In fact, I love this pen so much I also ordered BigiDesign’s Ti-Click Pro in black. This barrel is titanium and has a rougher texture. I’ve paired it with Cross’s Selectip Porous-Point (fine, black). This combination of a textured grip and a smooth but more friction oriented pen tip provide more granular control in writing and a cool grey/blue tinged black from the ink. This pen also takes multiple refills.

My Parker 75 (hasn’t been made in years) has an extra fine gold nib. Despite its fineness, the flexible nib allows it to be expressive. This is a fountain pen that never fails to write if it has any ink. You fill this pen with ink (currently using Parker’s Super Quink Blue-Black Permanent ink) and there never is a fuss afterwards. It writes consistently the same way all of the time. It is a nearly flawless out and hence a great gift for my son. Most fountain pens I’ve used are a bit temperamental, not this one.

 

kurutoga

Kuru Toga (metal) Pencil

 

Finally I come to Uni Ball’s Kuru Toga pencil, the metal version. (There is a plastic version as well.) The lead automatically rotates (not quite as often as I would like for my taste), has ridges for good grip and a great overall feel. It uses Uni’s NanoDia lead which is quite strong and somewhat challenging to break. This lead is infused with some diamond dust to help strengthen it. This is my favorite pencil of all time. Great for writing, diagrams, technical work but not so much as a drawing or shading pencil (at least for me).

penslist

No one said you had to have great handwriting to enjoy writing.

So there’s my eclectic favorites. They all have their place for slightly different uses and I would hate to part with any of them. I’ve had the Excalibur the longest, the Yafa/Schmidt next; the others are fairly recent converts. I’ve arrived at this set having honed over the years my sense of what works well, looks great, and makes practical sense.

If there are some themes, clearly one of them is my love for black ink with color (or richer, darker colors depending on your perspective); I love the look of blue-black more than traditional medium blues or straight black. It absolutely colorful yet retains the richness and darkness of black. For straight-forward black, I use the Yafa/Schmidt and the Axiom for a more traditional blue. It’s been a great set for me. It, alas, seems like I like to pick pens that are discontinued. Is the industry that fickle or am I that eclectic?

Another theme is a writing implement for a purpose (or, for you techies, each pen has a use case).

  • Excalibur – Embodies a more elegant look whilst retaining Uni-ball’s 207 BLX smoothness.
  • Yafa/Schmidt – Provides more granular control with a bold, black look
  • Axiom – Elegant ballpoint with rich ink. This one is great for a long spells of longhand.
  • Parker 75 – Has the flair of a fountain pen with good control in a no-fuss package
  • BigiDesign Aluminum – This is a great all around writing with Uni-ball’s 207 BLX smoothness in a bit bold point.
  • BigiDesign Titanium Clip Pro – Great all around writing when you’re looking for a bit more precision whilst retaining expressive script.
  • Franklin Covey – A stylus cum pen always found with my Kindle Fire; a great pen or stylus in a pinch or I need a smaller form factor.
  • Kuru Toga (metal) – whenever an automatic pencil is required

Clearly I’m a bit of a writing geek. Even though I type more than I physically write. I still love the process of handwriting as a way to make me think through things whether it’s note taking while reading or listening to a sermon or just in meeting. These are some great instruments to help me do just that. In a nutshell, this is my personal journey to pentopia (oh, wait, that’s a brand). What’s your?

Microsoft Lumia 950 Sound Work Around – Going Jackless

Tags

, , , ,

If you’ve followed the tech side of my blog, you know that I actually prefer Windows 10 Mobile over both Android and iOS (yeah, a particularly rare breed). I’ve touted the benefits of the connected Windows ecosystem and services for mobile, home & office work using everything from Cortana (Siri and Google Assist competitor) and Continuum (connect your phone to a monitor and keyboard/mouse to use like a PC) to Office and Skype to get work done. While the lack of apps is given as its major fault, with the slip of a small market share to a tiny one, supporting existing apps becomes the major issue (I’m looking at you Spotify). Despite those challenges, I still love the platform and still prefer it to the others. With Nougat, Android becomes more consumer friendly and less like a tech experiment but the issues of fragmentation and keeping current continue. While Apple has the benefit of owning the whole experience to help keep users current, the dark side of the proposition is the utter control – it’s their way or no way. For me, Microsoft has been a nice balance of a user friendly experience and options.

 

mozojack2

Lumia 950 – now useless 3.5 mm headphone jack

However, as I continue my Quixotic quest of holding on to a third platform, I must confess the bad with the good. My Lumia 950 headphone jack is 90% defunct. It physically won’t recognize being plugged into headphones unless you hold it pressed at a weird angle and never move. Bummer. Shame on Microsoft; I had this phone for just days past its warranty when the failure began. I’m quite confident it hasn’t gone through anything more than normal wear and tear. So, this should not have failed. However, my backup plan is Apple 7’s only plan – a USB C to 3.5 mm headphone jack dongle as well as using Bluetooth. So, the good news here is that I have a backup that works; the bad news is I need a backup.

MozoLumia950Up

I recently purchased Zinsoko Type-C to 3.5mm Audio Headphone Stereo Sound Port Adapter USB-C USB-3.1 Connector Convertor Cable. The dongle works well. The sound is fabulous. It’s also designed to allow for a phone case. Another piece of the good news is that my Lumia uses Qi wireless charging so that, unlike the iPhone 7, I can listen to music with the dongle in and still charge my phone. The bad news, besides having to purchase and keep track of a dongle, is that the mobile controls and microphone on my Sennheiser Momentums no longer work; the phone thinks it’s putting sound out to an external screen (since it can, using Continuum). I’ll live.

gradousbc

While I have Bluetooth speakers (in the form of Amazon’s Echo and Fugoo’s Style) as well as inexpensive but surprisingly good headphones in Mpow’s Wolverine (used mainly when working out and listening to Audible books while walking with my dog), Bluetooth still doesn’t match wired headsets like the aforementioned Sennheiser’s, my Shure 215e‘s or Grado‘s (for more about my headphone choices, see Cans: A Personal Journey through  Soundscapes). The price point where they do come close is a lot more than the $17 I paid for the dongle; in fact, I could get a new phone for less than some of them. I could have spent less for a dongle, but I wanted something that would work well and for some time to come. This has a good connection, good design (such as leaving room for a case), good cabling  (high quality TPE and OFE materials), light (5 g) and small (5 in), so it doesn’t drag the headset cord down or unduly add to the length.

zinsoko-type-c-to-3-5-dongle

My next challenge was listening to audio in my car (mainly used for Audible books, music and GPS). None of my cars have Bluetooth (they’re older – hey, I have teenage drivers). I can’t use the auxiliary cord anymore. For navigation and Audible books, my Plantronics M165 Marque 2 Ultralight Bluetooth Headset is great, but since it’s one ear only and not a speaker designed for music, I really wanted something to allow me to listen through my car’s speakers. So, I ordered an AUKEY Bluetooth Transmitter & Receiver. Pairing is straightforward, sound is good and the thing is light as a feather (a 40g feather). I’ve had good experience with Aukey in the past (cables, chargers). I anticipate good longevity out of this unit as well. While not audiophile grade, given the level of speakers I have in my cars, it’s more than adequate.

bluetoothreceivertransmitter2

This can also be used to listen phone through headphones via Bluetooth with surprisingly good results. So, if you had to choose, you could simply get the Bluetooth device. Typically, I would simply connect to via Zinsoko’s dongle. It’s nice to have both. The Bluetooth connector will usually remain in the car.

bluetoothheadphone_edited

So, while not ideal, I have some good options that worked out well and will allow me to keep my phone (I listen to a lot of music, books and video on it as well a navigation). If it just had a regular micro-usb port (like most android phones) and a headphone jack, I would be stuck with Bluetooth (in this case, not a bad sounding option since I have good headphones) or a new phone. Now I can use the relatively good cans I own and listen to my hearts content. Ah, the joy and curse of technology.

aukeybluetoothreceivertransmitterdetails

Rosa Montero’s Weight of the Heart Bores into Your Heart and Mind

Tags

, , , , ,

Rosa Montero’s Weight of the Heart is the second book in the Bruna Husky series, her first being Tears in Rain (reviewed in Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero – a thoughtful techno-detective noir novel). The gist of what I’ve written there still applies. This is a creative brilliant story that takes Blade Runner (Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?) as its springboard. She continues to expand her gritty world building, characters, dialogue, and relationships. Indeed, this sequel improves on all of those. Our favorite replicant, Bruna, continues her penchant for being pulled into major scandals via innocent seeming projects. She’s tracking down a missing person and through her generous heart is thrown into a radioactive world when. So, all that was good from book one remains and only gets better.

weightoftheheartcover

Ms. Montero’s sequel matches the high hopes I had for this series. While it’s mostly moved on from its Blade Runner inspired beginnings, its dive into the characters and psyches that populate Bruna’s world only grows more intriguing. The narrative arc is never dull, the writing is ever brilliant and the space between words where we find ourselves and our own challenges taken up, broken apart, examined, and reconstituted allows fresh insight into perennial problems. Weight of the Heart does what the best of sci-fi has always done, it examines who we are and how we relate to one another all in the context of great story. Entertaining and challenging, with no need to compromise between one or the other.

Rosa Montero

Rosa Montero

Bruna unravels a conspiracy between worlds through taking a seemingly snotty girl under her wing. Ms. Montero extends her world both planet side to an artificial moon in ways that allow her to not only push the story forward, but provide this backdrop to reflect on the challenges of our own more mundane world. Not only is it challenging to know who to trust, where real problems lie, or how to respond when overwhelmed, but Bruna (and we) often must do so with so much else that is already challenging. We can’t wait for the circumstances to get right or good to do what’s right or good. So while our choices may not always be “right” (bring the results we desire), they are true. Following Polonius’ dictate to Laertes in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.”

Amongst all these other issues, Bruna must deal with the overarching question of mortality. Because she’s a replicant, she knows the end of her days. She knows she has less than four years to live and she knows the end will not be pretty. Woven throughout all the story are elements of mortality and how we address it. Yiannis most explicitly hashes through death and dying, but it is ever present.

I may make this book sound heavy; it doesn’t feel that way. This is a quick paced, great story that keeps you on your toes and entertains, all the while mulling over these eternal questions of death, mortality, purpose, and culture. What we choose to do together as a people and our individual choices. The impetus of genetics and the judgment we exercise. All these are played out in the narrative. All of them explored through science fiction without deference to simple popular thinking of the day.

Ms. Montero brings fully-fleshed out characters, most of whom are interesting in their own right, even outside of their contribution to the narrative. They are organic, multi-dimensional people with foibles of their own; no one is perfect. Everything drives the story and there is little “waste” that doesn’t play a part. She continues to surprise but never in a contrived way. The relationships are rarely simple and always evolving. As long as she continues to write, I’ll continue to read her work.

Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal flawlessly narrates the audiobook. The introspective intimate moments seem to come from within you; the funny, odd-ball characters are portray as such, but not in a patronizing man. The rhythm of story, with her pacing and pauses, are spot on. Even as she performs passionately, she is clear and understandable. In short, her narration is all that you could desire.

I highly commend the work for your reading pleasure.

Phrasing/Dialogue 5/5
World Setting 4/5
Character 5/5
Narrative 4.5/5

So I met my weight goal. Now what?

Tags

, , , , ,

I’ve been on a bit of a health journey for the last seven months. I’ve outlined some of that journey in my post, Microsoft Band 2 – Real World Notes from the Field. I’ve now met my weight and BMI goals (the first time I’ve ever been considered “normal” in anything, between 18.5 and 25 BMI is considered normal) that I established during that journey. “Celebrate good times, come on.”

celebrate

I’m enormously grateful that I’ve been able to reach these goals. Indeed, it is grace upon grace that I could do so. Yes, I put in the effort, but it is the God in whom I live, and move and have being who sustained me in it, made it efficacious in the relatively short time of 7 months and allowed me to do so with little injury. Now that I’ve turned that corner, however, what’s next? I’ve been driven, to date, in large part by those goals. There wasn’t always a direct relationship between what I did in terms of eating and exercise and sleep and those two goals, but there was a strong correlation. I do know, as part of my experience, that the line between losing and gaining is quite fine, so I know this celebration cannot materially pull me off my daily regimen. As I indicated in my previous post, this is a life journey, a life change, not a fad or diet. I also know that I do have an opportunity to ease up a bit. Even with that knowledge comes the realization that I need to retain motivation now to maintain as opposed to losing weight. Some of that’s pretty straightforward. I still have some loss of muscle mass and will continue to need to tone to mitigate the “sag” phenomena. I still have personal bests to achieve rowing and lifting. So, my goals have not evaporated. In the past, those kinds of goals were intermediary goals, not the end game. Maintaining is now the end game. That doesn’t intrinsically have the same kind of thrill and motivation as achieving new levels. So again I have to ask myself, now what?

whats-next

Well first, maintaining is not going to be trivial as I gain muscle tone. I will gain body density, so to maintain the same weight requires loss of fat. I see that challenge. Also, I do have the joy of not feeling quite the pressure to push on to reach the next stage. Second, I can “gamify” and socialize a bit of the next steps to keep it fresh and to build motivation. Part of that is those personal bests I referenced earlier, part of that will require inventiveness on my part that I’m just now investigating.  I’m not one to post daily workouts and compare with friends or join group challenges or a myriad of other public means of accomplishing this. So how do I accommodate my private nature and socialize this process? I’m not quite sure. But I think it’s key to do so and make games out of the workouts I follow to avoid growing stale in this process. Because it is an ongoing process. There is no true end, even as goals are reached.

there-is-no-finish-line-50

For now, the goal is fresh enough and I’m scared enough of going in the wrong direction, that my motivation is relatively safe. But as with all things, we must safeguard what is important. So now, while I have room, I’ll turn my thoughts to how to keep on truckin’. I suspect, given my predilection for literature, that the way to “game” fitness is through story. Building story around what I do in the goals I make seems to be a fairly natural fit. While I’m shy about many things, I’m clearly not shy about sharing this  journey and will post again as the, by God’s grace, long road ahead please out before me.

nr_photo_phb_winding_road