Signia Pure 13 Nx – Pure Tech to Make Sounds Natural

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Recently I had an opportunity to be fitted with Signia’s Pure 13 Nx hearing aids thanks to the help of Ron McVeigh at Nutech Health and Hearing and Signia’s Bridget Covey. Those that follow this blog know that I previously used Signia Pure Primax 5’s as my first foray into hearing aids. That experience was both eye-opening and very positive. It brought clarity to conversations and a broader range of detail to music at reasonable volumes. (For more on my initial experience as well as more details on the importance of getting your hearing checked, see here ) So, what’s new with the Pure 13 Nx? Quite a bit actually. The main new feature presented in the Nx series is what Signia is calling Own Voice Processing (OVP). It will be helpful to step back before I try to describe the problem they’re solving. Have you ever heard your voice recorded? Typically, it sounds like a slightly higher pitched you. When you hear your voice without any hearing aid, you hear it through the resonating cavities of your bone structure which typically presents it at a lower pitch, especially for men. So imagine that higher-pitched you being magnified in your ears through hearing aid mics. Now you’ll recognize the problem they’re solving: your voice sounds artificially high and loud to you in conversation (and usually with a bit of echo). It’s as if you were listening to yourself recorded in a cave. To reduce this artificial sound of your voice, people would turn down the volume of the mics, but that also reduced your ability to hear others. So, Signia built in the ability to essentially detect and filter your own voice without having to suppress the sound of other voices. In other words, your own voice is filtered down to a natural level while continuing to elevate other voices in the conversation so that you can hear them better and with less strain. Signia, ironically, packs a ton of high tech into the device so you hear your conversations (especially your part in them) as completely natural as if you had no need of hearing aids and weren’t wearing any.  But then that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? Hearing at its best where the technology vanishes into the background.This would be called a nontrivial upgrade. So if you tried hearing aids (or were afraid to try hearing aids) because of things sounding “weird”, you ought to give these a try.

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Courtesy SigniaUSA.com

My own experience of OVP is that it essentially eliminates any artificial flavor to the sound of your own voice. That echoey nature of your own voice vanishes. Moreover, with the directional nature of the mics, your overall perception of sound direction seems enhanced. Note: the artificialness of your voice is mitigated immediately but, over time, essentially vanishes. The hearing aids learn your sound more over time and your voice sounds completely natural after a week or so (except under some profiles like “Recorded Music” where that processing is turned off; I’ll dive into that later).

[Full disclosure: Signia has supplied Pure 13 Nx, StreamLine TV and StreamLine Mic for review. While this does influence what I review, I do not believe it influenced my evaluation.]

There are other additional features as well. The app, now called myControl, has many more features including the ability to control the tinnitus therapy signal in the Universal program, better management of automatic spatial configuration, the ability to capture sound exposure data, the ability to change programs and mic direction based on motion and a much smaller StreamLine Mic (compared to EasyTec) for Android users (Apple phone users don’t require it). Along with new features, they also fixed some nagging inconveniences, foremost among which is the ability to change profiles (programs) without having to detach from a Bluetooth or headphone connection. So much easier!

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The myControl app works well, overall, with my LG V30 Android phone. Switching and staying between programs works really well. I don’t have any issues with it dynamically switching programs on me or switching out of a spatial configuration after some period of time (e.g., I have the mics pointing forward, then after some time they used just revert to the default setting). Roughly once a day during very heavy use (especially during this review period), it crashes and restarts, but everything works well. Finally, sometimes it’s slow to initially bring up the app, but now I’m nit-picking. I will say that this app shows Signia’s dedication to improvement. There are lots of fixes and features tied into the app such as reviewing your sonic history:

 

 

 

 

I’ve also had an opportunity to use the StreamLine TV. I can’t imagine how amazing this would be for somebody who has a severe hearing loss. Even for myself, who has a relatively moderate hearing loss, it simply sounds great. Certainly, movie or TV sounds fabulously crisp and clear with no need to crank up the volume. With my preferred ear domes, you don’t get a ton of bass (explosions or cannons won’t have the oomph you might expect) but Signia even has an answer for that: double closed domes. For me, they’re a bit too warm of a sound signature, so I’ll settle for a less strong bass. Listening to music via CDs or Blu-ray is great.

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Courtesy SigniaUSA.com

So let me dive into the music aspect. I love music. In fact, my initial desire for hearing aids was the fact that my upper register (and some lower register) sound had significantly diminished and to mitigate my tinnitus through the tinnitus therapy signal. I would have to crank the sound to harmful levels to hear some detail. It turns out, as my wife and children have been telling me, my ability to hear conversation was degraded as well. So, I was pretty excited to test out music heard directly through the hearing aids. What an experience! The spatial awareness, as well as the clarity and detail of music, is simply amazing. I listened to Diana Krall’s Turn Up the Quiet, Itzhak Pearlman’s Concert in Moscow which includes a Tchaikovsky piece and Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five. In each case, the detail, clarity, and richness of the mids and treble are fabulous. Moreover, the range of StreamLine TV is just sick. I was listening downstairs in my den, had to a go do something, walked upstairs into the master bedroom and there was no a hesitation, let alone a break, in the sound. It was not until I walked outside the house, opened up my car, and started to get inside to grab something, that the signal was finally breaking up. So, it easily goes through walls, floors, and some pretty serious distance without missing a beat. The only problem you have is people start talking to you because they don’t realize you’re listening to anything and you have to pause what you’re doing and have them repeat again. But the sound is spellbinding. I was talking to a colleague of mine about this and I saw his eyes light up. He has a close relative who cranks the TV up to the point where it’s painful for him to go visit when the TV’s on. He really wants to get his relative into StreamLine TV.

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My LG V30 hanging out with my aids and StreamLine Mic

I’ve also had an opportunity to use the StreamLine Mic. This allows streaming to the hearing aids for Android phones (it’s native to iPhones). That means music, phone calls, Audible audiobooks and podcasts all can go directly into your ears. The sound is the same quality as the StreamLine TV. That is, astonishingly good for the mids and treble with subtle bass (again, unless you switch to double closed domes). To me, this is a game changer and one that I can see being adopted in the future in a more mainstream manner, even for those who don’t have hearing loss. This is not quite the future of implants, but close. I can be anywhere, without any bulky, separate headphones and listen to tunes or my favorite book.

Finally, a separate note on channel separation. I listened to a few binaural recordings, that is, where the recording mics are placed in, essentially, a mannequin’s ears so that it is recorded exactly how a human would hear it live. This provides the ultimate in stereo separation. For example, I listened to David Chesky’s Primal Scream: Jazz in the New Harmonic (a binaural recording). Words fail me. The channel separation is stunning. The placement of the drums in, for example, left rear while the sax is jamming in the right front is amazing. It really is as if I’m in the middle of the studio with the band around me going at it. While I listen mostly to jazz and classical, I love all genres. When I need a bit more thump, I pull out my Grado SR125e’s which are an open-backed headphone with a flat on-ear cushion that works well with my hearing aids and their mics.

One of the brilliant things the Signia Nx does is adjust the mic volume automatically based on environmental noise. For example, I was out on a walk with my dog, listening to Amor Towles’ audiobook A Gentleman in Moscow (I highly recommend it) when a car drove by my bit of the sidewalk. The volume pumped up automatically to adjust for the car noise. Very nice; the story continued and there was no need to rewind to before the car came by. Equally nice is that you can still hear some environmental noise so that you can avoid dangerous situations like a cyclist calling out “Left” as they breeze by you and you do not hear it because you have headphones that keep noise out. Phone calls are really clear on the receiving end and, I’m told, clear on the recipient’s end albeit you sound like you’re in a tunnel. Your words are clear but you sound a bit different. So, as I said, anywhere I go, I have instant access to my tunes, music, and phone without ever picking up a separate headphone, Bluetooth headset or anything else.

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As you can see, unless you’re at just the right angle, you don’t even notice 13 Nx’s

There’s so much more built into these things. Let’s talk programs (or profiles). So, working with your audiologist, you can set up different programs. Mine are Universal (this tech is smart so I leave it on Universal most the time and let it figure out what’s going on and adjust accordingly), Noisy Environment, TV, Recorded Music, Outdoor Sport, and Tinnitus. I’ll use Noisy Environment in a restaurant where the hearing aids will pull in the spatial signature to be closer in (reduces the sound of conversations, plates, and movement so you can focus on the conversation at hand). TV is used when I want the hearing aids to pick up the StreamLine TV device. Recorded Music kills the tinnitus therapy sound and opens wide the sound signature. Outdoor Sport more aggressively manages wind noise and Tinnitus focuses on the tinnitus therapy stream.  Here’s the kicker though; the Signia Nx’s are still smarter than you, at least when it comes to hearing. Let’s suppose that I go the Universal setting and manually configure the mics to point to my left so I can listen to my dear bride speaking to me from that side. OK, time to leave. As I’m walking, the Nx detects my movement and will reorient my mics forward. Pretty slick.

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Honestly, these are a stunning piece of tech. Prior to wearing hearing aids, the world sounded like I had a thick blanket over my head; I could hear conversations, music, and so forth. I could mostly distinguish all of the words, albeit, with effort. It was like hearing everything through the filter of mediocre headphones which muddied down the sound. Now, there is a crispness, sparkle, and clarity which was previously lost. All of this while retaining a more natural sound to my voice. I don’t have to focus as much to understand what’s being said. If that was all, these are worth it. However, I also have the ability to control my sonic environment more than ever. I can adjust the volume down for a loud movie or turn the right side up to hear my wife in the car. I have tinnitus therapy to mitigate the buzz in my head and, now, can connect to my media and phone calls everywhere.  Serious sonic seventh heaven.

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A Reevaluation of Severus Snape (Again)

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There have been various evaluations of Severus Snape and his character (moral fiber) and as a character within the storyline. He has been vilified and his reputation has gone through a resurgence. (See, for example, https://www.cinemablend.com/pop/J-K-Rowling-Weighs-Harry-Potter-Great-Snape-Debate-101877.html for a nice summary of J. K. Rowling on Snape’s grey and tragic character – neither a full villain or saint).
I’m in the midst of doing something I’ve never done before; I’m going through the Harry Potter series back-to-back. I’m doing so via Jim Dale’s excellent narration. Due to my ability to listen while doing chores, take our dog for a walk, etc, I’m finishing each book in less than a week. This more compressed, focused view of the storyline allows certain features and themes to emerge that I might not see as readily or as fully as reading them across the years.

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Just to note, I started reading the Harry Potter series as an adult. (I believe the series what up to the Prisoner of Azkaban by the time I started). When I first started reading the series, I saw the world through Harry’s eyes and loathed Snape. Later, I came to see the pathos of his life and choices, his loss of Lily’s love and Lily herself and came to sympathize with him much more. I especially found his willingness to help Harry (and the Wizarding World in general) through peril leading to his own death as embodying much of the ideals of Gryffindor. Snape was not a coward.

However, I will say that Snape was an immature, vindictive man would couldn’t really get beyond himself; he could be quite petty. This “straight-through” reading of Harry Potter has really brought out how stunted he was emotionally. He was his locked onto that time, in his youth, when he so appreciated Lily’s kind treatment of him (even as he was unable to be kind to others). He never got past that phase of his life and it showed. How? In so many ways
• His dislike of Harry before he met him just because he was James’ son.
• His willingness to be surrounded by sycophants like Malfoy and crave praise from the likes of Fudge.

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• His clear favoritism of all things Slytherin and hatred of all things Gryffindor.
One of the scenes that stands out in my mind which illustrates his sheer pettiness is when Draco and Harry are at each other in the hall, their jinx’s ricochet off one another and hit Goyle and Hermione:

“Malfoy got Hermione!” Ron said. “Look!” He forced Hermione to show Snape her teeth—she was doing her best to hide them with her hands, though this was difficult as they had now grown down past her collar. Pansy Parkinson and the other Slytherin girls were doubled up with silent giggles, pointing at Hermione from behind Snape’s back.
Snape looked coldly at Hermione, then said, “I see no difference.”
– Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p.99

Where is the adult here? While this is not the worst thing Snape’s done, it is knowingly unkind, immature and ugly. There is no excuse for this behavior. Not only can he not let Harry alone, he can’t even let friends of Harry alone. Grow up and man up.

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Perhaps even more tellingly is Snape’s inability to look past his hurt, his unwillingness to listen to anything in Shrieking Shack that would get in the way of his revenge:

“You fool,” said Lupin softly. “Is a schoolboy grudge worth putting an innocent man back inside Azkaban?”
– Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chpt 19

To which Snape answers a resounding “Yes!” His schoolboy grudge is worth all the petty resentment he can throw at it.

Yes, Snape was ill-treated, not only by James and the gang but by others because he wasn’t the blond-haired blued-eyed, man-about-campus. His social awkwardness never fully left him. He did, however, make choices. He chose to be a Death Eater. He chose to give information that ultimately led to James and Lily’s deaths. He chose to harbor and nurse his hurts until he could no longer respond as an adult. He did much to make amends for his indirect hand in Lily’s death. It was, however, all about him. So, while it’s been cool for quite some time to extoll Snape’s virtues, he remains, in my evaluation, a ruined, stunted man who never grew to true adulthood or gained capacity to truly love.

Blade Runner 2049 – A nearly perfect sequel, a nearly perfect film

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Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best-executed sequel films of all time. Bold words, I know but recall that the original is one of those very few films that are as good as its source material, a.k.a. the book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I believe it’s also in that rarefied world of sequels that are as good as the original. Like the original, 2049 is based on the world and characters of the book but not the full narrative per se. One of the things I really love is that, while they paid loving homage to the original, the film makers did not mimic the story (I’m looking at you Star Wars: The Force Awakens). A sequel needs a raison d’être and repeating the original is not it (although I confess to enjoying Force Awakens). This a new storyline extends the Blade Runner universe by 32 years and does so in original ways that are all consistent with the world originally described in Blade Runner. While there’s an organic consistency, 2049 contains a number of surprises, not only in the narrative but in the characters as well. So it ticks all of the boxes in terms of the storyline; it doesn’t ignore what went before, but it’s also not a slave to it. That balance is rare in a sequel.

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Now let’s talk about the film itself. Wow, talk about checking the boxes. Nearly every role in the movie is superbly acted; the director uses that talent well. Even some of the relatively brief parts have a huge impact on the story and, whether it’s Dave Bautista as Sapper Morton, Robin Wright as Lieutenant Joshi, or Carla Juri as Dr. Ana Stelline (oh that scene with K), they nailed their piece. Ryan Gosling has really solidified his ranking among top contemporary actors in this role. Harrison Ford continues to be the bad ass we all know and love. Jared Leto remains the creepy dude that he even while being brilliant. There isn’t a weak performance among the cast.

Then there’s the camerawork. While this is a full, image-rich world, it’s a very run down one. It is shot perfectly. As with every element of the film, the world building and the camera work used to portray it helps convey the story. Some of it looks beautiful, most of it looks like a documentary of the results future entropy with rust and debris, just as it should. There are no gimmicks. There are no artificially long shots or no quick movement pans just to make things look action-oriented. There are no cheats. At all times, the camerawork highlights the drama and action embedded in the story. The lighting, angles, and movement are all used to tell the story and tell it remarkably well.

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I’m not sure how you could better reflect the original soundtrack while keeping things new and fresh than has been done with this soundtrack. There are riffs and whole parts that are reminiscent of the original whilst continuing to go off on its own line. There are more references to classics and pop where that makes sense. It just nails all of it. What a great soundtrack and what a way to bring the old to the new and back together again. Once again, perfectly acknowledge what went before it while merging in what’s new all while helping to convey the story. (I think you get the theme here.)

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So the world building is spot on, the narrative is fresh well done, the acting is executed flawlessly, and the music accentuates all of those elements to present a great story. I’ve read a few articles that suggest we contemporary moviegoers are lazy and so not willing to put into this film that active viewing it takes to really appreciate it. Apparently is not doing as well the box office as people thought it would. I don’t get this. It seems to me to one of those films that both entertains and challenges. Yes, it’s a film to make you think but it’s not just the cerebral exercise is just a great story.

And, oh that ending. No spoilers, but what an ending! So, a couple things to note about this film especially for families. There is nudity; a bit more than in the original. Some of it is more gratuitous than the original. There’s also some pretty solid violence, as would be expected, and none of that’s gratuitous;  It all makes sense. So this is not to be for the young ones this is adult drama for grown-ups that are ready to be both challenged and entertained.

It’s one of the best films of 2017.

Carvana – The Next Best thing to Used Car Buying Nirvana

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If you happen to follow this blog, you know I normally I review books, sometimes music or movies and tech (at least when I haven’t had a month-long hiatus of late). I typically don’t review services, and certainly not used cars sales service. This post will be quite different in that regard. By the way, I’m not going review the car; the Kia Sorento seems to fit our needs perfectly, but I’m really not equipped to review it. Rather, I’ll focus on Carvana’s service. So, let me step back a bit. For various reasons, we were looking for a newish, reliable, practical midsized SUV. We first turned to a local used car dealership with whom we’ve had previous dealings. We’ve got to the point where we paid to have a mechanic inspect the car prior to purchasing. It became pretty evident that attention to detail and willingness to negotiate were no longer strong points for that dealership which had changed hands since our last encounter. I continued my search and through that search ran across a car that looked good, met our criteria, was reasonably priced and was with Carvana of whom I’ve never heard. As I dived in a little bit more, I saw that this was a new way to buy used cars. Essentially, you check it out on the Internet through photographs, descriptions, and some data, like data from Carfax. At this point, you can buy the car on-line, and while I didn’t take advantage of this they do offer financing and the ability to trade in on the site. They’ll have it delivered to your home. Now you’re thinking: “Sight unseen? You fool of a Took!” Well, you have seven days and 400 miles to check out the car; even Gandalf could see the wisdom in that. If you don’t like it, you can return it and have your money returned. Alternatively, you can ask for a different car and switch them out (paying/receiving the price difference). Nicely enough for us, the very first car was the car that we wanted to keep. I initiated this process the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend. It was delivered to my door the next Tuesday morning (that is, the next business day) at 10 AM. I believe it came from a location 400 miles away. That’s pretty swift service.

Carvana Web Page

Courtsey Carvana.com

Delivery isn’t just fast. It’s scheduled and done with friendly flare; our driver was a tad early and called about 30 minutes ahead of arriving. The car comes all shined up on a nice, neat truck with a polite and helpful driver (no, I don’t think he’s a Boy Scout). The folks at Carvana are smart enough to have the driver be a notary public so that they can take care of all the registration for you. The only thing you’ll have to do after the fact is pay property tax. Nice. You can have 15 to 20 minutes of driving it before they drive away, but I didn’t take advantage of that either. I really like the idea of having a solid week for a test drive to really get a feel for the automobile. So, from your couch to your doorstep, a vehicle is available with very little hassle. (I did have to get on the phone with Carvana and my bank to let those guys know that funds were available in the account being used, but that was it.)

Here’s a video walkthrough of Carvana’s web experience:

You might think that with this kind of set up, Carvana would be tempted to just fly under the radar for the next seven days so that they make sure you are on the hook for your car. Nope. Day six they gave me a call to verify that everything was looking good and I was happy with it (along with spelling out what to do if it wasn’t). Day eight I got a thank you note from Carvell (the professional, helpful and polite driver) with Carvana Raleigh. This is not your daddy’s used car buying experience. While I am willing to negotiate, this service’s model is similar to Carmax’s without leaving your home (you pay a fixed price), with the bonus of a seven-day trial and without the salesman looking over your shoulder. Oh, and it appears to be about $500 less than most of the places around my area, at least through what I briefly surveyed, including Carmax for similar vehicles (I know it’s a little tough to compare apples to apples with used cars).

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The end result of our buying experience

So if your time is valuable, you don’t live to haggle, and you like a good deal with the ability to really check out a car before committing, this may well be the service for you. One caveat. They only sell relatively late model cars; it appears that the only go back four model years. So, if you’re looking for an older vehicle, it’s probably not the place for you. It is, however, the experience for me; the next time I need to buy a car, I will be looking at Carvana. I highly recommend the service.

MJ-12 Shadows – Coming out of the shadows with a cover reveal.

Readers of the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog got first dibs, but they’ve now had their moment, so I’m gonna share with you, Valued Personal Blog Readers. Behold, the cover of MJ-12: Shadows! Oh, yeah. Sorry, I got tickets to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 next Thursday night in IMAX 3D and I’ve got […]

via And here’s the cover of MJ-12: Shadows — Michael J. Martinez

Grado SR125e Reviewed – Clear, Detailed, Warm with Tight Bass AKA Sonic Bliss

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The Grado SR125e headphones are a nearly perfect headphone for me. They have all of the tight bass punch I need in that jazz drum beat and bass strumming while maintaining the utterly crisp and detailed mids and upper register for which Grado is so famous. This is all within the context of a slightly warmer sound over the SR80s (which have a slightly warmer sound than the 60s). Mind you, I’ve yet to find a pair of Grados that I don’t like, but they do improve at each price point so that, at least for these three, they seem the best value of their respective price points for quiet listening. They also have a cool story behind them: they’re family owned and run right out of Brooklyn where they’re hand built. Read here for more about the Grado family. Oh, and all those cool pics of Grados in unlikely places are taken by Jonathan Grado.

 

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My LG V20’s Quad DAC does a marvelous job driving the SR125e’s

 

They are, after all, open air, hence the wonderfully large soundstage. So, sound seeps out and into the headsets. When I need to close off the world, I go to my Sennheiser Momentum’s (see Cans: A Personal Journey Through Soundscapes  for more on the Sennheisers) and for more mobility I use LG Platinum Tones with Comply Sport Earphone tips (see LG Tone Platinum Tone Brings the Clarity and Detail, Comply Sport Earphone Tips make Your Workout Bassalicous for more on these). There is another reason for the 125e’s to be perfect for me; I have moderate hearing loss mostly in the upper register as well as some in the lower registers. I have an amazing bit of tech in Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) Signia’s Pure Primax 5 hearing aids which accentuate these registers so that I do not need louder sound levels to hear them well (they also do a whole lot more; see Signia Pure Primax – Bionic Hearing in a Small Package for more). I’ll dive into the benefit of the design of all the Grado Prestige line that help with RIC hearing aids in a separate post. This is just to say, this combination is as good as it’s going to get; the sound is delivered into the RIC speakers that essentially provides an individualized equalizer to provide a fairly neutral sound by emphasizing the registers weakest for me.

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I have loved the Grado line ever since my first pair of SR60s which I bought a little over eight years ago. The hallmark of Grado headphones is clarity and detail combined with an open soundstage. The SR 60s bring exactly that. There is nothing that touches them in that price range. If they are so good, why move up? Two reasons: the supporting base is reasonable but it lacks oomph and the overall tenor of the sound is a little analytic. I prefer something slightly warmer. The SR125es bring all the richness with tight bass while keeping that sparkling clarity and penchant for detail. They also are relatively easily driven, so, while an amp will help these, they don’t require one. I mostly listen to them with my LG V20 phone which sports an ESS Quad DAC that can push 32 bit / 384 kHz sound with a solid amp. Much of my music is FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files ripped from CDs in the standard 44.1 kHz, 16-bit mode.  I also have some lossless WMA files, 320 mp3, 256 mp3 and a smattering of others. However, I also have a mix of HD music (from HDTracks) ranging from 24 bit / 44.1 kHz to 24 bit / 192. I also traverse from classical orchestra and string quartet to jazz to electronica and mashups (think Lindsey Stirling’s dubstep pieces). The SR125es handle this eclectic mix of genres with aplomb. I would also say that the bass is slightly tighter than my Sennheiser Momentum as well a more detailed mids. That’s saying something since the bass and mids on the Momentums are smooth and clear with an astonishingly good soundstage for completely closed in over-the-ear (circumaural) headphones.

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Here’s Jonathan Grado with his love of tossing really nice headphones into the air – courtesy jonathangrado.com

What do you need to know about owning these? Well, when you first get them, the headband might be a bit tight; it loosens up over time. The cable to the headphones is thick and a bit stiff at first. It will also lose its tendency to not want to uncurl. It’s also permanently attached to the headphones, so if it breaks (unlikely with this set), you’ll need to send them in. I did this once with my SR60s; they were quick and the repair was reasonable. On par with a new set of cables. While breaking them in may improve them, they sound great right out of the box. As I indicated above, they need a relatively quiet environment but in such, your $150 will be well rewarded.

I cannot recommend these enough.

LG Tone Platinum Brings the Clarity and Detail, Comply Sport Earphone Tips make Your Workout Bassalicous

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I posted elsewhere the benefit that Comply earphone tips bring to the LG Tone Platinum Bluetooth headset; with the ear tips that come with the Tone Platinum, bass is anemic, at least for my ears. I put a set of Comply P-Series tips which allowed all of the crystal clear detail to come through while providing a solid lower end. No loss of the downbeat with the mids coming through in all their pristine form.

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However (it seems like there’s always a “however”), using the P-series during sweaty workouts degrades the experience. The tips become less elastic and the seal is not as strong. Your thinking “shame on Comply.” No, actually shame on me. Had I done a bit more research, I would have seen they have another eartip for that exact application, namely the Sport. They were just the ticket. Not only do they perform well, maintaining clear, detailed sound supported by a throaty lower end, they handle sweat with ease. They stay in the ear and the seal remains solid. So the P-Series are ideal if you don’t use these headphone during sweat-inducing activity, otherwise, I recommend the Sport tips.

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The tips are a bit smaller but still make a great seal

My LG V20 streams aptX Bluetooth beautifully to my Tones. The case in the background is Jumbl; I love this case. By the way, don’t simply look up which ear tips go with LG in the text, use their Compatibility Finder; that will take you to the specific tips for that headphone.

One more shot with my LG G Pad X 10.1 X. As I indicated in my last post, I went from no mobile LG devices to 3 in one fell swoop. So far, it’s been a great move.

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Déjà vu – Returning to the Android fold – the good, bad and ugly – Part 3: Living with the LG V20, related accessories and the Android ecosystem

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This post, third in the Returning to Android series, covers my experience with the LG V20 and Android 7.0 (a.k.a. Nougat) from a practical, field-tested experience after two months with related accessories such as the LG Tone Platinum. So I’ll be either go beyond my initial impressions or highlight some new aspects of my experience within the ecosystem. This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive review but rather a walk through of some highlights and lowlights of my experience. Honestly, the highlights certainly far outweigh the lows.

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My overall experience Android 7 on LG V20 is that of a much more mature OS that is reliable and works well than my previous experiences. This is likely a combination of an OS that is more consumer oriented (although I still believe both iOS and Windows 10 Mobile hit that target better solely from an OS perspective) and some really rockin’ hardware; the LG V20 is a beast of a phone. Notifications between my phone and my Microsoft Band 2 are still over-the-top (despite turning most off) and the OS or it’s apps do occasionally sputter and have hiccups, but these are rare (2 or 3 times in 2 months)

Unsurprisingly, in-app experience and available apps that matter to me are better on Android 7 than Windows Mobile 10, but the differences are not a stark as I would have thought. There is the key app for Signia touchControl and the addition of some very nice, if not critical apps, but both platforms have most of my day-to-day apps.Now let’s dive into some area where I’ve noticed a difference.

  • Maps and navigations: there are certain features about Bing maps that I miss such as displaying the speed limit and gave me a warning when I go over it that are missing using Google Maps. However, Google Maps does a better job of telling you what’s coming next, highlighting when you are to move over, and which lane to be in; in some cases seems to pick a better route. My previous experience suggested that Google Maps has this propensity to love highways even when that doesn’t seem to be the best route; my current experience suggests that hasn’t changed. Overall my experience is fairly predictable and good with Google Maps. I miss some of the cool voices I used to be able to load with Here maps, Nokia’s version for Windows Phone, but I would rather have reliability than cool.
  • Android Pay: It works (where accepted) and kind of nice. I don’t see this as a huge plus, but I like it.
  • Shazam – I know this is a bit random, but the Shazam app is flipping amazing; it’s wicked fast and accurate. Soundhound a close second.I don’t know if it’s so much a better experience than, say Cortana’s song identification due to a faster processor and the LG V20’s amazing mics or the software, but it is inordinately rare it takes more than 5 seconds to identify a song and nearly instantaneous if the song is currently popular. To get an idea of how good it is at identifying songs, I would play the second movement from Shostakovich’s Symphony Nbr. 9.Not only did it nail the piece and the movement, but got the performer’s correct (Boston Symphony Orchestra & Andris Nelsons). This could take up to 20 seconds. It performed similarly on Basil Poledouris’s Nuclear Scam, and Bach’s Air from Anne Akiko Meyers. Songs with lyrics were more in the 5-second range to instantaneous. It’s fairly rare that I walk away from an app simply muttering “wow,” but I do with Shazam.
  • Microsoft Services vs. native Google Services: As a follow-up on to my note on Microsoft services about no longer having to drink all of a vendors kool-aid (see the previous post) that remains true, for the most part. There are two services, Bing search and Cortana (Siri & Google Assistant competitor), that I find myself rarely using on Android. Since they’re not baked, and their counterparts (Google and Google Now) are, I find the effort to try to use them too high – too many navigational steps and too much time to access them. While I like Bing, I’m just as happy with Google (although I think Bing organizes the information in a more helpful way than Google. I prefer Cortana to Google Now and don’t use the personal assistant aspect of Google Now. I tend to go to individual apps for those features. However, I suspect most folks that are already using Google or Apple services won’t move over so the whole “Mobile First” without hardware strategy (a phone) looks suspect to me.

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Hardware

  • Size: One of my biggest concerns with buying the V20 was its size; this is in the phablet bucket. I remain a little surprised that the size isn’t more daunting than I anticipated. Not only is it large, it’s also relatively tall because not only does have a 5.7 inch screen but it also has that secondary screen. I have not found it awkward at all. It fairly easy to use; I’m not a particularly big guy nor are my hands large and yet it seems to fit comfortably.  Part of that is it’s thin and tapered so that it fits well without sharp edges. Another part is the design of the handset and the materials used. One note is that I tend to do a lot with one hand but while that takes more focus, it’s doable. It just really seems to work well and, for me, fits better in my hand than the Samsung S7 Edge.
  • Feel: In a word, it’s great. It’s thin but nice to hold without edges digging in. It feels premium (as it should). I use a dbrand skin (see below) that provides a carbon fiber look (almost gives a 3D quality) and a bit better grip than the aluminum. When out and about I use a clear Ringke slim case that has a solid grip.
  • Using the 2nd screen: It’s more helpful than I would have thought. I’m still getting used to it, so I’ll forget about it periodically. However, it has helpful shortcuts and access to music controls without turning the phone on.
  • Build – The build is beautiful. It feels like a monoslab unibody phone made of solid, aircraft-grade, aluminum phone despite the ability to remove the back. I love the “button” that allows me to open it (yes it takes a bit of focus but I NEVER have it unintentionally open).
  • Fingerprint scanner – It’s fast and accurate. I’ve heard some complaints here, but I haven’t experienced any issues.

Now for more of my experience in the hardware (and related software) ecosystem

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Music: I previously highlighted the DAC and its specs, but how is in when used in the real world? Does it make a difference listening to music? Yes, yes it does. I typically listen to a wide range of music but focus on classical and jazz. Much of my music is FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files ripped from CDs in the standard 44.1 mHz, 16 bit mode.  I also have some lossless WMA files, 320 mp3, 256 mp3 and a smattering of others. I use Spotify (typically in automatic mode since Extreme mode presents problems, see below). Thanks to the fine folks at HDTracks, I have a number of higher definition FLAC sourced albums including Detroit Symphony/Leonard Slatkin’s Aaron Coplan (Rodeo, Dance Panels, El Salon Mexico & Danzon Cubano, 192 kHz, 24 bit) , Berlin Philharmonic Holst/Simon Rattle’s, The Planets (44.1 kHz, 24 bit), Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Fabio Luisi’s Gustoav Mahler No 1 (192 kHz, 24 bit), Annie Lennox’s Nostalgia (44.1 kHz, 24bit), Detroit Symphony/Leonard Slatkin’s Rachmaninov Symphony No. 3 and Symphonic Dances (192 kHz, 24 bit FLAC), Doric String Quartet’s Schubert String Quartet in G major & String Quartet in C minor (96 kHz, 24 bit) and Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons’s Dmitri Shostakovich – Under Stalin’s Shadow (96 kHz, 24 bit FLAC). Of course, the better the source, the better sound it pushes across. I mainly listened to these with Sennheiser Momentum’s and Grado SR 80’s (for more on these headphones, see Cans: A Personal Journey Through Soundscapes.) The most initially apparent differences you notice are utter silence between notes, indicative of very clean sound, and the crisp, clear detail. Whether it’s the clarinet coming in, background percussion or sweeping strings, it’s all crystal clear. It also has a relatively wide and rich soundstage. So whether you’re listening to Marion Hill’s Sway, Boney James Futuresoul, Halie Loren’s Butterfly Blue or James Blake killer beats, it’s all there, crystal clear and rich.

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When I’m moving around a bit more or working out, I use LG’s Tone Platinum Bluetooth headset. While that bypasses the quad DAC, it passes a clear Bluetooth 24 bit sound (48kHz / 24bit) via aptX HD signal that your headphone can parse on quality DAC presuming your headphone support aptX HD and has a good DAC. I purchased LG’s Tone Platinum (refurbished) to go with this phone for that very reason. Music coming across the Platinum is stunningly clear and detailed. That part is lovely. Out of the box, it has an anemic lower end, even for me. To mitigate this issue, I got some Comply P Series eartips. While they don’t give the headset a good bass,  they do provide enough seal to provide a solid, if not stellar lower end. Coupling that improved base with the headphone’s clarity and detail, works well for my type of music listening, it. If you have a need for beat such as loving techno and beat-heavy R&B, these aren’t for you. Jazz and classical lovers, however, will get along nicely as long as you get a great seal.I use the Poweramp app to listen to music locally. (Rocket Player is also very good.)

 

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Poweramp powering the lovely voice of Halie Loren

 

Spotty Spotify: I previously indicated some challenges with Spotify. I dove in a bit deeper to verify it’s the app. So I had the random pause issue even when I had local files (downloaded) and was in the off-network mode. So it couldn’t be an issue with the wifi or my mobile network. It appears to be mostly resolved if I use steaming on the automatic or normal quality settings and download at normal quality. Now, extreme quality, I believe, is 320 kbps; clearly, this beast of a multimedia phone has no issue processing that. Moreover, the same issue doesn’t exist on Google Play Music which is also downloaded at 320 kbps; I can’t replicate the issue on Pandora, Amazon Music or Groove. It’s Spotify. So, one vaunted advantage of Spotify, high-quality, albeit compressed, music is not practical unless you’re willing to put up with long pauses about every 3rd song. Given the dearth of choices that cover iOS, Windows 10 Mobile and Android, I’ll keep with Spotify until the moment I move my twins phones from Windows, at which time I’ll move to Google Play Music or Apple music, whichever makes the most sense (unless, by some miracle, Spotify actually resolves this issue before then – given their track record – not likely). Given that Android is the dominant mobile OS and, I’ve got to believe, the vast majority of Spotify premium subscribers are on Android, this failure is insane.

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Photos/Video: It really is worthwhile to take the time to learn how to use the manual modes of still and video cameras. While the automatic mode is good, this phone shines in manual mode. Your ability to using focus peeking to get the perfect focus, manage the white balance, ISO and shutter speeds really allow for a wide range of wonderful shots. Similarly, when recording audio, it’s worthwhile to use the custom setting to manage gain and upper and lower cutoffs. Overall the recording is excellent with the exceptions that S’s can receive an easy spike; calibration can help mitigate this issue.

 

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Focus peeking using manual controls on the V20

 

 

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Nice to have a freshly charged battery whenever you need one

 

Battery: As others have noticed, this is a beast of a phone with a reasonable but not long battery (hey, at least it won’t go into meltdown mode). Quick 3.0 charging is just that, quick. I also have a couple of backup batteries (one I leave at home and one at work) as well as a couple battery charges (that charge the battery alone and don’t tie the phone down). LG’s own charging cradle (BCK-5200) and Monoy’s Battery Charger (with the added bonus of a USB port for power). This basically means that, wherever I am, I have a backup battery ready. So I go from 0 to 100% less than 30 seconds. It also means I don’t have to worry about watching my battery usage. I don’t sweat it when I have 20% left, I just pop in a new one. With batteries costing about $12 (from a fairly reputable manufacturer, Beltron, (you don’t want to go cheap with things that can melt and explode), this is a no-brainer. If you want to play it a bit safer, you can get LG’s official OEM battery for about $40.

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LG V20 with LG G Pad X 10.1

Finally, while not directly related to the phone but a quirk of my experience, when I bought the phone (for a lot of money) at AT&T, I had the option to buy the LG G Pad X 10.1 for $1. Originally I was going to pass (it’s LTE so it does typically require a $10 per month line for 2 years for this deal); I already use a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 from work and I have a Kindle Fire (7 in). Did I really need another tablet? No, I don’t need one but I decided to give it a try. It is a delight to use; it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised. It feels great, is thin and has a good screen. For simple consumption of videos, reading magazines (nicer in color than the B&W on my typically preferred Kindle Paperwhite for reading) and quick interactions, I love it. The battery lasts a long time and it’s amazing how well it handles standby mode. It does have LTE just in case I want network access without bothering to tether and don’t have wifi. So, it’s certainly no necessity but it is a joy. Even though the Surface’s screen is better, the lighter, thinner form factor and simple access mean for pure consumption, I actually prefer the G Pad.  If you’re interested, apparently this is the one to get. The other G Pads haven’t faired as well in reviews. Prior to getting the V20, I had all of 1 item from LG, a TV. Now I’ve added the phone, a Bluetooth headset, and the G Pad. So far,  life’s good.

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LB V20 with dbrand Carbon Fiber skin & back of G Pad X 10.1

 

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

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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