Friday, July 29, 2011

A Quick Consumer Product and Service Review: HTC EVO and Sprint

Recently, The Queen and I made the decision to switch from AT&T Wireless to Sprint. The decision was not without some mild trepidation as I had been with AT&T since 1996, and The Queen had had Sprint back in the dark ages before we were married. She had had more than one bad customer service experience with Sprint. I clearly remember her frustration which led to my frustration with simple things like paying a bill or correcting an error. Then there was the fact that Sprint's network was atrociously bad with dropping calls and such. 

Fast forward to 2011. Our contract with AT&T had been expired for over a year, and our iPhones (second generation 3G) were becoming difficult to deal with (meaning they were slower than polar bear snot in a blizzard and updating the software was no help). Apparently, it is all part of Steve Jobs' evil plan to force you to buy the latest iPhone # whatever instead of continuing to service a perfectly useful product. I decided that it was time to check out what the other carriers had to offer and see if the Android phones were worth all the hype. 

Enter Sprint. They offered the HTC EVO at a reasonable (at least reasonable to me) price as the HTC EVO 3D had just come out, and their shared minutes family plan with unlimited text and data included was a big selling point especially considering that AT&T recently went to tiered data plan where you have to pay extra for unlimited anything. The total bill for Sprint's service was going to work out to about $20 less per month for double the minutes and unlimited data and text versus limited data and text with AT&T.

What could go wrong? Right?

Where to start? Let's start with the phone. That's the simplest place to begin. With the exception of one big honking, glaring, roadside flare of a battery issue, I really like the phone much better than I did the iPhone. The Queen...not so much. She has been mourning the loss of her iPhone ever since we left the Sprint store even though complained loudly for months before we made the switch about how slow her phone was and how frustrated she was. I can't win for losing. The Queen hates the phone, I think, because it's not like her iPhone. At the core of that is the battery issue with which I agree with her wholeheartedly. 

The battery on the HTC EVO flat out sucks. When we got our iPhones we were not used to how much smartphones went through battery life. We learned some relatively easy tricks to extend the battery charge, and we were happy. The iPhones wouldn't outlast a regular cell phone on battery life, but they'd make it through a full day of data usage and talking without needing a recharge every five minutes. The HTC EVO's battery makes the iPhone battery look like the Energizer bunny by comparison. It's phenomenally bad. 

For instance, I plug it in to the charger at night and use the phone as my alarm clock. The alarm goes off, I sorta kinda wake up, take the phone off the charger and take it with me into the bathroom to check email and such while I get ready for my day. In the span of the 15 to 20 minutes that it takes me to go through my morning ritual, the battery has been drained by about 10%. Apparently, that big freaking display that I love so much about the EVO accounts for 88% of the power used by the phone since it came off the charger this morning.

To be completely fair, I really do like everything else about the phone. I like the display a lot better than I do the iPhone's display. The apps seem to work better although there are some slight differences between the Apple version and Android version of identical apps like Facebook which take a little getting used to. Once you spend a day tinkering with the phone, you've figured out most of the quirks. The only thing that I think the iPhone does a little better than the droid is the contacts list. This is balanced out by the droid's smart dialing system. Want to call Bob? Any Bob. Dial 262 on the phone, and the Bobs in your contact list are presented for your selection. 

Anyway, I could have lived with the battery life issue by doing what a young friend of ours did...he bought a bigger frikkin' battery. If that were all it was, I think we could have been happy. But, nooOOOOoooo!. Sprint had to be difficult. For the past two weeks, I've heard nothing from The Queen but how bad the phone was, that it was dropping calls, etc. I was in the car with her during one of those times when a call was dropped, and it just happened to be in an area where I had consistently dropped calls with the iPhone. It told her so and suggested that that spot might just be a deadzone out of line of sight of any towers. She was skeptical but let it go for the time being; however, her complaints resumed the next day.

Things came to a head on Tuesday as The Queen and I were driving in separate cars to my mother's house. We were to be doing some house sitting this week while Mom was out of town. We took two cars as I would have to come back to our house to take care of work, our animals and other things. Whilst we were traveling from home and hearth at Castle Erickson to where Fortress Mimi is located in the hinterlands of the frontier, we were in the midst of a heated discussion about matters which do not concern my fair readers when the call was dropped. Right in the middle of a fair sized town on state highway. No signal. Zap. Discussion over. We were without cell signal for over 15 miles until we got to the interstate highway. Even then, our resumed call was dropped yet again in between small towns on the interstate. Oddly enough, we could send and receive texts while in radio silence mode.

Oh. HELL. No.

I drove back and forth between Dallas and Houston for two years with very rare dropped calls on AT&T's network due to loss of signal that lasted less than a mile. I called people from the top of a 10,000 plus foot tall mountain using my AT&T cell phone outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I've driven this exact same stretch of road between Castle Erickson and Fortress Mimi for as long as I've owned a cell phone without ever having had a dropped call with AT&T's network. Fifteen plus miles of no signal on a major state highway is UNACCEPTABLE. Period. End of story.

I will give Sprint kudos for one thing. The young lady who helped us when we signed up for service was super nice and helpful. I can only hope they are as helpful and nice when I go back in on Sunday to tell them we are taking advantage of their 30 day money back guarantee to go back to AT&T. If not, you'll be hearing about it. 

Your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We Live...

Shocking, I know, but The Queen and I are still very much upright and able to take nourishment as my father is fond of saying. We've just been very busy. I guess I should be apologizing in advance as this state of affairs is very likely to continue for the foreseeable future seeing as how law school starts three weeks from today, and I still have a lifetime's worth of stuff to accomplish between now and then.

For instance, tonight was another in a series of the classes required by the state of Texas to be allowed to foster or adopt children. Tomorrow night we will be hosting the CPR and First Aid class required to be licensed as a foster parent here at Castle Erickson. Thursday night, is an optional class called "Parenting 101". The Queen doesn't need this class as she has a wealth of experience in handling kids from her days as a nanny. Me...not so much. In between, we (read The Queen) will be house sitting through the weekend. I still have to work and accomplish assorted other tasks.

I will say this though, I have never wanted to be a professional (or even amateur) hitman in all my life more than after having to sit through the class on sexual abuse. There are people in this world like The Queen and I who fervently desire and pray to have children of our own but cannot while perverted scumbags not only have kids of their own but abuse them in ways that would cause normal people to vomit. I know there is no easy way to prevent such abuse from happening, but it sickens me to know that it does happen.

On that happy thought, I have to go do the dishes and go to bed. Goodnight. Hug your kids and hold them close if you have them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Anyone Still There?

Greetings from the disaster area known as my life. In fact, life as I have come accustomed to knowing it ends exactly one month from tomorrow which is when my law school classes start. Which my lovely bride reminded me of at 1:30 AM this morning. Thanks sweetheart. That was a wonderful thought to go to bed to. 

You would think someone embarking upon three and a half to four years of life altering education would take this opportunity to relax and enjoy the next 32 days. You would be thinking about normal people. I'm not normal. You see, in addition to my normal duties as sole breadwinner, head chef and bottle washer here at the castle, there are several other things that have been intentionally added to the schedule by us or serendipitously dumped on us by that evil genius Murphy (bucket list item: locate and pee on said personage's grave).

So, let's give the readership a rundown of the end of life as I know it.

1) The power steering in my 2000 Nissan Maxima finally chose last month to give up the ghost completely. Other than the inconvenience of this occurring in the midst of the hottest summer in recent memory (it's been a glorious 100+ degrees here since mid June), I really can't complain. That car has been chugging along for over 310,000 and shows no signs of throwing in the towel anytime soon. If you've never looked at Nissans, I highly recommend them. The down side is that I have to scrounge at least $45into the budget for a power steering pressure line (at best) up to $225 for a new power steering pump and pressure line (at worst) not to mention finding time in an already hectic schedule to change out said components while trying not to die of heat stroke. 

2) Our oldest remaining animal, Sasha (the big lab/shepherd mix who will turn 12 or 13 this fall...I can never remember unless I go back and look at her vet records) has been in declining health of late. We took her to the vet last week. He diagnosed her as having had a mild stroke, arthritis in the hind quarters and some neuropathy. He candidly told us she doesn't have a lot of time left. The only question is whether she can make some improvement from her current state (very weak, wobbly, etc.) to make further treatment beneficial and not just delaying the inevitable. It's really depressing so close on the heels of the demise of the Yakmaster, but such are the trials of those who open their hearts to animals.

3) We've made it official pretty much everywhere else to more or less encouraging response: The Queen and I have decided to start the process to adopt. I haven't spent much time in these pages on the lack of children in the Castle mainly because that's pretty darn personal, and I really had no clue as to how best to handle it. Suffice it to say, The Queen and I have been unable to have children of our own. The Queen's health has recovered to the point that we can actually consider taking care of children and not lose our ever lovin' minds which is a tremendous blessing. Part of the adoption process is required attendance in classes about fostering/adopting/parenting. We've been told to expect the process to take anywhere from six to eighteen months. We've decided to go the foster to adopt route for a number of reasons not the least of which is cost. Further updates as events warrant.

4) I still have to finish the projects around the Castle so that we can, in theory, put the house on the market to sell. 

5) The market sucks right now. I mean really bad. We had a realtor do a market evaluation for us a couple of years ago when we first started thinking about selling the house. It was not great then by any stretch of the imagination, but a sale was possible if you weren't greedy. From what I've been able to gather via internet research on houses for sale in my area, things have gone from bad to worse. Price per square foot has dropped by about $5 to $10 in two years. That sound you hear: it's the equity in our house going down the drain. We'll be lucky to sell the house at a breakeven if we can sell it ourselves without a realtor. Anyone want a good deal on a house in a Dallas suburb? Anyone? Bueller?

6) The castle's AC started out the summer heat wave at a disadvantage. The system is just a tad too small for the castle's square footage (it's a 4 ton system when it should be 4.5 at a minimum and 5 would probably be better). As you can imagine, Murphy struck when the temps hit "slow roast". The lines and compressor froze up. A visit from our AC guy later, we had our freon charged up and hoped that was the end of it. Not so much. Shutting off airflow to one bedroom/bathroom and fiddling with the thermostat setting for several days, we finally have an AC system that will shut off sometime after 11:00 PM. It runs non-stop when the sun is out. And it's forecast to be over a hundred....until who knows when. My luck it'll be the end of August before Satan drops the temps back to "simmer".

7) We are in the process of "decluttering" the house. Until recently, The Queen's parents were living with us. My inlaws are wonderful people; but, with two adult couples living under the same roof, there is just too much stuff. Since the inlaws have more or less relocated permanently to my brother in law's house while they work on refurbishing the house they will be moving into on his property, The Queen and I are taking the opportunity to reclaim our space. Easier said than done. It doesn't quite look like we need an intervention from the crew of "Hoarders" yet, but I'm not ruling the possibility out. 

Enough for now. Duty and work calls.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Pointy Head Gives Me a Sharp Wit

As you all know, yesterday was Independence Day. The Queen and I spent the day with my mom, my sister...the devil, and her husband and kids. As with last year, we went to my sister...the devil's church which hosted a Patriotic Pops Concert. The concert was indoors which was especially nice in that it kept us out of the 102 degree heat while we waited for the sun to go down so the fireworks could start.

The program for the concert was much the same as it was last year with a couple of minor changes. There were two parts of the program which I thought were particularly nice. The first is when they played the songs for each of the five military services and had the people in the audience that had served in those services stand up for applause from the rest of us. Later in the program, they played a couple of John Phillip Sousa march's while flashing military photos of congregation members, past and present, on the big screens.

After the concert, we retreated to thee cars that were strategically positioned in the parking lot for a good view of the fireworks and an easy exit after the festivities. We set about unloading the copious amounts of barbecue we had procured for the event. During the setting up of the barbecue, there was a fun little exchange with me, mom, my sister...the devil and her oldest child (who shall be henceforth known as "Twig" as she is a skinny little, semi vegetarian whose only source of meat protein is chicken as she claims not to like the texture of beef...whatever).

Anywho, as we all stood out in the church parking lot, my sister...the devil mumbled something at Twig that involved a minor curse word. The exact wording of the comment escapes me at this early hour, and it is not really necessary to the rest of the story.

Mom scolded my sister...the devil by saying: "What your language. This is a church afterall."

I, in a fit of snark, said: "It's okay mom. It's a proven fact that God doesn't listen to her anyway."

Twig turned to me and said: "I love you Uncle K."

Monday, July 4, 2011

At lunch today: "That which does not kill you only delays the process."