Saturday, December 13, 2014

Guns that look like toys....

A shotgun concealed within a Super Soaker.

A handgun painted red.

Guns painted with cartoon characters and multiple colors.

Customization and concealment of personal items is something people have done since forever, but now it's being taken too far with firearms and the result is deadly.  Go to Google and search on "guns that look like toys" then click on Images.  Dozens of pictures of real firearms that have been decorated or painted for concealment come up.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Criminals have figured it out - cops will hesitate to shoot if they think the weapon isn't real.  Unfortunately, with continued and increased criminal use of firearms, that second guessing can get a cop killed.

The media has been picking up on this topic more and more lately and it seems to be becoming more of a problem.  Unfortunately, there's no good solution either.

And that's scary.

Kids have played with toy guns for hundreds of years; practically since the first firearm was invented.  It's a rite of passage; playing cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, army, and more.  Toy guns have always been obvious; whether it's the bright orange tipped airsoft gun, the snap cap cowboy six shooter, or brightly colored squirt guns, these are part of millions of childhoods.

There are also well known training tools such as the blue or red plastic guns utilized in classes to educate new and experienced gun owners.  These are used to provide safe training drills for self defense and combat exercises.  I own both a blue, heavy plastic Beretta look-alike and a red with black slide Glock look-alike that provide grip and dry-fire practice.

There's also a drive to "customize and personalize" firearms.  This is one of the most irresponsible actions a gun owner can consider and firearms manufacturers should be slapped up side the head for providing the product.  Firearms need to look like firearms; black, silver, brown, no cartoons or bright colors.  As much as I dislike gun control legislation, this is one of those instances where the gun control advocates have a reasonable platform.  If you own firearms, please - do NOT make them "pretty".

As always, law abiding citizens are not the primary problem here, but we all need to be aware.  It's no longer sensible to allow our children to play with toy guns when out and about, even on the cul de sac.  Criminals are desperate and they don't care if innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire, so take the time to protect yourself and your family.  Sit down with your kids and tell them about these decorated/customized weapons, help them understand the importance of avoiding them and what to do if another child brings one out.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What kind of computer should I buy?

Let's face it - there are a gazillion computers out there that you can buy and unless you have a geek on your shopping trip, everything is going to blur together.  Well, today is your lucky day - I'm here to provide you with the necessary geek tips to get through that shopping trip.

First Things First

When buying a computer, the very first thing you need to do, before you even THINK about looking at an ad or website, is figure out what you want to use the computer to do.  This is the prime determinant in what you're going to buy and I'm going to let you in on a little secret - if you're an average buyer, then you can have more options than others, including budget laptops.  Let's look at the types of users:

1) Basic User - This is the person who is going to surf the web, use e-mail, write up shopping lists, listen to music, keep finances, maybe even edit a few photos of the kids...that sort of thing.

2) Business User - This user is all businessy; he/she is going to be doing spreadsheets, basic graphics, running business applications.

3) Gamers - Gamers are in a calls all their own.  They require lots of power, lots of memory, lots of graphics capability.  This is the second most expensive category of user because, let's face it, you get what you pay for.

4) Power Users - The power user does not require as much power as the gamer, but pretty close.  Your typical power user is a higher end techie who has a lot of programs running at the same time, needs multiple monitors, maybe does software development, and so forth.  Computer engineers and software developers fit in this category.

5) Graphics Professional - This is the most expensive category of them all.  Graphics professionals demand even more out of their systems than the gamers.  These are the people who edit movies, design animation sequences, and use computer aided design (CAD) applications.  Gamers would love to have one of these systems but usually can't come close to affording them.

The vast majority of folks are either basic users or business users and these two categories are actually very close to each other.  Your basic user can get by with a laptop that has 4-8 gigabytes of memory, 500 gigabytes to 1 terabyte of storage, and an i3 or greater processor.  The business user will  want to demand at least 8-12 gigs of memory, a terabyte of storage, and an i5 processor.  The optimal set up is one notch up for each.  If you're getting Windows 8, get a laptop with a touch screen as well; you can run Windows 8 without one, but the new graphical user interface (GUI) is designed for touch so why not grab the best of both worlds?

Desktop, Laptop, MacOS, or Windows?

The next question is desktop or laptop?  If it's just for you, consider going with a laptop.  It's the call of the 21st century - we are a mobile people.  Nothing beats having the ability to pack up and go.  That's something you can do when you're a laptop user.  If you're buying for the family, then the all-in-one is a great solution; all of the modern operating systems (Mac OS, Windows, Linux, etc) allow for multiple users on a single PC and it's best to keep your kids in the family room under your watchful eye.

That brings up another question - Mac or Windows?  (I'll throw you another wrench in a bit when I talk about tablets.)  If you're not tight on funds, a Mac may be the best choice.  Graphics professionals will nearly always use Apple's products, especially the new Mac Pro.  Basic users and business need to look at how much you can spend and how you want to link your equipment.  Windows is the standard for most users, but Apple has done some pretty neat things with their product line that merits a look.  Higher cost; yes.  Ease of use and interoperability; absolutely!

Although I started off with DOS (command line) and moved into Windows, I'm an Apple guy now.  (I actually started off on the old Apple II series back in the early 80s.)  I have an iMac desktop, a MacBook Pro laptop, iPhone 6 Plus (on preorder!), and an iPad.  I've used every OS platform on the market at some point but I've settled into the Apple ecosystem for one big reason --> interoperability.  Everything I do with my technology is linked via Apple's equipment and operating systems.  Whether it's making a phone call, e-mail, documents, messaging, or even shopping lists, I have the lot of it running through my Apple devices and can get to it from any one of them.  Apple's equipment is also high quality; it costs a little more but it comes with high value.  Even more important to me - Apple equipment just plain works.

For those of you consider other operating systems like the many flavors of Linux, ChromeOS, or others...these are really more for specialty types.  If you're reading this article for advice on buying a computer, then stick to Windows or MacOS.

Price Points

Moving back to the world of Windows and the many, many choices available.  Let's break these out by their price points.

The $250-$300 laptop is a true budget unit suitable only for the most basic of users.  This is typically an i3 or Celeron processor; has 4 gigabytes of memory; usually a 15.6", non-touch display; and a 500 gigabyte drive.  These are suitable for surfing the web, e-mail, basic word processing, and similar activities.  They'll be a bit slow and quickly outgrown by anyone but the simplest of users.  This is also where you'll find things like the "Chromebook".  Chromebooks are ok for a select group of users but for most users, you'll want to avoid these as they're just too restricted.

The $350-$500 laptop opens up the spread significantly.  These laptops typically sport an i3 or i5 processor or equivalent, 500 gigabytes to 1 terabyte of storage, maybe a touch screen, 64 bit processor, and 4-8 gigabytes of memory.  This is where the typical, basic user will find a decent system but these laptops are still not quite the right choice for business users.

From about $600 up to $1000, you'll find yourself in a much better piece of equipment.  Although the specs will vary widely, this is where most users should really try to purchase their equipment, with business users typically looking closer to the $900-$1000 range.  These laptops will come with i5 or even i7 processors (or equivalent), 8 or more gigs of memory, a terabyte of storage, touch screens, and even added ports.  Basic users will be satisfied with these systems and even some power users, depending on what they need the PC to do.

As with all things, the amount you spend will typically reflect the quality of the item you purchase.

What About the Specs?

This is where we get down to the nitty gritty; the geek speak.  Once you've decided what kind of user you are and how much you can put down on your new laptop, the next decision centers on the power.

Processor - The processor is the brain of the computer and the more power you have here, the better the computer.  There are two dominant manufacturers of processors in the market today - Intel and AMD.  In consumer laptops, AMD has pulled a bit ahead of Intel at the moment, but either will work fine for most users.

Intel has three basic processors on the market today:

  • Celeron and i3 - These are slow, and the bottom of the barrel.
  • i5 - This is a dual core processor with decent speed and capabling of handling most users' needs.
  • i7 - This is the quad core processor and offers the best bang for the buck.

AMD offers similar processors with dual (E1) and quad core (E2) offerings.  They also have the A series of processors that offer multiple CPU and GPU cores - A6 (3/2), A8 (4/4) and the A10 (4/6).

The speed of the processor has become less of an issue today as well.  Most systems run at 2.5GHz or greater and so long as you stay in that general realm, you'll be fine both as a basic user and as a business user.

The further up the ladder you go on your processor, the better.  I'm a big fan of the i7 CPU, but an i5 will work ok for most folks.

(BTW - the "core" responds to how many processing units are on the chip.  In the old days it was just the one.  Modern computers have multiple processing units on a single chip courtesy of miniaturization.  In fact, we now have processors with both computing and graphics cores on the same chip!)

Memory - Memory stores the data the computer crunches.  The more memory you have, the faster the computer crunches that data.  If you have less memory, then the system swaps it out to the hard drive and that means slower operations.  The absolute minimum memory for a truly basic user is 4 gigabytes; you should shoot for 8-12 gigabytes though.

Display - The size of the display is a personal preference.  Laptops come in 11", 13", 14", 15.6", and 17" varieties (give or take a few tenths of an inch along the way).  I've always bought 17" displays because I like having the full keyboard and number pad, as well as the extra real-estate the 17" screen offers.  That said, my MacBook Pro is a 15.6" screen and it works just fine.  If I need more space, I simply plug a monitor into the laptop and use multiple displays at the same time.  (This is a feature supported by nearly every laptop on the market today.)

Displays also can be touch or non-touch and this is a big deal if you're running Windows 8.  Windows 8 was designed to be used with a touch screen and although the desktop is still there, it's nice to get the best of both worlds.

The quality of the image on the display is no longer such a selling point.  Most displays are perfectly adequate to task for both basic and business users.

Storage - You can never have too much storage BUT external storage is king; the storage on your system is really more about what you need to take with you when you're on the go.  500 gigabytes is enough for the average user and a terabyte certainly offers the growing room for most users, basic or business.

Wireless/WiFi - Wireless standards start off with 802.11 and end with a letter b, g, n, or ac.  There is usually some measure of backward compatibility as well.  If you can find one, a computer that supports 802.11ac is the latest and greatest, plus it will be backwards compatible with b/g/n.  In most cases, though, you'll find just b/g/n support.  Don't buy anything that doesn't support at least b/g/n.

The other part of this equation is the frequency that is supported.  2GHz and 5GHz are the way these are usually labeled.  Get a computer that supports both and avoid computers that only support 2GHz. Look for this when you buy - I found a great buy on a quad core laptop that had all the basic specs I needed for my home office Windows system and didn't even notice that it had a 2GHz only chipset.

Ports & Accessories - This is one area where manufacturers can really shine.  Every computer you buy is going to come with some kind of video and audio output, and probably two or more USB ports.  However, these are not all created equal!  A standard VGA port is nice to hook up another monitor, but a mini-displayport is better and even better than that is HDMI.  USB3.0 is much faster than USB2.0 (with appropriate devices, of course) and the USB3.0 port supports earlier standards so it offers the best all around option.  Firewire is great, SATA is nice but you're unlikely to use it.  Would you believe that most laptops no longer include a CD/DVD drive at all?  You'll want to think about that before you buy, but if you get one without, you can always get a drive that plugs into your USB port for about $20.

What about the brand?

Would you believe this really doesn't matter so long as you stick to the big companies?  Toshiba makes great budget laptops; HP and Dell have been the choice of business for many years; Samsung makes a great laptop as well.  On the desktop front, HP has been putting some very nice all-in-one units out for a while now and Dell, Lenovo, and Asus have all hit the market with good equipment too.  Of course, as I mentioned earlier, if you can afford it, you just can't go wrong with Apple.

Brand loyalty is a big deal for a lot of folks but I'm just not among them.  I've found that most manufacturers offer similar quality and it's really the hard core specs that you need to consider.

Bottom Line?

The bottom line is that you want to get as much power as you can for as much as you can afford to spend.  Here are the minimums I recommend:

Basic User - i5/A8 processor; 8 gigabytes of memory; 500 gigabytes to 1 terabyte storage; 64 bit Windows 8; 15.6" or 17", touch screen display; USB3.0 ports; 802.11 b/g/n with 2 and 5 GHZ support; any brand.  Average price: $600.

Business User - i7/A8 process; 12 gigabytes of memory; 1 terabyte storage; 64 bit Windows 8; 15.6" or 17" display; USB3.0 ports; 802.11 b/g/n with 2 and 5 GHZ support; Dell with various additional coverage (accidental damage, 3 year warranty, etc).  Average price: $1200.  (Note the business cost is a bit higher because of the extra protection/warranty that you buy.)

As I write this article, we're heading into the holiday season and there will be MANY sales on computers.  It's the best time to get a decent deal, aside from watching the ads every week during the rest of the year, searching for that one great buy.  Black Friday will have a bunch of laptop mark downs and store shelves will be overflowing with options.  It's a golden opportunity to take your new found knowledge on a shopping trip!

What else?

There are lots of "extras" you'll want to buy for your computer.  A wireless keyboard and mouse or trackball (Logitech; $50-$75), maybe a second display (go for as big a screen as you can get; runs about $125), an external CD/DVD drive ($20)....  These are all semi-essentials and really, choosing them is nowhere near as difficult as buying the computer itself.

For you laptop users, make sure you get a good bag to carry your laptop around.  I'm particularly partial to Swiss brand backpacks; they protect the equipment well, have ample storage for accessories, and a backpack allows you to distribute the weight across your back as opposed to carrying it on one side in a briefcase style holder.

You should also consider purchasing an external storage device or two.  For backing up your data, a USB hard drive like those offered by Western Digital (WD) and SeaGate are inexpensive choices ranging from $50-$150.  A 2 terabyte drive will be enough for most users.  The key thing here - back your data up and do so often.  If your external hard drive crashes, you'll be happy you have that external hard drive sitting there with a copy of everything.  You'll get great use from a USB "thumb drive" or "stick" as well.  These are even less expensive, running $10-$100 and storing anywhere from 8 gigabytes to 128 gigabytes of data.  USB thumb drives are great for carrying just about any data between systems, especially for business users.  They can be lost, though, so consider their use carefully.

While we're on the "what else" topic, everyone who uses a computer needs a basic office suite that includes a spreadsheet and word processing program.  The best known of these program suites is, of course, Microsoft Office but it's kinda pricey, even if you go with their Office 365 program.  Never fear, there are two free suites that are just as good and even support the Microsoft file formats for interoperability.  They are WPS Office and LibreOffice.  At the moment, WPS Office has pulled out in front and offers the best collection of features in a free office suite.  Before you cough up the cash for Microsoft's products, give these a test spin; you may never turn back.

What about a Tablet?

I'll close this article out with a brief touch on the tablet.  Tablets are all the craze and with good reason; they take portable computing to all new levels.  They're small, light, and fairly powerful.  Many of us have replaced our daily technology usage with a tablet, especially for surfing the 'net and answering e-mail.  However, they're just not quite yet ready to completely replace the computer for most users.  They're really more of a companion.  When you need to edit pictures, write a paper, work on a spreadsheet, or any of a myriad of other tasks that require the use of a keyboard and pointing device, tablets just don't quite cut it.  I'm pretty fast on the tablet; but I type WAY faster on a regular keyboard.  Every tool has its purpose and even though there are now tablets with USB ports, keyboard cases, and even the ability to wirelessly connect to a keyboard/mouse, they just don't have quite the same power as a full blown computer.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What streaming device should I buy?

Today I was asked about the streaming devices that are on the market.  The specific question was which one offered the best bang for the buck.

When it comes to getting your entertainment, there are many options available to consumers today.  In fact, a lot of us are moving toward "cord cutting" for entertainment.  Sure, you still have an Internet provider, but at least you aren't paying to get 500 channels when you're only going to use 10, including 5 or 6 of those which you can get over the air for free.  Setting aside home entertainment mainstays that now incorporate streaming functions, if you want to get a set top box there are four basic players in the game:

1) Amazon Fire TV
2) Apple TV
3) Chromecast/Google TV
4) Roku

Any one of these four will plug into your TV and give you access to all sorts of entertainment.  The first three, though, were specifically designed as content delivery devices within the ecosystem of their respective manufacturer.  This means that Amazon, Apple, and Google designed these so you would purchase your content from them specifically and directly.  Roku, on the other hand, is wholly independent of the others and offers more "independent" channels.  They all support the big content delivery independents - Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and YouTube.

Apple TV

Apple TV is the most restrictive of the four and this makes it the poorest choice for the general consumer.  Apple offers you access to music and movies you purchase through iTunes, Netflix, and Hulu Plus.  They have a bunch of other "channels" you can access if you have the right subscription (usually a cable provider).  You can read about the channels available here:

The best thing about AppleTV, though is that you can also mirror your iPhone/iPad/iPod to the TV and that's pretty cool.  I have one of these for just that purpose.  It's also nice to be able to access your photo stream on the TV and iTunes radio is just as good as any cable based music channel.

Anyone who knows will know I am a HUGE fan of Apple products.  I have the full suite - iPhone 6 Plus (preordered), iMac, MacBook Pro, iPad, AppleTV, and next year I'll even get an Apple Watch.  But, if I'm being honest, I just can't recommend the AppleTV to anyone who isn't heavily hooked into the Apple ecosystem.  Apple just hasn't shown themselves serious about this area of entertainment and Android based devices are just better.  Apple TV goes for $99 normally, but you can find it on sale occasionally and on Black Friday, Best Buy likes to sell them for closer to $50-$60 too.  (Hey - it's only a couple of months away!)

Chromecast/Google TV

Google has come up with their own rendition of home entertainment set tops called "Google TV" and an Android extension device in a stick called the "Chromecast".  If you're looking for a full set top solution, forget about Chromecast.

Consumers of the Google Play world of content (movies, music, etc) and Android afficionados, will find Google's options a great addition to their homes.  If you have Android devices, you'll enjoy the ability to mirror them to the TV just like Apple geeks can do with the Apple TV.  Google TV is for Android what Apple TV is for iOS, right down to the channels offered.  The one thing you get with Google TV that you don't get with Apple TV - apps.  There are lots of Android apps that will run on your Google TV box.

Again, though, my recommendation here is limited.  The Google TV boxes run anywhere from $100-$200, depending on the model, sales, and so forth.  Heavy Android users - this is a great pick for you.  Of course, you can't play iTunes content on Google TV but there's just as much content from Google Play.  If you're not all about Android, then there are better choices.

Amazon Fire TV

When you come right down to it, Amazon is the supreme leader of content delivery.  No one does it better.  Period.  End of discussion.  Their e-reader devices may not get my vote, but Amazon has a very well developed ecosystem for delivering movies, music, and books that has made it the behemoth it is today.

The Fire TV is a relative newcomer to the set top box market.  It retails for $99 and offers full access to all the big content providers, apps, and even has a standard game controller you can buy to play some of the many games available for the device.  The interface is simple; sliders where each row is a different category of content/apps, and even a voice recognition driven search system.  It is elegant in its simplicity and design.

The best feature of Fire TV is how it hooks into Amazon's ecosystem and the pairing of the device with Amazon's "Prime" service.  Amazon Prime costs $109/year and offers free, 2-day shipping on anything you buy as well as access to their Netflix like library of movies and TV shows.  Of course, newer material takes a while to get to the streaming service, but the selection actually rivals Netflix.  Having Prime plus Netflix will give you enough media content to vegetate on the couch for years to come.


Roku is the power house in this category.  In addition to carrying all the big content providers, Roku also taps into Google's media and even Amazon's.  (No Apple or Google content accessible yet.)  As an added bonus - the Roku is cheap.  Entry level Roku boxes cost only $50 and earlier generations can be found for less.

In the war of versatility, Roku takes the cake without competition.  In addition to the heavy hitters, there are dozens of small content providers with channels you can add to your Roku box, some for a couple of bucks a year and others for free.  Music lovers will be pleased to find that even Spotify is available on the Roku.

Sidebar - What's "Plex"?

I'm glad you asked!  In addition to the big content providers, you may find yourself to be a bit of a content provider on your own.  With Plex, you can store your very own content at home (Plex Media Server) or even in the cloud.  (Cloud services start at $3.99/month and they offer yearly, $29.99, and lifetime, $74.99, subscriptions as well.)  Roku, Google TV, Amazon Fire TV, and most mobile devices support Plex to boot.  This is a great option to add to your home entertainment system if you have a large MP3 collection or if you have a lot of movies you've ripped.

So...What to Buy?

Your particular viewing needs will dictate which device you find most appealing.  If your content exists primarily in one ecosystem (Apple, Amazon, Google) then that's where you'll best end up.  If you want a bunch of tchotchke channels with esoteric programming, along with the big content providers, then you'll find Roku works great.  The overall winner in my book is the Amazon Fire TV.  Amazon's content is just unparalleled in the market and even if you're a regular Google or Apple kinda user, Amazon's content delivery is superior.  SO, if you were the type of shopper who just wanted ONE box, then I'd recommend getting Amazon Fire TV, adding Amazon Prime, buying any digital movies you want through Amazon, and even tying it into your "Free Digital Copy" coupons when you buy discs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

iPhone 6 has arrived...but was it worth the wait?

So, Apple had its big shindig, the H2 keynote.  They announced a brand new iPhone, Apple Pay, the Apple Watch...but, is it worth the upgrade?

In order for a smartphone update to be worthy of an upgrade, some conditions need to be met:

  1. Faster processing
  2. More memory/storage
  3. Better camera
  4. Operating system improvements
  5. General improvements and new stuff

In the case of the iPhone, the product line had become a bit stale so this new model really needed to be an out of the park, grand slam kinda hit.  This particular upgrade hits all the salient points.

Faster Processing

Apple is introducing its newest chipset, the A8 (CPU) and M8 (motion management).  The A8 has 64 billion transistors and is umpteen times faster than its predecessors.  The M8 introduces new features in that it can measure motion and elevation such as going up stairs.  Graphics processing is supposed to be 50% faster as well.  All of this and a reduction in overall power consumption.  This definitely qualifies as a significant improvement to the processing capabilities of the phone.

More memory/storage

Apple did not say anything about the memory on the phone, but there was a nice bump to storage.  The base model comes out with 16G of storage but the next two levels are 64G and 128G.  This is especially important as the iPhone isn't just a telephone or your average smartphone but a personal music system and a place to keep thousands of photos.

Better Camera

The new iSight camera has improved upon previous generations.  We still have 1.5-micron pixels, ƒ/2.2 aperture, and 8 megapixels, but the sensor is greatly improved.  When talking about digital photography, the sensor is likely the single most important thing for getting good, crisp pictures.  The new camera uses on-sensor phase detect focus (called, "Focus Pixels"), improved tone mapping, better noise reduction, improved face detection, better HDR (High Dynamic Range)...all good things.  Apple also claims the front facing camera takes in 81% more light.  The end result is MUCH better pictures.  Another plus courtesy of the larger sized iPhone 6 Plus - Optical Image Stabilization (OIS).  The smaller iPhones, including iPhone 6, use digital image stabilization and while that's good stuff, it doesn't compare to OIS which actually moves the lens as part of keeping things still.  If you're into selfies, iPhone 6 can do burst mode selfies too.  On the video side of the shop, we have 60fps HD video but also 240fps slow motion video.  That's kinda cool and you can get real artsy with slow motion and time lapse.

Operating System Improvements

Apple already gave us the grand tour of iOS 8 earlier in the year and it is definitely a bump from iOS 7.  There are all the standard/sub-standard updates of apps making them look faster or run better, of course.  iOS 8 also increases the usability of the device with things like more interactive notifications; quick-reply; integrated SMS (not just Messages, but actual SMS); cross-platform improvements  including the ability to dial calls from your Mac; new photo editing tools; time lapse mode and timer for the camera; improved searching; and "Family Share" which allows family members to share content.  All are very solid improvements and all will be available on 9/17 to owners of iPhone 4S and greater (as well as iPad2 and greater, and the iPad mini).

General Improvements & New Stuff

Now THIS is where we really get to the meat of things.  The above are all absolute musts for an upgrade to even be considered, but to seal the deal there needs to be some keepin' up with the Joneses.

Probably the biggest issue with the iPhone, compared to Android devices, has been its size.  First everyone wanted smaller but now that we've realized how useful these things are, we asked for a bigger screen.  Android manufacturers responded with devices up to 5 and 6 inches.  Apple...they increased to 4 inches.  Needless to say, that just wasn't enough and the customer base was pretty clear on that point.  They've corrected course and the iPhone 6 comes in a standard 4.7 inches while the iPhone 6 Plus comes in 5.5 inches of phablet phabulosity.  The thickness has been reduced from 7.7mm to 6.9mm and 7.1mm respectively.  The new colors will be silver, gold, and black.

The second complaint has been with battery life.  Apple claims to have improved overall battery life depending on usage with as much as 16 days of standby.  This is a significant claim for those who do not live on their phones.  Overall battery life is said to have improved as well, due to a 50% improvement in the A8's power management capabilities.  Browsing gets up to 10 hours, video 11 hours, audio 50 hours, and 3G talk 14 hours.  iPhone 6 Plus, which can hold a bigger battery obviously, bumps those up a bit -- 3G talk gets 24 hours and audio a whopping 80 hours, while browsing goes to 12 hours and video to 14 hours.

The transceivers have been updated substantially as well.  LTE is juiced up to 15Mbps with 20 bands and carrier aggregation.  VoLTE (Voice over LTE) has been added and that's the next big thing in cellular carriers' world.  On the WiFi front, the iPhone 6 supports 802.11ac, the latest WiFi standard and the fastest yet.  iPhone can also shift calls back and forth between WiFi and cellular now.  (Android has been able to do this a while; T-Mobile uses it extensively, since their network coverage is so poor.)

The iPhone 6 played a little catchup with the addition of NFC features as well.  Near Field Communication allows devices, like smart phones and tablets, to exchange data over a range of a couple of inches.  While this technology is not new, Apple is largely bringing it to the mainstream with their Apple Pay service.  Apple Pay is a payment service that uses a wallet to store your credit card information.  Ever notice the "Tap to Pay" thingmes on the credit card swiper at the supermarket?  That's an NFC transceiver; you will now be able to use your phone to keep track of your credit cards and pay for purchases in a far more secure fashion.  (Android has had this ability a while now.)  This feature is only available on iPhone 6; earlier versions of the iPhone do not have an NFC chip.

Graphics have, of course, improved in this new series as well.  The iPhone 6 has a pixel density of 301ppi on its 4.7 inch, 1334x750 screen; the 6 Plus sports 401ppi on its 5.5 inch, full HD screen with a 1920x1080.  (That's right - a phone with 1080, full HD.)  This gives portable gaming yet another boost and Apple was quick to show it off a bit with a demo of a new game from Super Evil Megacorp.  Between the faster processing, better graphics engine (Metal), and display improvements...they did not fail to impress; the graphics are simply stunning.

The last big thing that comes along is one of Apple's newest campaigns - health and fitness.  iOS 8 introduces two new fitness apps; one that tracks your day, and another that helps you track your workout. There have been fitness trackers for a while that log how many steps you take, your daily heart rate, and more.  The iPhone 6 now has some of those functions as well.  The new "Apple Watch" takes it one step further, providing all the data of a wristband fitness tracker, haptic feedback, and more.  This is nice because it integrates all these trackers into equipment you typically have with you everyday and everywhere you go.

The "Apple Watch" (which I'll review later) also provides you with a wrist based interface to your iPhone.  This is nice because it means the iPhone can stay in your purse/pocket/holster.  What's more, the smart watch includes its very own NFC chip so users of older iPhones will be able to take advantage of Apple Pay by tapping their watch to the credit card reader.  There are some really cool things you can do with this smart watch and it's a very nice companion tool to the iPhone.


Pricing is always a question when there are so many feature improvements and hardware upgrades.  The iPhone 6 will run $199 for 16G, $299 for 64G, and $399 for 128G (with 2 year contract). iPhone 6 Plus is $299, $399, $499 (same storage). They're dropping the 5S to $99 and the 5C to free.  (For those interested, the Apple Watch hits early next year at a very pricey $349.)


The big question: Is the iPhone 6 a worthy successor in the product line and a worthwhile upgrade?  The answer here is definitely a yes.  This new generation of iPhone brings the device up to date compared to its competitors in the market, improves on every aspect of the hardware and design, and incorporates a bunch of new features that moves it to the forefront of the smartphone wars.  The prices haven't really changed, although the iPhone 6 Plus is a bit more expensive than the base model, and there's just a bunch of improvements.  iPhone 6 ships 9/19/2014 (iOS 8 releases to everyone on 9/17/2014).

Monday, September 1, 2014

What is a "tax inversion"?

"Tax inversion", also known as a "corporate inversion" is one of the ways corporations reduce their tax burden.  The long made short - a company based in a country with a high tax rate merges with a company that's in a country with a lower tax rate, then moves the headquarters of their newly formed company to the country with the lower tax rate, essentially "renouncing" their citizenship.

This has been making quite a bit of news lately as US corporations are looking at any and all ways to increase profits.  The US has the highest corporate tax rate of any western nation at 35% (well, highest of those in the OECD).  Of course, we all know that no corporation actually pays taxes; they pass the cost of taxes along to the consumer in the form of higher prices.  However, taxes still come off their bottom line so if they can find a way to get the cost of taxes down, then the bottom line retains more profits.  This makes investors happy, but hurts the previous host nation (in this case, the US).

Another benefit to corporations, besides the obviously lower rate, is not paying taxes on out-of-country profits.  US based corporations pay 35% whether the money is made in the US or elsewhere; they're merely credited what they paid outside the US.  For example, if a US corporation paid 20% in taxes in another country, then they'd pay an additional 15% when they brought their remaining profits back home.  Most countries only tax profits made within their individual country; this means the money made outside the host country are not taxed any more than what the other country requires.

Anything that's good for a corporation must be bad for the people, right?  Well...that's up for debate.

First and foremost, shareholders take a bit of a hit when the inversion occurs as their shares will be traded out for shares in the new company...and subject to capital gains tax.  Secondly, corporate profits made within the US will remain the same.  So we're really just talking about the loss of a small percentage on foreign investments.  True, there are some pretty big multinational companies (like Burger King) talking about making the jump, but even the US Treasury is only estimating a loss of $20 billion over the next DECADE.  That's right - a paltry $2 billion a year.  For a country which has budgets in the trillions of dollars, $20 billion over ten years is a drop in the well.

What about the little know, the thousands of employees the company has here in the US?  Truth is...they're not even going to notice.  So long as business in the US continues to be profitable, these companies are going to continue to do business in the US.  The one exception here...employees with company shares would feel the pinch as capital gains tax.  Even that's just an impact to the middle class and wealthy who hold long term positions; individuals making less than $37k and couples making less than $78k do not have to pay capital gains.  And anyone who has these stocks in a Roth IRA, 401k, or other tax deferred account.  (Investment advisers may also recommend selling some other stocks for a loss to offset the capital gains, or even gifting a portion of stocks to someone else.)

According to the Ways and Means Committee of the US House of Representatives, 76 companies have completed corporate inversions since 1983; 19 have announced plans to do so in the last 18 months alone, with 14 having completed their plans already.  In fact, since President Obama took office, 25 companies have chosen to change their addresses.  The pundits, of course, blame this on the Obama administration and their aggressive rhetoric/policies; the reality is more that we're a global marketplace now and corporations are under heavy pressure to reduce tax burden.  This is just one of many tactics to do so.

The companies completing tax inversions are varied and several you've heard of, maybe even buy from regularly.  Medtronic, a manufacture of durable medical goods, just moved to Ireland.  Most pacemaker recipients will have heard of this company.  Pfizer has been in on-again/off-again talks to buy Britain's AstraZeneca.  Liberty Global, formerly of Colorado, bought Virgin Media and made the jump across the pond.  Chiquita bought Fyffes and moved to Ireland.  Forest Labs bought Dublin's Activis and is reincorporating there.  You may notice these companies are all moving to the UK...that's because the government there taxes at 13% and only taxes domestic profits.

Burger King and Walgreen's have been hot in the news lately.  Walgreen's was considering a move to Switzerland; for what can only be described as patriotic reasons (i.e., heavy PR fallout), they reconsidered and will remain a US firm for the present.  Burger King, though, is merging with Tim Hortons of Canada and the move is underway.  Some argue this was for the brand value of Tim Hortons; it's practically a household name in Canada, so headquartering it here might damage the brand.  The tax benefits are only around 10% so although there are some financial benefits, it's not as massive as some other inversions.  Money is money, though, and that will allow the new company to expand as they pull on each other's considerable experience and menus.  (Let's face it - Burger King makes some great sandwiches, but their breakfast is terrible; Tim Hortons is the breakfast king in Canada.)

So...that's the story on corporate/tax inversions.  The media is making a big deal out of it; the Democrats think it is the end of the world; the Republicans are all about it.  For the rest of us, it's good to understand all the hoopla.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why do you work?

"Make your career something you love and you'll never work a day in your life!"


Let's get real for a minute here - nobody WANTS to work and if you turn something you love into a career, you WILL eventually see it become something you USED to love.

If you ask someone, "Why do you work", nearly every person will tell you the same thing - "I need to make money".  However, money isn't the REAL reason that most of us suffer through the office drama and 9-5 grind.  In reality, there are other reasons - far more important reasons - and it's important to take the time to sort those reasons out.

Money gives us a certain latitude.  With money, you can pay for shelter, food, water, and the luxuries of modern life.  However, most of us do not NEED money to get these things; there are forests and charities that can supply the basic necessities.  You say, "yes, but I want to live in the city and I don't want to use welfare".  Ok, but is that REALLY all you want?

Many will make the distinction between "jobs" and "careers".  The former is something we do to cover expenses whereas the latter is something we devote far, far more time and effort to, even to the point of essentially giving our lives to it.  In the end, though this distinction doesn't really matter; you're still almost certainly not doing it for the money.

Both job and career oriented workers seek money for similar purposes.  The most basic is to cover day-to-day needs - food, shelter, water, clothing, and so forth.  There are some people who really do just work to get through the day-to-day expenses of living.  Most of us, though, want more than that and this is where the philosophy of why we work comes into play.

A single mother may hate that she needs to work two jobs to make ends meet, but she isn't doing it just to make money.  She is working those two jobs to take care of her children; to give them a decent life, keep them fed and clothed, and put them through school.  A father with a career in business puts in the long hours so he can increase his earnings potential and buy that house in the suburbs, ensure his wife can stay home and raise the kids, and put his little girl through years of dance lessons.

In both cases, the money is what makes these things possible but it's just a small piece of the reason we do the things we do and it is so important in this age of unhappiness to remember these reasons!

Some of the happiest, healthiest people I've ever met had neither a job nor a career.  They lived off the land, they lived on the beach, they lived on the kindness of others.  The hardest working people I know tend to be far more unhappy.  They're so caught up in the rat race that they've lost sight of why they put in those long hours, give up weekends, and miss family events.

"I work so my faceless corporation can fill the shareholders' pockets," said no one...ever....

There's nothing wrong with grousing a bit about the workplace; there's a reason we call it work instead of play.  The key thing, though, is to remind yourself every day - I'm doing this so my little girl can someday be a prima ballerina; I'm doing this so my son can go to college; I'm doing this so my sick parent can keep the family home.  Educators do so for the sake of the children they teach; firefighters work to save lives; researchers seek answers to questions so they can better the lives of everyone.

We all have reasons to work that go beyond the money and this is the key to keeping your eye on the ball.  It adds some measure of sense to getting up each day and making that drive to the office.  It gives purpose and meaning to our labors.

So...why do you work?  Comment on the blog or Google+ if you like...!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Your education is your own....

Many times over the years, I have heard someone lament the high cost of studying at the local university.  We've equated career advancement and opportunities with a college education and, although this is generally correct, it's not a complete opinion.

Companies hire and promote based on experience, capability, and knowledge.  Many entrepreneurs are just really smart people who used their knowledge to fill a niche or enter an existing market with something better than what was already there.  Note that none of this requires a degree.

There are thousands of college-level courses available online, absolutely free of charge.  The term used to refer to this phenomenon is "Massive Open Online Courses" or "MOOCs".  MOOCs are complete courses, some even have an instructor community of folks who help each other through the course.  There are homework assignments, textbook materials, lecture materials...many have videos of lectures.

Anyone who has ever attended college knows that you only get out of it what you put into it.  Instructors and lectures only take you so far; as a student, you must study, review, research, and ask questions.  MOOCs are much the same and those with videos of lectures and/or social communities offer just as much support as any college (if not more).

The only down side - you do not get college credit and although there may be a certificate of completion at the end of some courses, it doesn't count for very much.  However, the goal here is not to get a degree - it's to get the knowledge.

"Knowledge is power."  Cliche, but so very true.  If you can learn how to develop iOS software, you can write apps and sell them on the App Store.  If you want to develop a new engine, you can devote time to study of physics, chemistry, and mechanical engineering.  Need to learn accounting to handle your home business' finances, you can grab a few accounting classes.  Interested in expanding your knowledge of history so your novel accurately portrays a particular period in time, you can grab some history courses.

College is a convenient, organized way to become educated and earn a document that tells the world you put in the extra time and effort to advance your personal knowledgebase.  It's not the only way to expand that knowledgebase and MOOCs offer everyone a fantastic opportunity.  This is where the rubber hits the pavement; if you want to make something out of yourself, it's up to you and no one else to make that happen.  This is another tool you can tuck in that belt as you work your way up the pole of success.

Search "MOOC" on Google and you'll get nearly 3 million results.  Look it up in the news and you'll find enough articles to keep you reading quite a while.  There are lots of big name universities involved including Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.  Apple has the iTunes University (available on Apple devices) with many courses as well.

Here are a few links to help get you started....

  • CodeAcademy - - Software development courses.
  • Coursera - - Many different courses.
  • Duolingo - - Language courses.
  • EdX - - Many different courses.
  • KhanAcademy - - Many different courses.
  • MIT - - Many different courses.
  • Open Culture - - Many different courses.
  • Stanford - - Many different courses.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The History of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day.  This is one of a few heavily celebrated holidays in the US.  We usually enjoy the holiday as a family holiday - cookouts are the order of the weekend - and it marks the start of the summer season.

But...that's not really what this holiday is all about.  Shortly after the Civil War, we established Decoration Day as a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.  It actually started out being May 30th to coincide with when many flowers would be in their seasonal bloom.

It's important to understand the emotional state of the nation that brought this day of commemoration to the forefront of our leadership.  We had just finished the civil war and more than 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed during the war.  There were only some 31 million people living in the US at this time; that means roughly 5% of the US population was killed.  The effects were enormous, truly giving the people of the United States reason to pause.  To get a feeling for what this would be like today, imagine 6 million people being killed over a 3 year period; everyone touched by the losses of a controversial war with complex causes (it was about much more than just slavery, including economics and state rights).  What's more, these figures are just estimates developed during a time when there were very few real records kept and some historians estimate the losses were MUCH higher (closer to 750,000 or more).  More Americans died during this conflict than any other in the history of the United States until World War II (1941-1945) and there were far more people in the US by that time (133 million).

The first, large, national observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868.  There were some local observances that occurred earlier and the official "birth" of the day was given to Waterloo, NY, where a formal ceremony on May 5, 1866 honored local war veterans.

After World War I, the holiday was expanded to honor those who had fallen in all American wars and in 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day as a national holiday, giving the day its new name and formally dating it as the last Monday in May.  (Many older Americans still call it "Decoration Day".) Americans visit the final resting places of our fallen soldiers, placing flowers and small American flags around their burial markers.

In 2000, recognizing that Americans had lost the true meaning of the day, Congress passed the "National Moment of Remembrance Act" to further encourage the people to give something back to their country on Memorial Day.  The act asks Americans, wherever they are at 3pm local time on Memorial day, to join in an act of national unity by observing a moment of silence.

An interesting sidebar...may states in the southern half of the US also have a "Confederate Decoration Day" or "Confederate Heroes Day".  This day honors those who died fighting for the Confederate States of America during the civil war.  It is very controversial, as one might expect, as are other Confederate holidays.

As with many holidays, modern society has forgotten the true meaning of the day.  Memorial Day isn't just a time for families to gather and have a cookout.  It isn't just a day off or when the pool opens.  It's a time of remembrance; a time for us to sit back and reflect upon our freedoms and the high cost of those freedoms, honoring the many men and women who fought to protect those freedoms.  We can never forget the sacrifices that have been made to ensure the privileges allowed to the United States.

How much water do I need?

Someone started a discussion today that I thought would make a great blog discussion as we head into the warmer months:

How much water do I need to drink each day?

It's a tough question.  We hear all the time about how we need to eat right, and everyone learns to "drink 8 glasses a day".  Athletes and outdoor workers are always being warned about dehydration, but what about us normal folk?

The US RDA for water is 3.6 liters for the typical adult.  For kids, it ranges anywhere from 2.9 (4-8 year olds) to 3.4 liters (9-13 year olds).  (These numbers include  about a liter of water from the food you eat.)  Of course, those who are more active (athletes, including dancers, sports enthusiasts, and martial artists) should be getting more when they're exercising, just to replenish what you lose in sweat, and anyone working in the summer heat will need more for the same reason (even if you're doing yard work).

Thing is, it ain't easy to drink all that water!  Well, never fear, you actually don't have to DRINK it all and drinking what you do need is actually very easy.

Everything you eat is made up of lots of water and that water counts toward the 3.6 liters US RDA.  An average sized apple contains as much as 4 ounces; pasta and actually add water to prep them for eating; add tomato and lettuce to that sandwich for an extra ounce or two.  In other words, almost a whole liter of the water we need each day comes from the very foods we eat during the day.  That's why we can usually get by with closer to 2 liters that we actually drink (about 67 ounces).  Although the "drink 8 glasses of water a day" saying has been largely derided and debunked, it's actually still about right as a "glass" is actually an 8 ounce glass and that's 64 ounces.

"But I don't like water; it has no flavor!"  Ok, ok - I get it.  A lot of people want flavor in everything they consume.  So...add flavor.  Anything you drink counts toward the 2 liters you drink; coffee, tea, juice, milk, even soup broth.  Although I hate to admit it, even soda pop, KoolAid, and beer count (although you need to watch your intake there for obvious reasons).  Coffee drinkers will get 8-16 ounces with their morning hit, and I know I get every bit of 16 ounces when I drink a tall cup of OJ in the morning.

The key to getting the water you need is to take a bad habit we already have with food and make it a good habit with water.  I'm talking about "mindless drinking".  Let's face it - we like to nibble while we watch TV or engage in other couch sports.  Do the same with what you drink by always having a cup of water nearby.  I recommend water bottles and straw cups for those of you on the go.

I'm a techie so my work is fairly sedentary, involving long hours of sitting in front of a computer.  There is always a 24-32 ounce cup of ice water sitting next to me and I refill it at least twice in any given day, sometimes three or four times.  If I leave the house to run errand, I fill up a 24 ounce straw-cup with ice water and take it along with me.  At night, when I go to bed, I take a 24 ounce cup of water to keep on the nightstand so I can take a few drinks during the night when I wake up.  And I pretty much always start my day with 8 ounces of water from the get-go, just to replenish all the water lost while I was asleep.

"Wait; I get that I lose water when I exercise, but how do I lose water when I'm asleep; I'm not doing anything!"  Actually, you ARE doing something when you sleep - you are breathing and sweating.  You lose as much as half a liter (16 ounces) of water just laying there asleep.  (BTW, that's almost a pound in weight.)  This is to say nothing of how much you'll lose when you make that first visit to the bathroom in the morning.

Some quick and easy to follow tips for getting in enough water each day....

  1. Sip don't gulp; several sips equal a single gulp but it's hardly noticeable.
  2. Keep a filled glass next to you and sip throughout the day; refill regularly!
  3. Keep a glass by the bedstand and get in the habit of taking a drink when you awaken during the night.
  4. Keep a filled glass by you for sipping while watching TV.
  5. Take a filled glass with you when you're running errands.
  6. Have a filled glass around when you're doing other stuff - taking a bath, reading in your favorite hammock, giving a speech....
  7. Use ice water (actually helps, especially if I'm feeling hot, even though you want to drink warm fluids when you want to cool down).
  8. Count ALL fluids you drink - coffee, tea, fruit juice, milk, etc. Even soup broth counts.
  9. Accept that your daily intake will vary; some days you may be at 2.5-3 liters while others may be 1.5.
I also recommend using a water filter (on the fridge or the kind you attach to the kitchen sink) and a few reusable water bottles to keep costs down.  A lot of folks really like their bottled water but more oft than not, the inexpensive bottled water is just water that has been further filtered from the tap (look at the label).  Tap water is usually just fine to drink, but it actually has a flavor and smell all its own; by filtering that out, you may find you like your water better.  (Do the same with your ice cubes, too.)

Incidentally, did you know you can actually drink too much water?  It's even more difficult than drinking enough, but it is possible to drink so much water that you suffer water intoxication and it can  kill.  Drinking too much water can result in hyponatremia (too low blood sodium concentration) and it can raise blood pressure.  The kidneys eliminate excess water but if you get too much too fast, they just can't keep up and the blood becomes waterlogged.  This increases blood pressure (add fluid to a closed system) and tends to draw out water soluble substances, especially salt.  Thankfully, the kidneys are pretty good at eliminating water and there's more to water intoxication than just drinking a bunch of water.

The health benefits of drinking more fluids are many; even more so when that fluid is just water.  Water helps with appetite, cell elasticity and health (skin and muscles), kidney health, regularity, and general elimination of bodily waste products.  It's good stuff and many of us need more.  Hopefully this article will help you get the water you need each day.  Happy drinking!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to choose the right firearm for me?

The choice of a firearm can be a very difficult one for many of us.  Full sized or compact?  What caliber?  Steel frame or polymer?  How much should I spend?

The first thing you need to do, and I recommend this to everyone - take a class on the fundamentals of shooting.  Beginner firearm courses will teach you proper stance, grip, sighting, as well as general firearm operations and safety.  Nearly every range offers a “basic handgun” course for $50 or less and it typically only lasts 2-3 hours so it isn’t a significant time investment either.  Instructors are usually certified by the NRA and/or long time shooters who really know their stuff.  Most also have an assortment of handguns they will supply for students to use during the class.

Next, consider your use; the reason you are purchasing the firearm.  Will this be a self defense pistol kept for home protection or concealed carry?  Are you taking up shooting as a hobby with the intention of eventually competing?  There are many articles available that debate the merits of pistols by use; a quick Google search will fill your reading time.

I look at handguns as a shooting enthusiast as well as with an eye toward home protection.  My preference is with full sized, metal frame pistols and I like both the 9mm and .40 caliber round.  These rounds are supersonic and aggressive, but not so difficult to manage or too expensive to buy ammunition.  Some brief thoughts on the most common selection criteria:
  1. Full sized vs compact - A full sized handgun offers less felt recoil and greater shooter accuracy.  Compact firearms typically have greater recoil and less shooter accuracy at distant targets.  Of course, a full sized handgun can be difficult for concealed carry as well.  More experienced shooters find they can use either equally well and competition shooters typically use full sized handguns.  Home and self defense, as well as hobbyist - I recommend a full sized handgun.
  2. Manufacturer - There are many firearms manufacturers including Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Sig Sauer, Ruger, Springfield Armory, Glock, Browning, Remington, and more.  For the new shooter, I recommend sticking with a mainstream, well known manufacturer until you have a better understanding of firearms.
  3. Caliber selection - This is another religious topic.  .22 long rifle is dirt cheap, low recoil, and hands down the best caliber for just getting some time in at the range.  It is not a good selection for self defense, however, as it lacks stopping power and offers limited damage.  9mm is a supersonic round that offers reasonable recoil and effects significant damage.  .45 caliber is the venerable; many swear by it as it is a large round that packs a wallop.  That said, it is also a subsonic round, does not have the same penetration of a supersonic round, and is more expensive than other calibers.  .40 caliber is a supersonic round with greater mass that sits somewhere between the 9mm and .45 rounds.  Originally introduced by S&W in response to the FBI’s need for a round with more oomph than the 9mm, it has been carried by many law enforcement agencies for over 25 years and shows well.  Any of these rounds will be suitable for self defense purposes, home or concealed carry.  For your first firearm, I recommend a 9mm as the ammunition is plentiful and less expensive than others, which means you’ll be able to spend more time at the range.
  4. Steel frame or polymer - Modern handgun technology has taken dramatic leaps forward in SO many ways.  One change is in materials used to manufacture the weapon.  Polymer frames make handguns lighter, do not rust, and are long lasting.  This also reduces the cost of manufacturing the gun and that means lower costs to consumers.  That said…I’m a metal frame kind of guy.  I’ve shot a few with polymer frames, I even own one, but I simply prefer the feel of a metal frame.  I like the heft, balance, and performance of a metal frame.  If you’re on a tight budget, there’s nothing wrong with getting a polymer frame and they shoot very well.
  5. How much to spend - As always, you should spend as much as you can afford.  Budget about $400-$600 to get a decent handgun from the manufacturers mentioned above.  For beginners, anything over $700 is really overkill; there are plenty of great, entry level firearms in the $400-$600 range. 

There’s also no rush to buy; most ranges offer handgun rentals for a variety of models.  Even better is if you can get an experienced friend to go to the range with you and bring his/her pistols.  The more time you get at the range practicing, the better; it will really go a long way toward picking the right handgun.

What are some good handguns to consider?  Here are some that I like, in no particular order….

  • 92 Series - The Beretta 92 has a long history and is my personal favorite (I own an M9A1).  The 92 series is a full sized, metal frame, 9mm pistol and suitable for target or home defense use; its size may make it a challenge to carry concealed.  Price ranges $550-$650, depending on the model you choose.

  • G17/G19 - The G17 is a full sized, polymer framed, pistol chambered in 9mm.  It is a very popular handgun, light, and reliable.  The compact version, the G19, offers a solid balance between concealed carry and home defense.  The price range for this handgun is $500-$600, typically right about $550.

  • SR9/SR40 - The Ruger SR series has a 4 inch barrel, polymer frame, and is suitable for either concealed carry or home defense.  Ruger also offers a compact version with a 3.4 inch barrel.  MSRP for these handguns is $529 and you can usually find them right around that $500 mark.

Springfield Armory
  • XD Series - Springfield Armory makes a number of great pistols, including the XD series (XD/XDS/XDM).  Price range is $500-$800, depending on which model you select.  These are polymer framed, 9mm, .40 cal, .45 cal firearms and well reviewed (positive reviews).

  • SD9VE/SD40VE - This is a polymer frame, entry level handgun that is very good for either concealed carry or home defense.  MSRP is right about $400 making it one of the more affordable handguns available as well.
  • M&P / M&P Shield - This is another polymer frame handgun that serves both concealed carry or home defense purposes.  The M&P line runs $450 for the Shield up to $800 for other models in the M&P product group.

You may also want to consider adding a .22LR pistol to your collection.  A .22 is fun to shoot; the limited recoil means you can spend more time practicing before your arms fatigue.  The low cost ammunition (typically less than 10 cents per round for bulk ammunition) means more time at the range without breaking the bank.  There are MANY selections, but I recommend the Ruger Mark III or Beretta Neos as I own both and have found them to be great for working through the basics.

Last but not least, spend some time reading articles and watching videos from reputable sources.  Each of the major gun manufacturers sponsor competition teams; these folks put up YouTube videos with information on a variety of firearms as well as shooting tips.  You’ll find a few solid non-affiliated video sources like “Hickok45” or websites like TheTruthAboutGuns.Com.  And, of course, join the NRA (

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What phone to choose...???

So…when looking at buying a new smartphone, you really need to consider two things – hardware and operating system.  You need to be careful about how you assess opinions of Andoid/iOS/etc users as it is very much a religion.  Many will simply say, “Android is better, it’s surpassed iOS!” or “iOS is really the only way to go”, but in reality, the answer is much more complex.  A lot depends on what you’re looking for and when you’re buying – the hardware tends to leap frog each other every year – or what kind of user you are (general user vs hardcore user).
Android smartphones are manufactured by multiple vendors; iOS comes only from Apple.  The current generation of iPhone (5S/5C) is an interim release for Apple.  Each year they release a new model; in alternating years, it is a full upgrade that is “market impressive”, but the interim update is usually relatively minor upgrades.  On the Android side, though, you have a wide range of choices in hardware as there are several manufacturers.  The most recent generation of Android phones, on the high end (such as the Samsung S5) have a stronger hardware profile than the most recent iPhone.  They have faster processors, more pixels on the screen, bigger screen, better camera….  That said, you have to find the right manufacturer to get those better hardware specs – the low end, freebies are typically less impressive and, at best, only equal to the iPhone’s hardware.
On the operating system side, however, things are more clear.  iOS is an end-user’s OS – it is designed with the normal, everyday user in mind.  Android is more for techies and can be challenging for everyday users.  iOS upgrades come regularly – minor updates every few months, major updates roughly each year – and they are usually supported by at least the last 3 or 4 years of iPhone models.  Android upgrades are typically every year or so, supported by newer models and select older models.  iOS is fairly well locked down; it can be customized to a degree but not like Android where you can get dynamic wallpapers, themes, and even change the look/feel if you know what you’re doing.  Apple has truly integrated iOS with the entire Apple ecosystem – calendar and contact updates on one device carry over to all devices, including those running Mac OSX; you can share files between devices; and more.  Android is getting there but not quite yet as well integrated, largely because the software is designed to run on multiple platforms.  Apple’s strength is that they control everything whereas Google must accommodate many platforms, manufacturers, etc.  Configuration/settings are more intuitive in iOS whereas Android is a bit cluttered; that said, both have roughly equivalent functions.  Android tends to be more app driven for features where iOS incorporates them; for example, you can set up quiet times on iOS right in the phone (no calls, no texts, no sound, etc) but Android you need to download an app to do the same.  The user interface in iOS is more fluid, “prettier”, and easier to use; if you sit them side by side, you’ll see what I mean.  For the hard core geeks, Android is well liked because it is a more “open” operating system than Apple; Apple is very closed off and kept close to the vest (as I’ve mentioned above).  For upgradeability – iOS blows Android away.  Each manufacturer must come up with a customized version of its particular fork of Android, especially among the less expensive models.  iOS…it just works.  Siri vs Google Now (the virtual assistant interface of the two operating systems…Google Now has the stronger showing.  It can offer more information in response to your inquiries than Siri.
Generally speaking, I recommend against getting the wireless carriers’ “freebie” upgrades.  They’re simply not up to snuff; you either end up with antiquated technology (iPhone 4S or Motorola Razr), or you get a recent model that has limited upgradeability and less features (slower processor, lesser camera).  The latter can also be said for most $50ish upgrades and any smartphones for $100 or less.  If you’re going to upgrade, it’s worth it to spend $99-$199 to get the newer version of a mainstream, higher-end phone like the S5 or iPhone 5C.  Remember: you’re going to have this phone for 2 or more years and even though you may not be a heavy user of the non-calling features, it’s best to get something decent.
Case in point - I used to carry Android phones until I decided I wanted a fully integrated ecosystem to increase my operational efficiency.  At that time, I moved from Windows to Mac OSX and from Android to iOS.  I bought each of the first 3 iPads but skipped the fourth generation as I was awaiting the iPad Air.  I chose to add memory to my iMac rather than upgrade to the latest as the newest models only offer faster processors (again, considering my overall needs/usage).  And on my iPhone, I moved from a 4S to a 5 because the 5 offered a serious upgrade *BUT* I am waiting for the 6 as the 5S/5C does not offer anything significant over the 5.

The end analysis – If you’re looking for something that is intuitive, mature, and just works, iOS is the better choice.  If you want the best hardware today (can’t wait), then the latest Android smartphones (like the S5) is the right choice.  Android diehards, the Samsung S5 is the right way to go; iOS followers should wait for the iPhone 6 to come out later this year.

Monday, April 21, 2014


Welcome to my "other" blog.  Periodically, I am asked for advice on something like technology, how something works, or some piece of history. Many times, this information is sought after more than once. In short, folks just come to me with questions about pretty much anything and I always get them an answer.

So, I decided I would put it all up on the Internet and what better way to do so than through a blog.

I hope you'll find this blog interesting and of use, especially if you find your way here through a search engine. There is no specific theme to what I'll write about and I welcome requests as well; if there is something you want to know about, ask me a question and I'll provide a response. My contact information is in the sidebar.

Ask away...!