Thursday, April 17, 2014

Samsung Galaxy S4 Stuck In Airplane Mode

During rehearsals last night, I put my Samsung Galaxy S4 into airplane mode. Upon leaving, I tried to resume service only to find that my phone was stuck in airplane mode. The option to turn airplane mode off was greyed out, and when I pressed it, the phone didn't do anything. I rebooted the phone to no avail. I then tried turning on various networks manually and that seemed to push the Galaxy S4 out of airplane mode, yet I still could not connect to any Verizon services. Instead of the happy-friendly 4G LTE indicator icon, I had the dreaded circle swoosh in the upper right hand corner of the phone. Going to Settings->More Networks->Mobile Networks would hang the phone. Even pulling up the dial pad would hang the phone.

There are a number of posts on the Internet referencing a similar problem with the T-Mobile network and the Wi-Fi calling feature. T-Mobile users are able to force their phones out of airplane mode by re-pointing the phone network preferences via the Wi-Fi calling menu.. Unfortunately, Verizon doesn't offer Wi-Fi calling, so that fix wasn't even an option for me. I bit the bullet and did a hard reset of the phone, but when I got to the activation screen, the phone wouldn't connect to the Verizon network and the activation failed.

The folks at Verizon tech support are unaware of any issues related to what happened to me, but, I think my experience coupled with the T-Mobile issues are indicative of a greater problem. It seems to me that there's a bug with the antenna software in Android 4.3.  Thankfully, my Samsung Galaxy S4 is still under warranty, so I'll have a replacement in a few days and I won't have to bother with the issue any further. However, if that weren't the case, I still have a few things that I would try in order to get the phone working properly:

  1. Replace the SIM card (I'm almost positive that the issue resides here)
  2. Root the phone
  3. Upgrade to Android 4.4

So, if your phone is stuck in airplane mode and you're not a T-Mobile customer and you can't get a warranty replacement, try one of the above three options. And let me know if it works. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Oven Has Arrived

After weeks of waiting, my oven finally arrived on Monday. It took a while to install due to an issue that popped up during the install of my cabinets. The gas line comes up from the floor, banks to the side with an elbow joint and runs through two sets of cabinets via an 18 inch galvanized steel pipe. The installers messed up the 18inch pipe somehow, which meant that I had to replace it with a 6 foot flexible gas hose. All it took was a little wrangling with a manual wrench and the application of some teflon tape.

I haven't had a fully functioning oven in about 3 years. Back in 2011, the stove went out, leaving only the burners functional. I got used to preparing foods via the microwave and being creative with the Pizazz Plus Pizza Oven. After I took out the old oven last month to make way for the new one, I had to start adapting to life without burners. Just boiling water became a challenge. Getting a hot plate helped immensely.

Now, though, it's not anything I need to worry about. I've already tried my hand at making oversized muffins and Cheddar Bay Biscuits. And now I've got my eye on making some Cafe Du Monde beignets.   

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Is Here

If you've gotten your hopes up that the new Windows 8.1 Update 1 will include the re-introduction of the traditional Start button, you're going to be disappointed. That feature was only just recently announced at the last Microsoft BUILD conference. It's on the Windows road map, but you probably won't see it until Windows 8.1 Update 2. That being said, there are a few notable new features in Windows 8.1 Update 1.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 Changes:

  • Apps purchased from the Windows App store can be pinned to the taskbar
  • Cursor gestures now have a small delay before triggering
  • Power and Search buttons have been added to the Start screen
  • Right-clicking a Live tile spawns an actual right-click menu rather than showing charms
  • Windows Apps can be closed and minimized with the mouse
  • You can now boot directly to the desktop

 I'm not a huge fan of the Metro/Desktop hybrid that Microsoft seems to be pushing with Windows 8, but I will say that Windows 8.1 Update 1 includes enough small changes that I no longer hate the interface. I'm only slightly annoyed now.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Comic Con Saint Louis

The gang and I were in the lovely city of Saint Louis this weekend to spend a Saturday at Wizard World Saint Louis Comic Con. I had never been to a comic book convention before, so I was pretty excited at the prospect of mingling with some celebrities, browsing the wares available at various vendor tables and generally having a good time. I walked away with some art-work and some t-shirts, and, although I was pretty pleased with what I had gotten, I ultimately felt like the entire show was a bit of a let down.

The overall buzz lacked a certain aura of excitement, which is something that I am used to sensing whenever I attend Gen Con. I think the lack of awe and wonder was most evident in the general lack of cosplayers. Certainly, there were a fair amount of people who dressed up, but I noticed a real dearth of hardcore cosplayers. The high price of celebrity autographs and photo-ops was also a huge turn off for me. Clearly, celebrities should be able to make some money off of their image and their signature, but when William Shatner charges upwards of 90 bucks for you to have your picture taken with him, something is taken away from that aura of celebrity. For me, anyway, that celebrity becomes more like a one-person corporation than a celebrity. I felt particularly bad for Ralph Macchio who was charging about $30 for a photo op and had few takers whenever I passed by.  I guess it's a lesson in supply and demand and charging what the market will bear, but there has to be a better way for everyone involved.

I got a lot of enjoyment out of visiting with a number of artists and purchasing a few prints. Jim Ferguson became a particular favorite for his interesting and evocative "Making A Scene" art work. I bought a few 80's prints from him and regret not having purchased more.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

David Hasslehoff Photobombs In Auto Awesome

As part of their April Fool's celebration yesterday, the Google Photos app began adding David Hasselhoff photobombs to certain Auto-Awesome photos. Basically, take a portrait and leave a little space, and The Hoff might just show up in your picture. I was unaware of the joke, so, when I got a notification that I had a  new Auto Awesome photo, I looked and was met with this:


I don't know if the David Hasslehoff photobombs are a permanent Auto Awesome feature or not. I hope they are. This is pretty cool. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

My Oven Has Been Delayed

I had finally settled on a new oven. It had all of the features I wanted, including 5 burners, a griddle attachment and a stainless steel finish. I ordered it from Home Depot and scheduled delivery for a week later. The brick and mortar Home Depot stores don't keep appliances in stock, so, scheduling a delivery was my only option. Just a few days before my anticipated delivery date, the service called and said that there would be a two week delay due to back-order. Furious at having to deal with microwave cooking and Pizazz pizza cooking for far longer than I had anticipated, I called Home Depot.

It's inconceivable to me that I can purchase an appliance on-line and then be told a week later that the appliance is out of stock. If  I am able to put that appliance in my virtual cart, wouldn't that indicate that the appliance is in stock? According to Home Depot: No. For many appliances, Home Depot  often pools orders and sends them off to the manufacturer. Then, it's up to the manufacturer to fulfill them. Home Depot's reported inventory is only an approximate number.

On the plus side, Home Depot customer service is always friendly and helpful and they gave me a gift card worth more than 10% of my purchase price. I used it to buy an induction burner so that I can cook some semblance of normal food while I wait for the oven to arrive. The nice customer service lady even expedited the shipping so that I'd have it in two days.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How I Wired My Switch

I'm not an electrician, and, with my house being considered "old construction", it's hard to get an actual electrician to come in and look at the wiring. After successfully installing my garbage disposal, I still had to figure out how to wire the outlet and the corresponding switch. The garbage disposal would run when the switch was OFF, but, when I turned the switch ON, the breaker would trip.

There were two pairs of wires in the outlet box. Using a digital multimeter, I found that one pair was hot, while the other was not. I took the black wire with power and wire-nutted it to the white wire that had corresponded to it. I then took the remaining black wire, put it on the brass screw of the outlet and put the white wire on the gold one. When I re-activated the circuit and flipped the switch, I heard the sweet hum of whirring blades chopping up left over beanie-weanies.

It was nice to have a little success with wiring the garbage disposal. And, now, it's time to move on to getting my dishwasher installed. We'll see how it goes. 

Monday, March 3, 2014


After months of anticipation, I finally downloaded Banished off of Steam last night. Banished is a city building game that has been the brainchild of one sole developer. It seemed to rise up out of the ashes of the SimCity debacle last year and I've been following its development intently for several months. I was finally able to play it over the weekend.

Banished feels a lot like Age Of Empires, but there's no combat. The goal in Banished is just to survive. You've got to manage your resources really well , otherwise, your citizens will succumb to either starvation or the elements and your city will fail. With so many moving parts to micro-manage, Banished is not an easy game to play.

The best advice I can give for now is that you shouldn't expand too fast. I tried to get far too many professions going at once and ended up crashing my population 20 years into my first game when the food reserves ran out. The village never recovered from the initial drop in population, mainly since I foolishly shuffled folks from wood chopping to food gathering. People started freezing to death the next year.

This eventually left poor Damiah, the 57 year old builder, as the last resident of the village.  I let him live out his final days picking pears from the orchard and eating to his heart's content. He finally died at 63.

Although I have yet to master it yet, I'm still having a ton of fun with Banished. If you like SimCity, the game might just be for you, but if you're looking for something that involves less direct management and has more of a reliance on urban planning, then Banished might disappoint you. Still, at about $20, what have you got to lose?

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Sink Is Sunk

I spent most of last weekend getting my new kitchen sink and faucet hooked up. Aside from one incident where I had to remove and re-seat my toilet, I've never been much of a plumber. Still, I didn't think it would be too difficult set up the plumbing for the kitchen sink on my own. And since I discovered a previously-hidden outlet behind the old sink cabinet, I figured I might even be able to hook up a new garbage disposal. I bought all of the supplies from my local Home Depot.

For the faucet, I went with the Glacier Bay Lyndhurst 2-Handle Bridge Kitchen Faucet with Side Sprayer in Stainless Steel. I wanted something that looked different from the typical standard, and I liked the look of the Lyndhurst. It's artsy, yet feels very sturdy and, of course, I love the little sprayer. Here's hoping that the whole thing is sturdy enough to last a number of years. The sink itself is a standard, Kohler two bowl, four hole stainless steel sink.

I purchased an InSinkErator Badger 500 garbage disposal. It's a great little unit, but, if you're going to buy it and hook it up to an outlet, you're going to have to buy an extra cord to go along with it. Thankfully, the unit hooked up easily and I only had to do some minor maze work with the pipes in order to incorporate it into my setup. Here's the result:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The New Cabinets Are In

After about 8 hours of work, the new cabinets and counter tops are in. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it because the setup looks great so far. Now, I've got to re-wire some outlets, get the plumbing set up for the sink and dishwasher, get the backs plash and floor done and do some painting. This is only phase 1. There's much more to do.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kitchen Demolition

My new kitchen cabinets are going in this week, so I spent all of the day today destroying the last remnants of my old kitchen. There were quite a few surprises involved, the most interesting of which involved a bunch of old match books. I guess the previous owner put them between two cabinets in order to shim level them. After wondering aloud why I would find old matchbooks rather than some sort of hidden treasure, I began to sift through the matchbooks. Most of them were from old stores that I had never heard of. One of them was from a local guy's state senate campaign. It was dated 1978. And that would mean that my kitchen is about 35 years old or so. Definitely time for a change.

The previous kitchen layout had been badly designed in that it left the fridge against a bare wall opposite the cabinets and counter top. It wasn't until I took the cabinets out that I discovered that, originally, the fridge went against the same wall as the cabinets. I even found an old water line leading to it. At some point, the previous owner decided to extend the counter tops and sacrificed the fridge's place in order to do it. I'm told that he did this in order to facilitate making pizza at home to bring to the pizza place he owned back in the 80s. The discovery came too late to change the layout, though. So, I will just have to live with what I set out.

Of course, the best part of home demolition is the ability to use power tools. I was able to knock out most of the cabinets via hand and hammer. There were, however, some issues with the cabinets around the sink. I had to cut away various sections of it with an electric saw. I was gleefully happy at having the opportunity to indulge my destructive streak in this manner. I even took a video of part of it. Have a look:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Blue Man Group

I first saw Blue Man Group at the Briar Street Theater about 15 years ago. I was on a date with some woman whose name I can't remember. She had somehow been given the tickets for free, so, we made a date of it. I knew nothing about Blue Man Group going into the show but, I remember really liking what I saw despite being somewhat distracted by the fact that the date was turning out to be a miserable failure.

Some weeks later, I went again to see Blue Man Group, this time with one of my college buddies and his wife. We got there way too early, though, and ended up drinking at some margarita bar nearby where I ended up getting massively drunk. I was so obliterated that the only thing I remember is my buddy's wife trying to score me a date with the hot bartender chica before we got drummed out. I remember having rather mediocre seats at the theater that I tried not to throw up on. And I remember my buddy's wife flashing her boobs at me on the drive home. I barely managed to bark out a witty retort before passing out.

Those days seem like a lifetime ago. So, it was not without a tinge of excitement that I went with my girlfriend to see Blue Man Group on Saturday afternoon. We had spent the day shopping in Chinatown and managed to get back to the hotel in time to change and depart for the theater. The essence of the show is still the same. It's still a visually stunning, musically stimulating experience. And they've added a lot of new material since I last saw it so many years ago, yet still managed to retain all the cool things that made me like Blue Man Group in the first place. We had pretty good seats, just about seven rows back from the stage.

We talked about it over dinner at Mon Ami Gabi. It was nice to attend Blue Man Group with a clear head with a date I was happy to be with. My girlfriend really liked the show and we both agreed that we will be back in a few months to see it again, this time with a larger group. We're going to try to get seats in the splash section this time. And I need to figure out how to get a special pre-show mention up onto the stage marquee.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hotel Lincoln

My sweetie and I have plans to do some adventuring in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood for Valentine's Day weekend. In order to make the most of our trip, we booked a room at Hotel Lincoln, a quaint boutique hotel located on the corner of Clark and Lincoln. At first glance, the young hipster inspired decor is a little rough around the edges, but it's still a pretty nice place to stay with plenty of quirky charm. Our room was a bit on the small side, but Hotel Lincoln makes the small space work. And the bed was very comfortable.

Parking is a bit of an issue, as Hotel Lincoln doesn't have its own space for it. They use a parking garage a few blocks away which you can opt to use yourself for about $30 a night with no in-and-out. The better option is to use their valet service which will run you $48 (plus tip) a night with in-and-out. You can also try to find free street parking in the neighborhood, but, I really don't think the hassle of memorizing parking zone rules is worth the cost savings.

There's a very cool looking rooftop lounge here at the Hotel Lincoln, but with it being the middle of Winter, the interior part was pretty crowded. I'm sure it's an awesome place to hang out when the weather is warm, though. The coffee shop on the ground floor is a very nice place to get a cup and do a little people watching. What really makes the stay enjoyable, aside from the prime location, is the super friendly staff of the Hotel Lincoln. We keep running into the same bellhop over and over again and he's always quick to remember our names and to flash a smile.

The weekend isn't even over yet and already we've decided that when we come back to the city, we're staying at Hotel Lincoln.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Share On Sharalike

After getting my Google Photos year end video and my Facebook Lookback video, I've started thinking about photo videos again. I've been wanting to make similar videos for my own use yet with more specific content. For example, I took tons of pictures in New Orleans and wanted to make a photo video that could showcase them properly. And I ended up with over a hundred pictures from my time in The Foreigner. There's no way anyone would go through an entire album of these things on Facebook. But, putting the photos in a video with a some neat transitions and appropriate music accompaniment might just be the trick I need to get these photos viewed.

Sure, there are plenty of Windows and Mac based programs that I could use to make a photo video. But, you know what? That takes way too much effort. I may use those for a perfectly choreographed family photo video to send out to my folks at Christmas time, but, for something that I just want to use to showcase a set of photos, it's too much work. This is where comes in.

Sharalike is a website that lets you upload your photos and quickly turn them into videos that you can then share with all of your friends. You just create an album, upload photos to it, pick a video theme, pick some music and then you can share the result via a number of different ways (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail link, etc). What I like about Sharalike is the speed at which you can go from concept to video. Sharalike does most of the heavy lifting for you, so you don't have to spend hours dropping photos into templates and enabling transitions. Just a few clicks and you've got your video.

It bears mentioning that Sharalike is still in Beta, so the features are going to be evolving. The trick for Sharalike is going to be keeping the concept simple while still offering a number of attractive features. Personally, I'd mainly just like to see more templates and more music choices. The one big thing on my wish list is a Share via Embedded video feature so that I can share my creations to this very blog for all of my readers to enjoy. 

If you're interested in checking out Sharalike for yourself, I hope you'll sign up under my reference link.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Review Of The Lego Movie

I've been a Lego fanatic since I was about 8 years old. One of my fondest Christmas memories is of the time I unexpectedly got the Knight's Castle. I spent all day putting it together in the basement of my grandmother's house. I then carefully carried it to the car so that I could get it home safely. I had so many crazy adventures in my mind with that set. There was an alien invasion, a group of regular folks went back in time to visit the castle, etc etc. Lego just had a way of sparking my imagination.

The love for Lego is something that my daughter has inherited from me. She already has more sets than I ever had at her age and most days I find her joyfully playing and/or building. And I am always happy to be included, because, after all these years, Lego still brings me a lot of joy and it still sparks my imagination. Needless to say, when I first heard about The Lego Movie several months back, I was beyond excited.

I took my daughter to see it this past weekend and we both really liked it. It follows a fairly typical "chosen one" plot where our hero, a fairly ordinary looking Lego construction worker, Emmet Brickleback stumbles upon a mystic artifact that is the key to fulfilling the prophecy and saving the Lego world. While the movie goes through the motions of "he is the chosen one! Wait! He's not! Hold on! He is! Ooops! Guess not! Is the prophecy even real?" it's the character interaction, the cameos and the clever, irreverent humor mixed with copious amount of Lego nostalgia that makes this movie work. And the ending is absolutely, mind-blowingly emotional. Thoughout the movie, though, there's a subtext about the nature of how we play and how we interact with the Lego world. That's what really sells the movie for me.

The only bad thing I can say about the movie is that there's so much already out there in the form of trailers and Internet spots and TV ads that much of the really funny stuff from The Lego Movie is readily available. I spoiled myself by voraciously watching everything related to it, so, much of the jokes in The Lego Movie was lost on me because I had already seen them. And I found it a little jarring that much of the dialogue from the trailers ended up in different scenes in the actual movie.

Overall, The Lego Movie is not a 90 minute toy commercial. It a fun movie with something for everyone, and, it's so dense, that there's no way you'll be able to catch everything in just one viewing. You might even say that it's a love letter to Lego fans everywhere.