Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Leaving Canada

We crossed the border back into the United States via the Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge this afternoon. The Rainbow Bridge is so-named because you can often see a rainbow over the Niagara Falls, which are just upstream from the bridge, while you're crossing. The Rainbow Bridge was constructed near the site of the Honeymoon Bridge, which had collapsed in 1938, due to an ice jam in the river. A joint Canadian and American commission had already been considering a new bridge to replace it, and the collapse hastened the need to replace it.

Before leaving, we stopped at the duty free shop to pick up a few things. Buying at a duty free shop is a great way to save on items, especially alcoholic beverages, because those shops are exempt from the payment of certain local or national taxes and duties. The requirement is that the goods sold will be sold to travelers who will take them out of the country. So, once you buy from the duty free shop, you've got to exit the country. Thus, we drove into the parking lot of the shop, paid for our items, picked up our items at a drive through window, and then immediately exited Canada via the Niagara Falls Rainbow Bridge. According to United States government regulations, a person is allowed to bring only one liter of an alcoholic beverage into the United States duty free. We brought in a bit more than our allowed exemption, but, the officer at the border just waved us on.

We've stopped in Columbus, Ohio for a bite to eat. As we passed through the McDonald's, I found myself somewhat disappointed that I couldn't get any poutine. Yet, my spirits instantly lifted when I discovered that McDonald's is now severing breakfast all day! It finally happened! God Bless America!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Skylon Tower, Clifton Hill and Other Misc Niagara Stuff

We had dinner tonight atop the Skylon Tower. It's much like the CN Tower in that it's a slipfoam tower and that there's an a la carte fine dining experience that revolves and there's a less formal non-revolving dining option. Again, we went with the non-revolving option, mainly because the buffet sounded so good. And it's not bad. It feels like a mid-level Vegas buffet. There's an IMAX theater in the complex, but I don't think it plays mainstream IMAX releases. There just seems to be a feature about Niagara History. But, there's also a daredevil exhibit, and that's pretty cool.

Clifton Hill itself is a neat little tourist trap. There's so much to do that we couldn't possibly do everything available there. Much of it is cheesy, most of it is expensive for what you actually get, but all of it is fun if you're in the right mood. Keeping that in mind, if you're souvenir hunting, don't bother buying them in Clifton Hill. You're better off picking them up in the actual town of Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Speaking of Niagara-On-The-Lake, if you take a scenic drive to along the river from Niagara Falls to Niagara on the Lake,  there are a ton of wineries along the way. You could spend a few days visiting every single one. But, it's best to book a winery tour if that's your thing so that you can sample as much wine as you like without having to worry about being sober enough to drive to the next winery.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Niagara Falls (Slowly I Turned)

We spent the day at Niagara Falls, Ontario today. I've always wanted to see Niagara Falls, especially being a fan of both the famous Three Stooges Niagara Falls skit as well as a huge fan of Superman II, part of which was filmed here. I had thought that all of the touristy stuff was located on the American side, but, as we pulled up onto Clifton Hill, I realized that I was grossly mistaken. There's so many touristy things to do on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. And I say that in a good way. It's like Las Vegas, but more densely packed. And with less people.

Of course, you can view The Falls from just about anywhere in the area. You'll have to pay for some of the of the more in-depth stuff, though. Here's what we did so far:

Hornblower Niagara Cruise:  It's sort-of a rite of passage for Niagara goers. It's a boat that will take you right up to the Mist of the Horseshoe Falls. You'll want to wear the free rain slicker they provide because you're definitely going to get wet. There are also lots of opportunities for them to upsell you stuff like protective tote bags, flip-flops, rain coats, etc. They're not worth it. Just be careful with your electronics if they're not water resistant. This is an absolute MUST and it's totally worth it, especially if you go during a time when it's not too terribly crowded.

Journey Behind The Falls: You go through a bunch of tunnels under the Table Rock Welcome Center to go behind part of the Horseshoe Falls. The information kiosks that they have along the way make for great reading and the thundering sound of being close to the Falls is awe-inspiring. Ultimately, it's an interesting concept, but there's not a great deal to see once you're actually behind the Falls. You could probably pass this by.

White Water Walk: You ride an elevator down to the river level and you get to take a walk along a boardwalk along the edge of the Niagara River between The Falls and The Whirlpool. Being that close up will really let you see just how the deep and narrow Great Gorge was created. As the water travels through the Whirlpool Rapids at White Water Walk, it is traveling at about 30 mph, creating the Class 6 Whirlpool Rapids. This is very cool and was well worth the price of admission.

Whirlpool Aero Car: Take an old-fashioned aero car across the Great Gorge to overlook the Niagara Whirlpool. It's a short trip, perfect for a sunny day. I'm a bit leery of heights, but this didn't bother me too much.

Niagara's Fury: From the looks of it, it's a 4D Movie Experience starring some cartoon beaver. It might be something fun for the kids, but, since we are kidless on this vacation, we skipped it.

The best way to see all the Niagara attractions is to get an Adventure Pass. The Adventure Pass will get you access to all of the attractions, will also make appointments for you at specified times and is usable throughout your stay in the Niagara Area. So, you don't have to see everything in one day (which is impossible anyway).

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Downtown Toronto

We headed north to Toronto this afternoon to spend the day downtown. Not only is Toronto the capital of Ontario, but its also the most populous city in Canada and the fourth most populous city in North America. There are so many things to do in Toronto, but we only had one afternoon to spend there, so we had to choose wisely.

We started with the Royal Ontario Museum (aka the ROM). They've got a fairly impressive dinosaur exhibit along with an endangered species exhibit that includes specimens of a polar bear, a giant panda, a white rhinoceros, a Burmese python, Canadian coral, a leatherback sea turtle, a coelacanth, a Rafflesia flower, and many other rare species. There are also recently extinct species displayed, including specimens of a passenger pigeon and a great auk, as well as skeletons of a dodo bird and a moa with a specimen of a moa egg, and many other recently extinct species. The best part of the museum, though, was the Pompeii exhibit. The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town that was destroyed and buried under 20 ft of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. People who were buried beneath the ruins left voids in the ash which were filled with plaster, thus preserving the positions in which they died. There are a number of Pompeii casts on display at the Royal Ontario Museum along with other Pompeii artifacts like statues and mosaic tiles.

We moved on to the Ripley's Aquarium. It's located right next to CN Tower, so just look up and head in that direction. The aquarium features several aquatic exhibits including a walk-through tank. The aquarium has 1.5 million gallons of marine and freshwater habitats from across the world. The exhibits hold 13,500 exotic sea and freshwater specimens from more than 450 species. The best part of the aquarium is the The Dangerous Lagoon exhibit which is an underwater tunnel with a moving side walk. It's the aquarium's largest tank and it was thrilling to walk underneath the sea creatures as they swam by. I will say that I was getting a little ticked off at the folks who kept blatantly ignoring the "No Flash Photography" signs. And I was especially ticked at the people whom I saw teasing the octopus.

We headed over to the CN tower for dinner. The CN Tower (aka "La Tour CN" for the French speakers) is a 1,815 ft high concrete communications and observation tower in downtown Toronto. It is the 3rd tallest tower in the world and is the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. Its name "CN" originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower. Following the railway's decision to divest itself from the structure, it transferred the tower to the Canada Lands Company, a federal Crown corporation responsible for real estate development. Since the name CN Tower became common in daily usage, the abbreviation was eventually expanded to Canadian National Tower or Canada's National Tower. If you want to go up in the tower, you've got a few options.

  • You can directly pay for a ticket to the observation tower.
  • Reserve a table at the 360 Restaurant which offers a rotating view of the city. Your ticket to the observation will be comped. Try to go up there just before sunset so you can see both the daylight view and then the night time view from the tower. 
  • If you  can't get a reservation at the 360 restaurant, but you still want to get something to eat you can always pay for a ticket to the observation deck and then visit the Horizon's restaurant up there. It doesn't revolve, but the food is good and is somewhat reasonably priced. I had their signature 360 burger which is a burger topped with ham, bacon, cheese and 7 onion rings.  
While at the Ripley's Aquarium and the CN Tower, we ran afoul of a number of Taylor Swift fans who were lining up early at Rogers Centre to catch her show tonight. I'm glad we got out of there when we did because it was starting to get pretty crazy down there. 

Friday, October 2, 2015


Hanging out in Canada isn't all that much different from hanging out in the United States. They've got pretty much all the same things that we've got, just with a heavier European influence. That being said, there are some truly unique things to eat in Canada. I've already had en Elk burger, some candy called Aero (chocolate with a bubbly interior that's sometimes filled with flavoring of various different types) and ketchup flavored potato chips. The most unusual thing I've eating, though, is something called poutine.

Poutine in all its glory
Poutine is basically french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy. It originated in Quebec, which suggests a French influence, although it may have spun out of a British dish of chips and cheese and gravy. I had heard that poutine was generally sold in diners and greasy spoon type restaurants, but, as it turns out, you can get them in just about any fast food place in Canada like McDonald's and Burger King. For my first poutine experience, though, I opted to sample some poutine from an actual poutinerie. So, after a brief walk along the Ontario river in Burlington, I headed up John Street to Curdz Poutinerie, which is part of a small but growing chain of poutineries. Upon hearing that I was an American out to try his first poutine, I was excitedly presented with their classic poutine. There are many different varieties available at a poutinerie, but I opted for the classic so that I could get a bead on this dish. It's not bad. It's tasty enough, and I love how the gravy melts the cheese curdz and absolutely drowns the fries into a soggy, gravy filled, cheesey mess. That being said, I think poutine is a bit too heavy to eat as a side dish with a burger or a steak. It seems to me that it'd be perfect for a night of drinking, or as a hangover breakfast.

McPoutine. There really is gravy there. I swear.
I also tried the poutine offerings at McDonald's and Burger King. First off, I don't know why McDonald's doesn't refer to their poutine as McPoutine. Second, mine hardly had any gravy on it. McDonald's poutine was good, but not spectacular. Their famous fries are definitely the star attraction of the dish, with the cheese and gravy being secondary. It's not bad, but I wasn't blown away. Burger King had the better fast food poutine of the two. Their fries are better able to absorb the gravy, making for a tastier dish. Still, my preference is for the offering made by Curdz Poutinerie. It was a great balance between the fries, the cheese and the gravy. Now that I've had the classic, I am going to have to go back some time to try some of their more exotic poutinez

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dundurn Castle

After the Revolutionary War, a number of loyalists who still wanted to remain under British rule fled the United States for Canada. Richard Beasley was among them and, for a time, prospered. He built a brick home in what was called Burlington Heights which he was later forced to sell due to financial difficulties. The property was purchased by Sir Allan Napier MacNab (an ancestor of Camilla Parker-Bowles) who, over the course of three years, built Dundurn Castle on the foundations of Beasley's brick home. Once built, Dundurn Castle became famous all over Canada for its grand entertainments and its modern technology such as gas lighting and running water.

The back of Dundurn Castle. The front is getting a facelift
Today, Dundurn Castle is owned by the city of Hamilton and is open to the public. I visited the site this afternoon and found that its distinguishing feature, its towering columns, which are a focal point for newlywed couples to have professional pictures taken of themselves on their wedding day, were under repair. That may mar the outside appearance, but, the rest of the property is still in great shape and it all looks beautiful. I walked along the grounds and took a guided tour of the mansion. There were a number of people walking around in period clothing fulfilling the various functions of the house, but they don't act as if they are living in the time period.

There's also a military museum on the grounds that has a lot of information about the War of 1812 from the Canadian perspective. I didn't spend much time there, but I was interested to learn about the battles that occurred in that area during that time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oh, Canada!

We drove up to Canada today as part of our vacation into Ontario. I've never crossed a land boarder before, so I was not prepared for the way some of the things worked while crossing into Canada. 

Here's a quick Traveling To Canada FAQ I whipped up:

Do I need a passport to get into Canada? If you're going to cross the land border into Canada, you need some sort of enhanced ID. Some state driver's licenses count as enhanced ID, but, sadly, most states are lagging behind in that aspect. So, if you don't have an enhanced ID, you'll at least need a passport card. If you're flying in, you need a passport book. 

Some Canadian Currency
How do I get money in Canada?
Right when you cross the border, there's a currency exchange where you can exchange your US dollars for Canadian dollars. Otherwise, you can use your debit card at an ATM in Canada and they'll take out Canadian money and charge your account the equivalent in US dollars.

Canadians are heavy users of dollar coins. The one dollar coin is called a Loonie because of the loon depicted on it. Thus, the two dollar coin is referred to as a Toonie. They've abandoned usage of the Canadian penny, so purchases are always rounded to the nearest nickel. Canadian paper money is actually made from polymer which feels weird and very plastic-like compared to U.S. currency which is made from cotton fabric. All told, the Canadian bills feel weird to me, but they're probably more durable than U.S. bills.

Will my cell phone work in Canada? I got my Verizon Wireless Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge to work in Canada. Eventually. Even if you have a Global device, you still have to update your plan so that the phone will actually work. Verizon Wireless offers a number of plans for using your cell phone in Canada. Pick the one that works best for your situation. Google Maps switched to metric measurements of distance automatically when we crossed the border. If you'd rather have Google Maps give your distances in miles rather than kilometers, you can change that setting via the Route Options. 

Does Canada use the Metric system? Yep. Distance signs are measured in kilometers . Gas is measured in liters (One gallon is equal to roughly four liters). Speed limit signs are in kilometers per hour. Thank God they drive on the right side of the road.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Video Of John Lennon Mocking The Disabled

There's an old video of John Lennon making the rounds on social media this week where he openly mocks people with disabilities by crudely mimicking them. The uproar over this 50 year-old footage erupted after a BBC program "It was Alright in the 60's", a show designed to highlight the ways that the entertainment industry and our standards for acceptable behavior have changed over the past several decades, aired it. It's not as if this footage was new to begin with, though. It has been included in a number of Beatles documentaries over the years and it was part of the "Anthology" program that the Beatles released back in 1995 and it never caused much, if any controversy.  Until now.

It's well documented that John Lennon had a pretty twisted, cruel sense of humor. He was especially uncomfortable around people with physical handicaps including his own step father whom John referred to as "Twitchy" due to a facial tick. He was known to get incredibly nervous when handicapped fans were brought backstage during Beatles appearances. He remarked in an interview with Rolling Stone ( issues # 74 & 75; 21 Jan & 4 Feb, 1971):

Wherever we went on tour, in Britain and everywhere we went, there were always a few seats laid aside for cripples and people in wheelchairs. Because we were famous, we were supposed to have epileptics and whatever they are in our dressing room all the time. We were supposed to be sort of “good,” and really you wanted to be alone. You don’t know what to say, because they’re usually saying “I’ve got your record” or they can’t speak and just want to touch you. It’s always the mother or the nurse pushing them on you, they themselves would just say hello and go away, but the mothers would push them at you like you were Christ or something, as if there were some aura about you which would rub off on them. It just got to be like that and we were very sort of callous about it. It was just dreadful: you would open up every night, and instead of seeing kids there, you would just see a row full of cripples along the front. It seemed that we were just surrounded by cripples and blind people all the time, and when we would go through corridors, they would be all touching us and things like that. It was horrifying.

It was the “in” joke that we were supposed to cure them; it was the kind of thing that we would say, because it was a cruel thing to say. We felt sorry for them, anybody would, but there is a kind of embarrassment when you’re surrounded by blind, deaf and crippled people. There is only so much we could say, you know, with the pressure on us, to do and to perform.

So, you view the clip as Lennon rebelling against how the Beatles were often viewed as saviors and faith healers by caretakers of the disabled. Or you can view it as Lennon being a callous asshole towards the disabled for the sake of cheap physical comedy. Or you can see it as Lennon making fun of Paul's mediocre call for the audience to clap their hands. Or you can see it as Lennon making fun of Beatles fans in general. You can view it as a relic of a bygone age or you can view it as yet another example of Lennon being an asshole. However you see it, if you're offended by it, before you get out your pitchforks and torches, you have to ask yourself why there wasn't a similar outcry back when the clip was first aired in 1964 and why subsequent airings over 50 years have failed to cause a stir. Why are people getting upset now as opposed to any time before?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Government Grant Scammer Calls Me

I got a call from a rep with a heavy Indian accent claiming to be from the government and offering $7,000 in government grant money. Grant scammers generally follow the same script: they congratulate you on your eligibility and then ask for your checking account or credit card information so they can deposit your government grant money directly into your account or to cover a one-time “processing fee.” I played along with this particular grant scammer for a bit and soon discovered that they were looking for someone named John Meem, which is not an alias I have ever used. Right off, I tried to push the call through by offering a completely made up credit card number. The grant scammer kept trying to verify my information, not being able to reconcile the fact that I gave him a different name from the one he was expecting. At one point, I just kept on screaming "Give me my money!!!!"

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What If Die Hard Had Starred Frank Sinatra?

We were having a lazy Saturday evening last weekend. We had ordered Mexican in, had already rented one movie and were trying to decide on another. While going through my catalog, I happened upon Die Hard. It's a classic. It kickstarted the concept of the everyman action hero. Before Die Hard, action heroes were all buff muscleheads like Schwarzenegger or Stallone. That's not to say that Bruce Willis was the first choice to star in Die Hard. The aforementioned musclehead,  Stallone was actually offered the role of John McClane, as was Harrison Ford and Don Johnson. However, before any of the previously mentioned actors were offered the lead role in Die Hard, it had to be offered to one specific actor: Frank Sinatra.

Die Hard is based upon Roderick Thorpe's novel Nothing Lasts Forever which is a sequel to his previous novel The Detective. The Detective was adapted to film and starred Frank Sinatra as New York City police detective Joe Leland who is called to investigate a strange and brutal murder.  Leland tries to remain focused on the case while running afoul of powerful interests in the city who do not want him asking questions and while dealing with the breakdown of his marriage. The sequel novel, Nothing Lasts Forever was written thirteen years after The Detective and had Joe Leland in a very similar situation to the one that eventually involved John McClane. Sinatra was in his 70's at the time production began on Die Hard, and nobody involved seriously believed that he would take on the lead role. However, due to the nature of how Die Hard was brought to life, Fox was contractually obligated to offer it to Frank Sinatra first. Mr. Sinatra, of course, turned it down. But, could you imagine if he hadn't? The plot might have gone something like this:

On Christmas Eve, retired New York City Police Detective Joe Leland flies into Los Angeles to visit his daughter, Stephanie Leland Gennaro, and his grand children. While in flight, he flirts with the stewardess and laments the ending of his marriage years before. He lands at LAX and is driven to the Nakatomi Plaza building for a company Christmas party by Argyle. Leland makes some vaguely racist remarks that mark him as a relic. Before seeing his daughter and grandkids, Leland changes clothes in an empty office and calls the stewardess to arrange a meetup. The party and Joe's phonecall are disrupted by the arrival of Anton "Little Tony" Gruber (whom Leland met during World War II) and his heavily armed group of terrorists. The group seize the tower and secure those inside as hostages, except for Leland who slips away barefoot and manages to remain undetected in the gigantic office complex. Aided outside only by LAPD Sergeant Al Powell and armed with only his police-issue Browning Hi-Power pistol, Leland fights off the terrorists one by one in an attempt to save the hostages. Throughout the film, the themes of guilt, alcoholism and the complexities of the human mind are explored. In the end, Leland saves the day, but he eventually succumbs to his wounds. He dies hard and ultimately proves that nothing lasts forever.

Die Hard is a pretty faithful adaptation of Nothing Lasts Forever and many of the scenes and dialogue in Die Hard are taken directly from Nothing Lasts Forever. I, for one, would have loved to have heard an aging Frank Sinatra deliver Die Hard's signature line "Yippee ki-yay, ya mook!" Had Sinatra's version of the movie been successful, it may have ushered in an entire genre of Grandpa Action Heroes. Imagine Sidney Poitier starring in Under Siege, Walter Matthau in Speed, Jerry Lewis in The Rock and, the coup de grace, Abe Vigoda in Home Alone.

Monday, September 14, 2015

University Of Phoenix Calls Me

I don't have a lot of respect for The University of Phoenix. It's a for-profit career college owned by a company called the Apollo Group and it’s the biggest for-profit college operating in the United States. Only about 9% of first-time bachelor students’ graduate within 6 years, and only 5% of online students- compared with a 55% graduate rate at public institutions, and 65% at private nonprofit universities. University of Phoenix  has paid many government fines over the years, and has settled multiple whistle blower lawsuits regarding its admissions practices and educational programs.

This past weekend, a rep called looking for Clovis and upon hearing the telltale "This Call Is Now Being Recorded" notification from Google Voice, she got suspicious. As usual, Clovis takes offense at the suggestion that he would want to further his education and wonders why the rep is implying he's stupid. After the initial exchange, the rep goes back to wondering why the call is being recorded. Clovis asks why it matters and the rep dumps out of the call.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Selling To Brian's Toys - A Review

Back in the mid-90's, when the Star Wars Special Edition movies were being released, my college room-mate and I went out and bought up a number of Star Wars action figures released for that occasion. We intended to keep all of the action figures in their original packaging in the hopes that we could sell them a few decades later and turn a huge profit. Oh, how naive we were. We were like geeky versions of Beanie Baby collectors, wringing our greedy little hands together at the prospect of retiring early from the work-a-day grind.

Still, I faithfully stored those boxes of Star Wars actions figures in every home I occupied from then until this very year. In my latest (and, hopefully, last) move, I decided that it was time to rid myself of those Star Wars action figures from the Power Of The Force collection (including the manly-looking Princess Leia and the Darth Vader with the long lightsaber) to the Shadows of the Empire collection to the Phantom Menace Preview Figures. Inquiring at a few comic book shops in the area got me little more than pitiful laughs. Everyone I talked to said that they had a glut of those figures and that nobody wanted them aside from a few rare ones here and there. I didn't want to sell the collection piece meal on eBay or something. I wanted to get rid of everything at once. I was ready to just donate the four boxes of unopened Star Wars action figures I had, but, lucky, I happened upon Brian's Toys.

Brian's Toys operates out of Wisconsin and they buy and sell toys. They've even got a handy little mobile app where you can scan the barcode of your toy's package, upload a picture and then they'll get back to you in about 48 hours with an offer. You do have to pay for shipping, but you can ship at a discount if you do it via a pre-paid shipping label from Brian's Toys. All told, I had three transactions with Brian's Toys and they bought every single Star Wars action figure I had. I don't think I made my original investment back, but I was happy to get rid of the toys and get a little money back for them. The folks on staff at Brian's Toys were very nice, always notified me after they inspected my shipment and then told me when I could expect payment via PayPal. And they always paid me on time. It was a good experience over all, and, if I had more toys to sell, I'd sell again to Brian's Toys in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Debunking The New American Way Of Life Article

I've recently seen this "article" titled "New American way of life" all over my Facebook feed. It's credited to John Tabb and has been printed in the Miller County Liberal of to Colquitt, Georgia, on August 19, 2015. Supposedly, the article exists in an earlier form credited to John Rightmire. Whoever wrote it, it's a delicious piece of conservative-whacking welfare trolling that offers a very far fetched approach to gaming the system. There are so many blatant falsehoods in this New American Way Of Life that I had to counter the points.

First off, the waiting list for Section 8 housing, even to get a voucher to play the system like points 1-5 is suggesting, is incredibly long. You'd have to wait years for that to kick in.

6: The Affordable Care Act does provide subsidies for lower income families, but only provides "Free" healthcare to incredibly low incomes. Even then, those on the plan still have to pay out for co-pays, hospital visits, etc etc. The girlfriend in question could possibly get the kids on a state Medicaid program, but, once that's done, the state will look to the father to see if he is getting insurance through his employer and would then force him to cover the kids through his plan, thus screwing up the plan for the father is this hypothetical scenario.

7. If there were a way for a single parent to go to college for free, I'd have had my PhD by now. There simply aren't any state or federal programs that do that. The best one could do is qualify for a Pell Grant, but such grants are not dependent on one's parental status. And, if we're to assume that the girlfriend in question is a stay-at-home mom, then how is she going to have the time to go to class?

8. A family of three (girlfriend + 2 kids) would qualify for a MAXIMUM of $486 in SNAP benefits. This assumes zero income, as Mr Tabb states that the girlfriend in this hypothetical scenario is a stay at home mom. In most cases, if a single mother applies for SNAP benefits, the state will go after the father for child support payments to the mother in order to reduce/eliminate her monthly benefit. So, the father in this hypothetical piece would be screwed.

9. So-called "Obama Phones" existed before Obama was ever in office. It's called The Lifeline Program and it only offers discounts, not free phones. Some cellular providers do provide free cell phone programs, but they do so on their own dime.

10. Utility programs like that are offered at the State level, but they are usually via subsidies and are only free in emergency situations

11. That's actually illegal and would be considered fraud.

12. It doesn't work that way. If each parent is claiming one of the two children as a dependent, than the mother can’t be legally collecting benefits (such as SNAP) for both children.

13. Disability claims have to be well documented by medical professionals and securing benefits is not an easy task. Often, one has to go to court in order to claim disability. And if the girlfriend in question wasn't working to begin with (via the earlier points) she wouldn't get much out of the system because she hadn't earned enough work credits to begin with. I know a lady who has been trying to get disability for years. If she's not actually disabled, she's putting on a great act and has me and her family and friends fooled. She has been shut down in hearings at least twice and has resulted in absolute zero disability payout. It's not nearly as easy as walking into an office and saying "I'm crazy!" or "My back hurts and I can't work!".

The author of this New American Way of Life sums up his OP ED piece by placing the blame for the budget deficit on the shoulders of the social welfare system. One can debate the costs and benefits of social programs, but, instead of talking about people taking advantage of the system, perhaps we should be more concerned about the system taking advantage of the people. Wall Street gets trillions of dollars in tax incentives from the government while maximizing shareholder and minimizing employee compensation. The social benefits that are handed out are just scraps compared to this.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Taco Bell Firey Ghost Pepper Daredevil Loaded Griller

I'm not generally a fan of Taco Bell. I find that, aside from the occasional diversions like the Volcano Taco and the Blackjack Taco, the offerings on the menu are pretty bland. Had it not been for their monopoly on Mountain Dew Baja Blast, I would probably never set foot in the place. Yet, the prospect of having something that's actually spicy from a fast food restaurant lured me in this week. Taco Bell's newest menu addition, the Dare Devil Loaded Griller. Each DareDevil Loaded Griller features a grilled burrito filled with seasoned beef, red tortilla chips, nacho cheese, and one of three spicy sauces: Mild Chipotle, Hot Habanero, and Fiery Ghost Pepper. What caught my attention was the Fiery Ghost Pepper.

A lot of fast food places have been using "Ghost Pepper" as a marketing gimmick lately and have come up short when it came down to actually bringing the heat. So, when I tried the Fiery Ghost Pepper Dare Devil Loaded Griller at Taco Bell earlier this week, I was expecting a dud. After eating one, though, I was pleasantly surprised. There's actually some kick to it; not enough to set off any alarms, but enough that it'll have you reaching for your Baja Blast. It's like eating a Taco Bell Chili Cheese Burrito with Volcano Sauce. The ghost pepper sauce is also the only one of the new sauce offerings that isn’t sour cream-based, so as soon as you taste it, you'll feel the heat. The other two sauces feature a spicy build up rather than immediate heat. The ghost pepper sauce is more vinegary and seemed to overpower everything else while soaking into the texture of the tortilla chips. making it hard to distinguish the flavors of anything else. 

Several hours after eating it, I found that the Taco Bell Fiery Ghost Pepper Dare Devil Loaded Griller was aptly named, as it continued to haunt my bowels for the rest of the night.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Battery Cases

I certainly love my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. It has an amazing camera, a great display and a screaming fast processor. The one thing it fails at (aside from RAM management) is battery life. I can barely get a day's usage out of a full charge. Instead of carrying around a number of external battery backs, I've decided that using a protective case for my Galaxy S6 Edge that has a battery embedded within it is the way to go. I've already explored a few options. Here is what I've found so far:

Samsung Galaxy S6 Battery Case Review Round-Up

Power Case

You can find this case on Amazon.com and other websites under a host of different names such as Power Case, LoveLifeMall, etc. The price runs anywhere between $15 and $25. You might hear claims that it handles Fast Charge (Qualcomm Quick Charge) and that it can charge the phone while it's connected to the case, but that hasn't been my experience. Despite those drawbacks, the Power Case has been pretty reliable. I can get close to a full charge from 20% on my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. And the kickstand is a nice feature.

Incipio OffGrid

I know that there are a fair amount of people who are really pleased with this case, but, I'm not a fan. The Incipio OffGrid makes a lot of promises: It supports Fast Charge, it stores enough charge to bring the Galaxy S6 up to 100% and then some and it even comes with an SD slot so that you can get your expandable storage back. This is a great battery case....when it actually works. Mine seems to only work about 50% of the time. Often, I'll hit the charge button and the Off Grid case will charge my phone for about 10-30 minutes. Then, the case will stop charging and my S6 will go crazy, displaying "The Dock Is Connected" in the notification bar over and over again. This happens despite my S6 and the case both reporting a full charge before I go out in the morning. I contacted Incipio support and this was their reply:

We have received a few inquiries regarding your situation and we would like to provide some technical information on the case that could help troubleshoot your issue.

When having the case plugged into the wall, with the phone inside the case, the charge is going to pass through the case and charge the phone (pass-through charging). Once the phone hits 100%, then the case will start to charge. The one thing that will affect this is if there are any apps running the background of your phone. The apps running (such as email, social media notifications, or anything else pulling data) will cause the phone to discharge so essentially the pass-through may continuously go to the phone and not charge the case at all (depending on how much power the phone is discharging). This is an intended design and does not indicate an defect within the case. For proper charging, we recommend turning off the phone completely to charge your case or to charge the case without the phone installed to completely charge the case to 100% battery life.

If the case is not charging properly even with the phone completely turned off or removed from the case, then this would be indicative of a charging issue and may require replacing.

For $89, I shouldn't have to charge the phone and the case separately. I'm thinking mine requires replacing. Even though I have to wade through that particular issue, I'm still pretty geeked about the added storage feature. That particular feature has been very reliable (despite it blue screening my phone the first time I used it)  and I like being able to store my music locally so that I don't have to eat up my data every time I want to listen to some tunes.

EDIT: On 9/18/2015, nearly a month after opening the initial ticket, I was finally issued a refund on my OffGrid case from Incipio. 

 Mophie Juice Pack

The $100 price tag on this one has kept me from pulling the trigger, but, I may have to now considering how the Incipio OffGRID has failed. Mophie has a great reputation to begin with and I've yet to hear anything negative about it. Mophie claims that the Juice Pack for the Galaxy S6 will give you up to 100% charge and reports are that it does so pretty quickly. I may have to investigate this option further if the Incipio off Grid doesn't pan out.