Cell phone quandary

Ok, here comes another one of those cell phone & tech complaints. Matt’s been trying to get me to switch to his provider, which offers unlimited everything for cheap. It sounds like a great plan, and I could probably even get a good deal on new phones for Sandy, Kevin and I, but there are a few hurdles I’m very concerned about. For one thing, since Kevin recently upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S6, he’s still making payments on it, and will be for another year or so.

Another issue is with switching to new phones. Sandy and Kevin probably wouldn’t mind, but I only see Android phones with up to 32GB of space on them. These days I need at least 64GB just so I have enough space for everything I use and a little breathing room for music and videos. I looked into the 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7, and Samsung disabled Android’s ability to install apps on the SD card for some reason, which limits app installs to just the internal 32GB space. I would have to root my phone in order to be able to do this, and that would void the warranty. Why they added this limitation, I have no idea, but it renders the phone useless to me, that’s for sure. They even added the SD card slot back to the S7 model too–the S6 doesn’t have an SD slot at all–so to me, it makes absolutely no sense. You give the users back the SD slot you took away in your previous model, then you cripple it by only disabling the ability for users to install apps on it. Brilliant.

Apple’s iPhone comes in 64GB and 128GB versions, sure, but don’t even get me started on why I won’t switch to an iPhone again. Those roots are buried deep…much too deep for me to even think about trying to dig up at this point in time. I’d rather wait for a decent Android phone to come out with more memory. I even have a few hundred dollars worth of apps I had purchased back when we were an iPod family with flip phones and each carried TWO devices around with us–one as a phone and one as a media device.

So here I sit with a higher-paying plan on a different provider with a 14GB-per-month data limit for 3 phones, two of which are 64GB Samsung Galaxy S6’s. Matt argues that if I have the unlimited data plan, maybe I wouldn’t need 64GB of space. I can stream music and video all I want, any time. That’s true. Maybe I’m old-school, but I still think it’s better–and much faster–to have as much data that you use as possible stored locally for the most efficient use of that data. This is where I’m at right now, not sure what to do next, if anything. We have managed to go over the 14GB limit a couple times, which became a big headache, but the first time the extra charges were forgiven after a lot of begging to support. These days I try to monitor our usage pretty closely so I can catch it before it gets out of hand each month. Of course, the time wasted on checking this once a day is probably worth something as well, so I need to keep that in mind as well, as I sit and wait for a better Android phone to hit the market.

Arizona Spring Break 2013

Arizona Vacation 2013Well, finally, I’ve managed to get everything (I think) organized and sorted out from this year’s vacation, so here it is. This year, for spring break we went to Arizona. No surprise there, this was my third time there, Kevin’s second, and Sandy’s first. We enjoy getting away, Arizona is an awesome place to visit this time of year, and Jay, Shell and family make it feel just like home. Our vacation was two weeks long and began Friday 3/22/13 and ending Saturday 4/6/13 when we returned home. We drove, with me doing 90% of the driving this time. Last time, when Patrick went with Kevin, Ty and I, we split the driving in half, so we saved some vacation time by driving straight through, there and back. This time, since it was just me driving (pretty much) we planned one overnight stay at a motel going down and one coming back. It worked out very nicely.

We left Kenosha on Friday night–technically it was Saturday morning, since we left after midnight. I slept from about 6pm Friday to around midnight, as Sandy and Kevin packed and got things ready. After I got up, we loaded the car and left. Socks was so confused, with everyone leaving him alone in the middle of the night.

The hardest part of the drive was that first night driving in the dark, getting sleepy mainly just because it was dark out. After the sun came up it was much easier to stay awake and see everything. Sandy even tried driving, once we hit a stretch of 200+ miles of straight road, and it worked out well, allowing me to get some much-needed rest. She did that a few more times on the trip down, which was a huge relief for me each time.

Kevin started collecting state pins for his hat along the way, so he’s got quite a few already. We stayed overnight at Travelodge in Amarillo, TX on Saturday night, and it was very comfortable. Then in the morning we stopped at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo before heading out on the rest of the drive to Phoenix. The Cadillac Ranch was unexpectedly ice-cold and out in the middle of a field, so we froze a bit, and had to make it only a short stop before hurrying back to the car to thaw out. Unfortunately we didn’t stay until the sun came all the way up, or we would have gotten some better photos than we did. The rest of the Sunday drive was nice, much less stressful than Saturday was, since the driving was only during the daylight hours.

The visit with Jay and his family was great. We ate good, played good, and just took it easy most of the time, when we weren’t preparing for, or going on, our little excursions in the area. We had planned to drive to Hollywood and LA this year, but it just didn’t work out this time, so we skipped it. Maybe next year. It’s still on our “to do” list. We want to see the walk of fame, the Hollywood sign, and a few other famous locales in that area, at the very least.

Did I mention the horses…er, I mean, their dogs? Jay has two of the largest dogs I’ve ever played with. Ozzie is a 12-year-old St. Bernard, and Duke is a 5-month-old Great Dane puppy! Duke (the puppy!) makes poops larger than Socks himself! Socks would be a light snack for him. And, appropriately, he makes the exact same sound as a Clydesdale when he walks across their hardwood floors! He’s very playful and friendly, but he certainly doesn’t realize his size and power and hasn’t learned to respect personal space yet. Ozzie, on the other hand, is a “gentle giant”, just chillin’ all the time and looking for a nice petting from anyone willing to pay attention to him. It was fun watching them wrestle and play tug-of-war together too.  There are some photos of them in here.

We went camping at Lake Pleasant Tuesday and Wednesday, and came back Thursday morning. That was very nice, the weather was excellent, and my only complaint was an upset stomach and diarrhea I picked up from something along the way. It passed in a couple days though, so all in all it was really nice.  There are a few Lake Pleasant photos in this miscellaneous album.

Monday 4/1 we went to Tombstone and The Thing. Just after leaving Tombstone, we had to stop at a border patrol checkpoint. Their dog sniffed our car, we were asked if we were all US Citizens, Sandy said hello to the nice doggy, and we were back on the road. The Thing was full of its usual weirdness, our in the middle of nowhere (Dragoon, AZ) but still has an excellent gift shop and a Dairy Queen, which we took full advantage of. Kevin, of course, had to collect his usual bag of rocks for his collection, and some other trinkets

Tuesday, 4/2, Jay drove us up South Mountain. This is another must-see every time someone new is with us. The view is not to be missed. Shell came with this time, and she isn’t too fond of heights. This was Sandy’s first visit, and I think she really liked it.

On the way back from South Mountain we went for lunch at Alice Cooperstown. This is a really cool restaurant located 2 blocks from Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s a warehouse-style building filled with music memorabilia, and featuring a 2-foot hot dog called “The Big Unit”. I took several photos, but with my current diet, I didn’t have the guts to order The Big Unit. A couple other people did while we were there, and they make a big deal out of it. I didn’t manage to get the camera out in time, so I missed a photo of the actual thing. Maybe next time I’ll even order one myself. I could always split it with someone, or take some home.

We also visited the Roosevelt Dam while we were there. It was really neat, and very well documented at the viewing areas on both sides of the dam. Then, after talking to a couple other travelers who came from the other direction, we decided to head back home by way of the Apache Trail. This is a long trail, about 40-50 miles, consisting mostly of graded dirt road (sometimes very thin, I might add–and very bumpy) winding around, up, and down a mountain range. It was a little scary at times, but we took it easy and enjoyed the ride. The views were spectacular, as you can see by the photos! I even took a few small videos. One one point, when Tyler was deep into his music and not paying attention, Jay made the van fishtail, on purpose, just enough to scare the crap out of Tyler and make him think we were out of control! His reaction was priceless. One additional note on the Roosevelt Dam and Apache Trail Photos, in case you look at them: You might notice that many of them are very clear and sharp, while others are very hazy and low-quality. The high-quality photos were the result of Jay’s awesome new 18 megapixel Sony camera! Wow, is that thing nice, even for quick panoramas! You can really tell the difference in quality between photos from that camera and the rest, which are from my phone, Sandy’s phone (which are both 8 megapixels), and Kevin’s phone (5 megapixels). I’ll definitely get a camera like Jay’s before our next trip, that’s for sure!

Wednesday, 4/3, was Lia’s birthday party at Chuck e Cheese. Ah, some things never change: Pizza, Animatronic Chuckie, a “live” visit from him every hour on the 30’s, the goofy and most-awful song parodies EVER, and games that hate to give up their tickets. Then it’s over to the ticket-eating machine to cash in and see what little $1.00 prizes the kids have earned.

I had also planned to take a few random “portal runs” using Ingress, but that didn’t happen either. Not knowing the area very well would make it very difficult, and no one seemed too keen on using a lot of gas just to get me AP points in Ingress so I could level up sooner. I seemed to be the only one there really into the game, so majority ruled and I set it aside. I did manage to hack a few choice portals and get a few nice keys during the regular stops on the trip though! I took screenshots of the dual portals at the Cadillac Ranch (both Resistance-owned) and the portal at Roosevelt Dam was wide open, so I acquired that one for myself. I even obtained a key for that one, and as I just checked it today, I am still the Owner, and it’s now a L6 portal, thanks to other Resistance members who must have leveled it up for me. Being only an L6 myself, I can’t level up a portal higher than L4 on my own. It wasn’t an easy task, even though it was an unoccupied portal when we arrived–the cellular reception there was very very weak, and I could only obtain a weak signal when I stood in certain specific spots at the lookout point, and even then it only stay connected for a very short time, just enough to place one or two resonators before getting disconnected again. Now I’m using remote recharge from home, whenever I get the chance, to keep it fully charged up.

Thursday, 4/4, at 6pm we left Jay’s for Mount Rushmore. I stayed up the night before, only taking a short nap in the middle of the night, so I could get a good sleep in just before leaving. I went to sleep between 9 and 10am Thursday and slept good until about 4:30pm. Then we ate, and headed out for South Dakota. Having a good sleep, I was able to comfortably drive clear through the night, until shortly after the sun came up. We were in Las Vegas, New Mexico when I decided I was too tired to continue, so Sandy took over once we got to road with no changes for several hundred miles. I slept a couple hours, then took over driving again the rest of the way into South Dakota. We stayed at a motel in Rapid City, SD, which is about 25-30 minutes from Mount Rushmore. It was dark when we arrived, so we spent the night there, then went to Mount Rushmore after breakfast in the morning. We had breakfast at the Colonial House in Rapid City, SD before Mt. Rushmore. It was a restaurant with Wizard of Oz theme. Very good food.

We ran across Castle Rock, Colorado on the way there too. This is something I hadn’t seen before – There was a gas station at the base of this huge, vertical mountain, with what looks like a very old stone castle or building atop it. I took a few shots while filling up at the gas station.

Mount Rushmore is an awesome sight. At first glance, when we were still approaching it, it looked very small. Then, as we got closer, things became bigger and clearer. There’s a very nice, official monument building there, including a huge viewing area, a stadium in front of it, a museum containing its entire history, and an enormous gift shop. It’s free to view, but you have to pay $11.00 to park your vehicle there.

Lastly, I must say, Wyoming is the most boring, flat state in the country. It’s empty. Lusk, Wyoming – Flat as a pancake, no humans seen for hours and hours. I’d hate to break down anywhere in that state, that’s for sure. A curious sight we did see (or “sights” I should say), was the billboards for The Firehouse Brewing Company, which is located in Rapid City, SD, where we stayed the night. These billboards, located along the highway all through South Dakota and in one or two other states as well, each have a completely real fire engine–usually a restored antique–all polished up and looking perfectly usable–next to them! Every single one, I swear, had an enormous real fire engine alongside it. At the first one I thought there was a fire at the billboard or something, not making the connection until we passed another one.

All in all, it was a great vacation with no issues at all. Very pleasant! We’d like to thank Jay and Shell and their wonderful family–again–for allowing us to stay with them. Already, Kevin is already asking “What else is there that we can see and do there next year?” I told him “There’s a ton more, Kevin – the country is a big place…Google it!” I explained that I haven’t even begin to think about next year’s vacation, I’m still trying to sort through THIS year’s vacation photos and get them posted as soon as I can! At least he’s looking forward to it… He must have had a good time.

New Amazon Appstore for Android

The new Amazon Appstore opened up this week for Android users, and it’s great!  They’re giving away a paid app of their choice every day too.  This means that if you visit the Appstore once a day you can “purchase” their free app of the day and it’s yours just as if you purchased it for its full price!  Download it any time, uninstall it, or reinstall it whenever you like.  This sure is an awesome way to get everyone to use their new service.  I’ll certainly be stopping by once a day, no doubt.

Much like the Android Market, the Appstore shows you categories of apps, you can search for specific ones, or browse through their sections.  It also has a nice “save for later” option that remembers a list of apps for you so you can come back later and look at them some more.  The Android Market doesn’t have anything like this.  Google should consider something similar though, it’s a great feature.

Installing the Appstore itself was a bit tricky though.  It’s not an app you can just download in the Market.  I guess maybe because it’s a direct competitor to Market itself..?  It’s easy to find though, if you google it or search Amazon’s website for it on your Android.  You won’t be able to download it at first though, unless you’ve changed a setting on your phone to allow downloads from unknown sources.  This is located in Menu >> Settings >> Applications >> Unknown sources.  Check this option to allow installation of non-Market applications.  Then you can download the app (apk file) from Amazon.  I’m not sure if all Androids act the same at this point, but mine simply allowed me to download the apk file.  After that nothing happened, so I loaded up a file browser (I use Astro) and opened the apk file once I found it on my SD card.  It then prompted me for the install.  After that, everything was back to normal though, with a new app called Amazon Appstore on my phone, read for me to consume a new free app every single day!  Just remember though, Androids have limited memory.  You can install most apps to SD, which saves a ton of space, but they still eat a little main memory for each application (or game) installed, and they will eventually fill up your phone.  This is why it’s so nice to still have the free app available to re-download and reinstall, even after you uninstall it.  I constantly juggle apps I want to just try out, or just play once in awhile.  Since it’s a cell phone, a network connection is always there anyway, so it’s very convenient to do anywhere.