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American Blinds

I spend a fair amount of time researching the window coverings I wanted for my home; and I’d decided on cellular blinds.

Like most things I don’t know a great deal about, I read up on a topic and ask questions — and window coverings was not exception.  It took me the better part of two months to educate myself to the point I felt comfortable making decisions [well, my office and the master bed room I’d chosen Plantation faux wood blinds for before I moved in — but partially out of necessity].

I learned the questions to ask about blinds, and detemined the options I was interested in, read reviews and got several quotes.

I decided to go with American Blinds; their prices were certainly not the absolute lowest, but they seemed to have a product that was very high quality at a reasonable price.

I ordered blinds for all the remaining windows in the house except the garage (that I could get for less locally, and I certainly wasn’t putting a cellular there) and the guest bed room (it has a perfect arch, and I haven’t decided what to do there yet).

It took about two weeks for the blinds to arrive; and the first window I was going to hang was the master bath room (also the smallest window).

I opened up the blind’s packaging (they were each labeled for the room / window they were intended), and immediately noted that the blind wasn’t finished — the pull string hung down over five inches below the bottom of the blind, then I noticed that the brackets were made of PVC not metal (as promised), and that there were no instructions to hand the blinds in the boxes (as promised).

I brought up a chat window with customer service who immediately provided me with the wrong instructions for hanging the blinds (I already knew how to hang blinds with metal brackets — in fact I already had the instructions for the blinds I was supposed to be getting); it took me close to an hour to get the right instructions for hanging the blinds, and then I had to download them from the manufacturer’s site (using the retailer’s log in information).  They couldn’t explain why the blinds weren’t finished, nor could they provide me with any written instructions on how to properly finish the blinds.

I’d had enough — I didn’t order a build-it-yourself blind project; I’d paid (via credit card) for a product, and this wasn’t it… so I told the customer service representative I wanted a refund — that these blinds wouldn’t do.

I did finally get a RMA from them; and they said that the manufacturer had changed the blinds and that they would be updating the information on their site (I have no idea if they have, and really don’t care).

All I know is I’m out $35 return shipping and quite a bit of my time– unfortunately I can’t get that back from my credit card company (who I filled a charge back with while I was on the road to UPS to drop off the blinds).

If you’re going to order blinds on line, make sure that they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee, and order one (small) blind to start with to make sure you’ll be happy with the quality.

Personally I’ll NEVER do business with American Blinds; and I highly recommend that EVERYONE avoid them — I find their ethics a little questionable at best.

Originally posted 2009-08-05 01:00:42.

Landscaping

Last year was spent mainly cleaning up the yard, this year I’m focused on trying to make some forward progress with landscaping.  It’s been a busy Spring planting season.

I started with a flower bed in the front of the house; 100 tulip bulbs (only about 70 came up).  I’d hoped to plant canna lilies to come up after the tulips, but finding bulbs here has proven to a challenge (the only Summer bulb that any of the nurseries around here carry are caladiums, and never considered I’d have to order something so common).

Then two Azaleas when in on the side of the house by the pourch.

Two areas (one in back and one in front) of the breezeway were done in concrete pavers.

Two cedar trees were moved out from under an oak tree in the back yard to the side of the back yard where they could grow.

A red Camila was put in the front by the mail box; a Japanese (Tulip) Magnolia was put in the front; a Gardenia was put in the side yard near the front of the garage.  Four Privet Ligustrums were put in the side yard to break it up, hide the A/C unit, but not interfere with sunlight through the bedroom windows.

Nine blue berry bushes were put along the rear fence.

Four compost bins were put in the back corner of the yard.

Four fig bushes (Brown Turkey) were put along the side fence in the back (between two oak trees).

Two plum (Blue Dawson & Golden), two peach(Florida King & Elberta), and two pear (Pineapple & Bartlett) trees were put in the back between the oak and the cedar trees.  A persimmon (Fuyu),  an Asian pear apple, a lime (Persian), two lemon (Meyer’s & Pink Variegated), a pomegranate (Russian 26), and an orange (Calamondin) tree were put in front of those.

Eighteen tomato plants (Heritage & Better Boy), eighteen pepper plants (Sweet Banana & Cayenne), and nine cucumber plants were put in the back in front of the figs.  I’ll probably expand my garden next year, but these plants will help condition the soil and provide me with much tastier alternatives than the grocery store (I almost always get my produce from the farmer’s market anyway — this should be less expensive and a nice diversion).

Three Medjool date palms and two Sago palms were put in the front corner; and one banana tree was put in the end of the flower bed.

That’s probably it for this year… certainly the yard has been greatly transformed by the addition of all this vegetation, and the care that’s gone into the few healthy tree that were here.

I still have much more to do, but I can’t be sure we’ll have adequate rain this year — so I can only plant as much as I can comfortably water.

Originally posted 2010-04-11 02:00:13.

Microsoft MyPhone

I’ve been using Microsoft MyPhone for several months now; and I switched over to it not because it’s something I felt I really needed, but because Windows 7 doesn’t synchronize with Windows Mobile 6.5 devices using the new Windows Sync Center; it requires that I install the Vista (abomination) Device Center which replaced Active-Sync.

Why do I hate Device Center?  Well, I couldn’t really care whether I use the-man-in-the-moon or what ever to sync my phone, all I care is that I not have to use Outlook!  And you guessed it, Device Center will only synchronize with Outlook, Windows Sync Center allows synchronization with a number of sources (including Outlook if you use that POS).

The options I had were use third party synchronization software (which I was forced to use back when I had a Motorola KRZR — and I really didn’t want software to limit what I could sync), use Google (I really don’t want Google to have more of my personal information than they already have, or try MyPhone (not that I’m wild about Microsoft having my personal information; but I know that they’re a clueless company who wouldn’t know what to do with the information even if they realized they had it).

There are many things that MyPhone won’t do, and we might as well get those listed first:

  • It will not download ring tones
  • It will not synchronize to live contact, calendar, etc
  • It will not allow you to backup on your desktop

Things it will do:

  • It will limit you to 200 MB of storage
  • It will synchronize contacts (including pictures, but it does have some limitation with field sizes; so Garmin GPS points are a little problematic)
  • It will synchronize calendar (but it doesn’t allow notes or reminder, you have to enter those on the phone)
  • It will synchronize task lists (again see the above limitations)
  • It will synchronize text messages
  • It will synchronize browser favorites
  • It will synchronize photos
  • It will synchronize videos
  • It will synchronize music
  • It will synchronize documents
  • It will allow for deleting and archiving.
  • It will support multiple phone
  • It will support social networks (well, Live)
  • It will provide your phone’s last known location (last sync)

If you’re willing to pay for enhanced services:

  • It will ring your phone
  • It will provide your phone’s current location
  • It will lock your phone
  • It will erase your phone

Presumably these last services are targeted at lost phone (so you might wait until you’ve lost your phone to pay for the service, and I guess if it can’t do it you might be able to get a refund).

Currently MyPhone only supports Windows Mobile devices (so you can consider it’s something you get when you purchase a Windows Mobile phone), and most current Mobile 6.1 and 6.5 phones already have it pre-installed (but you can easily download it and install it on any Windows Mobile 6, 6.1, or 6.5).

To effectively use MyPhone you should have an unlimited data plan (or it might end up costing you quite a bit of money to do the synchronizations).

I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I think MyPhone is the best thing since sliced white bread (who came up with that expression — white bread is horrible), but it works, and it works well — and it provides a service for owners of Windows Mobile 6.x that Windows 7 doesn’t (so much for Microsoft’s flagship products, makes you wonder why you have to pay the big bucks for things that don’t work well, and don’t work together).

One of the nice features of MyPhone is that you can use it to sync information to you phone regardless of what desktop operating system you run (I believe synchronizing to Windows Mobile devices still requires a third party [extra cost] product on OS-X; Sync Mate or Missing Sync).

NOTE:  I believe Microsoft considers MyPhone to be part of the Windows Live offerings, but since it doesn’t inter-operate with Windows Live (at least in the current version) I don’t see how anyone can make that claim with a straight face (where do they get these programmers and program managers).

Microsoft MyPhone

Originally posted 2010-03-09 02:00:18.

IPTV

IPTV has come a long way since the early 90’s and for most of the nation we’re on the edge of an era where digital entertainment in the home will be carried throughout our home (and enter our home) over a conventional data network.

At the moment, most media player devices are vendor specific in what they will do (ie, the U-Verse set-top box is an IPTV device, but is very limited in what it provides beyond allowing a consumer access to the U-Verse servers) — though there are some general purpose devices.

Sure, you can attach a Media PC or Home Entertainment PC, a XBox 360, a PS3, or a Wii to your entertainment system and use it as a somewhat general purpose media player — but it’s not really designed to provide a good user experience for media (they’re intended for general computing or gaming) – or you can purchase one of a growing number of media devices that are being offered that are targeted specifically to provide for a reasonably good consumer experience.

There are also a number of BluRay players that have media player capabilities — but since I consider BluRay a dying media format (and have since the day the format wars were decided) — I see no reason to invest in a player that’s likely to go the way of the 8-track; nor do I see a reason to pay for over priced discs (particularly when I already own a license for the material in another format, and no longer subscribe to making the MPAA richer when they offer me nothing).

There are also a number of display panels that have media player capabilities — but you’re going to find that the display panels that use the best display technology don’t contain the wizzy features to allow for streaming media. So my advice, is buy a solid panel and just realize that you’re going to have an external box (I don’t know of anyone who’s built a cable-card type module for IPTV at the consumer level let).

That leaves us with just the stand along devices — and if you decide that NetFlix is an absolute requirement you come down to three devices currently: Roku Streaming Player; Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ HD Media Player; and Western Digital TV Live Plus HD Media Player.

For my money the Roku is a joke — and I’m just going to pass right over it since I’ve already given it more attention than it deserves.

Both the Seagate and the Western Digital devices look like they have potential (note, only the WDBABX0000NBK is worth considering, the other models are in the same bucket as the Roku)/

The WD TV Live Plus; however, specifically supports the “play to” feature of Windows Media Player — which means you should be able to play any content on the device that you can play on a Windows 7 machine… which opens you up to a much larger potential source for entertainment.

Let me be clear at this point that I haven’t tried any of these devices for myself — I’m just in the phase of trying to figure out which would be worth my time to look at… once I have a device (and hopefully I’ll be happy with the first I get) I’ll write up a detailed post on the feature set — if you’re in a hurry, just read over the capabilities of each of the possibilities and decide what features you have to have to eliminate the number of possibilities down; and before you do that, if you haven’t looked at the value of the NetFlix streaming feature — acquaint yourself with that, and you too will likely consider it a “must have”.

Originally posted 2010-08-03 02:00:49.

Marco Rubio

Politicians are slick, and it’s always difficult (if not impossible) to truly know what they mean when they say anything, not to mention how to know whether or not they mean anything they say.

Marco Rubio, junior senator from Florida (Republican) made an interesting statement recently on his views on big government verses small government.

The success sequence in America says you get an education, you get a good job, you get married, you have children. People who do those four things have an incredible level of economic stability.

Now the question that came to my mind after pondering this statement is:

  • Does Rubio support same gender marriage, or does he believe fundamentally those who would seek a same gender marriage should be denied access to the “success sequence” he’s put forth?

Well, it would seem he’s pandering to his political base, the conservative right, since shortly after he said:

Those who support same sex marriage have a right to lobby their state legislatures to change state laws, but Americans who support keeping the traditional definition of marriage also have a right to work to keep the traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing that overturned by a judge.

While he did indicate that American history was “marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians” it would appear that while he’s willing to let gays drink in a bar, or have a job, he’s unwilling to allow them access to what he considers “the success sequence in America”.

I honestly don’t know what Rubio is trying to say, and perhaps neither does he — he may be so lost in trying to drum up votes from every segment of American society that he has lost or muddied his values… but one thing that is nagging me in the back of my mind is if he would have been a staunch supporter of separate but equal

Originally posted 2014-07-25 17:00:08.

US Health Care Reform

Today US President Barrack Obama is supposed to deliver a revised plan to overhaul US Health care… but yesterday Warren Buffet hit the nail on the head while speaking on CNC he said the country’s out-of-control health care costs — at US $2.3 trillion a year and growing — are like “a tapeworm eating at our economic body.”

Mr Buffet underscored that he would support overhaul legislation proposed by the US Senate, but that he would prefer existing proposals be scrapped in favor of a new plan targeted at addressing costs.

“What we have now is untenable over time,” said Mr. Buffett, noting the U.S. health-care system eats up about 17% of the country’s economic output, compared with about 10% for Canada and many other countries. “I believe in insuring more people. But I don’t believe in insuring more people until you attack the cost aspect of this. And there is no reason for us to be spending 17% or thereabouts when many other developed countries are spending, we’ll say, 9 or 10%. They have more beds, they have more nurses, they have more doctors, they even have more consultations by far.”

The major obstacles to any real reform would be the power health care lobbyists (representing pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, doctors, and other health care related entities) as well as the American public.

Without reform, the cost of U.S. health care — already the most expensive in the world — is forecast to jump to around 25% of the US economic output by 2025.

My feeling is that since the Democrats couldn’t come up with a plan that they could all get behind when they had control of the House, Senate, and Presidency it’s extremely unlikely that they can build bi-partisan support for much of any real reform now.

American politics is always a shining example that change isn’t always progress.

Originally posted 2010-03-04 02:00:40.

Gulf Oil Spill

President Barrack Obama toured the Red-Neck Rivera this past Monday… seeing for himself the damage the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform disaster was wreaking on the Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana coastline.

I appreciate that he used this as a king pin to push (again) for an American commitment to clean and renewable energy… but maybe for the moment we need to focus more on cleaning this mess up, and preventing future mishaps.

Sure, there’s plenty of people in Washington to work on all three agendas (though that in itself is part of the problem — there’s too many people in Washington — and no one seems to be responsible for much of anything)… but let’s put the best public face on dealing with the crisis du jour — and not forget de jure or de facto!

Oil and gas companies (like BP) have been making record profits over the past several years.  They’ve heavily lobbied Congress to get more and more access to public lands for drilling and exploration — all under the moniker that off shore drilling is perfectly safe, and with that they created a public perception that they had contingency plans to handle everything.

Surprise…

Not only is off shore drilling not safe; but oil and gas companies haven’t a clue about how to handle most crisis — and those record profits they make are at the expense of safely maintaining their equipment and staff.

When you look for where to point a finger — point it first at the oil and gas companies (BP would be the right place for the Deepwater Horizon disaster)… then point it at your elected official who accept major campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry — and they are the ones who control the regulations and the regulators (yeah — the regulators are to blame as well, but first vote out the idiot who created the system).

Lot of people are saying that very little (or nothing) is really being done to manage this crisis… but they’re dead wrong.  That might be their perception — but lots is being done — just maybe not the right things, and certainly BP didn’t do enough in the very early days… part of that was because they didn’t have a plan and they didn’t invest time, energy, and money into planning.

Let’s be realistic about this — the oil spill is going to get much worse before it get’s better.

Oil is still leaking from the Deepwater Horizon.

The spill is now large enough that the currents will almost assuredly take it out of the Gulf of Mexico and into the Atlantic — where the Gulf Stream will push it North along the Eastern seaboard.

It’s hurricane season; and it’s not a matter of if but rather when a storm will enter hurricane alley (remember — if the oil hits the Gulf Stream almost any storm that comes toward North America will disperse the oil even more).

BP is still clueless as to how to arrest the oil (and still short-sighted I’m sure).

All we can do is move forward and be prepared… and hopefully now the mult-member task-force will be able to do a better job managing all the facets of containment and cleanup.

Originally posted 2010-06-19 02:00:10.

Better late…

It’s been a quarter century after the automotive industry received a wake-up call and they seem to finally get it.

A few auto makers toyed with all electric vehicles in the early 90’s; but Honda introduced us to the hybrid vehicle, and Toyota catapulted it into a business success.

Both Honda and Toyota had hoped to introduce fuel cell technology vehicles, but with the world’s economy in shambles building out the infrastructure for that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Now we have virtually every auto maker introducing electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid; many are also introducing high efficiency (bio) diesel vehicles.

Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Ford, GM, Volkswagen — just to name a few — have made a serious commitment to increasing the fuel efficiency of their fleet (and thus decreasing their carbon foot print).

GM announced a 100,000 mile, 8-year warranty on their new Volt — displaying to consumers that they have a great deal of confidence in their offering.  Other companies like Tesla have offered a pre-purchased battery replacement.

I haven’t done exhaustive research on all the offerings; the Prius is likely to continue to be a near term winner, it get’s a plug-in option next year; and the Insight get’s that the following year.  However the Volt goes the other route and is an electric car with a backup generator (giving it over 300 miles range, and a somewhat simpler design since it doesn’t require the complex drive system found in most hybrids).

I’m still driving my 1997 Toyota 4Runner, it’s got 350,000 miles on it and going strong.  I’d considered replacing it during the “cash-for-clunkers” program, but it just didn’t seem to make sense to me since I couldn’t find any suitable replacement vehicle that got better than 30 miles to the gallon — and the math just didn’t work out financially, nor did the impact on the environment for disposing of a perfectly functional vehicle seem right.

It might not be until 2014 or so that we really have a number of good options for vehicles that provide the features and economy we’re looking for… but finally we’re on a path that should reduce the environmental impact of the continuing car culture.

Originally posted 2010-07-27 02:00:24.

The Gift of Giving

Every year I go through the same thing… I try to select a handful of charities to give something to… and every year I want to know how much of what I give will benefit those I want to help, and how much will be absorbed by the organization that manages the donation.

Remember, there’s been plenty of large philanthropic organizations that end up only getting about 10% of what’s donated to those they “help” and paid their executives huge salaries. [Greed — you’ll find it everywhere]  
This year I stumbled on the American Institute of Philanthropy (see the link below), and they’ve done a lot of the work for you — and even made a simple ratings page if you don’t want to invest lots of time into looking over the details.

For those of you who can afford to give a little back, I encourage you to make your gifts count.

     http://www.charitywatch.org/azlist.html

Originally posted 2008-11-10 14:18:25.

Deficit Spending – RNC Style

These are the people who were elected to put the nation’s economy back on track?

Washington (CNN) – The Republican National Committee raised $5.2 million last month, but still is saddled with a debt of more than $21 million from the 2010 midterm elections.

The RNC was able to pay $1 million toward reducing the debt in February, but received an additional $1 million in invoices from 2010 that left its financial position virtually unchanged, according to a report that will be filed this afternoon with the Federal Election Commission. CNN was provided the data prior to the filing.

Originally posted 2011-03-21 02:00:13.