A Throwback to Move Forward

Hello from a place that is old to me, but new again: the DSB Career and Training Center, formerly known as the North Carolina Rehabilitation Center for the Blind. I suppose they consider the modern name more descriptively accurate of the services offered here. This place is located on the campus of Governor Morehead School for the Blind, and I am to receive an evaluation to provide insight into which kinds of job I might wish to search for in the future.

Why have I been missing from these pages for as long as I have lately? Well there’s a really good reason for that, but I am not at liberty to go entirely into detail yet. Let’s say a wonderful side-opportunity for some freelance writing has fallen into my lap, and I’ve been brushing up on how to compose solid articles. Hopefully you will be able to see some of these articles, from me and others, in the coming months. That is exciting, and interestingly it developed just as my DSB counselor and I were ramping up plans for this evaluation.

I can’t say I’m completely certain what will happen here. Their handbook says standardized testing, perhaps. Computer assessments, and I guess some kind of vocational component. I remember coming here in 1996, and staying in Cox Dorm as I am now. The place seemed old and the stairs narrow and hot, with carpeted rooms and a giant, single bathroom for use by everyone on the floor. Surprisingly though, they have now renovated it into suites, with each containing a bathroom that has a shower and toilet. This is in some ways nicer, but it also means that only one person can get in there at a time. I’ll be interested to see how much demand is placed on the facilities.

I arrived, after commuting the arduous seven miles from my Cary home. I kind of wondered why I had chosen to stay on campus exactly, but dinner dispelled any uncertainty I had about that. It’s about the networking. I spoke with people and informed them about some of my freelance stuff, while also hearing from two twins (we could tell they were by their rhyming names) who were in the Randolph Shepard Vendors of America Program. I know little about this, except that they train blind and low vision people to load snack machines at various businesses. It seems to be a good establishment, but takes a while to complete certification. The twins have been here since January and will remain till June. I also spoke with an individual who is seeking voiceover work, and suggested that he take a good, hard look at NPR. Overall, it was an uplifting conversation for us all, as we’re fighting the same battles.

So however this ends up unfolding, of course you will hear about it. More coming, probably tomorrow.

I Work: Finding People and Tech to Revitalize my Career

My life is accelerating. And technology has played and will play a key part in successfully making the transitions I am about to attempt, both in the job and volunteer setting. Much of this has been affected by the speed with which 2019 has gotten underway, especially following the wonderful trip to Miami that I have documented over the last month.

Of course, the first and most immediate attempt at change will be in career. A number of near-simultaneous developments have made it likely that I will, at least I sure hope, finally have some real movement.

In the months since receiving hearing aids from the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, my counselor there and I have been working to construct a plan. To that end, and to find some kind of direction, we have scheduled me to go into the Governor Morehead School for the Blind and their Blindness Education Center (what used to be referred to as the Rehab Center for the Blind) for an extensive evaluation. I will arrive on campus on Sunday April 14, and stay there till Thursday April 18; undergoing a battery of tests and simulations to help determine what might be my best area of fit. I did a similar evaluation a little over 20 years ago, but one would imagine that the experience has been, updated? since then. I am excited and curious to see what I will discover about myself.

Self-discovery is also being helped at my current employer, Durham’s LCI (officially shortened from LC Industries now as they increase their tech focus). They have recently hired a Workforce Development Specialist, and I met with her a couple weeks ago to begin thinking about my long-term plans. We completed a values assessment, using an exercise to narrow my values from 50 to 10 to just five. These are, I suppose, my core values, and they include:

  • Creativity
  • helping others/serving people
  • Influencing people
  • Leisure
  • Visioning

Certainly I would like to believe I am, and continue to find more ways to be, creative. The desire to help others and influence are a large part of why I’ve blogged in some way for the last 15 years now. I think leisure speaks for itself: I need time to read, relax, and sometimes even take vacations. I must confess I am not entirely sure what is meant by “visioning”, but I suppose it has to do with looking forward and thinking of possible futures.

I will work further with the specialist at LC after the evaluation, and well, we’ll see. In the meantime, I am about to also step up my role in the Norrie Disease Association. We’re now trying to create committees, which will hopefully make it easier to produce useful content, raise funds, and otherwise interact with the people we are trying to serve. One thing this new focus is already establishing for me is a need to learn to use sharable technology platforms such as Slack. So I’ve spent much of this weekend trying to learn at least the basics about it, and am pleased to find that it not only is pretty accessible, but it also has embedded features that help learn things relatively quickly. I know that this sort of collaboration will be a key part of whatever comes next as well.

That’s a little about what has been happening with me of late, hopefully the beginnings of real fun in coming months. As always, to the extent that I can, I will share what I learn with others as so many of us work to be more.

Bienvenido a Miami 4: The Long Road Through The Keys

Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett, It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere (Youtube)

I chose this last track to represent our trip to Key West, because Jimmy Buffett seems to be an iconic representer of this unique place. It certainly feels like one of the most isolated places in the U.S., and as such it has developed a culture not seen really anywhere else. Of course, tourists and their (our? But I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler! Haha) actions make up a significant portion of this culture, as you will see.

4:45 comes early, and that alarm feels like the same that awakens me for a workday. Not surprisingly though, I have a much easier time willing myself out of bed to prepare for the coming adventure. We stumble into and through the showers, and for the only day during our visit, do not have breakfast at iHop. Instead, we pack snacks and water into our backpacks and make our way outside into the unwelcome cold that has descended over the land. 52 and a brisk wind, and yes it takes little to no time for one’s perspective on what constitutes “cold” to change. As we await the Miami Tour Company bus that will come by the nearby Crystal Beach hotel to pick us up, I mostly hope that it will warm enough for walking to be enjoyable. The email has stated that the bus should arrive at 6, but it actually rolls up shortly after 6:30. We are only the second group of passengers to board.

As we make our circuitous trip around Miami Beach and then across the causeway to Miami, we continue to collect others. Most are couples, will very few non-adults. We marvel in the fact that the bus nearly fills, at 53 souls on board, even on. Monday morning. She is relieved by this. As we make our way out of the city, again with the drive narrated by an individual speaking quickly in English then in Spanish, my wife goes to sleep while I read some and enjoy watching the GPS as we go further south. Florida City the last mainland post, slides by, and we continue onto the Overseas Highway. Part of, the end of, US-1, this amazing piece of engineering extends over the Caribbean Sea to the left and the Gulf of Mexico to the right. She tells me that the two bodies of water do look different as well. Also, and this makes me feel slightly dizzy, there are stretches of highway even over the water where no guardrails are present. The longest stretch, the seven-mile bridge, I think takes us to Big Pine Key. But along the way, we do make a stop.

“Ok,” the driver says: “get your cameras ready, because we are about to stop at a very historic place. Very historic… McDonald’s.” This draws chuckles from the half awake crowd, and we scramble off at the Key Largo location to acquire a more substantial breakfast.

Back on after about 30 minutes, we move through a surprising number of small keys: Marathon, Duck, and others who’s names I am not able to recall. Finally, we bump onto Key West and roll to a stop at Caroline Street, immediately searching for more food. We enter a little diner called Harpoon Harry’s, where she orders a key lime pie sandwiched in French toast (interesting?), and I get a giant Cuan Mix sandwich that had pork, mayo veggies, and delicious bread. I regrettably consume only half of it, and by the time I think of eating the other half we make the determination that it is probably already too late to do so safely.

By the time we step outside, at around 12:15, the sun is up and temperatures climb nicely into the mid 70’s.

“Ok, we’re down here” she said, “now what do we do?” We decide that then $39 trolley tour is not worth it, as most things are walkable anyway, and make the mile-and-a-half hike to the Southernmost landmark to have our pictures taken. She makes frequent stops to accommodate my sedentary body, which is not but should be used to taking such strenuous strolls. As we waddle down the walk, roosters waddle along with us, moving freely through yards and along streets. This, I hear, is common to many island locations as they are seen to symbolize good luck. They give me nightmares! Because I have this weird thing with birds that go back to my dream of the Big Chicken stomping through Charlotte and causing havoc as a kid. Don’t… ask.

Anyhow, rogue roosters aside, the walk is pleasant and I absorb the calming feeling one gets by being so far away from news centers and other such minutiae. We get to the icon, where we must stand in a somewhat lengthy line. “My phone is down at 3%,” she says, noting that use of the GPS has nearly drained it. I had tried to allow her use of my wonderful Anker Portable Battery Charger, but her ports were not USB. As you arrive to take your picture, the person behind you in line actually snaps it. I suppose this is a sort of unwritten rule that developed over time. Just as our would-be picture taker prepares to snap us, her phone bites the dust. So I hand the woman my phone. Only it chooses to not stay bright, continuing to drop brightness to 0%. Later, I determine that this happens because I have the green curtain enabled. In any event it causes us to throw in the towel on that and scramble out of others’ way.

She searches for a likely location to give her phone a little more juice, and we discover the Southernmost Guest House. Yeah I know, real creative name. The person inside is nice, allowing her to plug in and grab a cup of coffee, and inviting us to sit on the porch with a table and chairs.

After getting the pictures successfully taken, We again find a place to charge up, the Markers Resort. The lobby of this establishment is quite swanky, and as this occurs at nearly 4 PM, I have a hard time not drifting off as I listen to people walking around, getting on the elevator, and the like.

Prior to our visit to the Markers, we wander into a cookie shop called Matheesen’s, where all of the cookies are huge! She purchases a half-pound peanut butter cookie, and I eat a small bite. The people are friendly and joke with us as we get the cookie. They even ship their wares online, two-day and only through Wednesday so that they can be had by Friday. I may well get one someday.

The bus ride back, beginning at 5:30, is more brutal than the inbound trip, and I slide into Lala land before we even get out of Key West. Second on also means second off, so it is with great relief that I finally step from the bus and try to stay upright long enough for us to purchase frozen meals from Publix and to crash into our room.

And thus ends our trip. Fortunately I have found a 4:30 PM flight, so we are able to sleep in at least a little bit the following day. Then we return to rainy, cold North Carolina, energized and full of memories to add our our ever-growing pile. A great way to celebrate a year of marriage.

Look, No Wires! On Finding My Perfect Bluetooth Headset

(Note: Link added to post)
Ever since I heard of the concept, I wanted a pair of headphones that required no physical connection to a device to work. No more entanglements, premature shorts, and most useful of all, increased flexibility when exercising and the like. The only problem? And this might be just me, but perhaps other blind folks agree: bluetooth headphones can be difficult to power on and off accessibly. At least, if you haven’t located a pair built just so.

My first set of bluetooth headphones were a Christmas gift to me in 2016. Uproar Wireless, I’m uncertain of the exact model number as I don’t think it listed in the bluetooth connection as most current models do. They were fairly small and the pads fit well, meaning that I didn’t feel like they would come off easily due to repeated entrance and removal from my backpack. They lacked the flexible speaker though, so that putting them into more confined spaces was difficult.

The real issue though was the power button. I could get the unit to power up and connect to my iPhone, but when I attempted to turn it off, the headphones would call my wife as I held the button down. At 6:30 in the morning. Obviously this was a no-go. The odd thing to me was that this behavior was not entirely consistent, and sometimes the headphones would indeed shut down as I had hoped, emitting a series of descending beeps.

This inability to predict what would happen, as well as the fact that the headphones lacked enough volume to allow me to hear in louder places such as our employee break room, caused me to shelve those and return to my old, wired set. I continued to use these as they slowly deteriorated, now to the point that I basically have to put the raggedy speakers that have no padding, and in which only one still kind of works, against my head.

About a month ago though, someone on my Facebook page spoke of a feature in the latest iOS called Live Listen that turns the iPhone into an FM system with a pair of bluetooth headphones. This means, I suppose, that I can have sound beamed into my hearing aid if I wanted to, say, listen to someone speaking in a larger room. I still haven’t actually tried this feature, but I intend to look it up and see if I can discern it.

Before that can happen though, I must track down a workable headset. So I dare to venture back into this, and on recommendation from a Twitter follower, I acquire the MPOW H5 Noise Canceling variety. These do have considerable volume, and an impressive amount of bass. They make music and other programming sound fantastic. They even have those flexible speakers, as well as the option to connect via the headphone jack. But when listening via Bluetooth, they would beep anytime I interacted with VoiceOver or even pressed the volume up-down switch. While mildly annoying, this was tolerable.

The power button, however, is what really dissuaded me from using them. Though it audibly says “Power Off” when the button is held, sometimes twice, for four seconds, my wife says a green light continues to shine. And sure enough, when I go to try and connect them the next day the 30-hour battery is drained and I must resort to a hard connection. This leads me to one conclusion, I need something with a switch I can flip bon or off.

My wife sets off on a search to find such a device, carefully combing Amazon reviews to see if mention of an on/off switch is made. Finally, she locates the Plantronics Backbeat Go 600 Noise-Isolating Headphones. I’ve only had them a couple of days, but they seem to be just what the doctor ordered. When I push the switch up, they say “Power on, Battery High, Phone 1 connected”. If I continue to push the switch, it becomes something of a rocker. I imagine that is how you can switch between multiple, connected devices. I wonder if any other, lower-priced, headphones allow for this kind of thing. (I just can’t bring myself to spend 300 bucks on a set, not yet at least). Anyhow, these headphones also allow for a wired connection if you choose, and say they can remain charged for up to 18 hours. Mine still report that the battery is high so we shall see how long they last. There is also a long button that, when pressed, reports the status again.

They don’t have the bass of the MPOW, but this is ok as I discovered an AppleVis podcast (AppleVis is a site for blind people that helps us with all things Apple) that shows me how to use the iPhone’s equalizer. With this, I can set it to “Small Speaker” to make music sound good in my headphones, or “Spoken Word” to improve the quality of audiobooks. I have found that this works wonderfully with my new set, and am finally able to truly enjoy bluetooth connectivity. I thought I would post about them, just in case any of you were pining for something similar, (i.e.) ones that do not require holding down a button and hoping.

Bienvenido a Miami 3: Do You Know What Today Is?

And today’s soundtrack is obvious, as far as I can tell just about the only of its kind. A nice, smooth jam clocking in at over 7 minutes to get your head in the right place for chillin’!

Anniversary: Tony Toni TonÉ (Youtube)

That’s right, it’s our anniversary. And unbeknownst to us, instead of being stuck inside with gloomy weather as we’d thought, the South Florida sunshine is about to make a glorious appearance. This means we will get to truly enjoy our special, shared holiday.

Sun, January 27

I lie awake, with thoughts of how much getting this braille display fixed would cost me, and more worrisome how I would fair without it bouncing around my head. I finally have enough time to truly browse Miami radio, and decide that the better iPhone app for this purpose is OOTunes, as it truly emulates terrestrial radio. But as is always the problem in this room, my proximity to her awakens her soon after I begin, so I abandon the browsing in favor of conversation.

Anxious to see if I can determine what has happened to my display, I ask her if she can help me locate and remove the battery, as many of my Twitter followers have indicated might be the problem. Only I am unable to find a battery port on the Brailliant BI 40, I suppose because it is entirely sealed in the unit. In a move based on hope, I give up and jus try turning it on. And what do you know, it works! This is why the prior day’s quip about someone perhaps wanting me to disconnect for a while and truly be present with my wife. In any event, I am hugely relieved. One cell, or at least one of its dots, does seem to have been casualty to whatever occurred last night, making repairs imminent.

We shower, then proceed to dress for the upper 50’s with rain that we are expecting. But when we step outdoors, the sun hits us in all the right spots and a nice, ocean breeze caresses our skin. “Ah, this is what I paid for!” I say, graciously taking it in.

“Indeed,” she replies. “We’ll come back to the room after eating to dress down a bit before heading to the beach.”

IHOP is not too bad on this morning, so I sit and have my old man breakfast again, feeling content. I am hungrier this morning, as our last full meal had been around 4 the previous day. Conversation flows as smoothly as my lemonade iced tea, and I am glad that, at least to my telling these new hearing aids are easing my comfort level in such social environments.

Swinging by a beach storm we acquire a nice, large beach towel that we will put in the sand. I try to wear my flip flops down as we walk from the room, but they velcro and I can’t get the material to fit snugly enough. So I just opt for my regular shoes until we get down there, as I will go barefoot in the sand anyway.

One thing I wanted to do is dip my toes in the Straits of Florida to see if that water would be as warm as a bath tub. The answer? No! I suppose you have to go a bit farther down for that. While that initial cold is shocking, I am able to withstand a few washes by the waves that, today, sound more like what I am used to as the waters are churned up.

The most fun part comes though when we return to the towel. She lies down, and I back up against my backpack. “Why don’t you lay down, see how differently it feels?” she says. So, using my backpack as a pillow, I stretch out. It does feel different, as if I”m on a deserted island somewhere. I am afraid to drift off entirely out here though, because what if sand drifts into my mouth? Or one of those loud seagulls swoops down and snatches me up. Ok, I have a vivid imagination. But, yeah.

After nearly an hour and a half, we finally fold the towel and make our way back to the room, where I promptly go to sleep in the bed. She allows me to remain in this state for another couple hours, before concluding that we should eat before the rains come.

We were to locate a fancy restaurant so we could get all cleaned up and put on a suit and dress to celebrate the occasion. But she said, and I agreed, that the atmosphere of the day just didn’t fit this vibe. So we just walk down to the nearby Burgerfi and have one of their delicious burgers with even better hand-cut fries. It is a good thing we make this choice, as some fierce storms roll in just after we complete another Publix run and scramble back into the room.

And that is about all that happens on this low-key day. She wraps it up by reading me a beautiful note that she has written using the letters of LOVE as an acronym. And we bed down relatively early for our early AM wake-up call to head to Key West!

Bienvenido a Miami 2: Little Havana and Biscayne (Sat)

And we’ll start this post with the second song played on our citywide tour:
Havana, Camila Cabello (Youtube

Any trip to Miami is likely not complete without a visit to Little Havana, the section of the city most dominated by Cuban first and second-generation residents. We have therefore booked a bus tour that will take us to this area, as well as to a party spot along Biscayne Bay with food, music, and the damp smell of nearby water.

Saturday, January 26

The bed feels delicious, and the sleep I experience is unlike any I’ve had in months. So I have to fight hard to the surface as the 9:00 alarm rings. And, it’s rather cold outside of the cover. Miami residents, it turns out, know little or nothing about heating. I do take a little time to listen to Miami radio, as I had also done last night, but because we are pretty much forced to remain close to each other and I don’t wish to wake my wife too early, I do not avow myself in this practice for too long.

The air outside is cold too, as we again stroll to IHOP. Today I select generally lighter fare: 2 eggs, scrambled with cheese; sausages, and grits. I soon learn that this is known as the 55 and over senior meal. Ha ha. I also discover that they have lemonade iced tea, which I enjoy on subsequent visits as well.

Once we finish, we make a quick swing by the room to complete getting ready, then I bring up Uber to take us to 305 Lincoln Road, the location from which the tour bus will collect us. We are due to leave at 1:30, and it is only just after 12:25, so she decides to have a look around. WE enter a large, two-level clothing store and make our way up an escalator. As we prepare to squeeze down one of the narrow aisles, I manage to bang my head on a protruding shelf. It hurts, but fortunately no long-term damage is done. There is little else to do in here, so we make our way outside to await the bus so that we can hopefully secure good seats.

This bus exudes such strong exhaust that my head immediately begins to hurt. Even inside of the vehicle, the odor is almost asphyxiating. I can’t help but wonder how old it is. Unfortunately, I in my infinite wisdom have forgotten my Braille display back at the room, so I am unable to trace the tour via GPS as we move along. Therefore I can only recall bits and pieces.

The two songs I’ve already added to entries, and of course a fast-paced one from Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine are played through the tinny-sounding PA, I guess to get us all in the mood. As this happens, a woman narrates the sights both in English and Spanish, (as near as I can tell this is true of most Miami tours, and it sounds like it takes skill. We pass quite a few mansions, most notably that of Giani Versace. The beach itself of course consists mostly of hotels, condos, and very nice houses. Then we hop onto a causeway and head into the city, where we are told that approximately 5.7 million people now reside in Miami, the only U.S. city sounded by a woman; Julia Tuttle. I look at the Wikipedia article later, and it says that Tuttle was from Cleveland originally. Interesting story there, I’m sure.

My favorite part of the tour is disembarking at a Cuban cigar store I think on Southwest 8th Street. “We’re gonna smell like these cigars,” I quip. I’m guessing that location, smack in the middle of Little Havana, gets a lot of business from those tour buses.

After a little more showing off of the downtown area and Biscayne Bay, we get off again at an outdoor restaurant called Largos located at 401 Biscayne Boulevard. This is where the bus tour ends, and those who are going to board a boat to tour the bay are able to do so. We opt not to go on the second portion, but do enjoy burgers at this place while sitting in the somewhat cool but manageable 60 degree day. I order a delicious Bleu Cheese sandwich, and their fries hit the spot also. Music blares, and partying commences. It feels like one might imagine Miami would feel.

We have to wait for a bus to return us to our initial pick-up spot, missing the 4:30 to finish eating and catching the 5:30. Until then though, we walk around a bit and she sees American Airlines Arena, where the Miami Heat (NBA) play. I note the slightly mildewy smell of the bay, and have fun listening to people cavort about the city.

Back at the Lincoln Road location, our first Uber flies by without stopping or even really seeing us. The woman who does collect us seems not to speak English, which is ok as the info is already in GPS. We arrive at the hotel, and I discover that said forgotten Braille display is throwing something of a fit, as it comes on, connects to my phone, but does not punch up the dots as it should. Later we determine that it wants me to pay attention to my wife and put down the tech, which I had vowed to do after a quick check! While she was otherwise occupied. But perhaps someone doesn’t believe me. Other than watching some movie as I laid back and drifted in and out, and slopping down Friday’s strawberry cheesecake gotten from Las Vegas restaurant, not much else happened. I listen to a little NPR, decide the news is too much to take in while on my dream vacation, and call it a night.

Bienvenido a Miami 1: We Love Our Horns! (Fri)

With the appropriate soundtrack, of course: Will Smith, Miami

Who in January would not opt for a little sun and sand to take the winter blues away? For such an excursion, little to no excuse is needed. But my wife and I have one, and will for all time, as our wedding anniversary is on the 27th of this month. So I booked the flight and hotel some 83 days prior and waited with anticipation, and mounting dread as our government went through its perturbations, to set off for the deliciously warm locale of Miami, Florida.

Friday, 1/25

2:30 Am rolls in, and as a kid would on Christmas, I finally give up on sleep and head to my writing and reading room that we call a “man cave” to make time go a little more quickly. At 4:30, after a final check of baggage to ensure that I am bringing everything along that I wanted, I book the Lyft ride and we head over to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU).

We sail through security with relative ease, being helped by workers in order to speed things up a bit. I keep beeping as I am forced to disassemble my electronic assemblage and my new belt with its big shiny buckle. That done, we grab the overpriced bottles of water past the checkpoint, because they know they can get you as you aren’t able to bring water through, and sit at our gate to await a 7:04 AM departure.

No other issues occur, and we board and take our seats only three rows up from the restroom. American Airlines charges extra for every row beyond 21, so I end up taking those far back seats. They also have very little legroom, as compared to our usual experience aboard JetBlue. The flight does touch down in Miami on time though, so I guess I can give them credit for that.

As we scurry through the relatively larger airport, I call for an Uber and there is some confusion as we discover that we need to be in arrivals and are in departures. The driver kindly waits the 7 minutes or so it takes us to make our way through the elevator and outside, we throw our things in back, and settle in for the long ride to Miami Beach. At least it is longer than it probably has to be as he opts to take a street-level route instead of the highway. She says we pass through a dilapidated section of the city with interesting graffiti that she decides not to comment on. Then we bounce onto the Bay Causeway and finally arrive at our destination, the M Boutique Hotel.

I am initially alarmed, because there is a gate into which we must enter a code and no one answers the phone when I call inside for assistance. The email had given me this code, but it had also stated that we would not need it until 3 PM. As far as I can tell, the code remains active at all times. Once I recited it to her though, she was able to successfully enter it into the keypad.

We enter a small, clean-smelling lobby where a French-speaking receptionist awaits. This is the first clue to the unusual atmosphere we are about to encounter. There are only 11 rooms in the entire building; 5 on the lower floor and 6 on the upper. Inside of the room, the sink has a faucet that is strangely canted and drains into a bowl placed in a metal frame. The shower comes straight down like rain. The room itself only contains two stools for sitting at the kitchenette table, but the bed is one of the more comfortable I’ve experienced at a hotel. As she says though, this is a room for couples, definitely not a business-type establishment. I love it’s location within easy walking distance of the beach, bus line, and several restaurants.

Once inside of the building at 11 or so, we are told that we will not be able to check in until 1. So we drop our luggage and head over to the nearby IHOP, reasoning that eating breakfast at a chain is ok as it’s well, breakfast. As we walk along the streets, the origin of my subject line becomes unavoidable: those folks honk at any and everything without provocation! Their leaning on the horn was at least on par with, if not exceeding, that I experienced when visiting Manhattan. It must be a pastime, an ingrained part of the culture.

The restaurant is absolutely packed, as it will be for the majority of our trip. Today I settle on a build-your-own-omelette with sausage and American cheese, and some hash brown. The orange juice is a bit pulpy, but tolerable, I guess.

After filling our bellies, we still have a little time to kill so we make our way down to the water. We quickly discover that there is nowhere to walk along the shore without falling in, as the sand slopes down to the sea. So we plop right in that sand and enjoy the stiff breeze and abundant sunshine. She says the water is a blue-green there, more beautiful than she has ever seen. I note how the waves sound a lot gentler, as if someone is flinging the water around. It’s as I’ve heard when listening to anything that takes place in the tropics. So pleasant and relaxing.

And speaking of relaxing, we are finally given access to our room where we crash on the bed for a couple blissful hours. Half of a vacation is enjoying the ability to sleep at will anyway, right. As I slip under, I can’t help but marvel at how incredibly different this feels, very much as if I have traveled to another country and not just a new American city.

Once we resurface shortly before 5, we determine that it is time for dinner. For this, we head to our pre-selected choice of Las Vegas Cuban cuisine. I select Pollo de Milanesa, a delicious chicken filet topped with Spanish Marinara sauce, ham, and melted mozzarella. Fries on the side, but a Cuban pineapple beverage that we both like. She has a fish platter of unknown type that she also enjoys. We hav the restaurant nearly to ourselves, though there is a steady stream of people picking up to-go orders. We surmise that Miami must be more attuned to a later eating schedule, which is fine because it creates the kind of quiet atmosphere we most favor.

We wrap up the day by venturing into their Publix, a grocery store and liquor store in one. The groceries are accessed on the second floor so we take an elevator up, a fairly unusual concept. She says that if you have a lot of items in your art and don’t wish to wheel them onto the elevator, there is an escalator that will take them down below for you to grab when you arrive. We only get a few snacks and more water.

And that wraps up the first day. Clearly, this expansive trip will take at least a couple more entries for me to get it all in. More soon.

A Little More of the Juice: My Acquisition of the Apple Watch Series 4

I must admit when first I heard of Apple developing a watch, I wondered what good it could do me. Attached to the iPhone? Most of what one would do with it run basically by the larger device? And running one a few hundred dollars? Probably little more than a fashion item.

And from what I hear of the first two series of these items at least, they were basically that. Someone let me try his watch once, and I found I could barely hear VoiceOver (the talking software included on nearly all modern Apple devices) and what I perceived sounded scratchy at best. So I had no pressing desire to invest in this product.

But times change. Get it? Time? A watch? I know I know, that’s bad. And given that my cell phone company allows me to get one and attach payments to my bill, paying it off over time, I finally decided that the time was right. What! I can do that if I want.

So shortly after the new year began, I put in my order. On taking it out of the box and attaching its sport band, I was immediately underwhelmed by this accessory until, at least I think, I finally figured out how one is to wear it. Now it’s a lot more comfortable and no longer gets in my way as I conduct daily tasks and move around at work.

With the watch itself, I was pretty tempted to send it back after that bumpy first day. I couldn’t figure out how to get it to stop telling me time at wrong intervals (had to turn off the annoying raise-to-wake feature), and I initially struggled with the concept of setting everything via the iPhone.

I also had a hard time, and kind of still do really, getting it to reliably vibrate to tell me time instead of talking. One of the primary reasons I opted for this thing is so that I might check time during the night without having to put in my aids, tap the iPhone’s home button, and hope that it doesn’t speak so loudly that it wakes my wife up. Not being able to easily check the time actually makes the night feel a lot longer, and having to go through too many exercises to do so wakes me up to the point that sleep can not be easily re-obtained. Anyway on making the watch vibrate, I’ve discovered that I can get it to more consistently do so if I double tap it with some aggression, rather than sort of soft tapping. I wish they hadn’t used the double tap gesture as one’s means of activating this feature, since it is also commonly used to work with VoiceOver.

That minor flaw aside, I have come to like the watch in the end. This is because of its many health-related features. For example, it gives me percentages on my move, stand, and exercise goals throughout the day, easily allowing me to see when I need to be more active. It also tells me to “stand” at 10 minutes to every hour. My wife and I joke that this would be more effective if paired with a mild electric shock. Oh yeah! I’m standing up now.

The watch also has a pretty cool app called, boringly perhaps, “Breathe” that prompts you to breathe in and out in tune with taps on your wrist and measure the effect it has on your heart rate, as a proxy for relaxation. I’ve found this to be particularly useful to deploy at work, as I can do so relatively silently when between assignments, and it helps me feel a lot less stressed. I’m hoping that will prove good for my blood pressure in the long run as well.

Those are just some of the practical ways I have found the watch to be beneficial to me. It also helps me when reserving Uber/Lyft rides, as I no longer have to hold the phone or extract it to see notifications on the status of my ride, making it possible to schedule them as I sprint out of my workplace and get into position. I also like the easy weather-check feature on the Nike Watch face, as well as the fact that I can actually check email and other incoming notifications considerably faster with it than I can on the phone. Finally, it’s just easier to check the time either with the “aggressive” double tap method already mentioned, or a single tap to the face to have the hours and minutes (with seconds in the Classic watch face which can really be pretty cool) spoken.

No this thing isn’t perfect, but from what I have seen the Series 4 is a lot better than any other version thus far. And I got the one with the 44MM screen; I don’t know if that really makes a difference but the VoiceOver sound, while not very loud, is a lot clearer and generally discernible for me in quieter settings. I know about and definitely considered some of the blindness-specific smart watch solutions, but am finding that the Apple Watch actually works fairly well for me. Especially if you can get it via your phone company, I would recommend it.

What I Read In 2018: A Review

Yes, I know we’re already nearly 3 weeks into 2019, but finding the energy to sort through my previous year’s book choices had thus far eluded me. Why is this? In short because I consumed more content on this go-round than ever before, putting in a crazy cram session at the end to complete 60 books for the first time. How some of you reach 70, 100, and beyond will probably always remain a mystery to me, as I was pretty sapped after just those. I guess it’s because of the way I tend to read, being more of a savorer than a speedster. But to each his or her own, as long as the books bring enjoyment.

And I can say I still found a lot of that in my selections. All told, I read 50 works of fiction, including 18 contemporary, six historical, twelve psychological, and fourteen sci-fi/fantasy. I also took in ten nonfiction books: five of them to do with travel and five memoirs. The latter category has become more interesting to me lately, as many tend to narrate their own these days. And speaking of narration, 43 off my reads were as audiobooks, which I would surmise is also a record.

With that breakdown in mind, I thought I would give you my top five works of fiction and my top three nonfiction pieces. I’ve been trying to read more of the last, but I guess I still tend to lean toward escaping reality when possible.

Wings Unseen, Becca Gomez Farrell

My first book of 2018, I particularly liked this by an author who had met me via Twitter a few years ago after having promoted my blog to someone else. It’s an epic fantasy adventure full of travel, royalty, tests of loyalty, and a fight against some rather scary-sounding insects. The depth of description in her cities was something I’ve rarely encountered, and truly made the story come to life.

Alone, Brett Archibald

This is a story about a guy who fell overboard into the Indian Ocean after becoming ill on bad food and tossing it into the sea. He was forced to survive in the waves with frightening sea life for almost a month, losing nearly all of his weight in the process. It documents the beginning of this process, tales from his friends as they related them to him later, and other things. I think I finished it in three days.

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi

Ok this one made everyone’s list I’m sure. Another fantasy, it takes place in a Nigeria-like country and involves magic, a gladiator-style battle, treks through the wild with mysterious animals, and royalty dethroned. I wasn’t sure if I would like this one, but was hooked as soon as I started; being so unable to sleep in anticipation of reading more tat I got up around 2 on a workday to complete it.

The Story of Arthur Truluv, Elizabeth Berg

A quiet story, this work spoke to the peace of growing old with someone, and the challenge of accepting that person’s passing. Arthur, in an unnamed but large urban area, still hops on the bus to visit his wife’s grave and have lunch with her every day, in all kinds of weather. He befriends a lonely teen, and along with some of the other elderly neighborhood residents helps her turn her life around. Read by Berg herself, it is at times humorous and slightly sad. But I was touched.

Ruthless River, Holly Fitzgerald

Similar to alone but different, Fitzgerald writes about she and her husband eating lost after an ill-conceived rafting trip down an Amazon tributary, the Rio Madre de Dios. Their honeymoon across South America was supposed to come to a spectacular end, but it almost cost them their lives as they were forced into a tight spot from which the raft could not be moved by an unexpected thunderstorm. Food nearly ran out as well as hope, until… well you’ll just have to read. I don’t know why I just have a thing for these kinds of stories, but they definitely made up a significant chunk of last year’s reading.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Ingrid Rojas Contreras

A slightly compressed history of Columbia’s dark days in the late 90’s and early 00’s, as seen through the Santiagos, a rich family in Bogota, and the the Sanchez’s, a family that produced Petrona, one of the Santiagos’ cleaners. We see the rise of Pablo Escobar and what he did to his opponents, as well as the events that led many to become refugees at the height of militant groups like the FARC. This is a good read for anyone who wishes to understand why so many in that part of the world are scrambling to try and enter the US, and is thus a good contemporary consumption as well.

This Burns My Heart, Samuel parker

Another that sheds light on a different culture, this book takes place in Korea a few years after the Korean War. A young woman there, Soo-ja, struggles to deal with a marriage that was largely forced upon her and cope with lost dreams. We see this within the context of Korea itself as its identity)ies) were shaped by forced within and without. It was also vivid, giving a real sense of what it felt like to walk the streets of large city and small town alike in the mid to late Sixties over there.

Educated, Tara Westover

Another that nearly everyone read, my wife and I enjoyed sharing this, as well as something like four others over the course of that year. And this title in particular gave lots to talk about. Westover explores what her life was like in rural, deeply devout Mormon Idaho; living largely off the educational and cultural grid of the U.S. Estrangements from violent family members, entry into and excelling in the college system, and learning to cope in the wider world made up the story’s breadth. On the whole I found it enjoyable, if disturbing.

And that’s a relatively small subset of what I read. I think it gives a fairly accurate sense of the diversity of titles I navigated. If you want to see my full list as it unfurls, as was the case last year, follow me on Twitter and watch for my book tweets in which I state the book number, tag the author if he or she is on there, and give a short description of the book’s contents. I really need to do more writing in 2019, but till then, here’s to plenty of happy reading in all of our futures!

Christmas at Myrtle Beach: Joining a New Family Tradition Part II

Ever since my first lonely Christmas in 2003, I have felt a bit out of touch with this holiday. Not in the truest sense of its meaning, of course, but in that it had mostly no longer corresponded with family and the giving and receiving of gifts. As I drew closer to my now wife, this orientation of mine caused perhaps the biggest stumbling block in our budding relationship in 2016. It was a point made to me then, and after that and on all subsequent Christmas occasions I’ve been working to regain that holiday spirit in full. The way their family does it certainly helps, and probably no more so than this year in that idyllic beach setting.

The Gift Exchange

After making our slightly groggy way from the bed following a long conversation with our friend the night before (I did not even manage to read any this morning which made me fear not completing the 60-book challenge I had created for myself), we headed downstairs to take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary breakfast. I only really wanted some of the scrambled eggs, which, as I figured, were not particularly good. But, they did enough to keep me going till the next, major, meal. I was surprised by how many others were there

A short while later, it was time for us to head for her mom and dad’s room for the fun. We had already gotten each other’s stuff: I a nice Samsonite bag for her (because we love traveling) and she a fresh and clean black suit for me (because I need more stuff to dress in). From her great family, I got an Uber gift card (yay free rides!) and an Amazon card (yay a free… whatever else I want!) Haha. I also received a new belt, a light but soft jacket that will be good for dry but slightly warmer days; and a wireless charging station. All very practical things that I can really use, probably especially on our upcoming anniversary trip to Miami. I enjoyed listening to my nephew and niece romping around with their new toys, one of the coolest being a remote-control car that could roll on the wall. The little kid in me would have loved that toy. Finally, well in truth before I opened the gifts, I sucked down an delicious piece of homemade chocolate cake.

The Walk of Torture

And that cake was cooked just a few short minutes later. That lack of sleep really catching up with me, I thought I was going to grab a little shut-eye before heading to Medieval Times. But my wonderful wife had other plans. She apparently usually takes a six-mile or so walk up and down the beach on Christmas morning that had mostly been done alone. But this time, I got to be included. I actually mostly enjoyed it, and it sure showed me how much I need to work out. We headed South at a brisk pace along the sliding sand, strutting all the way to the pier that contains the Myrtle Beach Sky wheel. The weather was fantastic again, and the wind and sun felt good on my face. However, I probably was not necessarily breathing as well as I should have, and not maintaining the best posture. So by about halfway through, I was gasping and wondering if my legs would give out.

We opted to head back to the hotel on the street/pavement side, thinking it might be easier. I am not sure if it was easier, or if I would have just been turned into a sweaty pile of goo in any event. We crossed about 10 streets and passed mostly closed businesses, and I tried thoughts, magic, anything to will that hotel to come toward me! By the time we reached the lobby, I just about literally had to be dragged in. The walk took about 75 minutes in total, and all I could do was drain a bottle of water and collapse into bed. WHEW!

The Final, Food-filled Show

I had to get going about two hours later, at around 4 PM, so we could head to the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament Restaurant. Built like a castle with a wooden bridge spanning a fake mote, this arena hosts knights on horses who fight for the title of the Queen’s Champion. The sow’s essence had recently changed, perhaps becoming less complicated. They use fake swords and jousts, and I”m told act somewhat badly in falling off of the horse, but the joy of it is mostly in cheering wildly for your color-coded knight. We were the blue and Whites, and we happened to win! There were seven sides in all. They also released a live falcon for the falconry exhibit, and everyone was required to stay still as he soared overhead lest an accidental attack be launched. A little unnerving, and especially to our niece I’m told, as her eyes widened in an “I don’t know about this” manner.

This stuff was fairly visual, and my enjoyment mostly came from feeling like I was at a sporting event. The real deal for me though was the food. Served through the course of the show, we received a bowl of tomato bisque soup that we slurped down (no silverware as that didn’t exist in medieval times and outer bowls), a half a delicious herb-seasoned chicken, half a potato, and pound cake for dessert. We were given Pepsi to consume, and I somehow doubt that existed then either. But then most of what had been portrayed had been either. Only a few of these facilities are open, mainly in major cities. So it’s pretty cool to have one in Myrtle.

As soon as we returned to the hotel, we went back to my old friend’s room for a round 2. Her husband went to get more wine, since that seemed to be a particularly strong point for us. The talk between the couples went o merrily for almost another 2 and a half hours, before we finally retired.

And that was my trip to Myrtle Beach. I am definitely looking forward to several more years of enjoyment in these new (to me) traditions as they become established ones, however that will look.