RIP Blackberry


Blackberry might have ended its agreement with T-Mobile, but AT&T removed all of Blackberry models from its stores weeks if not months ago.  Is this the real end of Blackberry and its iconic phones with actual QWERTY keyboards?  Too bad, because after using the Android and iPhone for years, I am missing the actual keyboard for easy typing.  RIP #Blackberry

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Give to forget, don’t forget to give….


The story begins with a Jew and Muslim sitting next to each other…

Really?  Yep.   Trust me, read on!

During a short flight to San Antonio, two guys sitting next to each other got into deep conversation about life, religion, and travel.  Both had come to the USA to study and both had made the decision to stay and build a new life in a strange land.

It was incredibly easy to go from one subject to another, and we quickly realized that we shared a passion for fried chicken (albeit from opposite sides of the counter), driving in the comfort of our Rolls-Royce, and traveling the world with our kids.

We were there with a common goal: to greet and visit with the children and widow or widower being shuttled on their very own American Airlines charter to the 2012 Snowball Express held this weekend in the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex.

Snowball Express is an all-volunteer, very young charity focused on providing a great, albeit brief, memory to children of military members whose lives were cut short by war since 9-11-2001.

And that was exactly what we were doing aboard this AA flight. Giving so that these youngsters could forget. For four days, they are treated as VIP’s. From the volunteer baggage handlers to the nametag, everything pointed to the VIP status of these kids.

As our lives are just slices of memories stacked on top of each other, these four days are a wonderful way to be able to add some positive slices within the stack of life.

American Airlines provides the greatest chunk of support though the “loan” of aircraft, revenue seats for those families who cannot reach a charter point of departure, and all cockpit and cabin crew who do this on their own time. Next time you see an AA pilot or attendant, thank them for their support to this incredible program.

We picked up the first group of families and saw that Santa had already made it to the gate and was greeting the children who were anxiously waiting for their flight to DFW.

The crew who would be flying the plane back to DFW

The crew who would be flying the plane back to DFW

Mr. & Mrs. Claus will actually celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on December 25th

Mr. & Mrs. Claus will actually celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on December 25th

At our second stop, a steel band was there to give the families a festive send-off. Now shown are the bomb sniffing dog that was a great hit with the younger crowd, and the 30+ men strong Honor Guard.

At our second stop, a steel band was there to give the families a festive send-off. Not shown are the bomb sniffing dog that was a great hit with the younger crowd, and the 30+ men strong Honor Guard.

From the very first minute these children step aboard, the crew does everything possible to begin a memorable 4-day weekend. The airplane was fully decorated prior to departure and during the shuttle to our first destination.  A stuffed animal was placed on each seat assigned to a younger participant.

Now, why can't we fly like this every day. How can you not get off the plane with a huge smile?

Now, why can’t we fly like this every day. How can you not get off the plane with a huge smile?

Experts are asked to make the pre-flight announcements

Experts are asked to make the pre-flight announcements

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Just in case we fill up, volunteers were asked if they would give up their seat and be stowed in the overhead compartments.

Just in case we fill up, volunteers were asked if they would give up their seat and be stowed in the overhead compartments.

Upon arrival at DFW, the volunteers – some 60 to 70 people – made sure the music was at full blast and the volume level of other noise makers was at its peak. For many it was the first reality check that this trip would indeed become a memory filled with laughter, all-day fun, and pampering for the moms. Some families were here for the second or third time; children are welcomed back from the age of 5 until they turn 18.

I made sure I was the first off the plane to capture the reactions of the children getting off the 737.

I made sure I was the first off the plane to capture the reactions of the children getting off the 737.

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Indie Racer, the Brit Martin Plowman, was there to sign photos, pants, shirts, you name it. Even the full-scale fiberglass replica of the actual racecar sporting the Snowball Express logo was in the hotel lobby for the weekend.

The AT&T Center for the Preforming Arts hosted an event, there was a Children Parade, there was Six Flags Over Texas, Fair Park, The Stockyards, and Neiman Marcus opened their store so that kids could buy a Christmas gift for their mother or father. Of course there was no register where they had to pay for the gift selected.  No parent was allowed in the store – this was a kids-only event.

No matter where the event was held, the buses were always escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders.  I am sure these guys were ecstatic with this year’s weather. 70 degrees beats 20 on any day when you are riding a motorcycle.

Martin Plowman posing with one of the Patriot Guard Riders

Martin Plowman posing with one of the Patriot Guard Riders

The highlight (especially for most moms) was the evening at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth.  Performing this evening was none other than Gary Sinise, the actor famous for his roles in Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, The Green Mile, and the hit show CSI New York. Mr. Sinise is also an accomplished musician who not only is extremely liberal with his wallet but also performs for the Troops and causes supporting our Troops with his band, The Lt. Dan Band.

So, were there any slices added to my stack of memories. Absolutely.

Take the 5-year old girl who asks if she can sit on my lap on the bus ride from DFW to the hotel.  She talked about her first birthday party and the people who were there then but not now.

Or, the 3-year old boy who held the dance instructor by the hand and did the electric slide and a Texas Two-Step without missing a beat.

Or, the mom who told about her 6-year old insisting on packing all his clothes in a suitcase back in July for his second trip to the weekend party.

Or, the 12-year old boy wondering if Dallas is where his Dad had gotten the family Audi. All he was sure about was that it shipped from Texas to the house in Colorado.

Or, the young man being helped out of his wheelchair and held up by his mom on the dance floor. Smiling all the way.

Or, the love shown by Gary Sinise towards these children, entertaining them, spending time chatting with anyone and everyone who wanted a minute of his time.

Or, the AA crew who gave so liberally of their time and caring to shuttle the families to and from DFW.

What was planned to be a few hours of “work”, ended up being (start of smile and big wink) too many hours (heck, just keep smiling) hours of volunteering to capture smiles and recording that moment in time when each child “realized” it was okay to  have fun.

A big smile to the front row family members in wheelchairs

A big smile to the front row family members in wheelchairs

I think I can do it on my own now, it's okay to let go on the instructor's hand for a moment!

I think I can do it on my own now, it’s okay to let go of the instructor’s hand for a moment!

I am sure this went to Facebook before the song was over!

I am sure this went to Facebook before the song was over!

This little gymnast has that smile you can never forget

This little gymnast has that smile you will never forget

She is ready for Christmas!

She is ready for Christmas!

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Vocalist Molly Callinan

Vocalist Molly Callinan

Vocalist Julie Dutchak leading the Conga line

Vocalist Julie Dutchak leading the Conga line

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I have given time and funds to many charities or programs over the decades, but this particular weekend will go down as the most incredible experience ever. It does not compare with providing Polio vaccine in Asia, building an orphanage in Haiti, helping at a medical clinic in South America, shivering in a snowstorm to ring bells for the Salvation Army, or comforting and holding the hand of a Hospice patient. Yet, each of those – and so many more – is a wonderful slice in the memory bank.

So, therefore my title…. We gave so the youngsters could forget.

In this season of giving, do your share and give a child an opportunity to smile. Whether this is in time or money, please do your part, but….. Don’t Forget to Give!

I know, this was a long post, but I hope I was able to share some of the great moments that were had by all attendees.  If you want to learn more about the Snowball Express or want to give a donation, go to their website by clicking on THIS LINK.

No matter where the 2013 weekend is held (Dallas is most likely to host it again though), you will be able to volunteer at a point of departure or in the city that will host the 2013 event.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to all the organizers and volunteers who make this event successful.

Finally, if you made it this far, hit the “like” button below so I know at least someone read this. And, if you actually liked it – share this post with your friends! The more people who know about this fine orgsanization, the better off we all will be.

Last, but not least - a photo of one of the volunteers in the make-shift photo studio on the 2nd floor of the hotel!

Last, but not least – a photo of one of the volunteers in the make-shift photo studio on the 2nd floor of the hotel!

p.s.  More about the Nikon D4 crapping out yet again on my next post!

Apple vs the rest of the mobile phone world


I had decided that it was time to switch from the Apple iPhone to a Samsung Note 2 when it comes to market in just a couple of weeks. I had the pleasure of playing with one and have read up on the advantages over the iPhone.

I was swayed. I am still swayed. But,

Can I support a company who has been judged to blatantly steal from others? This lawsuit against Samsung is really a shot across the bow of Google’s Android used by several other manufacturers including Google’s Motorola and HTC.

Although I will lose out by not switching to more-advanced phone with some features I really would like to have, I really cannot support Samsung following this verdict.

I guess I will hold on to this ultra-slow, fake 4G iPhone for a bit longer!

Mediocrity


Mediocrity is the norm; does it need to be?

Over the past few weeks I have been pondering this question over and over.
Why, you ask?

It all started on a flight back home. A flight that (for a change) was not on an AA plane. Following a friend’s recommendation I booked around trip on Virgin America instead of AA.

Why would I want to fly another airline; after all AA has always been decent albeit not great? Heck, for the rest of my life I will be in the top tier at AA, they cannot take that away from me (they can – through their bankruptcy of course).
The change allowed me to find that what AA was providing wasn’t decent, nor good, and far from great. We have all experienced poor service here and there from many of our trusted providers of services.

What gives AA the right to think they can charge 50% more for a flight than a competing airline? Is it because some CSR consultant has told them their service is far superior? Is it because we are sheep married to their AAdvantage program?
Well, I discovered quickly that for a steep discount on a particular route, I can actually receive 100% friendlier, efficient, comfortable, and quality service than what AA provides on the same route.

In First Class, I was actually able to use my laptop when the person in front of me put their seat in a comfortable position. Heck, there was actually a comfortable position! Food was incredible. Wide hips or carts did not burst into my shoulder every three seconds. Service was over-the-top friendly and genuine. Counter personnel actually greeted me with a warm smile as I got to the counter.

In the past, I had used Continental on international routes. A pain in the derrière to fly through Houston instead of direct out of DFW, but occasionally I wanted better service and increased comfort on a long flight. Most often, though, it was convenience that won and AA got the business.

Then…

I had never bothered looking into other utility companies, so TXU had always had my business. So this week I asked what my kWh rate was and “discovered” I was at 13.1 cents for the past year. It only took 2 seconds to find that other companies were offering between 8 and 10 cents. So why was I at 13.1? Well, the company automatically bumps their trusted customers into higher rates. Sure why not screw your base? Marketing 101 would have taught them that protecting their base was of #1 importance because without that base you had nothing. Nothing.

It took all of two minutes to change providers. I decided to get into an all wind-power generated pool that offered me a rate of 9.1 cents per kWh. So, here I am all “green” and at a steep discount. Actually, being wind driven used to be called being “off the grid”. Ha! Maybe I am off the grid now!

AT&T drops my calls daily. Really, I am in a huge Mtropolitan area. Time to look into other providers!

I guess I too had accepted mediocrity as the norm for too long. No more.

Droid X


Motorola and Google have hit a home run with the new X.

I have now been using the phone since Thursday and must say I have been impressed.

At minimum I must say that as far as functionality goes, it beats the Blackberry hands-down and perhaps surpasses the iPhone as well.

1. Coverage: The Verizon system proved to be much more reliable and covered me in areas where the iPhone showed “no service”. Both on the highway in Dallas as the byways between Madrid and Albuquerque.

2. Apps. The only app that does not work as well on the X is the Accuweather app; all the others are identical.

3. Screen. Larger screen equals easier typing

4. Clarity. Phone calls sound crisper from both sides

5. Camera: Better images with included flash.

Testing the phone on my flight back I came to realize that there was phone coverage for large portions of the flight between ABQ and DFW; not once did the iPhone show a single bar. “No Service” was the theme for the day! I wonder now…. Did all these people who called their spouses from a flight on 9/11 have a Verizon phone? There must be significant antennae differences between these systems.

For now, the iPhone stays wit me as it will be the one to be used overseas. That is the only huge drawback of the X; it isn’t GSM capable – yet!

One thing all phones have in common…. The new screen technology on these phones and the iPad is the future of computing.  No more huge laptops to lug around.  Give me some disk space and voila!

Droid X


My first 24 hours with the new Verizon Droid X have been pretty decent with only a couple of frustrating Google hiccups. I do like the format, screen, build, and most importantly the reception ATT could not provide along roads frequently traveled.  More tomorrow.

Some downloads seem to be much faster on the Verizon network as compared to the ATT service on the iPhone.  I will be using both side by side for a while.  The Blackberry is now gone!