My New Addiction

For the Sake of a Princess. Or, “Tell my wife I love her.”

I had to do it. I was contemplating the purchase of the new Nintendo Switch® system. When I decided to push the button last December, both Amazon and BestBuy were sold out of the version with two dark grey controllers. (Nintendo calls these controllers “Joy Cons,” but I won’t.) My only option was the neon red and blue, which I hated. One site even had the dark grey as “discontinued.” So I emptied my shopping cart and moved on.

Very soon after, I saw that the dark grey WAS available, so I swooped it up. And I also ordered (of course) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As always happens, the game arrived two days before I eventually received the system, itself. There are more components inside the box than what you see above, but we’ll talk about the tasty bits.

This is the dock. The display panel sits inside the dock, which is connected to A/C and my large-screen TV via HDMI. While it’s in the dock, the display and any connected controllers are charging.

The picture is pretty damn good. (This is a 52″ screen.) I sit in my La-Z-Boy® and play for hours. The controllers work with the dock seamlessly.

For the most part, I’m using the handheld adapter. The two controllers slide into place on either side and the adapter fits the hands naturally. There are, of course, a multitude of after-market adapters, so you can personalize to your heart’s content. The two controllers can also be used (with other included adapters) by two people for two-person games, much like the Wii setup.

I also later bought this pair of neon green controllers by Nintendo (because they’re green, of course). I can now have one pair charging in the dock while I use the other pair in the adapter. Non-stop play!

So. “Switch,” because you can use it with TV, or pick up the display with attached controllers (above) and go mobile (think larger GameBoy), or you can use the controllers handheld for two-person play. Pretty neat. But let’s face it…

I only bought the system for one reason: The Legend of Zelda. And that game is a whole ‘nother post. It is incredible.

And this reminds me: you can take all of the screen grabs and short videos of your game that you want. The display has only 32GB of internal storage, but accepts a microSD memory card with as much storage capacity as you want (up to 2 TB). This is also where you’ll store downloaded games that you buy, so think “terabytes.”

My one complaint is that the display, which measure a little more than 6″ wide (and touch screen, BTW), offers screen grabs at only 1280 x 720 resolution, not full HD. The video output to TV is up to 1080p, but not the display itself. Nintendo lets you set up a paid online account for sharing photos and videos. I prefer to remove the microSD card and transfer them to my computer (free).

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Gated Community

Keep Facebook out of your business.

1. Install Firefox.
2. Click Settings and choose ADD-ONS
3. Scroll down to FACEBOOK CONTAINER (or use Search bar)
4. Click + ADD TO FIREFOX.
That’s it. Now read on.

Now that my life is irretrievably linked to Google, I’m taking steps to separate myself. Google knows enough about me now. Time to keep my business to myself. To begin, my new default browser is Vivaldi, a Chrome-based browser that wants nothing to do with my personal information, browsing habits, or history. It dumps all data every time I close the browser. We’re close friends with really, really short memories.

Vivaldi browser

Vivaldi is an elegant browser, fully customizable. FULLY customizable. It’s insanely customizable. I personally like the greens. Menu can be wherever you want (I have it set to the red Vivaldi icon in the upper left corner). Along the left are pop-open menus for bookmarks, downloads, history, recent pages, and more. I’ve also added Instagram here, which allows me to post photos from my desktop PC. All of this can be placed wherever you’d like. The main start page contains blocks (as many as you wish) for favorite web pages. Or not. Too much to talk about here, so I encourage everyone to check out Vivaldi at their home page. Trust me, it’s a great browser.

Just as Vivaldi wants nothing to do with my personal info, Duck Duck Go is now my search engine of choice. In fact, I’ve deleted all other search engines from Vivaldi to ONLY allow Duck Duck Go. This search engine’s policy is simple: “We don’t store your personal information. Ever.” That’s what I want.

Google follows me wherever I go on the internet. Facebook does, too. You can exit Facebook and continue surfing, but Facebook is still watching. Ever wonder why you see ads on Facebook for things you’ve looked at elsewhere? Facebook is watching. Google provides me with a variety of useful services, so I allow them to peep at me whenever they want. Facebook is a social platform. Facebook does NOT deserve to know what I’m doing outside of Facebook.

The Firefox browser

I was about to delete my Facebook account when I discovered Facebook Container. This is an add-on available with the Firefox browser. Firefox, like Vivaldi, is all about protecting your privacy (from everyone else). When you add Facebook Container, you can open a tab to Facebook and this add-on puts Facebook in a sandbox of sorts. Facebook is now unable to access your history, your cookies, or any other information about your web habits. Quarantined!

In the image above, you can see a blue border around the Facebook tab, indicating that Facebook is being fenced in. You also see the icon for Facebook fencing over on the right. This keeps Facebook in its place, and not in yours.

I don’t use Facebook often, but when I do I now use Firefox and its Facebook Container. Apologies to Firefox (a very decent browser), but I rarely use it for anything else, which further ensures that Facebook doesn’t follow me around.

Firefox, like most browsers, has a wealth of security settings. I always set my browsers to dump history and cookies every time I exit the browser. I keep bookmarks and favorites, but don’t store my history. Google and Microsoft already know enough about me.

So, I use Vivaldi as my default browser. I use Firefox to open Facebook. I use Chrome for my email, photos, maps, YouTube, news, etc. And I use Bing on those occasions when I have to communicate with Microsoft. And all of those nefarious advertisers who want to “tailor their advertising” to me can go squat.

My business is MY business.

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ripple effects

The World Wide Web became generally available in 1993-94. This was when my family became AOLers and remained happily so for years. At that time, we had a Windows 3.1 computer with a 2400 baud modem. The sounds of that modem dialing into AOL will forever be etched in our memory. This is also when I began upgrading computers. Two upgrades, in particular, were almost miraculous: a new 14,400 baud modem made connecting to and enjoying the internet a whole lot better, but doubling the internal RAM from the typical 4MB (yes, megabytes) to 8MB was like getting a wholly new, laughably fast computer. And that extra 4MB of RAM cost over $100 at the time!

The 1990s and 2000s were decades of quick and impactful techological developments. Internet access through cable or fiber optics spurred mad growth in the web. Where “wasting bandwidth” was previously almost criminal, it was now encouraged. And just as I went through a series of digital cameras in those years, so, too, I bought a series of ever-more-capable computers and laptops.

I seem to be a fan of HP computers. Their desktops and laptops have served me well, even if I found a sudden reason to upgrade every 3 or 4 years. But things seem to have slowed lately, and there are fewer compelling reasons to buy a new computer.

So I’ve been using an HP Pavilion Slimline desktop computer (6GB memory, 1TB storage) for some time now. I bought this to be the repository and backup for the other computers in the household, as well as the anchor for the household WiFi network. That terabyte could easily handle two laptops and my daughter’s computer and still have plenty of room left over for the music library and my thousands and thousands of digital photos. I also have a networked storage drive with a 3 terabyte capacity as a redundant backup, because, as everyone with a computer knows, computers eventually fail.

I bought a 20″ Samsung monitor with that PC, and later upgraded to a 22″ Samsung. The latter had a resolution of 1440×900 resolution, which was just fine. I “processed” a lot of photos on that machine and it was up to the task – until I bought the Canon EOS 80D digital camera. This new camera spits out JPGs at a whopping 6000×4000 size and high definition video at 1920×1080. Naturally enough, I’ve been lusting after more pixels. My 15″ laptop display is 1920×1080, the big flat-screen televisions are 1920×1080, so I wanted to upgrade the monitor for my desktop. A higher resolution monitor was definitely on the wish list.

on the spur of the moment
adjective: spur-of-the-moment
on impulse; without planning in advance.
“I don’t generally do things on the spur of the moment”
synonyms: impulsively, on impulse, impetuously, without thinking, without planning, without premeditation, unpremeditatedly, impromptu, spontaneously, on the spot…

Without really thinking, I saw online and instantly ordered a Samsung 28″ (HUGE on a desk) monitor with 4K UltraHD – a native resolution of 3840×2160, or four times the number of pixels of the 1920×1080 screen on my laptop. In digital camera terms, I was going from 2 megapixels to 8 megapixels! BestBuy had it delivered the next day.

But when it arrived, I found that I had no way to connect it to my PC.

My first mistake – not checking the specs on the new monitor, especially in how it connects to a computer. This one requires either HDMI or a DisplayPort connector, neither of which my PC had. All I had were DVI connectors. A little checking told me that my PC was older than I thought, six years old, built back before people like me envisioned a 4K UltraHD monitor. I guess I ASSumed that it would use a standard old VGA connector, but I didn’t even have that! My desktop had two DVI connectors, no VGA, and for sure no HDMI. I can’t even say that my old machine was capable of sending a 3840×2160 signal to the monitor.

Rather than looking for a DVI-HDMI converter and possibly “dumbing down” the signal to this new monitor, I decided that a new PC was in order, one with HDMI out and a graphics card built for 4K Ultra HD, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

My second mistake – rushing the purchase without “due diligence.”

I picked out a cheap (read: inexpensive) new HP desktop (let’s call it the “fat line”, a hefty silver Pavilion model) which did have HDMI out. My BestBuy app told me this model was not available “within 250 miles,” so I placed the order online and BestBuy, amazingly, had it in my hands within 48 hours. Now, there’s nothing I enjoy more than setting up a new computer (okay, there are lots of things I enjoy more), and what with deleting bloatware, transferring files and updating and installing programs, and then getting the thing networked and friendly with other computers in the house, it can be an all-day event. But when I hooked up that PC to my new monster monitor, the output was GLORIOUS. My photos never looked so good.

The colors and contrast on my new monitor are stunning. Side by side with the previous monitor, the new one is just much, much better. And did I say HUGE? I have room for two or three open programs, easily. Looking at my photos on that monitor is like looking at them framed up on the wall. I can see the original JPG onscreen at 50% size, not zoomed out to 25%. The screen is 28″ diagonal, or about 25″ wide, in a widescreen 16:9 format. LED flat-screens have come a long way, and prices have dropped significantly. This model retailed at almost $400, but was on sale at BestBuy for $279.99. I HAD to buy it. I had no choice! And I don’t regret it for a moment.

There were unintended casualties, though. My old version of Adobe® Photoshop (and I mean 15 years old) appeared tiny on the big screen and the fonts were unreadable. In the end, I opted to buy the Adobe® Photography Plan, which gives me the latest edition of Photoshop, Lightroom, and much, much more for a “worth-it” $9.99/month.

My old favorite game SNOOD is a goner. This little gem dates back to the ’90s, and the cavernous spaces of the new monitor have it crawling and now unplayable. I may opt for a newer version of the game, but the old one simply won’t work on my new computer. (Still works like a charm on my laptop.)

But, then… The new PC is, indeed, a lesser, “affordable” HP model. This was my mistake, buying without really doing my homework, and the new monitor actually reveals the shortcomings of the new computer. With all of 4gig of RAM onboard, opening Photoshop and Lightroom at the same time is a huge effort and things start to crawl. On a hunch, I ordered a pair of 8gig RAM sticks to install, and increasing the memory from 4GB to 16GB speeds things up A LOT. I may end up upgrading the processor, too. It’s an AMD Ryzen 3, low on the list of processors for gamers, but fully capable of displaying my photos in 4K beautifulness. This is the newer generation of AMD processors with onboard graphics capabilities – no separate graphics card needed.

With the added RAM onboard, this new PC is more than capable of showing my photos in their best light.

And this monitor is a keeper.

  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The monitor is Samsung’s UE590 28″ LED 4K UHD model in black bezel, silver stand. Highly recommended. Easy on the eyes with stunning detail.

The PC is the HP Pavilion 590-P0020 with AMD Ryzen 3 2200G processor with Radeon Vega 8 graphics, 4GB memory, 1TB hard drive, in HP’s “natural silver” finish. Unfortunately, not recommended. Kick in a few hundred more $$$ and buy a better model.

Added a Logitech K800 illuminated Bluetooth keyboard. Recommended. Good weight, wireless, illuminated black keyboard.

Added a Logitech 2.1 speaker system (2 speakers + subwoofer, model 980-001260). Recommended, and speakers look really good on the desktop. Reacts well to my software equalizer.

possible upgrades per AMD:
AMD Ryzen7-2700 (Pinnacle Ridge) 8 cores/16 threads
AMD Ryzen5-2600 (Pinnacle Ridge) 6 cores/12 threads
AMD Ryzen7-1700 (Summit Ridge) 3.0 GHz, 8 cores/16 threads
AMD Ryzen5-1600 (Summit Ridge) 3.2 GHz, 6 cores/12 threads
AMD Ryzen5-2400G (Raven Ridge) 3.6 GHz, 4 cores/8 threads (45 – 65 W)

2nd Look: 2018 Ford Escape

US News & World Report ranks the Ford Escape 8th among Compact SUVs.

“The Escape is one of the best all-around performers in the class, with sporty handling, a firm suspension system, good steering feedback, and a composed ride on smooth roads.”

Okay, but let’s see how they compare the Escape against two others that they liked better.

“Which Is Better: Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4?
The Toyota RAV4’s middle-of-the-road performance makes the Ford Escape the more engaging SUV to drive between these two. The RAV4 delivers a comfortable ride and decent power from its lone available engine, but the Escape’s athletic handling and potent available engines set it apart. The RAV4 does offer some advantages over the Escape: It comes standard with loads of advanced safety features, and its cargo area is even larger than the Escape’s. Choosing between these two is a matter of personal preference.”

Bottom line: Escape is much more fun to drive. RAV4 is better for people who don’t like driving. Yet the RAV4 is ranked 6th, above the Escape.

“Which Is Better: Ford Escape or Honda CR-V?
The Escape has plenty of cargo space and a decent amount of passenger room, but the Honda CR-V outdoes it and is the better choice in most cases. Even taller passengers have plenty of room to stretch out in the Honda’s back row, and the its cargo area is among the most expansive in the class. Additionally, the CR-V is more fuel-efficient than the Escape, and it delivers a smoother ride. If you’re looking for an engaging ride, however, you’ll prefer the Ford.”

Bottom line: Honda has more room for big people and gets better fuel mileage. But the Escape is just so damn much fun to drive… Still, the boring CR-V is ranked No. 1.

Here’s the thing: I love (live) to drive. First and foremost, I look for a fun driving experience in any vehicle. In a compact SUV, obviously space in storage and seating is primary, but if it’s no fun to drive, I can’t live with it.

The Ford Escape is a Ford Focus dressed up as a sport-ute. It is built on the same platform with same dimensions, except that it’s about 8 inches taller. The Escape retains the Focus’ European-style handling and suspension, which is so much fun in the smaller vehicle.

The Titanium edition is the priciest version of the Escape, but well worth it. This is where you get the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine featured in the exciting Focus ST model (245 HP). You also get the upscale interior and amenities that are normally included in optional packages for the lesser versions.

  2018 Focus SE Hatchback 2019 Escape Titanium
Wheelbase 104.3″ 105.9″
Length 171.7″ 178.1″
Height 57.8″ 66.3″
Width (including mirrors) 80.5″ 81.8″
Track width (front) 61.2″ 61.5″

So, with the Titanium edition Escape, you get a really good driving experience in a vehicle with plenty of acceleration, excellent handling, plenty of cargo space, and an interior environment that’s better than my own livingroom. Plus too many other goodies to list here.

See: https://www.ford.com/suvs-crossovers/escape/models/escape-titanium/

See my original review of the 2018 Ford Escape Titanium here.

SPRING. Time for… football?!?

The NFL Draft is coming up. Training camp is still four months away and the preseason doesn’t start until August 8th. But I can’t help looking ahead.

2019’s schedule, just released, seems to favor the Eagles BIGLY.

Each year, the Eagles always play two games against each of the other three teams in the NFC East Division. The Giants were woeful last year, and I seriously doubt that they’ll get much better in the course of one offseason. They traded their great receiver Beckham to oblivion and they’re still arguing over whether Eli Manning can still play quarterback. The Redskins were underachievers, but that’s their reputation of late. The Cowboys won the division but, once again, were unable to do anything with it.

[The Cowboys have now won exactly THREE playoff games since they last won Super Bowl XXX after the 1995 season. That’s 23 years of frustration for Dallas fans. They’re beginning to understand how Eagles fans felt before 2017, except that their record of those 23 years has been absolute mediocrity. I expect that the Eagles and Cowboys will still swap wins this year.]

In 2019, all NFC East teams play the teams from the AFC East Division and the NFC North Division, plus two random teams based upon their divisional standings from last year. As 2nd place finisher in the NFC East, the Eagles will play the 2nd place teams from two other divisions: the Falcons and the Seahawks. Dallas gets the Saints and the Rams (both 1st place teams), while the Redskins and Giants get 3rd and 4th place teams, respectively.

Of the 16 games on the Eagles’ schedule, only 5 are against teams that finished last year with a better record than the Eagles (and that includes the stinkin’ Cowboys, twice). The AFC East has the New England Patriots and three teams that struggled. The NFC North has the Chicago Bears and three teams under .500.

Worth noting that the Eagles have a stretch of three games on the road in October, followed by three straight games at home in November.

As always, the wild card is whether the team (and especially now Carson Wentz) can stay relatively healthy. If they do, and if Wentz can trust his wide receivers as in days past, the offense should have no problem scoring points. And, as one genius sportscaster pointed out, “The only way to win games is to score more points than the other guys.”

Here’s how I break out the season:

Sep 8 Washington Redskins 7-9 W
Having the Redskins here in Philly for Game One gets the Eagles off to a good start.

Sep 15 @ Atlanta Falcons 7-9 W
Eagles just seem to have the Falcons’ number. They come close, but the Eagles seem to have a way of dashing their dreams. Even in Atlanta

Sep 22 Detroit Lions 6-10 W
I think the Lions are still looking to put together a team. A win.

Sep 26 @ Green Bay Packers 6-9-1 W
I waffle about this one. Yes, it’s IN Green Bay, but the Packers come down to the state of Aaron Rogers. Our defense makes him uncomfortable all day and the Eagles come out with a win

Oct 6 New York Jets 4-12 W
Another “trap game.” The Jets have new uniforms and may not recognize themselves. Still, they are pathetic. Five straight wins to start the season.

Oct 13 @ Minnesota Vikings 8-7-1 L
Revenge for the Vikings. Eagles are starting to believe they’re all that, and the Vikings remind them that they still have to play the game.

Oct 20 @ Dallas Cowboys 10-6 L
Still nursing from a loss, the Eagles go down to Dallas and give away a close one.

Oct 27 @ Buffalo Bills 6-10 W
Playing the Bills can make a team healthy. Bills will be no trouble.

Nov 3 Chicago Bears 12-4 L
The Bears come into Philly and take one from the Birds. Are they for real? I don’t know, but I’m giving them this game.

Nov 10 BYE

Nov 17 New England Patriots 11-5 W
The Patriots are coming off of a BYE, too, and I’m hoping that they’re looking past the Eagles to their game against the Cowboys the following week. Even so, the Eagles HATE these guys. And it’s on our turf.

Nov 24 Seattle Seahawks 10-6 L
Seattle beats the Eagles until they don’t. And they will. A loss for the Eagles at home.

Dec 1 @ Miami Dolphins 7-9 W
Eagles go to Miami at a nice time of year. Assuming that they show up for business, they win this one.

Dec 9 New York Giants 5-11 W
The Giants stink. They flat-out stink.

Dec 15 @ Washington Redskins 7-9 W
Washington’s season is probably over at this point. Eagles need to keep their eye on the road and win this one, setting up a game for the division title.

Dec 22 Dallas Cowboys 10-6 W
Unless they totally screw things up again, the Cowboys should have a record on par with the Eagles. This game will determine the division crown.

Dec 29 @ New York Giants 5-11 W (or L, if nothing to play for)
Eagles coast into the playoffs with an easy win against the Gints.

OKAY. I just gave the Eagles a 12-4 record, a division title, and possibly even a BYE for the first round of the playoffs. I’ve also given them five straight wins to start the season, five straight wins to finish the season. They will not win five straight. 11-5 is acceptable, but a 10-6 record is a FAIL, especially if it means Dallas wins the division again.

We’ve only got four months to argue.

The Digital Age

I love my cameras. From film through early digital models to now the Canon EOS 80D, I have always enjoyed photography. And I love the possibilities in today’s digital cameras.

SLR / DSLR

SLR denotes a “single lens reflex” camera (or “digital single lens reflex”). This camera uses a mirror and prism setup that allows the user to look through a viewfinder and see exactly what the lens is going to capture. (Mirror = “reflex,” as in reflection.) Some cameras now feed that information to a display screen, in lieu of a viewfinder, while others may have both. I’ve always preferred the viewfinder.

With digital cameras, we’re finding there’s really no need for a mirror, since images are captured as pixels. This digital information can be fed directly from the sensor to either a display or “viewfinder,” without the need for the middleman mirror. Thus, we are now seeing more and more “mirrorless” cameras. This also removes the extra moving parts involved.

SLRs are known for their “bokeh” (boe-kay), which is that lovely blur to the background of a photograph. Compare this with a modern cellphone, which wants to have EVERYTHING in sharp focus, all throughout the image. Digitals can do that and, indeed, they want to do that by default. An SLR usually focuses on one element of the photo, with everything else blurred out according to distance. Often, this blur (bokeh) is desired, as in headshots or having the subject stand out from the background. SLRs are often rated as to the beauty of their bokeh.

Today I’m using the HTC U12+, an amazing cellphone with one of the top-ranked cameras onboard. No question, it takes wonderful photos in a variety of settings:
1:1 (9MP)
4:3 (12MP)
16:9 (9MP)
18:9 (8MP)

As example, the 16:9 image will fit the normal High-Def TV screen. The 18:9 version fills the U12+ display, which has a slightly wider (or taller) aspect. The 4:3 is more square, sort of like the old television screens.

Here’s a sample from the U12+, a photo of the produce section at the local grocery store. Click here for a larger version (1920×1080).

As you can see, the camera wants to keep everything in focus, from the red peppers up front to the cut flowers way back yonder. It’s a lovely image, if you want everything in focus.

But set the camera to the 4:3 aspect and hit the Bokeh Button, and you can now focus on anything you want and have the background blurred out. In fact, you can control HOW MUCH blur the camera gets. This is wonderful! Now we’re taking photographs! Click here if you want to see the HUGE original, right from the phone.

But wait, there’s more.

AFTER YOU TAKE THE SHOT, you can use the onboard Bokeh Mode Editor to “change your mind.” Maybe you don’t want the foreground in focus, you can CHANGE THE FOCUS POINT to anything else in the photo! AND you can again dictate how much or how little blur there is in the image. AFTER you take the shot.

The red fire hydrant is in focus, the white car in the background is blurred. Simply tapping on the car brings it into sharp focus, while applying a foreground blur to the hydrant. Or, if I want, I can have BOTH in sharp focus or both blurred (though, why would I?).

This is what digital photography does for us. The camera captures millions of pixels, and knows which pixels are sharp, which are blurred. And it can change them at any time.

Pretty soon, it will be impossible to take a bad photograph. But I’ll keep trying!

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