Category Archives: Travis

I hate Verizon. I killed them with Google Voice.

While there is competition in the cell phone market, it’s hardly competitive. For whatever reason, it always seems as if there is really only one option for a service that you “need”. We loved T-mobile. Unfortunately, when we moved out here to to Newark, the service wasn’t reliable enough to be useful. The pricing between Verizon and Sprint is pretty much the same.

If you ask me, any service that requires you to be locked in is immediately suspect. When that contract is up and you need a new phone, like now, because pieces keep falling off, that huge discount on that fancy device is alluring. The two year hit seems easy to swallow.

But what sort of company simply passes off taxes and fees onto the customer? All that government stuff should be covered by them. I’m sorry, are they not rolling in money? Can they not simply increase the price when my contract is up. Apparently, the contract is only one way. They can increase taxes and fees, but I can’t get out. (Although you can change any aspect of your plan whenever you want, just not cancel it.) When I signed up for the contract it was $70 for the family plan, $10 for the extra line (mine), and $60 for 2 unlimited data plans which included all sorts of fancy messaging. Taxes and fees of course can’t be estimated (cause they increase EVERY month). That’s a base $140 minus the 15% NJ Teacher’s Union discount which hopefully would off-set the taxes and fees. I have yet to pay under $160. Apparently, billing was just restructured so I can now expect over $200 including the discount…every month. Taxes and fees this month are $50.

After a long sweaty bout of screaming obscenities and calling them bad bad names, I decided to execute my right as a consumer to not give them my money. Of course, I can’t cancel the contract, but I can alter it, including closing extra lines attached to the account. I have a home phone that doesn’t get used thanks the to the Optimum Triple Play (which I hated up until this point, but that’s another rant). They can’t port a cell number to a landline unless the area code matches.

To the rescue is everyone’s favorite Big Brother, Google. Google Voice phone numbers are free. I have been using it as a business number that forwarded to my cell. Now, it forwards to my home number. For a $20 one time fee, Google called Verizon, took my cell number, and closed the line for me. Texts go to my email. Since I am only out of wi-fi range for 10% of my life, I should be alright. I can even still use my smartphones wifi to get my messages.

I simply do not need, nor do I want to be, that easily accessible anymore. You people have become far to comfortable not leaving voice messages or thinking texts are acceptable for important information. I’m bringing contact back into being apart!

I am seriously considering a Pay-as-you-go Virgin mobile hotspot and a iPod Touch. $10 for 100mb or 10days and it rides any towers Sprint has access to. Pretty handy for the 10% I don’t have free wifi.

My favorite thing? All cell phones are legally required to ALWAYS make 911 calls, activated/on a plan, or not. As a customer, I am paying “NJ 911 System/Emerg. Resp. Fee = $0.90” every month. WTF?!

August Adventure Day 6: Monticello

We left Sandstone and the farm nice and early. We accidentally slept so long the morning before that everything was rushed and it felt like it would be like that all day! We packed up and got going to Monticello to hang with the Woytcke side of the family.

The last of our vacation pictures...whoops

We got a great rain storm on the way so plenty of bugs got scrubbed off the car…they had been bugging(!) me. We got in about 11AM,  but not after the disappointment of not getting a Sour Dough Monster Burger from Hardee’s…apparently, you can only get breakfast foods (bleh!) before 10:30…it was about 9AM. It was nice to sit at the house and just talk and drink beer. Grandma and Grandpa showed up before too long and my sister Megan showed off her new fiance.

Dad and the boys and I went to see Cowboys and Aliens where Dad and I bonded over a flask of Black Label and then made Alex drive. Oh, the subtle pleasures of having a teenager with the fresh ability to drive around. The movie is worth seeing in the theater. They dropped me off at Buffalo Wild Wings where we met Nate and Megan for a couple more drinks. We chit chatted for a while and then made our way home.

Once home, Dylan and I lit off some fireworks in the street and then Rebbeca and I passed out cold. We’ve been forgetting to take pictures.

August Adventure Day 2: Sudbury, ON to Duluth, MN via Sault Saint Marie , MI

If waking up in the field had been this much fun in the Marines, I never would have EASed. I LOVE camping. I love it with Rebbeca so much that I’ll even do it sissy style with a tent and duffle bags in the car. In fact this method even has it’s advantages, such as having coolers full of food to cook on the fire and little girls in golf carts delivering firewood that’s so dry that it starts up just by holding a zippo under a log.

Canteen Cup!

We enjoyed camping until about 9:30 when we got back on the road. While technically we ended up driving much further yesterday, today seemed interminable. I couldn’t help but marvel at the customs process in Sault Ste Marie (that’s “soo saint”). Homeland Security is eating up our government. We wasted an hour sitting on a bridge waiting for a 5 min conversation with customs in a mult-billion dollar drive thru facility erected just so our govt can save political face because they wanted to step up their game on the Mexican border…

Crossing the dotted line!

Aside from that, we finished Bossypants which was quite entertaining. The audio version contains a particularly thorough performance from Tina and I am pleased with the purchase. Thanks you TFA Corps Members for getting the iTunes gift card that made it possible…but I do not thank you for the “The Voice” tracks that also got played as a result. Fortunately, Rebbeca is extremely more tolerable of various musical preferences than I am and I was allowed to enjoy real music most of the non-Bossypants hours.

Best breakfast...in the WORLD!

No surprise to find Duluth roadways still under construction. I like to think that it was finished in the years since we left but has now just so happened to start up again. But we all know better than that. Looking forward to a Sunshine Omelet at the Sunshine Cafe in the morning!

…PS I got a text from someone who knows full well I have left on vacation. He wanted to make plans to work out Thursday morning. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him I’d be there…I’ve gone so soft…

Food, loaded-type

Her potato clearly does not meet my personal cheese quota.

There are few meals my wife makes on a regular basis. The ones she chooses to revisit are without a doubt among her most favorite things in the world. I certainly appreciate not having to mentally contribute to a meal on these occasions…but that’s another story.

However, not many people actually consider these dishes to be actual meals. In the cases when it’s simple salad, popcorn, corn/hot dogs, or chips and guac, they’d probably be right. But when it comes to her touchdown dishes, those people are plumb crazy.

I’ve actually started making one of them for my post-first-coffee meal on a regular basis. Sloppy Nachos are incredible. My versions are more simply fabricated (though the excesses I pile on are a bit…much), so I’ll explain her methods.

She sets the chips (sometimes home made from corn tortillas) on the plate and throws down a bit of cheese and black beans for the under layer. Then does the same once more on top of that (classy move. I love the cheese) but also includes her homemade salsa, shredded chicken goop, guacamole, and anything else that strikes her fancy. Rebbs’ nachos are an art form. She isn’t as meticulous in crafting each individual bite as the famous Brenton Porter nachos, but her art is in the flavor and appearance. The way she creates her nachos makes each bite different. You can taste each ingredient separately or paired depending on which you select. It’s beautiful.

My nachos are a pile of crap that, while good, usually consist of shoveling twice. First off the plate, and then off your shirt before it reaches your mouth.

Her bestest though, is the LOADED BAKED POTATO. In the spirit of full disclosure, the loaded baked potato usually only makes an appearance when I am also eating this dish (she hates grating cheese. Apparently this is a “man’s job”…but I blame a bad experience she had once with John and Lindsey Blake…)

This thing is full of love and all sorts of gloriousness. A slight taste of butter, cheese poncho wearing broccoli, sprinkled with a crumbled piece of bacon or two, and usually shredded chicken. While it’s too hot to eat right away, she’s usually done with hers just as mine is cooling enough to get close enough to smell.

On the upside, I get to gather up the potato skin and cheesy bits she left behind on her plate. My recommendation to drink with the Loaded Baked Potato is Newcastle Brown Ale, with the Nachos – Jalepeno Lemonade with 1800.

I hate the internet

I have been in a particularly unpleasant mood for almost a week now. Just to give some disclaimer, I’m hating just about everything at an increasing rate. It’s probably all the Chuck Bukowski I’ve been reading. Wonderfully depressing material. Not nearly so light-hearted as the Californication show based on his thoughts. Perhaps the most depressing is that I see a lot of myself in his thoughts and I don’t have the jacked-up life story to warrant it. I’m so glad I married a waffle, I just hope she doesn’t get tired of mingling my spaghetti sauce in her corn-syrup and peanut butter.

The internet, and well, connectivity in general, I feel is sucking the life out of living. There is so much information being shoveled at me, that I can’t tell what I need to know. The amount of time wasted on technology in general is astounding. It’s pretty much ALL my time. And the funniest part is, I think I really NEED all this stuff. We all do. The world thinks access to the internet is a God-given right. It’s like we need to the 2nd Amendment (don’t get me started on those wind bags) to protect our access to the internet in America.

Access to technology and convenience eats up $221 a month in my household. That’s two fancy phones for $160, Netflix for $11, and broadband internet for $50. Some families add on top of that a home phone and cable television (another $30 each at their cheapest). I could bundle all 3 services for $60 a month, but then I sit around using those too. The only thing making this easier on my mind is all the ways that Rebbeca and I do manage to live simply.

We have only one car that doesn’t guzzle gas (except when I drive it). We eat amazing meals that are all various things purchased from the grocery store and she does some kind of voodoo and is awesome. We don’t eat out to often (though still more than we like to admit).

We also manage charitable giving that exceeds this “connectivity” budget, so that’s a win for stickin it to the man…unless you count the cost of the devices. All in all, it just makes me sick. I can wade through blogs, news, updates, reviews, ideas, and information all effing week and have nothing to show for it. It’s all simply that I can be more informed than those who’ve come before me. Sure, I’m more diverse and have a bigger wealth of knowledge both learned and at my finger tips…for what? I’m not helping anyone with this. I’m not doing anything to end the hell on earth for people and I’m not even that much happier for it.

All things in moderation I suppose. I think I’m done with the forums, blogs, updates, and generic BS. I need to learn to make the internet my biotch. It’s a tool for me to use, not a formless overlord spoon feeding me so I’m a good puppet.

And no, the irony of taking this rant to the internet is not lost on me. If I didn’t have to be in public this evening, I’d probably be drunk about 15 min from this second I “Publish”.

Redeeming Faults

It was a two-fold marketing campaign, and it was wholly successful, in a way. My father is not a man anyone would immediately associate with the stereotypes of being a man’s man. The Art of Manliness will probably never have a manvotional dedicated to his memory, unless of course, I write one (and they publish it). In fact, there are not many aspects of my father’s manliness that I aspire emulate in my own father/man-hood. Or so I think by default.

My generation, those born into the late 70’s and early 80’s, spent the majority of our formative years in a transitional society. Our parents, statistically speaking, weren’t that much older than us. Hardly out of childhood themselves, they were pioneers in a new American tradition of children raising children. I fared much better than most in similar situations. My parents weren’t awful and they honestly gave a shit about trying their best. Sometimes, that really is all you can ask, and in this case, that is enough.

Wonderfully, there is no looming “but” transitioning to the flaws of my father. In fact, I think that the more of an adult man I become, the more any flaws I thought I had identified fall out of existence. Now nearly 10 years older than my father was when I was born, I marvel at his ability to pioneer. Absolutely, mistakes were made, but I can’t think of any serious transgressions. It’s my hope than when I do decide to parent, I can build on our experiences together to create an even better father for my child, however that might look. Probably some cross between Dad(…s…), Jesus, and Jack Burton, if I may be so imaginative.

What brings me to this train of thought is something I just realized about an hour ago, while reading “Ham On Rye”. If I ever start smoking cigarettes, they will be Camel‘s. Frankly, anything less is simply unmanly. Smoking is a filthy, nasty, wonderfully romantic, and badass habit. I associate smoking, or at the very least, possessing, Camel cigarettes with confident men, worthy of respect, good natured about life and people, and capable of succeeding in tribulation.

There are many times in my young adult life I have prepared for difficult situations. Though I never have smoked, I always considered it because of the aforementioned associations I have with Camel’s. I always pack a lighter, a zippo if I can, yet resisted the urge to also bring a pack of Camel’s. I think, perhaps simply having the smell of the pack at hand could well up confidence and the will to persevere.

Don’t get me wrong. Stale smoke and long-ago smoked cigarette smells absolutely horrendous, but fresh Camel’s? That is luxurious. A hearkening to a simpler time when men were men in ways they defined for themselves. Camel’s hold a special place in my heart, even the beloved Camel cash and branded items from their catalog are fond memories. That stuff was cool. Especially the zippos, poker sets, and billiards sticks…

Perhaps there will come a time when I deem a Camel appropriate to be enjoyed in moderation. Probably long after my father is gone, I’ll have a special moment to enjoy the memories evoked by the smells and just spend some time considering what it means to be a successful father and remembering his example.

On Fundamental Christianity

Today has been rather unproductive for me, despite having rigidly stuck to the “writers schedule” I set for myself. Pretty sure I mostly daydreamed about accessories for my shotgun and racked up a list of just under $500 worth of parts that I “need” to make it “combat-ready” (read, “tacti-cool”). I’ll probably never buy any of it because of hard and fast rules for “tactical” equipment that I follow religiously…but that’s another post.

I broke the spell by wandering Barnes and Noble for the last hour. I may have stayed longer, but I found inspiration which I then darted home to share with you. Not sure if any of you have read “The Unlikely Disciple” by Kevin someone-or-other, but it looked interesting, if only for the concept. Pretty sure it’s not something I would sit down a read through, although, his bibliography of helpful books he read contains quite a few gems which I have on my shelf. To be honest, I had been thinking about reading them again just recently.

The premise of this memoir is a kid who was just a regular American. He grew up in a Quaker household, which I was surprised to discover much more nominal than I had stereotyped, and attended Brown University (which he self described as college if you’re from Sodom and Gomorrah). He got a job as a Writers Assistant working with the author of “A Year of Living the Bible” (I think…) during that project. On an OJT field trip, they ended up at Jerry Falwell’s church where he met some students from Jerry Falwell’s liberal arts college. More curious than chaffed by his first run in with evangelicals (which went exactly as the stereotype leads you to assume), during which he thinks, “Jerry Falwell has a liberal arts university? Isn’t that like Courtney Love teaching an etiquette class?”, he eventually goes for a semester at Liberty University and plays along with the culture he finds there.

So at this point, I’m amazed and run home to work my jumbled mind out on paper…or content entry box and keyboard or whatever. I haven’t read any more than what I shared with you and all the Christianese and Evangelicalism is turning me off more than Austin Powers could (Baby). Yet I find myself fascinated at this anthropological experiment and also the accepting mind that could perform it. I might be just as close-minded as pretty much everyone else I hate for that reason and it’s making me uncomfortable. This situation baffles me. I am familiar with that world and would never consider attending ANY religious university. So what is the deal with this kid…?

Which brings us to my actual point, all God needs is a willing heart and he can perform his greatest work. So what’s my problem? What’s the problem with the rest of America? Apparently, our hearts are not as willing as we’d like to believe. The older and more experienced I get, the more resistant my heart comes to change, and therefore, to God. The fundamentalist nature of these colleges and communities irks me, but it seems that I must practice what I preach to others in some way.

There isn’t anything wrong with the fundamentals present at the core of fundamentalism. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize it. In order to become proficient in ANYTHING you must become an expert at the fundamentals. I believe for too long I have been throwing the baby out with the bathwater on the religious front. It might be time to start opening myself up to experience at least as much fundamentalist Christianity as I do secular world vision. With both, I have to be selective in what I think best to incorporate into my life and relationships, so perhaps, being a bit more well rounded would help.

On Birthdays

I don’t like being asked what I want for my birthday, though I’ve never really known why. To be frank, I have a habit of being extremely opinionated without actually understanding myself. Such is life. But, some possible reasons actually came to me last night, and I jotted some bullet points on a notecard (which I organize into my recipe box of ideas) so I could recall it for you now.

When I’m asked what I want for my birthday, I can’t ever really come up with something. That feeling of being put on the spot makes me all queasy. My mind retreats inside my skull and reality gets all fuzzy. Being noticed or the center of attention really doesn’t sit well with me. I prefer subtlety in every area of life, it’s all shadows and inferences for me, thank you. This, I realize, is a personal issue, which would be unfair to subject you, my loyal audience, to rants about what my personal preferences…and the irony of that situation given the topic isn’t lost on me.

As much as I like irony, this is a rant about our culture and yet another thing I find to be degrading the quality of it. Why are we even giving gifts in the first place? Personally, I LOVE giving gifts. The best gifts are ones that celebrate a dynamic of the relationship between giftee and giftor. Sometimes, depending on the giftee, the magic of the gift is lost in translation, but it doesn’t matter much at the moment. When that person utilizes that gift, it strengthens our relationship, whether it simply gives them insight into something I appreciate, or more simply, it might jog their memories of me when they use it.

However, when you give a gift that someone has asked for, none of this happens. You are merely applying your finances to something they wouldn’t necessarily buy to enjoy for themselves. At it’s surface, this isn’t really a bad thing. It’s great in fact. If it weren’t for this aspect of gift giving, I wouldn’t own my fancy camera (shout-out to my mother-in-law, Sherry) or the super ugly video game rocking chair (shout-out to Rebbs, who got it for me even though she hates video games…and the chair). But at some point, it’s just mindless consumerism, asking for things we want, yet know aren’t important enough to spend our own money on.

There’s a fine line between materialism and consumerism, and to be honest, I haven’t had enough coffee yet to figure it out. Maybe later, but for now, let the semantics slide and understand the subject I’m attempting to convey. When I’m asked what I want, I feel greedy. I feel like I shouldn’t have an answer or I’m being materialistic. Besides, most of the things I actually want are fricken WAY outside reasonable price ranges (new gun parts, a house with a custom office and fireplace, paratrooper bicycles…) and I don’t really keep the kind of company who could whip out gifts like that. They aren’t my scene.

There are little things that I’d be interested in having of course. Books I would enjoy, clothes I would wear, gadgets I would use, but I don’t feel I should have to mention these things. I didn’t fully realize it until I started processing this post, but just below conscious thought, I feel slightly let down when people ask me what I want. We’ve spent all this time together and have this great relationship, but you don’t know what kinds of little things I would like? Throughout this past year, we have had conversations about material things, you’ve observed me using things I own, participating in activities I like, and expressing interest in a myriad of random anythings, yet now you can’t recall any of that? Have you been paying attention at all or am I just some prop or scenery in the 12-act play of your life? When someone has to ask what I want for my birthday, I get one of two impressions, they are self-centered and don’t really care about me, or they are lazy and don’t really care about me.

Remember, though, that those are just feelings below consciousness. They are easily fended off because I DO know these people. I know their heart and they do care because I know they wouldn’t ask someone they didn’t care about what they wanted for their birthday. This is a normal cultural occurrence, and it’s one that I regularly take part in. Sometimes, you just need to get an idea of where they are at now, in respects to those times you remember they expressed interest in other things. Sometimes you need your memory jogged. Or, like me, they typically buy all those things they want and need and you don’t have any clue what they could possibly be interested in. Some people are simply difficult to buy for.

So here is my solution: take your time.

Take your time to think about the person. Instead of analyzing them to pick what they might want, be self-centered and dream up all the ways this person is important to you. Think of gift idea that might strengthen this relationship. This is especially applicable to the elderly in your life, who can be IMPOSSIBLE, to buy for. In their last 50-90 years, people less important than you have bought them every conceivable item, which either made the cut or eroded away as time passed. The chances of you finding something they want to hold on to for $25-$50 is slim. Start thinking about the one thing they are probably wishing they had more of: time. Of course, you can’t actually do that, and buying them MORE vitamins probably won’t help. Consider the different aspects of how you could enrich the time they have left.

Take your time. You can think of a good gift for someone, you just have to take the time to do it. Of course, you’ll have to stop the endless cycle and to-do list fogging your mind for a bit, but you can do it. It might even be a rewarding little gift for you. Over the course of time, you have enough experience with this person to select something that will be meaningful to them and your relationship. Rarely will you be flying blind and you certainly couldn’t do worse than when President Obama gave Queen Elizabeth II an iPod with all his speeches on it…seriously, she’s a celebrity who is responsible for PR, not a politician…fire the aide who came up with that idea.

So really, take your time. If this person actually means something to you, plan an experience. Something you know they would like, even if they wouldn’t. Memories don’t go away until you get really old. Rebbeca planned a weekend in DC for my birthday one year. At the time, I definitely felt like she had finally found an excuse to do something she wanted to, and that is pretty much what happened (or we would have made it to the epic Smithsonian museum). But I’m having trouble thinking of birthday gifts I received in the past, except that one. It isn’t something I would have planned for myself, but experiences and time together celebrate the relationship and the person. They will remember that.

So take your time for someones birthday.

Digital Nomad

Right now, I’m riding the PATH 33rd St train under the Hudson River. This post is being drafted, and published when we surface, completely on my Palm Pre and Poster app.

Digital Nomad

Today I’m heading into The City to meet with some airsoft buddies who are, like my new self, creative professionals. First order of business is to take a bunch of photos for Henry (http://www.henryshoots.com) to view and give tips later on. Then it’s on to lunch with Tom (http://www.californium.com) to exchange airsoft ideas and footage. Wrapping that up takes me on the N Express train to Brooklyn so Henry can give me the down low on Adobe Bridge and Camera RAW. About 5pm will take me back to the train and your regularly scheduled programming.

I have with me my Pre, MSI Wind netbook, and Canon XSi camera. I have power cords, USB cables, and a deck of cards. I think my next post a bit later today will be from either Grand Central Station or Bryant Park using my netbook and the free Mobile HotSpot feature I get on my Pre from Verizon.

…and I’m off!