Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Auto Train, An Amtrak Failure

The Auto Train was not long ago a more civilized and genteel method of travel.  Our past experience has shown the bloom is off of the rose.   Now the Auto Train is simply another means to get from point A to point B.   From what I have gleaned on the Internet, one disgruntled congressman is responsible for derailing this very popular train.   Congressman John Mica from Florida appears to have the destruction of rail service as one of his primary goals.  

It is dismaying to see that an elected representative can be so short sighted as to not recognize the importance of rail travel.   The Auto Train has available coach and compartment travel from Lorton Virginia to Sanford Florida.   You paid for your ticket in either coach or compartment and you paid for your vehicle to be transported.   It doesn't take a mathematician to see that if you remove several hundred cars a day from I95, you are reducing pollution, traffic and wear and tear on a seriously overburdened highway. 

The differential between a coach ticket and a compartment is significant, depending on the date of travel more than $400.00 each way.  That differential meant in the past that compartment travelers had  wine tasting upon arrival and had wine for dinner.   Due to budget constraints the wine has been eliminated.   Not only that, the staff has been cut and an additional coach class car has been added.  This adds eighty plus people who need care and decreased significantly the number of people who were barely adequate for service needs prior to the downsizing. 

The lounge car that previously was used for the compartment passengers wine tasting has been eliminated.   The wine tasting and the socializing that ensued meant that new friends could be made and a trip could be congenial rather than burdensome    The elimination of the lounge car made dinner more difficult as well.   The dining car was overburdened.   The staff was forced to run to the bar car to get wine and to collect the money for said wine leaving their tables to their own devices.   You can't get coffee if you have no server.  

My personal disappointment is that a long train ride that was made far more acceptable due to amenities that I was willing to pay for has now become little more than a cattle car with ribbons.   Congratulations to Congressman Mica in the destruction of a civilized method of travel and the ensuing increase in road traffic, pollution and wear and tear on our highways.   His short sighted cost cutting will add up to far more destruction of both our infrastructure and our way of life.   Adeiu Auto Train, I will now ship my car and fly.  No fun at all but at least I will save some money.

If reviewing a product, it may have been received free of charge. That will NEVER have a bearing on my recommendations.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

OXO Tot Seedling High Chair

Okay, my first thought was that a high chair should be less expensive.  Of course I am a grandparent so my take on the size of the price is based on decades old experience.   I am impressed with this high chair regardless of price.

It assembled easily.
It adjusts easily.
The seat cover is removable and washable.
The seat reclines.
The tray is flat and sits flat on the counter.
The tray is two piece so you can remove the top layer of the tray and carry off the food disaster that no doubt lies on the tray.
This puppy is solid, built like a tank, it is constructed quite strongly and should hold up to the most rambunctious toddler.
If you are anticipating an arrival, this would be an excellent gift.
There are a lot of less expensive high chairs out there but this is a good value for the money.  If you are planning on more than one kid, this would be a no brainer due to it's well constructed nature. 
From the vendor:
·                           3 levels of tool-free seat height and depth adjustability that grow with the child
·                           Adjustable, contoured seat is perfect for tots from 4 months to 3 years; Smooth surfaces are easy to wipe clean; Tray cover is removable and dishwasher safe for easy clean up; Cushion is stain resistant, wipe able and easily removable for machine washing
·                           Large buttons are comfortable and intuitive for easy high chair adjustments; Seat has three reclining positions and five height settings for optimal comfort
·                           Tray is light and easy to remove or replace with one hand, leaving the other free for baby and rests flat on table to prevent bowls and cups from tipping when removing baby from chair; Tray stores on back of legs for added convenience
·                           Scratch resistant, locking wheels provide flexibility and mobility; The frame can be disassembled into two parts for convenient storage; Tool free assembly and adjustment
The seedling chair will stay with your child from 4 months to 3 years, adjusting and growing with them. The contoured seat is great for infants still on the bottle, and can recline back if they fall asleep right after feeding. The chair easily adjusts to the perfect angle for babies to self feed with bottles or Sippy cups. Five different height settings make it easy to feed baby whether you're standing or sitting. The lowest setting is also great for being close to older siblings, and the highest setting can be used for having baby up at table height. The depth adjustable tray has different settings to accommodate your growing baby, and stores on the back of the chair's legs when not in use. We know how eating time can be messy, so the chair and cushions are easily wipe able for quick cleanup of crumbs and other sticky situations. The removable tray cover is dishwasher safe and the stain resistant cushion is easily removable and machine washable for those extra big messes.

If reviewing a product, it may have been received free of charge. That will NEVER have a bearing on my recommendations.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Protect Yourself With FREE Surveillance Software

In celebration of my geekiness I downloaded ispy camera software prior to a recent hotel stay.  A person very close to me (name withheld due to my desire to continue life as I know it.) suggested I was paranoid.   Well...

Imagine our surprise the first time I left my laptop running with the software active, we saw disturbing photos of someone in our room.   The person seemed to be looking at our stuff, peered into the camera and then left without taking anything. This was not a room cleaning person.  I sent one video set to my phone and took the video to the hotel management for their reaction.  I asked if this person was employed by the hotel and if he was supposed to be in our room.  The manager said the intruder was a maintenance man and he would check into it.   After waiting several days I approached another manager who got back to me within 15 minutes and explained there had been a maintenance issue  in our hall and the intruder was checking all the rooms.  Frankly the excuse reeked of cover-up as the intruder was definitely looking over our stuff.  

Interestingly enough after I asked if they wanted different angles from my other cameras and I confirmed multiple cameras accompany me everywhere, we only saw cleaning people after that.  BTW it is disturbing to see the cleaning person put clean pillow cases on your pillows and then throw the pillows on the dirty floor while she made the bed.

The laborious point I am trying to make is that you can increase your personal safety and decrease the likelihood of being a victim with free software.   ispy is free unless you want the video sent remotely or have the ability to view your camera through the WEB.  Having the software running and storing the video on your personal computer is free.  The camera is motion activated and operates in the background.  You can have a screen saver running as camouflage.  It is easy to install and certainly is eye opening.

WardenCam is another free software package that allows you to use an old cell phone as a camera and the Internet to view said camera on your cell phone.  The only problem with that is you need a decent wifi signal to connect to the Internet.  The hotel's wifi was pitifully slow so WardenCam did not work but I have tested it with a good wifi and it works really slick too.  Again,FREE!

Paraphrasing Frank Burns of Mash, "you aren't paranoid if everyone is after you".  Check out these free aps and protect yourself when you travel.

 If reviewing a product, it may have been received free of charge. That will NEVER have a bearing on my recommendations.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Colgate Optic White Toothbrush Plus Whitening Pen

This is an ok product.  It claims two day results and after five days of use I see some positive changes.   I had hoped for a more dramatic change but I will continue to use it until the gel is gone.  The two day claim should be revised and I think the product will then be perceived as better.  If you expect immediate results you end up disappointed but if you expect gradual results, I think you will be satisfied.   It is easy to use but their brush is really stiff and thus a bit painful on the gum line.  Overall a good product, $13.80 at Amazon.

From the vendor:
Safety Warning
Keep out of reach of children. Do not use with children under the age of 12. If more than amount used for whitening is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or call a Poison Control Center. Avoid contact with eyes. If product contacts the eyes, rinse thoroughly with water. If irritation of the gums or mouth occurs, discontinue use.

Dimethicone, paraffinum liquidum, PVP, trimethylsiloxysilicate/dimethiconol crosspolymer, hydrogen peroxide, polyethylene, flavor, sodium saccharin

For best results, use 2 times daily until gel pen is empty. Start using a new Optic White Toothbrush + Whitening Pen every 3 months.

If reviewing a product, it may have been received free of charge. That will NEVER have a bearing on my recommendations.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Crayola Create 2 Destroy Dino Destruction Metropolitan Mayhem

This is a cute set.  Every kid seems to love dinosaurs.   This kit has two dinosaurs and two volcanoes.  The idea is to make things to destroy with the molding clay and then destroy them with your dinosaurs and flying boulders from your volcanoes.   The boulder flying part is pretty lame but it does work.  For sheer destruction you are dependent on your dinosaurs.  The dinos are sturdy and will no doubt survive long after the rest of the kit has died.   The provided molds are not terribly sturdy but imagination will allow the kids to create things besides what the molds suggest.   I don't know how often the Morphix (modeling clay) will hold up.  As with most products such as this, keeping it clean will no doubt extend the life of the product.  

A nice toy that should generate enthusiasm with the four to six age range.

From the Vendor:

What's in the Box

Two dinosaur figures, two volcano launchers, three 8-ounce tubs of Morphix, 19 molds, and play mat.
At a Glance:
·                     Create and destroy a city skyline with dino figures and molds
·                     Two volcanoes launch boulders
·                     Make vehicles, buildings and more with 19 Morphix molds
·                     Colorful play mat brings the city to life
·                     Connects to other Create2Destroy Sets

 If reviewing a product, it may have been received free of charge. That will NEVER have a bearing on my recommendations.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Matchbox Mission: Croc Escape Playset

This is another play set using the Matchbox size cars.   It works fine with the included car.   I currently do not have any Hotwheel or other competing cars in the Matchbox size to test with the set.  I will have more availability in a month or so and if I find any incompatibility I will come back and add to this post.   I am aware that due to the configuration some vehicles won't work but I think compatibility is important in these toys.

The set is reasonably sturdy.   As in any toy, the exuberance of the child will have a major bearing on durability.   I think the addition of some of the other sets to increase the complexity and play value would be a good idea.   Overall this seems like a fun toy.

$20.00 at Amazon

From the vendor:
It's a big beast in the big city! The giant croc has swallowed a vehicle, and only you can save it! Rumble over the rocky bridge, climb the "stone" staircase and zoom down the ramp to the rescue. But be careful! One false move, and you're croc bait! Play set features working croc jaws, rocking bridge and moving staircase. Includes one Matchbox construction vehicle; additional vehicles sold separately. The play set connects to other sets (sold separately) to expand the world and the fun! Ages 3 and over.

If reviewing a product, it may have been received free of charge. That will NEVER have a bearing on my recommendations.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hack Proofing Tips

The Naples Daily News ran an article recently that offered some tips to curb email hacking.   Having spent 25 years in the computer business I didn't hear anything new but it never hurts to be redundant.  

NEVER open an attachment from someone you don't know.  If you are expecting an attachment from a friend that is normally safe but.... keep in mind if it looks squirrely even from a friend, don't open it.   Email or call your friend to determine if  they have sent you an attachment.

ALWAYS use a good quality anti-virus software.   There are plenty of commercially available programs but there are also good free programs.   AVG, Trend Micro and Avast come to mind.  

The Steve Gibson website, has a link to his Shields Up program.  This is a free probing (stop snickering) of your computer for security faults.   Gibson has been around for ever and this is a well known, free tool.   If it tells you that you are at risk, do something about it.   This is NOT one of those bogus computer scans that finds 435,000 problems and for merely $29.98, you can download their fix for these issues.   Avoid those programs at all costs.   Some of  them will actually hijack your computer and demand a ransom to get your computer functioning again.

BE AWARE than not all official looking communications are actually from whom they claim to be.   A pretty computer savvy teen called me in a panic recently to tell me he got a bright red screen claiming that Homeland Security had found child porn on his computer and unless he immediately paid a $300.00 fine online, he would be arrested.  Not only that, it locked up his computer so he could not use it.   I explained to him that it was a scam and I found the fix online for him.  It took him two days but he finally got his computer  back from these scheming  creeps who troll the Internet.  His only crime was he assumed the site he was downloading music from was legitimate.  

Passwords should never be stuff you have put on social media, like your high school, your dog, your wife (no reason those are listed together, honest!) or names of your kids.   It is a major pain in the tush but keep your passwords random and long, use upper and lower case and when the site will allow, throw in a symbol.   None of this will deter the true hacker but the malicious malcontents who are not truly talented, just vandals, will be deterred.  

Consider encryption software such as AxCrypt   Take note, very carefully note of what you set up as your password for your encrypted data because once it is encrypted by a good software package, even the vendor can't get it open.

Lastly if you are  passwording or encrypting something that is important to your spouse or business partner, provide  them with the means of getting to the data.   A friend dropped dead at age 40 while mowing his lawn.  He had passworded his accounting software for his small business.   His wife did NOT have the password and could not pay the bills or determine who owed her money.   It took me a couple of hours to find a hack for the program online and then an hour or so to break the password.   I am in no way a computer savant,  the tools for destruction are readily available on the web and sometimes they can be used for benign purposes.

Wrapping it up, if you are targeted by one of the nefarious commercial hacking groups, you will probably be hacked.   These strategies will work for 90% of  us who really have very little important computer data to grab.   Very little being relative to a major corp with deep pockets, it is still an enormous  inconvenience and financial hit to anyone who is hacked.

The Internet is a jungle (why else the browser named Safari)  but  you can protect yourself with a few very easy precautions.   DO THEM TODAY!

 Money Saving Tech Tips