Coffee Liqueur Recipe

My latest liqueur infusion project, if not my absolute favorite, is possibly the most “me.” The inspiration actually came from a scholar in my field who stayed in our apartment during a conference last year. Learning of my love of coffee, she suggested infusing Sambuca with coffee beans. The thought was appealing, but I’m not crazy about the anise flavor in Sambuca, so I didn’t try it.

The seed was planted, however. I started thinking about what liqueurs would pair well with coffee. I’ve always loved coffee and orange together. Back when I was in high school Starbucks used to have a Mocha Valencia Latte, which was the only thing that would make me pay the prices of a Starbucks latte. My first thought was Grand Marnier, but given the cost of Grand Marnier and the fact that this was a total experiment on my part, I went with its cheaper little sister, Triple Sec.

I bought about two cups of whole bean coffee. I went for my favorite locally-roasted, super-dark roast (also fair-trade certified). Because if I’m going to go low-end on the booze, it’s important to be as pretentious as possible about the coffee. I bought a 750ml bottle of Triple Sec and poured roughly half of it into a mason jar with half of the beans, then put the other half of the beans in the bottle with the remaining liqueur. A lot of recipes online for making coffee infused vodka suggest using ground coffee—I didn’t do that, because it sounded like filtering would be a pain in the ass. If you do use ground coffee, it will infuse faster. On the other hand, it infuses quickly regardless, so there’s really no point in grinding if you ask me.

And that’s it. Store the jar and the bottle somewhere cool and dark and taste it every day. Like I said, this infuses fast. I waited forty-eight hours to taste the first time and it already had a good coffee flavor. At that point it was orange with a hint of coffee and I was looking more so for coffee with a hint of orange, so I left it in longer. After four days it had the flavor I wanted, but I didn’t have time to strain it, so it sat another day and a half.

The end result in amazing. It’s like drinking a good dark roast coffee, but then you get this hint of citrus at the end. Excellent for sipping. It’s very popular with my friends (I’ve gone through two bottles). It also makes a nice addition to desserts. My roommate added it to the filling for her Yule Log (she uses the French name I can’t spell and am too lazy to look up). I’ve added it to trifles with delicious results. And, of course, it goes nicely in coffee.

Coffee with a side of Snark

Would we drink coffee with Joan Rivers?

Kristy: I’m going to cautiously say, I think so. Let’s be honest, if in real life she was much like her television persona, she wasn’t a terribly “nice” person. That said, anyone who’s read my twitter feed knows I love cattiness more than I should, and Rivers could do catty like no one else. I suspect that coffee with her would include some hysterical people watching commentary, but there’s no way I’d get out without being on the receiving end of a barb or two. So it all comes down to whether my skin is thick enough. Judge me if you must, but I watched Fashion Police on a semi-regular (emphasis on the semi) basis and enjoyed the hell out of it, both for the fashion and the snark. Rivers’s humor crossed all kinds of lines to the point it was sometimes downright offensive. I actually appreciate that she never apologized, even though there were times she offended me. Humor often pokes at sites of discomfort and social anxiety; that’s why it’s awesome–it allows us to say things we can’t say and talk about things we can’t talk about. I’d actually like to talk to her about her philosophy of humor. Wikipedia tells me she had degrees in English Lit and Anthropology, which basically makes her right next door to a folklorist, so she might actually have some knowledge of humor theory.

I think the bottom line is, that I would like to have a cup of coffee with her because while there were times I didn’t necessarily like her, I respect her. I think we’ve discussed on this blog before the fact that it’s much harder for women to be funny than for men. Rivers was very much a pioneer in that area–she was the first woman to host a late night talk show, and sadly not many have followed after her. I’d love to talk to her about her thoughts on women in comedy today. Have we made progress? How do we make more?

I’m really just afraid of what she’ll say about my hair.
Cammy:  That’s simple:  I’m in.  That one may shock a few of you, dear readers, but I, oddly enough, have no hesitation.  I know going into this that I’m toast.  There really is no way I could avoid the fashion skewering, but knowing that going in, I’m okay.  And yes, she’s probably going to say something offensive, but then that frees me up to do the same.  Knowing she’s not “nice” and never has been, there is nothing to lose here at all.  It boils down to this: she’s funny, and she’s clearly smart.  And funny, smart people are exactly who you want to have at the table in the coffee shop, watching the patrons and letting the comments rip.  While I wouldn’t mind listening in on Kristy getting her to talk seriously about women in comedy, I really just kind of of want to let her do her thing: make me laugh.  And maybe my far more grievous fashion violations will draw away any fire about Kristy’s hair.

International Morning Show Jealousy

Some people have very strong opinions about religion.  Or politics.  Or food.

I have strong opinions about morning news shows.  Mock if you will, but I more or less hate all humanity before I’ve had my 20 ounces of coffee or it’s past 10:00am.  I have patience for almost nothing, my temper is short.  In this state, it’s playing with fire to subject me to crappy morning news programming.

Now, obviously, here in the states you have the potential for morning news show offensiveness at both a local and a national level. While I have plenty to say about local morning news*, my issues with the national morning news programs have been going on for longer.  Oh, sure I have fond early-childhood memories of Good Morning America way back in the Joan Lunden days, and I still have a soft spot for the old CBS This Morning jazzy version of “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning.”  But it all went pear-shaped when GMA took a nose dive, CBS destroyed their morning show and all that was left standing was NBC’s Today.  Maybe could have made it through with NBC’s offering, except that at the ripe age of 15, I came to loathe Matt Lauer with the fire of 1000 suns.  That sentiment continues, in force, to this day, no matter how much coffee I’ve had.

So, I’ve been adrift.  I’ve tried going back to the other networks–GMA has shown some improvement, but they aren’t there yet–everything is too forced and carved out of cream-cheese.  I even tried cable (Robin Mead on Headline News with her valley-girl inflection is only a hair more tolerable than Matt Lauer being arrogant). I kept looking for the morning news program that did what I needed it to do:  give me enough information about world events to avoid being a total nitwit in the conversations before the morning stand-up meeting, and not give me another reason to hate the world before I get to my desk.

And finally, at long last, in December 2010 I found the show.  It didn’t just meet those basic criteria, it went above and beyond.  It is the morning show of my dreams.  It not only didn’t offend, it actively highlighted everything that I hadn’t even realized was wrong with every other morning news program I’ve ever seen.  This show brought the thing that matters most:  The Funny.

Unfortunately for me, it’s Australian.

Ironically, it shares a name with the least favorite of those US morning news programs.  The title Today alone no longer gives me reason to want to strangle people.  Instead, it generally gives me a reason to hold my sides and snarf the coffee I so desperately need to wake up.  Seriously.  This show is freakin’ beauty.

Not long after she and Dad moved Down Under, Mom told me that their version of the Today show was absolutely hilarious, but I had no idea until I spent my first holiday there.  I had plenty time to watch over a cup of the only non-disgusting instant coffee I’ve ever had in my life** while waiting for my lazy brother to get up in the mornings so we could head out sight-seeing.  I was holding my sides laughing watching this program.  I’d never seen any US news broadcast like this.  I never realized non-offensive a morning news show could be when it just allowed itself to have a real sense of humor.  Not the fake camaraderie and forced cheer that you put up with on a US show.  This was genuinely funny.  What better way to start the morning than with an actual laugh?  And, you still got the headlines!  It was like The Daily Show, only at breakfast and with Australians (and, often more random….)!

The program was wholly unashamed of going there with every joke that a US show would avoid.  Bad pun?  Do it.  Innuendo?  Absolutely.  The show doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Would an American morning anchor ever tell her co-host, “No, I won’t pull your finger?”  Because Lisa Wilkinson has totally had to say that to Karl.  On air.  Would Matt-Asshat-Lauer ever tell a Dali Lama joke to the Dali Lama?  No.  But Karl  Stefanovic would.  Do people on American morning shows regularly get attacked by wildlife?  No, but Stevie’s been attacked by a Pelican, a chicken, a bunch of aquarium creatures, a camel….  A US morning show would avoid commenting on a location shot that involved a hot air balloon branded as a giant tampon box.  These folks pointed it out.  I’m telling you, these might actually be my people.  I mean, they laugh in the morning where we seem to have banished all our funny stuff to the after-hours around here.

There are many, many reasons to be jealous of Australia, but for me, this show might be one of the greatest reasons of all***.

So, the morning show I’ve always wanted, exists out of my reach.  I am honestly going to miss seeing it this year as my folks are supposed to be moving home from Oz by Christmas.  I’ll have to make due with the humorous clips on YouTube.  Of which there are so many, that I think they do a far better job of demonstrating the awesomeness of this show than I ever could.  You try squeezing this many genuinely, side-splittingly funny bits (roughly 9 hours of the funny) from 6 years of the US version of the Today show–you’d be lucky to get 5 minutes.  If I’ve got to sit here, and lament the fact that we don’t have Karl, Lisa, Georgie, Fordo, Dickie, Emma, Sylvia, Stevie and the rest, so do you:

Today Show Funny Bits Playlist.

I encourage you to watch and laugh (it’s good for you), and then join me in questioning why we can’t have a morning show that starts our day like this?  I vote we cancel one of our US morning shows and resort to importing our TV just like we do everything else we get around here.  I, for one, welcome our Aussie humor overlords.  (And if you don’t snicker at Georgie and the “long stabbie thing” there really is no humor hope for you, and I really don’t think we can be friends anymore****)

I’m jealous, Australia.  Really, really jealous.

* Oh, do I ever.
**I’m not saying it actually tastes like coffee, I’m just saying that as an instant beverage it is way tastier than that battery-acid you wind up with if you drink the instant here in the US.  Real coffee and instant coffee are not actually the same substance in any country.  It would be like comparing Kraft Mac and Cheese with homemade Mac and Cheese.
***There are also a lot of reasons not to be jealous:  box jellyfish, man eating crocs, swamp coolers masquerading as AC, the cost of just about everything, funnel web spiders, GST….But, when you start to think of it, we have rattlesnakes, tornadoes, black widows, the IRS, big box store take-over…. so, y’know, if you do all the math this might be a wash….I’m coming dangerously close to saying “what the hell, I’ll grab a beer, a cricket bat and my immigration paperwork.”
****I kinda wanna be Georgie when I grow up–and I was sad to hear that Georgie has now left the show.  Really, still wanna be Georgie, though.

Living with a Hippie Cat

Note: This post was actually written several months ago, but I don’t think it was ever posted. A few thing have happened with my fuzzy friend since then. Rest assured he’s fine, but now requires gold-plated food. I found this post amusing in light of that.

My cat Wash spent some of his kittenhood living on the mean streets of our hippie college town. I’m actually convinced more and more that he spent that time eating out of the dumpsters of the ultra-hippie co-op grocery store near where he was found. It’s the only way I can find to explain his strange tastes in food.

I know lots of people who adopt stray animals have problems with them expecting/wanting table scraps. But usually they want scraps of… well the sorts of food that pets eat. Chicken. Dairy products. Bones. Wash, on the other hand, wants basically anything. My roommate and I spend a lot of time yelling “_______ is not for kitties!” at him. Some examples from recent weeks:

Garbanzos. Garbanzos are actually one of his favorite foods. At first when he was going after my roasted garbanzos I thought it was because they are round and roll and he thought they’d make good toys. That might be true, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to eat them. I was making chickpea cutlets the other day and he was obsessively trying to get at the empty can so he could lick the chickpea residue out of it. He also enjoys hummus and curried chickpeas.

Brussels sprouts.

Kale. (another of his favs)

Serrano chilis

Almond milk. I once gave almond milk to friend of the blog Bridget’s cat (I just let her lick my cereal bowl because she’d been begging me to the whole time I ate.) She made this weird disgusted movement with her tongue then glared at me for fifteen minutes for obviously trying to poison her. Current roommate did that with Wash and now he’s obsessed with the stuff.

Pita chips. Well, any kind of chips really. Just about anything made with grain.

Vital wheat gluten. Seriously.

Coffee….or Carménère

Would we have Coffee With….Chilean President Michelle Bachelet?

Cammy:  Sure.  I mean, every-friggin’-where but here, gals are getting the top political job.  It’s almost getting to be old-hat.  Almost.  But even if we’d crossed into old hat territory, I think it would still be worth it to have coffee with Bachelet.  For one, thing, mad respect to a woman who has a medical degree and success in politics.  That pedigree puts her into that category with Angela Merkel (physicist) and Margaret “The Lady” Thatcher (chemical engineer) (could that be why we haven’t had a female president yet?  Should we be tapping the science department instead of the law department or wherever the fuck we’re getting the female set in US politics?  Me?  I’m hoping for a Computer Science Gal.  Preferably NOT me).  And then, well, she was tortured and exiled.  Even though she tends to play her torture down somewhat (generally pointing out that others suffered far more), doesn’t change the fact that she was tortured.  That puts her into a very unfortunate, and limited circle of world leaders, and I don’t think there are a lot of other girls in the club with her.  There is no way that cannot result in some serious insight and unique viewpoint on things.  Not saying I’m likely to agree with her politically, but I don’t agree with a lot of people politically, so it’s not like that’s a coffee-killer.  And if we can pull together a special bonus round, I want coffee with Bachelet AND Merkel.

Kristy: Definitely. As Cammy said, she’s got to have a fascinating life story, and I would love to hear her tell it. I would like to hear also what she thinks we’re doing wrong up here in los Estados (or what they’re doing right down south) that has enabled women to have more success seeking executive office. Besides her lack of a Y chromosome she has a couple of other factors that would make it harder for her to get elected in the US: she’s an open agnostic and she’s separated (for those not in the know, divorce was only legalized in Chile about ten years ago, so most people just stop living with their spouses when things go bad). I’d like her take on whether that’s a sign Chileans are just less uptight, or were those things she had to overcome. I’d also like to chat about relations between Latin American nations; she’s had some issues with Peru, Bolivia, and Cuba, does she have any thoughts on those? (other than simply telling Peru their maps are wrong)

Cammy:  And seeing as both Kristy and I are fans of a good Chilean Carmenere, I think we opt for wine over coffee here….

In the Storm: The More Serious-er Sharknado

Guest Post from our Loyal Reader, Mary reviewing the summer action flick Into The Storm which opened last weekend:

Yes. I spent money on this movie.  Yes. I spent money on this movie the weekend that it opened.  Yes. I spent money on this movie the weekend that it opened and pulled Cammy and a local friend into the funnel cloud of summer blockbuster cheese((Cammy note: That should be c-h-e-e-Z-e.  We’re talkin’ Velveeta, not Gouda or Brie or anything classy.)).  Yes. I admit all of these things. I’m not proud.

I justify my actions by stating upfront that this oh-so-very-unserious bit of film showcased (not well) the talents of my Object of Cinematic Lust, one Richard Armitage.  There. I said it.  I had a moment of fangirling.  Like I said, I ain’t proud.

As you may have gathered by now, big summer let’s-blow-shit-up blockbusters are not my thing. And for a variety of reasons this is true; I dislike watching bad acting, I hate most connect-the-dots storylines, schlocky romances leave me cold, and after a while the special effects just bore me (another thing blew up. Woo.)((Cammy note:  And the hokey dialog as writers schill for idiot producers hoping to spawn new catchphrases for marketing to use.)).  So there’s all that and the fact that I’m cheap so I’m not going to pay real money for something I know is not going to entertain me.
But, dear reader, allow me this moment of fangirl ecstasy:  Richard Armitage!  In a SUIT!  IN THE RAIN!  And then there’s the comic relief:  Richard Armitage! Trying (and failing) to be AMERICAN!  Cammy, good sport and Tornado Alley metropolitan that she is, came along for the ride. And the wet shirt((Cammy note: Richard Armitage’s wet shirt, not mine.)).

About two minutes into this flick Local Friend and I pegged it as the more serious-er Sharknado((Cammy note:  I have to say, that out of complete morbid curiosity, I would actually pay to see anything billed as “a less serious Sharknado.”)).  More serious-er because you could see the cast really wanted their characters to be taken seriously…too seriously((Cammy note:  Just not serious enough to actually make them act like real Tornado Alley residents would.)).  And, while there were no sharks flying out of storm drains, there was everything else.  Lots of family drama. Teeny bopper romance. Lessons learned moments from a time capsule. The potential for adult romance. The trials and tribulations of single parenthood.  Stupid American stereotyped characters((Cammy note: Although, in their defense–SPOILER ALERT–they did avoid the American movie stereotype where the black guy in the film bites it.  Somewhere in the land where Psych lives on, Burton Guster is turning to Shawn Spencer and singing “Suck iiiiiiiit.”)).  Unbridled avarice and ambition.  The consequences of not following your gut when it says to get the hell out of the damn tornado’s path when it sets itself on fire. Exposition on bits of machinery that will become pivotal plot points later. Oh, and lots and lots and lots of destruction, to include multiple 747s getting sucked into the tornado’s gullet. Oh yes, there was something for everybody in this movie.  The one thing it could’ve used more of was Richard Armitage in a wet shirt.  Just sayin’…

Say what you will about Sharknado, at least you could see that Ian Ziering was having fun while earning his paycheck.  Dear Dicky-Boy the Pseudo-Yank, on the other hand, had obviously done some serious method acting-y research and deep digging to find his character, Gary, the widowed-divorced-single dad-put upon-overlooked Vice Principal of a high school in, ahem, “Oklahoma.”((Cammy note:  Those quotation marks are NOT optional ))  We’ll neatly sidestep the visual fact that this ordinary Joe is supremely easy on the eyes and has yet undiscovered depths of inner fortitude…which he desperately needs to hang onto his American accent((Cammy note:  That’s right, we have another winner of the Cary Elwes Award for Worst American Accent in a Feature Film, however, in Mr. Armitage’s defense, his accent was way better than Cary Elwes’ was in that other shitty tornado flick.  Though, let this be a lesson to the next British actor who wants to play an American:  don’t do it in a shitty tornado flick–unless you really want this venerable award.)).

Local Friend and I couldn’t quite figure out why he signed on to make this movie.  Maybe he had a contract obligation to fulfill? Maybe this was supposed to be the vehicle by which he’d be introduced to a wider American audience? Outside the hairy realm of Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s imaginings?  Or did he just sign up to make this movie because he likes cheesy flicks and wanted the experience as a way to pass the time while waiting for the Hobbit pick-up schedule?  A combination of all?((Cammy Note:  Or maybe he just figured it couldn’t be as hokey and awful as Robin Hood, so, eh, why not?))

My  money is on the intro to the wider American movie-goer as the rest of the cast are un/little-knowns.  One son is played by a Brit, his teenaged romantic interest is an Aussie, and the actress who plays the weather tracker with a PhD, a guilt ray loaded 5 year old daughter, uncanny storm instincts and a suspiciously unlined forehead is completely new to me. Will we know these people later?  Only time and blockbuster cash will tell.

And now for the Suspension of Disbelief Files…

Cammy has a better lock on the midwest as she currently resides in Tornado Alley((Cammy Note:  And by better lock, Mary means, “is regularly scared shitless by tornadoes and likes to give out unsolicited tornado safety advice to everyone”)), but I have family claims to the midwest.  Mom is from Ohio, Dad is from a nice little family farm in a nice little town in Iowa.  I have seen the rolling plains, I’ve heard the first-hand tornado stories and now I know which corner of the cellar to dive into should the gray-green cloud suddenly sprout a funnel. I remember Grandpa talking about the weather and the sound of the driving rain on the south-facing windows of the farm house. Knowing how closely the midwesterners watch the weather for basic survival, tell me how the heck you’re gonna have a high school graduation outside…in the spring…without a back up plan((Cammy Note:  In my experience, you’re not going to see this happen.  And even if a school around makes an attempt at an outdoor graduation, there’s always an alternate location–and the big apocalyptic cloud on the horizon generally sends people running inside well before the tornado sirens ever do.))?  How did Principal AllState not watch the weather((Cammy Note:  Or have a weather radio.  Or Weatherbug.  Or his cell phone…))?  It’s spring in “Oklahoma” for crying out loud!  Also, who had actual school stuff on graduation day?  Why were there buses dropping off kids with books?  Were there classes?  Why were there classes?  Does not graduation imply that the school year has met its end? Whyfor does older teenaged son’s love interest not yet have her internship application complete? Why, after a big spinning cloud comes through town, does everyone check their cell phone((Cammy Note:  The phones that,–if “Oklahoma” has implemented what we have the KC area–would have been buzzing and dinging and going bat-shit crazy with automated alert texts about severe weather and tornadoes on the ground.  Apparently “Silverton” was having cell tower issues even before the tornadoes screwed them over.))? For that matter, why bother to check your cell phone when you’re trapped in a slowly filling rain basin at an abandoned paper mill/industrial waste site? Does water amplify the signal? Does the camera work well enough for you to record your teary end-of-life testimonial? Why are you going to barricade yourselves in a STORM DRAIN for shelter((Cammy Note: Most of this movie was a PSA on what not to do in severe weather.  Don’t hide in storm drains–people have drowned doing that. And for the love of all that is holy, do NOT get into a school bus or a car and try to outrun the thing. Seriously. Indoors, lowest, most interior room–preferably a basement.))?

As a side note, I had to work awful hard to place this little town with a major airport in “Oklahoma.”((Cammy Note:  Yeah, that was about as “Oklahoma” as Iceland.  As far as I know there is no airport in OK that’s serviced by 747s.)) There were too many coniferous trees to make that believable.  “Oklahoma” looked a bit too green to be that close to Texas and a bit too much like a verdant Michigan, a mythical place where they have tax incentives for film production((Cammy Note:  And where they don’t have enough tornado warnings that people working on location would chime in and go, “No, seriously.  That’s bullshit.  No one would react like that around here!”)).

Was this $6 well spent?  Meh, it was a Saturday morning in August with not much else going on.  Would I have paid money had my Object of Cinematic Lust not been showcased in a key role?  No.  Would this movie be better with booze in hand and a plate of drippy nachos?((Cammy Note:  Though, really, isn’t EVERY movie made better with booze and drippy nachos?)) Hell yes.  If the spirit moves me and the company is right, I might give it another go on $2 Monday at the Drafthouse.  If you want to see this movie, repeat this mantra to yourself: Shark factor low, Snark factor high.  Believe that and all will be well.

P.S. Along with more wet dress shirt moments, I kinda wish the nerdy kid in the time capsule video had a parting shot and not just the storm-reformed jock.


I declared this weekend Gedeck-Fest! I wound up having an impromptu marathon of Martina Gedeck movies the other day.  Who is Martina Gedeck?  She’s the first German actor or actress I could name (truth be told, the total number has grown to a whopping two–I can also name Sibylle Canonica*.  I’d have 3 if I could ever remember the name of the chick from Run Lola Run–she’s been in plenty of other stuff, including The Bourne Identity, but I can never remember her name for more than about 5 minutes.  No commentary on her skill, only on my crappy memory).

Out of the 5 of you here, I’m sure at least 3 of you have seen Mostly Martha.  This means you’ve seen Martina Gedeck.  She’s Martha.

Gedeck-fest did not actually start with Mostly Martha.  It began by accident when I finally decided to watch Night Train to Lisbon.  It looked interesting, and I recognized her name on the summary of the cast.  At this point, other than Mostly Martha, I’ve only seen her in one other film, The Baader Meinhof Complex, which was disturbing, but good.  Still, two movies with good performances was enough to give her street cred with me.  The scales were tipped and I opted to give it a shot.

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Quitting the Contract: Phone Update

So, we are now about 3 and a half months into my “Great Cell Phone Experiment” and all is going well.  In fact, I can’t figure out why I didn’t do this long ago.

The Hardware:

I bought a Google Nexus 5, 16GB ($349–for $399 I could have had 32GB, but I don’t store much on the phone itself and I don’t want to tempt myself to change that after what I lost on the old one).  As with their computer hardware, the price point for a bare Apple product, un-subsidized through a major carrier was just too much for me to contemplate (the newest iPhones were around the $600 mark).  Besides, I’d had good luck with Android, and Google more or less owns my soul already anyhow (if Gmail ever goes away, I think I will cease to exist).  The Nexus (ordered directly from the Google Play store), comes naturally unbranded.  No unlocking necessary.  It was also blissfully free of the b.s. bloatware put on by a lot of carriers (seriously Verizon, I didn’t need a fucking NFL game.  I don’t watch pro football.  At all).  And the compu-geek in me loves that as soon as there is an upgrade to Android (as there should be here in a matter of a week or two) I will be among the first to get it.  There was also a certain sweetness to getting a phone that my idiot old carrier Verizon literally won’t let on its network.

I am sort of a little in love with this phone.  I’m not going to lie.

The Carrier:

My initial plan was to jump around and experiment with different pre-paid carriers.  The reality is, I’ve been happy with the one I started with and too busy with work to spend the time to change.

I opted for StraightTalk through Wal-Mart.  The initial start-up kit ran me about $50.  I got a packet of SIM cards in various sizes for the two network options–I could choose to run off of the AT&T network or the T-Mobile network.  Knowing there were plenty of other T-Mobile network options left for me to explore later (Wal Mart’s Family plan, and direct T-Mobile pre-paid)–and a first month’s service (unlimited talk, text and data). I chose to start with AT&T.

The initial set up kind of sucked ass.  If I were the type of person who regularly needed tech support and customer service, the relationship would have ceased on night one.  Straight Talk has very obviously outsourced customer service, and when I logged on their live-chat with a problem (the cards in my packet appeared to be mis-marked and I wanted to verify I was using the right card) the service agent was less than useless (actually kind of insulting, and he ended the service chat abruptly without even asking if he had answered my question).  It was really clear English was NOT his first language.  If you opt to try this and you are at all confused, please feel free to contact me and I can try to walk you through it.  My biggest problem was the incorrect packaging.  After that, the online set up of the account and registration of the card/phone was easy.

Once I got it up and running, I’ve had no real problems.  It’s nice to have unlimited talk and text.  Verizon still had me paying for a certain number of messages.  The unlimited data is only unlimited in that you can’t really go over.  That said, if you use over 2.5GB during the month, they will throttle your speed from 4G back to 2G.  Verizon was going to charge me some unreal figure for 4GB to be shared between my phone and my brother’s.  Thank you, no.

The only quirks I’ve had with the service are once I got a text saying I’d hit my 2.5GB @ 4G speed limit and would be throttled the rest of the month when I knew there was NO WAY I was even a little close.  The phone lets me track my data usage and set alarms.  I was only 3 days into the month and I hadn’t streamed anything.  But….my speed never slowed.  I think it was a fluke.  Another time I did get “not connected” error when I opened the web browser, but I hit reload and the page came right up, so it was a non-issue.  Calls have been clear.  I’ve not lost signal–but I’ve not really ventured out of urban areas to test it.

The carrier texts you a few days before the end of your month of service.  I could sign up for auto-renew (which saves a few bucks), or I could pre-pay for a longer period (6 months or a year), but for the moment I’m keeping my options open month to month.  I can re-up online, saving me from actually having to go into a Wal Mart if I don’t want to.  Right now, the monthly bill, with taxes is around $49.

Porting My Number:

I knew at the outset that I really wanted to keep my cell number.  I’ve got it on everything and changing would be a pain in the ass.  You can port the number directly to StraightTalk if you want.  When you go through the initial set up on-line, you can choose to port your old number in.  You’ll need information from your current carrier bill/account to get it done and the change over can take a day or two to happen–don’t wait until a time when you really need the phone to work.

Because of my master plan to experiment with other carriers, I opted to do something a little different.  For $25 you can port your cell number to Google Voice, and then from Google Voice (for free) you can forward that number to whatever numbers you choose.  So I ported my cell number to Google Voice where I could “park” it without having to change over and over.  I set up my new phone on Straight Talk and allowed it to assign a new phone number.  Then I logged into Google Voice and forwarded to that new number.  The downside of this is that outgoing calls and messages from your new phone will appear to come from your new number, rather than your old one.  It may cause initial confusion with friends/family/coworkers.  I warned people it may happen and so far it hasn’t been a problem.

Tentative Conclusion:

Even with the porting cost, and the initial phone outlay, I’m still on to be on the winning side money-wise in 12 months.  If I’d chosen a lower cost phone (and I could have–I splurged a bit on the Nexus), I’d make up the difference sooner.  Still need more strenuous testing on current coverage and more testing on different services/carriers, but I think we’ve got a winner.


Computer Drama Part 2: Chrome Shiny Chrome

I had resisted the idea of the Chromebook when I originally heard of it.  I applaud any alternative operating system just on principle–competition is healthy–but the idea that the thing would be largely useless unless connected to the internet was kind of a deal breaker.  I was going–or planning to go–enough places that didn’t have reliable wireless internet so, yeah. Notsomuch.

But that was a while ago.  My situation–and Chrome’s–has changed.  It was time to revisit this.  So why was I willing to shuck out for what amounts to a low-end laptop that is limited on program choices?

1) I’m not traveling to as many un-wired areas these days.  The original deal-breaker for me has, realistically, become less of an issue.  Unless my parents move someplace more remote than their current location (possible, but not probable at least not if my Mom has any say in it).

2) Chrome has increased what you can do while you are disconnected.  So even if I am someplace where I don’t have wifi, the system isn’t a paperweight.  I can transfer files off my camera and work on text documents.  On assessing my usage these days, that pretty much covers what I need when I’m offline and on the road.

3) I want to play with the new toy.  I’ve never been a bleeding edge adopter, and I’m rarely even in a position to be on the early side of the technology adoption bell curve (I’ve been there once in a blue moon on a software tool, but never a whole system).  Chrome, however, I wanted in on because I held the opinion way back in college that the browser was the great equalizer of systems.  Why were we fucking with porting shit everywhere when you could write so much to run browser-based and then it didn’t matter?  This is the realization of that:  The OS is essentially, just a browser.  How delightfully simple that is.  And how delightfully prophetic I am.

4) I’ve already sold my soul to Google.  I’ve got a Google Nexus cell phone.  I use Gmail for everything.  All my searching goes through Google.  I use Google Docs for 90% of my writing (all the Coffee With’s?  Saved into Google Docs so Kristy and I can share to add our respective contributions).  I schedule my non-work stuff in Google Calendar.  Might as well stay consistent.  Maybe I ought to feel bad about this.  After all, I know they’re building weird data center that’re probably part of some kind of alien cyborg foothold set up, and they are totally responsible for hooking me up with my own personal NSA Analyst (everyone, wave to Olaf), but then I look at the glassy-eyed, slavish fuckers lining up for the latest device from Apple, and realize that if I ought to be ashamed, I’m not alone.

5) If I hate the operating system?  I now known there’s an easy way to run Linux via Crouton, side by side.  If I can run Linux, I can run the Universe (except for the part controlled by Olaf and our new alien cyborg overlords)

6) The price is right.  I can’t get a Windows-based netbook for under $300 like I wanted, but Chromebooks fell right into the price is right range.

So, the general decision made, I shopped around and wound up with a Dell version.  While my opinion of Dell hardware has diminished in recent years, I heard rave reviews from multiple sources on their Chromebook 11.  So, with Ros the desktop continuing to fail a piece at a time, I went for it.  Decision made.  It was time to buy my Chromebook…

Computer Drama: Part 1

My Asus EeePC Netbook (named Inara–all my computers get a name) had a pesky power problem.  For over a year, she has had to be plugged in to operate.  You unplug her and just like unplugging a desktop PC from the wall–she dies.  Even a new battery didn’t help.  This would have been a much bigger deal if I’d been traveling with her more, but those days are over.  She could stay plugged into the wall and still be useful for paying bills while I watched TV in the living room.

But, the problem grew.  Probably owing in part to the multiple uncontrolled shutdowns from accidentally disconnecting the power, her hard drive finally bit the dust.  After 4 years, it was time to let her go.  I’d gotten more than the couple of hundred dollars I spent on her (she was like $250), and she’d literally traveled the world with me, plus I still had the desktop, Rosilyn (yes, I name all my computers–though not always for sci fi characters….)

Rosilyn is even older.  She cost me $400 in 2005 when I had an emergency situation in law school.  Much like President Laura Rosilyn in Battlestar Galactica, she wasn’t really what I ever would have chosen, but she was what I got in a pinch and she’s done a damn fine job.  Unfortunately, Ros has been making funny noises, her DVD burner was acting up and the SD card reader wouldn’t detect cards anymore.  All small enough fixes.  While I’ve wanted to build a PC since college, constraints on time and money have always gotten in the way.  Right now isn’t much different.  So, I picked up $37 in parts (a new CPU fan, a DVD drive and a card reader that plugs into the USB port) to keep her going.

Before I could replace anything, I was going to back up a few documents to a thumb drive.  No big deal.  The thumb drive was a relatively new SanDisk I’d used at least half a dozen times before.  This time, Rosilyn didn’t acknowledge anything had been plugged into her USB.  I reached down after a moment of clicking and trying to get her to make the sound associated with detection of a USB device (because I am a nerd, she plays a .wav from Top Gun “I feel the need, the need for speed!”) and….OUCH!

The thumb drive burned my fingers and I left imprints in the plastic.  Yes.  My computer had, literally, melted my drive. Great.

With XP support going the way of Atlantis, I had planned to change Rosilyn over to Linux (Yay! Ubuntu!) rather than shell out for Windows 8 on old-ass hardware (also new company restrictions mean I can’t use my home machine to log in anymore anyhow so my reason for keeping Windows is gone).  Luckily I got Ubuntu booted from an old CD before Ros totally stopped acknowledging she even has an optical drive (even after I replaced the old drive with the new one, she still denies it–won’t show up in the BIOS or anything).  Once she is booted into Ubutunu, other than the lack of a DVD drive, she runs well enough–but getting her to boot is painful.  I have to trick her into a recovery mode first and then on into the operating system or she’ll just sit there and eventually error out of booting at all (found this out after I shut her down to replace the DVD drive…and then again after I shut her down to replace the CPU fan).  And I’m not risking any more USB plug ins, so I’m leaving my SD card reader aside for now.  I think if I have to shut her down again I’ll never get her re-started.

The Kindle and my cell phone can help to a degree, but, I need a keyboard.  And a browser that doesn’t flake out on forms.

I made the decision to look for another Inara.  It wasn’t ideal.  I really wanted my next machine to be that dream PC I built, but now is not the time.  Surely for under $300, I could get something even better than Inara.  After all, at 4 years old, she was ancient by notebook computer standards, right?

Only I couldn’t.  The netbook form factor was apparently only popular with my family.  There were far fewer choices, and those were higher than what I’d planned to pay.

Except for….

To Be Continued.