Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Android App Roundup

It's been almost 18 months since I've done my last app roundup, and a whole lot has changed since then, so I thought it was time to do another one.  I'll refer you to the previous post to read up on how Android works, the difference between apps and widgets, and other info like that.  For this post, I want to focus on the best apps that I'm currently using or have used recently.  There will be some overlap compared to the previous list, but there are quite a few new entries, too.  Wherever possible, I'll link to free versions so you can try them out without any financial commitment.

  • Action Launcher - I love this launcher!  Up until the past couple weeks, it was my launcher of choice.  Most launchers have essentially the same features, but this one has some genuinely unique capabilities.  The app drawer is hidden on the left side of the screen, so a swipe in from the edge reveals it, even if you're in another app.  It scrolls very quickly, so you can get to every other app on your phone in a hurry.  There's also a "quickdrawer" that is essentially the same thing when you slide in from the right edge of the screen, but you can put whatever you want in it - apps, widgets, contacts, etc.  The other feature I really like about Action Launcher is that it has shutters and covers, which basically give you one-swipe access to widgets (from the app icon) and the dual-functionality of both tapping to start an app and swiping to open a folder from the same app.  That may sound confusing, but hit the link above and watch the sample video.  It's very slick, and makes Action Launcher stand out from the crowd.  There is a free version that lets you try it out, and a paid version which opens up all the features available.
  • Apex and Nova - Two great established launchers, both of which I have used extensively.  Both have lots of customization and offer snappy performance.  You can't go wrong with either one.  Both have free versions you can try out and paid versions to unlock all features.
  • Next Launcher 3D - This is the best 3D launcher in the Google Play store, hands down.  I've tried several, and all of the others are buggy, sluggish, and lack features.  Next, however, is top notch.  It is slightly slower than the other launchers listed here, but offers a gloriously amped up visual interface that cannot be found anywhere else.  The effects are outstanding, and the level of detail is tremendous.  If you like visual bling and whizbang awesomeness, this one is for you; it'll definitely impress the (geeky) chicks at parties.  It's made by the same people who made Go Launcher EX, which was a terrific launcher until they gunked it up with ads and sales pitches for their other products.  Hopefully they won't do the same to Next 3D.  The only catch is that it's gaudily expensive...$17!!!  I would never have purchased it myself, but Amazon has been running a bunch of specials lately where downloading a certain app grants you Amazon coins which can be used for other purchases in the App store, so I actually got it for free.  You can try the full functionality for a few days via the trial version to see if you like it, even if you don't have any Amazon coins.  For a quick look at the visual differences in a "3D" launcher, check out this demo video:

  • Dolphin - In my opinion, this is the best overall browser on Android.  It has a great combination of speed, features, add-ons to increase functionality (like one-tap integration with Dropbox or Pocket), and bookmark/tab synchronization.  I rely particularly heavily on the sync tabs feature, which allows me to open any tab on one device -- whether my laptop at home, my phone, or my Nexus tablet -- and then pull it up on any other device.  The best part?  It's free.
  • Next - This one is made by the same people as Next Launcher 3D.  It's lean, it's fast, and it's simple, though it still packs almost as many add-ons and other functionality as Dolphin.  If it had tab sync, I'd be hard pressed to pick a winner.
  • Chrome, Firefox - I haven't used either of these for months.  I used to use Chrome as my primary Android browser, but a particular update broke the sync functionality, and I couldn't ever restore it.  It's probably fine now, but Dolphin worked seamlessly at the time and has continued working seamlessly, so I stayed with it.
  • chompSMS - This is my messaging app of choice.  It's simple and has a very clean interface, yet it has just enough customization available that you can make it look how you want.  It has some nice features that the basic apps don't (scheduled sending, customized notifications), but none of the bloat that Handcent or Go SMS Pro have.
  • Pushbullet - This is a new one since the last list.  It's another way to talk between various devices, including Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac.  It's dead simple to send a link, a note, or a file from any device to any other, and it's blazing fast, too.  This is a very slick multi-platform way to communicate.
  • Hangouts - If you have Android, you've already got it.  Personally, I find this a necessary evil of using Google.  It works fine, but it's got a dull, kloodgy interface with zero customization, terrible notifications, and little more than basic messaging functionality.  Bleh.
Social Media
  • Talon - This is a pretty good Twitter client.  The interface is very slick, and you can tell the devs went out of their way to create a good visual experience with it.  There are one or two things that could be made simpler, but nothing major.  No free version, unfortunately; I picked this one up with free Amazon coins, too.
  • Carbon - In my opinion, this is one of the two best Twitter clients that are fully functional but still free.  A couple little oddities, but generally pretty simple to use and has a very visually appealing interface.  Unfortunately, if you don't yet have logins through Carbon, you're out of luck - they've hit the Twitter token wall, so no new sign-ups are allowed at this time.
  • Falcon Pro - This is probably my favorite Twitter client of all, so it is with much regret that I only had one login when it hit the token wall.  The dev pulled it from the Google Play store and offered it for free to everyone as a workaround, but in my experience it's been a little wonky in terms of refreshing properly after that.  It's a crying shame, because I think Falcon Pro was not only a visual masterpiece, but the most intuitive Twitter client I've used.
  • Facebook - I confess, I hate Facebook.  No, seriously, I can't stand it.  I tried several third party clients in a desperate attempt to replace it, but none of them were reliable enough or had all the core features in place.  *sigh*  It's a necessary evil.
  • Google+ - Another built-in Google product, this one's actually pretty good.  You may not know it, but Google+ is now the second largest social media platform, and growing fast.  It still runs generally pretty tech-savvy, with lots of developers and tech writers, but more normal people are getting on there, too.  It's pretty slick, and definitely worth a look.
  • GroupMe - This is a pretty recent addition for me, and is a great app for when you have a group of people who need to all stay in touch and in sync.  I wouldn't use it as my primary messaging app, but for its niche purpose it is excellent.
  • CamCard - This is a great little tool for scanning business cards and adding the info to your contacts.  It's a single purpose app, and it works pretty well, especially with simple cards.
  • Network Signal Info - This is a great app for checking out your mobile and wifi network signals.  You can nerd out on lots of terms I don't understand, or just look at the graph of how strong your signal is.  Either way, it can help diagnose connectivity problems.
  • Pocket - This handy little app allows you to save online articles in an offline format for easy reading later.  It also integrates with most browsers, making it that much easier to catch up on any device.
  • Evernote - Naturally.  This is one of the iconic apps of the smartphone world, and for good reason.  At its core it's a note-taking app with sync capabilities, but over time the dev team has put together one of the most, let's call it general data capture apps imaginable.  It's amazing what they've packed into this, and very likely something you'll use, so it's worth your time to check it out.
  • Light Flow - I've been using this one forever to harness control of my notifications.  This app allows you to customize the LED color, sound, and vibrations of almost every other app on your phone.  I usually know what notification I've received before I ever turn on my screen because I use Light Flow.
  • QuickPic - Still my favorite photo manager.  It's reliable, intuitive, and has a lot of functionality that I'll never use because I'm really basic when it comes to pictures and videos.
  • Remote Desktop - This is a relatively new app that allows you to control one device from another using the connectors in the Chrome browser.  It's very seamless, very simple, and it just works.  I like that it doesn't force a different screen resolution on either device; you may have to scroll more, but at least it doesn't mess up anything.
  • SwiftKey and Swype - Two of the oldest and best alternative keyboards for Android devices.  SwiftKey excels at word prediction, but Swype is a little better at correctly interpreting your swiping patterns.  Both are awesome, and I keep going back and forth between them.
  • CircleLauncher - This widget app has only gotten better and better over time.  It allows you to pack a whole lot of shortcuts -- apps, contacts, bookmarks, whatever -- into a very small space.  Lots of options to make it look just how you want and open just how you want.
  • Timely - This is my favorite alarm clock app.  The interface is beautiful, and it syncs between devices so you can have the alarm go off on one or more of them at the same time (or different times, if you prefer).  It's very simple to use, and the only thing I would change about it is that you cannot currently select your own music files as the alarm ringtones.  Otherwise, it's terrific.
  • Ruzzle -An extremely addictive time-killer!  How many words can you form in 120 seconds by dragging your finger around a 4x4 grid?  This game combines the nerdiness of knowing lots of words with the competitiveness that comes only from throwing down with total strangers.  I love it!
  • Words With Friends - The classic word puzzle game.  Still playing it daily...
  • Smash Hit - This is my new favorite game.  Just released in March, it's already had tens of millions of downloads.  It's kind of hard to describe, but you're basically floating through a series of rooms in which you're confronted with glass obstacles.  You shoot metal balls at the glass obstacles to smash them, thus enabling yourself to pass through without contact.  It's an endless scroller, which I generally don't like, but for some reason this one is really, really fun.  Simple enough for kids to play, challenging enough for adults to spend hours on (trust me, I know!).  Give it a try!  Here's a demo video to give you a taste:

  • 1Weather - As with the last update, there are still a bazillion and a half weather apps.  Try a bunch and stick with the one(s) you like best.  My favorite is still 1Weather.
  • HD widgets - This app does way more than weather, but that's my favorite use for it so I'm putting it here.  Great visuals and lots of features and functionality make this one a must have.
  • NOAA - Another excellent weather app, with intuitive forecast and hourly pages.  Most other weather services eventually trace their info back to NOAA, so I figured I might as well start out there.
Cloud Storage
All the usual suspects: I use Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive, as well as some newcomers like Copy, Pogoplug, Tresorit, Bitcasa, and Amazon Cloud Drive.

The big ones remain: Docs to Go and QuickOffice; there are some others starting to pick up speed, like KingSoft Office, OfficeSuite 7 Pro, and Polaris.

I actually haven't seen any significant movement from the last roundup, so I'll just re-post those:
  • Lookout - The best mobile anti-virus and security app on the market, it includes remote location (and locking/wiping for the premium version), backup capability, and other features.
  • Prey - Another great remote location app if your phone ever gets lost/stolen.
  • SeekDroid - Yet another one (really, if your phone gets stolen, can you ever have too many of these hiding around your phone?).
  • WheresMyDroid - (no, no you cannot!)
Root Apps
Having recently upgraded to a new phone, I'm not currently rooted.  However, I would say these are the best of the bunch there:

  • Titanium Backup - This is the biggest name in root apps and backups.  You can backup everything manually or by a schedule, automatically upload your backups to one of several cloud storage services, and perform a dizzying array of other import/export things that I haven't even begun to explore.  It's got loads of functionality that I assume a developer would find incredibly useful, too, all for just a few bucks.
  • Root Explorer - The stock file manager is only allowed access to certain parts of your phone; this one uses root access to get to everything.
  • ROM Toolbox - Another personal favorite is this toolbox.  It is truly a work of art, containing many of the same backup and development functionalities of Titanium Backup; it includes a root browser (like Root Explorer), a complete theme changer, the ability to change your phone's boot animation or individual system icons, numerous performance enhancement tools, an ad blocker...the list is gigantic.  It's an incredible amount of stuff, especially for just $5.
  • Airdroid.  This is my go-to app for transferring files to/from my laptop.  It connects your phone to your computer wirelessly, making it extremely easy to transfer just about anything in either direction using just a standard web browser on your desktop or laptop.  It's a must-have.  Note: this must not be a root-only app, since it works on my current device...not sure what changed, but it's a good thing!
That's all I'm going to put in there for this roundup.  Hopefully it gives you some new toys to play with, but with hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from -- Google Play has now surpassed the Apple App Store -- this really isn't even scratching the surface of the surface.  But, hopefully it'll get you started on some fun new stuff.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier


American Patriot: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns and why?
21 steps. It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.

How long does the Sentinel hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time, and if not, why not?

He does not execute an about face. He stops on the 21st step, then turns and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds. Then he turns to face back down the mat, changes his weapon to the outside shoulder, counts 21 seconds, then steps off for another 21 step walk down the mat. He faces the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until he is relieved at the Guard Change.

Why are his gloves wet?

His gloves are moistened to improve his grip on the rifle.

How often are the guards changed?

The Guard is changed every thirty minutes during the summer (April 1 to Sep 30) and every hour during the winter (Oct 1 to Mar 31). During the hours the cemetery is closed, the guard is changed every 2 hours. The Tomb is guarded, and has been guarded, every minute of every day since 1937.

Is it true they must commit 2 years of life to guard the Tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives.

No, this is a false rumor. The average tour at the Tomb is about a year. There is NO set time for service there. The Sentinels live either in a barracks on Ft. Myer (the Army post located adjacent to the cemetery) or off base if they like. They do have living quarters under the steps of the amphitheater where they stay during their 24 hour shifts, but when they are off, they are off. And if they are of legal age, they may drink anything they like, except while on duty.

Is it true they cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives?

Again, another false rumor.

Is it true after two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as Guard of the Tomb, that there are only 400 presently worn, and that the Guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin?

The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is awarded after the Sentinel passes a series of tests. The Badge is permanently awarded after a Sentinel has served 9 months as a Sentinel at the Tomb. Over 500 have been awarded since its creation in the late 1950's. And while the Badge can be revoked, the offense must be such that it discredits the Tomb. Revocation is at the Regimental Commanderís discretion. But you can drink a beer and even swear and still keep the Badge. The Badge is a full size award, worn on the right pocket of the uniform jacket, not a lapel pin.
Are the shoes specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet?

The shoes are standard issue military dress shoes. They are built up so the sole and heel are equal in height. This allows the Sentinel to stand so that his back is straight and perpendicular to the ground. A side effect of this is that the Sentinel can "roll" on the outside of the build up as he walks down the mat. This allows him to move in a fluid fashion. If he does this correctly, his hat and bayonet will appear to not "bob" up and down with each step. It gives him a more formal and smooth look to his walk, rather than a "marching" appearance.

The soles have a steel tip on the toe and a "horseshoe" steel plate on the heel. This prevents wear on the sole and allows the Sentinel to move smoothly during his movements when he turns to face the Tomb and then back down the mat.

Then there is the "clicker". It is a shank of steel attached to the inside of the face of the heel build-up on each shoe. It allows the Sentinel to click his heels during certain movements. If a guard change is really hot, it is called a "smoker" because all the heel clicks fall together and sound like one click. In fact, the guard change is occasionally done in the "silent" mode (as a sign of devotion to the Unknowns"). No voice commands - every thing is done in relation to the heel clicks and on specific counts.

How many times will a Soldier be on duty during the shift?

Each Relief (team) has a rotation during the 24 hour work day. This rotation is dependent on the number of Soldier-Sentinels who are proficient enough to guard the Tomb. The standard is 3-4 qualified Sentinels, 1-2 Relief Commander/Assistant Relief Commander, and 1-2 Sentinels in training. Generally, the Sentinel will be on guard duty for a tour and have two tours off in between - then go out for another tour. However, in extreme cases, Sentinels have been known to go back-to-back for the entire 24 hour shift.

Information from Society of the Honor Guard - Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Memorial Day

Patriot Post:
"I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States." --John Adams
Memorial Day provides a stark contrast between the best of our nation's Patriot sons and daughters versus the worst of our nation's civilian culture of consumption.
Amid the sparse, reverent observances of the sacrifices made by millions of American Patriots who paid the full price for Liberty, in keeping with their sacred oaths, we are inundated at every turn with the commercialization of Memorial Day by vendors who are too ignorant and/or selfish to honor this day in accordance with its purpose.
Indeed, Memorial Day has been sold out, along with Washington's Birthday, Independence Day, Veterans, Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. And it's no wonder, as government schools no longer teach civics or any meaningful history, and courts have excluded God (officially) from the public square.
In his essay "The Contest In America," 19th-century libertarian philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
It is that "decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling" which accounts for why so many "miserable creatures" have downgraded Memorial Day to nothing more than a date to exploit for commercial greed and avarice. While units large and small of America's Armed Forces stand in harm's way around the globe, many Americans are too preoccupied with beer, barbecue and baseball to pause and recognize the priceless burden borne by generations of our uniformed Patriots. Likewise, many politicos will use Memorial Day as a soapbox to feign Patriotism, while in reality they are in constant violation of their oaths to our Constitution.
That notwithstanding, there are still tens of millions of genuine American Patriots who will set aside the last Monday in May to honor all those fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen who have refreshed the Tree of Liberty with their blood, indeed with their lives, so that we might remain the proud and free. My family, which humbly descends from generations of American Patriots from the American Revolution forward, will honor the service and sacrifice of our nation's fallen warriors by offering prayer in thanksgiving for the legacy of Liberty they have bequeathed to us, and by participating in respectful commemorations.
Since the opening salvos of the American Revolution, nearly 1.2 million American Patriots have died in defense of Liberty. Additionally, 1.4 million have been wounded in combat, and tens of millions more have served honorably, surviving without physical wounds. These numbers, of course, offer no reckoning of the inestimable value of their service or the sacrifices borne by their families, but we do know that the value of Liberty extended to their posterity -- to us -- is priceless.
Who were these brave souls?
On 12 May 1962, Gen. Douglas MacArthur addressed the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, delivering his farewell speech, "Duty, Honor and Country." He described the legions of uniformed American Patriots as follows: "Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man at arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefields many, many years ago and has never changed. I regarded him then, as I regard him now, as one of the world's noblest figures -- not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless."
Gen. MacArthur continued:
His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me, or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast.
But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.
In twenty campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people.
From one end of the world to the other, he has drained deep the chalice of courage. As I listened to those songs of the glee club, in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs on many a weary march, from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle deep through mire of shell-pocked roads; to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.
Duty. Honor. Country -- these are not for bargain sale or discount.
On Memorial Day of 1982, President Ronald Reagan offered these words in honor of Patriots interred at Arlington National Cemetery: "I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. Yet, we must try to honor them not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice."
President Reagan continued:
Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we -- in a less final, less heroic way -- be willing to give of ourselves.
It is this, beyond the controversy and the congressional debate, beyond the blizzard of budget numbers and the complexity of modern weapons systems, that motivates us in our search for security and peace. ... The willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery.
One gets that feeling here on this hallowed ground, and I have known that same poignant feeling as I looked out across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David in Europe, in the Philippines, and the military cemeteries here in our own land. Each one marks the resting place of an American hero and, in my lifetime, the heroes of World War I, the Doughboys, the GIs of World War II or Korea or Vietnam. They span several generations of young Americans, all different and yet all alike, like the markers above their resting places, all alike in a truly meaningful way.
As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. ... I can't claim to know the words of all the national anthems in the world, but I don't know of any other that ends with a question and a challenge as ours does: "O! say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?" That is what we must all ask.
For the Fallen, we are certain of that which is noted on all Marine Corps Honorable Discharge orders: "Fideli Certa Merces" -- to the faithful there is certain reward.
Thomas Jefferson offered this enduring advice to all generations of Patriots: "Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them."
We owe a great debt of gratitude to all those generations who have passed the Torch of Liberty to succeeding generations. In accordance, I humbly ask that each of you call upon all those around you to observe Memorial Day with reverence.
To prepare hearts and minds for Memorial Day, take a moment and read about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Join with other Patriots across the nation who will be placing flags at headstones in your local military cemetery (generally the Saturday prior to Memorial Day).
"What do you think of when you see a little American flags in front of a grave marker? Let me tell you a story about one little flag. As a fighter pilot on my 93rd mission over North Vietnam, my F-105 was hit by an air-to-air missile and my Electronic Warfare Officer Harold Johnson and I, were forced to eject. After unsuccessful rescue attempts, we were captured by enemy forces and imprisoned in the infamous 'Hanoi Hilton' for the next six years. One day in our sixth year of imprisonment, a young Navy pilot named Mike Campbell found a piece of cloth in a gutter. After we collected some other small rags, he worked secretly at night to piece them together into a flag. He made red from ground-up roof tiles and blue from tiny amounts of ink, then used rice glue to paste the colors onto the rags. Using thread from his blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed the pieces together, adding white fragments for stars. One morning he whispered from the back of our cell, 'Hey gang, look here,' and proudly held up that tattered American flag, waving it as if in a breeze. We all snapped to attention and saluted – with tears in our eyes. A week later, the guards were searching our cells and found Mike's flag. That night they pulled him out of the cell and, for his simple gesture of patriotism, they tortured him. At daylight they pushed what was left of Mike back through the cell door. Today, whenever I see our flag, I think of Mike and the morning he first waved that tattered emblem of our great nation. It was then, thousands of miles from home, imprisoned by a brutal enemy, that he courageously demonstrated the liberty it represents, and that is what I see in every American flag today."
Col. Leo K. Thorsness (USAF Ret.), Medal of Honor for actions over Vietnam, April 19, 1967 POW, Vietnam (1967-1973)
In honor of American Patriots who have died in defense of our great nation, lower your flag to half-staff from sunrise to 1200 on Monday. (Read about proper flag etiquette and protocol.) Join us by observing a time of silence at 1500 (your local time), for remembrance and prayer. Offer a personal word of gratitude and comfort to any surviving family members you know who are grieving for a beloved warrior fallen in battle.
On this and every day, please pray for our Patriot Armed Forces now standing in harm's way around the world in defense of our liberty, and for the families awaiting their safe return.
"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." --John 15:12-14

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Photoshop Manufacturers Models

It's really no secret that Photoshop is often used to tidy up pictures of models used in advertisements, but to see the process fast-forwarded from start to finish is still pretty astounding.  Hit the link to watch an animated gif and a video of an underwear model getting the Photoshop treatment.  It's borderline NSFW, but still fascinating to watch the literal transformation - she's literally a different girl at the end!  For a safer version of the same kind of process, check out this video of a high-end watch:

Who knew watches needed this much touching up?  It's pretty amazing what can be done with technology these days.  It's also pretty amazing the lengths to which companies will go to make their ads look as good as possible!

On a completely unrelated note, I thought this was interesting:
According to researchers cited by Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge, three verbal cues give bald-faced liars away. ...

1. Verbosity

The first tell was simply that the liars tended to use a lot more words to make their points than the truth-tellers did.

"Just like Pinocchio's nose, the number of words grew along with the lie," says Van Swol. The only caveat here is that people who deceived simply by omitting facts, rather than offering untrue ones, also tended to use fewer words. So don't consider this tell foolproof.
2. Profanity

It turns out that people who swear more often tend to lie more often, too. In the study, this was even more pronounced after the receiving player challenged them.

"We think this may be due to the fact that it takes a lot of cognitive energy to lie," Van Swol says. "Using so much of your brain to lie may make it hard to monitor yourself in other areas."
3. Projection

The final major tell was that liars tended to use third-person pronouns more often ("he," "she," and "they"), presumably instead of making offers and justifications in the first person ("me" or "I").

"This is a way of distancing themselves from and avoiding ownership of the lie," Van Swol explains. Liars also used more complex sentence structure.

Hm, good to know...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A 6 Year Old Kid Rocks The Yo-Yo

Wow!  I can barely get the stupid yo-yo to come back up most of the time...this is amazing!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

11 Times Athletes Did Awesome Things

I love awesome stuff like this, where Mental Floss details real stories of real athletes making a real difference.  Check out the link for all of the good stuff, but here are my favorites:

Chris Seitz
In 2008, MLS goalie Chris Seitz—along with the rest of his then teammates at Real Salt Lake—registered to become bone marrow donors as a show of solidarity for his teammate Andy Williams' wife, Marcia, who was battling leukemia. Four years later, while playing for FC Dallas, Seitz got an email—he was a match for a dying patient. Would he be willing to donate bone marrow?
The 25-year-old talked to team officials and doctors about the procedure. It was an invasive surgery, requiring doctors to poke two holes in his lower back, then fish 32 needles through each of those holes to remove fresh marrow from the core of Seitz's bones. Recovery typically isn't too arduous, but no one knew for sure how it would impact Seitz's athletic career, which often requires him to fall on the very bones that would be affected.

Seitz opted to go through with the procedure, even though he ended up missing the rest of the soccer season.
Adreian Payne
Adreian Payne was one of several Spartans who visited 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth in the hospital while she was battling cancer, but he developed a particularly close friendship with the third grader. The Michigan State basketball player called her his "sister," and brought her on the court during senior day and the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. She came with him to the end-of-year banquet and cheered him on in the Slam Dunk contest. Even when Lacey couldn't make it to the games, the two texted daily.

Three days after Lacey succumbed to the neuroblastoma, Payne attended the John R. Wooden Award gala where he was awarded the first Outreach Award. "She wouldn't want me to be sad," Payne said during his acceptance speech. "It's hard."

Lamarr Woodley
When the Steelers linebacker learned that the Saginaw Public Schools in his Michigan hometown were charging a $75 fee for students to participate in sports, he reached out with an amazing offer. Because of the fees—which were designed to make up for budget cuts to the athletic department—the school reported decreased participation in sports. But to ensure the costs wouldn't fall on the kids and their families, Woodley donated $60,000 to cover every student-athlete in the district.

“Because of this, kids will have an opportunity to participate, an opportunity to be part of a team. People don’t understand how important that is," said Saginaw High athletic director Dan Szatkowski.
Josh Zuchowski
"I have looked up to you since I was seven," Josh Zuchowski wrote in a letter to his friend and rival, Reese Branzell. Of course, the two competitive swimmers are just nine and 10 years old, respectively, but it's still touching.

The occasion for the praise came last December, when Josh noticed Reese missing from a meet. The older boy had been hospitalized since November with a hip infection that left him unable to compete. Josh told his parents that if he won that day, he would send his trophy to Reese—and went on to do just that. "I would rather get second with you at the meet, then win with you absent," the note said.
They're all good, so go hit the link.  It's stuff like this that makes you believe there are a lot of good folks around, doing the right things for the right reasons.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Driving Fast And BEST...WIFE...EVER!!!

Richard Petty Driving Experience

One of Lindsey's many talents is that of giving gifts to those around her.  This year, there were the usual delicious special meals and eating out and fun things, but for the big gift she outdid herself this year.

 I'm not at all a fan of NASCAR (though I'm much more favorably disposed toward it now!), but I do love thrill rides, roller coasters, and such, so she thought I might enjoy this.

She was oh so right!

It started with a briefing and some videos talking about how to follow the various markers on the track, when to speed up and slow down, and how to stay on target as we drove around the track for a fast and enjoyable ride.  Family and friends were able to share in the briefing with all of the drivers (there were about 25 in my group), so they got to see and learn everything we did.  These cars weren't the same ones used in the actual NASCAR races, but they were pretty close - any differences boiled down to making it easier/possible for untrained newbies like myself to drive them, like a much softer clutch.  Then they gave us uniforms and fitted us for helmets.

After the training videos and Q&A session, we put on our uniforms and went outside to take pictures (the confetti is left over from Jeff Gordon winning the 5-Hour Energy 400 last night).

Then we went down to the pit road area and waited for our turn to be called.  Family and friends were in the section right next to us, so they were very close for some good photo ops.  I was lucky enough to be the first driver called up, and was paired with a trainer named Bill Bruce.  We were connected to our trainer via our helmets and microphones throughout the drive, and despite the loud cars it was easy to communicate with him.  The trainers were experienced race care drivers who would guide us throughout our drive from the passenger seat.  They strapped the helmet and hans brace (the thingy that keeps your neck in place) onto me, and I slid into the car through the window.  It was surprisingly easy getting in, even for someone of my *ahem* size.  Getting out was another matter, and I'm not going to post that video for obvious reasons.  :)


After that, it was time to drive!  They waved us onto the track one at a time:

I got a total of 8 laps, but the first one was a warm-up lap where I got onto the track and got used to things, and the last one was a cool-down lap where we came back into the pit road, so only six laps really counted.  Here are a couple of the laps in the middle:

They gave us a printout of our stats afterward.  Here are my numbers:

Lap Time        AVG MPH        Top Speed
62:47            86.44              106
61:67            87.57              108
52:25            99.54              120
51:01            105.85            126
51:89            104.06            124
53:86            100.25            120

I had to slow down a bit on the last lap because we were catching up to the guy in front of me and Bill didn't want me to get too close.  Bummer.

I have no idea how 126mph compares with the other drivers, but I can assure you it felt much faster than it looks in those videos!  Those cars were 650hp beasts, and it seemed like even my top speed wasn't really pushing it all that hard.  I was only unnerved at one point, when I was decelerating into a turn after coming out of a fast straightaway - it felt like when you're cornering hard in a normal car, and you start to get that feeling like it might tip over.  But, Bill was apparently unconcerned, and it seems unlikely that at the relatively low speeds I was going that anything bad would have actually happened.  I think I did a very good job of staying between the markers on the track (I'm pretty sure I nailed all of them, actually) and was thus able to make up time on the guy in front of me.  It was a pretty surreal experience to come rocketing out of the turn into a long straightaway and move up close to the wall, just like you see in the movies.  Pure, unadulterated awesome sauce.

So, the nominations for Best Wife of the Year award can close now.  It's done, the voting is over, and the award can be given out now.

Best. Wife. Ever.

Fortunately, I wasn't the only one to get in on the fun:


It was a ton of fun, and I would absolutely do it again.  Loved it!!!