Sunday, October 23, 2016

Strangest Event of my Weekend

I spent yesterday at the Gainesville Pride festival doing several things -- my church had a booth, as did "a community group for Transgender or Gender non-conforming individuals, or family/friends of such people who would like to be supportive in their loved ones' journeys" that Amelia and Tamara helped found and are active with, and then I ran across Russ Wood staffing a Libertarian Party booth all by his lonesome and spent a couple of hours helping out with that (yes, you read it here first -- I campaigned for Johnson/Weld after all).

So anyway, at some point I was standing around eating after visiting one of the food tents and I saw a woman who looked familiar. I was sure it couldn't possibly be her; for one thing, she actually looked younger in person than on television or in photographs ... but several people stopped her and got their pictures taken with her, so maybe it was.

So I finished my food and waited until she walked past, and asked "excuse me, ma'am, are you ...?"

She is.

So now I've met the first person whose full name pops up when I type the word "Debbie" into Bing. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone before whose first name makes her a top search result.

Friday, October 21, 2016

App Review: Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock

I don't buy a lot of apps for my Android phone. In fact, the only money I spend on apps comes from Google Opinion Rewards (a "free" app which adds money to your Google Play account in return for filling out surveys -- in other words, for making myself a more marketable product for Google to sell to advertisers). I've so far spent the princely sum of $2.98 on Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock -- 99 cents for the app itself and $1.99 for a one-year subscription to the related web-based service SleepSecure, which maintains more statistics than the basic app (even though SleepSecure is web-based, it's purchased through Google Play as an "in-app purchase").

Damned if I'm going to spend three bucks on something and not get a blog post out of it. I'm happy to report that this is a positive review (and not an affiliate commission kind of thing -- they're not paying me, I paid them). There's a lot to be said for this app (which you Apple lovers will be happy to know is also available for iOS -- here's the company web site so you can pick your poison). The app really has three features, one of them so far as I can tell completely unmentioned in the developer's promotional language but very important to me personally.

Feature Number 1: It tracks sleep cycles and rates your sleep quality.

How does it do this? Through your phone's accelerometer. That's the gizmo that detects the device's orientation and is also sensitive to motion (other apps use it to let a phone act as a pedometer and so forth). The iPhone version of the app, but not the Android version (yet) can optionally use the microphone instead of the accelerometer. People to tend to move more or less frequently and more or less actively depending on how deeply they're sleeping. You place the phone near your head (under the bed sheet but NOT under a pillow or anything else that would substantially hold in heat that builds up) before going to bed (there's a test mechanism you can invoke to make sure it is detecting motion; if not, place it differently). After each sleep the app produces a graph showing your state of wakefulness/sleep over the duration of the sleep. The optional SleepSecure subscription keeps stats for longer and offers more analysis of the data the app gathers. No,  I can't speak to how accurate or scientific all that is. But anecdotally, when I do remember waking up during the night, the app does seem to reflect that fact and the timeframe correctly in its overnight graph. And it also seems to reflect, in its "sleep quality" report, whether I got a good night's sleep or a crappy night's sleep.

Feature Number 2: It's an alarm clock. Belay that -- it's a GREAT alarm clock.

Instead of just telling Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock what time to wake you up, you can choose a range of time in which to wake up leading up to the final time. For example, I get up by 4:30am each day, and I have the range set to any time in the 30 minutes prior. The app looks at my sleep state and picks a time within that range when it judges me closest to wakefulness already, so that it's not startling me to groggy wakefulness from deep sleep if it's possible to avoid doing so.

It starts off with a gentle, user-chosen tone and gets louder over time. If I want to "snooze" I just touch the phone instead of having to hunt for a button -- and there's a setting for set snooze time or "smart snooze." In the latter mode (which is the one I use) it tries to figure out the NEXT optimum time, within a reasonable range, to start trying to wake me. From my viewpoint, this feature alone is worth the cost of the app. My previous alarm clock was my "digital assistant" beeping at me and urgently telling me to "wake up!" Annoying, even though I chose that assistant's usually pleasant female voice. Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock is much less discombobulating.

Feature Number 3: This is the undocumented one. The app makes sure I don't forget to charge my phone overnight.

Maybe it's because I'm just still not used to being a smart phone user yet, but I've had a bad habit of going to bed and waking up the next morning to find that my phone is nearly drained because I didn't think to put it on the charger overnight after a full day of (to one degree or another use). Which means that if I need to use the phone for anything, especially if that means taking it somewhere with me, I have to plug it in and wait.

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock may work without the phone being plugged in to the charger. I don't know because I haven't tried it that way. The instructions say to connect it to the charger before going to bed. So I moved the charger to the outlet behind my bed. When I set my alarm clock, I am also charging my phone as a side effect. Each morning I wake up with a fully charged phone. Once again, that's an effect that's well worth the 99 cent app price to me.

A sort of sub-feature that's in between the cycle detector and the alarm clock functions: The user can use a "sleep aid sound" -- 13 options ranging from ocean waves to rain to wind to white noise, I use "medium wind" -- as a lullaby. The sound can be set to fade out "intelligently" (that is, when the app decides you're asleep), or to run for a certain amount of time, or even all night. Pretty sweet in my opinion.

If you want to use your smart phone as your alarm clock (that seems like a reasonable thing to do -- why have a separate device?), and if you want an app to analyze your sleep so that you can experiment with ways to routinely get a better night, and if you want to never worry about forgetting to charge your phone overnight again, Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock is 99 cents (or $2.98 with the useful add-on) well spent.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why @WalMart Should Expedite Site-to-Store Shipping on Order #5651664374344

Because I'm just a wee bit miffed and it would make me very happy, that's why.

When last I wrote on the continuing saga of the $80 bike, the sequence had been the following:

1) I ordered the bike at

2) I contacted the store to find out what I had to do to have it assembled at the store; I was told that that request had to be made at the time of pickup, which of course would inevitably add one or more days to the process.

3) Tamara stopped by to make that request when we received notice the bike had arrived. She was told there would be a phone call when the bike was assembled. Several days later, I finally called the store to find out when it would be done. Oh! It's been assembled for a while now, didn't anyone call you?

4) Waited at the site-to-store desk for close to half an hour for someone to get there with a key so I could FINALLY get the bike. With nearly flat tires. Guy assured me that they couldn't be aired up any more or they would explode. When I got them to a nearby gas station air pump, the front tire had 14 pounds of air and the rear tire had 24. They were rated for 50. By this time it was dark and I had to stop at a dollar store to find lights so I could ride the bike home.

Interlude: Nice bike. Love this bike. Really nice bike. Lots of bike for $80. Huzzah.

Back to business:

5) Bike starts displaying defect after less than 100 miles -- left crank arm keeps loosening.

6) I call to invoke the extended protection plan I bought (if I even need that -- I've had the bike for a couple of weeks). I'm told to return the bike directly to the store for repair.

7) I return the bike directly to the store for repair. I'm told they'll call in a couple of days when it's fixed. After a couple of days, I do call. No word. The next day I am in Wal-Mart anyway so I stop at the service desk to ask about it. No word.

8) SIX DAYS after I dropped the bike off, Wal-Mart finally calls. Not to tell me the bike is fixed. To tell me they can't fix it.

9) So today I go in to get things straight. The easiest way through this is just to refund my money, which gets done after about half an hour of people trying to figure out what to do (my impression was that this was not their fault -- it's a new Wal-Mart with lots of new people and they just don't have their interdepartmental communications shit together yet).

10) I come home with the Wal-Mart gift card representing the refund and re-order the same bike and the same extended protection plan.

And according to it's going to take two weeks for the bike to get to the store. After which, if things go as they've been going, another 2-5 days to get it assembled.

I don't want to wait 2-3 weeks for a bike I have now bought twice. Just sayin', I'm not getting any younger here ...

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