Did you see the big announcement from Brightline this week?
"We will launch introductory service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale the week of January 8, 2018."
Hard to believe it's finally happening. I can only imagine the excitement and anticipation level of all the Brightline employees, planners, executives and investors who have worked so long and hard to make it a reality.
Floridians should be excited, too. We'll enjoy a state-of-the-art transportation option that will eventually run from Miami into the airport at Orlando. True mass transit with all the niceties. Here is a video we shot during a preview tour we took last year:
While ticket prices haven't been announced, it promises to be competitive with other modes of transportation.
For us personally, it's great news. For the simple reason we love trains and train travel.
Twenty years ago, we took our first train vacation on Amtrak. Typically, we decided to go big or not at all. Our route took us from Fort Worth to Chicago, Chicago to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Seattle, Seattle to Chicago, and back home to Texas. A total of 11 days and almost 9,000 miles. And we loved it. We were totally hooked.
Since we moved to Florida, we have become regulars on Amtrak's Silver Meteor that runs from West Palm to New York. (Read more about it here). With the launch of Brightline, we'll have more reasons to heed the call of "All Aboard." We can't wait.
Do you know how bitcoins work? If so, please explain it to me.
Wikipedia knows what bitcoins are:
"Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system. It is the first decentralized digital currency, as the system works without a central bank or single administrator. The network is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly through the use of cryptography, without an intermediary. These transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Bitcoin was invented by an unknown person or group of people under the name Satoshi Nakamoto and released as open-source software in 2009."
Okay, that was about as clear as mud. It goes on:
"Bitcoins are created as a reward for a process known as mining. They can be exchanged for other currencies, products, and services. As of February 2015, over 100,000 merchants and vendors accepted bitcoin as payment. Research produced by the University of Cambridge estimates that in 2017, there are 2.9 to 5.8 million unique users using a cryptocurrency wallet, most of them using bitcoin."
It must be just me. If there are upwards of five million people using bitcoins or something like it, I have to be the dumb one in the room.
To be honest, other than spending or making it, I don't give money a lot of thought. Wading into the weeds to learn how the "money sausage" is made and what makes a dollar worth a dollar can only lead to madness.
I do recall in school we were taught about the "gold standard," when money was backed by gold reserves. (How they determined the value of gold is a whole different kettle of fish. ) And dollar bills used to be "silver certificates," eligible to be traded for the equivalent amount of silver.
Of course, both have long since been abandoned, replaced by ... what? The answer, according to some, is "faith." We believe a dollar is worth a dollar, so belief becomes reality. If enough of us stopped believing that, the whole system might collapse and send us back to trading ears of corn for a pair of moccasins.
Now we have bitcoin, the "cryptocurrency" not tied to any nation; virtual money, as it were, to buy real goods and services. And the value of one bitcoin has skyrocketed. Did you see the recent story about former Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden? He is apparently in a dispute with his former financial advisor over a soured bitcoin investment involving $3 million. The story claims if the $3 million had been used to purchase bitcoins, it would today be worth $237 million. Not a bad return.
Time will tell if bitcoins are just a flash in the virtual pan or how in the future we'll conduct business on an everyday basis. Either way, just don't ask me to explain it.
It's that Great American Tradition when, driven by wanderlust, a sense of new adventures or just plain boredom, we load as many of our worldly possessions as will fit or can be crammed into our vehicles and take off for parts both known and unknown. Inevitably, before going five miles, we strike our foreheads and say an expletive, remembering an item of great necessity we forgot to pack. And so it begins.
And here we are ... road tripping our way to Texas to see family and friends. Yes, we could hop on an airplane and be there in two hours (with an additional four hours or more of airport parking, security lines and the dreaded delays). But why fly when you can enjoy seeing all the wonders of our Great Country up close and personal, especially parked in front of a sign saying "Road Work Next 117.2 Miles."
But I digress.
For Pam and I, we find it's the simple pleasures that are the best. And one of our guilty pleasures is definitely Raising Cane's Chicken. Along with the chicken, we especially love their dipping sauce and Texas toast. Their franchises haven't reached South Florida as yet, so we make it a point to scout them out as we head westward.
For entertainment, there's the commercial-free music stations on satellite radio, along with a handful of audio books we got from the North Palm Beach Library. The miles go zipping by, especially in parts of Louisiana and Texas, where the speed limit is 75. (There are toll roads in Texas where the posted limit is 85, BTW).
So here we are spending Thanksgiving with our Texas family. And right on cue, a cold front has blown in, dropping nighttime temps into the upper 30s and low 40s. After a decade in Florida, we hardly own a sweater anymore. So along with a road trip, that means a shopping trip. No matter. The house here has a big fireplace and a stack of wood outside.
With the warmth of family and friends at hand, we already have much to be thankful for.
Being an English major, and a general word geek, I always like discovering a new word. My new word for this week is "Nomophobia."
What is nomophobia? Basically, the fear of not having your cell phone. Short for "no-mobile-phone phobia" (although some argue it is more an anxiety than a true phobia).
Whether you have a weak signal, are out of range, a low battery or just plain left it at home. Any of those things could trigger a raging bout of nomophobia.
According to Wikipedia, the term "was coined during a 2008 study by the UK Post Office who commissioned YouGov, a UK-based research organization evaluating anxieties suffered by mobile phone users. The study found that nearly 53% of mobile phone users in Britain tend to be anxious when they "lose their mobile phone, run out of battery or credit, or have no network coverage". The study, sampled 2,163 people, found that about 58% of men and 47% of women suffer from the phobia, and an additional 9% feel stressed when their mobile phones are off. 55% of those surveyed cited keeping in touch with friends or family as the main reason that they got anxious when they could not use their mobile phones."
The study also equated the stress of doing without a mobile phone and a trip to the dentist.
Personally, I think anyone who has used a cell phone for any length of time has experienced some degree of nomophobia at one time or another. If you suddenly remember you left your cell phone at home, you'll drive 10 miles to go back and get it. How many times a day do you reach for your pocket or purse to make sure it's still there? Keys, driver's license, cell phone -- all things you keep on your person at all times.
And considering how the cost of smartphones continues to climb (now at $1,000 for the new iPhone X), it just makes the stress that much greater.
Just thinking about that makes my own nomophobia kick in.
Dept. of Pet Peeves: Movie Theater Seating.
Have you taken a break from Amazon and Netflix to go to the movies lately? While there's still something special about the big screen and sharing the experience, many movie theaters have started adopting a new seating policy that we really don't like: Assigned seating.
Normally, that's a good thing when attending an event, like a concert or a Broadway play. But when you go to a weekday matinee and you and maybe two other couples are the only ones in the theater ... it seems pretty silly.
Not only that, but also:
And what exactly is the point? Maybe so advance ticket buyers can secure their seat ahead of time? I guess.
With all the advances made, from super wide screens to Barcalounger seats, there is still something to be said for the drive-in movie, where your choice of seats was "front" or "back."
We hear about it, read about it and see it reported about on a pretty much continual basis since the 2016 election. As polls continue to show, the credibility of the media has plummetted. Americans are increasingly questioning the validity of the information streaming on their mobile devices and elsewhere. As a lifelong journalist, it's a sad state of affairs.
But we should have seen it coming. Just as soon as the Internet hung its "Open for Business" sign, it was inevitable. The great thing that suddenly anyone could be a publisher was also the scariest thing. Who to believe -- Facebook or The Washington Post? The bloggers in the basement or the reporters in the newsrooms?
Full disclosure, I contributed to the problem long before it was recognized as a problem. Back -- way back -- when I served as a reporter and co-editor of my high school newspaper, "The Poly Parakeet," we hatched the idea of producing an April Fool's edition.
For my part, I concocted a story that the senior rings would be delivered a little differently. All the rings would be brought by truck, which would proceed to dump them out at the main entrance to Poly High School. Students would have to claim their rings by looking at the initials engraved on the inside.
Much to my surprise, not all students found it funny. One girl came to the student newspaper office crying, saying, "I'll never find my ring!!"
I called it satire; today it would be called fake news.
Even now, people still mistake satire (like what The Onion publishes) for news, regardless of how it's labeled or presented. It's just human nature: People will always believe what they want to believe. Like the earth is really flat and dinosaurs roamed the planet until a few thousand years ago.
There is a new report just out from the Pew Research Center that takes an extensive look at the issue via a bevy of experts. "The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online" notes: "Experts are evenly split on whether the coming decade will see a reduction in false and misleading narratives online. Those forecasting improvement place their hopes in technological fixes and in societal solutions. Others think the dark side of human nature is aided more than stifled by technology."
Not exactly reassuring. Gone are the days when we could turn on our TVs and let Walter Cronkite or John Chancellor come into our living rooms and tell it like it is. They had our trust. Who are we going to trust today not to give us fake news? That's the big question, isn't it?
So I am sitting in hospital room visiting Ann’s brother when an old cowboy TV show comes on the tube. Made me think about your story on favorite TV Series theme music. I had to go back and read your story. I am shocked. 'Rifleman' doesn’t even get honorable mention. I have never fired any type of gun but, boy, when I hear the 'Rifleman' song I want to grab a rifle and do the one arm, wrist cock rifle load like Lucas McCain. Maybe even do a running jump onto a horse and ride off into the sunset. Ok Gerry. Back to my reading the newspaper for now." -- Marty
Marty, what was I thinking? "The Rifleman" is a classic Western for sure! Let's return to the Old West and watch Connors fire away once again ...
Now a question. They made a few changes in the opening for the fifth season of the series. Like this better?
While we're talking about Chuck Connors, do you remember his other Western series, "Branded"? It even made its way into that classic movie, "The Big Lebowski."
But before we leave the Western genre, I have to mention the all-time classic theme, in my opinion. What do you think about this one, Marty?
Hard as it is to believe, but the holidays are almost upon us. And it's not too early to start thinking about what am I going to get Pam for Christmas.
This year, I may be in luck. The Neiman Marcus Christmas Book is out, and one of their 2017 "Fantasy Gifts" is offered for "The bubbliest personality you know."
Not only is Pam's personality bubbly, but also her taste in wine. She loves her champagne. Everything from a special occasion Dom to Veuve Clicquot to Costco Kirkland. And this gift is all about champagne.
Neiman's describes it this way:
"Kick things off with a first-class trip for four to Paris and a stay at Rosewood's Hotel de Craton with a 12-course dinner at L'Ecrin. Next, a private car will take you to meet with the 13th-generation wine-growing family behind Armand de Brignac. Tend the vineyards, sample the reserves, stroll the private cellar, and help finish your own cuvee. End the day with a helicopter flyover of Champagne's villages and vineyards. Then. spend the night at Domaine Les Crayeres, a majestic chateau, with a dinner at the three-Michelin-star L'Assiette Champenoise before enjoying Paris for one more glorious day and night. The fun doesn't end there. Delivered to your door: 12 bottles of each of the five Armand de Brignac to savor until your bespoke bottles are ready. And when the time comes, 24 bottles of the personally finished cuvee, each inscribed with the giftee's name."
Pretty spectacular, right? But probably not cheap, right?
Right. It's "only" $150,000.
Got to sign off now, and head for Costco.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a lot of funny observations on how men and women use TV remote controls. Among them: "Men don't care what's on TV, they just want to know what else is on."
It's true. We are the hunters, even when it comes to watching TV. Flip, flip, flip. No attention span, whatsoever. Guilty as charged.
All that aside, just how great an invention was the remote control? It's right up there with cup holders and Cheese Whiz. Some guy in the Fifties got tired of getting up and down to change the channel and as they say, the rest is history.
Speaking of history, the very first TV remote is credited to the Zenith Corp., who named it, appropriately enough, "Lazy Bones." It was attached to the TV via a long wire. A few years later, Zenith engineer Eugene Polley invented the first wireless remote, called the "Flashmatic." It used a beam of light to change the channels and adjust the volume. Polley, who died in 2012 at age 96, also worked on radar and push-button radios, earning 18 patents during his long career at Zenith.
From that point on, remotes kept getting more sophisticated, with added functionality.
Today, remotes are everywhere. There's one for the TV, one for the cable box, one for the DVD, one for Roku, Amazon or your streaming devices. There are remotes for your sound system and ceiling fans. Today's cars have remotes that unlock, start the engine and brew a cup of coffee (well, maybe not that last one, but I'm sure it's on the drawing board). There are even remotes for your remotes. Called "universal remotes," they aim to take the place of all your other remotes by activating device codes. A good idea in theory but even if you master all the codes, navigating the function buttons requires an engineering degree.
Another option is voice-activated commands. Most new remotes offer this feature. Of course, if you don't speak clearly or have a heavy accent, there's no telling what channel or program you might land on. Plus. I have a basic distrust of technology that is "listening" to everything all the time. You do remember the HAL 9000 from "2001: A Space Odyssey," right?
Hate the remote clutter on your coffee table or bed stand? No problem. Just download the corresponding app and you have remote functionality for your devices right on your smartphone.
As the world we live in gets ever-more connected, and the "Internet of Things" takes over our lives, with watches that produce read-outs of pulse and blood pressure and refrigerators with built-in screens for recipe videos, remote control takes on a whole new meaning.
Polley had to be amazed at how his 1955 invention evolved through the years, not to mention becoming a mainstay for Seinfeld's stand-up comedy.
Here's a BBC tribute to Polley, and a clip for the first color remote:
So yesterday I offered up three of my favorite TV show themes. That prompted the better half of this website - Pam -- to counter with three of her own. We're competitive that way, don't you know.
Her first choice was actually one I gave serious consideration -- "Peter Gunn." The driving beat of the song, written by the great Henry Mancini, is just as memorable today as it was in the Sixties.
Flash forward to modern times, and Pam really nailed it with her number two selection: "Got Yourself a Gun" from the HBO series, "The Sopranos." From the music to the acting and writing, that was pure greatness.
Last, but certainly not least, the genius of Jackie Gleason and his "Melancholy Serenade," the theme for "The Jackie Gleason Show" and a beautiful song in its own right. As Jackie would say, "How sweet it is!"
I admit she really upped the ante on dueling TV theme songs. All right -- I'll see your three, and raise you three more. They better be good, right?
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."