A Virgin Mobile Tip

Whether you’re considering becoming a Virgin Mobile customer, or if you’re an existing customer looking to upgrade your phone, consider looking at Virgin Mobile phones on Amazon first.

I bought a Samsung Galaxy Ring back in 2014. I hated it: it locked up, rebooted, and stock apps crashed all the time. Virgin Mobile replaced it four times, but after the last time I said enough was enough.

I bought an LG Tribute ($79.99 on Virgin’s site) as a temporary fix until I could switch carriers, or until Virgin got some better phones. But I ended up liking the Tribute. The Tribute had an awful camera and a mere 4GB of space, of which only 1.1GB was available to the user. But other than that, the phone just worked. It never once locked-up or rebooted, and was generally everything you could hope for in a $79.99 Android phone.

But then my girlfriend accidentally dropped it in a parking lot, creating a huge crack in the screen. She offered to buy me a new one, so I thought I’d “just check” Amazon to see if they had a better deal. They did: $39.95!

I got the upgrade bug around Christmas last year and saw that Virgin had the LG Stylo. But it was $199… not crazy expensive, but a bit too much for an impulse buy. I checked Amazon and saw that it was $109.99. Toss in a $25 Amazon gift card I’d gotten for Christmas and the total dropped to $85.99 – 58% less than Virgin was selling it for.

A couple weeks ago I was running some errands and the Stylo’s screen starting acting weird. It was “wavy”, like an LCD monitor with a bad capacitor. Amazon to the rescue again: the LG Stylo 2 – $179.99 on Virgin Mobile’s site – was only $69.95 at Amazon! That’s 61% less than Virgin Mobile’s price! (Virgin has since put the phone on sale for $129.99 while Amazon has raised their price to $99, so it’s not nearly the deal it once was.)

If you’re wondering, all the phones I’ve purchased from Amazon have been brand new in sealed Virgin retail packaging. Virgin does have refurbished phones they send as warranty replacements. These come in generic white boxes with no graphics. The Amazon phones are not refurbs.

Also, these kind of deals don’t last long, so you have to move quickly. These deals mostly apply to Virgin’s middle-of-the-road phones. You won’t see Virgin Mobile iPhones or Samsung Galaxy Sx phones with such discounts. You can find Virgin’s low-end phones on Amazon, but there won’t be much of a discount: the Alcatel DAWN is currently on sale for $39.99 on Virgin’s site but $74.80 at Amazon (a slight discount off Virgin’s regular $79.99 price).

Turning a Blind Eye

There are tons of English phrases that have dubious folk origins. “Pig in a poke”, for example, allegedly comes from the medieval practice of selling suckling pigs in burlap bags at markets. Sometimes unethical sellers would (allegedly) put a stray cat in the bag instead, and the hapless customer wouldn’t discover this until he got home and “let the cat out of the bag”.

There is a phrase that has a folk origin that’s probably true… and it involves one of England’s greatest naval heroes.

Horatio Nelson wasn’t like other commanders in the Royal Navy. Where other captains seemed to relish flogging sailors for any offense, Nelson kept floggings to a minimum. Where other commanders treated his sailors like chess pieces, Nelson got to know each one and often asked about their families and interests. As a result, Nelson’s crew was very dedicated – more than one sailor said he’d “follow Nelson through the Gates of Hell”. Which was a good thing, since Nelson was far more aggressive than other commanders in the Royal Navy. Ships were expensive, both in terms of money and manpower. It was common to sail away from a losing battle so as to “fight another day”. But not Nelson. It was precisely when things looked their worst that Nelson fought the hardest, which led to the string of improbable naval victories he is remembered for today.

Once such victory happened at the Battle of Copenhagen. British ships under the command of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker sailed into sight of the Danish capital on April 2, 1801. HMS Agamemnon ran aground almost immediately, and took no part in the battle. HMS Russell and HMS Bellona also ran aground, but were able to provide some fire on the Danish defenses. And speaking of, the Danish land defenses fired at the British fleet with considerable skill, providing far more resistance than the Royal Navy had anticipated. The battle seemed to tilt between a stalemate (at best) or a British loss (at worst).

Admiral Parker was known for being cautious, so it wasn’t a big surprise when he ran up the signal flags ordering a retreat. But Nelson wasn’t one to retreat, especially in a difficult situation like this. When Thomas Foley, one of his flag captains, pointed out the signal, Nelson turned towards it, put his telescope up to his right eye – which had been blinded in the Siege of Calvi in 1794 – and said “[y]ou know, Foley, I only have one eye — I have the right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal!” Thus, Nelson “turned a blind eye” to the retreat signal.

It was precisely at this moment that the battle turned in favor of the British. The Danes had put up a stout defense, but the relentlessly-trained gunners of the Royal Navy fired shot after shot at their defenses. One by one, the defender’s guns fell silent. But the pivotal moment happened when Nelson noticed that some of the Danish crews, not nearly as experienced as the British, were still firing from ships flying the flag of surrender. Nelson quickly penned the following note:

To the Brothers of Englishmen, the Danes

Lord Nelson has directions to spare Denmark when she is no longer resisting, but if firing is continued on the part of Denmark, Lord Nelson will be obliged to set on fire the floating batteries he has taken, without having the power of saving the brave Danes who have defended them.

– Nelson

Nelson gave the message to Captain Sir Frederick Thesiger, a Danish-speaking officer, and sent him to Crown Prince Frederik under a flag of truce. In truth, both the Danes and the British forces were exhausted, and neither side could have fought for much longer.

Frederik replied:

If your guns are not better pointed than your pens, then you will make little impression on Copenhagen.

Nelson replied:

Lord Nelson’s object in sending the Flag of Truce was humanity; he therefore consents that hostilities shall cease, and that the wounded Danes may be taken on shore. And Lord Nelson will take his prisoners out of the Vessels, and burn and carry off his prizes as he shall see fit.

Lord Nelson, with humble duty to His Royal Highness the Prince of Denmark, will consider this the greatest victory he has ever gained, if it may be the cause of a happy reconciliation and union between his own most gracious Sovereign, and His Majesty the King of Denmark.

—Nelson

A couple hours later, a cease-fire was agreed upon, and the battle ended. Sadly, not 30 minutes later, the Danish flagship Dannebrog exploded, killing 250 men… almost 20% of all Danish casualties in the battle.

Exporting LG’s Quick Memos

Many LG phones come with Quick Memo, a pre-installed note taking app. It’s not as good as OneNote or Evernote, but since it can’t be uninstalled, I thought I’d give it a try rather than waste precious storage space on duplicate apps. Come to find out, it handles my basic note-taking needs pretty well.

One downside, however, is that there’s no Quick Memo app for Windows. Thus, you can long-press on a note to share it with yourself (or others) via Gmail, but once you save the attachment, there’s no way to open it on your desktop or laptop. Nice.

However, after futzing with a sample file for a while, I found that the exported LQM files are just zip files, and can be opened with most compression apps. I’m a big fan of WinRAR, so here’s what a note looks like when opened in that app:

Quick Memo

As you might guess, any audio or video files saved in a memo will be located in their respective folders. Image files are saved in the “Images” folder, while text (or drawings) captured by stylus input will be saved in the “Drawings” folder:

Quick Memo Drawing

If you’d like, you can right-click an LQM file in Windows and choose Open With > WinRAR and check the “Always use this app to open these files” box to have Windows always use WinRAR (or WinZip or 7-Zip) to open the Quick Memo files.

Skeuomorphs

Ever wonder why maple syrup bottles often have that tiny, useless handle?

Maple Syrup Skeuomorph

Ever wonder why station wagons from the 1960s through the 1980s had that awful fake wood paneling?

Station Wagon Skeuomorph

Both are examples of skeuomorphs, design features once practical elements of an object’s design that have been retained, even after the original element has disappeared. Maple syrup used to come in large earthenware jugs, and the handle was helpful in carrying it. Cars – especially trucks and station wagons – were once made with real wood paneling before car makers switched to more expensive steel.

The thing is, once you know about skeuomorphs, you’ll see them everywhere. There must be millions of plastic objects made to look like wood. Spokes are a necessary design feature for wagons or bicycles, but not cars. Yet it’s still at least somewhat common to see spokes on car wheels. Even the giant concrete pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge are skeuomorphs: the bridge is actually supported by abutments at the base of the pylons. The pylons were added to make the bridge look prettier, and to assure the public of its structural integrity.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

There are thousands of computer programs and smartphone apps that look like their physical equivalents – especially note-taking and calendar apps – even though there really isn’t a need for an app to look like a legal pad or a paper calendar. Steve Jobs was a huge fan of skeuomorphism: when he was alive, Apple software was chock-full of interfaces that looked like address books, notepads and bookshelves. Skeuomorphs need not even be physical objects: most phones make a clicking sound when taking a picture, even though they don’t have mechanical shutters!

Something especially interesting about skeuomorphs is that they are by no means a modern thing. Skeuomorphs go back thousands of years. Many design features of classic Greek temples – guttae, modillions, triglyphs and mutules – originated in construction of wooden temples. When the Greeks switched to stone construction, such things were no longer structurally necessary but they liked the look, so kept the design. Wealthy Minoans had elaborate metal cups, which potters made painstaking copies of for everyday folk, even down to little “nubs” of clay to mimic the rivets used in the metal cups. A little closer to our time, Fredrick the Great, ruler of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, hated that his soldiers wiped their noses on their uniform sleeves. He decreed that a row of buttons be sewn on the sleeves to prevent the men from wiping their noses on his uniforms. Three hundred years later, the buttons might have moved to the other side of the sleeve… but they’re still there.

So think about skeuomorphs the next time you click the floppy disk icon to save a file to your SSD, or tap an icon with a 1930s-era microphone to record a memo on your smartphone!

 

The True Story of “A Forest”

If you’re a fan of The Cure, you might have had the pleasure of seeing the over-the-top live version of “A Forest”. The original version – from the band’s second album, Seventeen Seconds – clocks in at 5:55. Live versions can run as long as 15 minutes. And why not? It’s one of the band’s most popular tunes, and the song’s moody, spartan atmosphere makes it ripe to extend by several minutes.

But unless you’re a hardcore Cure fan, you might not know that the extended version of the song was neither accident nor artistic decision. It was to flip a finger at Robert Palmer.

The Cure played a festival called Rock Werchter in Werchter, Belgium on July 5, 1981. A couple of local acts opened, followed by The Undertones, Toots and the Maytals, then Elvis Costello. The Cure played, to be followed by Robert Palmer and Dire Straits.

As it sometimes happens at festivals, the bands started running behind. Before The Cure even went on, Robert Palmer’s road crew started hassling The Cure about keeping their set short. During the set, various members of Palmer’s crew kept motioning to the band to speed it up or, later on, end it already. After The Cure finished the penultimate song of their set – “A Play for Today” – a member of Palmer’s crew rushed on stage and threatened to cut the power if The Cure didn’t leave.

The Cure, of course, didn’t take too kindly to this. Robert Smith introduced their final song thusly:

“This is the final song because we’re not allowed to carry on anymore, ‘cos everybody wants to see Robert Palmer… I think. It’s called ‘A Forest’.”

Just to be dicks, The Cure improvised an almost 10 minute version of the song:

At the end of the song, you can hear Cure member Simon Gallup scream “Fuck Robert Palmer! Fuck rock n’ roll!” Palmer’s people had the last laugh, though, tossing all The Cure’s equipment off the back of the stage.

Over the years, the band has refined the live version of the song. Where the Werchter version is raw and improvised, later versions were much more cohesive, like this version from 1992:

“Passport to Flavor” Chips, Reviewed

For the past several years, Lay’s has held its “Do Us a Flavor” contest, where people from all over the United States submit flavor ideas to the company. The ideas are narrowed down to four and made into actual products consumers vote for. And thus, “Cheesy Garlic Bread”, “Wasabi Ginger” and “Southern Biscuits & Gravy” became actual potato chip flavors.

This year, however, Lay’s is doing something a little bit different. This year it’s “Passport to Flavor”, four exotic flavors from around the world. Which nation’s cuisine will reign supreme? Let’s find out, from worst to first!

Passport To Flavor chips

#4 Brazilian Picanha – Picanha is technically a cut of meat called a “rump cover” in the US. Although largely unknown in the US, it’s a highly-prized cut in Brazil, and is often grilled and served with chimichurri, a green sauce made of parsley, garlic, oil, oregano and vinegar.

THE TASTE: These mostly taste like sour cream & onion chips, with occasional bursts of generic “steak” flavor. If you’ve ever had Herr’s Kansas City Prime Steak chips, it’s a very similar taste, but a bit more… refined, for lack of a better word. To me, the steak flavor of the Herr’s chips is IN YOUR FACE and totally artificial; the Lay’s chips somehow taste a wee bit more authentic. But there’s not enough of it. And when the almost non-existent chimichurri flavor kicks in, it’s almost as if there was some kind of flavor mix-up at the factory, as if someone accidentally added a small amount of salt & vinegar flavoring to sour cream & onion chips. They’re not bad, exactly. I’d eat them again if I had to. They’re just kind of… underwhelming.

#3 Greek Tzatziki – I love gyros as much as the next guy. And a big part of that is the yummy tzatziki sauce that comes on them. I normally don’t care for yogurt and cucumbers individually, but put ’em together, and you’ve got deliciousness, buddy!

THE TASTE: What’s the opposite of underwhelming?  Oh yeah – overwhelming, which is how I’d describe the cucumber taste of these chips. I don’t get any garlic or dill at all – just ALL CUCUMBER, ALL THE TIME. I watched a YouTube review where a guy said all he could taste was “creamy dill”. I don’t know what planet that guy lives on, but all I get from these chips is cucumber, with a tiny note of some kind of cream\yogurt taste in the background. These wavy chips are so flavorful it’s almost unpleasant. I’d eat these again if I was at a sub shop and these were the only chips they had left. Otherwise I’ll pass. But at least they deliver on some flavor, which is more than you can say about the picanha chips.

#2 Indian Tikka Masala – I love Indian food, and one of my favorite Indian (okay, fine: Anglo-Indian) dishes is tikka masala. The lovely exotic spices. The tomato tang. The lush decadence of the cream. It’s all there, and it’s all good. Some folks like to say that tikka masala has replaced fish & chips as Britain’s national dish. And they’re not wrong – it’s that popular in the UK because it’s just that good.

THE TASTE: Man, I really, really, really wanted to love these chips. First, they’re kettle chips, which are always awesome. Second, I love tikka masala. But while these chips mostly hit the right flavor notes, there’s just something really, really, really “off” about one particular flavor note. When you first put one in your mouth, you get a kind of “generic curry” taste. Which is OK, I suppose. But then there’s this… godawful note of rancid chicken. I kid you not. The missus and I once accidentally forgot a pork tenderloin in the fridge. It was a couple weeks past its expiration date, but I decided to open the vacuum-sealed pouch to see if it still might be edible. As soon as the knife pierced the plastic, the kitchen filled with a smell that was partly vinegary, partly gamey, and partly the sweet smell of rot. It was not pleasant. And these tikka masala chips have a flavor note that, just for a second, tastes almost exactly like how that bad pork tenderloin smelled. If you can get past that – and the more chips I ate, the less I was able to do so – then you’re rewarded with a complex melange of flavors that do, in fact, taste like tikka masala. But that sour chicken note… blech! It’s like the stormtrooper hitting his head on the doorway in the original Star Wars: you might have watched the film a hundred times and never noticed it. But now that it’s been pointed out to you, you cannot not see it every time.

#1 Chinese Szechuan Chicken – Everyone has had Szechuan chicken at some point in their lives, right? Well, except the poor girl working at the Lake Wylie Publix I asked while looking for these chips. She also didn’t know what gyros were, much less that tzatziki sauce you put on them. I didn’t have the heart to ask her about picanha and tikka masala. Anyway, Szechuan chicken is one of the cornerstones of American Chinese restaurants. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Chinese place that didn’t have this on the menu.

THE TASTE: Nailed it. These chips taste almost exactly like the Szechuan chicken you’d order from your local Chinese take-out place. I mean, Lay’s captured every aspect of the taste. Funny thing about these chips: I was able to find large bags of the other flavors during a routine trip to Walmart. But my local Walmart didn’t have these. While out running errands, I stopped at a different Walmart and happened to see the small bags of these chips near the front of the store. I got two small bags instead of walking all the way to the back of the store to find a large bag. When I got home last night, I kept telling myself to slow down, that I needed to save a few chips for writing this article today. I inhaled that small bag. They were that good, and that addictive. Having said all that, I’m not entirely sure these are a flavor with staying power. Seems like these would clash with a lot of dishes normally eaten with chips (like sandwiches and hot dogs). It’s almost like they’re too specific. If someone was just eating the chips by themselves, then these are a good option. With something else? I’m not sure. But I’ll enjoy them while they’re here – they’re delicious!

Open a Command Prompt from File Explorer

Most power users know this already, but I’ve noticed that a surprising number of “Average Joes” do not: if you’re using File Explorer (or Windows Explorer, as it’s known in older versions of Windows) and you want to open a command prompt at that particular location, all you have to do is type CMD+Enter in the address bar:

cmd_shortcut_01
File Explorer, open at C:\adb

 

cmd_shortcut_02
Type CMD in the address bar and press ENTER.

 

cmd_shortcut_03
Command Prompt opens to the current folder