Altice Mobile

Altice is a cable TV company that goes under the brand Optimum. The company was formerly owned by Cablevision, which sold to Altice a few years ago. Tech-wise they are fine – tv works, phone works, internet works. Customer service-wise they are terrible. They answer the phone when you call, which is good. But their staff is untrained, clueless about the company’s products and it’s been enormously frustrating having to call them to add services or fix a problem.

I would leave them in heartbeat except that the only alternative is dish tv which doesn’t provide the same breadth of services.

Recently Altice released a new cellphone service called Altice Mobile, which would cost $20 per phone per month, locked in for life. The service provides unlimited phone, text and data plus hotspot. They claim you can bring your own phone (Apple, Motorola or Samsung) or buy a phone from them with no interest and no down payment.

Sounds like a good deal and it would save my family a lot of money. But …

  1. You can only “bring your own phone” if you have one of the few phones they support. Apple phones seem to be well supported but according to the salesman at their store very few non-Apple phones are currently supported. My Motorola phone is not, which means I would need to buy a new phone from one of their very limited non-Apple choices (only the Moto G7 Play and the Samsung S9) in order to try out their service.
  2. The service runs on ATT and Sprint, but according to an article I read Altice relies only on their cell towers not their network. The service will run on Altice’s own network, which might be accessed via wifi as well. Since this is a completely new concept, no one has any history with how well or poorly this works. From experience I can say that Altice’s wifi network is very hit or miss. They have access points in many places in my area, but the ACs often provide no service. I turned off automatic access to their ACs because my phone won’t function when connected to them. I wonder how this will affect performance of their cell and data network.
  3. The salesman said that the $20 deal will be around for a long time, and additional phones will be added to the roster over time (Altice Mobile came on line only 10 days ago). So there is no urgency to try it now, especially since it’s not the money-saver I hoped it would be given that I’d need new phones to use it.

I don’t know for sure if anything the salesman said is true in view of Altice’s history of weak customer support. But I’ll pass on this for now.

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Katz’s Delicatessen

Katz’s Deli is an iconic NYC deli that has been in existence since 1888. It’s not kosher (they are open on Saturdays and the Jewish holidays), but it’s the style of food common to Jewish delis (pastrami, corned beef, hot dogs, brisket, chopped liver, potato knishes, potato pancakes, matzo ball soup, etc.).

Whenever tourists are touted to a quintessential NY eatery, Katz’s always gets mentioned.

But does Katz’s deserve it?

I am not crazy about Katz’s. But if I were a tourist coming to NYC I would definitely go there. There is no place like it, and I am not sure there ever were other places like it in my lifetime. If there were, I never heard of them.

  1. It’s usually crowded (nothing special about that). Prepare to wait.
  2. You can either be seated and served by a waiter, or order at the counter and seat yourself (nothing special about that either).
  3. They might accept credit cards now. I’m not sure. There was a time when they were cash-only, which is ridiculous given how much deli food costs.
  4. When you walk in you are handed a ticket, and warned that they will charge you $50 if you lose the ticket. Will they really charge you $50? I don’t know. I always cling tightly to the ticket, as I don’t want to find out. The staff writes whatever you ordered on the ticket, and it’s used by the cashier to figure out your bill.
  5. If you choose to order at the counter prepare to be annoyed. There are different counter areas for different kinds of food – if you want hot dogs and a corned beef sandwich, you have to stand in two different lines. The “lines” are basically masses of humanity and whoever is most aggressive and pushy gets to the front. It’s an uncivil way to order food.
  6. If you choose waiter service the experience will eventually be more civil, but when they are busy you either wait outside or inside in an indoor holding pen until a table opens up.

You can’t get a crazy experience like that anywhere else in NY. For good reason. But I wouldn’t pass it up if I were visiting NY for the first time.

Is the food fantastic? Is the praise heaped on them justified? Eh … no.

I can’t judge the pastrami, as I’ve never had it there. But I can tell you that the 2nd Ave Deli’s pastrami is amazing. By far the best I’ve ever had. So is their brisket.

The best item I’ve eaten at Katz’s is their potato pancake. I am not sure if it’s even on the menu. Regardless they have it, and if you go there you should get it. You’ll never eat a better one.

The rest of the food is nothing special, in my experience. It’s not bad, but not great either. The worst part is the bread. Deli sandwiches should be served on fresh rye bread. The bread that’s served at Katz’s is borderline stale, tasteless, cold and might not even be rye. I couldn’t tell what it was. It doesn’t taste like anything.

The matzo ball soup is also nothing special,  but no deli’s matzo ball soup compares to home-made. The soups are always very salty and the matzo balls are always dense and bland. No one’s grandma ever made matzo ball soup like that.

Whenever I see an article touting Katz’s I cringe a little, because I don’t want people coming to NY and think NYers don’t know what good food is. Come to Katz’s for the crazy atmosphere, but don’t expect to get the best deli food in NY.

For pastrami or brisket, go to the 2nd Ave Deli. For hot dogs, there are lots of places but my favorite is Dickson’s in Chelsea Market. For french fries go to Pommes Frites. None of these places are near each other, so you can’t make one meal out of the best deli food in NY. But if I had to pick one place to go it would be 2nd Ave Deli.

Acer R13 Chromebook

I bought an Acer R13 as I wanted to try out a computer running Chromebook and I thought it would be a good lightweight alternative to lugging my work PC around the house. I like it but I don’t love it. It cost $330 at Wal Mart.

The laptop is 13″ and has a flip design, which means you can rotate the display until it’s flat against the back of the keyboard and use it like a tablet. I don’t like tablets or touch screens, so I don’t know why I thought this would be a good feature. In any event the flip works, for what that’s worth.

The screen is better than my laptop screen. It’s an IPS (which means you don’t have to tilt it to get a good view) and has resolution up to 1900×1080 although it defaults to a lower resolution so text isn’t too small to see. You adjust the resolution in settings. Photos look good, screen brightness is fine although not amazing, videos look OK.

The CPU is an ARM processor (aka smartphone processor) called MediaTek MT8173C. Since it’s an ARM the battery life is better than an Intel processor. It supposedly gets up to 12 hours. I’ve used it for 8+ hours before recharging. The battery definitely lasts a long time.

Storage is 64gb of SSD and ram is 4GB, so it has enough space to load a variety of apps from the Play store.

Chromebook won’t run all Android apps, but most of my smartphone apps run well on it. The OS pretends that certain websites are apps and there are clickable icons for mail, maps, etc. that open tabs on the Chrome interface. The Android app icons open the app, not a website.

I connected it to my 27″ monitor and it ran OK on dual screen mode. Not as fast as my 3-year old work laptop.

Pros:

Lightweight (about 3lbs), decent screen, ample ports (micro sd, usb-c charger, usb3, hdmi), long battery life, decent speed, log-in via smartphone, bluetooth and wifi connections work fine, can use it to text message, can run some (maybe most) Android apps, if you don’t load problematic apps it should be more secure than a Windows PC.

Cons:

Trackpad works but it’s flaky (sometimes a tap doesn’t register. there are no mouse buttons, if you are going to click the trackpad it requires some effort), can’t run the full version of Office (there is a mobile version that’s free, but it is missing features and I can’t use it for work), speakers are fine for voice audio but terrible for music.

I would rate the device as “usable”. If I listen to music or videos via my earphones it sounds fine. The screen looks nicer than my work laptop and it’s smaller and light enough to tote anywhere in the house. The long battery life means I don’t have to plug it in to use it for hours.

It’s just a little underwhelming.


Update:

I recently learned that Google will stop releasing feature and security updates to Chromebooks after a certain number of years. It was originally 4 to 5 years, but I think it recently extended to 6 years.

This is truly hard to believe. My Chromebook was manufactured this year. But since it was originally released in September 2016 it will stop receiving updates in September 2021, two years from now.

Acer still has this laptop for sale on its website, with no warning about the two year cut off. In fact, they don’t post the release date on the website. I found the cut off date on a Google database of future “end of life” dates.

It’s possible that this Chromebook will not actually cut off in 2 years. I won’t know until it happens. Also, simply being cut off from new updates won’t make the Chromebook inoperative.

But if there are security concerns my Chromebook will be vulnerable. If new website technologies are implemented my Chromebook won’t be able to use them.

This seems bizarre. The manufacture date on my Chromebook is 3/23/19 only 2.5 years prior to its end of life.

If I had known that I would not have bought it. This information was not present on any retailer’s ads for Chromebooks. I just stumbled on it while browsing the web. Buyer beware I guess. We’ll see what happens in 2 years.

 

Grilled Corn on the Cob

I don’t even know if this is a recipe. There’s not much to it, but it’s become my favorite way to make corn on the cob.

You simply take fresh corn on the cob and strip half the corn husk and silk, leaving it partially unhusked. Rinse the corn well so that it soaks up some water and there will be water under the remaining portion of the husk.

Microwave, 1 minute per ear of corn (ex. 6 ears of corn will nuke for 6 minutes).

Remove the rest of the husk and corn silk under running water.

Place the ears of corn on a hot grill right over the flame. Since the corn is mostly cooked it won’t need much time on the grill. Just let it start to char a bit and rotate so it gets evenly grilled. Should be done in a few minutes, depending on how hot the grill is.

Since it was pre-cooked in the microwave it’s not on the grill that long. It won’t dry out but you still get plenty of grilled corn taste.

Ring Doorbell – Motion Sensor videos of people walking away

I have a theory about why motion sensor videos do not record people walking toward the doorbell.  I’ve seen complaints of this issue for the original doorbell (the one I have) and the second version. I am not sure if this same issue is present with the Pro or Elite versions. If I am right it’s a design decision by Ring’s engineers and not something that can be fixed.

When someone presses the doorbell button, video starts the split second before their finger touches the button. Therefore the button-press does not initiate the recording because I can see the person’s finger in the video moving toward the button.

So what is happening? And why is there no motion sensor video of the person approaching the door?

I think the motion sensor IS capturing video of the person as they approach the door, otherwise their finger could not be recorded before it presses the doorbell button. But, I think the engineers designed the doorbell to discard video of anyone approaching the door until they press the button. Perhaps Ring decided that customers don’t want to watch their visitors walking toward their house, and the company doesn’t want to incur the cost to store such videos. Once the button is pressed the video is retained, starting just before the button-press.

But what happens if a UPS driver walks toward the house, drops off the package, and doesn’t press the doorbell? If I am right, then there will be no recording of his approach. And that’s what always happens.

I think the doorbell is designed to start retaining motion sensor video only if a button is not pressed and there is motion moving away from the sensor. That would explain why the motion sensor videos only capture the UPS driver as he walks back to the truck.

At my house when a postal worker delivers a package I get no video at all. I think that is because she approaches the door from the side, not from the front as the UPS driver does. She walks along the side, drops the package in front of the door, and then leaves the same way. Once the doorbell concludes that her motion did not generate a doorbell press and is ready to retain motion sensor video, she is out of the doorbell’s area of view and there is no motion to retain.

I do not think the motion sensor recording lag is due to slow performance. In fact I think the motion sensor reacts very quickly. Trucks driving in front of my house at 30 miles an hour sometimes trigger the motion sensor, and are often still in the video when it starts. Which means the motion sensor and video recording capabilities are virtually immediate.

I also have a theory about why I get these truck videos despite the fact that they are all 50 feet away from my house and the motion sensor sensitivity is set for 30 feet.

The issue only occurs on sunny days. I think the sun streaming onto the motion sensor blows it out and it’s not able to judge distance. A truck driving by casts a shadow, which is picked up as motion by the sensor.

How does this jibe with my approach/button-press theory? It doesn’t. The only thing I can think of is that maybe the motion sensor handles lateral motion differently from forward motion.

Half-Sour Pickles

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I love pickles. Primarily full sour, half sour and kosher dill pickles. I can make bread-and-butter pickles, which taste a little like pickled relish and are so much better than any Vlasic or supermarket version. Those aren’t fermented, they are pickled with vinegar.

I’ve tried making fermented pickles in the past, but only got them to come out properly once.

Recently I saw a funny, easy to follow Bon Apetit video where they made fermented half sour pickles in the fridge so I gave it a try.

Absolutely perfect. Really crunchy and tasted delicious. Super easy too. I didn’t have too many ingredients on hand but this is what I did, and it worked!

  1. Start with a large bunch of kirby pickles, washed off, with the tips cut off and sliced into quarter spears.
  2. Put 33 grams of pickling salt in a 64 oz wide-mouth mason jar with 1 gallon of non-chlorinated water (I used Poland Spring). Put a cover on the jar and shake to dissolve the salt.
  3. Add a little of the following. You don’t need much. I don’t have specific measurements, but somewhere between a pinch and a 1/4 teaspoon: black pepper corns and dill seed. I didn’t have it on hand but next time I will use some mustard seed and fresh dill fronds. Maybe a few chili flakes too.
  4. Dice up a garlic clove and add it to the jar as well.
  5. Add the cucumber spears lengthwise until you can’t fit any more. The spears should all be below the water level, and below the shoulder of the jar. Add a little more water if needed. If you have to add a lot more water for some reason mix up some water in the same ratio (33gms salt/1gallon water)
  6. Cover the jar and put in the fridge. Every day open the lid to release any gas that might create pressure, and give the jar a shake.
  7. You can try tasting them after 3 days in the fridge. They will be fantastic by 5 days.

In the video they used whole kirbys and waited 10 days, but who wants to wait that long? Cut the kirbys and you’ll only have to wait 5 days. You’ll know they are pickled when the water gets cloudy, the kirbys change color and become translucent.

But they’ll retain their snap, and be crunchy and delicious. Gourmet pickles in your own fridge!

John Wick Chapter 3 / Aladdin Reviews

I am not a movie critic the following is just one man’s opinion. There are spoilers below.

Wick:

I saw the first two Wick movies and enjoyed them, although I liked the first one best. It’s a perfect role for Keanu Reeves – he’s relentlessly pursued and/or is relentlessly pursuing someone else, so he’s not called on to act.

In the first two movies he tried to get out of the hit man business, but something or someone kept pulling him back. The movies reside in an alternate universe where our real world overlays the tentacles of a world-wide crime syndicate that lurks everywhere and operates by its own rules.

What made the first two movies work for me was not Reeve’s leaden performances, it was the heartbreaking situations the writers forced him into, the creativity of the alternate Wick-world, vivid acting by the supporting cast, the urgency of the plot and the quick pacing of the director and editor.

In the third installment almost all of the above is present. Reeves does a lot of fighting but doesn’t act much, the pacing is just as rapid. But … there is no bad guy. How can you have a good vs. evil movie without a bad guy?

The movie is a chase scene stretched out to two hours. It’s repetitive (how many attacks on people’s groins can one movie hold? Does any movie need more than one scene where the hero is burned with a poker?), it’s pointless (He suffers, he asks a big-wig for forgiveness, he rebels anyway. Why not just rebel to begin with?), and not one of the fight scenes is against anyone important.

Not only are all his opponents no-name henchmen, but most of them have their faces obscured by scarves, helmets or armor. They are literally faceless. It’s like watching two-hours of a power ranger fighting putties (If you had a kid born in the 90’s you’ll get that reference).

The fight scenes are very well done but get boring after awhile since he’s not fighting anyone important.

The movie has overwhelmingly good reviews, so don’t just take my word for it. But I would rather have watched John Wick 3 on TV.

Aladdin:

Aladdin got mixed reviews by the professional critics. Some thought it still had charm despite significant flaws. Some thought it didn’t.

I thought the two actors who played Jasmine and Aladdin were excellent. They were attractive, they acted well enough, had good singing voices and looked like they performed their own stunts (I’m not sure if they did in reality, but I never suspected a stunt person was subbing for them.)

The problem for me was the actors who played the genie and Jafar. It’s impossible to avoid comparison with two brilliant performances by Robin Williams and Jonathan Freeman and unfortunately Will Smith and Marwan Kenzari fall short, in my opinion.

I think Will Smith is an enormously charismatic, funny and talented actor and singer. But this is just a bad pairing of actor and role. There are a number of issues (some not his fault, the CGI applied to him pales in comparison to animation) but the primary one is his speech. He sounds too modern and too casual. In other words, he sounds like himself rather than the character.

Kenzari fails both because he’s not the Jafar that Freeman is and because he wouldn’t have been sufficiently menacing, crafty and loonie enough for the role even if there never was a Freeman performance. The role is wrong for him.

This isn’t really a criticism but it’s emblematic of the type of choices made by Disney in this film: they were handed a gift by Gilbert Gottfried. He turned a minor role into one of the many highlights of the animated movie. Disney tossed that gift in the trash. The Iago character exists in the new movie but his performance, sense of humor and IQ have been dialed down by about 90%. A waste.

I don’t like Disney’s entire concept: making a live action version of a hit animation movie just because they can. No aspect of this new Aladdin improves on the original so what was the point, other than milking more money out of an existing asset.

Aladdin is doing very well at the box office so like my review of John Wick 3, don’t take my word for it.