November 18

The Techno Survivalist – Earbuds, Headsets and Audio

I’ve been thinking about Every Day Carry lately as it relates to this idea of what I’m calling Techno Survivalism. So I started going through what I carry around every day and what I need to do every day so I can adjust my “EDC”. I know many IT guys carry a lot of crap around in a backpack every day but I’ve turned more towards the minimalist approach to everything. I don’t carry a backpack, I just have my four pockets.

The last couple of jobs I’ve had required a lot of travel to various parts of the Panhandle and I know a lot of places have policies about having some kind of hands free system in their car. Lots of cubicle work requires that you have earphones because you can’t play a radio at your cube either. Most cell phones these days include a pair of ear buds so you may ask why I’m even writing this article. Well here are a few reasons why you should ditch the stock ear buds you get with your phone and get the two products I’m about to tell you about now.

The stock, cheap ear buds you get with your phone usually suck for the following reasons:

  • They have plastic cords that tangle up really easily.
  • They have cords.
  • The sound quality is abysmal.
  • They break easily.
  • They’re generic looking.
  • The cords get caught on things.
  • The cords are never long enough.
  • Did I mention they have cords?
  • No volume control (unless you have an iPhone).
  • No track skip features.
  • Basically all they do is start/stop what you’re listening to and answer calls.

Why even carry a headset as part of your EDC? In this day and age, audio is how you keep yourself informed, educated and entertained. For most people, a smartphone is as essential in day to day life as a stone knife was to a cave man in the paleolithic era. The headset is part of the connection to the phone. You listen to audio on the phone with it, talk on the actual phone feature with it, and can input data and receive information through the voice command system with it. Having a good one is crucial. I want to break you away from carrying a dinky corded headset, and get you to carry a stereo Bluetooth headset as your main audio interface. It will free you up, and add a new level of interaction to your smartphone.

Bluetooth Headset and Why You Should Have One All The Time

 

Book Cover
The first product I want to talk about is the LG Tone+ HBS 730 Stereo Bluetooth Headset . I’ve had one of these since March of 2013 and as of this writing is has not failed me. The biggest reason I got this was because I like to listen to podcasts and I got tired of breaking regular ear buds. The cable would get caught on something and break, or they’d just wear out. I didn’t want a regular Bluetooth headset because people can’t tell when you’re listening to one, and they generally make you look like a jerk. This headset can be hidden under a shirt, lets you control your music, answer calls, control the voice commands on your phone, has volume control, and track skipping functionality. With newer phones all the functions work. On my Galaxy S2 the track skipping didn’t work, but everything else did just fine.  On an iPhone, or my HTC One, everything works flawlessly. The battery life on this thing, even after almost two years as of this writing is well over eight hours of listening time, when it was new it was well over the ten they promise. The audio quality is great, I can tell the difference when I have to use a regular set of ear buds.

The biggest advantage is I don’t have to have my phone on me and I can still use the headset for most things. I can make and receive calls, and listen to audio and leave the phone on the charger in another room if I need to. This makes long road trips a lot more pleasant.

There aren’t really that many drawbacks to this headset and I can’t say enough good about them, but the best reasons to have them are pretty self-evident. One is they work exactly like a regular set of corded ear buds without the cord, and a lot more features. Another is that since there isn’t a cord to get caught on anything, you won’t have the problem of the cord dragging the phone out of your pocket and then the phone breaking because it drops to the ground. Since the ear buds on this pull out more like a head set, people can see that you have them in, as opposed to a normal Bluetooth headset, which most people just think you’re being rude when you use one.

A couple of drawbacks are that the buttons can be pressed accidentally. You can’t charge it while using it, and you just get too dependent on the darn thing after a while.  It will also turn around on your neck sometimes, but I’ve found this doesn’t really happen that much unless the headphone cables get twisted up around the device.

The best part is that these hardly cost more than a really good set of regular earphones. They run about $65 on Amazon. I got mine for less than that watching the sales. I highly suggest getting the 730, every knock off company tries to imitate these and sell theirs for less and those knock-offs are utter garbage. That’s an indicator of a quality product, when people copy it.

LG also makes a few more models with different button layouts that might work better for different people for about the same price ranges. Here they are:

 

LG Electronics Tone Pro Bluetooth Stereo Headset – I think this is the HBS-750. I’ve seen a couple of reviews from golfers who like this one. The main difference is the buttons are on the side and not the top.

LG Electronics Tone Ultra (HBS-800) Bluetooth Stereo Headset  – This one has more Google voice commands integrated than the other models. The buttons look like they might be more flush with the headset.

LG Electronics TONE INFINIM Bluetooth Stereo Headset – This one is a lot more expensive. The ear buds are retractable which solves one tiny issue with the other headsets, but honestly the reviews on this one don’t look good for the price compared to the 730, 750 and 800 which are the ones most people seem to prefer the most.

These all charge up with USB so that portable battery pack you should be carrying will charge up all of them!

Corded Ear Buds For Your Spares

For your EDC I am a strong proponent of the Bluetooth headset for your cellphone. It just makes life easier. However, you do still need at least two good pair of corded ear buds for spares, though not necessarily for carrying on you. You want two with the control button, and microphone, if not the volume control if you have an iPhone (this feature won’t work on Androids as of this writing). There are a lot of good sturdy corded sets out there, usually with flat cables and stuff like that. I don’t particularly like those. Mostly because they don’t work well with ScotteVest coats and hoodies. The ones I recommend, just because I’ve had really good luck with this kind are the sort with the braided cloth shell over the cable. They aren’t QUITE as tangle resistant as their flat cable counterpart, but they’re just as sturdy, if not more so. They’re also cheaper in most instances and work with the cable management features in a lot of those fancy coats.

What got me hooked on these was a freebie I got with a Newegg order. They weren’t the best ear buds, but I still have them and they take a lot of abuse. Unfortunately, they don’t have the microphone or the button for smart phones, so I just tossed them in my bug out bag for the radio.

Having a couple of these around where you can get to them gets you a couple of things. Personally I keep one in my ScotteVest hoodie in the winter all the time, I look kind of stupid with two headsets but when I’m on an airplane I can’t really use the Bluetooth.

  1. A spare if your Bluetooth breaks, forget to charge the battery, or need to conserve power.
  2. Many smart phones have a radio built-in now and need a headset to act as an antenna.

Here’s a few links to some I would suggest. The ones pictures above are the basic Altec Lansing MZX736MIC Bliss Headphones  in black and silver. Their equipment is pretty good, pretty generic and those will run you about $20. That set is Prime eligible so you can get them in about two days.

M.M Braided Cord In-ear Earphones with Microphone – These are about $9. I found identical ones for about $18. They supposedly have a microphone, don’t see it pictured. These should be half decent. A couple of these work in a pinch until better ones could be bought.

Obviously these are just spares, if you want quality ones there are plenty of good options to choose from. I’d get a couple of the Altec Lansing ones and throw them in the bug out bag. I’ve got a set very much like them on my hoodie permanently. I’ve got a couple generic stock ear buds thrown different places like my car bag, and my desk drawer just in case something breaks or someone needs a pair (I keep all the extra ear pieces, because yeah that’s gross sharing).

 

October 23

Origin of Christian Holidays – Halloween Myths – Part 5 of Several

So now that I’ve gotten some traditions and history of Halloween out of the way I think we can get into some of the propaganda and garbage that is inevitably floating around about Halloween.

Is Halloween/Hallowmas “The Devil’s Holiday?”

Certainly not. This is ridiculous. It does not now, nor has it ever had anything to do with the devil, demons or hell. As from my last three articles you can see that the current traditions surrounding October 31st to November 2nd are almost entirely Christian in origin. What pagan traditions happen to surround that time of year aren’t about human sacrifice, worshiping the devil or any of that nonsense. The Celtic Samhain was about making sure you were prepared for winter, moving livestock, and celebrating the end of summer, and the beginning of their new year. While the Roman Lemuria was about appeasing the dead, it took place during a totally different time of year, and Hallowmas may or may not have anything to do with it.

The devil, demon and witch costumes are, oddly enough entirely Christian conceptions of devils, demons and witches. I would find it odd if actual evil ancient pagan cults bore any semblance at all to them. There are hardly any evil pagans, pagan religions and any pagan religions that might have been evil were probably wiped out by their pagan neighbors a long, long time ago. They probably didn’t worship anything remotely like a Christian concept of the devil, much less have anything much like a pointy hat wearing old crone.

If you are a Christian and that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable, remember, all the silliness is fairly new. Most of it isn’t ancient tradition, it goes back to the late renaissance at best, some of it is even new world tradition that goes back to the middle ages. If you want to “Take back Halloween” go back to 609 and remember what Hallowmas was supposed to be. Take back those real thousand year old traditions. Light candles, put them out on your porch and hold the vigil for the dead. Tell your children stories about their dead ancestors. Take them to the cemeteries on All Souls day. Remember the dead, this is the time for it. That’s what the early Christians did.

Do the spirits of the dead really roam the world during Halloween?

I was surprised to find out that this was in fact a Christian belief. It seems to not have been borrowed from pagan traditions at all. There seems to be a lot of thought that it was the other way around, somewhat like the jack-o-lanterns and candles might have been borrowed from Christians by Pagans.

However, this could be a holdover from Lemuria. Though, again, it’s possible that this is a legitimate early Catholic, or early Christian belief, that at certain times the saints might be able to communicate with or be seen by the living. For my fellow Protestants consider the dead rising during the crucifixion and the idea of Lazarus talking to Abraham from hell. While I’m not a believer in this idea, I find it interesting that this is not in fact a borrowed belief. I think most Christians, Catholic or not have probably forgone this idea today though.

Do Satanists practice human sacrifices on Halloween?

I tend to think not. Your basic modern Satanist is either a teenager wanting attention, or a humanist. Either way they aren’t likely practicing human sacrifice. The great “Satanic Panic” of the 80’s and 90’s was a huge load of horse crap. You can check out some resources here and see for yourself.  Even if it were true, why even worry about it? Do you know any hardcore devil worshiping cultists that sacrifice people, and animals? That sort of thing tends to draw attention.  If so please tell local law enforcement immediately. Human sacrifice is murder, period. Fortunately it’s almost unheard of.

Do pagans practice weirdo rituals on Halloween?

Probably. Some neo-pagans, and practitioners of your western non-mainstream organized religions (I’m referring to the big ones and their variants: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism) might have some things they do during the season. Lots of Wiccans, and other neo-pagans, and shamanistic practitioners will have some ceremonies and stuff they do during the season. Don’t bother them unless they’re doing something illegal in your particular jurisdiction.

I’ve heard of people doing animal sacrifices and stuff during different parts of the year. This is not typical. I would contact law enforcement if you see this sort of thing going on. It depends on your region, and whether it’s on private property. It might fall under animal abuse, or it might not. Again, for most neo-pagan groups, this isn’t normal and they don’t do this, and you’d have to be pretty brazen to sacrifice chickens or whatever right in the open. I’m all for religious expression, but there are some lines you really shouldn’t cross, at least in public.

Frankly, Christians do weirdo ceremonies this time of year what with masses, church services, candle vigils and prayer groups. The Wiccans doing a circle or whatever in the park or around their home isn’t any different. Go watch, sometimes it’s pretty interesting.

Did that small girl/teenager/hooker get eaten by that axe murderer/snake/wolf/dog/rabbit on Halloween back in ’34 in the haunted house?

Every town has these awesome urban legends. My own town has this amusement park called “Wonderland” that has one of those scary house rides called the “Fantastic Journey” that was built by the original owner (By hand! He bent the rails himself!). When I was a kid the story was that someone’s pet python once had gotten lose in the ride and you could see it slithering around in bottom of the ride, and it would occasionally kill people and eat them during the ride, especially on Halloween night. Occasionally someone would say they saw two people go into the ride and one come out, or there’d be an empty cart come out of the ride. The same story would be told as a murderer or even “Jason” from the Friday the 13th movie series.

Now while the snake story is totally true in our case, it’s never true anywhere else. The Jason thing is made up, but I swear I saw that snake once. People tend to associate scary things with  Halloween, because it’s a scary night.

Check out my other articles on Halloween debunking some of the other nonsense:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

 

 

October 22

Emergency Smart Phone Preparedness In the Urban Landscape

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was this cold! That was falling water in the summer!

Thought I’d diverge from the Geeky Faith stuff for a while. Stuff depresses me sometimes. Get back to good old geeky electronics and techno-survivalism. Thought I’d relate a story that my fiance and I went through about a year ago in Edmonton, Alberta.

I was up there visiting during the winter and we decided to go out to eat one really cold evening. It was about -20 C outside, which is a respectable 0 to -2 or -3 in non-heathen units. Might have been colder, once it starts getting down that cold in Canada you cease caring about actual degrees and just start gauging temperatures in “Negative Jesus’s”. Which is basically when you get up in the morning, look at the weather to see how much coat you need and say, “Oh it’s negative.. Jesus Christ that’s cold.” The more expletives between Jesus and Christ is roughly how many layers a non-Canadian will feel like they need to wear.

So we finally decide to go to Famosa’s, which is a really great pizza place in the Alberta area. Have us some great pizza and realize it’s pretty late, and aren’t sure if the bus runs at one in the morning, and we’re on the other side of town. We can’t check the cell phone because mine doesn’t work in Canada and hers is almost dead, and screws up sometimes anyway. I figure no problem  because my tablet is in her backpack and has a USB port and she carries a spare cable. No luck, because no cable. Can’t use the restaurant phone to call a taxi because they are jerks, so we’re about half freaking out. Can’t swap SIM cards because different sizes, and the aggravation goes on and on. Just to add to the annoyance, no payphones anymore that we can find. So we figure we’re basically stranded in a cold, unforgiving Canadian parking lot with half drunk Edmontonians doing donuts on the ice in their gigantic pickup trucks if the public transit isn’t running.

The story has a happy ending because the buses ran for a few more hours and we caught one back to where we needed to go. There was a good fifteen minutes of utter uncertainty though. I made it a point to make sure neither of us were in that position again. Getting stuck either in the extreme cold of Canada or the heat of the Texas Panhandle sucks, and if you have  your smart phone it might not be a survival situation so much as a find the information you need situation. It’s really the little things that cause the problems, not the big things.

First thing I did was came up with some protocol to avoid the situation in the first place.

Smart Phone Protocol

  1. Make sure cell phones are at least mostly charged before heading out for more than a few hours, especially somewhere using public transportation.
  2. ALWAYS carry a cable and a means of charging in purse, backpack, pocket, coat, wherever.
  3. Make sure any information that’s needed is pulled up on the web browser or written down somewhere just in case there’s no signal before it becomes a problem. A little piece of paper in the case is pretty handy.
  4. Know basically how long your cell battery lasts from a full charge until dead under normal use.

The Tech

The second thing is that we had a way to charge the phone if we had a cable but what it was pretty bulky and we might not have always had that tablet with us. If we had just a cable and a wall charger it might not have helped much because there weren’t any outlets anywhere convenient. So having an alternative energy source would have been super handy. The very first thing I did when I got home was research external USB batteries. What I found is that there are a few types.

The simple kind are just a battery with two ports. One charges the battery up, and the other charges the device. The other kinds have two means of charging. They can either be charged through the USB port or through some other means like solar, or mechanical energy. I like this type the best.

Either kind of these batteries can be carried in a purse or backpack. Most of us guys tend to walk out the door with just what we have in our pockets so maybe this isn’t super practical if all you’re wearing is jeans and a white Hane’s t-shirt. However, in the dead of winter, you’re probably wearing a jacket, I’ve carried mine in my Scottevest hoodie.

Opteka BP-SC4000

This one has pretty good reviews, comes with a TON of different charger tips, including a lot I don’t recognize, and you can put any cable you want in it. It charges with a regular mini-USB so if you have any gear that uses those, it can use that cable. It also charges solar as well. I’ve tested this thing with all kinds of light conditions, it will charge slowly in dim light indoors, sunlight, and by shining a bright flashlight on it. It does take a long time to charge via solar (something like ten hours), but you can attach a lanyard to it, put it on the outside of your backpack on a sunny day or whatever and let nature take its course.

It’s 4000mAh, though I’ve seen a tear down somewhere showing at least a few have bigger batteries. My HTC One gets almost a complete charge from it. My Windows Tablet won’t charge, but will run off it and my camera will charge from it just fine. I got about two charges from it on my Galaxy S2 and an iPhone 4 seemed to charge about once from it. I was also able to charge it from my tablet.

Basically it works a bit better than the manufacturer advertises. The only problem I’ve had with it is the power button on mine doesn’t always seem to turn it off when you hold it down. I’m not sure why. But it might be because I’ve dropped it. The other one we got works flawlessly. Both have charged to 100% or very close to it off of solar in the sun.

The “Lipstick Battery”

This is the other style battery I’ve seen that might be better for people who don’t carry around a bag. Like I mentioned before, most guys just go out with almost nothing on them but a wallet, keys and a phone. I personally take more crap with me if I’m going out a while, especially if I’m somewhere my car isn’t available. While these things aren’t super small, they’re a lot smaller than the solar charger above.

Anker® 2nd Gen Astro Mini

This one seems to be fairly small, and charges with a micro USB cable, which it comes with. This is probably what your devices use anyway. It looks like it’ll charge a few of the more popular phones today to 100% capacity and the Galaxy S4 to about 80%. Not bad for something so small. The same company makes a few higher capacity battery packs too that might be worth looking into. I’ll probably be purchasing one of these very soon to stick in my ScotteVest hoodie for an EDC during the  fall/winter months since my solar one is a bit big for that.

August 12

Thoughts on Recent News Stories in the Middle East

(Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)

(Photo: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)

I read a story this week where a group of people from a foreign country invaded their neighbors and started killing the infants and children because they felt God had commanded them to do so, for no other reason than they had an opposing religion. It’s was widely posted all over the internet and practically every Christian heard the story. They didn’t stop at just one city, but killed hundreds, if not thousands of innocent victims all over the Middle East.

After these invaders would crush the military resistance they’d go in and kill all the women, children and livestock before occupying the city. Sometimes, they’d keep all the young, virgin girls and force them into marriage to their unmarried men if their weren’t enough of their own women to go around.

Fortunately recent journalism, satellite photography and digging around in the Middle East has brought forth some strong evidence that none of this actually happened and it was just made  up for whatever purpose, probably propaganda.

Unfortunately, a lot of people were  upset at the news and did everything they could to discredit everyone involved and prove that, in fact the mass murder of infants in the Middle East did happen.

I’m talking of course of most of the stories in the book of Joshua. Though it does sound a lot like some of the stuff being told about the so-called ISIS militant group in Iraq today. What got me thinking about this was this quote from C.S. Lewis I saw posted on Facebook. I felt the strong irony here.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything – God and our friends and ourselves included – as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I find it amusing that so many people’s knee jerk reaction to the claims of beheading of Christian children in Iraq by Muslim extremists today is one of shock, horror and calls for violence. They’ll slap the Arabic nun on their Facebook profile, post the same dubious articles all over social media and cry for the U.S. to go back to crush these militants. I know I took it seriously too for a while until I saw some that most of the sources were no better than internet tabloids.We then find out that ISIS isn’t really beheading children as far as anyone can find, and heck if we can find photos of anything but houses being branded with Arabic N’s.

What’s equally amusing is that these same people will read the book of Joshua, 1 Samuel and other place describing the wholesale slaughter of women, children and infants at God’s command and be just fine with that. I know, I used to be one of them! In 1 Samuel, King Saul was punished for not killing everything in Amalek. Not because he was merciful and didn’t kill the women and children, mind you, but because he didn’t kill all the animals and let the king live!

There are no stories where the Israelites were merciful to a bunch of children. When they were, it was virgin girls for wives for their unmarried sons. Which was kind of against their own laws. But we’re fine with that, because, “God commanded it of the Israelites.” Lest anyone accuse me of antisemitism here, this is from their own stories. We’ve all got our baggage.

The funny thing about this to me is that the same Christians have this huge sigh of relief that ISIS isn’t beheading Christian children in Iraq, they aren’t relieved when archaeology tells us the same thing about the ancient Israelites. One less thing to justify about a loving God and yet the fight for total Old Testament inerrancy continues.

Is this not exactly what C.S. Lewis was talking about? You find out this story in print wasn’t as bad as it said, or might not have been true at all and on the one hand you breathe a sigh of relief at the fanatics, but get angry at the archaeologist for daring to claim the genocide of the Canaanites didn’t actually happen?

Shouldn’t we be happy when we find out that genocide likely didn’t happen? That God didn’t command it, and that no one actually did it.

ISIS is doing terrible things in Iraq right now. They do need to be stopped. But, do not let your critical thinking be shut off by these events. Do not say, “This ancient genocide was excusable because God said so,” and “This modern genocide is not excusable because they only think God is saying so.” That’s hypocrisy.

July 9

Guns, Flags, and Sacred Texts

So this stupid picture has made rounds on the ol’ social media feeds lately and I can’t help but look at the sheer stupidity of it all.

who-holly-fisher-holly-hobby-lobby

 

I’m your average mostly libertarian Christian with HEAVY gnostic and deist leanings. I stress this because I don’t want anyone to think this is going to be the rant of some run of the mill Southern Baptist redneck from Amarillo trying to defend this whole thing. I do not like either of the mainstream political parties too much though I do tend to have more right-wing political leanings most of the time.

I do not know exactly who the woman in the right hand picture is but it’s been suggested that it might be a woman named Reem Saleh Al-Riyashi. She was a wealthy Palestinian woman who blew herself up in 2004 and killed four Israeli soldiers and wounded several more. She left behind two children. 

The woman on the left in Holly Fisher, an American woman whose husband is in the military. Apparently she’s got a kid who’s cardiologist was not covered under the new healthcare act here in the US and some other stuff. So she took that picture of herself and another one that’s been making rounds with herself outside of Hobby Lobby.

I notice something about both pictures though. They’re both doing things that their culture deems proper as methods of expressing their patriotism. But you know what I never see anymore? Pictures of people actually reading their holy books?

Used to the pictures of American life you’d see were these men sitting on their porch with the shotgun propped up against the house with a beverage of some sort on a table.  They’d have their boots off, maybe their wife just had finished cooking supper and a pie was cooling in the window. Both of them would be taking a well deserved break from the hard work of the day. Maybe both of them would be smoking a pipe, maybe just the man. There’d be a Bible alright, but it’d be open, worn and one of them would be reading it. It wouldn’t be brand new, clutched tightly and used like a talisman to ward off the liberals. The flag? It’d be on a pole, where it’s supposed to be.

 

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