Taking the Smartphone Plunge

April 30, 2013

By Karen

Call me old-fashioned, but I think anybody who goes around with a phone stuck upside their head because they’ve lost the ability to function without third-party feedback are the worst kind of stupid.

If you ever eavesdrop (it’s usually hard not to), they’re usually describing their location…

“I’m in Food Lion. At the checkout.”

They never give the full story, which is, “Slowly unloading my groceries with one hand, backing up the line, and ignoring the cashier so I can babble about nothing on my phone.”

I had a sweet little blue Samsung cellphone with a slide-out keyboard — that was never on. It was for when I needed to make a call, not to make myself available to interruption 24/7.

But for just the occasional call, without texting or data, I was paying Verizon $45 a month under a 2-year sentence contract. They said texts were 10 cents each, but every month I’d get a 20-cent charge for some useless text they’d sent me. So apparently, it was 10 cents to receive, and another 10 cents to read.

A few months ago they dangled a Samsung smartphone at me, real cheap. But to take that bait started a NEW 2-year sentence and raised my bill to $80+.

So last week I went to Sears to check out Consumer Cellular. It’s AARP’s preferred cellphone provider and runs on AT&T’s network.

For $150, I bought a Huawei (pronounced Wah-way) 8800 smartphone. It only runs Android 2.2 (aka “Froyo,” for “frozen yogurt”), which isn’t the latest version. But who needs frills when you don’t even know how to use the damn phone?

I have no long-term contract, and 150 voice minutes, 1,000 texts, and 100 MB of data (WAY more than I’ll ever use unless I develop an addiction) is $25 + tax a month. If I need more or less, I can change the plan any time.

The biggest snag I hit was with Google. You need Google email to access apps. When I entered my Google address, it sucked over 600+ email addresses from my AOL business account onto my smartphone, when all I wanted was a short list of personal phone numbers from my old Verizon phone.

(BTW, nothing from a Verizon phone is transferrable to CC because Verizon phones don’t have the interchangeable SIM card other carriers use. Way to put one last screw to your customers, Verizon!)

My Huawei’s relatively primitive capabilities should lessen the learning curve, but I had to call CC twice for help the first day. The reps were rather condescending, with one telling me I should LOVE having hundreds of junk email addresses on my new phone because it’s supposed to be the repository of my LIFE.

This whole endeavor boiled down to 1) Reducing some bills since Anthem hiked my health insurance another $50 a month, 2) Having text/data capability if I ever need/want it, and 3) Breaking out of Verizon’s yoke.

So far, so good with the Huawei, although my first game download (Bingo Blast) was too big for the screen and I couldn’t figure out how to play it. And I couldn’t buy a cute case anywhere (it’s an iPhone and Galaxy world), but I did order one from Amazon.

I don’t feel compelled to use the smartphone any more than my old one, and I don’t keep it on all the time. Why smartphones are an American obsession is still a mystery to me — but now I have one.

 

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Bourdain Wows Richmond

April 24, 2013

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain brought Guts & Glory to Richmond, Va., on April 23 and succeeded in — or came close to — filling the 3,565-seat Landmark Theater. They loved him.

But the custom for every live performance here is to start at least 15 minutes late. Then 15 minutes into Tony’s talk, stragglers were still groping their way over everyone to find their seats in the dark. And no sooner were they seated than they started clambering back out to visit the head or buy drinks.

In Richmond, a warm body on stage gets no more courtesy than a movie at the Regal Cinema.

Regardless, Bourdain was in top form. In faded jeans, an untucked shirt under a gray jacket, and those beige shoes we’ve seen him roam the world in, he commanded the stage with a bottle of Virginia’s Full Nelson beer and a clicker to show the photos and film clips that punctuated his talk.

He opened with his recent Paula Dean kerfuffle. After seeing a picture of Mario Batali kissing Dean, Tony concluded that “integrity is overrated” and he’s a hypocrite himself in many ways, so Tony proposed his own line of merchandise, including an Anthony Bourdain action figure that weirdly looks just like Eric Ripert.

The rest of his talk rested on the framework of what it takes to work with or for him. I won’t give away his outline, but you’ve seen all the principles on No Reservations.

As endearing and thoroughly entertaining as he was, he didn’t cover much new ground for me or regular Cats Working readers. He indulged in a few Lewis Black-like rages. He’s a bluntly passionate advocate for Americans to broaden their culinary horizons, which he sums up in two words…

Food matters.

He ripped into vegetarians and vegans by observing that their lifestyle is possible only in the developed world because we have so many options, compared to poor countries where people are meat-free involuntarily. So if they offer you a dish they rarely get to eat themselves, you’d be “rude” and “incurious” not to accept.

He said he doesn’t go to Russia often because he can’t keep up with, of all things, the drinking. In a typical day, he averages 30-40 vodka shots, beginning at breakfast.

His extensive travel has bred a life-changing sense of “moral relativism” in him, where he frequently gives a pass to people with differing world views he’d ordinarily have nothing to do with. As a result, he gets complaints from “Couch Rambos” who accuse him of not defending America.

He ended with some unabashed gushing about fatherhood and his daughter, especially her more sophisticated food choices.

The Q&A was brief and added nothing. His last answer included a somewhat embarrassed allusion to The Taste (without naming it), then he abruptly wrapped up and left the stage.

The VIP reception afterward (don’t ask) in the ballroom was packed. Tony got hustled past the buffet of gourmet hors d’oeuvres (tuna tartare, anyone?) to a table for the inevitable book-signing, and he probably cringed at the line of several hundred that snaked around the room. We only got a quick few seconds of face time. I brought his 2001 biography, Typhoid Mary, for an autograph, and I’m betting it was the only one of that title he signed all night.

I told him we think he’s doing good work with Parts Unknown, and he replied he’s very happy and it’s the best working arrangement he’s ever had.

Bonus…

Here’s his interview with Buffalo News where he talks about The Taste and future seasons of Mind of a Chef.

Correction: Marilyn Hagerty’s book under Tony’s imprint, Grand Forks, comes out August 27. I made the snide prediction that his name would be more prominent on the cover than hers, but I was wrong (and I really knew if he had anything to do with it, he’d never try to steal an old lady’s thunder). Bourdain calls the book an “antidote to snark.”

If you haven’t read Tony’s graphic novel, Get Jiro! yet, it’s out in paperback May 7.

He holds up well after a very long night.

He holds up well after a very long night.


Bourdain’s Parts Not-So Unknown

April 18, 2013

By Karen

The opening montage was undeniably slicker (but did my eyes deceive when I detected a few shots in it from No Reservations?), but the sense of déjà vu quickly set in with the discordant rock theme by John Homme and Mark Lanegan (whose only lyric I think I got was “rain on my shoulder”) and the black and red logo with Tony sitting beside it.

The only thing they left back at Travel Channel was the ink blot.

We’d been duly warned that Parts Unknown wouldn’t be that different, but come on.

Tony’s first foray for CNN was to Myanmar (formerly Burma), I place I know mainly as Siam’s rival kingdom in The King and I. As a nod to his new masters’ focus on news, the episode opened with Bourdain talking in somber tones about the country’s recent political developments and reading a newspaper in the street, with some voiceover of Obama giving a speech there and a shot of “O-Burma” tchotchkes thrown in.

But then there was a quick segue to familiar turf: tea.

Tony soon met up with his former employer from Les Halles, Philippe LaJeunie, who happened to be in town, and they did some street-dining on chicken necks and little birds deep-fried whole.

My favorite part was the long, uncomfortable train ride to Bagan, and I wondered how they got that shot of the train’s underside from the tracks.

While I’m on the cinematography, there was also a stunning shot of Tony standing at water’s edge during a breathtaking sunset, and another spectacular sunset caught from the train. Burma definitely brought out the best in his camera guy.

Then at one point, Tony said, “There is shit going on they do not want you to see,” and didn’t get bleeped!

Score one for CNN.

Miami New Times reviewed the show and called it “No Reservations with slow motion.”

Obviously, Bourdain’s PR machine did a good job of spreading word about the show because its premiere gave CNN a nice ratings bump. But the question is, can he sustain it and build his fan base merely with the twist of eating the same old exotic stuff in places it’s assumed Americans aren’t safe?

Director Tom Vitale gave a good interview about filming the first several episodes to Bon Appetit.

For episode 2, Tony travels to Koreatown in Los Angeles, so I anticipate the usual dim sum and noodle scenes — but (gasp!) on American soil!

I’d turn out to hear Bourdain read the phone book (and will be seeing him live in Richmond on April 23), but how long will most viewers stick around to watch him keep milking the same cow?


Weight Watching on a Cruise

April 11, 2013

By Karen

Feeling pretty svelte after losing 48 lbs., I went to San Juan last week for a sail through the Southern Caribbean on Royal Caribbean’s lovely Brilliance of the Seas.

Yes, it’s the same ship from which honeymooner George Smith disappeared in the Mediterranean in 2005. His blonde bride, Jennifer, pounded the talk show circuit for a while.

My cabin was 2 decks below theirs, and I didn’t run in to George’s spirit.

I cut ties to Weight Watchers® online before I left, but I still follow PointsPlus® because it won’t take much more to get myself into a size 8.

I wasn’t about to let that ruin my vacay. There’s no shortage of healthy options on a ship. I ate cereal, fruit, yogurt, and salads. OK, one morning I had eggs Benedict.

They bake the breads and pastries fresh every day, with real butter for spreading.

And did I mention there’s liquor?

So I cheated. But no fried chicken or pizza. I haven’t had a decent slice of pizza since early 2012, and feared I’d lose it and binge because it’s always available.

One lunch I splurged on a hamburger and fries. Pasta twice, once Bolognese and once Asian. Two cookies.

Even being fairly careful, most days I’d pretty much blown through my daily points by mid-afternoon — if I were counting.

I watched plenty of morbidly obese passengers loading heaping plates of stuff buried under mayonnaise and gravy. They were my best motivation — particularly when they hung out around the pool later.

At dinner, I ordered mostly grilled fish or pork, with one lobster tail. I had quite a few chocolate desserts, but didn’t always finish.

Probably worse than the eating and drinking was not doing my usual 10,000 steps a day, although you’d think on a 958-ft. ship it would have been easier. But I usually fell far short.

When I got home, I’d gained 2 lbs.

I’d laid in some Lean Cuisine® to ease myself into “normal” eating until I could hit Food Lion. The only fresh produce I had in the house was an onion.

So now it’s 5 days later and one of my ill-gotten pounds is already gone.

I’m hoping the week-long shock of eating more fat and animal protein will propel me further into the 120s and the coveted size 8s. Before the cruise, I was hopelessly plateauing.

But back to my initial question. Yes, you can watch your weight on a cruise, but you don’t have to go overboard about it.


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