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Bit of a Rebate for Low Speed Broadband

Posted: 03-28-2016
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Thanks to an “Assurance of Voluntary Compliance” between the Attorney General of West Virginia and Frontier Communications, some high speed broadband customers are getting a discount on their monthly bill.  The operative word here is “some”.  The discount only applies to those getting the lowest of the low download speeds.

Many Frontier customers like me have been complaining for years about the injustice of being charged high speed internet prices for low speed service.  The agreement reached in December 2015 provides a credit to those broadband customers struggling with a download speed of 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) or less.  Instead of paying up to $35.99 per month as they have been in the past, customers will pay $9.99 as of January 2016.  The new rate affects 28,000 customers state-wide and 880 customers here in Jefferson County.  The new rate appears as a credit on the monthly bill.

Unfortunately, thousands of other customers enduring lower speeds than Frontier’s high speed broadband promise of “up to 6.0 Mbps” will get no relief.

For those unfamiliar with the world of bytes and bits, here is a simple primer.  The term Mbps is a measure of how fast data is downloaded from cyberspace. In automobiles, the measure of fuel efficiency is MPG or “miles per gallon.”  In the world of broadband, the measure of speed is Mbps or “megabits per second”.   The higher the Mbps, the faster information is transferred.  What constitutes “high speed broadband”?  The WV State legislature has adopted the Federal Communications Commission definition of high speed broadband as 25 Mbps. The national average in the United States is 12.5 Mbps.   For those who enjoy streaming movies, 4 to 5 Mbps is the minimum speed to avoid buffering problems for high definition downloads.

Frontier high speed internet service promises “up to 6.0 Mbps.”   Unfortunately that “up to” can mean providing speeds as slow as 1, 2, or 3 Mbps.

The agreement between the WV Attorney General and Frontier provides relief to Frontier customers getting only 1.5 mbps or less.  Affected consumers will pay a reduced rate of $9.99 per month until the download speed increases to 6.   When I asked how the Attorney General and Frontier arrived at the 1.5 number, I received this official response from Frontier:   “We effectively created a lower price tier for Internet Max customers with speeds 1.5mbps or lower.  In the context of an overall compromise, this pricing made sense to both parties.”

The compromise might make sense to “both parties” but I doubt it makes sense to Frontier customers still paying full price for low speeds.  The simple solution would be to offer the same rebate to all customers experiencing download speeds of less than 6 Mbps.  The “Assurance of Voluntary Compliance” simply does not go far enough.

Frontier representatives speak at length about how the internet speeds are being increased in West Virginia.  That is great.  West Virginia is a rural state and I appreciate the difficulty of expanding service in rural areas.  But that does not change the fact that more consumers deserve relief from paying high speed prices for low speed service.

 

 

Diogenes and me

Posted: 02-24-2016
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diogenesA new medical report states walking an hour a day will fend off death. No problem. I walk more than that each day searching for items I put somewhere in the house but can’t remember where. I will end up like Diogenes who eternally searched for justice with his lamp only I will be searching for my car keys.

Deal Me In!

Posted: 02-23-2016
Blog Articles

 

Now that I am retired, I am spending a lot more time playing bridge.  I learned the game decades ago because my mother believed knowing how to play bridge was as important to succeeding in college as good SAT scores.  She adored the game. I always helped Mom prepare when it was her turn to host the bridge ladies for an extravagant lunch and an afternoon of play.  My job was to iron napkins and tablecloths, wash the good crystal and polish silver.

Based on my childhood experience, I came to associate bridge with liquor, linen and lasagna.   Add a few glasses of wine and/or sherry and  it was amazing my mother’s bridge group was coherent enough to actually play bridge.

When my mother sent me to bridge lessons, she hoped it would help me find social success in college.  I found other interests in college and put bridge on hold.

Fast forward to 1990 when I started playing bridge with a small group of ladies in Charles Town.  Naomi Moses, my bridge span into the modern era of bidding, invited me to join her group for an afternoon of play.  I welcomed the invitation and decided to skip breakfast to save room for a lavish lunch a la my mother.    I arrived at Naomi’s home and viewed the kitchen table, adorned only by two decks of cards and a score pad.  No buffet.  No lasagna.  No silver cutlery.  The only food was a bowl of cantaloupe squares pierced with toothpicks.

I could barely hear the introductions of the other players over the rumblings of my empty stomach.  These ladies were far more interested in teaching me “weak two bids”, “negative doubles” and “strong artificial 2 club opening” than feeding me.

I loved it.  Unfortunately, working full-time and raising a family cut into my bridge time.

Now, freed of work and young children, I am back at the bridge table.  There is quite an active group of bridge players in the area, ranging from weekly bridge games among friends to more structured, duplicate games in Martinsburg, Charles Town and Shepherdstown.

I am one of the youngest players at my regular bridge game in Shepherdstown.  No matter—these ladies are sharp!  Recently, my 93-year old partner (who has been married longer than I have been alive) reminded me after we failed to make our bid that the Jacoby transfer convention is still on after an interference bid by the opponent.

I nodded to give the impression I knew what she was talking about.

In Charles Town, I have played with a hero of World War II,  Fred Mayer.  Or as he is referred to in Wikipedia, “Frederick Mayer (spy)”.   During World War II Fred parachuted into Austria, then posed as a German Army officer to learn about troop movements near Innsbruck.    He was captured and tortured by the Gestapo.  Fred was freed in 1945 by American troops and later awarded the Legion of Merit and a Purple Heart by the United States Government.  What an honor to sit at the bridge table with an American war hero.

My mother insisted bridge would help me socially in college.  That never happened but her investment in lessons is paying dividends now that I am older and retired.  Playing bridge has introduced me to a wonderful new group of friends and acquaintances.

Best of all, knowing an opening bid of 2 No Trump promises 20-21 points is considered far more important than knowing how to iron linen napkins or polish silver.

2016 New Year Resolutions

Posted: 01-29-2016
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After much soul searching and several swigs of raspberry lemon SweetShine from the Bloomery Plantation Distillery, I have come up with three resolutions for the New Year.cartoon aging

Resolution one:   Think healthy.   Sometimes it is hard to remember that being old AND being healthy is possible.  Every television show I enjoy includes ads that target health aids for seniors.  Clearly, I am watching the same shows as my aging peeps.   Back in my younger days I remember commercials hawking beer, clothing and fast food.  Now I am told about drugs to relieve insomnia, incontinence, dry eye, dry mouth, dementia, COPD, diabetes, macular degeneration….the list is endless.  The ads usually feature older people laughing and cavorting with their grandchildren.  Obviously they cannot hear the disembodied voice warning of side effects like bloody stools, suicidal thoughts, nausea and growing extra limbs.  I keep waiting for that giggling grandpa to start foaming at the mouth as he staggers crazily through the yard, spewing liquids from every orifice.

We are often our own worst enemy.  When asked “how are you?” it really is okay to reply “I have had some ups and downs but I am doing better now.”  I have listened glassy eyed to a friend describe a health episode in such gory detail that I actually feel queasy.  Some folks are even posting pictures of medical procedures on Facebook.   No, I do NOT want to see your mangled finger before and after 15 stitches,

In 2016, I am going to concentrate on staying healthy and, more importantly, talking healthy

Resolution two:  Read ten selections from the Washington Post’s list of 50 best books of 2015.  I have already finished Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.  She is a wonderful writer.  This is Groff’s description of a husband observing his sleeping wife:  “her eyelids were so translucent that he always thought if he looked hard, he could see her dreams pulsing like jellyfish across her brain.”

My description of my husband sleeping would be more succinct.  “Roll over!” she yelled, as she jabbed him with her elbow.   “You’re snoring!”

Resolution three.  Finish visiting all 55 West Virginia county courthouses.  So far my husband Ron and I have visited 24.  Truth be told, some of the county seats are pretty depressing.  Too many towns feature boarded up buildings and vacant storefronts.  Bail bondsmen, lawyers and Dollar General stores are all that remain in many downtowns.  Yet no matter how depressed the local economy, the courthouse is always well maintained and an obvious source of community pride. I find it very touching that at every courthouse we have visited, someone has always offered to give us a tour and share the history of the building.

The list of New Year resolutions from my younger days usually extended to more than three.  I have not gotten more perfect; I just can’t remember long lists anymore.  I am sure if I keep watching my favorite television shows, I will discover a drug that would help.

 

I’m too old to be adventurous…

Posted: 07-02-2015
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arch utah sunriseMy husband Ron and I just completed a 10 day, 1200 mile bus tour of the Grand Circle: five national parks and three national monuments mostly in Utah. We traveled with Road Scholar, a group that specializes in educational travel for old people, I mean senior citizens. The first rule of thumb on a guided bus tour for this age group is never, EVER be more than 2 hours from a bathroom.
Son Nick, a seasoned world-wide trekker, was appalled by our travel choice. First he deemed the cost of the trip ($3300 for two people) unduly extravagant. Nick is quite frugal (as in cheap). While in Nepal last year, he avoided airfare from Mt Everest base camp to Katmandu by hiking two days overland to the nearest bus stop. “I don’t do backpacking,’ I tell Nick,” or sleepovers in fields or bus trips where my seat-mate is a goat.”

Nick disapproves of highly structured vacations. He believes the best travel memories are unplanned discoveries. He recalls the colorful Hindu festival he happened upon in India that featured painted elephants and a landscape aglow with candles. I haughtily informed Nick that one day on our trip we were running ahead of schedule. In a moment of heady exuberance we left the main highway to view Gooseneck Canyon. “It was so remote, “I told Nick, “the bathroom was an outhouse and there was no gift shop.”

I understand traveling 1200 miles in 10 days with 30 other people on a bus isn’t for everyone. I found it a trip of a lifetime largely because of our guide Darrell McMahon. This man is a genius at conveying the geologic history of the area in an informative, humorous manner. When we visited Bryce Canyon National Park, he announced we would be joined by a renowned geologist. Darrell appeared wearing a fake beard and ratty hat. He introduced himself as Clarence Dutton, a geologist who mapped 12,000 square miles of the high plateaus of southern Utah between 1875-1877. Later in the week, Darrell dressed as a condor to describe the bird’s appearance and behavior. Darrell concluded by saying a condor is a lot like a Road Scholar participant—it can eat 20% of its weight in one sitting.
Even though our trip featured walks and hikes, we spent lots of time on the bus. There is no other way to visit so many parks in so little time. Darryl’s commentary and corny jokes helped pass the time (what do geologists use to season their supper? Basalt and pepper.)
Road Scholar caters to senior citizens like me who account for an ever-increasing share of domestic travel. According to survey data, seniors gravitate toward guided tours, expect to experience cultures firsthand, demand expert tour guides and prefer no worries. While world trekkers like my son seek adventure and spontaneity, my peeps want to know motel rooms are booked and Wi-Fi is available.
The tour of Utah’s Grand Circle was very special because of the spectacular scenery and a top notch guide. Our affable and highly intelligent group obviously made a deep impression on Darrell. At our last dinner together he told us, “Of all the tour groups I have led, I can definitely say you are one of them.”

 

Is that a sugar glider on my head?

Posted: 09-10-2014
Blog Articles

The West Virginia Wild and Dangerous Animal Board says it is okay to keep sugar gliders as pets.  Here is my humorous take on that decision via YouTube.

 

 

My Adventures as a Human Pack Mule (Part 4)

Posted: 08-31-2014
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Front Royal, VA – Mile 498 

photo (5)Nick’s adventure hiking the Virginia portion of the Appalachian Trail is almost over.  We met him Saturday near Front Royal where the trail crosses US 522. 

We got there a little early (cell phones make rendezvous times very easy) so Ron and I embraced the trail and started walking to meet him. After an arduous hike of 1000 yards, Nick appeared and led us back to the parking lot.  Nick walked faster carrying a 30 pound backpack than I did carrying only my cell phone.

This was a short visit, for lunch only, because Nick is determined to make it home by Monday.  That means hiking over 50 miles in two and ½ days.  I insisted he change shirts before going into Front Royal. 

app trail va_frontroyalI handed him a clean shirt and a stick of deodorant.  We enjoyed a great lunch at the Apple House Deli.  Nick is tired.  He admits he should have taken more days off especially after completing 21 miles in one day as he did while in the Shenandoah National Park.

Nick had only rave reviews about Shenandoah National Park.  Thanks to the recommendation of Harpers Ferry NHP Superintendent Rebecca Herriot, he indulged in a helping of blackberry ice cream and said it was great.  Nick was disappointed at not seeing a single bear although a rattle snake scared the stink off him (HAHA!  Nothing can scare the stink off an Appalachian Trail hiker.  It takes a hot shower and lots of soap).

He has continued to enjoy episodes of trail magic, including a hiker who was toting a 6-pack of beer and ice and shared it with everyone in the shelter.

Nick AT car trunkRon and I got to provide a little trail magic ourselves.  When we dropped Nick back at the trail, we met Padre, a through hiker going from north to south.  He needed a ride to Food Lion in Front Royal so we took him there and I gave him some home-made brownies.   Nothing can make you feel more appreciated than giving a hiker home-made baked goods!

My Adventures as a Human pack Mule (Part 3)

Posted: 08-27-2014
Blog Articles

Rockfish Gap, VA — Mile 390

 

app trail va_staunton

 

Rockfish Gap? Who knew I would one day be in a trailhead parking lot there awaiting for Nick to emerge from the Appalachian Trail.  I only had to wait about 10 minutes for him to appear.  Bearded, stinky and very skinny—Nick displayed all the hallmarks of an AT hiker!

Nick ROckfish gap

 

We stayed the night in Staunton at a hotel that mercifully had a coin-operated washer and dryer.  Unfortunately, Nick’s back pack could not be washed.  Whew does it smell.

Nick regaled me with tales of his last 215 miles, including two encounters with rattle snakes, one bear and a slightly demented hiker.  Nick or Country Roads as he is known, hiked a while with a man who seemed okay but progressively got nuttier.  Nick picked up his pace until he put about 10 miles between them.

Fortunately, most hikers are awfully nice, like the couple he met from Alexandria Virginia.  They hiked together for two days and it wasn’t until the very end Nick discovered he and the husband were at the College of William and Mary together.  “What does he do?” I asked.  “Mom,” Nick said with some derision, “You don’t share personal information on the trail.”  That comes later since everyone seems to stay connected on Facebook.

I have learned from Nick about “trail magic.” Apparently when things get bleak, trail magic often intervenes.  Nick said he was sitting curbside on the Blue Ridge Parkway (the trail and parkway are in close proximity at times), discouraged that the stream he had to use for water was very muddy.  A motorcyclist slowed down and tossed him an ice cold bottle of water.  At another point, a gentleman and his son invited him to their picnic and Nick enjoyed water, fruit and a homemade sandwich.  I plan to return the favor when I come across a hiker.  However, if they smell as bad as Nick, I won’t be sharing a picnic with them.

Fulfilling my role as a human pack mule, I took Nick to the grocery store to stock up.  I am getting good at this and automatically steer the cart to the right aisles.  Pouches of chicken and tuna, packaged noodle dinners, individual oatmeal servings, peanut butter, honey…the objective is to get the most calories with the least packaging.  Lessening the weight of the backpack is a big deal.  Nick bought a new toothbrush.  He hacked off part of the handle to make it lighter.

I asked Nick what he thinks about while trudging 10 or 15 miles a day.  Does he think about the wonders of the trail, the beauty of the scenery?  Or how about the juxtaposition of hiking a wilderness trail within spitting distance of major highways and population centers?    “No, Mom,” he replied.  “I think of food.”  He has already requested a steak for his welcome home dinner.

I dropped Nick back at Rockfish Gap on Saturday and he plans to be home on Labor Day, September 1. That means he intends to cover 156 miles in 9 days.  Ron and I plan to meet him in Front Royal (mile 492) for lunch and we may help him “slack pack.”  This means we take his backpack and then  drive to a rendezvous point further down the trail. By shedding his backpack for a while, Nick can cover more ground in a shorter amount of time.

I am happy to help Nick slack pack but that backpack is going in the trunk of the car with plenty of deodorizers.

 

My Adventures as a Human Pack Mule (Part 2)

Posted: 08-05-2014
Blog Articles

Pearisburg, VA – Mile 174

My husband and I met Nick near Pearisburg (population 2800) on August 1. After 174 miles of hiking the Appalachian Trail, Nick needed a hot shower. I booked us into the Woods Hole Hostel, located only ½ mile off the trail in a remote mountain area. Nick stayed in the bunk room for $15 a night (mattresses available on first come, first served basis). Fortunately the hostel offers a REAL room for those less hardcore visitors ($75 per night with breakfast). The owners are trying to live off the land so the vegetables, eggs and meat come from their farm. Their cat is living off the land too, appearing at breakfast one morning proudly mouthing a dead chipmunk. (“You don’t see that at Holiday Inn Express,” I whispered to my husband after we all held hands and gave thanks for life’s blessings.)

nick mom AT pburg

Another guest, Pace Maker, joined us. Anyone hiking the AT earns a trail name. Pace Maker is an obvious choice for a grandfather who has suffered 3 heart attacks. Pace Maker, like Nick, is a sectional hiker, someone who is doing different parts of the trail at different times rather than hiking the entire 2000 miles in one outing. Nick hiked a while with High Roller, a hiker who found a poker token on the trail. Nick has yet to accept a trail name although other hikers have suggested Connoisseur because of his meal choices and Sleepy because he dozes late into the morning.

Nick was already at the hostel when we arrived. Nick texted earlier in the week telling us to be sure to bring two essential items from home: toe nail clippers and his harmonica. On Saturday we travelled to Blacksburg, a 40 minute drive, to see the town, visit a local trail outfitters and buy food at Walmart. Nick decided to buy a sleeping bag because it was much colder at night than he expected.

After spending $80.00 on food supplies (more tuna, chicken chunk packets, nectarines, dried fruits , instant oatmeal and other assorted delectable), we returned to the hostel, Late Sunday morning , Nick (aka Sleepy Connoisseur) returned to the trail with his 50 pound backpack, new sleeping bag and freshly clipped toe nails.

Ron and I drove home. We will meet Nick again in 10 days around Buchanan, Virginia at mile 278. This will mark the half-way point of his trek.

My Adventures as a Human Pack Mule (Part 1)

Posted: 07-27-2014
Blog Articles

My friend Bill once asked me to join him on his through hike of the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail. I told him I don’t backpack and I don’t do arduous hikes. “I know,” Bill said. Apparently he read an article that stated only 1 in 8 people who start the Appalachian Trail actually finish. Bill decided to corral 7 hiking companions who would fail early to increase the odds of his success.

The Appalachian Trail has reentered my life thanks to my adult son, Nick. He is hiking the length of the trail through Virginia, a total of 550 miles. Nick did not even bother asking me to join him. But I am still a critical part of his hiking adventure. Along with my husband, we are his re-supply team. We are meeting him at pre-arranged locations to provide him food and camp supplies.

There are many accounts of hiking the Appalachian Trail (the funniest has to be Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.”) I am using this blog to share my adventures as a human pack mule.

Nick’s hiking adventure started on Sunday, July 20 at that well know camping outfitter, Harris Teeter grocery store. We were visiting my daughter in Winston Salem, NC. My husband and I planned to drop Nick in Damascus, Virginia the following day so he could walk home 550 miles to Harpers Ferry, WV.

Nick had to carry 7-10 days’ worth of food to get him to the first resupply rendezvous in Pearisburg, Virginia (mile 164). I joined him at Harris Teeter to buy essential items like tuna fish, pasta dinners, packets of oatmeal, peanut butter, powered drink mix, granola, rice, chocolate and fruit. Watching his selection of food reinforced my decision never to backpack. The total bill came to $78.00. The most costly item was a gift from me: Starbucks Via Italian dark roast instant coffee packets. That little item rang up at $7.99. I regard coffee as essential as toilet paper when dealing with the great outdoors so I happily paid the price.

Damascus, Virginia: The Beginning

nicklynATstart

We drove to Damascus, Virginia on Monday, July 21. The Appalachian Trail goes right through the downtown. Damascus (population 2800) also lies along the very popular Virginia Creeper Trail, a multi-purpose rail trail that extends 35 miles. The town is filled with businesses catering to hikers and cyclists. Most of the Appalachian Trail through hikers were long gone. They had to pass through Damascus in May to avoid a winter arrival in Maine, the trail’s terminus.

Nick shouldered his backpack (weight: 40 pounds) and started walking. My husband and I joined him for approximately 15 minutes until we decided heading back to an ice cream stand in town was a better option.

It took Ron and me about 4 hours to drive home to West Virginia It will take Nick 6 weeks to cover the same distance on the Appalachian Trail. I could only admire his gumption as I sipped my Starbuck’s Latte and set the cruise control to 70 mph.
More to come when we meet Nick at mile 164 of his trek.