Attempting a New Hobby

I’ve always been a fan of technology.  Whether it was my first walkman, an Apple 2GS, a tower full of CDs, or smart thermostats, its fun to watch technology brings us next.  I’ve also loved photography, not that I’ve ever been exactly skilled with taking pictures, but I’ve had an appreciation for interesting vantage points that photographers take.  Therefore, I’m trying to combine the two and see if I can get the skills and repetitions together to fly a drone to take arial photos.  The way I look at it, I’m too old to drive a remote control car, and especially don’t want to end up like this guy.  So a drone could be seen as an expensive flying camera and not a ‘toy’.  At least that is what I’m trying to tell myself.

From everything I have read, the worst thing you can do is go out and buy an expensive drone off the bat, and crash it before you know what you are doing.  Therefore, I did a little research and purchased little guy from Amazon last week for around $50.

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The weight on the U818A is less than a pound, so if there is any wind at all, this thing can get blown off course in a hurry.  Thus far, I’ve only crashed it roughly 37 times, so quite glad I didn’t go out and buy something nice right away.  I’ve had to replace a prop after flying it into a tree,  but other than that, this little bird is pretty darn tough.  One downside is that the battery only lasts roughly 6-7 minutes of flight time, so I picked up an extra battery.  I have to say, its been a lot of fun to fool around with.  For some reason, when I plug it into my Macbook, I’m unable to view the photos and videos I have taken with it.  What I found out is that I should get a mirco SD to SD card adapter so I can put the card directly into the computer.  I ordered that, so hopefully by the end of week I can check out the videos I recorded, even though the camera is said to be shaky at best.

I’ve decided if I can truly get the hang of this thing over the next 60 days, I’m going to step up my game and buy a nice flying machine.  I have my eye on the Parrot Bebop, which based on this video is incredible.

The controller for the Bebop, integrated with an iPad looks to be great.  You can also program the copter using GPS, which would come in handy for flying to destinations and taking video.  Another feature that is amazing is the “return home” option.  If your drone gets in a rough situation, you can hit the return home button and it will immediately begin flying your way and hovering eight feet in the air from where it took off.  If used properly, I’m sure this guy can take some amazing photos and video.  That said, with a price tag of nearly $900, one better be darn sure they are comfortable flying a drone before stepping it up to something like this.  I will be sure to check back in when the Bebop takes her first flight!

Choice Home Warranty Voted Top Home Warranty Company By Top 10

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We were thrilled this week to find out that the users of Top10 voted us the top home warranty company in the industry with a 9.9 rating.  It is not only a testament to the offerings we have, but more so it is the tremendous effort put in by our entire team to satisfy our customers.  Let’s face it, when something goes wrong in terms of the appliances or your heating an air conditioning it is a stressful and frustrating time.  Our customer service staff is constantly working to put people’s minds at ease by having the proper technicians out to their home, to diagnose and repair the problem.

Whether it is our brand new call center, great rating from the Better Business Bureau, or our 1,550 five star ratings from Consumer Affairs, 2015 is shaping up to be a to be a great year for Choice Home Warranty, so congratulations to our entire team for helping along the way.

-Vic

Spring Break Is Here

 

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There is nothing quite like the snow finally melting away, and the thought that there will soon be leaves on the trees and flowers blooming.  Since we aren’t there just yet, I’ve decided to take a trip next week to a bit of a warmer climate.

The destination is somewhere I’ve never been before, but its a quick 90 minute flight from JFK.  I’m heading to Anna Maria Island, Florida.  You actually fly into Sarasota, and from what I’ve heard, have a beautiful 30 minute drive along the Gulf of Mexico before arriving on the island.  Ironically the island is roughly the size of Manhattan, but as you can imagine, quite a few less people.  Since the spot is on the west coast of Florida, or the gulf of Mexico, the water looks incredible.  The island was actually voted the third best island in the United States last year.

From my research, it appears that there is some sort of ordinance on the island in which no property can be built higher than the tallest palm tree.  This leads to absolutely no high rises of condos, and in reality not much commercialization either.  There also is only one chain restaurant on the entire island, a Subway.  Other than that, it appears each and every place simply serves the local seafood in an unpretentious fashion.

On restaurant that I am going to be sure to visit is the Rod & Reel restaurant.  As you can see in the above photo, the water is spectacular and on a clear day, I’m told you can see Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay Rays play all the way out in St. Petersberg.

Things are going better than ever at Choice Home Warranty, but everyone needs time away, and I’m looking forward to a little rest and relaxation.  I’ve also done some reading and discovered that there is a free trolley that goes across the entire island.  I love the idea of never having to get in the car.  While this area, like many places in Florida, was hurt by the economic downturn in 2008, there seems to be plenty of construction and updated restaurants.  I’ve been told it is considered a ‘hidden gem’, and what ‘Old Florida’ used to look like.  The weather forecast looks to be just about perfect, and while I’m sure it could be a little annoying to hear about the warm weather right now, while we are sitting in 40 degree rainy weather, I couldn’t be more excited about my trip and look forward to reporting back.

A Treacherous Precedent in Music

I’ve written here before, that music is one of the passions of my life, and waking up this morning to hear the news that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke are being forced by the courts to pay the estate of Marvin Gaye over $7.4M in damages for their song “Blurred Lines”.  A jury found that Williams and Thicke stole the song from a 1971 hit of Marvin Gay titled “Got to Give it Up” after being sued by Gaye’s children.

There is little to no question that Blurred Lines was the biggest hit of 2013.  Matter of fact, the YouTube video has over 370 million views.  On top of that, you have the supreme hit of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and Pharrell’s work on NBC’s the voice, has put him near the top of the list of songwriters who have proven that they can produce one chart topping hit after another.  There is no question that being found guilty will not only take a toll on Pharrell’s wallet, but sadly his reputation as well.

Here are both songs if you would like to see the similarities.

I’m no expert, I can hear some similarities between the two songs, but in my opinion, there isn’t enough there to hand down a judgment in copyright infringement.  Humans have been writing music for hundreds of years.  There are only so many notes on a piano, guitar, etc.  Millions of new songs are created each year, and with a victory in a suit like this, it could be a very bad sign for artists in the future.  When you sit down, let your juices of creativity flow, and construct what you feel is an outstanding piece of music, how are you going to be able to confirm that another artist didn’t already use those combination of chords or notes?

It was just last month that Sam Smith settled out of court after being accused of copyright infringement with his Grammy winning Song of the Year, “Stay With Me” was just about an exact ripoff of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”.  After listening to those two songs, its readily apparent that they are about the same song from verse to bridge to chorus.

Those two occurrences illustrate exactly what makes items like this so difficult to determine as to what was done maliciously and what was not.  We hear music all the times in our day to day life.  Whether it is a commercial on television, the background music in an elevator, or at our own doing.  Our ears and even are subconscious are constantly taking in information, and I have a hard time punishing someone for a creation.  Pharrell has even said, that Marvin Gaye has always been an influence on his writing style.  I share Pharrell’s belief that anything he would have done would have been in homage to Gaye, and not trying to take anything a way from him.  Its just a shame that the courts have to get involved to settle something like this, and sincerely hope it doesn’t curb creativity going forward.

 

Customer Service Top Priority

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At Choice Home Warranty, our top priority over the last two years has been to improve our customer service experience.  Its no secret that we are in a service industry and are dealing with people when they are upset.  If my furnace goes out, or the dishwasher stops working, I’m not going to be happy either, so our goal is simple.  To meet those customer’s needs, repair their damaged appliance, and get them back to their normal lives in as painless of manners possible.

Last Fall we completed a brand new customer service center which can accommodate over 150 representatives, we now have over 3,000 five star reviews on Consumer Affairs, and were recently given a ‘B’ rating by the Better Business Bureau.  While this is a great start for us, our job is never done.  We have meetings each and every week to better understand our client base, and strategize ways to improve their experience.  At the end of the day, its simple.  If you are not satisfied as a customer of Choice Home Warranty, we wouldn’t expect you to renew your warranty year after year.  It is our job entirely to meet the needs of our customers, and I give you my word that our entire staff is striving to do just that.

-Vic

Now its Bill O’Reilly’s Turn?

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As I wrote about last week, Brian Williams from NBC news has himself in some ultra hot water, due to being caught in the middle of a lie regarding his reporting of the Persian Gulf War.  Williams has now been suspended for six months by NBC and his career as a whole may be in serious jeopardy.  Due to the fact that this story stayed in the national media for quite some time, it seems as if it lead other news outlets to question the honesty and integrity of other well known faces of news.

They looked no further than controversial conservative Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.  O’Reilly was originally accused by Mother Jones magazine for false reporting saying he was in the middle of the Falklands ware in 1982, when actually he was in Buenos Aires which is over 1,400 miles from where the confrontation was taking place.

After some staunch denial from O’Reilly as well as Fox News, the New York Times also chimed in and did some reporting of their own.  In the midst of this reporting, they attempted to reach out to O’Reilly for comments on the issue.  Mr. O’Reilly was not exactly pleased regarding the line of questioning, and handed out a rather serious threat to the New York Times reporter.  Saying that if the coverage was in appropriate that he would

Come at you with every thing I have.  You can take that as a threat.

Needless to stay, that comment fanned the flames of the media firestorm.  Soon to be retiring John Steward of the Daily Show came up with an incredible quote.

 Let’s face it, nobody watches Bill O’Reilly for the truth.

Of course, once the first allegations came out, there were plenty more to follow.  Not only does Mr. O’Reilly have his own television show on Fox News, but also has written plenty of best selling books regarding the deaths of famous people, including Lincoln, Kennedy, Patton and even Jesus.  I can say that I have read them all, and especially enjoyed Killing Lincoln, his first in the series.  Why this is important is that there was a part of Killing Kennedy in which O’Reilly states he was there in person for the suicide of George de Mohrenschildt, who was known to be friendly with Kennedy’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald.  O’Reilly stated in the book that he was there in Florida knocking at the door when the man committed suicide.  The site, Media Matters, after some investigation speaking with many colleagues came to the conclusion that it was impossible that O’Reilly was in Florida at the time as he was working as a newspaper reporter in Dallas at the time.  It is thought that O’Reilly did travel to Florida after learning of the suicide to attempt to come up with some information, but that goes directly against what O’Reilly stated in his book.

What will come out of this, who knows?  However, taking such an offensive stance and threatening reporters probably isn’t the best strategy.  It makes you wonder if the floodgates will now open with other stories, not just about O’Reilly but other members of the news as well.  I will say that it causes me to want to question just about everything I see on the news at this point.

 

SNL 40 – An Incredible Trip Down Memory Lane

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I’ve been watching Saturday Night Live for as long as I can remember.  In all honesty, probably longer than my parents should have allowed me to.  Sunday’s three and a half hour spectacle was something I have been looking forward to for months.  To have a television show evolve over 40 years, and still stay relevant is quite the accomplishment.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on the show, but when I read that it was going to be 3.5 hours, I knew I was going to be in for something special.

I honestly can’t think of another situation, in television, sports, or entertainment that could something like this could be accurately compared to.  You can people from the first cast in 1975 performing along side current cast members in skits and it just worked.  Its hard to even comprehend how difficult it must have been to write and produce not only a show of that length, but of that star power.  Afterwards it was said that Lorne Michaels continued to call all the shots, even on the 40th anniversary episode.  Even after 40 years, it seems as if Michaels is becoming more powerful with age.  He helped create the sitcom 30 Rock, and now produces both Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, and Seth Myers on his Late Show as well, with each of those men being SNL alums.

The special aired on Sunday, February 15.  It went up against the NBA All-Star game, as well as The Walking Dead, was over three hours in duration, and still manage to draw in 23 million viewers, a truly staggering number.  There are many theories out there as to the reason behind the rating.  I like the thought of multi generations of people being able to sit in front of the television and remembering characters that were part of their youth.

As I’ve said in previous posts, my favorite part of Saturday Night Live has always been the music.  It seems as if SNL always seems to catch musical acts at the perfect time when they are just about to take off.  I’m sure it is more than difficult to try to cover 40 years of a television show, but I thought they did themselves an injustice by not showing some of the seminal music performances.  Whether it was the Rolling Stones in the 1970s, Nirvana, Sinead O’Connor, or even the Ashley Simpson lip syncing debacle, music has played such an integral role in the show that it would have been great if there was a bit more focus on it.

The only other downside of the evening was what took place with the long awaited return of Eddie Murphy to the SNL stage.  Eddies hasn’t been back in over 30 years, and when he agreed to be on the show, he was the most anticipated return.  Nobody knew if he would do one of his old characters, some standup jokes, or what.  After an amazing introduction by Chris Rock, Eddie seemed uncomfortable, said a few ‘thanks’, and quickly went to commercial.  News ended up breaking Thursday that Eddie was offered to play the Bill Cosby role in the ‘Celebrity Jeopardy’ skit.  This would have absolutely brought the house down, but you have to give some credit to Murphy, as he was quoted that he “didn’t want to kick a man while he was down”.

When it was all said and done, it was amazing show.  Many say the after party was even better.  It could be the best thing to happen to the current staff, as I know I’m hungry to build up new memories with the show in the now, that can maybe be relived at the 50th Anniversary Special.

Lifetime of Success Thrown Away?

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I have been quite intrigued by this story of Brian Williams from NBC Nightly news.  While everyone will agree that we absorb our news much differently now than we did 20 years ago, its no longer Walter Cronkite or Peter Jennings, but the person who reads us our nightly national news has always been the cornerstone of integrity.  For that reason, this story is just bizarre.

Brian Williams is a well put together, articulate cornerstone of the news for decades.  He is also quite funny.  What other news anchor has ever hosted Saturday Night Live?  He also hits the late night talk show circuit.  That is why it is mind blowing that he has now been suspended for six months by NBC due to fabricating a story regarding an helicopter attack in Iraq in 2003.  Williams claimed he was in the middle of an attack, and that his Chinook helicopter was shot multiple times.  In reality, his helicopter arrived after the fight was over.  When he said this in 2003, nobody thought too much of it.  However, he repeated the story on the David Letterman show in 2013, and then made reference to it early this month on the Nightly News.  The reference this month caused some people involved in that mission to come forward to state the story that Williams was putting out was inaccurate.  After that took place, the floodgates were opened.  It seemed that everything Williams has said his whole life has been questioned.  Whether if it was being robbed while selling Christmas trees, or seeing dead bodies in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, everything is now under scrutiny.

Williams did take the accusations head on and apologized to the viewers on the Nightly News on February 4.

It was only a couple of days later, that he decided to step away from the news desk, and Lester Holt would take over those duties.  Then just last night, it was announced that NBC has decided to suspend Williams for six months without pay for the “misremembering”.

The question now is whether or not this is the end of his career?  Let’s face it, our country is quite forgiving.  Whether it is Michael Vick with his dogfighting, or even former President Bill Clinton has his infidelities in the White House, if you show true remorse, our society has a tendency to grant forgiveness.  In this case however, I don’t see that happening.  People, rightfully so, take their news very seriously.  If you have someone delivering that news to you, and you are not sure what is coming out of their mouth is the actual truth, it is not only going to turn people off, but cause them to turn the channel.  This puts NBC into an interesting dilemma.  Brian Williams is the most well known working newscaster in the country, and a real asset to attract viewers and important advertising dollars.  When this six month suspension is over, will that asset have lost all of its value?  To say the least, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Free Speech Eroding?

Last week I wrote about considering getting a puppy.  I did finally decide to get a lab and have put down a deposit to get a little guy later in the year.  I couldn’t be more excited, and am reading plenty of books.  Even though I don’t have a pet right now, I would consider myself someone who likes animals.

I had to get that statement out of the way, because for the life of me, I cannot figure out the uproar of the Super Bowl commercial that GoDaddy was set to show this Sunday.  Budweiser has been teasing having a commercial this year featuring a puppy.  GoDaddy has always been edgy with their commercials.  Including two years ago when Bar Rafaeli passionately kissed a nerdy looking guy.  This year, GoDaddy wanted to poke a little fun at Budweiser and also feature a puppy in their commercial.  Here is the commercial below.

 

The commercial is obviously a satire making fun of the Budweiser campaign.  The amount of negative feedback online has caused GoDaddy to pull the commercial from their Super Bowl ad spot in which they paid millions upon millions of dollars to reserve.  Now, in no way shape or form do I support the idea of puppy mills breeding dogs in an inhumane manner.  Much has changed in the dog breeding business over the past 10-15 years.  No longer do you see the cute little puppy in the window at the pet store.  I respect that the SPCA wants all animals protected, but to cause so much of a stir online to force a company to not run their commercial seems to be a bit over the top.  In our new era of 24/7 news coverage, and user generated content like Twitter, FaceBook, or even this blog, if anything happens that strays from the status quo, the vilification begins almost immediately.

It worries me that because of the immediate feedback that now exists, if it may hamper new and exciting ideas.  I saw another Super Bowl commercial featuring Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel.  It pokes fun at them showing the pair in 1994 as to how naive they were as to what “the internet was”.

Its a neat commercial, but interesting how closed minded they were back then, and looking at our society today, I’m a bit worried that revolutionary ideas could be shot down because of someone on Twitter saying how terrible the idea is.  Let’s face it, America is the best country in the world.  We are given the right to free speech, and should respect people who may have different opinions from our own.  Humor is also an important part of our daily lives.  What GoDaddy did could be seen as controversial, but that is always the style of their advertisement.  The commercial was obviously done in jest, and to needle Budweiser while they were at it.  Its a shame that there solid attempt at humor was met with such harsh feedback that they had to pull the commercial.

 

Considering Getting a Puppy

I’ve never had a dog before, but I’m finally at a point in my life where I would like to have someone to jog with, play in the yard, and basically be a buddy.  I’ve been doing some research over the last few months at the various breeds, and since it would be my first dog, I want something not super powerful, but more mellow, happy go lucky.  As of today, I think I’m pretty set on getting a labrador retriever.  In researching, I’ve also found that there are now different colors of labs other than the standard black and yellow labs.

It seems there are now, chocolate, silver, charcoal and champagne.  Below is a good picture showing various colors.

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From left to right, the colors of the pups are chocolate, charcoal, black and silver.  From everything I have read, they all have the same labrador type attributes, its simply a cosmetic difference, but something that you don’t see very often.  Obviously bringing a puppy home would be a huge undertaking, and I work plenty of hours at Choice Home Warranty, but I have a great family who can keep an eye on the guy while I am at work.

Even though I haven’t pulled the trigger yet, I’ve spent way too many hours watching episodes of The Dog Whisperer.  If you haven’t seen the show, a Mexican immigrant named Cesar Millan helps out of control dogs.  Well, he actually says, ‘I rehabilitate dogs, I train humans’.  Training humans is right because its taught me how important it is to walk a dog to drain their energy.  A dog with drained energy is much less likely to misbehave around the house.  I’ve also read a few of Cesar’s books, so I think I’m just about ready to make a decision.

When looking for these interesting colors of labrador retrievers, I came across what appears to be a great breeder in rural Ohio.  The place is called Silver Mist Labradors and they have shipped their labs all over the world, so having one sent to New Jersey wouldn’t be the end of the world by any means.  Unfortunately it seems the wait time is pretty long to get a puppy from them right now.  Within the next 30 days, I am going to try to make a decision.  They say that dogs are a man’s best friend.   I am excited to find that out for myself.  I will update on the situation if I’m finally able to to take the plunge into the responsibility of owning a dog.