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Sidewalk Art

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Some people look up at the sky and see creatures in the clouds. In ever-sunny San Diego, head down is best view, if for no other reason than doggie do-do rudely left behind. What else awaits there? Some other passerby imagined a bird in the broken cement and added just the right flourishes so that unimaginative folks like me would see, too—and be amused.

I shot the Featured Image along Adams Avenue between Arizona and Hamilton in the North Park neighborhood, using Google Pixel 3. Vitals: f/1.8, ISO 63, 1/3906 sec, 4.44mm; 1:36 p.m., Jan. 11, 2019.

Photo Storytelling

Sanctuary No More

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I started more closely watching what the Wilcox clan calls the Butterfly House—a lush Monarch (and other creature) refuge along Maryland Ave., going down the hill from Meade. A major culling of plumage made me wonder if the residents might be leaving. Yep. Last week, I passed by as a moving truck was loaded. Three days ago, I spoke with one of the tenants. They’re Hawaii-bound, and the future of the mini-wildlife habitat is uncertain. Much depends on whomever resides there next. The longstanding caretakers, who contributed much to the neighborhood by way of their overly-committed gardening, bought a house and acre of land on the Big Island. Their tending will be missed by many.

For a small sense of what will likely vanish, please click through to the “Cats of University Heights” profile of Wink, laying low in the middle of the magnificent front yard. Incidentally, two other felines—Flower and Skull—were previously profiled in the adjacent properties on either side of the Butterfly House.  Read More

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Thanks, Tidal

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Concurrent with the Consumer Electronics Show 2019 kick-off and other Day 0 announcements, music streaming service Tidal updated its Android app (hehe, sorry iOS users) to support Masters. Oh, yeah, baby. Gimme, gimme. Tidal unveiled Masters, in licensing partnership with MQA, two years ago during the same tech gala.

Abandoning Apple for Google products during summer 2018 meant my giving up Tidal Masters, which until today were only available on the macOS and Windows desktop apps. Because Chrome OS supports Android apps, I can now listen to Masters on my laptop, not just smartphone. You can, too (if not an Apple device user). Read More

Storytelling

Saying Goodbye to a Classic Car

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On the morning of April 15, 2018, a (now former) friend of my daughter rang my cell in frantic state. The (then) twenty-three old had borrowed her car, while his vehicle was in the shop. The young man claimed that someone sideswiped Molly’s convertible when parked and he was away meeting a client. I learned that dents and scrapes spanned front to rear panels and the door between them, amid his gasping and repeated promises about paying for repairs. He never did.

The car is gone now; the why and how is an oddly twisted tale that I tell after depositing the insurance check. That act closed the story’s last chapter.  Read More

Critters Photo

The Cats of University Heights: Mitsie

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Our second featured feline of 2019 is the thirtieth seen along Alabama—on the same block where live Harley, Holiday, Laramie, Lupe, and Precious and where were the homes of the departed Monkey and missing Smokey. I have exclaimed about the putty population density on the street, numerous times, and I know of at least four more cats on the block that have yet to be photographed. But there are others of which I am aware along the 1.2 km stretch between Adams and Polk.

I met Mitsie (her real name), one of her owners, and three dogs while they sunned on the cool morning of Dec. 29, 2018. She came to one of her current caretakers as a stray about six years ago, when he lived in Imperial Beach, Calif.  Read More

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My Personal Tech Kit 2019

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I start the new year in a very different space, and with turnabout attitude, than 2018. About six months ago, I surrendered my digital lifestyle to Google, abandoning Apple as primary platform provider. Trust brought me to the Apple way. Distrust drove me away. Choosing between priorities privacy and security, in an increasingly dangerous Internet, the latter matters more. The Alphabet subsidiary truly has its ABCs ordered in ways that the bitten-fruit company doesn’t. I can trust that Google, being native to cloud computing and depending on it (mainly by way of search-related advertising), will secure my content and devices better than Apple, which is at best a cloud computing resident alien and more typically behaves like an immigrant who doesn’t speak the language well nor understands local culture.

Sure, I surrender some privacy but that would happen anyway, because privacy is a fiction. If you use the Internet or connected mobile device, you have none. Google is motivated to protect me (and you) because we are the product that generates ad revenue. Between marketers and hackers, it’s easy choice which I’d prefer to have my personal information. Granted anyone can debate which is, hehe, more criminal. But marketers aren’t likely to clean out my bank account or steal my identity. Or yours. Read More

Gear Reviews

Montblanc Summit 2

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The complications of aging suck. On Nov. 2, 2018, my new Google Pixel 3 XL slipped from my fingers as I pulled it from my shorts pocket and fell face down on the sidewalk. The screen shattered in a splay of ugly cracks, and for the first time in 21 years as a cellular device user, I dropped and damaged a phone. That day, because of unexpected, but necessary, number of family texts and busy work-related emails, I pulled out the Pixel 3 XL untypically often. While the unusual activity played its role, I also am more dropsy than in the past. Realization and concern, woven with fear about ruining another phone, brought me to make a difficult lifestyle concession: Wear a smartwatch.

In mid July 2018, related to my switch from Apple to Google platform products, I returned to using an analog watch—the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 7 Twin-Time, inspired by the one serving as important metaphor during Syfy series 12 Monkeys. I happily wore the handsome mechanical and couldn’t imagine swapping for digital wristwear. Refusing return to Apple Watch, even with recent release of Series 4 models, I looked to a Wear OS timepiece. Only one appealed: Montblanc Summit 2, for traditional styling; more typical watch size; overall quality of construction and materials; and early adoption of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip.  Read More

Critters Photo

The Cats of University Heights: Storm

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Our third New Years furball joins Tom (2018) and Chub (2017) in the distinguished role. The kitty is also twenty-ninth featured from Alabama. I walk all over the neighborhood, such that the street gets no special attention with respect to others. Yet, for reasons that mystify, more felines are seen there than anywhere. Of the 237 profiles to date, 12 percent come from Alabama between Adams and Polk. Meow! The real number of known cats rises to the mid-thirties; I simply don’t have satisfactory portraits of them all yet.

The handsome Tuxedo earns nickname Storm, for appearing between two major rain fronts on the morning of Nov. 29, 2018. Considering the weather, I was walking for exercise between torrents rather than scouting for early day paw-paws. I spotted Storm first in the yard where Striker appeared five months earlier. The Tux moved behind cars and along a house and garage onto another property before approaching close enough for photos.  Read More

Music Web

I Lied About Quitting Tidal

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I can count on two hands, which soon may not be enough, how many times that I cancelled the Tidal music service only to resume weeks later. I first joined on April 1, 2015, when the rebranded music streamer started. Three days before my then most recent renewal date, June 30, 2018, I pledged to end my subscription for good. Simple reason: The Wilcox household subscribes to too many services, and Tidal is among the most expensive at $19.95 per month. I terminated, as planned.

But as expressed six months ago, “the new rule is this: we will pay for what we get good value”. My aging ears derive too much value from music streamed as so-called hifi—Free Lossless Audio Codec, delivered at 44 kHz, 16 bit, and 1411kbps bitrate. I can hear the difference, compared to muddy 320kbps MP3 or 256kbps AAC files. Every time I switch services, the muddy sound—particularly pronounced in vocals—drives me back to FLAC, and to Tidal. About two weeks later, in mid-July, I celebrated my birthday with yet another return. My subscription is uninterrupted nearly six months later.  Read More

Gear Music Reviews

Grado GW100 Review

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When I first opened the box containing the Grado Labs GW100 headphones, one word came to mind: “Cheap”. The cans didn’t look or feel like the classy Grado RS1i and RS1e, which I once owned, or the GS1000e that are still beloved and possessed. But after connecting to Google Pixel 2 XL (and later the 3 XL), via Bluetooth, I exclaimed: “Priceless”. The first offering in the company’s “Wireless Series” rises to an audiophile class unmatched by most competing cans; I prefer the GW100 to the GS1000e, which cost four times more to buy. Four words best describe the experience listening to music of any genre: Natural. ImmersiveBalanced. Authentic.

The GW100 are unique among wireless headphones by design: They are open-back like Grado’s wired models, but they are unlike all other major manufacturers’ wireless cans, which typically cover the ears and/or impose oppressively confining noise cancellation. I understand that commuters on noisy trains or travelers on rumbling airplanes might want NC, but the feature creates a cone of silence that is very unnatural. By comparison, the GW100’s open-air design allows music to expand, while—I must concede—letting in background noise going on about you.  Read More

Critters Photo

The Cats of University Heights: Tranquil

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I encountered our honorary Christmas cat five minutes after sighting Comfy, on Dec. 12, 2018—also along North Avenue, but closer to Madison than Monroe. I lugged Leica Q, which was the perfect companion for post-production close-cropping; it’s a necessity when shooting wide (28mm) from a distance but easily doable because of the detail captured by the superb f/1.7 Summilux lens and full-frame sensor.

The kitty earns nickname Tranquil for its position, location, and time of day (sunny 2:22 p.m. PST). Vitals for the Featured Image and companion, aperture manually set for street shooting: f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, 28mm.  Read More

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Christmas Palm

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Merry Christmas! While waiting in our car for my daughter, on Nov. 22, 2018, I looked down West Point Loma Blvd. in Ocean Beach, Calif. at the strangest thing—a seemingly shaped Christmas tree reaching into the sky. But on closer inspection, looks like some kind of vine engulfed a palm, leaving but a few unmistakable fronds to top—nature’s living star. I shot two quick pics, which are paired together as the Featured Image, using Google Pixel 3 XL. Vitals (left): f/1.8, ISO 58, 1/3096 sec, 4.44mm; 11:51 a.m. PST. The other is ISO 56 and 1/2933 sec.