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A Mixed Bag Life Update V

Life Update

It’s time for another Mixed Bag Life Update, Coronavirus edition. The first thing to say is that my family and I are healthy, at least in regard to COVID-19, so we are thankful for that. I have been socially distancing myself for many years working from home, so nothing has changed in that regard.

Being able to work from home is a godsend at this time, as school districts across the United States are closing down, meaning that the kids will be at home with me for 5 1/2 months, as school is closed for the next 2 1/2 months in the run-up to the summer break. We are lucky in that regard, many people have been furloughed or laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a massive financial strain on them.

Education for the kids will continue via the interwebs, this is expected to start by April 1, 2020, hopefully, this is not an April Fool’s prank. The kids really can’t afford to miss over 2 months of education. Although the Email that was sent out from USD259 was not clear, there was a lot of information, and I’m not sure what applies to my kids and what does not, so I am going to have to reach out to the school for more info.

Non-CORID-19 related, or maybe it is, given that some IRS employees might be quarantined? is the delay in our tax refund. We are due to get a little over $4,800 back from our federal taxes, we filed on February 4, 2020, and the e-file was accepted the same day. But, when we check the IRS website page for refund status, it’s still showing as “Your tax return is still being processed.”, with no refund date available.

Normally our tax refund is direct deposited into our bank account within 3 weeks. I did think I messed up and inputted the wrong account number, maybe transposing a couple of numbers. But, I quickly realized that was not the case because we received the massive $62 Kansas state refund, within 2 days of filing.

That money would sure come in handy to pay off some of our smaller credit card balances, which would save us about $200 a month in payments. Or with the current COVID-19 pandemic, maybe hold onto it in case my wife, Erin gets furloughed from her job, as apartment community offices are closing to the general public, it’s hard to be a service coordinator when you have to practice social distancing.

About a year ago, I wrote about a 70% increase in my water bill, which I thought was due to a misreading of the water meter. But it seems our lightly running toilets had gotten worse, causing a huge spike in cost as it pushed our water usage past the allowed usage limit before switching to a significantly higher cost per unit tariff, for which there is no recourse as Wichita Water has a monopoly. For about 6 months afterward, the bills normalized, but in the past few months, the bills have increased, culminating in a $140 bill last month, so we had our landlord replace the flappers in our toilets, stopping them continuing to run after flushing. Which, should bring our water bills down to the sub $70 level they were previously.

Finally, I was weighing up my options in regard to whether to stay with Erin or move out. After a week of minimal communication, 100% me being a dick, we talked and decided to try to make it work, for the kids’ sake, neither of us could face telling our daughter that Daddy would be moving out. The $77k of student debt that Erin has does not directly affect me, so I am letting her deal with it, or not deal with it!

As I said in the linked blog above, it’s not a matter of falling out of love with Erin, it’s more about me and the way I personally deal with our increasing debt. I despise being one cent in debt, let alone $20k in debt, and I don’t deal with it well, often taking it out on my wife, and for that, I am deeply sorry, and profusely apologize to my wife. She should not have read my feelings on my blog, I should have talked with her about it. As I said above, I am 100% a dick for this, I must do better in dealing with my emotions.


It’s Over… But We Must Keep Fighting To Defeat The Democrat Elite

Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders Democratic Debate

As much as it pains me to say it, with this latest election blow, Bernie Sanders, short of an act of God, a fatal Biden heart attack, maybe? is not going to be the Democratic presidential candidate. The big money corporate interests, including the mainstream news media, i.e. CNN, MSNBC, et al are too powerful. Despite 70%+ of under 30s voting for Bernie, the overall turn out in that demographic is just 15% compared to 55% of voters aged 50+, who overwhelmingly vote for, safe option, Biden.

I am massively disappointed, before the first ‘Super Tuesday’, I was hopeful that Bernie could do it, become the nominee, against all odds. As I write this; Sanders has not suspended his campaign, but I feel it’s inevitable. I feel the youth are demoralized and will not make the effort to come out and vote in enough numbers to make a difference, even more so with the growing spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In my opinion, the DNC has massively put voters and polling station staff at risk, suggesting the state Democratic parties should push ahead with the primaries, against CDC warnings about gatherings of more than 50 people, due to the significant risk of Coronavirus, with the elderly being most at risk of contracting the deadly virus. If one person dies as a result of coming out to vote, Tom Perez and the DNC needs to be sued for wrongful death. Events are being canceled countrywide, yet Perez pushed ahead.

Honestly, Bernie, although not unelectable like the mainstream media kept on repeating, is just too nice. Sanders continued to refer to Biden as “my friend, Joe”, and never really went in for the kill. Despite this, mainstream media painted Sanders as the shouty, angry, rude, women-hating candidate, extending that description to the “Bernie Bros”, a moniker that the mainstream media invented, claiming that Bernie Sanders only appealed to young white men, a false claim that carried over from the 2016 election.

While the mainstream media simultaneously covered for Joe Biden’s lies about going on civil rights marches and rallies, attending black churches, and being arrested in South Africa trying to visit Nelson Mandela in prison, during the apartheid era. Both these claims have been proven to be false. Given this, I’m truly baffled how Biden managed to get the lion’s share of the African American vote, but I digress.

I fear the potential for Medicare For All will be gone for at least 10 years, probably longer, after Sander’s second failure to get the Democratic nomination. According to many exit polls, between 60% and 70% of voters supported Medicare For All, yet, still cast a vote for Biden, a man who recently on MSNBC said that he would veto a Medicare For All Bill, if it made its way through the House and Senate.

Not to mention, the multiple times Biden has pushed for cuts for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. He may have a (D) after his name, but he is a Republican-lite, reaching across the aisle and voting for GOP priorities. I cannot vote in 2020, due to not being a citizen at this time, and even if I could I would not vote for Biden, “vote blue, no matter who”, my arse, he needs to earn the progressive vote!

Something he clearly won’t do, he has already pissed off the millennial age group, with his “give me a break” comments in response to the struggles the youth of the nation is experiencing, massive student loan debt, credit card debt and the inability to find affordable housing in the area they reside.

As much as I would like to see Bernie stay in the race right up to the convention, to be a thorn in the side of the Democratic establishment. Bernie still has plenty of financial support from everyday Americans to make it happen. The chances of overturning Biden’s delegate lead, and the COVID-19 virus spreading like wildfire, makes it something that should not happen, if for no other reason than to protect Americans, as clearly the DNC don’t give a fuck about Americans as long as they achieve their political goals.

As disappointed as I am, the progressive movement must not be allowed to die, we have to keep fighting, try to get progressive candidates into local, state and federal Houses and Senates. It will take time, significant time, but we can get there, creating a government that actually represents the people of the United States, not big money interests. As the older generation dies off, the younger, more progressive generations will become the majority, then we can affect real change, no more incrementalism. But, I fear that may be too late, with the planet being at a tipping point when it comes to climate change.

Oh, BTW, the Joe Biden heart attack comment in the opening paragraph was tongue in cheek!


Google My Business: Clearly Don’t Read Your Support Emails

Google My Business, We Don't Read Your Support Requests

About a month ago, I wrote about my less than stellar experience with Google My Business in regard to fake reviews of one of the properties my employer manages. And here we are again, another piss poor experience with Google My Business, sending a clear canned response, clearly without actually reading the issue described in my support request, that I took 10 minutes to write to include extensive details.

To explain the issue I am having, without divulging any details of the company I work for, or the property name. The property is a 23 unit apartment building, which has mailboxes for residents, but no onsite office. The management office for the property is based out of our corporate office. Initially, I set the address to the corporate office, to receive the verification postcard, as there was no phone call verification option upon initial setup. I got that postcard and verified the listing, but the address is obviously wrong.

I changed the address to the physical location of the apartment building, and it asked me to verify again, which I expected, and it gave me the option for phone verification, I contacted the management office, as I work remotely from the corporate office, to expect a call, and I initiated the call, it connected, but the code was not received, so I tried again, 2 dozen more times and the onscreen message I got was “Couldn’t connect, There was a problem connecting the call. You can request another phone call in XX seconds”

After 1 1/2 days of rinse and repeat; I reached out to Google My Business, explaining this whole situation in my support request; and the response I received was, complete with grammatical errors;

Google My Business Canned Response

For those who cannot see the screenshot; it basically says, you made a significant change, request a postcard and wait 14 days, followed by step by step instructions on how to achieve this task.

Which is obviously not possible, there is no office on-site, hence no mailbox for the office. All bills for this apartment building come to our corporate office. It is not unusual for small apartment communities to have an off-site office. It amazes me that Google, don’t account for, and allow for scenarios like this.

It seems the reason the call is not connecting is that Google is rejecting the number. On the Info tab of GMB, the phone number is highlighted in red with a strikethrough. If I remove it and retype it, the number shows as “under review”, for a few minutes before returning to being red with a strikethrough.

And now, the option for a phone call has disappeared, leaving only the postcard option, or verify later.

The reason I started this whole process was that when I search Google for “[street name] Studios”, it shows a listing on the right for “[street name] Lofts”, a rival apartment building not far from where our building is located! If it just showed nothing on the right, I would not care as our website for the building is #1 in the organic search results. The question is, how much time do I waste fighting Google on this?

UPDATE [Mar, 12 2020, 14:01]

I followed up with Google, reiterating the postcard verification issue, the response came back as follows;

Google My Business Second Response

For those who cannot see the screenshot, it says in basic terms, Google has to send out a postcard, and if you do not receive it within 14 days, on the 15th day, reach out to us again, and we can do a manual verification. Although a stupid policy, knowing we’ll never receive the postcard, at least I understand now.

If Google had sent this response initially, directly addressing my issue, I probably would’ve never written this blog about my experience. Companies need to stop with the easy option of canned responses, and actively address the issue being experienced by the customer. If this was a paid service, I would have just assumed they don’t care enough about my business, and given my money to someone else.

Unfortunately, this is common practice in many companies, including my employer in the past before I addressed the issue internally when I found out about it. Companies need to understand that you are effectively marketing from the first advert a customer sees through to the final interaction, in our case, when a resident moves out. Everyone should be treated as an individual, not just another lead, customers are unique people, with uniquely different needs, not just a number or statistic in a system.


The ‘Democratic’ Nation Committee, The Anti-Democratic Party

The Anti-Democratic Party

It seems that 2020 will be a resumption of the battle from 2016, where many believe the Democratic National Committee screwed over the Bernie Sanders campaign with 400 superdelegates being allowed to pledge their vote to Hillary Clinton before a single member of the public voted for their choice of candidate. Some might say, including me, that this is not a democracy, this is an old boy ‘elite’ club.

In 2020, superdelegates are not allowed to vote until after the public has voted, but the superdelegates still have the power to overturn the plurality of votes, in the simplest of terms, vote against the will of the people of the state the superdelegates represent. Recently in a NY Times report, 10% of superdelegates would risk damage to the party to stop Sanders from getting the nomination, even if he has the plurality of votes, but not a majority, which is likely, given the number of runners, at the DNC convention.

Let’s be honest here, the DNC is nothing more than an old boys club, where the elites push their own agendas. The Sanders candidacy has really shown in both 2016 and 2020, that is the case. Sanders represents the people, not the rich donors, who control the superdelegates in the Democratic party.

It’s time for the likes of Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and others who are polling in single digits to drop out, to let Sanders and Biden fight it out for a majority. But that won’t happen because they hope that the superdelegates take the nomination from Sanders and hand it to one of them. If Sanders did get a majority, it would be harder for the DNC to screw him out of the nomination.

If the DNC decides to ignore the will of the American people and anoint their own nominee, I believe that the majority of Sanders supporters will become brick voters, throwing bricks (with a very clear message attached) through the windows of DNC towers, handing a second term to the impeached one. The movement is bigger than Sanders, the people are pissed off with the current system, Sanders’s slogan “Not Me, Us”, is very accurate, big changes are coming, the Republican and Democratic parties are a dying breed, revolution is happening, the DNC may be able to slow it, but they cannot stop it.

Although I cannot vote in 2020 because I am not eligible for US citizenship until 2022, I do not subscribe to the mantra of “vote blue no matter who“, I’d rather vote for a third-party candidate, I won’t vote for a party that does not believe in democracy. The Republican primary process is more democratic, they don’t have superdelegates, the popular vote determines the nominee, this is how we ended up with Trump in the White House, because, the anointed one, Hillary Clinton couldn’t get the job done for the Democrats.

I’m not against the DNC choosing their own nominee, it’s how it works in my home country of the UK, the party members choose their leader, who will become Prime Minister should the public vote for enough Members of Parliament from their party for a majority in Parliament. I take issue with the primary system, allowing the public to vote, then ignoring their vote, by their own admission at the convention. Stop the bullshit, be honest, stop giving the impression that the people’s vote matters, and abandon the primary system, then the voters can have their say in the general election, about their anointed one.

I believe in one person, one vote, and whoever gets the most votes wins. None of this majority bullshit, with half dozen candidates, no-one is going to reach 51%. Clearly, one of two things needs to happen, the superdelegates are abolished, or the primary system needs to go, these two things are incompatible with each other, superdelegates should not Trump (pun intended) the will of the American people.

UPDATE [Mar, 2 2020, 12:52]: There have been some happenings since I wrote this article; Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg have dropped out of the race, in addition to Tom Steyer. Obviously, this is to consolidate the centrist vote towards Joe Biden. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren remains in the race, pulling votes from Bernie Sanders, despite her not having a path to the nomination, other than the DNC handing her the nomination, as unlikely as that is. Super Tuesday is tomorrow, let’s see how it pans out.


$77,391.48 Of New Debt And Zero Money To Pay It Off!

New $77,391.48 Debt, I feel Hopeless!

Our story of debt has been long and well documented on my blog. I did have a plan to get everything paid off by the next, 2020 tax refund, then possibly use the 2021 tax refund to put down a deposit on a house, to finally get on the property ladder. That is now not going to happen, with this added $77,391.48 of student loan debt that my wife has accrued over the past 8 years. We cannot afford to make a $644.93 payment for the next 10 years, right now, we have $68.06 remaining in our checking account, with eight more days until the next payday, more than likely having to lean on a credit card to make it to next Friday.

I’m going to be honest and say that my relationship with my wife is severely strained right now. The majority of my debt is debt that I took on, getting personal loans to cover my wife’s credit card debt as her Discover card payment was out of control, each minimum payment was over 90% interest. The idea was to consolidate all the debt into a single payment, but one year later, in addition to the loan payment of $304.30, we have amassed another $9,615.89 in credit card debt, and I feel like there is no hope!

I am truly at the point where I feel I need to split from my wife, live as cheaply as I can, so I can get myself out of the $18,782.78 of debt I am personally liable for. I love my wife dearly, but these constant financial struggles and debt issues are having a very negative effect on me, personally and my relationship with my wife, and dare I say the kids feel the negativity too, this volatile situation is no good for anyone.

Moving back to the new $77,391.48 of Erin’s student debt, she has been working on this bachelor’s degree for six years, before seemingly giving up on it in 2018, and now the forbearance on the loan has expired, and she is on the hook for almost $80,000 of debt with a monthly payment of $645. And you know the worst thing, Erin has accrued all this debt and still does not have a degree, and with her deteriorating health is unlikely to ever earn enough income to cover these loan repayments.

I know that wage garnishment is likely, and any future tax refunds will be garnished. The only question is, can they garnish my income? as I did not sign anything personally in relation to Erin’s student loan.

Wage garnishment in Kansas is 15% of your disposable income for student loans in default. I thought that disposable income would be what you have leftover after paying all your bills. But, no, disposable income is considered anything left over after the government has taken their cut, i.e. taxes, social security, and Medicare, so in the simplest of terms, 100% of our net income is considered disposable income.

I think that I have answered my own question in regard to my liability for Erin’s student debt, I am not liable for her debt, unless I cosigned, which I did not. The only exception to this is if I lived in a community property or marital property state, which Kansas is not one of, at least not currently. If we moved to Texas, my wife’s home state, like Erin wanted to, I would be on the hook for the debt as much as Erin would be.

I have until the end of March to decide whether I want to renew our lease on the house we currently live in. The only decision is, do I stick with my wife, try to work through this together or do I split from her, to get myself in a better financial place for my own mental wellbeing, and work out a custody agreement for our kids. On this day, I don’t know which way I will turn, when that fork in the road comes.


Pixel 4 XL for Live Music Photography

Korn, 2020/02/16

I attended my first live gig since buying the Pixel 4 XL last Sunday, and the PIxel 4 was kinda hit or miss, I got some great photos, but the majority of them were blurry, the autofocus system, simply could not keep up with the flashing and moving lights, even when manually focusing on a member of the band.

My biggest annoyance was the zoom resetting every time I left the camera app and put the Pixel 4 in my pocket. It would reset back to the widest angle lens, which meant I missed a lot of shots, while I recomposed my shot. I could double-tap the screen to get back to 2x zoom relatively easily, but zooming past 2 times to 3 or 4 times was hard because of the zoom element onscreen being super sensitive.

Additionally, every time the camera app was launched, regardless of the previous setting, it would revert to the default camera mode. Delaying my next shot further while switching back to night sight mode.

Focus issues were the theme of the evening, the only times I could get a properly focused shot was when the lighting was static or not crossing the focus target, usually a member of the band. Of the 45 shots I took, half dozen were good. Some photos had horrific ghosting issues with the stage lighting being reflected in the lens, doubling, or ghosting the number of lights in the photograph, see below.

Korn, 2020/02/16, Ghosted Lights

Below is an example of a blurry, noisy shot caused by the Pixel 4 XL camera software reverting to the default camera mode, despite previously being set to use night sight mode.

Korn 2020/02/16 Blurry, Noisy Shot

I’m assuming that if I was closer to the stage, where much of the lighting would be going above the camera lens, the Pixel 4 would be able to better focus, taking sharper images. I shall reserve judgment on that for now, but from a medium distance live photography perspective, the Pixel AI misses the mark somewhat, seeming to get confused when there is a lot of fast-moving elements in the scene.


Google My Business; Dealing With Fake Reviews Is Hit Or Miss.

Google My Business, Support, Hit or Miss?

I work as a digital marketing specialist for a local property management company, which means I deal with Google a lot, and I find myself extremely disappointed with the lack of business friendliness. First of all, getting hold of someone at Google, on a scale of 1 to 10 is a 6 or 7, their product forums are a joke, I rarely find a thread, even remotely helpful, I found the best way to reach them is via Twitter.

Onto the background story, we have been having an issue with a former employee posting multiple 1-star reviews, some with review text, some without, some that are outright libelous. The first time I reached out to Google My Business on Twitter, after giving up on the product forum, the person I was conversing with, Liz escalated my case, and, of the 13 reviews, what I believed to be fake, 10 were removed.

Last week, I performed the same action for the latest batch of, again, what I consider to be fake reviews, one reviewer was even pissed that their previous review was removed. This time, a different Google My Business representative, Amie, responded after two days and said the following;

Thanks for reaching out! Our guidelines do allow users to leave a star rating without any text. Therefore, the review in question does not violate our policies and cannot be removed. Keep in mind, users are not required to use a real name when leaving reviews, so you may not recognize the name.

This looks like a stock canned response, without any escalation, anyway, Amie continued on to say;

Responding to reviews can help future customers see your approach to customer service and know that you actively reach out to resolve any issues.

We already do this, responding with something like, “we are unable to locate your name in our customer database, if you use a different name online, we’d like to learn more, please reach out to our corporate office on [phone number]…”, you know how many people reach out? exactly zero, none, nada…

So, the bottom line here, is, with Google My Business support, it depends on the representative you get, sometimes, you’ll get excellent service, from Liz, but a canned response from Amie.

To make it clear, I don’t report just bad reviews, I have also reported a number of 5-star reviews, which I knew were fake. There were some 1-star reviews that were posted by people, who also had reviewed other businesses with a mixture of star ratings, which I did not report. All the reviews I reported were the first and only review that user had made and one where they were upset a previous review was removed.

Some times, I read a review and I know it’s genuine, the only response is “We’re sorry”, we make mistakes, we’re human, we put our hands up and admit our mistake, and try to make amends. This is not about removing negative reviews, it’s about protecting our brands from unfair, often libelous reviews.

My issue is this; individuals can post whatever they want, seemingly without consequence, what some might call free speech, doing untold damage to a company. A good example of this is former residents that were evicted for a variety of reasons, being butt hurt, so they write a libelous review, and because of the anonymity of the Internet, no consequence for them, while our business suffers a drop in business.


Trump ‘Acquitted’ by Senate Republicans in Sham Impeachment Trial

Trump Impeachment Trial, Refuses To Convict

Today marks a dark day in American history where a partisan senate “acquitted”, or more accurately “refused to convict” on both articles of impeachment, sent over from the House of Representatives, despite the avalanche of evidence from the House inquiry before the turn of the decade.

The House Democrats have a lot to answer for as well, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi failed to send articles of impeachment for Trump’s actual crimes, using the office of the President to withhold funds, then the quid pro quo, withholding the congressionally approved funds to get the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, to benefit Trump’s re-election when he believed that former VP, Joe Biden was going to be his challenger in 2020.

Not to mention Pelosi’s failure to add articles for emoluments violations and the half dozen impeachable offenses in the Mueller report. Which, I believe was a deliberate action as Pelosi is weak and did not want to impeach Trump, she said many times before the Ukraine incident, that the voters should decide.

The lack of specificity in the articles of impeachment that were sent to the Senate allowed the Republicans a way out as there were no specific crimes listed. Abuse of power and obstruction of Congress is incredibly vague. The Senate Republicans are a national disgrace, firstly, not allowing witnesses and documents to be included in the, what we laughingly call, Senate trial, then voting down party lines, save, Mitt Romney, who voted to remove the President for abuse of power, to acquit President Trump.

So the vote went as expected, ARTICLE I: ABUSE OF POWER, 52 – 48 down party lines, except for Romney, who joined Democrats in voting for removal. And ARTICLE II: OBSTRUCTION OF CONGRESS, 53 – 47, with all Republicans voting not guilty. What does this mean? the Senate says Presidents are above the law.

Before the Trump era, Republicans at least tried to hide their corruption, now they basically say, yes, we’re corrupt, what are you going to do about it? Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell openly said he was working with The White House on the impeachment trial. In what world does a juror, which is what Senators are supposed to be, collude with the defendant? And, this sham trial, goes to show that Congress doesn’t represent the people, they represent their own interests and their donor’s interests.

So, we are back to what Nancy Pelosi wanted, for the voters to decide. Twenty Republicans are up for reelection in the 2020 election year, the people need to make their voices clear, “we will not allow Senators to actively cover up President Trump’s criminality”. The following Senators are up for reelection;

  • Martha McSally (AZ)
  • Cory Gardner (CO)
  • Kelly Loeffler (GA)
  • David Perdue (GA)
  • Joni Ernst (IA)
  • Mitch McConnell (KY)
  • Susan Collins (ME)
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS)
  • Steve Daines (MT)
  • Thom Tillis (NC)
  • John Cornyn (TX)
  • Dan Sullivan (AK)
  • Tom Cotton (AR)
  • Jim Risch (ID)
  • Bill Cassidy (LA)
  • Ben Sasse (NE)
  • Jim Inhofe (OK)
  • Lindsey Graham (SC)
  • Mike Rounds (SD)
  • Shelley Capito (WV)

I truly hope, for the sake of all Americans, even the ones that vote Republican, against their own interests, that we can flip the Senate blue, with a good majority, else, should we have a President Sanders, nothing will get done, just like the Obama presidency where Leader McConnell and his band of criminals obstructed the president, going as far as blocking Obama’s Supreme Court pick for a whole year.


“On Track To Graduate”, while I see an F & Two D’s In His Grade Book

State Legislature & School Districts Are Failing Our Kids

The wife and I went to our son’s annual IEP meeting at West High School, and I find it concerning that a minimum passing grade to graduate seems to be all they are concerned about, with the IEP manager starting the meeting by saying “Conner is on track to graduate”, following that up with “he puts in the minimum effort to get a passing grade”, that passing grade being a D, that’s just 60 points out of 100.

As outlined before in my post about Conner stealing old phones from myself and his grandmother in the past year, and using them in class, connecting to the school’s WiFi network as the phones obviously did not have service. Again, it concerns me that, 1) he is allowed to have a cellphone in class, and 2) that they don’t notify us as parents that he is using a phone in class, instead of completing his assigned work.

It’s insane that students are not forced to keep electronic devices in their locker, as to not be a distraction in class. Especially, in today’s world where everything is Internet-connected and kids being obsessed with social and streaming media. I would support a move where teachers can confiscate such devices if it’s being used in class, requiring a parent to pick up the device from the school office at the end of the day.

Unfortunately, this is who our son is; he tried to justify his stealing, “as it wasn’t being used, I thought it was fine to take the phone”. He wrote an apology to his grandmother, which was “me, me, me”, not an apology in any way, shape or form. Writing about the personal consequences of his actions, rather than saying sorry for stealing from his grandmother, he does not have a single thought about other’s feelings.

And, doing the bare minimum possible is his mantra in everything he does. For example, when we ask him to do the dishes, he’ll refuse to rinse plates, putting the dishes straight into the dishwasher, and 1/4 of the time, not put a tablet into the dishwasher, meaning I have to do the dishes a second time.

I was not so concerned in previous years, thinking “he’ll snap out of it”, but he’ll be 16 this August, and if anything, this minimum effort, self-entitlement attitude has gotten worse. I fear for his future in the workplace, the employee pool is huge, and employers won’t keep someone who is not putting in their best effort. This is doubly troubling when autistic adults have a less than 20% employment rate already.

The bottom line, I think the Wichita Unified School District is failing our children, allowing our kids to basically do what they want in class, using phones and tablets, when they should be learning. I can’t speak for other parents, but when I see multiple D’s and F’s at any given time during the school year on our son’s grade book, I can’t just accept it. Part of it is on our son, but an equal part is teachers and staff failing our son, while keeping us, as parents out of the loop, until halfway through the school year.

To expand, this is a systematic problem, maybe, if our schools were funded properly by state legislatures, schools would not have such low expectations for their students. This is a big problem in Kansas, which is still suffering from the fallout from Gov. Sam Brownback’s tenure with block grants and the debunked trickle-down economics theory. Of course, lesser-educated kids are easier to control, knowledge is power.


Six Weeks Living With The Pixel 4 XL!

Pixel 4 Six Week Review

Six weeks ago, I received my new Pixel 4 XL; and despite the lack of 3.5mm headphone jack, fingerprint scanner, and replaceable battery, I find myself extremely happy with Google’s latest and greatest overall.

Despite it’s bigger screen size, compared to my LG V20, the Pixel 4 XL has an overall smaller footprint, which, for me, is a little too large to use comfortably one-handed, I wanted the XL version, so that’s an observation, not a complaint. I recommend a case for the Pixel 4 XL, it’s a slippery device with glass on the front and back, I bought a Tech 21 Evo Check case, which makes the device slightly bulkier, but it feels more secure in my hand, without a case, I felt I needed to handle it with kid gloves constantly.

Initially, I enabled the on-screen navigation buttons, disabling gesture-based navigation, but I had to reenable the gesture navigation as I could not use continuing conversation with the on-screen buttons. And, after taking a day to get used to it, the gesture-based navigation is quite intuitive, and I cannot imagine going back to the traditional on-screen buttons, but the option is there for those who prefer it.

Although I do lament the omission of a 3.5mm headphone jack, using a USB-C to 3.5mm jack adapter does allow me to use my favorite pair of earbuds. And, the sound is fantastic, good clarity overall, meaty midrange and clear highs with the lower frequencies being punchy, if not the deepest bass I’ve heard through my 4-year-old earbuds, and the volume is adequate for most situations with zero distortion. The main downside to this USB-C adapter arrangement is that I cannot charge and listen at the same time.

The camera, the reason I bought a Pixel this time, is surprisingly good, even without manual exposure control. Google’s AI photography is excellent in most situations, even when zooming past the optical 2x lens. The AI does a good job of reducing the blockiness you’d associate with digital zoom, although I’d rather move closer and use the 2x lenses for better clarity, it’s good, but not the same as optical zoom. I do however wish that Google would allow shooting in 3:2, in addition to 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios.

Photos get backed up to the cloud, i.e. Google Photos in high quality, not original quality like previous Pixel’s, but, I can live with that. The quality offered by Google Photos is high enough to keep me happy. I am a professional photographer, so I would never use a phone for my professional work, I’d use my Canon 5DmkIV or 6DmkII for that, so the high-quality backup from the Pixel 4 is great for me.

Video is the Pixel 4’s weak point, it’s fine for capturing family events and casual video, but this is not a filmmaker’s phone despite 4K30 recording. I recorded a 1080p60 video of my daughter singing in her recital, and the video seemed a little soft and grainy, in good indoor lighting. But, the worst part is the audio recording, it sounded muffled like all the higher frequencies had been rolled off. I could recover it in post-production, but straight out of the phone, it’s terrible while listening through full-range speakers.

The Google Assistant is amazing, it understands my UK westcountry ‘farmer’ accent just fine, rarely misunderstanding me, which is a massive improvement over the Google Assistant in my old LG V20. I feel like I can actually use the assistant to send text messages and initiate phone calls now without sending gobbledegook or calling someone, other than the intended person. The only inconsistency is sometimes, the response will be silent, instead of verbal confirmation, which could be a problem while driving.

Battery life, which seems to be a bone of contention for many reviewers of the Pixel 4 XL, for me, is fine. I’m no power user, by any stretch of the imagination, but in my use, I easily get two full days, with 15 to 25% remaining at the end of day 2. My average screen on time is 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day, sending texts, Email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube viewing, and of course, phone calls, maybe 10 to 25 minutes a day.

Being a Google device, phone and security updates are frequent, in the six weeks, I’ve had the device, the Pixel 4 XL has updated twice, once mid-December and again, today, with a security patch update dated 1/1/2020. That said, both times I had to manually check for updates, I didn’t get a notification that a new update was available, but that might be a setting I have not enabled on the device.

After six weeks, I would definitely recommend a Pixel 4 XL; if that changes, I will update this review.