Planting Nellie Stevens Holly Trees/Shrubs

Little “how-To” I did when we planted our trees. These are going to be pruned as a tall box-hedge for privacy.

The Magic Bullet

Every once in a while I come across an infomercial that garners enough of my attention to do a little research on it; find out if it actually lives up to its intentions. The Magic Bullet was one of those infomercials. I’ve seen it several times and each time I thought to myself, “If it really does all that then I’d like to have one.”

Saturday I was sitting on the couch when that infomercial began playing again. This time, I decided to do something about it. I went online and did a little research. Mostly what I found were good reviews with a smackering of bad ones lamenting that it didn’t do this or that well. Most of the “so-so” reviews gave the machine a rather good reputation, often mentioning how great it was, but after a year or so of using it 3 times a day, the gears gave out and they had to buy another one. They had to buy another one… That pretty much sums it up for me. This thing appears to do its job so well that when it breaks, people actually replace it with another one. They can’t live without it!

Ordering it from the telly would have set me back around $150 (including taxes and shipping). I did what any cost-conscious person would have done – check Amazon. There it was. Amazon had the same model with the same accessories, and all for $54.72. No taxes. No shipping charges. Having Prime membership also meant that it was shipped via 2-day shipping for free.

I’ve only used it for one night, but I did run some tests on it. The Magic Bullet has excelled in the frozen drink department. I don’t care for the recipe it gives for Margaritas, but using my own recipe it turned out fantastic! Probably the best I’ve ever made. The Magic Bullet took that ice and beat it down to an extremely smooth slush. I used the included recipe for salsa. Again, I don’t care for that particular recipe but it did a fine chop chopping everything up.

If you are expecting more recipes than what you see on the infomercial, you’ll be a bit disappointed as everything they cover there are all that’s included, but that’s OK. Absence of recipes doesn’t take anything away from the performance of this machine. I look forward to trying out their recipes for hummus and my own recipes for guacamole.

One obvious false claim: you can do all these recipes in 10 seconds. This does not include the time it takes to get your ingredients ready. 10 seconds is throwing them into the blender. Just sayin.

Regarding the iPad Orientation Lock

It seems that everyone is up in arms about Apple’s decision to do away with the orientation lock on the iPad. I’ll agree that having that lock available as a physical switch has been pretty handy.

Initially, this switch was to be a mute switch just as the iPhones and iPod touches have them are designed. Somewhere along the line that was changed. iPhones and iPods are running iOS 4 now, and that capability is only a double tap and a swipe away. Since iPads only have iOS 3.2, it only made sense to give iPad users the orientation lock within easy grasp, given the less app-switching capabilities.

Now that iPad is about to catch up with its smaller siblings in regards to the iOS, it only makes sense to me that that we gain our mute switch back. My iPad follows me to bed at night; tucked within its case, plugged in, and iPhone resting on top of it (plugged in as well and ready to wake me up in the morning as my alarm). Sometimes I forget to silence the iPad. If only it were as simple as muting my iPhone – that is lean over and slide a switch. But alas, I can’t. I have to first pick up the iPhone, move it over, open the iPad cover, hit the home button, swipe to unlock, and then press and hold the volume switch, put everything back.

In sum, I’m looking forward to gaining my mute switch back. Should Apple include an option to select how I want that switch to act? It would be nice, I admit. But in the long run, it doesn’t really mean that much to me. I could take it or leave it – either direction. I also admit that either way it goes whether it’s a mute or a lock, whatever it’s NOT still won’t put me in that much of a bind. It’s definitely not worth the trouble this news seems to be generating.

Acase Leather Flip Book Jacket/Folio Review

I ordered the Acase iPad Case off Amazon’s Best Deals page over the weekend. Prime Shipping and no taxes pulled $25.95 out of my account. List price goes for around $79.

My first impression of this case is that it is solidly built and very attractive. It look and feels every bit of $79. Unfortunately, those same reasons are why I prefer the little Apple branded folio. This thing is huge. With my iPad in there, it becomes the thickness of over 3 iPads stacked on top of each other.

The description “Interior suede lining for scratch protection” was a bit misleading. Only half the interior is suede lined, and that would be the back half of the iPad. There were no pictures of the folio in an open configuration where one could see the suede. Granted, that’s probably the most scratch susceptible portion of the iPad, but I was really looking forward to the entire lining being suede. Having a suede lining covering your screen is probably more troublesome anyhow. I can imagine the oils from the screen becoming embedded in that lining from the frequent contact, forever marring your freshly cleaned display.

My biggest complaint about this case deals with the cover. When you open it, it has 4 protruding rectangular bumps on each end – top and bottom. I’m not sure what the purpose of these are but I’ll tell you what they do. They make the cover sag in the middle when closed, and I don’t like the way that looks at all.

All controls, the docking port, and speakers are not obstructed in any way. There is a button closure, and a Moleskine-esq strap on the back that I’m guessing is to put your hand through for added support while reading or extended viewing. That extra support will be needed because the folio itself will add 12 ounces to the weight of your iPad – that’s more than half the weight of the iPad alone. I’m sure this folio will provide outstanding protection while garnering many compliments, but for myself, I prefer the ugly old Apple branded folio. When more protection is needed, I’ll proudly slip my iPad into this folio.

3 Stars. 4 Stars. I’m The Guy With The Fat Check.

So the good General is retiring and the latest news from CNN is that he gets to keep his 4th General Star because the President said he could. But what does this really mean? Let me state right off the bat that all this information is publicly available. No big deal.

All the information:

Who is the General? (Wikipedia)

What is the salary of a specific rank or grade? (will download a PDF)

How is military retired pay calculated? (about.com article)

Did you know that Generals, in general (no pun intended) get paid less than what they would get if they were to retire? For the purpose of this post, I’m taking the liberty of dropping the cents. According to the military pay tables, the General’s (grade of O-10) base pay is listed at $17,785. But read the small print at the bottom to find out that the actual amount he can receive is currently capped at $14,975, and that’s just base pay. On top of the base pay, an additional $223 for subsistence (food) is awarded. I’m sure there are other specialty pays for the expenses that come with the current job, but these monies in effect get applied to expenses that would not have otherwise been incurred, so I’ll just disregard those. I hear you asking a question, “Why list a higher base pay if you’re just going to cap it?” Because there has to be some motivation to hang around for retirement! After all, retirement is not based on the capped pay, but the actual base pay. Retired pay is not capped.

So how is the General’s retired pay calculated? The General has over 34 years of service, I’ll just say 34 years and we’ll know that’s low-balling it. 34 years of active duty service will net the General 85% (a formula calculates 50% for 20 years of service with an additional 2.5% per year, prorated down to the month, and added to the 50%) of what his final base pay happens to be during his final month of active duty. We’ve already determined that to be $17,785, so that puts his retired pay at $15,117 per month or $181,000 annually. Now that’s a fat check!

So what’s the deal in the CNN article talking about the President letting him keep his 4th star? Nothing, really. Other than the pride that accompanies getting to say you were a 4-Star General and a war hero. It doesn’t have anything to do with the retired pay, since we’ve already established that retired pay is based off of whatever his last active duty base pay was, and that can’t be changed. After all, whether the General has 3, 4, or no stars, a $1.29 will still get him a cup of coffee at Denny’s. So the General is not really being hurt in any real sense of the word. He’s going to go ahead and retire and earn more disposable pay in the process while doing (relatively) infinitely less. And you know he’s probably going to go out there and get another lucrative job in the meantime.